Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Confession by Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia is the winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her devotionals go out each week to thousands via the internet.

Some time ago I heard that a friend had signed a book contract. I wish I could say I jumped for joy. I confess I didn’t. I confess I complained to God. You see, it seemed too easy for her. She didn’t have to jump through all the usual hoops. It seemed she hadn’t really paid her “dues” yet, but now was having a measure of success.

A while later I happened to read a little book called Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. There is a wonderful scene in the book when the main character is in the office of a young doctor. She perceives him as being rather cold and clinical and very very young. Then he asks her to remove her shoes, kneels down and takes a cotton swab and runs it across the sole of her foot. This is how the author explains what happened then - “She pictured the doctor kneeling before patients every day, holding their feet and listening to their complaints and struggling to cure their diseases. How could she have taken so long to welcome the Christ in him?”
I’d also been reading the familiar passage in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-41, where Martha complains to Jesus. “Why do I have to work so hard while my sister just sits at your feet?” (my paraphrase).

I read that passage and suddenly I saw my sin. I believe it was Martha’s sin too, her failure to welcome the Christ in her sister, her failure to truly see and know Him for who he was. I don’t believe Jesus rebuked her because he wanted her to stop the serving she was doing. I don’t believe he wanted her to be exactly like Mary. I believe he just wanted her to see him, really see Him.

It wasn’t what Martha was doing with her hands that was the problem. It was what she wasn’t doing with her heart and mind.
I have been guilty of this same sin. I’ve been too caught up in the work and failed to understand what it was really all about. I have failed to see the Christ in my midst, in the souls of other writers who follow where he leads, in the hearts of readers who cherish their words. I have failed to see Jesus when he was standing right in front of me.

The good news is that there is “now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1). I can confess my sin and know that it is forgiven. I can start again on a new day, with a new understanding, a renewed awareness of His mercy and grace.
I can continue to learn how to “welcome the Christ.”

Friday, February 27, 2009

How Do You Measure Up?

Okay, whether it's true or not, there's been a list of books floating around Facebook which apparently claims the BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100. It's a great list of books regardless.

How do your reading habits stack up? How many have you read?

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma - Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazu Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Last Week's Winner

Sorry, this was supposed to be annouced on Tuesday, but Nicole is last week's winner for a copy of Brandt Dodson's nove, Daniel's Den.

Nicole, you can e-mail me at:

Author Karen Spears Zacharias ~ Interviewed

KAREN SPEARS ZACHARIAS is the nation's leading authority on chicken salvation. Karen was adopted at an advanced age by Lucky Earl, a rooster that she saved from certain death. She is an accidental vegetarian.

Karen was recently canned from her job as a columnist & editorial writer for the Fayetteville Observer in Fayetteville, N.C.. She taught journalism and feature writing at Central Washington University and is a popular speaker at literary events. In 2008, she served as author-in-resident for the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts, Fairhope, Alabama, where she wore a WWII helmet to ward off late-night bombardier roaches and tick collars around her ankles to keep from being eaten alive by fleas.

Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and on National Public Radio. Her third book, Where’s Your Jesus Now? offers a seriously funny look at fear. Karen lives in Pinehurst, N.C. where she is at work on her fourth book -- Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? Visit her blog.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

Where’s Your Jesus Now? is a collection of seriously funny essays about how so many of us in the faith community have given in and let fear have its way with us, only to wake up in the next morning full of regret and lacking any self-respect.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head?

I was recruited to write for Zondervan by an editor who had read my previous work and loved it. The book, Where’s Your Jesus Now?, was inspired by a gray-haired granny named Shirley Dunham. I met Shirley while covering a crime story as a reporter.

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.

Journalists don’t have the luxury of writer’s block. I am expected to turn in an editorial every day. It doesn’t matter how I feel, what matters is what I produce.

That’s proven to be a very valuable lesson to carry over to book projects. I set self-imposed deadlines and work on those, such as typing a page a day, or a chapter a week.

But, yes, I suffer from self-doubt, like any writer, like any reflective person of an
y profession. I don’t mind it so much any more, though. It’s good to second-guess yourself. It helps keep the criticism of others down to a minimum.

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?

Oh, gosh, there are so many mistakes I’ve made. I thought that writing was the hard part. I didn’t have a clue how hard marketing a book would be. It’s a lot like selling Fuller Brushes or Mary Kay. Some people are born to it and the rest of us,
well, we might as well get jobs hawking Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen. I still haven’t mastered the art of marketing.

The other huge mistake I made was trusting untrustworthy people. Always ask for references and make those calls. Writing is a very personal process. It creates false intimacies. Remember there’s a difference between someone who truly cherishes you as a person and a person who simply cherishes the product you produce.

What's the best or worst advice (or both) you've heard on

The best advice came from George Venn, my writing professor, who told me once: Ignore all flattery and all criticism and just keep writing.

What is your favorite source for finding book ideas?

Listening or eavesdropping.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you've gone through in your writing career you are willing to share? Or have you ever been at the point where considered quitting writing altogether?

I spent eight years writing After the Flag has been Folded, the story of what happened to our family after my father was killed in Vietnam. That book was showcased in nearly every media market from CNN to Good Morning America to National Public Radio. Yet, sales were dismal.

The American people are pretty discriminating readers. They don’t want to read about the aftermath of war when their sons and daughters are deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Go figure.

Needless to say, I came off of book tour, exhausted and devastated. I couldn’t imagine writing anything more important than that book. I was ready to walk away from it.

But the one thing that kept me going was the emails of encouragement and thanks that trickled in from readers, primarily Vietnam veterans or their families.

That, and a note from author Pat Conroy. “Writing is for the long-haul,” he said.

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

Don’t quit the day job, even if you end up with a bestseller. You’ll lose the thing that makes writers write well – interaction with the real world.

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

George Venn was the first writer to tell me I was a writer. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Had he not pulled me aside and told me that I should be writing, I never would have pursued it.

What piece of writing have you done that you're particularly proud of and why?

That’s like asking me which of my four children I love most. I love them all equally but for different reasons.

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

The overall infatuation Americans have with celebrities. A gal approache
d me once in Nashville. She was gushing because she’d seen me visiting with a friend who is a celebrity-writer.

“Are you friends with HER?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you a writer, too?”


“Are you famous? Should I know you?” she asked.

“Apparently not,” I replied.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I’d give my away my iPod to see an AP photo of President Obama reading one of my books on Air Force One.

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

Writing grants me access to so many adventures. My favorite part of being a writer is taking others on those adventures, whether that’s saving a chicken’s life or to the gravesite of one of our national heroes.

My least favorite part of writing is the ticks I encounter on those adventures.

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

The photo is of the sunroom at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts cottage. I wrote my last book here while serving as the writer-in-resident.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

When I made the transition from writing articles for newspapers to writing books. Articles are considered long if they go over four graphs. Books required 40,000 words or better.

I wasn’t sure how to craft the longer project, but I was given once piece of advice that has served me well. Don’t quit writing when you have exhausted what you have to say. Instead stop during the heat of it and leave a note so you know what to come back to the next day. That keeps me from returning to a cold computer screen. I don’t stop until I know exactly where I’m going to pick it up next.

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


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

I keep a jar of pickled pig’s feet on hand. I gnaw on one before I begin writing and when I finish for the day. While writing, I dip snuff.

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

Harry Kennison.

I wrote a column after his grown son Kyle died of cancer. I’ve never met Harry but he called me a couple of years after Kyle’s death. Said he and his wife keep that newspaper clipping in a scrapbook and take it out from time to time. Harry’s in his 80s now and not in good health himself. Kyle was his only son. He misses him terribly. I tell people that the reason I write is because of people like Harry. Words can breath life back into a person, if only momentarily. For a grieving daughter or a grieving father, sometimes that’s good enough.

Have you had a particularly memorable peer honor? Please share.

Yes. When I left my last newspaper job, several of my peers cried. Anyone who has worked in a newsroom will understand the value of those tears shed.

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

Depends. On the memoir I did tons. Everything from 8 minutes on Good Morning America to hour-long shows on C-Span and NPR. I was on the road for all but 6 weeks of that year, talking at literary festivals, universities, military events.

With this last book, Where’s Your Jesus Now? I hired my own publicity person to market the book. We did a few books signings. A couple of gigs at churches and a few literary events. Very low-key.

I’m a people person. I love to speak in public forums, panels, etc. But I don’t like the aspect of hawking a book.

The bottom line is bestsellers are sold the same way any book is sold – one by one. The best marketing tool any of us could hope for is to have a reader urge a friend to read our book and that friend tell a friend and that friend tell a friend…

Tell us about your actual platform/vision as a speaker/author.

Fear is destructive. It is a poor foundation for constructing public policy or personal choice. Love and faith, not fear and anxiety, ought to be the factors that mold us and compel us. If Christians don’t have hope, what do we have to offer a world of wounded people?

Do you have any helpful hints on finding the perfect voice/career/passion fit?

There isn’t any magic formula. Search for who you are in Christ. Then, instead of removing yourself from the world, become an active participant in it. Get out of the cubicle. Live a life worth writing about.

What would you be doing if you hadn't followed this career path? Why?

I’d be a fashion model for used trucks. I’d wear cutoffs and a red halter-top and my calendar would be pinned up in every junkyard auto parts store across the nation. Men with scruffy beards and beer bellies would whistle at it, nudge their buddies and declare, “There’s a sight that’ll give you sore eyes.”

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

There are no perfect words, perfect writers, or perfect people. But life is not a first draft – we don’t get to rewrite this script. Figure out in advance how you want to wrap it up and plan accordingly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Author Interview ~ Noel Hynd

Noel Hynd is the author of twenty published books, mostly thrillers. He has millions of copies of his books in print worldwide.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

The title is Midnight in Madrid. It’s part of a trilogy of thrillers, called The Russian Trilogy, that I’ve written for Zondervan. My heroine, U.S. Treasury agent Alexandra LaDuca ( who debuted in Conspiracy in Kiev) is back crisscrossing Europe. This time she’s in pursuit of an ancient relic stolen from a Madrid museum and the secrets behind its theft. The stolen artwork is a piece of ancient Christian sculpture, a small carving called The Pietà of Malta. Simple assignment? No way. The mysteries and legends surrounding the relic become increasingly complex with claims of supernatural power.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett so within this story there
was a little homage to classic detective and suspense fiction like The Maltese Falcon. Anyway, I take the reader on a nonstop chase through a modern world of terrorists, art thieves, and cold-blooded killers. A lot of action, adventure and espionage with Christian philosophical themes woven in.

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

As I said, it’s part of a trilogy, the second book. The central story in the trilogy is Alex’s relationship with a Russian gangster named Yuri Federov. So there are important events here concerning him, too. No real “what if” moment. I was in Madrid several years ago and really liked the city. So I always wanted to use that as a backdrop. Spanish politics in the 20th Century have fascinated me, also
. For better or worse, I can remember Franco quite well.

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

Got a few hours? I wanted to create an exciting female character who spoke several languages, can use a gun, use her femininity, use her brain and zip around the world as sort of a female Jason Bourne. (Robert Ludlum and I had the same editor and publisher many years ago and I had the occasion to meet and chat with RL many times.) Then, to some degree, I let Ale
x do what I can’t do. I went to school in Europe (Switzerland) for a while and always admired the way Europeans can slip in and out of another language almost in mid-syllable. I can speak French okay, and I’m working on my Spanish, but Alex puts me to shame. ;-)

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

Aside from getting paid to write it? ;-)

I suppose I enjoyed vicariously revisiting parts of the world ---- Switzerland, Italy, Spain --- where I haven’t been for a while. My characters from Conspiracy in Kiev emerged a bit more here, too. That was fun. The Zondervan folks a
lways come up with cool jacket art, too. It’s always fun when that happens and you think, WOW, my struggling words have become a visual reality.

What made you start writing?

My father, Alan Hynd, was a true crime writer in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He was an expert on crooks and con men. He got poisoned once by some bad guys who didn’t like some stuff he wrote, threatened all the time, and infuriated a number of people with his theories of why the Lindberg kidnapping case (and some other high profile case) would never been solved. (Official corruption and/or incompetent police work were often the reasons) So I went into the family biz, so to speak, but figured it would be a little healthier to stick to fiction.

What does your writing space look like?

LOL. You wouldn’t want to see it. It’s a mess. Or it looks like a mess to anyone else. I know where everything is, or like to think I do, but there are papers all over, boxes of books, notes and print-outs of the current ms on my desk.

I live in Culver City, California, near Los Angeles, so the weather is good, but there’s a mental
health clinic across the street which I look at from my window. Sometimes I think I should be over there. We (my very cool wife and I) have three cats, or more accurately, the three cats have us. Sometimes they wander in to distract me. I enclosed a shot of Wendy, looking skeptically at one of my books.

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

I either run or swim five days a week. I’m a sucker for baseball (The Yankees) and English soccer (Arsenal).

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

Frankly, in the past, dealing with publishers and some of the sneaky incompetent stunts they pull. I won’t bother to elaborate. The current people, Zondervan, are great, however, and not just because they just gave me a new contract for a second trilogy. After three decades of getting published, it’s a new experience to actually like one’s publishing house.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Every author does, whether he/she is conscious of it or not. Likes, dislikes, skills, background. Sometimes an author reveals just a little too much. Oh, and then there are the personal stories people have told you that you just sorta-kinda work into your text. Got to be careful with that one.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I write to entertain people, to give them a good exciting fast-paced read, and a character they can feel good about and cheer along. I like to sprinkle that with some accurate history and world politics (how things work or why things don’t work) and throw in some spiritual stuff to think about also.

Alex is readily identifiable as a Christian (I’m a member of an Episcopalian church) and I think she reflects many of my views as well as view that readers of all faiths will be sympathetic took. I get nice e-mails ( from Islamic and Jewish readers as well as Christian, and also from people who might observe no religion at all. So I think I’m hitting certain themes of human decency…..but keeping the story cooking at the same time.

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

It’s a little like traveling from Moscow to Rome by crawling on your knees. I somehow torture a first draft out of myself, usually about 425 pages. It’s supposed to be 100,000 words and it would make my life easier if I could hit that mark, but I always seem to run past by about 15,000. This takes several months and that’s considered quick.

The first draft might get re-written 7 or 8 times in some spots. Then it goes to my editor for his first run at it, then back to me for more revisions, then back to him, then often back to me, then to a second editor who picks up all the stuff that we/I left dangling the first few times.

One is constantly revising…..Then sometimes you look at the final book and you think, uh, oh, should have revised some more.

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

Just off the top of my head, The Great Gatsby, A Moveable Feast, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I also love a current series of French graphic novels called Djinn, written by a Belgian named Jean Dufaux and an absolutely fabulous Spanish artist named Ana Miralles. All of these works have wonderful atmosphere, character and story telling. Another lifelong favorite is The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant, the novel that Damn Yankees! was based on.

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?

From a business standpoint, I wish I’d known better how to handle that end of it better. Also, having a better view of where one is going in a book would have saved a lot of early revisions. But one never knows completely. It’s always a learning experience.

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

When my first novel (Revenge, 1976) was published, it was reviewed in 50 places. Newspaper and magazine book pages have disappeared over the years. Internet is hugely important now. In terms of what works for me, I try to respond to absolutely everything I receive from readers. Being an author is like running for mayor. You might or might not have a big ad budget but the person-to-person thing remains the most important.

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

After finishing The Russian Trilogy with Countdown in Cairo, which Zondervan will publish in January of 2010, I’m down for a new “Cuban” trilogy which will take place in Cuba, Central America and the US. Same heroine, Alex, and plenty of new trouble for her.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Rush to the Zondervan web site or and order one of my books. Do it now before your server crashes. Is that too self-serving? ;-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Does Novel Writing Ever Get Easier? by Guest Blogger, Robin Lee Hatcher

Robin Lee Hatcher discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, two RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance, two RT Career Achievement Awards (Americana Romance and Inspirational Fiction), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 60 novels, including Catching Katie, named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal.

Robin enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. She is passionate about the theater, and several nights every summer, she can be found at the outdoor amphitheater of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, enjoying Shakespeare under the stars. She makes her home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet the high-maintenance Papillon.

A frequent question heard at writers’ conferences is:
“Doesn’t writing a novel get easier with every book you write?” I believe the vast majority of writers would answer that question, “No.” That is certainly how I answer the question.

As I write this piece for Novel Journey, I am in the early stages of writing my 62nd novel, and although I’m excited about it, I also know it will never quite measure up to the vision I have for it. There will be days I would rather sell shoes at the mall than continue with writing. Thankfully, those kind of days are few and far between, but I’m never surprised when they happen. They are familiar to me now after so many years.

The truth is that only my first book was written for the pure joy of it and without angst. It was also written without any idea what I was doing. This was long before email and home computers and easy access to other writers. I didn’t know anything about POV or plotting or motivation. I simply had a story inside of me burning to be put onto paper. It became my first published novel, warts and all (and by warts I mean about a thousand adverbs and more than one plot cliche).

For most authors, as least those I know, writing gets harder because we want each book to be better than the last. We try to keep improving our craft and enhancing our storytelling abilities. We want what we write to be fresh and exciting and interesting and satisfying. While knowing we need to meet readers’ expectations, we also don’t want to write stories that are carbon copies of our previous ones.

Most days when I sit down to write, I do so out of self-discipline rather than a flash of creativity. I have a deadline, and I must consistently meet my word goal every day in order to meet that deadline. More often than not, perspiration precedes inspiration. Some days, there is only perspiration, not a single word, sentence or paragraph coming easily. But that’s okay. I have learned over the course of my career that my feelings about my writing have very little to do with how the story is going, with whether or not it is any good. And sometimes I must simply get out the dross before I discover the gold.

I was asked by someone earlier today what’s my favorite part about being a writer. My answer? I get to go to work in my pajamas. LOL! Yes, I do think that is a wonderful perk. However, my actual favorite part is when I get that first glimpse of a story and its characters, that moment when an idea blossoms and I believe anything and everything is possible for it.

If you’re a writer, cherish those favorite moments, whatever yours are. Perspiration will come later. It always does.

February 2009

From the moment Gavin Blake set eyes on Emily Harris, he knew she would never make it in the rugged high country where backbreaking work and constant hardship were commonplace. Beautiful and refined, she was accustomed to the best life had to offer. Heaven only knew why she wanted to leave Boise to teach two young girls on a ranch miles from nowhere. He'd wager it had to do with a man. It always did when a beautiful woman was involved.

Emily wanted to make some sort of mark on the world before marriage. She wanted to be more than just a society wife. Though she had plenty of opportunities back East, she had come to the Idaho high country looking to make a difference. Gavin’s resistance to her presence made her even more determined to prove herself. Perhaps changing the heart of just one man may make the greatest difference of all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Have you Ever Considered ...

With hits like Memoirs of a Geisha, The Joy Luck Club, The Kite Runner and this, are you seeing a trend that doesn't seem to go out of style? I for one, am always happy to read well-written books that have a deeper meaning --and if they teach me about another culture or aspect of society I didn't know about, so much the better.

Do YOU come from a unique background that others might be interested in? It might make a winning backdrop for your next novel or story. Just a thought...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Christian Speculative Fiction Panel -- Pt. 1

When it comes to Christian literature, the genre of speculative fiction – sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. – is one of the most difficult to understand. While spec-fic titles comprise a significant chunk of the general market, Christian alternatives are noticeably scarce in religious bookstores. Why is this? Some suggest demographics, others point to a socially, theologically conservative readership. The opinions are many and varied. In order to further explore the subject of Christian Speculative Fiction, I’ve asked some of those "in the know" to help us get a better perspective.

A lifelong speculative fiction fan, Frank Creed founded the Lost Genre Guild as a community of Christian speculative fiction artists and fans. His 2036 Chicago cyberpunk novel Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground keeps winning awards and nominations. Frank is the head literary critiquer for The Finishers manuscript evaluation service. War of Attrition: Book Two of the Underground, and Join the Underground: the Role Playing Game are due for release in 2009.

Jeff Gerke, a.k.a. Jefferson Scott, is a published Christian novelist and professional book editor living in Colorado Springs. He's published six Christian novels of his own and co-written two Christian nonfiction books. He has been on staff at Multnomah Publishers, Strang Communications (where he launched the Realms imprint of Christian speculative fiction), and NavPress. He has done freelance editing for Howard, Barbour, WinePress, and more. He teaches at Christian writers conferences and has been an acquisitions and developmental editor for several years. He maintains two Web sites: Jefferson Scott and Where the Map Ends, and is the founder of Marcher Lord Press.

Rebecca LuElla Miller works primarily as a novelist, but also has covered high school and college sports as a correspondent for a Los Angeles area newspaper group and has published short stories and articles in a variety of publications, including Victorian Homes magazine. In addition, she does freelance editing, most prominently, three books in the Dragons in Our Midst series for AMG Publishers/Living Ink. She is the managing administrator for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, a contributor to the team blog Speculative Faith, and the founder of the CSFF promotional newsletter Latest In Spec.

* * *

There are some differing opinions as to the state of Christian Speculative Fiction. While some laud increased quality and more ezine and indie publishing options, others bemoan the lack of shelf space and lukewarm interest by mainstream Christian publishers. How would you assess the state of Christian Speculative Fiction? Should we be encouraged, concerned, or just plain frustrated?

JEFF: For over two years I've been doing my monthly interviews with movers and shakers in Christian speculative fiction publishing, over at WhereTheMapEnds. Every time, I ask the interviewee to give his or her evaluation of the current state of our genre. I've asked this of authors from Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti to agents, forums leaders, and other pioneers in this area. The answers are always either "It's going great" or "It's terrible." To me, that says things aren't really changing. Because those have been the two opinions people have been saying since I got into Christian publishing in 1994. Certainly we'd have to say that there have been great advances and successes. But we'd also have to conclude that the industry itself--more properly, the demographic reached by Christian fiction through traditional channels--hasn't changed.

I launched Marcher Lord Press largely over my frustration with this situation. I saw that traditional CBA houses were not reaching the people who desired Christian speculative fiction, and indeed those people weren't even looking for this kind of fiction from CBA houses anymore, much less going into Christian bookstores hoping to find it. The solution, it seemed to me, would be to bypass those stores and that industry and try to reach those readers directly, where they are. Which is online.

So I think we can be encouraged that more CBA houses are giving Christian speculative fiction a chance. Writers should start there first. But I wouldn't hold my breath. We can be encouraged on the other side too because indie efforts like Marcher Lord Press are springing up to try to meet the demand of this wonderful, creative, and loyal niche.

BECKY: I’m encouraged. The publishing industry is notoriously slow, so positive movement gives me hope that more is to come.

Like others, I’ve been somewhat concerned that, while CBA has apparently embraced YA fantasy, there aren’t more adult offerings. But even in this area, I think there’s hope. For instance, Bryan Davis is contracted by Zondervan for two adult speculative novels. Coupled with George Bryan Polivka’s upcoming sequel to his Trophy Chase Trilogy (Harvest House), Jeffrey Overstreet’s Cyndere’s Midnight (WaterBrook), Karen Hancock’s Enclave (Bethany) due out this summer, there are some stories for adults we can look forward to.

I’m also hopeful that Marcher Lord Press, Double-Edge Publishing, The Writer’s Café Press, Tsaba House, Capstone, and whatever other independent presses are producing Christian speculative are going to generate wide enthusiasm for the genre.

FRANK: I study this question and see a series of truths, no differing opinions. The short answer is that the present state and future of Christian sci-fi, horror and fantasy has never been so bright. But as a lifelong fan, that’s because things have been so dim for so many decades.

On the reading end of books, the long sci-fi, horror, and fantasy drought is over. Gone are the days of literally no new titles for genre fans. The free-market has opened the doors because computers, the Web, and outsourcing changed publishing. Free and not-for-profit e-zines feature short fiction online. Small Independent presses have risked the niche and targeted genre fans who tend to have other common interests: gaming, heavy metal music, and X-games thrill sports.

On the business end of books, Christian spec-fic has long been too Christian for mainstream publishers, and too niche for Christian publishers. Because of this, the genre still lacks both religious titles and shelf space. The lack of market has frustrated artists with real passions for the genre into waiting, writing, polishing our precious. As a result, literary quality has festered. There is more hope now than ever for readers and artists.

On the writing end, there is finally hope, as all the major Christian houses have a few spec-fic authors. Many artists have published with Print-on-Demand companies. The first Christian Spec-Fic only publisher, Mr. Gerke's Marcher Lord Press, is free-market cutting edge. He uses PoD technology over the old-fashioned warehouse-full-of-books method. Paradigms have shifted, the artists are thrilled, and the fans are gathering on the Web to watch for their favorite sub-genre titles in places like Where the Map Ends, the Christian Science-Fiction & Fantasy blog tour, and the Lost Genre Guild.

Speculative themes are prominent in popular culture. For instance, of the 50 highest-grossing movies of all-time, more than half contain speculative themes (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider Man, etc.). In literature, there's Stephanie Meyer's Twilight epic and Rowling's Harry Potter series, which have sold gazillions of copies. Nevertheless, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market. Why the disparity? Is the niche really a lot smaller than most fans are willing to admit? Are publishers constrained by demographics unique to their industry? Or is Christian Speculative Fiction somehow inferior to its secular counterpart?

BECKY: I’ll take those questions in order.

1) Why the disparity? I know many will say it’s because of the female demographic in CBA stores. I say, balderdash! We just finished a blog tour for by D. Barkley Briggs. The book was well-liked by both men and women (there were few “rave reviews,” and as one of our bloggers pointed out, balanced reviews are often the more trustworthy ones.) So if it’s not demographic, what is it? I say it is, in part, the small selection. I know from offering books on the CSFF Blog Tour that some of our readers only take the science fiction books, others opt out whenever we have a supernatural suspense, others only take YA or middle grade while another group never takes those.

For a long time, there was no significant choice in speculative titles. In addition, few stores organize their fiction by genre. Some are beginning to, and that should draw more attention to speculative titles.

Not so long ago, a fan of speculative literature could walk into a CBA store and buy Karen Hancock or Ted Dekker. That was pretty much it, and Hancock wasn’t even a for sure. Compare that to fans of romance. They can choose from Wick, Kingsbury, Lewis, Austin, Snelling, Oke, Gist, Hatcher, Rivers, Mills, Hill, ad infinitum. So what were the chances a romance fan would walk out of the store with a book to her liking versus the chances of a speculative fiction fan finding just the right book? But as I noted, slowly more speculative authors are joining the ranks, which gives readers a better chance of finding ones to their liking.

2) Is the niche smaller than what fans are willing to admit? The speculative genre is broad. Within that catch-all phrase are some small niches. But the (re)popularity of Narnia shows me that Christians still want good fantasy—the kind that includes spiritual truth.

3) Demographics – see #1. Let me add something Mirtika Schultz taught me. People may like speculative fiction without realizing it. Mike, you named some movie titles that people don’t often think of as “speculative.” Add in older movies like ET and Princess Bride—big hits, enjoyed by the segment of society who isn’t supposed to like speculative fiction. I believe it just takes the right story.

4) Is Christian speculative fiction somehow inferior to its secular [I assume by this you mean, non-Christian worldview as opposed to Christian worldview published by a general market publisher] counterpart? Not inherently. In fact, because the Christian worldview is true, we have a chance to write more powerful, life-altering fiction than someone writing from a different worldview. Do we pull it off? Well, there hasn’t yet been a Christian speculative blockbuster (unless you classify the Left Behind books as speculative – I haven’t read them to know if they are). I think the quality has improved, certainly. I see some books that come very, very close. But whether they start too slowly, have convoluted story-lines, weak characterization, improper or weak motivation, predictable plots, transparent symbolism—something—I think we’re still waiting for the breakout book.

Of course, there’s lots of discussion about what creates a breakout book. If we’re talking about sales figures, the quality of writing doesn’t seem to be a necessary ingredient.

FRANK: You mentioned demographics; here’s one to further confound your question. is one of the few Web communities one can join as a literary artist, like musical artists can join at many others. The Shoutlife authors’ page is broken down by genre. If you add the number of fantasy/ sci-fi writers to half the mystery/ suspense writers—who write spiritual thrillers—the total number of spec-fic authors surpasses even romance. Of course there are fewer authors published by traditional houses in the spec-fic categories.

In our culture, movies have become fiction’s most popular vehicle. I believe the top grossing films don’t lie, and the majority of those have been speculative. These box office successes have been credited with opening the doors to major houses for spec-fic literary artists.

The people who finally master reaching the Christian spec-fic fans, who don’t look for their fiction on the fiction shelves of Christian bookstores, are going to make a lot of money. One man you’d think would be able to answer this is Jan Dennis, literary agent for Ted Dekker, and Stephen Lawhead. Like no other, Mr. Dennis has heard that build-it-and-they-will-come voice, calling out from a cornfield somewhere.

JEFF: In my years of championing speculative projects at Christian publishing companies I have noticed that success in secular publishing has little bearing on the decisions at CBA houses. Christian publishers even sometimes bear it as a mark of pride that they're not bowing to the pressures of secular publishing.

I believe there are two main factors that come into play here. First, leadership at CBA houses and at many bookstore chains is still often suspicious of speculative fiction. (And using Tolkien and Lewis as examples doesn't help; they're considered classics that probably wouldn't sell if published new today.) Pitching anything magical or supernatural gets their shields up. Kind of like when a millionaire is chatting with someone who suddenly brings up a financial need he or she has. Suddenly he's wary. Same with spec fic in CBA publishing committee meetings.

Second, the demographic CBA houses sell to has no overwhelming interest in speculative fiction. As a group, the subset of white, American, evangelical women of child-bearing to empty nest ages doesn't want to read speculative. This group--and I love this group, by the way!--is more interested in chick-lit and cozy mysteries than in mutant alien vampires who will eat your brain.

CBA publishers know their market. They are wise to provide products that will appeal to their market and to not provide products that won't. The market for CBA fiction is not the same as for ABA fiction, and that's why publishers don't just follow what happens in secular publishing.

Of the Speculative Fiction being published by Christian houses, the majority is YA. Why is adult spec-fic lagging so far behind Young Adult in the religious market? Is this a good or a bad thing for Christians writing “adult” speculative?

FRANK: Young adult books outsell adult speculative fiction because of business. This is all about crossover potential and profitability. Adults can still enjoy books that are written for a younger audience, but younger readers can’t enjoy fiction for more mature readers. The writer of complex or heavy adult spec-fic is at a huge disadvantage. Marcher Lord Press gives such artists hope.

The psychographic of Christian bookstore shoppers and Christian bookstore buyers in general, are mothers and grandmothers. While women are a minority of the spec-fic genre, only twenty percent of men read novels at all. This means many spec-fic titles are purchased in brick & mortar Christian stores as gifts for young adult family and friends—not to be read by the buyer. YA spec-fic has huge well-intentioned birthday present potential.

BECKY: Jeff mentioned that using Tolkien doesn’t help to break down resistance to speculative fiction because his work falls in the classics category. How odd that we would deliberately steer away from anything resembling a timeless piece of literature.

Regarding your question: I think Christian spec-fic is lagging behind because Harry Potter sold well and now the Twilight books are selling well. These successes in the secular market have convinced ECPA houses that there is a market for YA fantasy. One thing I wish we would see—but I know it’s easy for me to talk because it isn’t my money on the line—is a publisher who wants to set the standard rather than dutifully follow along after the general market houses. I would like to see Christians leading rather than following.

JEFF: Adult spec-fic is lagging behind YA mainly due to the home schoolers. Many of these kids are voracious readers and are precociously brilliant. And they all dream in speculative stories. Ask any group of Christian teen novelists what they're writing and 9 out of 10 will say "fantasy."

This is the generation that's going to save us. They're growing up desiring Christian fantasy and other speculative fiction, and they're going to create a demand for more of that, and more adult stories, as they mature. So it's not necessarily a good thing for Christians writing adult speculative fiction right now, but it will be in the future.

Incidentally, Marcher Lord Press is one of the few houses that is publishing Christian speculative fiction but rejecting YA fiction. MLP is for adult Christian speculative fiction only. (However, one of my new authors thought her book was YA but I thought it was great for adults, so never fear!)

* * *

Part Two of the Christian Speculative Fiction Panel will be posted next month. Until then, we are interested in hearing your thoughts.

Title Trakk's-CJ Darlington wins her first publishing contract!

Congratulations to Title Trakk founder, CJ Darlington for winning Writing For the Soul's Operation First Novel Contest!

Her novel, took first prize earning her a chunk of change and publishing contract from Tyndale!

CJ has been at this a long time and has done so much to promote the cause of Christian fiction. Plus, we just love her anyway.

CONGRATULATIONS, CJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What are We Missing?

Marcia Lee Laycock is the winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award, for her novel One Smooth Stone. Visit her at

There is a story in the Bible that has always somewhat intrigued me – the story of the “most excellent Felix.” (Acts 24:3) He was the governor who tried the apostle Paul, the governor who kept Paul under house arrest for over two years, because “he was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe.” (Acts 24:26). Felix kept sending for the apostle, talking with him many times over the course of those two years, waiting for the bribe.

That makes me chuckle just a little. Felix was waiting for a bribe but getting something much more valuable – the wisdom of one of the best minds in the country and no doubt much to think about in terms of his spiritual condition. We don’t know how those talks affected the governor. We only know when he left his office he left the apostle in prison.

It would appear that Felix was so focused on what he wanted he missed what he really needed.

I think we are all a little like that. We want many things – financial security, promotions at work, a big house and a good neighborhood to live in, a new car every other year, a big screen TV to watch all our favourite shows, good health and fitness.

But what are we missing?

Are we so focused on financial security that we work too many hours to the neglect of our families? Are we so driven to get that promotion that we miss having a genuine and caring relationship with fellow workers? Are we so proud of the house and car that we alienate our neighbors? Are we so addicted to the TV that we never have a meaningful conversation with our spouses and children? Are we so obsessed with the fitness of our physical bodies that we neglect our spiritual souls?

As writers, are we too focused on how to market our books, too drawn to the thought of selling millions and the big purse that would mean? Do we dream too much about that huge platform we’re developing? Perhaps we’ve forgotten to be thankful for what God is doing in us and through us as we write. Perhaps we’re too quick to brush aside that single reader who was given the courage to make one small step closer to God.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “As a writer, what do I need?”

I can think of a few things to put on that list. I need patience to wait for God’s timing. I need trust to know that God is in control; humility to leave it all in His hands, no matter what the outcome. I need to value the people I meet as I ‘market,’ and seek to meet their needs. I need grace to see my readers as potentially part of God’s family. I need passion for God and His word. Most of all, I need to draw closer to the Lord as I move through the whole process.

Jesus has told us what we need, told us to be careful to seek it. He said – “But seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well…”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Portal to another dimension?

Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis and comes from a line of police officers spanning several generations. A writer and a board–certified podiatrist specializing in peripheral nerve surgery, Dr. Dodson, his wife, and their two sons live in Newburgh, Indiana, where he serves as an elder at the First Christian Church. Daniel's Den is his latest novel.

This past weekend I had my first signing for my newly released novel, Daniel’s Den. It was a local signing so I expected turnout to be good. It was. I signed for two and a half hours and had very little downtime. Dozens of books were moved and I got a chance to meet old friends and many new readers.

This, I thought, is what it’s all about.


During one of the few lulls of the afternoon, a very pleasant lady approached my table. I had noticed her earlier, buzzing about, eyes locked on me as she pretended to peruse the many overstocked shelves, so is was no surprise when she finally approached the table behind which I stood. This is not all that uncommon at a book signing as many people are either too shy or too reticent to approach an author.

She asked me how I got published. This is also a rather common question to hear during a book signing, or other author venue, and so I told her my own story and then proceeded to give her advice on how to break in. (Write the best book you can.)
She listened intently then asked me the mother of all questions; a question that no reader has ever asked.

“Do you believe that Evansville (Indiana – the location of the book signing) is a portal to another dimension?”

Unsure if I had heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat the question.

She did, confirming that my hearing was intact.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

She lowered her voice, leaned across the table and said, “Oh, I do. I think the muse is up there and just beams ideas into our minds.”

After a few more minutes of conversation – in which she told one reader to leave because I was talking to her – she smiled and moved on. When I told my wife about this later that evening, she asked if I wanted to watch “Misery”, the movie starring James Caan and based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. (If you’re a writer, you need to watch it. But read the book, too.)

But as bizarre as the lady’s question may seem, I had to ask myself, “Is Evansville the portal to another dimension?”

Absolutely! In a literary sense, that is.

Our writing – and I’m talking novels, now – should transport our readers to places and times they could not obtain on their own. We should take them to the rain-soaked, wind-swept cliffs of a Gothic romance, to the bowels of the jungle in a military thriller, or to an old man’s cabin by the sea, as Hemingway did in his award-winning classic.

The best novels I’ve read – and I dare say, that you’ve read – are those that take us out of our world and into another. That gives us the chance to live vicariously through characters that are as palpably real as those who share our lives; novels that show us a side of life – or of ourselves - we’ve never seen.

As a writer, that’s the challenge; the brass ring for any novelist.

It’s not about meeting old friends or new readers at a book signing. It’s about the craft. It’s about the writing.

Is Evansville the portal to another dimension?

You bet. And so is the town in which you live, if you’ll settle down, put words to paper, and make it so.

Win a copy of Daniel's Den by leaving a comment on this post. Winner will be chosen and announced on Tuesday.

Author Elaine Viets ~ Interviewed

Elaine Viets writes two national bestselling mystery series.

Her Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Elaine and her character, Helen Hawthorne, work a different low-paying job each book, from telemarketer to hotel maid. Publishers Weekly called her hardcover debut “wry social commentary.” Clubbed to Death, set at a South Florida country club, is her seventh Dead-End Job.

Elaine’s second series features St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus in Accessory to Murder. The debut, Dying in Style, tied with Stephen King on the Independent Mystery Booksellers bestseller list.

Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

A: CLUBBED TO DEATH is my latest Dead-End Job mystery. It’s set at a country club, and I worked at one in South Florida for nine long months. I thought the club motto should have been, “Do you know who I a
m?” I was in customer service and dealt with the problems of people who have no problems. My favorite was the doctor who came storming in, demanding his monthly bill. He didn’t want his wife to see it. Turned out the doctor had brought one of his office employees to the club for a day of “relaxation.” She’d relaxed about $3000. The doctor said his wife “wouldn’t understand.” I figured she’d understand perfectly. We had to tell the doctor that the law required his wife receive a copy. Oddly, this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head?

A: I’d been writing for a newspaper for more than 25 years, when I was fired. I wrote my first mystery, set at a newspaper. I killed a number of fictional editors, which was very satisfying. The novel took four months to write. My agent shopped it around New York and sold it after eight weeks.

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

A: Every writer I know has self-doubts, and most of us have writer’s block. For me, writer’s block usually means to I need to be around people. Not friends – readers. I will go to some place like McDonald’s or a local restaurant and listen to conversations. A touch of reality helps jumpstart my fiction.

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?

A: I wish I’d attended the major mystery conventions before my first novel came out. It would have given me a head start. If you are serious about writing, go to the conventions for your genre. Meet the booksellers at the conference stor
es and at your local stores. Buy books, or at least some small item. When you are an established customer, ask your local store what sells and what doesn’t.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?

A: Harlan Coben talked at Sleuthfest about editing. He said books should be carefully edited, but we have to let our work go into the world, and that can be hard. “When you find yourself changing ‘a’ to ‘the’ you’re over-editing,” Harlan said.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

A: For my Dead-End Job series, the story grows out of the job. When I cleaned hotel rooms for MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS, a maid told me a bank robber had hidden out at the hotel and was killed there. The money was never found. That became the basis for that novel. For MURDER UNLEASHED, I did my research at a pet boutique in Fort Lauderdale. For the first book, SHOP TILL YOU SHOP, I worked at a dress shop that sold bustiers to bimbos.

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.

A: My husband Don and I were at dinner in a mall restaurant. I’d bought a reference book called “Cause of Death.” I said, “Look, this has great ways to kill people.” The couple in the adjacent booth moved closer to the wall.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share? Or have you ever been at the point where considered quitting writing altogether?

A: My first series, the Francesca Vierling mysteries, was discontinued by Dell in 2001. My husband had cancer and we’d also lost our money in the post 9/11 crash. I went to work at a bookstore to pay the mortgage. That became the basis for my Dead-End Job series. I set my second book in that series, MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS, at the bookstore.

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

A: I prefer to call new writers “pre-published.” Writing is both a business and an art form. When I started, I thought all I had to do was write the novels and the publisher would handle the selling. Later, I learned I needed to find a balance and do both, with the publisher’s help.

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

A: Losing my first series really hurt. I had to rethink writing and marketing and learn the business. I also had to let go of a series character who was closely tied in with my identity. I’m glad I did, but it was hard.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

A: A short story in Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner’s bestselling anthology, “Many Bloody Returns.” I’d never written a vampire story before. It was a challenge I enjoyed.

Dean Koontz recently shared his take on the concept on “the writer’s sacred duty.” What comes to your mind at the mention of “the writer’s sacred duty?”

A: I try to entertain readers and to play fair. When I write a mystery, all the clues are there for the reader to solve it.

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

A: Women writers are often not treated with respect unless they “write like men.”

Yet one of the most successful writers is Charlaine Harris, who had the courage to strike out and write a unique vampire series. She now has a TV series and seven books on the New York Times bestseller list – and she doesn’t write like a

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

A: I’d like Alan Ball to make my mysteries into an HBO series.

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

A: Everyone knows everyone, and that’s both good and bad.

How has your unique life journey prepared you to be an author? What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

A: I was a newspaper reporter for more than 25 years. That career taught me how to write on deadline, what dialogue sounds like and good ways to do research.

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

A: My office. It’s lined with bookshelves and the window overlooks the Intracoast
al Waterway. At night, I like to sit at my desk and watch the boats without lights running on the water. I know there’s a novel outside my window. I spend a lot of time mentally plotting my books while I drive, so I’m sending a picture of that favorite place.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

A: Long-term deadlines. Newspapers have short deadlines of days or weeks. Books can take a year or more.

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

A: Quit making excuses and sit down at the computer.

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?

A: I try to write 1500 words a day. The next morning I revise, then write another 1500.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

A: Plot. Mysteries are intricate puzzles. I use the plot outline as a road map. I don’t follow it exactly, but it keeps me on track and lets me know when to introduce clues and key scenes. As I write, I make adjustments if the plot is not working.

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?

A: Saggy middles are overcome by ruthless editing. The key is to try not to fall in love with my words. I have to start slashing.

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

A: Yes, a Japanese professor teaches my books at her university as an example of American culture. I find that flattering and a little scary. Some people aren’t even sure South Florida is America.

Have you had a particularly memorable peer honor? Please share.

A: Yes. I had a series of strokes in April 2007 as I was about to leave on tour for MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS. Instead of touring, I went through brain surgery, a coma and a month in the hospital, and I’m still doing physical therapy.

More than 200 mystery writers organized a “tour by proxy” for me and sold my books from New York to California. These were working authors with their own careers, but they took time out to help me. They saved my hardcover career and I’m extremely grateful.

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

A: Quite a bit. I hire a freelance publicist, PJ Nunn, in addition to the good but overworked publicist provided by my publisher. I also speak at conferences, including Sleuthfest and Malice Domestic. For each novel, I post reading discussion questions, the cover jpg and a sample chapter on my website. I blog on Wednesdays at The Lipstick Chronicles with Nancy Martin, Michele Martinez, Sarah Strohmeyer, Lisa Daily, Kathy Sweeney and Harley Jane Kozak. It’s at

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

A: Support your local bookstores, even if all you can afford is a birthday card. Books and gift certificates make classy gifts. It’s in your own self-interest. Bookstores promote and help writers. You will need them when your book is published.