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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Arm Chair Interview's Andrea Sisco

Andrea Sisco has had an eclectic career as a probation officer, television host, flight attendant, book reviewer, and adoption activist. The charge that the character of Penelope Santucci is autobiographical is only partially true. It is true, however, that her husband consented to his murder, but only if it took place of the pages of a book. She has kept her promise. Andrea is the co-founder of, a web site that reviews books and interviews authors. A Deadly Habit is her first mystery. She is currently coauthoring a Young Adult Fantasy series. Her website is

Tell us about Arm Chair Interviews. How you got started and what your vision is for the site.
Connie Anderson and I were former television hosts. We interviewed authors (new, emerging and the superstars). When I left television (I was living in AZ and MN and it was impossible to do the job) I missed the author's and the books. Connie had the idea and we started Armchair Interviews over 4 years ago. We've been named for four years by Writer's Digest as one of the best 101 web sites for writers. We're pretty proud of that honor.
How does an author get reviewed on Arm Chair?
If an author wants a review they should go to and click on the FAQ for submission requirements. We review 44 genres (and sub genres) and we also review POD and self published books.

Tell us about your latest project.

My debut novel A DEADLY HABIT will be released July 17, 2009 from Five Star (an imprint of Gale, part of Cengage Learning). I love mysteries and used my background as a probation officer for a large metropolitan area as the vehicle for solving a murder.

A Deadly Habit is about a young probation officer, Pen Santucci who is looking good for the murder of her estranged husband. The wisecracking, safecracking Pen lures an elderly priest and a young nun into committing felonies on her wild search for the truth. Hardly appropriate behavior for the dedicated officer. But while Pen believes in her job, she has little faith in the justice system. Unfortunately, Pen digs herself deeper into trouble and straight into a muddy grave, dragging her hunky attorney with her. If they ever get out of it alive, he plans to wring her neck himself. That is, if the thugs who are after the money she found don't get her first.

I am also coauthoring a YA/Middle Reader Fantasy series with Kathleen Baldwin (Kensington author of romantic comedies).

We love to hear about your journey to publication.
I've always written, but I haven't always written fiction. Many years ago I had an idea for what would be considered a Women's fiction novel. It's a good story, but I over wrote it and made all sorts of beginner mistakes. Unlike a lot of authors who keep those first books under the bed, I may dust it off, clean it up and have a go at it. But only because I feel it's a good story and can be fixed.

Because I didn't know how to write fiction, a friend who wrote Romance suggested I could learn a lot about writing if I tackled that genre (because of the fast rules and tight structure). The story, again, was interesting and I learned a lot (my query letter was a killer because the full manuscript was requested each time I submitted it) but I hadn't learned enough. Alas, this is a story that will stay under my bed gathering dust. And that's a good thing.

I didn't write for a long while (I have a lot of children, grandchildren and a career). Several years ago (about five) I had an idea (based on a bit of me) for a mystery. I wrote, had readers who helped me focus and kept me honest and I continued to write (taking some time off when a number of close family members died). When I'd rewritten the book about twenty times I decided to send out queries for agents. Nothing but rejections for about a year. I think I queried about 30 agents. Oh, I had requests for partials, full manuscripts, etc. but nothing stuck.

I must admit I was feeling pretty low. Hey, it was starting to feel like it might be easier to get a new husband than an agent. I would not give up! I decided to send the manuscript to some houses that didn't require an agent or knew me from my work reviewing books on my site

I sent it to three different houses and was offered a contract by Five Star and had interest from the other two houses (I wanted to go with Five Star). An author friend, Emyl Jenkins (her newest book The Big Steal published by Algonquin is out in July also) told me I had to have an agent and don't sign anything until she talked to her agent.

I couldn't believe that someone was offering to act as a go between with her agent (frankly I've found authors don't do this much—at least it hasn't happened to me). Her agent said if I could write, she'd work with me. And she is now my agent. She took an orphan author and gave her a home and some feeling of security. I met her last fall while speaking at a writer's conference out east. What a dear and talented woman!

I was offered my contract with Five Star in late November of 2007, and signed the contract around February of 2008 (not much goes on in publishing between Thanksgiving and New Years) and was given a July 2009 pub date. Long time, huh? No wonder authors self-publish. Actually I'm at the age where I thought I could die before seeing it in print.

What is one weakness you have as a writer and what do you do to overcome it?

I am so busy with Armchair Interviews, my new puppy Sophie (she owns me), my family and friends that I often don't sit down and write. Then I go in bursts… Right now I'm having some fear of writing. That I won't be able to finish the next Penelope Santucci mystery, that it won't be any good.

What is one strength you have as a writer and to what do you attribute your success in this particular area?

I keep on, keeping on. I am stubborn. I surround myself with positive and supportive people. I have a husband and family who encourage me and my faith in God keeps me on track.

If you could go back to the young writer you were when you were just beginning, what advice would you give yourself?

I would have started writing seriously at an earlier age.

Don't stop! Have confidence in yourself (even if you don't, pretend you do). I have a fear of success and a fear of failure. The double whammy!

What’s one publicity tip you can share that you’ve gotten a good response with in promoting your work?

I used my name! I am somewhat known in the business due to Armchair Interviews and my previous television program, Book Talk, so I can use that to get into places I might not otherwise be able to crack. Also, I'm finding out that while I'll help anyone who asks, I have a problem asking for myself. I'm pushing myself to get over that.

What do you to improve as a writer?

I write and read all the time. I surround myself with writers and readers.

What are a few of your favorite books not written by you?

My favorite 2008 book was The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It's not a book I would normally read, but I was hired by the author's publicist to interview him and silently finished the book on a flight from L.A. I was speechless. While there are some editorial issues, it's basically a smashing debut novel. See our review on Armchair Interviews.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler is speculative fiction (sort of modern day sci fi) about a future posited on Kunstler's signature idea: when the oil wells start to run dry, the world economy will collapse and society as we know it will cease. It's what happens. The focus is a small town (over one summer) in New York… Stunning.

The Help by Kathyrn Stockett (2009)

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2009)

The Maggie Valley Series (YA/Middle Reader) by Kerry Madden is delightful. There are three books in the series; Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song and Jessie's Mountain. In a world of trashy (my opinion) YA novels, these are a breath of fresh air.
Anything by Susan Meissner or Liz Curtis Higgs

But my forever favorites are:

Nancy Drew (all of them). And the new Nancy Drew, Minnesota's own, Susan Runholt, author of The Mystery of the Third Lucretia
Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Anything by Miss Read (she writes about village life in England)

And so many more I couldn't begin to name them all. I LOVE books!

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Oh, yes. Not about my novel writing, but about a contest I wrote the rules for (on Armchair Interviews). The prize was several Miss Read novels and sponsored by the publisher who was reissuing the books. The woman who won wrote that she had decided life wasn't worth living. Her son had recently died in a horrible accident and she was ill. She found our site, entered the contest and when she won, she said she'd wait on the "life" issue. She hunkered down when the books arrived and read them one after the other and they gave her hope and the desire to live. I literally fell on my knees and gave thanks when I read her letter. It was like a miracle that I was allowed to look in on. It was a humbling experience and I was so grateful.

Do you have a pet peeve to do with this business?

New authors are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the business. With the demise of the independent bookstores and the diminishing shelf space, we're being served up the best sellers whether we like them or not. Wonderful writers who are also great storytellers are not getting the publicity they deserve.

What’s your favorite part of being a writer/least?

Writing is my favorite part of being a writer. My least favorite part is the publicity. It takes away from my writing time and frankly, most writers have no idea how to promote themselves. And even if we knew how to promote our work, we would rather be writing. When you think about it, publishers print books and the authors promote them.

What has surprised you most about this industry?

The willingness of review sites, bloggers and others to help promote my book. What a blessing that has been. So many people are willing to step out and help.

Advice to aspiring authors?

Join a good writers/critique group, read books (dissect them to see how they are constructed) and then plop down in a chair and write.

Parting words?

I've always dreamed of being published and I am seeing that dream come true. I owe my love for writing and reading to my mother, Shirley Christensen. And I love her more than I can ever say and appreciate her gift of the written word.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


by Mike Duran

I was recently asked, "Do you Tweet?" "No," I replied. "But I've been known to crow." Okay, bad joke.

Really, it's a legitimate question being asked these days. What with Twitter becoming one of the fastest growing social platforms, more and more authors are using and advocating the free service. The line of reasoning goes like this:
Twitter provides up-to-the-second info on people and events you're interested in, allows you to stay connected to a vast array of friends, followers and cultural icons, and assists you in building a platform for services, exchange of ideas, or product sales.
Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, in a post entitled How Much Time Does Twittering Really Take? writes that Twitter "...offers an unparalleled opportunity for brand-building, social networking, and customer engagement."

So why not Twitter?

As a marketing or PR tool, Twitter excels. Large groups of people can be alerted with news or updates in a matter of seconds. With the push of a virtual button the title of your book, teaser, giveaways, release date, and signing venues can be broadcast to friends and followers. You can connect with other authors, become fans of the biggest of dogs, and peek in on their daily escapades and personal thoughts. There's no question that Twitter can serve a valuable purpose for the businessperson, author, or run-of-the-mill groupie.

However, in my experience the majority of tweets are utterly inane. Took dog 2 vet. Cleaned barf from bck seat. Feeling blah. Chugged Monst3r. Feeling better. Work sucks. Got caught tweeting. Now w/out work. The minutiae is never ending. Call me anti-social, but I just don't care enough about anyone to need a 24/7 ticker of their daily life. Heck, why not just implant webcams in our foreheads, then we'll never be without the smarmy details.

is there a better way to inflate your importance than Twitter? Nowadays, building your brand means carefully cultivating a digital image. You can pick and choose your Profile photo (preferably one that doesn't reveal your double-chin and receding hairline), and share info and interests that do nothing but make you look cooler than you really are. You needn't reveal anything about your short-temper, snootiness, chemical addictions, or previous marriages. It's the ultimate "sock puppet." You can engineer tweets to subtly exaggerate your significance (Spotted Snoop Dawg in Rio. I didn't have time to chat), convey class (sushi after the Getty overlooking Pacific before the Bowl), or simply congratulate yourself for some accomplishment (Sold article to High Times. Dude!). Talk about shameless self-promotion. Twitter is the ultimate House of Mirrors, where no one is as they appear.

Making friends is a stated objective of Twitter, and there is an unspoken esteem placed on people with lots of them. Of course, out of one thousand friends you might only know 75 of them. But in the Land of Twitter, that doesn't really matter. You see, Twitter friends come in two kinds -- The people you actually know and the people who are trying to up their follower count. The former is the kind you must learn to love, communicate with, and forgive. The latter is the kind you get promotional blurbs and sales pitches from. Don't get me wrong: there are people I've never physically met who I find witty, informative, and interesting. But I'm mistaken if I think that "friending" any of them will make me either witty, informative, or interesting.

For a writer who is building a brand, Twitter can be a useful tool. However, there are many tools and many authors who have succeeded without ever tweeting. In fact, many of those who enthusiastically endorse Twitter are often ones who already have an existing following, several existing platforms, or an established business. So of course it's easy for Agent X or Author Y to endorse Twitter -- their name and product is already out there. Shaq is guaranteed a gazillion "friends" just by showing up. But using Twitter as a means of self-branding has a downside, primarily that of motivation.
"Befriending" people (in the Twitter sense) can simply be a means to selling them something. Perhaps that's the nature of the author /reader relationship. But it feels so... sneaky.

Okay, so I'm behind the times. But I've seen enough technological trends to know that most developments are not nearly as revolutionary as they seem in the present. (Case in point: My Palm E2, one of my most important writing tools, is now obsolete.) First there were blogs. Then MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. Devices and apps will come and go. Some will remain and morph. At some future point, Twitter will be replaced by (or re-incorporated into) another technological tool. And when that day comes, we will debate its upside and downside. Until then -- and until I get more time, money, and discipline -- I shall remain Twitterless.

(But, just in case you’re interested, it’s 9:00 P.M. Pacific Time, Wilco's playing on my iPod, and I’m writing this in my jammies!)

Once Again

Marcia Laycock is a writer and speaker living in Central Alberta, Canada. Her devotionals have been widely published and her novel, One Smooth Stone won her the Best New Canadian Author Award in 2006.

There's a song by Matt Redman that says -

"Once again I look upon the cross where You died.
I'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken inside.
Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life."

While in Israel we visited a heritage village. It was much like the heritage villages here in North America that portray past history in tableau, with real actors and working artifacts. This village was in Nazareth and was laid out to represent the town as it would have been in the time of Jesus.

The day we visited, it was raining - pouring rain, in fact. Most of the actors kept inside the small shelters, which didn't really keep them dry because the roofs were made of thatch and far from water-proof.

We moved from one scene to the next - the potter's, the weaver's, the wine press, and finally the carpenter's shop. It was here the fact that this was a representation of Jesus' home hit me. I looked at the tools, the kind of rough wood he would have worked with, and Jesus became more real to me.

Perhaps that's why one of the tableaus we saw next had such an impact. The figure at the centre was made of rough wood too, and was draped with a simple cloth. The lighting was subdued, flickering with small oil lamps, their tiny flames leaning toward the focal point of the display. The cross. The cross of Christ.

As the song says, once again I was struck by what Jesus suffered, what he endured for me. I was struck not just by the physical pain he was subjected to, but by the torture of having the sin of the world put upon His shoulders, the agony of knowing His Father was turning His face away.

And once again I became aware that there is nothing I can do to make it up to Him. No remorse, no penance, no acts of kindness, no great work of fiction or text of apologetics. Nothing I do can repay that debt. And once again that act of pure mercy stuns me.

The unconditional gift of love and forgiveness causes my heart to break. And that, I realize once again, is the only thing Jesus wants of me.

A heart broken wide enough for Him to enter in.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Author Interview ~ Heidi Thomas

Heidi Thomas grew up on a Montana ranch, and now lives in Washington state. She has a Journalism degree from the University of Montana and a two-year certificate in fiction writing from the University of Washington. Heidi has had numerous newspaper and magazine articles published, is a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, and teaches community classes in memoir and fiction writing. Cowgirl Dreams, by Treble Heart, is her first novel.

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

I started writing Cowgirl Dreams in 1999 and ten years later I found a publisher who believed in me and the book was published!

Do you think an author is born or made?

I think there’s a little of both. Some writers seem to have an innate sense of words, rhythm, and story. Others can learn, practice, and perfect the craft.

What is the first book you remember reading?

A pre-primer series, “Mac and Muff.”

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

A persistent need to see their projects to fruition. That entails a tremendous amount of reading, studying, writing practice, feedback, re-writing and rewriting again and again. Persistence.

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

I don’t think there are any “stupid” premises. I would encourage anyone with an idea to pursue it. Just get it down on paper. It may end up not working as a book, but the experience of writing it gives you a foundation for pursuing the next idea.

What is the theme of your latest book?

The pursuit of a dream. My character is going after her dream of becoming a rodeo star, and having the book published is my dream coming true.

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

I’m not sure I’m there yet. There is always more to learn, and that’s what I love about writing. You never stop learning.

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

When I get that it’s “there” feedback from a trusted reader or from a potential agent or publisher.

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

I made a trip to Montana and wanted to find the ranch where my grandparents lived when they were first married. The only information I had was that its was “the old Davis Place under the rims” between Cut Bank and Sunburst. I knew it was a long shot, but then it’s a sparsely population area of Montana, so I thought maybe someone would remember. Sure enough, I stopped at a museum, where they directed me to someone who remembered someone else and I ended up visiting with a relative who knew exactly where it was. That was a special experience for me, to see the old house and the flat-rimmed hills that surrounded it.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

It’s a novel that is based on my grandmother who rode steers in Montana rodeos during the 1920s. She was a strong, independent woman who was ahead of her time, knew what she wanted, and went after it. I think we all can identify with that kind of character.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stolen Characters

Did you know that Mr. Darcy was a vampire? Or that Sherlock Holmes tried but failed to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper?


Yeah, me too.

Maybe this shouldn't bother me so much, but something inside me recoils when I find a modern writer borrowing a dead author's character.

It just doesn't seem fair that someone, who wasn't even alive when the original novel released, can now add to Jane Eyre's story. Or that somebody besides Margret Mitchell can put Rhett and Scarlet back together? Can it even count?

For this week's poll, what are your thoughts about this

Guest Blog ~ Michael Snyder ~ Humor Dissected

Michael Snyder writes. He is the author of the novels My Name Is Russell Fink and Return Policy, both (at least according to his mother and his publisher) are worthy of your time, attention, and hard-earned dollars. Michael’s debut novel was a finalist in Christianity Today’s 2009 Book of the Year Award. His short story entitled Normal People will appear in the upcoming issue of Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression. Michael is also a regular contributor for the Master’s Artist. For the record, Michael prefers dark chocolate to either Almond Joy or Mounds. And he’s really not sorry about the dissing coconut lovers either.

Read a review of Return Policy.

Humor Dissected: Watch Your Step

"Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."

E. B. White said that. And although it’s not very funny, it is informative. What it means is this—attempting to explain humor, especially how it pertains to writing prose, is a dumb idea. Apparently that’s why I’m here, attempting to answer the age old question: If a tree slips on a banana peel and falls in the forest, and no one is around to experience it, is it still funny?

The answer, in case you’re short on either time or patience is a resounding maybe.

Writing funny is more about being funny, or at least thinking funny, than anything having to do with craft. When we say someone has a good sense of humor, what we’re referring to is this person’s ability to experience humor. And just like a good tango or a pot of tea, it takes two.

Here’s how it works. Someone recognizes the potential for humor, then expresses it in a potentially funny way. When a different someone observes this humorous event, an involuntary reconciliation transpires. If Person B finds Person A’s juxtaposition of ideas amusing, then humor has indeed occurred. Next, a series of mysterious vibrations will begin to assault the muscles that guard Person B’s giggle box. In musical terms, this technical explanation can be reduced to: “The brain bone’s connected to the…funny bone. And the funny bone’s connect to the…bone that allows milk to shoot through your nostrils…”

A few practical points to consider:

Humor cannot be taught…

But it can be coached…only if the raw material is there. Phil Jackson may not be able to turn you into Michael Jordan, but he can certainly improve your jump shot and weak side defense. A sense of humor can be developed, honed, and/or coaxed out of hiding. Chances are, you’ll never do stand-up on the Letterman show, but you can (and should) elicit a few satisfied grins from your readers. It just takes practice. And the best way to exercise your humor muscles is develop the habit of finding the funny in all situations.

Humor is rife with conflict…

Conflict is the lifeblood of fiction. Without constant tension and repose, our stories go down like a warm glass of dirty motor oil. So when some writing expert suggests you spice up your writing with humor, what they may be saying is that the conflict in your story needs a little variety.

John Vohaus (The Comic Toolbox) boils it down to this: Comedy is truth and pain. From pies-in-the-face to traveling salesman jokes to nearly every greeting card you pick up, the underlying themes are the truth (shared humiliation, thwarted desire, the plight of living in a fallen world, etc.) and the pain that results. It’s been argued that all humor is laced with hostility. Does this mean that humor is somehow bad or inherently mean? I don’t think so. But just like a dominant chord in music, a humorous set-up begs for resolution. All good prose can be broken down into bite-sized chunks of escalating conflict and resolution (not unlike The Story, eh?). Discord keeps the pages turning. Done well, resolution breeds resonance. And resonance is what makes our stuff worth reading.

Humor is part of a well-balanced diet…

Comic novelists serve up humor as a main course, like a big slab of sizzling protein or a bloated baked potato. Most of the rest of us will use it as a garnish, a zest, a light dusting of spices, maybe a complementary cappuccino or the strawberries on our shortcake.

Moderation is key. Comedic abstinence can render an otherwise savory dish into a bland, soggy cracker. Likewise, you want to avoid inflicting literary Heimlich on your readers by gagging them with funny bones.

My personal recipe calls for three parts pathos for every one part humor. I really like it when people say my books make them laugh and cry on the same page.

Trying to be funny doesn’t work…

When you catch yourself wielding your comic shoehorn…stop. There’s nothing less funny than someone trying to be funny. It’s transparent and phony, and over the course of a novel, can really turn readers off. The best approach is to create a healthy, nurturing environment that invites your budding sense of humor to bloom organically. Humor should emerge from your authorial voice, not the other way around.

Humor requires risk…

Armed with only a microphone, stand-up comics take the stage nightly and dare people not to laugh at what they have to say. They risk public humiliation by staring down hecklers and drunks and all manner of apathetic patrons. When the writer injects humor and it doesn’t work for whatever reason, the humiliation may be less immediate, but no less devastating to his art.

Humor is in the eye of the beholder…

Some people prefer blue to yellow, Toyota to Ford, or Almond Joy to Mounds. But does that automatically make those brain dead, tasteless cretins who actually enjoy coconut any less right? Morally inferior? Criminal?

I say, “Probably so.”

But more importantly, whether someone gets what you’ve written or not, doesn’t make it any less amusing. Some of the funniest things I’ve ever written have fallen flat. But they made me happy.

Only the truth is funny…

That is the title of a one-man show by Rick Reynolds. And although it may not be technically accurate, it’s definitely worth thinking about for a little while.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Meet the Christian Authors Night

A fundraising event for single moms
Friday, July 31, 2009, 6:30-9:00 p.m.
WoodsEdge Community Church
25333 Gosling Road
Spring, Texas 77389

It all started simply enough…someone with a burden for single mothers dared to challenge themselves and the people in their sphere of influence with a single question: What can I do to help?

From that question, Meet the Christian Authors Night (or MTCAN as it is affectionately known) was born. Now in its second year, MTCAN is more than just an assembling of Christian authors. It is singers and speakers, and people with a desire to reach out to the hurting in their community.

I know what you’re thinking…isn’t this just another booksigning?

Well, yes, I suppose in a sense it is. There are, after all more than forty of your favorite Christian authors expected to be in attendance. But mingled with the books, autographs, and music, are quiet moments spent talking with the women who benefit from this event. Interspersed with the food and fellowship are intimate conversations that gave way to new friendships, or even just timely words of encouragement.

I was honored to take part in the first MTCAN, and honored even more to be invited back. Like last year, this year's event will take place in July. . .a fitting tribute, I think, to the women struggling to provide homes for their families.

All right, so what is MTCAN, and what can you expect when you get there? How's this for starters:

  • Live Entertainment from local Christian music artists
  • Hear Cec Murphy speak
  • On the Spot Author Interviews
  • Meet your favorite Christian authors in person
  • Shop for books and have them autographed
  • Meet local Christian music artists--buy CDs
  • Buy unique handcrafted silver jewelry and antique beaded necklaces from a Christian jewelry artist
  • Enter a raffle to win a BIG BASKET OF BOOKS!
  • Browse our silent auction with fantastic items to bid on (Astros tickets, spa package, etc)
  • Enjoy refreshing beverages and delicious desserts
  • Help support Grace~Full the ministry to single parents.

As of June 16th, 2009, authors who are coming to sign books at this event are:

Cec Murphey, Gail Gaymer Martin, Kathy Ide, Cyndy Salzmann, DiAnn Mills, Kathleen Y'Barbo, Janice Thompson, Martha Rogers, Anita Higman, Lena Nelson Dooley, Jeff LeJeune, Linda and Steve Bauer, Janelle Mowery, Elizabeth Ludwig, Randi Morrow, Karen Zick Slagle, Julie Johnston Zick, Nancy Williams, Cathy Messecar, Kim O'Brien, Brenda White, Donn Taylor, Kent Whittaker, Marcia Gruver, Linda Kozar, Dannelle Woody, Rene' Morris, Eileen Key, Marilyn Eudaly, Karen Mayer Cunningham, Lena Nelson Dooley, Vicki Moss, Darol Hail, Don Dickerman, Patricia Lowenfield and Michael & Amy Smalley

Guest blogger ~ Robin Caroll

All her life, Robin Miller, writing as Robin Caroll, has been writing. Whether in diaries, journals, short stories, poetry, or fiction, she's been drawn to the storytelling aspect in life. She loves everything about books--the way they look, the way they smell, the way they feel. The author of 9 books and counting, Robin and her family proudly live in the South, with all its hospitality and days-of-ole traditions.

The "Art" of Writing

Okay, so I'm not artistically inclined. At all. My stick people aren't even recognizable. Seriously. Just ask my 7 and 9 yr olds--they'll tell you Mommy can't draw. Or paint a picture. Or sculpt. Or do pottery. Or knit. Nope, Robin can't do any of that. My creativity is limited to writing stories and scrapbooking. And when I look at the spaces I have that I "create" in, I noticed something...I do my best when I'm surrounded by a mess.

Thus, the mess you see in the picture of my desk. I have several writing books open, papers everywhere with notes on research all over the place, and general disorder prevails. But I do my best work in the mess.

I've seen writers' desks that are pristine. Not even neat piles of books or notes marring the clean surface. Just a keyboard and monitor. That would drive me up a wall. So I have to wonder...why is it I can't work unless everything's all over the place? After thinking about it some, I came to a conclusion.

My life is chaotic, so I can't function within the confines of neatness. I have children--they are constantly around, talking and making noise. Thus, I can't write in silence. I write for two publishers, so I'm always on deadline. Thus, I can't take the time to clean up my desk, and if I did, I'd never be able to find vital information when I needed it. I'm the conference director for ACFW and that involves almost daily interruptions. Sometimes hourly. Thus, I can't isolate myself and focus strictly on one thing at a time.

And I realized something else...I write romantic suspense, which means I'm going to put a lot of conflict and tension in my stories. (And as many dead bodies as I can work in) My characters' lives aren't neat and orderly. They might think they are, but I assure you they aren't.

I now accept that I thrive in disarray. Something about clutter and piles comforts my inner muse. Opens up my creativity. Lets the imagination wander.

So don't ever feel bad that your desk is cluttered or you have piles of papers and books around you. Embrace it. Enjoy it. You just might realize you're one of the few, the proud, the "creating in the disorderly."

by Robin Caroll

And PR representative Sadie Thompson is on the case. When she's assigned to investigate the damage to her employer's oil rigs, she knows it's her chance. Finally, she can prove she's left her "bad girl" past behind her. Yet someone wants the evidence to disappear—and is willing to threaten Sadie and Caleb, her recently paroled half brother, to make it happen. Caleb's parole officer, Jon Garrison, is watching them both closely, waiting for one of them to slip up. He doesn't trust Sadie—can she trust him? She needs Jon's help, and has nowhere else to turn….

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Author Interview with Deborah Vogts

Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. In writing Snow Melts in Spring, the first book in the Seasons of the Tallgrass, a contemporary romance series for Zondervan, Deborah hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.

Tell us about your new release:

A short blurb for Snow Melts in Spring: Mattie Evans, a young veterinarian in rural Kansas, saves a horse injured in a terrible accident. But she also finds herself tending the wounded relationship between a prodigal son and his ailing father. Love, conflict, forgiveness and renewal drive this first book of the Seasons of the Tallgrass series.

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

I don’t recall anything specific for the story other than knowing I had to write a story (or set of stories) in the Flint Hills. Years ago, I took a Flint Hills Folklife course at Emporia State University that was taught by Dr. Jim Hoy. Along with classroom study, we took field trips into the heart of the Flint Hills and visited with old-time ranchers, schoolmarms and post-mistresses. It was such a delightful experience, especially our drives into the pastures. We would get on these back roads and drive over pasture guards into the open range. We would travel for miles without seeing another car or even an electric line—just pure, native prairie. That summer, I fell in love with the Flint Hills and it has stayed with me all this time. I’m so glad I have this chance to share this place with my readers in this book and in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series.

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

My male lead character, Gil, is a retiring professional quarterback, so learning more about football was essential. Having never cared much for the sport before this point, let’s just say, I had a LOT of learning to do. I remember spending lots of time pouring over library books about the game and watching hours of college and professional games on television. My daughters didn’t necessarily care for my “newfound interest” in the sport, but my husband enjoyed it! LOL

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

I wanted to be a writer since high school, but it wasn’t until 2002 that I began taking serious steps to get to the goal. I joined a local writer’s group and ACFW, and from there I joined a critique group, read writing how-to’s and started attending writing conferences. I met my first agent at the 2005 ACFW Nashville Conference. We hit it off at our meeting, and she gave me some tips on making my book series “bigger.” I did that and several months later I submitted my proposal & first book to her. She took me on, and we shopped my Seasons of the Tallgrass series for a year and had a few bites (one of them Zondervan) but no sale. In the end, she released me, which was a real heart breaker. However, we don’t always see the big picture like God does, and six months later I signed with agent, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary. We had an offer from Zondervan three months after that. When Rachelle received the offer, she called me and asked if I was sitting down. I remember doing a LOT of giggling. ;)

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

Yes, yes, yes. LOL. I’m still learning to overcome it. Not sure if you’d call this writer’s block, but my biggest challenge is staying off the internet and email. If I can do that, I find the writing comes MUCH easier. I like to start where I left off the day before and go over the last chapter or so. That seems to be the best way to get me back into the story so that I’m able to move forward.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

Yes, very much so. Before I begin writing a new story, I create a storyboard on a large cork bulletin board, using pictures of my characters found in magazines or on the internet. I also like to have pictures of their houses, pets, vehicles -- anything that seems important to the story. It helps me to have these pictures in front of me when I sit down at the computer each day. Another visual I like to use are documentaries of the setting. I found a delightful film that I’ve used in my current series called The Flint Hills of Kansas that has helped me when I needed a scene boost. I also like to use movie soundtracks to help get me into the story. Some of my favorites are The Horse Whisperer, Legends of the Fall, and A River Runs Through It.

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?

So far, I think the most difficult problems I’ve had are getting over plots that don’t seem to be working. It’s a matter of trying to figure out how to make the plot work or scratching it entirely and figuring out something else. Another thing that seems to cause me problems is when I think a scene or series of scenes stinks! When this occurs, my creative juices shut down completely.

How do you overcome it?

I turn to my critique partners—who may either suggest alternative ideas or may pat me on the back and encourage me over the hump.

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

When I first began writing, I wrote in my kitchen on our main computer. A few years ago, I bought a laptop, so now my office is in a corner of our bedroom. This allows me to shut the door on noise or activities, which really helps when I’m on deadline. Note in the picture my storyboard and other items that help me prepare to write such as candles, a favorite pen, a cup of herbal tea—all things I use to get myself ready to write.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m a stay-at-home mom, and my girls are in school through the day so I try to use those hours for my writing. I spend the early morning putting the house in order and having my devotion time. Then I check email and try to get to my writing desk between 9:30 & 10 in the morning. I’ll take a late lunch around 1:00, check email again, and then go back to writing until I reach my goal for the day. Some days that might not be until 6 or 7 in the evening. I try to save my marketing and blog updates for the evening. And I should add that all of this is on a perfect day. There are many days when my schedule gets all jumbled with appointments or activities, and I’ll just have to work what I can into the day.

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

I’m a SLOW writer, and I’m thrilled to reach 2000 words in a day. Some scenes come easier than others. I’ve tried to turn off the editor when I write, but as of yet, haven’t figured out how to do that. Not sure I ever will.

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

I think I prefer the editing portion. It’s much easier for me to face work that I’ve already written vs. a blank screen. And I could probably edit till I’m blue in the face—just ask my line editor. LOL

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

I first fell in love with Christian fiction when I was introduced to the writing of Janette Oke and Jan Karon. I enjoyed their simple, yet vivid stories. Since then my favorite books include: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and Color the Sidewalk for Me by Brandilyn Collins. These books drew me in with their captivating characters and beautiful phrasing. I especially liked how expertly Brandilyn managed to weave the spiritual thread through that book.

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

Read terrific fiction and try to write every day.

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

I’d like to think that if I’d had the resources available to me now when I first began this journey that I would have been published sooner—but I wonder how much of the journey comes from life experience and wisdom. That wasn’t something I wanted to hear as a youngster, but as a 43 year old woman who’s gone through her share of ups and downs, I can see how those life experiences color my writing now, making it all the more richer.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Yes, for those who are struggling to be published, cry and scream if you need to but don’t give up. Keep dreaming and studying the craft, and reading. Stay tuned to what God wants for you and let scripture keep you afloat. Learn to depend on God for everything—every step of the journey. Just knowing that He is in charge and knows what is best for you, helps to alleviate the pressure so that you’re able to ENJOY the journey AND life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father’s Concern for the Details

Marcia Lee Laycock lives with her husband, two golden retrievers and a six-toed cat, in central Alberta Canada. She was the winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award in 2006 for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her devotionals have been endorsed by Mark Buchanan, Phil Callaway and Janette Oke.

I was browsing in a store the other day, looking for a graduation card for a friend’s daughter. Right beside the grad. cards was a colorful display of father’s day cards and gifts. As I scanned them, my mind took me back to my high school graduation long ago, and the role my dad played in it.

The excitement of the occasion was marred because my mom was in the hospital at the time, suffering from a mild heart attack. With Mom away, everything was up to Dad. He took me shopping for a dress, made reservations at a favourite restaurant for dinner, and made sure we scheduled things right so I could go to the hospital in cap and gown so my mom could see me in the traditional grad. attire.

Dad sat through the long ceremony and took the obligatory pictures to capture the milestone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad made sure everything went as planned. The day was exhausting but good, the approval in my father’s eyes worth all the effort I had put into five years of high school.

My dad, like most fathers, wasn’t always good at arrangements. He usually left those kinds of details up to my mom. He would tag along for the ride, but it was obvious who was really in control. But when the need arose, he came through with flying colours. In fact, I had the suspicion that he was really enjoying himself. I know I was. I loved the attention that had often seemed lacking in the past. My dad was a busy man who didn’t take much notice of what we kids were up to. He ‘brought home the bacon,’ as the saying goes, but often seemed disconnected and detached from what was going on in the family.

Unfortunately, my perception of God was identical to my perception of my dad’s care and concern for us. I thought of God as an aloof entity somewhere “out there.” He’d make sure you were provided for, but it wasn’t wise to bug him with the details. It has taken a long time for me to understand that God is in the details of my life. He’s not only concerned with them, he has designed them just for me. His involvement in my life is up close and personal.

When I realized this was true I began to discover another aspect of God, just as I had with my dad as he arranged the details of my graduation. I discovered God loves being involved in my life, because he loves me.

The good news for us all is that he wants to do the same with each and every one of us. He loves us all as individuals. His care and concern are undying. He’s just waiting for us to turn, look up, and see the approval in his eyes.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Author Rosemary Harris ~ Interviewed

Rosemary Harris is a former bookstore manager and video producer who now writes fulltime. Her debut novel, Pushing Up Daisies has been nominated for both the Agatha and the Anthony for Best First Mystery. She’s the president of Sisters in Crime New England and a board member of Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter. The Big Dirt Nap is the second in the Dirty Business series. She lives in New York City and Fairfield County CT and may be reached here.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I've just delivered the manuscript for Deadhead, book three in my Dirty Business series. I was inspired by the story of the woman in San Diego who was arrested by federal marshals when it was learned that she was really a Michigan woman who'd been on the run for decades. Deadhead isn't her story, but I was fascinated by the idea of someone completely destroying her past and living a lie for so many years.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I was incredibly lucky, I'm afraid I don't have any horror stories, although I'm told I did have an unusual path to getting an agent. After getting three rejections, I did the math and realized it could take me years to find the right one, so I did some research and sent the first chapter of my manuscript to ten agents I had identified as being "right for me." I was prepared to send it to another three the next month, but I didn't have to; three of them got back to me and I have been very happy with my choice.

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

Absolutely. I don't belong to a writers group so no one sees my writing until my editor gets it, and the time in between my submitting it to her and her getting back to me is a very nervous time indeed! I don't really suffer from writers block.

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

I try not to second guess myself too much - in anything. But I did do one thing I'd undo. I sent the first 50 pages to someone who could have helped me early on and it was way too soon, those pages never even ended up in the book, but I'd wasted a good lead. That's probably why I don't show anything to anyone now!

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Hands down, the newspaper. As long as people keep doing stupid things, I'll never run out of ideas.

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

Not "the look" but "the email." I was researching poisons and after three or four exchanges with an Australian expert I started to sense that he was pulling back and not offering as much information as he had earlier. It didn't help that my first book hadn't yet come out so for all he knew I was trying to dispose of my husband or a rival!

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

Be prepared to work harder than you've ever worked before.

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

The woman who wrote to me to say that her father had passed away and her mom was taking it very hard, but that her mother was so happy to have won a contest I'd run online. When she opened the garden basket with the signed books and garden goodies, it was the first time she'd smiled in along time. It blew me away that I was able to give a total stranger a little cheer at such a terrible time.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

I'll always be most proud of Pushing Up Daisies - I have no idea where I ever got the arrogance to think I could write a book.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

No. It's a pretty fun job.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

Meeting readers (although last week I would have answered, the fried okra.)

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you'd like. See pic.

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

I go to Utrecht Art Supplies and buy ten Faber-Castell number 5B pencils. (Aren't you glad you asked?)

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

See above. I write each chapter in pencil before putting it on the computer.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I guess I'm a combo gal. I have a general idea of what's going to happen and I outline a few chapters ahead so I'm never really looking at a blank page when I sit down to write.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

I suspect I have all of those things. I tend to write a very light first draft and then I add layers so I don't expect the first draft to be perfect.

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

I am thrilled to have been nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony Award for Pushing Up Daisies. Awesome!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Author Interview ~ Cheryl McKay

Cheryl McKay is the screenwriter for the award-winning film The Ultimate Gift. She also wrote an episode of Gigi: God’s Little Princess, based on the book by Sheila Walsh, and Taylor’s Wall, a drama about high-school violence. She co-authored The Wild and Wacky Totally True Bible Stories with Frank Peretti. Cheryl is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Los Angeles. You can visit her website at:

Hi, Cheryl. Welcome to Novel Journey. Why don't you start by telling us what made you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was five. Plays, stories, books. When I was a teenager, I was rather shy when it came to talking about problems. So instead of talking about what I was going through, I used to write about it. I’d give my challenges to teenagers in plays. (They were actually more like screenplays, but I didn’t know it at the time.) Writing became a way to process life’s issues. I used to write skits I wanted to act in because my original career goal was to be an actress. That changed near the end of getting my undergraduate degree in theater. God redirected me to writing as a profession. I went to graduate school to study film and writing at Regent University.

How neat! I thought I wanted to be an actress, too, and I also turned to writing, though some parts of the transition were more difficult than others. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey)?

I write because I love to write. It hasn’t always mattered to me that sometimes it’s very difficult to sell what you write. I hit a point about six years ago when I realized I had written over forty screenplays (a mix of half-hour shows, hour long dramas and full length screenplays). A lot of people were impressed by that; I was not. I hadn’t seen many of them get produced (just a handful of half-hour dramas). I had to stop and evaluate what was wrong. If I’m called to do this, why isn’t anything selling?

As much as I love writing for myself, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to pour myself out on the page just for an audience of one. Me. (Well, and my parents, who faithfully read and love everything I write.)

That year held a wake-up call for me. I realized I had made writing an idol before God; it was too important to me. I needed to be willing to give it up. So, I did. The next year my life totally changed into something I didn’t recognize. I was volunteering at a group home for abused kids and started working at a high school for at-risk teens. I was taking Christian Counseling classes. God did a mighty work in me that year. And after that season where I “laid down the pen” God did return writing to me in the form of The Ultimate Gift. I was given the extraordinary blessing of adapting Jim Stovall’s novel into a movie. But God couldn’t bless me with that until He could trust me to not make it too important.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters/screenplays?
Absolutely. I don’t think I ever write a story where I am not in there somewhere. Like, in one called Night Prophecies I’ve shared some of my experiences with receiving prophetic dreams from God. In one called Three Faces of Angst, I’ve explored some of the issues I used to have battling a panic disorder. It’s fun to see how many ways you can rewrite your life and still come up with completely different stories. Never the Bride, my latest release, is the most autobiographical story to date. I am very much like “Jessie.” Her relationship with God is based on my fun, communicative relationship with God.

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

I’ve been told to quit writing before, that I would never be good enough. I’ve been told to not write particular stories that I knew I was born to tell. When God tells you He’s called you to do something or called you to write a particular story, you can overcome those criticisms with His help. But it’s not easy. And sometimes, the rejection and pain knocks the wind out of you for a time.

But God has been abundantly clear with me that I’m doing what He wants me to do and writing what He wants me to write. That helps me overcome the battles when others tell me not to. However, I’m still very much open to critiques and suggestions. I had to trust I was on the right track to write Never the Bride, even though quite a few people told me not to bother. However, even when you write what God inspires you to write, that doesn’t mean you will write a perfect story.

Sometimes, I joke with God that if He’s truly my co-writer, then I shouldn’t have to rewrite. We should get it right the first time. But that’s usually when He reminds me we aren’t writing the Bible and He hones my character through the rewrite process. It takes humbleness to receive another person’s suggestions. I enjoy this and have no trouble telling my note givers when the have ideas that are genuinely better than what I wrote. If others want to weigh in on my work and they come up with outstanding ideas, I’m more than happy to use them! They make me look good. If I get a note I really don’t agree with, I try to address what the real problem is behind the note. Obviously, something may need to be fixed to address their concerns. But it doesn’t mean their proposed solution is the only way to go.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

As I mentioned, it’s called Never the Bride. It’s a lot fun, about a girl, Jessie Stone, who accuses God of being asleep on the job of setting up her love story. God shows up to face the charges. He tells Jessie that He can’t write her story until she surrenders the pen. The purple pen she’s clutched for many years, penning her own ideas for how her love life should go in her 109 journals.

The story is a tug-of-war between God and Jessie and who is really writing this story. Is she too afraid to trust God because He may not write what she truly wants? Or can she surrender that pen to God and let Him write the best love story for her?

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

Oh, boy was there. This is both funny and not. I had a year that felt like the year of rejections. I was tired of liking guys who didn’t like me back. I ached over being constantly overlooked for other girls. I couldn’t figure out what was so wrong with me that guys were never interested. (Sorry, but it’s how I felt at the time.) I was having a self-pity party for one.

One day, I went out for a prayer walk. I looked up at God angrily and said, “Why don’t you just put a sign on my head that says ‘Never the Choice’?” I meant it; I was mad. But then I started cracking up. My next comment to God was, “That’s going in a script, isn’t it?”

I was both angry and humored by the realization that one day, this was going to be a story. Maybe a book. Maybe a movie. I knew I needed to really explore what it’s like to be my age, still single, still waiting for love, battling feelings of inferiority and yet finding true worth in God and the way He sees us, and then trusting Him to pen that love story. How do you do that, make it entertaining and funny and yet still real? I chose to make fun of myself, my experience with God as a single. I knew I wanted to personify Him so others could hear Him and see some of our conversations, and see the way in which I believe God has an amazing sense of humor.

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

As mentioned, Jessie is very much based on me. However, she starts off as a skeptical, non-believer and that’s not me. I’ve been a follower of Christ since before I can remember. But she and I share a lot of the same ideals, especially wanting to be married to the right person. I share her impatience for waiting on God to set up that right situation. I used my conversations (read: fights) with God over this issue. While writing the screenplay version, anytime I would go through something new or dramatic that applied to the single life, I would put it in the script. It only took me twenty days to pen a readable draft of the script. That’s how inspired I was by it.

You co-authored this book. How did that come about?

Rene and I met when she novelized my script for The Ultimate Gift for Westbow/Thomas Nelson Publishers. She has an amazing ability to take a script and turn it into a novel. The rules of writing novels are totally different than the rules of writing scripts.

With Never the Bride, I wrote the screenplay first. Then I worked with Rene Gutteridge on what we could submit to publishers. I wrote the proposal, and she wrote the sample chapter based on the beginning script pages. Random House/Waterbrook picked up the project. Then Rene took my script and novelized it. She was extraordinarily faithful to my script, using a lot of the same dialogue and scenes and the same characters. But she got to dig deeper into the inner life and thoughts of my character in a way you just can’t do in a screenplay. (It’s told in first person present tense from Jessie’s POV.) In a screenplay, you are not allowed to write internal thoughts. You have to hope your dialogue carries a lot of subtext the actor can play.

It was such a delight to watch the entire process. I thought it would be scary to watch someone take “me” as a character and mess with it. But it was amazing! Rene gets me, completely! And Waterbrook was great with the material and seemed to respect what we wanted to do. This book is exactly what we want it to be! We didn’t have to change one thing that we didn’t want to change. (I understand this is very unusual, and I could get spoiled from this experience.)

When we make the movie version, it’s likely to be so similar that no one will accuse us of saying that the movie was nothing like the book. Especially since it was already a script first.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I want people to know that God can be trusted with the pen of their love stories. That it’s worth waiting for God’s best. I want people to have hope in their present circumstances even if life hasn’t exactly gone according to their plan on or their timetable. I hope people will hunger to have a close relationship with God when they see how Jessie and God interact. I hope people will see that God really is enough and is all we need. I also hope people will get a clear picture of what true surrender to God looks like. And also, to see how just when we think God isn’t doing anything for us, He’s working behind-the-scenes.

What does your writing space look like?
I live by myself (since my husband is M.I.A.) I actually love living alone. I have a one-bedroom bungalow. Instead of having an actual bedroom, I made that an office so I have a nice, spacious area to work.

What kind of activities do you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
I enjoy Bible studies, hanging out with friends, journaling, and prayer walks. The entire time I wrote The Ultimate Gift, I took a 90-minute prayer walks during my lunch breaks. It was such a peaceful, heavenly experience.

I love listening to music on my MP3 player. I just got a Sony E-Reader and am really getting into reading e-books. I love rollerblading, walking on the strand in Santa Monica, being at the beach and taking trips to visit my family. Playing with my nephews is such a kick! I love getting them on the webcam to chat. They’re so silly. My mom, sister and I love scrapbooking together. And I love working on projects with my dad. He loves to help me with my projects, like driving me to sets or to go location scouting for a film.

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

I love to brainstorm. When I start a new project, it gets a three ring binder. I use very colorful dividers for various sections like Synopsis, Broad Story Ideas, Main Character Notes, Supporting Characters, Scene Ideas, Location/Setting, Meeting Notes etc.

Once I figure out what a story is about, I use colored Post-It notes to write scene ideas. I make a list of all the main plots and subplots and assign each one a different color. Then as I write a bazillion scene ideas out, each one gets its own Post-It. I don’t try to put them in order yet. I just get them all out. Then, I try to divide them by Act
One, Act Two, and Act Three. I put them in story order. And what’s great about the various colors is that I can look at them all and see if I go a long time neglecting a particular storyline if that color doesn’t show up for quite a few scenes in a row.

From there, if I need to submit the idea to a publisher or a producer, I type those notes in scene order in what I’d call a treatment for a film or a proposal for a novel. That’s actually where the bulk of the work takes place. My treatment for The Ultimate Gift was 33 pages long! It took me three weeks to write that treatment but only one week to write the first draft of the script. So much legwork goes
into those treatments (or scene-by-scene outlines).

I haven’t written a full-length novel myself (that’s Rene’s job!) I’m perfectly content for now to let her do all of my novelizations. But my job with her is to give her a completed, cleaned up script worthy of adapting. (Which usually means it’s in the shape where it’s ready to be shopped to producers.) Sometimes, my first drafts can be pretty messy. I just try to get that first draft on the page, then do deepen the characters in the revisions. I try not to critique myself too much during a first draft.

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

One favorite is Kristin Billerbeck’s What a Girl Wants. She cracks me up with her humor in the Ashley Stockingdale Series. Another favorite (though it’s not published because it’s not finished yet) is one by a friend, Caroline Way, who is penning an updated exploration of the Book of Job from the wife’s point-of-view. It’s awesome and I relate to t
he story of Job so much, about how to deal with suffering and what God allows. I like books that make me ask hard questions like this one does.

Because of that, I actually enjoy reading non-fiction a lot more than fiction. I like books that challenge me to grow deeper in my relationship with God. Any books about hearing God’s voice (like Dialogue with God by Mark & Patti Virkler) will spark my interest, or about God speaking through dreams.

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

I definitely believe reading others work is so valuable. I wish I had more time to do it. I am pretty bad about it. But that’s why I just bought the Sony E-reader. I’m hoping I can spend more time in the classics that you can download free off Google Books. I recently have switched my habit from watching TV as I go to bed to reading a book. So far it’s helping.

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?

As mentioned, I wished I hadn’t made writing so important to me that it became an idol before God. I wasted a lot of time that way. Also, some of my earliest scripts didn’t have enough of “me” in them to be worth writing. I wasn’t passionate about them and will probably never look at them again. I didn’t pay enough attention in the beginning to really finding a story with a heart worth sharing with the world. That’s why it took a while before I wrote scripts that caught the attention of producers.

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

During the film release of The Ultimate Gift, I did a lot of interviews for newspapers, magazines, television or videos/websites.

For this book, we’re scheduled for radio shows, conferences, speaking engagements or talking to churches. Rene’s been doing a lot of schools. I did a press conference at a college. The publishers have assigned us a great publicist that has been lining stuff up for us. Even though we’ve done a lot of legwork on our own, like running our official websites, contests and starting a new Facebook page, Waterbrook has given us some great tools to help spread the word. (They made these awesome bookmarks to pass out. I think Facebook is one of the best ways to spread the word quickly and enlist the help of your contacts to advertise for you.

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

Obviously I’m excited about working on the film version of Never the Bride. The development process on that is keeping me very busy, thinking through actors, key crew positions, locations etc.

After that, I really hope to make my family’s mining movie, Song of Springhill. My grandfather survived one of the biggest disasters in coal mining history in Springhill, Nova Scotia. I’m in the midst of becoming a dual citizen with Canada so it might help me get the movie made up there. Rene and I hope to start another novelization soon. We’ve already completed the proposal based on another script of mine.

And I’m just about finished with Finally the Bride, which is best described as the non-fiction companion book to Never the Bride. In that book, I can get even more honest about the journey of singlehood for Christian women waiting on God to write their love stories. I’ve spent the last year while Rene was novelizing my script penning this non-fiction work as sort of a Bridge Jones Diary memoir style of a book that’s very honest and yet hopefully humorous about how hard this journey can be. Through this book as well, I want to give hope to women in their present circumstances and give them some very constructive things to do while waiting for the love of their lives to show up. At some point, I need to develop the story for the sequel to Never the Bride. It’s going to be called Finally the One.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t make this writing journey so important to you that you lose sight of what truly matters in life. Use God as a co-writer. After all, He is the greatest creative mind in the universe. Trust your instincts. If you feel strongly you are meant to write something and others tell you not to, overcome it with God. Write it anyway. Even if it’s just for you, do it! Also, don’t be afraid to use your life in your stories because that’s what’s going to hit home with your readers, that’s when you’ll be most passionate and do your best writing.

Photo Credit for the 2 headshots:
David Edmonson