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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Author Interview ~ Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Kansas with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their daughter. She loves writing for teens because her high school years greatly impacted her adult life. That, and it’s an excuse to keep playing her music really, really loud.

Welcome to Novel Journey!

Let’s start by giving our readers a little bit of insight into the force that drove you to start writing. Was there a particular instance or instinct that made you want to be a writer?

My elementary school really emphasized writing. Every day we had “writing time” for 15 or so minutes. We could write about whatever we wanted, and I thought it was the best part of the day. When you finished a story, you took it down to the “publishing house,” which was a tiny room at the school. You picked out your cover and binding, then someone typed up the story and returned it to you. After you illustrated it, you read it to the class. I loved every single part of it except the illustrating, and from the first “book” I wrote, I always told people I wanted to be a writer.

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

Toward the middle, feeling like the book will connect with future readers. Or questioning if what I’m writing about really matters. That’s something I especially struggle with on the days that I don’t feel particularly inspired to write.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I used to all the time, and then I realized I’m not that interesting of a person. For the Skylar books, I intentionally made Skylar as opposite of me as possible.

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

I actually didn’t find my first critque group until I was pretty far along in my novel journey. Back in 2007, when I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I prayed for both a critique group and an agent and walked away with both. I think the lack of input in my early years helped me develop my voice, but I also think it the road would have been easier and less lonely had I found my critique group earlier.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Out with the In Crowd is the second book in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. Skylar may have vowed to change her partying ways, but it’s not so easy to change her friends. She’s trying hard to live a new life, but her old one is constantly staring her in the face. Add to that two parents battling for her loyalty, a younger sister struggling with a crisis pregnancy, and a new boyfriend wishing for more of her time, and Skylar feels like she can’t win.

This is a YA novel, part of a series you developed around a high school senior battling all of the insecurities most teenagers face. What made you decide to target this age group?

Because the only book ideas I had were for YA novels. Seriously. I tried writing adult books, but I never caught fire for them the way I did my high school stories.

I work with the youth in my church, and I know the kind of mixed messages they get on a daily basis. What message do you hope readers gain from your novel, and how is it different from the things they hear on the streets?

Ooh, good question. I hope in Out with the In Crowd (in all three Skylar books, really) they’ll see that you’re never too far gone for God to redeem you. I think on the “streets,” it feels easy to get pigeon-holed. “She’s a party girl,” or “She’s a goody-goody.” But God never sees us like that.

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

Like I mentioned before, I made Skylar as opposite of me as I possibly could. I wanted to write a character who had complete confidence in her looks, but zero confidence in who she was inside. At first it was really hard to try and figure out how she would react to things, but once I dove deeper into her situations with her parents and younger sister, it became easy to see what kind of security issues Skylar had.

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

I really enjoyed the interaction between Skylar and her younger sister, Abbie. They’re so different from each other that it’s always fun when they discuss something.

I least liked all the junk with Skylar’s parents. It was really hard to sit at my computer and write these horribly tense scenes about their separation, to see how it was affecting Skylar and Abbie, and then call it a day and go hang out with my awesome husband and daughter. Those were really draining days.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

As you might guess, I’m kinda a bookworm. Reading feels like vacation time to me. I completely tune out what’s going on around me and get transported to another place.

Also, I just got a Wii for my birthday. I don’t know if “relaxing” is a good word for it, but it’s a lot of fun.

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

Wow. Okay.

1. I have a spark of an idea where I think, “This is going to be a book.”
2. I spend a couple weeks gathering other ideas to make it “big” enough to be a book.
3. I write the first three chapters and a synopsis. Those get sent to my critique partner, and then when she approves I send them to my agent.
4. I write a horrendous first draft. I focus on getting the story down as complete and as fast as I can.
5. I take a couple weeks away from the book, and then I start my first revision. The first one often involves a lot of rewriting.
6. I read it one more time to smooth things out, then send it to my critique partner and my husband.
7. I input their comments, read through it one more time, and then wait to see if it sells.

What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?

The first books I remember loving are the Boxcar books. There was something really fun about reading books about kids doing so much stuff on their own, especially solving mysteries.

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

I think it opens up my mind to different ways of saying, expressing, or illustrating ideas. It also reinforces things I’m taught at conferences, about what makes an exciting opening or satisfying end.

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

In writing—Don’t get too picky with the first draft, just get it down. It was actually my engineer husband who suggested this to me. I was struggling with a manuscript, and he was like, “Stop editing and just write it.”

In publishing—This one’s tougher because I received my contract when I was 24 … it’s hard to shave off too much more time. But I’d say get in a critique group. It helped me to learn how to accept criticism better.

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

The series I’m fiddling with now is about a girl who loses 120 pounds in high school all with diet and exercise. It’s based on a girl I used to babysit for who did just that. I’m in the early stages still and having lots of fun.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you’re looking to get published, do everything you can to the best of your ability and trust God with the rest. When the offer came through for The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, my agent kept saying to me, “I just can’t believe it. You have no platform and you write an unproven genre. I have no idea how we got you published. This is obviously God.” He can do it for you too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ Robert Liparulo

Best-selling author Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His novels include Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, and this year’s Deadlock, as well as the young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings (the latest of which is Timescape, releases July 7). He is currently writing, simultaneously, an original screenplay and novel, with the director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The Guardian).

How Music Influences My Words

Pace. Rhythm. Tension. It’s no coincidence these terms describe both stories and music. In fact, for me, music has always helped me create stories. When someone mentions a favorite scene from one of my novels, more often than not, I immediately remember the music that was playing in my headphones when I wrote it: Olaf’s attack on Brady and his son in Comes a Horseman (“Elk Hunt” from Last of the Mohicans); Stephen’s confrontation with the killer Atropos in Germ (“The Battle” from Gladiator); Hutch’s apprehensive readiness to rise from charred ground and fight at the end of Deadfall (“Death is the Road to Awe” from The Fountain). Music gets me in the mind-set to write specific scenes—its rhythm reminds me of the pace I’m looking for as I work to find just the right words; its mood holds me in a sort of suspended animation within the scene, regardless of outside distractions or the time it takes to write it.

Years ago, as movie critic, I’d sometimes see films before they were finished, without a musical score. At one screening, the director stood in the aisle humming the music that would accompany each scene. That was more distracting than the film’s symphonic nakedness, but I understood the poor man’s panic over having his film seen that way: music can make or break a movie. It not only adds a rich layer of enjoyment to the viewing experience, it cues the audience to the filmmaker’s intentions—“OK, time to get scared” or “In case the this guy’s mask made out of human skin isn’t enough to let you know, he’s the bad guy!” That’s why the tracks of musical score are called “cues.”

(I’ve dreamed of including a playlist—even the actual music in digital form—with my novels. Readers could then start a soundtrack with each chapter, heightening their experience of the story. Of course, individual reading speeds make that impractical; few things are worse than out-of-synch audio tracks. And, yes, I realize it’s part of the author’s job to create the same emotional response in readers that music does, using only words. Still, I sometimes imagine myself acting like that director: leaning over a reader’s shoulder, and at the right moment going, “Da-da-da!”)

It’s hard for me to experience a story, in any medium, without musical accompaniment—whether in my ears or my head.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to music as I wrote—through years of writing magazine articles and intermittent screenplays. It started as a way of deadening the sounds of screaming kids, vacuum cleaners, and when I rented an outside office, the shouts coming from the divorce attorney’s office next door. Then I started writing novels, and the type of music I played suddenly mattered.

Faster tempos do help keep the pace up—if not within the story, then at least with how fast my fingers move over a keyboard; but then, volume helps with that as well. The louder, the better. More important than tempo is how a piece of music makes me feel. A cue that starts off slow and builds to a triumphant crescendo can carry me through a fast-paced action sequence as well as any nonstop, staccato rhythm. “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code, for example: a hero’s theme if ever there was one.

Over time, I’ve built a library of music categorized by the mood it puts me in when I write. Take, for instance, Clint Mansell’s haunting music for Requiem for a Dream. Its cues seem to be teetering on the edge of something, without relief or execution. No wonder several of the titles have the word “Tense” in them. When I launch into a suspenseful scene, I’ll often queue up my Requiem playlist.

Here’s a specific example of a partial scene and the music I was listening to when I wrote it:

“With the speed and fluidity he had practiced a thousand times, Hutch drew back on the bowstring and released it, all in one, smooth two-second motion. He held still for another beat to make sure the arrow cleared the bow. Then he dropped his right arm to a second arrow rising from the ground beside him. His bow arm never moved. His head never moved. His eyes never came off of Bad. As the arrow sliced a groove through Bad’s skin at the temple, Hutch was already nocking the next arrow.”

Most likely, Quentin Tarantino would go with something fast and exotic, like NEU!’s “Super 16” from Kill Bill. Because the scene is a mix of suspense and action, I powered up “Betrayal” from Enemy at the Gates—from the scene in which they discover a young boy murdered and hanging from a crane. It’s emotive and heart-wrenching, and prior to the “discovery” almost painful in its anticipation.

My writing-music of choice is almost always film scores. It seems to me that movie moguls are the benefactors of today’s great composers, Hollywood the new Vienna. I also like that the structure of a good story—with its cycle of tension and relief, despair and triumph—forces a wide variation in music within one recording. I used to think the strong bond between a movie’s images and its music would cause me to think only of those images while listening to the score—Russell Crowe plucking his violin in Master and Commander. However, I’ve found that the spirit of the music takes over and I can claim it for my own. That’s why filmmakers often listen to other movies’ scores while on set. They’re not trying to imitate another movie’s scene; they’re letting the music help them get in the mood for their own scene. The director Ridley Scott is known for doing this.

Thankfully, most movie scores don’t have lyrics. I’m too much of a word geek to write with lyrics pounding into my eardrums: I’m always trying to listen to them. Every now and then, however, a song with lyrics is perfect for getting me into the groove of a scene (though usually it’s something in its rhythm, tempo or melody, rarely its words that attracts me to it). When that happens, I play it over and over until my mind stops trying to catch every word and hears the vocals as it does any other instrument. Felix da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” comes to mind; I listened to it while writing the scene that introduced Brendan Page, my latest novel Deadlock’s villain, a true sinnerman with a penchant for “cool,” which the song captures.

It’s all about what works for the individual writer. When writing action scenes, Meg Gardiner (The Memory Collector) says Gladiator, The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead and 300 “get me in a fightin' mood.” David Dun says he listened to “the womb-like sounds of a whirlpool hot tub with all the jets running” while writing The Black Silent. Whatever works.

When I write to music, it does more than nudged me into a specific pace or help me with atmosphere. It reminds me of quality, that musical notes, played on varied instruments in a specific order and speed can touch people in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. It can lift heavy spirits and wring tears from long-dry eyes. It can unsettle sad memories and tickle a laugh out of you when you need it most. It stirs the listener and paints unimaginably vivid pictures—exactly the things I want my words to do, as well.


They've been to three worlds in less than a day. Time isn't just running's running wild.

David King is reeling from his travels through history-and the evil he's found there. The last thing he needs is his great-great-uncle Jesse's hospital-bed instructions: You can't simply do nothing. You must fix things.

David and his brother Xander's search for their abducted mother has repeatedly led them on strange and terrifying journeys as they've stepped through the portals of the creepy old house and into some of history's most turbulant moments...and confronted an unimaginably bleak vision of the future.

Now Jesse's words saddle them with an obligation to not only visit the past, but the need to rewrite it.

Fulfilling their purpose will take everything they have, both mentally and physically. But they have no choice...because everything in the past-and the future-is on the line.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of the Bizarre -- 2009 Edition

by Mike Duran

Had enough of the traditional year-end "Best Of" lists? Me too. I mean, why worry about the Top Ten Movies or Albums of the year when 2009 yielded so many other oddities. Here's a sampling:

America's Most Literate Cities of 2009 -- Apparently, living within earshot of the City of Angels still lands me thousands of miles from a literate city. How about you?

Worst Book Titles of the Year -- L.A. Times' Jacket Copy has compiled some noteworthy entries. Among them, "Reading Toes," "I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen,"and "The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories." But the best has got to be "Dr. Albert Heindstein's Contemporary English Dictionary of Flatulence" -- perfect for bathroom reading.

Best Jesus Junk of the Year -- Hey, what would another year be without Christians ripping off pop culture and producing more kitschy, borderline blasphemous, merchandise. The Jesus Christ Celebriduck Limited Edition Collectible Rubber Duck has to rank high on the list. T-shirts are always popular. So how about a Jesus BFF or a Jesus is My Boyfriend shirt for someone special? The "Ex-Masturbator" T-shirt campaign is sure to keep them lining up. My favorite, however, is the End-Times Survivalist Bible Cover, complete with compass for navigating plague-ravaged, post-nuclear, Armageddons.

Top 10 Crytozoology Stories of the Year -- Sasquatch and the Chupacabra are so yesterday. Now pygmy hippos and baby coelacanths are all the rage. And if that doesn't do it for you, there's this headline: “Yeti Stalked Bikini-Clad Student." Why hunt sherpas when you can stalk bikini-clad coeds?

The Best Notable Quotables of 2009 -- Media Research Center annually compiles the most outrageous and/or humorous news media quotes of the year. Not for the Left-of-heart.

The Worst Band Names of the Year -- AV Club's The Year in Band Names compiles such quirky handles as "Ska Skank Redemption," "Cerebral Ballzy," and "Libido Funk Circus." But "Put Down the Muffin" takes top honors. Um, it sounded cool on paper...

2009's Top 12 Weird News Stories -- As if the regular news isn't weird enough, this year produced stories about a man given a DUI when he crashed his motorized La-Z-Boy, a woman who somehow managed to conceive a second child while pregnant with her first, and a girl who fell into a manhole while texting. However, I am partial to the Brazilian environmental group's campaign asking people to save water by peeing in the shower. Hey, I'm doing my part!

List of Banished Words for 2009 -- Lake Superior State University has been banning trendy, over-used words for a while. This year's word is a no-brainer -- "green.

Top Ten Dinosaur and Fossil Finds -- Only National Geographic could relish saber-toothed crocs and giant trilobites. And, of course, "another" missing link was discovered. That makes how many now?

Unanswered Questions of 2009 -- Can't accuse Slate of not probing the unanswered mysteries of our existence. This year, their noodling has unearthed such unexplained questions as "How many human female eggs would it take to make an omelet?", "Why do gang bangers hold their guns sideways?", and "Where can I buy wine that has the word frog in its label?" But by far the most puzzling of all the questions: "How would the law punish Siamese twins if one of the twins committed murder?" Now there's a conundrum.

The 50 Worst Hairstyles of All Time -- And all this while I thought Vanilla Ice's Van Winkle was cool...

So there it is -- a smidgen of weirdness for your edification or dismay. Happy Holidays to you from the staff a Novel Journey!


Anita Mellott writes to encourage others on their journey of life. With a background in journalism and mass communications, she has worked for more than ten years as a writer/editor in the nonprofit world.

She balances homeschooling and the call to write, and blogs at From the Mango Tree (

“Mama, Mama, can we help a kid in the Appalachians again this Christmas?” My tween bounced up and down in her chair at the dining table. “Remember? Last year my discipleship group collected gifts that were on a kid’s wish list. I saw a video today. They have nothing. I mean nothing.”

She wrung her hands. “Sometimes they don’t even eat, Mama, and you know what? They walk for miles together to get food, like a tomato. Can we help? Please, can…”

My husband shook his head and interrupted, “Sweetie, it’s not about we can do. What are you going to do to help?” Her eyes grew wide, and then she looked away and cast her eyes down.

I glared at him. What was he doing? Why couldn’t he encourage her? A deafening silence prevailed.

Slowly my tween raised her head. “I know, Daddy.” She moved the chicken around on her plate with her fork. “I...I was thinking. I’ll give my Nintendo DS.”

I almost choked. “But you saved up for that. Why don’t you give her your IPod Shuffle?
She looked at me. “Mama, I don’t even like my Shuffle anymore. I mean that’s why I saved up for a Nano. I love my DS. That’s why I want to give it to her. And, it was on the wish list.” A tear slid down her cheek.

I bent my head and studied the food on my plate, my cheeks burning.

I heard Jim say, “That’s a good idea. But take some time to pray about it. You should be peaceful about your decision.”

As I raised my head, I caught his glance and saw the smile spreading across his face. I understood what he had been trying to do.

“I’m so proud of you, Princess,” I told my daughter as I tried to smile while holding back my tears.

Christmas is about giving, but it took my tween to remind me about the essence of true giving: Giving when it costs.

I thought of my half-finished manuscript, the log of article ideas, the book proposal my critique group was encouraging me to send out, and the times I begrudge the early mornings and late nights it takes to write. Writing is more than a calling—it’s a sacrifice.

“Lord, you’ve called me to write to encourage others. Help me to give even when I don’t feel like it; to share from my heart selflessly. To give as you give.”

"…I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing" 2 Samuel 2: 24.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Guess Whose Book is Out Now?

If your first guess was yours truly, sorry... not for awhile yet. (Dry those tears, it won't be long ;-)

No, no, it's our good friend,
Title Trakk co-founder,
CJ Darlington.

Her novel, Thicker Than Blood
won the Christian Writer's Guild Operation First Novel contest and was published this month with Tyndale House.

It's now available on sites like Amazon and CBD and in bookstores wherever books are sold.

CJ's a good seed and we hear good things about this one. We hope you'll check it out. She has done a lot to promote Christian fiction. This is our chance to say thank you!

(CJ will be joining us next month for a two-part interview. She did a GREAT job with it. Check it out the last two Tuesdays of Jan.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Little Something Extra For Your Stocking

Here are two templates I created for book plates.

As you can see, one I made for my mother-in-law, the other for myself.

If you have the know how and the soft ware, you can add your name and then print, or you can print and then add your name.

These can be printed on Avery 58164 shipping labels, 3.5 X 5

[Click Here] to download these.

Thank you to the Graphics Fairy for the Shield and Scroll!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

The Novel Journey crew wishes you a very Merry Christmas.

May your holiday season be filled with joy, peace and an awareness of God's mercy and His abundant grace.

We also hope you have a New Year full of blessings beyond your wildest dreams.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Your Muse is Stuck in Traffic by Guest Jenny B. Jones

Jenny writes Christian fiction with a few giggles, quite a bit of sass, and lots of crazy. Her novels include the Katie Parker Production series, A Charmed Life series, and her first contemporary romance, Just Between You and Me. She would also like to take credit for Twilight, but somewhere she thinks she read you’re not supposed to lie.

When she's not typing her heart out (or checking email), she teaches at a super-sized high school in Arkansas.

When Your Muse is Stuck in Traffic

I get writer’s block. A lot. Anyone who says “I don’t believe in writer’s block” deserves something really icky. Like a whole day of no ideas. Or hemorrhoids.

With every single book I struggle. I fight with the beginning. Oh, how I fight with the beginning. I usually have conversations with my editor that go a little something like this:

Me: I have this great idea. How about a story about a woman who is a wedding coordinator. And one day she almost gets run over, but a hot blond doctor pushes her out of the way. It’s instant attraction, but he—

Editor: This sounds just like The Wedding Planner.

Me: Okay, well, then this one will totally knock your socks off. Very original. There’s this teen girl in Washington state. She falls in love—are you ready for this? With a vampire.

Editor: That would be a book called Twilight.

Me: Oh. So you’re saying that’s a problem?

Then the middle? Forget about it. By this time, I’m convinced the book is a literary atom bomb. I’m bored. I’m frustrated. I’m out of Fruit Loops. I have no direction and no idea where I’m headed. My muse is nowhere to be found and not answering my calls, texts, Tweets, or midnight screams from my rooftop. No response. I could say the same for family at this point in a deadline, as the decrease in time left is directly proportional to the decrease in my personality and ability to relate to human beings.

Finally, most of the book is done, and I should be sitting pretty. Breathing easy.
Instead I’m usually making wild deals with God, thinking my editor was just short-sighted in not letting me go with the vampire thing and trying to remember if I’ve bathed—the whole week. I’m teeming with ideas, but none of them have anything to do with my book or the blank pages that should be its ending.

So what does a writer do when the inspirational well has run dry? Allow me to offer some suggestions.

1. Cry.

2. I might go to Wal-Mart and look in the book section. This is what a finished novel looks like. Sometimes I just need those reminders. Then I head to the ice cream freezer and say hello to my friends Ben and Jerry. Because here is something I can finish.

3. You could order takeout from your favorite local restaurant. Employees at mine actually don’t speak much English, so sometimes I go ahead and share my writing problems with whomever is lucky enough to pick up the phone. I tell them about my lagging plots. My one-dimensional characters. My lack of tension and flow. My desire to reach the masses with the hope of Christ. My culinary friend usually has great words of support. “Did you want queso with that?”

4. Pick up a Prevention magazine which is guaranteed to have an article about boosting your brain power. And do everything it says. All at once. Last week I had a ginko, ginger, salmon, sunflower seed, and crossword puzzle cocktail. It did absolutely nothing for my creativity and in my opinion, was a little chunky going down.

5. Cry.

6. Take a cue from my three-year-old niece. Place your head on the seat of the couch. Legs flung over the back. Stay in this position for at least an hour, until the ideas begin to generate, or blood starts dripping out your nostrils and you’ve lost the ability to see in color.

7. Spend some time with your pet. Animals are so calming. So tranquil and happy. The simple things are all they need for their happiness. This would also be a good time to apologize for not cleaning out the litter box all month due to deadline struggles. Children, spouses, and animals should always be made aware of the “Deadline=fend for yourself” rule.

8. Pull out your earlier work to remind yourself that you are an accomplished author and individual. I usually pull out a sixth grade spelling test and that P.E. medal I got for most improved in dodgeball , and that short story from middle school titled “My Brother is a Pig Face Meanie Head and I Hope the Rotting Pizza in His Room Grows Legs and Runs Away With Him and His Dork Friends.” It’s important to remember achieve
ments and that once upon a time I did good work.

9. Watch the opening weeks of American Idol. And try not to compare your current work in progress to the likes of William Hung and that girl who sang through a gas funnel while riding on a scooter.

10. Cry.

For every author, the writing flow is different. For every writer, her ability to put the choke hold on the muse and wrestle that flake to the ground is also necessary, though difficult. Whether it’s prayer, yoga, coffee, reading, fasting, or gluttonous eating, Sister Muse will return again, pull up a chair beside you and whisper sweet words of hope and inspiration. And I begin to write again and feel the joy return, the anxiety depart.
I remember that God created me to write.
I remember that Jesus and my Muse always come through.
I remember. . . I still need to bathe.

Just Between You and Me

The only thing scarier than living on the edge is stepping off it.

Maggie Montgomery lives a life of adventure. Her job as a cinematographer takes her from one exotic locale to the next. When Maggie's not working, she loves to rappel off cliffs or go skydiving. Nothing frightens her.

Nothing, that is, except Ivy, Texas, where a family emergency pulls her back home to a town full of bad memories, painful secrets, and people Maggie left far behind . . . for a reason.

Forced to stay longer than she intended, Maggie finds her family a complete mess, including the niece her sister has abandoned. Ten-year-old Riley is struggling in school and out of control at home. The only person who can really handle the pint-sized troublemaker is Conner, the local vet and Ivy's most eligible bachelor. But Conner and Maggie keep butting heads--he's suspicious of her and, well, she doesn't rely on anyone but herself.

As Maggie humorously fumbles her way from one mishap to another, she realizes she's going to need to ask for help from the one person who scares her the most.

To save one little girl--and herself--can Maggie let go of her fears and just trust God?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Because You're Mine, I Walk the Line

Okay, so maybe a line from a Johnny Cash song is a corny title for a post about the publicity dilemma, so sue me. (Please don't, I'm poor and stressed enough as it is.)

As you probably have heard by now, (because all the world cares about the fabulously exciting life of Gina Holmes), my debut novel, Crossing Oceans is releasing with Tyndale this May.

Does that seem like a long way away to you? Not to me. Funny how time flies when you're trying to publicize your novel. Do you realize that many media outlets, such as magazines have a six month or greater lead time? (A lead time is the amount of time pre-publication they require to get a story, review, whatever written.)
Many reviewers also require many months with an arc, (advanced reader copy), before they will agree to consider a review.
All of this translates into a hurry up and wait scenario and lots of comfort food gorges.

The stress of trying to do my part to help my my publicity department get the word out about Crossing Oceans well in advance, has me chewing my toenails (I'd chew my fingernails, if I had any left.) And yes, I'm quite agile ... and disgusting.

Besides the stress of trying to write my second contracted novel while trying to promote the first and all the work that entails, from filming interviews, to giving book trailer input, to taking promo photos, etc. I find myself questioning how much self-promotion I'm actually comfortable with.

I know I need to do my part to promote the investment Tyndale has made in me but it feels ookie to promote myself. There's a fine line between promoting one's work and promoting one's self. I want to do the former. Crossing Oceans is a good book. Gina Holmes, however ...

Anyway, I asked some industry folks what their thoughts were and they agreed to share their wisdom. Here's the question I posed:

Many writers struggle with the self-promotion required to sell their books. The Bible says, "Let another praise you and not your own mouth." Yet, authors are expected to promote their books to potential readers. What advice would you have for authors grappling with this issue?

I feel an author should take all reasonable opportunities to present a new book to public. Authors can achieve a lot by introducing their material, responding to interviews in which they have a chance to explain or amplify their aims as writers, and it is also a good idea through a Facebook page to print links to good reviews that you receive so that all can read them. It is a real challenge to effectively distribute a book and introduce it to the public. Do not hesitate to do your best in this regard. ---- Anne Rice, author of Angel Time.

TYNDALE's fiction editorial/marketing/publicity group response:

In our opinion, author self promotion is one of the most important ways that authors can partner with their publisher in today’s social networking environment. In the past, publishers have relied on booksellers, librarians, and media to communicate our books to the public. That landscape has changed dramatically with the rise of Facebook, Amazon, online book clubs, and countless other direct to consumer Internet sites. We now have the power to contact the consumer directly.

That said, we recognize that many authors are hesitant to “toot their own horn” or self promote. They worry they won’t appear humble and that others may perceive them as being tacky or pushing their book on others. And sure, occasionally there is the author who over promotes to a fault—even risking a solid relationship with a retailer.

But self promotion needn’t be obnoxious or pushy. If you worry you might be over doing it, you simply need to ask yourself if you’re investing in a new promotional venture or calling your publisher with a promotional idea because it makes sense for addressing a good potential audience . . . or if you’re just anxious or insecure about “how the book is doing.” This should help answer your questions and calm your worries.

If we look at this practice of reaching out to the consumer less as self promotion and more as finding genuine ways to connect readers, every author can strike a happy medium and really help push their name and book into the marketplace in a natural way.

We encourage our authors to write articles for publications, keep a blog for their fans, connect through Facebook or other social networking sites, build a relationship with their local bookstore, and even engage with book groups. Sure, the publisher can do what they can for the author, but the modern consumer can see through this. If an author can take a couple minutes out of their day to connect with readers personally, they gain a fan for life.

If an author is still hesitant, we gently remind them that in the Christian marketplace, not only are we encouraging readers to pick up a book, but we are hoping the reader may find a valuable ministry message in the book. In this way, a Christian author can look at self promotion as a way to really evangelize to Christians and seekers. Books have the power to change lives in unimaginable ways.

Tyndale’s mission is “Minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through literature consistent with biblical principles.” We publish authors and books to accomplish this mission and our greatest hope is to have authors who join us in this journey with a real desire to connect with our readers.

From Athol Dickson, author of Lost Mission:

Self-promotion doesn’t mean talking about the quality of my work, or how fun or interesting or exciting it is. On my website I just post reviews and list awards and leave it at that. In interviews I try to talk about the thematic issues raised in my fiction, which is much more comfortable territory than discussing whether my work is any good or not. And I think the most important thing I’ve learned about promotion is the importance of just enjoying being with people, talking to them, trading emails and meeting them in person. I’ve made a lot of friends through my blog and Facebook page and emails via my website, and once I started thinking of self-promotion that way, it became fun.

Alton Gansky, BRMWC director and novelist:

It’s true. Many authors have trouble tooting their own horns. This is especially true for those who work and write in the Christian arena. After 30 plus books, I still struggle with this, especially when some interviewer asks, “So what makes your book so great?” I find it easier to brag on others than on myself. That said, I have come to see promotion as something far removed from bragging. Promotion is the act of making a case for one’s work. It’s making readers aware of what is available to them. It is not a sales pitch; it is communication. It helps me to remember that I am not promoting myself, but a useful product created by my partnership with a publishing company. I’m uncomfortable promoting myself; I have no problem promoting my work.

Literary agent, Chip MacGregor:

"Promotion" and "overweening pride" are two separate things, Gina. Scripture says we're to beware of pride -- to have too high an opinion of yourself, to take all the credit, lord your success over others, or brag about how wonderful you are. When we do that, we lose perspective as to where our talent comes from. Promotion is different -- it simply means we are encouraging or advancing something (and with a clear conscience, it's promoting something we believe in). Move this out of the realm of books for a moment... If you were selling vacuum cleaners, would your faith keep you from advertising them? ("I can't tell anyone about my vacuum cleaners... they're really good, and it would look like I'm too proud of them.") That's crazy.

If you work hard, are proud of your work, and feel your product is really helpful to others, should you feel awkward about telling others about it? I don't think so. An author is creating art, so should a singer feel he should not sing in public, or a painter not hang her art in a gallery, for fear of letting others notice their gifts? Of course not. Similarly, I think authors can promote the books they create. Sure, that can cross over into the realm of pride, but we need to take steps to make sure that doesn't happen. I see nothing in Scripture that tells me not to the products I believe in with others.

Janet Benrey of Benrey Literary:

It may seem onerous to the new author to be asked to take on the role of book promoter, after all, wasn't writing the book work enough for anyone? But the truth is, thanks to the Internet and its social networks, it is easier than ever for authors to promote their latest work to fans. If you are uncomfortable praising your work to others,don't do it. Leave the reviewing to those more qualified and objective.But don't miss the chance to tell your readers, who surely will want to know, that a new novel by you is about to be launched. I see no Biblical conflict in that.

Bonnie Calhoun, President of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance & GPCWC Writer Of The Year :

The Bible also says not to hide your Lamp under a bushel, and there is another verse in II Thessalonians 3:10 that says, "If Anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." I would never have enough bravado to tell God, well you gave me the message to spread, or You put the story on my You go do all the work and make me a success. And then there are writers who have not been called to write as a ministry, but desire to write, and give it to the Lord as an offering, which is another case of you needing to accomplish the work to submit the offering.

Rebeca Seitz, President of Glass Road PR & novelist:

Matthew 10:16 is one of the most appropriate verses I’ve ever found for an author who is faced with this dilemma. Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

The shrewd part allows us to take stock of the world in which we live and notice how it functions. In publishing, name recognition sells fiction (in the long-term), which leaves you in a position of needing to push your own name. Is that contradictory to the Christian life of placing all others before yourself? Not if God has called you to be an author of books in this culture.

He gave you a story, a beautiful picture of His truth, an incredible illustration of Himself and His work in you, and then called you to an industry that (usually) requires your name to be known among consumers for that story to get to the masses. He knows the industry. He also knows your heart – the place where you can be as innocent as a dove if you so choose. He knows if your intent is to get His story into the most hands so that they will see Him. Trust Him to know you.

The very fact that you wrestle with this dilemma shows that your heart is, first, for Him. He knows that. He loves that. Now go get your name out there so the masses know of this story He gave you. At the end of the day, it’s His name they’ll remember and praise. Yours is just an arrow pointing the way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finger Exercises

Nobody can teach creative writing--run like mad from anybody who thinks he can. But one can teach practices, like finger exercises on the piano; one can share the tools of the trade, and what one has gleaned from the great writers.

Gleanings from Madeleine L'Engle

I think it was Artur Rubinstein who admitted, "If I don't practice the piano for one day I know it. If I don't practice it for two days my family knows it. If I don't practice it for three days, my public knows it."

Read at least an hour a day. I try to read something I feel I ought to read for most of the time, and then for a little bit of the time I read something just for sheer fun. Fun reading is important, and I think we underestimate reading for fun.... Part of your technique of writing is built up by writing, and with this you should also have some fun. I do think that keeping an honest, unpublishable journal is helpful. Include what you are thinking, what you are feeling, what you are responding to. Include what you are angry about that you heard on the news. Don't talk about news in terms of politics but in terms of your own life. What does this mean to you? So these are my three recommendations: read, keep an honest journal, and write every day.

I read Chekhov's letters and I was excited to come across "When you depict sad or unlucky people and want to touch people's hearts, try to be colder. It gives their grief a background against which it stands out in sharper relief." And he went on to say that the writer does and must suffer with his characters, but he must do this in a way that the reader doesn't notice. The more objective, the stronger the effect.

You must write from your own experience. There simply isn't any other way to write. Stanislavski, the great director of the Moscow Art Theater, always taught his students that you have to act out of your own experience, that you cannot act anything you haven't experienced. Once when he was doing a production of Othello, the young man who was playing Othello when to him in great frustration and said, "Mr. Stanislavski, you tell me I have to act out of my own experience. And Othello has to murder Desdemona. I never murdered anybody. How can I act out of my own experience?" Stanislavski just looked at him and said, "Have you ever gone after a fly?"

Where you are in your own life, in your own thinking, is bound to be reflected in some way in what you are writing. I do not believe in the message novel. If you want to give a message, write an essay, preach a sermon. When you tell a story, you tell a story, but underneath the story are the levels of your own interest which somehow get in. So if you are a shallow human being unwilling to open your doors and windows to new ideas, that will show in what you write. If you are willing to go out into the unknown, that too will show in what you write and will, perhaps, give your readers courage to be willing to go out into the unknown as well.

All quotes taken from Madeleine L'Engle: Herself, compiled by Caroline F. Chase

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

Marcia Lee Laycock will celebrate Christmas in Central Alberta Canada, with her husband, three daughters, two sons in law, two golden retrievers and a six toed cat. She wishes you and yours all the blessings of our Saviour through this joyous season and beyond into 2010.

I was shopping yesterday, picking up the last of the items on my list for Christmas. I told the woman at the counter I was finished. “That’s it,” I said. “I’m done.” Then my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, asking to be picked up from school. As I drove, I mentally went down the girls’ wish lists and I realized I’d forgotten something. Laura still had some shopping to do too, so we went back to the same store. (The 50% off sign is a big draw in our family!)

The clerk smiled pleasantly. “I thought you were done.” I grinned and nodded. “So did I.” It seems we’re never done. There’s always another gift to get, another item to buy for the Christmas dinner, another invitation to give out for that party before the 25th. Then, all of a sudden, it’s over. The day is past, the gifts are put away, the tree is tossed out or packed away. Then the plans begin for New Year’s – more invitations to give and receive, more food to buy. We’re never done.

I imagine Mary, like most women who give birth, breathed a deep sigh of relief when Jesus was born. After the long nine-month wait, at last it was finished. But the birth of Christ, as no other, was not an end but a beginning. It was a new beginning for us all, a new agreement between man and God. It took thirty-some years to bring the plan into fulfillment, but there was no doubt it would come to be. The end was in sight from the moment of Christ’s birth. He was the baby who came to die, and His death, like His birth, was like no other.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30), He wasn’t referring to just the span of thirty years he spent on earth. He was referring to the plan set in motion from eternity past – the plan to bring all of mankind into right relationship with God. His part was done, once and for all, as He took the sin of mankind on Himself and removed the barrier between human beings and God. His part was done, but our part was just beginning.

The birth and death of Jesus gave us all the chance to say yes to Him, to discover and develop a relationship with Him, and to tell others about Him. His birth gave us all life, His death gave us all forgiveness, and His resurrection gave us all purpose. When we accept that, we will never be done, neither in growing like Him, nor in receiving and dispensing His love. The story is going to go on forever.

That’s a reason to celebrate! So let the carols ring and the feasting never end. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

With the holiday bustle upon us and it being a month after the National Novel Writing Month, I'm wondering how you guys faring with your books.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bliss Boosters for the Crazy Christmas Season ~ Diana Estill

Though we focus on writing at Novel Journey we occasionally stop to remember that we are also members of families and society in general. Because this time of year is so busy for most of us, Diana Estill has offered some hints for getting in touch with our inner bliss.

Grab a cup of whatever you need and take a few minutes to read and reflect. (You won't even have to stretch too far to make this all very pertinent to your writing adventures.)

10 Ways to Boost Your Bliss

Stay well rested -- The average person needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. However, those who are stressed may need even more winks. Lack of sleep interferes with our ability to cope, and nothing sours a mood quite like overtiredness. Reduce irritability by increasing your

Show gratitude -- A positive attitude begins with being grateful for what’s already been received. Start each day by writing down or contemplating something you’re thankful for.

Laugh at yourself, smile at others -- Laughing in the midst of challenges makes troubles seem less threatening. Find something funny about daily frustrations to help conquer life’s annoyances. Share
your smiles with others because when we give someone else a pick-me-up, we give ourselves one too.

Play -- Grant yourself permission to be silly and childlike at least once a day. Being playful can lead to sudden inspirations, new solutions and creative pursuits.

Practice the art of nonresistance -- Remain in the current moment to find joy in the present. Don’t try to forecast the future by projecting struggles beyond their knowable range. Instead of trying to control what can’t be controlled, experience the exhilaratio
n of living fully in the here and now.

Find supportive friends -- Surround yourself with family and friends whose traits and behaviors you admire. Steer clear of those who are insensitive, hypercritical or lack your vision for success.

Set attainable goals -- Visualize your deepest desires, but set attainable goals to achieve those dreams. A series of small accomplishments will build confidence while you’re working toward major milestones.

Get organized -
- Set aside time each week to organize your surroundings. Declare a “deal with it” day, a period to tackle errands, chores and minor repairs you’ve been ignoring. Clear out physical clutter to lessen stress and lighten your spirits.

Experience nature -- Step outdoors and witness the varieties of plants, animals and insects. Marvel at the clouds, sun, moon or stars. When we surround ourselves with nature, we’re better able to put our problems into perspective. That tree we’re looking at might have stood for 100+ years despite countless storms. We, too, are equally resilient.

Be authentic -- Live each day on your own terms, actively choosing the path that is right for you. Be honest and faithful to your true self, and fully embrace your worth. Don’t let anyone else’s desires for you sidetrack you from your life’s mission. Say “no” when you need to. Remember that you alone get to decide what makes you happy.

Diana Estill is the author of Deedee Divine's Totally Skewed Guide to Life

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Interview ~ Mike Mason

Mike Mason calls himself a “Purveyor of Fine Sentences.” That’s because he writes sentences, not books. Told by someone that a writer’s job is to make good sentences and the rest will look after itself, he tries to make every sentence true and beautiful.

For Mike, this is not just a philosophy of writing but of life. He believes it’s moments that count, more than the grand scheme.

His first great moment happened in 1952 when he came into the world in Peterborough, Canada. By age eleven he wanted to be a writer, and although he got many things wrong in life, one thing he got right was to hang onto the writing dream and pursue it single-mindedly. After earning an M.A. in English from the University of Manitoba, he spent his twenties doing odd jobs to support his writing, from garbage-collecting to journalism to library work.

In 1982 he married Karen, a family doctor. They spent their first year of marriage studying theology at Regent College in Vancouver, and they’ve lived in British Columbia ever since. They have one daughter, Heather, born in 1987, who is pursuing dance studies in Toronto.

In nearly three decades of writing, Mr. Mason has published five devotional books, two collections of short stories, and now a novel (The Blue Umbrella, the first volume in a fantasy series). He’s currently working on the sequel, The Violet Flash, and also on a book of a very different sort, a collection of heavenly visions entitled Adventures in Heaven.

Turning to novel-writing at age fifty has meant a radical change. In many ways he had to learn his craft all over again and work through many fears and insecurities. The result, however, has been deeply satisfying, and now with more novels on the way he has a renewed sense of challenge and joy in his work.
All in all, Mike says he enjoys a simple life filled with family and friends, a dog and a cat, books, music, and prayer.
Where did you get your inspiration for The Blue Umbrella?

I live at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill, a couple of blocks down, is the real Porter’s Store. A few years ago I awoke in the middle of the night to a flash of insight. I recalled that when I was a little boy, many years ago and many miles away, I also lived at the top of a hill and at the bottom was an old store. How interesting! With this strange convergence of my present and past lives, the whole geography of a children’s fantasy novel flowed into my mind. I could set the story right in my own neighborhood! But it would really be the neighborhood of my childhood, which is the deepest source of all writerly inspiration.

There was also a third old store, Foster’s, which I knew as a young man living in a small prairie town. Old Mr. Foster was always talking about the weather and he even made up little poems about it. In winter he might say:

Snow, snow, the lovely snow,
You step on a bit and down you go.

Or on a rainy day he’d say:

Sun, sun, the beautiful sun,
It never shines, the son-of-a-gun!

Listening to Mr. Foster recite his silly poems, one day my imagination got to wondering what might really be going on in that store …

Which character is most like you?

There is quite a bit of me in Zac Sparks—in two ways. Firstly, as a little boy I was very active and excitable and I got into a fair amount of trouble. I used to climb on top of the piano and shout, “Jump, Mommy, jump!” and from wherever she was in the house my mother would have to come running to catch me. And I once pushed the neighborhood bully off a high stone wall into a big tub of water! I picture Zac, under normal circumstances, as being like that.

This story, however, does not take place under normal circumstances. Zac’s mother has died and he’s been plunged into a dark situation, so for most of the book he struggles with grief, shock, fear, and confusion. This changes him. While he still has “sparks” of mischief and excitability, on the whole his behavior is much subdued, his natural character repressed. Interestingly I think this side of him reflects, to some extent, my adult self. Life has a lot of hard experiences that can knock you sideways. At some level aren’t adults trying to get back to the fully alive children they once were?

So yes, I identify with Zac. But to say which character is most like me, I have to admit it’s Ches. I like Ches a lot—so much that I decided to write book two in the series from Ches’s point of view. Talk about repressed! Due to his background he has so many problems. But precisely because of that, he has a great journey to make from darkness to light.

Who is your favorite character?

Chelsea! I love her because she is the one who has most retained her childlikeness. Through her connection with Eldy, she has resisted all pressure to conform to the evil that has Five Corners in its grip. Book three in the series will be from Chelsea’s point of view and I can hardly wait to write it!

This story seems to be an allegory. Did you start out intending to write an allegory or did it just happen?

For years I’d written nonfiction books with a message, and I was tired of that. I had nothing more to tell anyone; instead I just wanted to tell a good story. I had just turned fifty and I realized that fiction is what I’d really wanted to write all along. Somehow I’d gotten away from that, and it was time to return to my original dream.

So with The Blue Umbrella I set out with no message in mind, no allegory, just a story. As I went along, I myself was very surprised at the spiritual depth that developed. But I don’t think this makes my book an allegory, so much as a work of literature with an allegorical dimension. An allegory tends to feel wooden because there is a clear one-to-one correspondence between all the elements of the story and some other reality. An allegory is so linked to what it represents that it cannot really stand on its own, whereas a good literary story, while it always points beyond itself, is fully alive in its own right.

Did you know how The Blue Umbrella would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

At the outset I had a vague idea of the ending, which turned out to be completely different! Other than that, all I had were a few key scenes, places I wanted to get to. And I emphasize the word places. Books begin in different ways—sometimes with a character, sometimes with a bit of plot or setting.
The Blue Umbrella is very much a novel of setting. From the beginning what was most vivid in my mind was the place: Porter’s General Store at the five corners. Especially vivid was the all-important second story of Porter’s. I’ve never actually been there (in the real store, I mean), but I did have a chance to visit the upper story of another old building down the street, while it was being renovated. This was a former service station that was being turned into, of all things, a chocolate factory! When the owner took me upstairs, I saw this huge room that looked like a dance hall, with a beautiful hardwood floor and no pillars, illuminated in the most extraordinary way by late-afternoon light. The building had one-hundred-foot beams, which meant (obviously) they were cut from trees at least a hundred feet tall. You don’t see that anymore. My visit to that upper room was the inspiration for the Weatherworks.

Because I began my book with a setting, and not much else, the plot and characters came as a complete surprise as I wrote. I kept trying to make an outline but this didn’t seem to work for me. In fact I discovered that I didn’t really know how to tell a story, how to keep a plot moving over the long haul of a novel. Finding myself in the midst of a very steep learning curve, eventually I took a course that turned out to be exactly what I needed. The course was called Story, taught by Robert McKee—really a screenwriting course but wonderful for novelists, too. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (McKee also has a book by the same title.)

What is your favorite type of weather and why?

I love thunder and lightning and wind. It goes back to my childhood when (just like Zac) I used to stay up with my mother late at night to watch storms. As it happens, the place where I live now (on the West Coast) doesn’t have much electrical activity, but we do get a lot of rain. There’s nothing I like better than an all-day rain. It’s great writing weather! When the sun shines, it feels like a person should be outside enjoying it. But I’d rather have a good excuse to stay indoors and read and write.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eleven years old. In grade 7 I had a great teacher who taught a form of creative writing that she called Intensive Writing. It was really a sneaky way of getting us to write poetry. From the moment I discovered that I could simply look at something (such as a spider spinning a web; I think that was my first topic) and write about it—and not just about it but my feelings about it—from that point I never looked back.
I grew up in a family where deep feelings were repressed, never talked about, and so the idea that I could explore my feelings in writing was revolutionary to me. It seemed totally radical, and still does. Writing is a way of bringing one’s inner life out into the open, and so bridging the two, and this is the most world-changing act a person can do. We all have these secret lives that we ourselves, often, are hardly aware of. To transform secrets into words and share them with others is truth.

In my pursuit of writing as a career, I made many mistakes. I’ve made even more in living my life. But somehow one thing I got right, both in writing and in life, was that, if I was going to be a writer, it meant not focusing on anything else. It meant not having any other career. It meant believing firmly enough in my artistic vision that, as long as I followed it faithfully, everything would work out. And it has. During my twenties I did a lot of odd jobs to support my writing—everything from library work to farming to garbage collecting. But for the last twenty-five years I’ve done nothing but write full time. And I love it!

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

Yes! I write every day, five days a week, and usually I feel like it. I wake up in the morning thinking, “Oh boy, I get to write today!”

Having said that, I normally don’t start until about 3:00 p.m., and then I write for three or four hours. Any longer and I soon get burned out. I start late in the day because, if I started any earlier, I would just keep going and become a workaholic. That’s how much I love writing. So for me, the only way to have a life is to have it during the first part of the day. I also need time for planning, thinking, reading, handling the business end of writing, and just staring out the window or listening to music. Writing requires a lot of “nothing” time for mulling and daydreaming. Without that, creativity doesn’t happen.

If I occasionally come to my writing desk and don’t feel like writing, I just do it anyway, like being on a hike and putting one foot in front of another even if I’m worn out. It’s like priming a pump: Pour in a few words, crank the handle a few times, and soon the stream is flowing. If I don’t know where to start, I start where I want to. I try to identify one phrase or sentence or image that I find really intriguing, even if it’s just a fragment and doesn’t seem to be what I should be doing. Writing is fundamentally about writing what I want, not what I should. Otherwise it stops being fun.

What is your favorite novel?

My favorite books these days are children’s books. I began reading them ten years ago, in preparation for writing my own, and it was a great revelation to read these stories as an adult. Children’s literature allows an author to be idealistic in a way that modern adult literature does not. There are happy endings, heroic characters, a clear battle between good and evil, and portals leading to other worlds—all things that reflect, I believe, the deepest truths of life.

I love The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and some other classics. But right now I believe we’re in a new golden age of children’s literature, and I’m very excited about some books that have appeared more recently. For example, there’s Harry Potter (of course!), Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series, and many others.

My favorite novel of all time is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn—full of page after page of pure, gorgeous, totally absorbing storytelling. Stevenson’s Treasure Island is like that too; you get so deeply lost in the story you don’t even notice you’re turning pages. Another of my favorites is Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—partly because I recall so vividly reading it as a boy, probably right around the time I began thinking of being a writer. I have a photograph of myself reading this book, which I think was the one that first opened my eyes to the imaginative possibilities of other worlds.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

Weather: how it looks and feels, and how it suggests something much more than meets the eye. I want readers to remember Zac in his room at the Aunties’ house, listening to the wind as it moves tree branches against his windowpane like someone tapping to be let in.

Have you ever wondered why weather is the number one topic of conversation? It seems like the smallest sort of small talk, but I think weather is really a very BIG topic. This is obvious in our own time, when the world is heading for climate disaster and everyone’s talking about it. But even just normal chitchat about weather is, I believe, far more significant than it appears. I think it’s a safe way for people to acknowledge something very important. We all have a deep yearning to discuss the big questions in life (such as “Why are we here?” and “What’s it all about?”), but often we cannot talk freely because there are so many different beliefs and it just gets really awkward. Weather, however, is something right in our faces that both deeply affects us and that we can all agree on. It’s perfectly obvious if it’s raining or snowing or the sun is shining, and it’s also perfectly obvious that such magnificent phenomena reflect a greater reality. Weather is the ultimate metaphor.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guest blogger ~ Sandra Bricker

Sandra D. Bricker has been publishing in both the Christian and general market for years with novels for women and teens, magazine articles and short stories. With 8 novels in print and 5 more slated for publication through 2010, Sandie has carved out a niche for herself as an author of laugh-out-loud comedy for the inspirational market, and last year’s Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas garnered her three different readers’ choice award nods. Sandie was an entertainment publicist in Hollywood for 15+ years, and she is a frequent reader favorite author.

The Top 10 Reasons for Self-Editing

I remember seeing a cartoon once where a writer tells his editor that he looks revisions like he’s performing surgery; he cuts out the bad parts and then his story is cured. To which his editor replies, “I’m sorry to tell you … I think your novel died on the operating table.”

I’m often asked questions about my process as a writer. Do I edit as I go along, or do I just get it down on paper and go back through it afterward? When editing, what do I look for, and what makes it evident that a manuscript is in need of revisions? All good questions!

Taking what I’ve learned from my day job as an editor, I’ve put together a sort of Top Ten List, things I look for when polishing up a manuscript, and then I’ve gathered input from some of my favorite experts as well. I thought the writers here might find it interesting.

Be sure to write your characters’ dialogue the way they would actually say it. Dialogue should be a simple window into a conversation between two people.

Charlene Patterson, Editor – Bethany House: One of my primary annoyances is expository, unrealistic dialogue. Don't use character speech to explain things the characters should already know. And don’t overuse dialogue, or let the characters ramble about topics unimportant to the story you’re telling. I need interspersed description to be able to picture the characters and their circumstances.

Tom Merino, Filmmaker – FortuneTeller Films: This is not Biblically mandated, but it should be! Wherever possible, a writer should show the story rather than telling it to the reader. Every now and then, let the reader figure something out for themselves instead of telling them how to interpret what you’re giving them. It’s just good storytelling.

Don’t try to force the reader to “catch up” by jamming the first 10 pages with back story. Begin your story … then fill in as you go forward. If absolutely necessary, use a SHORT prologue; but only if it’s imperative. The sad truth is that most editors don’t read beyond the first page unless you give them a compelling reason to do so. Don’t open your story with the heroine looking at herself in the mirror. Start with a killer opening line, and build from there.

This is not a reference to general head-hopping! Don’t shift into someone else’s eyes to tell the story.

Dianne Larrea – Freelance Editor: Every so often, I’m stopped in my tracks as I’m reading because of point of view. How does a character know that his eyes are puffy and bloodshot unless he’s looking into a mirror?

Marian Miller – Freelance Reader: Don’t deny the reader the experience of discovering a character’s flaws. Too much perfection makes for a really boring read. Maybe your hero isn’t going to move in on his best friend’s girlfriend … but you and I both know he’ll at least think about it. Let me see his inner scoundrel, if only for a moment.

Don’t tell me half a dozen times what you can say in a few words.

Tamela Hancock Murray, Agent – Hartline Literary Agency: I often see people over-describing a character’s attributes to drive home the point. Okay. I get it. He’s horrible. Don’t keep telling me again and again.

If you use a Scripture reference in your masterpiece, be sure to add the Bible version you used. Don’t make the editor have to go looking.

Connie Troyer, Editor – Summerside Press: Give the information to your editor up front. The more the author does, the less I have to remember to check, and a cleaner manuscript is the result. The more confidence I have in my author, the less neurotic I am.

It’s basic Respect 101. Respect for the editor, and respect for your own material. Many writers don’t realize how distracting a misplaced comma or misspelled word can be.

Susan Downs, Editor – Summerside Press: Probably my biggest peeve is when writers use possessive apostrophes when they shouldn't (for instance, it's/its or 1960's instead of 1960s.) Also, many authors need to be reminded not to separate a subject from its verb with a comma. I prefer to use a comma after the final item in a series preceding the and, even though the practice of abandoning it is becoming increasingly common.

Remember that you are not starring in your book. Each of your characters is a unique individual on their own, and each of them will walk, talk, react and act out in a different way than the others.

Rachel Meisel, Senior Editor – Summerside Press: I just hate it when all the characters have one voice—the voice of the author. Your characters are not you; they should each have their own unique voice, full of quirks and idiosyncrasies. They should use slang and idioms unique to them, for if they all sound like you, the reader becomes instantly aware that she’s not in the character’s head but in your head.


Barbara Scott, Senior Editor – Abingdon Press: If I can’t figure out what an author is trying to say, how will the readers get it? If an author turns in the absolute cleanest manuscript possible, it can shave off weeks of stress time. When you multiply 20 manuscripts per year times the number of hours needed to clean up sloppy writing, you can see how it would make my life easier. Rather than spend time on convoluted sentences, I could make in-depth suggestions to an author to help make a story stronger.


Bostonian Cassie Constantine is only in Florida long enough to use her Christmas break to get the vacation house that she’s always despised ready for the real estate market. But her widow status is like a target on her back, and the elderly matchmakers around town manage to sidetrack her mission at every turn. Holiday is a land mine of golf tournaments, ballroom dancing competitions, shuffleboard and day trips. But the biggest obstacle of all? Nope, not Sophie the crazy Collie. It's Richard Dillon, the stuffed shirt she’s paired with on the dance floor, that makes her heartbeat tap faster than the rhythm of The Quickstep.

For a review of Love Finds You in Holiday, Florida, click here.