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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Editor Andrea Richesin Interviews NYT Best-Selling Novelist, Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs's life is all about family, friends...and fiction. She lives at the water's edge on an island in Puget Sound , and she commutes to her writers' group in a 17-foot motorboat. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists. The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at www.susanwiggs.com and on her lively blog at http://www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com/.



Andrea N. Richesin is the editor of four anthologies, Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; an as-yet-untitled father-daughter collection (May 2010); the forthcoming Crush: 30 Real-life Tales of First Love Gone Wrong by our Best Young Adult Novelists; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her books have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Daily Candy, and Babble. Andrea (Nicki to her friends) lives with her husband and daughter in northern California . For news and updates, visit http://www.nickirichesin.com/




The new #1 on the New York Times bestseller list FIRESIDE by Susan Wiggs
is blazing off bookshelves. Nicki Richesin, editor of the mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER, spoke with Susan- a contributor to the collection- about her daughter, writing, love, keeping secrets, music, and more….


Nicki Richesin: Susan, you are a serene queen bestselling writing machine. Congrats on your latest FIRESIDE. I was in a bookshop yesterday buying a last-minute birthday gift for my hubby, when I noticed a woman in the check-out line clinging to a copy as if it were a life-preserver. How does it feel to have legions of readers breathless with anticipation for your next book?

Susan Wiggs: I totally love it. This is exactly what I hope for—the chance to share my stories. By the time the book hits the stores, I’m several months removed from it, so it’s fun knowing that for some reader, she’s meeting the characters and story for the first time. I always hope like crazy that she’ll like it.


NR: Thank you so much for contributing your remarkable essay to my mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER. I already confessed to you that of all the essays in the collection, yours resonated with me the most because I too have an only daughter and know all too well that peculiar sinking feeling when the quiet becomes too quiet and you suddenly fear the worst. You beautifully depict the frustrations and joys of raising a child while working from home. Now that your daughter Elizabeth is all grown up and engaged to be married, do you still dispense advice and are you helping with the wedding planning?

SW: Absolutely. Elizabeth and I have always been close, and planning the event of her life together is mad fun. She’s turned into a big-hearted, fun-loving and bright young woman and I’m incredibly proud of her. She is my work-in-progress. For those who want to see the happy couple, I posted them on my blog
here. It started out being a post about Jackson Browne but then I realized how much like the groom he looks! I’m terrible, I post everything on my blog.

NR: In a recent interview, you mentioned that you stole your sister’s boyfriend and married him. Then (much later?) you apologized and laughed together about it. Now there’s a story, do tell…

SW: There’s a whole novel about it! HOME BEFORE DARK, which came out in 2003. But the real-life version is much less dramatic. He was her New Year’s Eve date one year, but at the end of the night…um…we pulled a switch on him. We were all really young at the time so there wasn’t much drama involved. Jay and I have been married twenty-nine years this year.

NR: As an epigraph to your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you included the last words of Roald Dahl's last book The Minpins that you loved to read to Elizabeth :
"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
What secrets have you discovered and where did you find your magic?

SW: I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Honestly, I love that excerpt from the book, because it reminds us to look beyond the obvious. Think about all the times in your life you’ve taken the time to look at something deeper or through a different lens. You’ve probably found the magic. I know I have.

NR: You often offer recipes on your blog and to accompany your books like gougeres in SNOWFALL AT WILLOW LAKE and caponata from SUMMER BY THE SEA. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and more importantly, what would you serve?

SW: What a fun fantasy. I’d invite my parents, and Malachy and Diana McCourt, because I know they’d have a grand time together. Tiger Woods, so Jay would have someone to talk to about golf. Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life,” because I love his laugh, and the Obamas, of course, and Jackson Browne to play piano and sing to us. Oh, and Nancy Pearl because no party is complete without a librarian. There. That sounds like a nice group, doesn’t it? Food? Anything prepared and served by Amy Sedaris. Her book, I Like You, is the best book on entertaining ever.

NR: In JUST BREATHE, Sarah Moon had a high school crush on Will Boon (love this character’s name!), but he ignored her. Years later, when they’re reunited, Will and Sarah fall in love. Have you ever had a secret crush or unrequited love?

SW: I’m horrible at keeping secrets. When I like someone, I let them know. But I’ve definitely had a crush or two that’s a one-way street. Ouch! I tend to remember moments like that and use them in my books. Might as well do something constructive with them.

NR: In your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you write that Elizabeth “self-published” a book just like you did with your A BOOK ABOUT SOME BAD KIDS you wrote at age 8. Did you ever imagine you would one day be writing full-time and successfully publishing novels? Over thirty novels later, do you feel you have exceeded your wildest dreams? Is writing your greatest accomplishment?

SW: I was so convinced I was a writer that I never imagined any other career for myself. I’m so grateful to be doing what I love. Writing isn’t my greatest accomplishment—that would be my marriage and my daughter—but it definitely rates high on the list.

NR: Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to play on your cello while staring out at your breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier ? Seems like a scene from movie…

SW: Sadly, I had to hock my cello during the lean years, and I never replaced it. I took bluegrass fiddle lessons until I gave myself tendonitis practicing. There’s always music on in my house, though. I put together a playlist for every book. Here’s a link to the one I made for JUST BREATHE.



NR: In BECAUSE I LOVE HER, I loved your description of your mother teaching you how to type on an old manual typewriter while you sat by her side on a stack of encyclopedias. As your first writing teacher, she would write the words you dictated- stories about a child up a tree with scary things coming after him. You wrote that to this day, that’s pretty much what all your books are about. What did you mean by this?

SW: In today’s books, the tree and the scary things are metaphoric, but the theme is the same. My books are all about a woman who reaches a tough place in her life, and how her journey takes her to a better place.

NR: I also read in one of your interviews, that you read romance novels aloud while nursing Elizabeth as an infant, because you were trying to teach yourself the craft while bonding with her. Then you sold your first book, and everything changed. Do you think motherhood made you hungrier to pursue you art?

SW: Definitely. Becoming a mother brings on a whole new dimension of emotions. I was more motivated than ever to put my stories out there. Also, writing was a way to stay at home with my daughter, so that was a huge source of the drive to succeed.

NR: Which books are currently sitting on your nightstand?

SW: ALMOST HOME, a memoir by Dr. Christine Gleason, one of the pre-eminent neonatologists in the country. It’s very moving and beautifully written. There’s also a novel called THE BROKEN SHORE, an edgy crime drama set in Australia . And pages from an unpublished manuscript by Elsa Watson. She’s in my writers’ group, and her book is wonderful enough to qualify as bedtime reading.

NR: My five-year-old daughter Lily would like to know how many trees you have in your garden. And one last question, do you really kickbox?

SW: Tell Lily there are too many to count! My favorite is a sequoia. They’re very rare around here and it looks stately in the yard. Lily would like the juniper trees, because they are filled with birds’ nests. I learned to kickbox for fitness but I would never be able to defend myself! Nicki, I loved writing my essay for the anthology, and I can’t wait to read them all. The mother-daughter bond is so compelling to me.


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Christian Speculative Fiction panel -- Pt. 2

Speculative fiction titles, whether science fiction, fantasy, or horror, are wildly popular in the general market. The Christian market, however, is another story. Why is this? Do Christians not read spec-fic, or is Christian spec-fic inferior to its secular counterparts? In Part One of our series, Frank Creed, Jeff Gerke and Rebecca Miller, helped us work through the complexities and nuances of Christian Speculative Fiction. Part Two, here, continues that discussion.

In addition to our interview (and as a means of highlighting Christian Spec-fic), we will be giving away three free eBooks (downloadable PDF's) of the latest (and much-anticipated!) Coach's Midnight Diner to three lucky commenters. If you leave a comment and an appropriate means of contact (website, email, Blogger profile, etc.), you'll be entered into a drawing for a Diner eBook. Sounds like a deal to me!

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4.) There is much discussion about what distinguishes Christian Fiction from the general market. Is it recurrent "redemptive" themes, the absence of language, God / Christ figures? How explicitly “Christian” must a speculative work be if it is published by ECPA houses? What strictures must a Christian spec author recognize in aiming for the religious market?

JEFF: I think if you're aiming for traditional CBA houses with speculative fiction your Christian content had better be blatant and overt. You have to be more Christian than Christian, if you will, to overcome the obstacles I spoke of in the previous post.

When you come out to the Wild West that is indie publishing, the question becomes more pertinent and subjective. For Marcher Lord Press, I have to 1) know that the author is coming from the Christian worldview and 2) see that this book--or this series--is going to have a solid Christian foundation.

You can see that's pretty subjective. All I can say is that when I'm reading these manuscripts, I know when I see it and I know when it's lacking.

BECKY: My guess is, few of us aim for the religious market. Some do. I assume Sharon Hinck is, with her Sword of Lyric series. In my efforts to find a publisher with an ECPA house, I hoped that the religious market would be a starting point, but that my books would branch out from there.

Speculative fiction lends itself to doing so much more than other genre or literary fiction, in my view. Christian science fiction can explore the ethics and spiritual implications of future technology. Supernatural suspense can explore the interplay between the spiritual and the physical. Fantasy can explore the nature of God, of evil, of good, and man’s capacity to face adversity. So, no, I don’t think Christian fiction requires recurrent redemptive themes, though I don’t see that theme as tired or over done. Any theme can appear to be tired or over done if it is treated the same time after time.

As to how explicitly Christian a speculative work must be for ECPA houses, I think you need to ask someone published by an ECPA house. Or better, ask an editor in an ECPA house.

Language? I hate that question—unless you’re talking about the absence of lyrical language. (LOL) Here’s the thing. If someone is going to submit to a publisher with clear guidelines that say
No romance, that writer would be foolish to send in a manuscript with a love scene in the first chapter. Guidelines are guidelines. If a writer doesn’t like the guidelines, they send their work elsewhere. Publishers are free to set whatever guidelines they want, and writers are free to submit within those guidelines. If publishers’ guidelines prohibit the use of swear words or cussing, then a good writer can write around that using suggestion, or if all else fails, by telling.

I find it sad that we writers take up so much time grousing about whether we can or can’t use certain words when we talk very little about how we can more accurately, completely show who God is.

FRANK: There’s certain piousness, a sense of spiritual propriety and taste demanded by Christian readers—a line that cannot be crossed. Ted Dekker expressed this idea in his Where the Map Ends interview with Jeff: "Christian bookstores are sometimes afraid to give readers honest choices for fear of offending a few. A comic book of mine was recently pulled due to violent content. I showed a bad dude being clocked. He bled. I showed the blood."

Some Christians fear that big houses and corporations buying-out smaller Christian houses will result in a loss of proper Biblical theology in Christian fiction. Publishing companies are in business to make money, and free market profit motive will keep them honest. Anyone gaining a reputation for poor theology will be boycotted by organized religion and readers alike. This issue reminds me of a question reportedly put to Martin Luther by his Catholic priest:
what if there was a Bible in every home for everyone to interpret? Luther replied that we might have more Christians. Luther also said Sola Scriptura.

It’s one thing to enforce Biblical theology. Extra-Biblical censorship that interferes with the rules of good literature is another. Every publisher has its own submission guidelines, and standards. Mandating a certain number of saved characters, or telling rather than showing in cases of intimacy and action, or outlawing characters from cigarettes or alcohol use means the real sinful world in which we live cannot be reflected in Christian literature.

Again the free-market rides to the rescue. This line of propriety is tested and pushed by the Indies, and shifts toward realism in bigger houses. In recent years I’ve been continually surprised by controversial content that’s been allowed. Barbour Books allowed my favorite living Christian novelist, M.L. Tyndall, to show dueling pirates run-through opponents with cutlasses in her
Legacy of the King’s Pirates trilogy. A decade ago that would never have happened.

Gratuitous sex and violence will never be desired by many readers, let alone Christian readers. I don’t want my own children reading certain things. For Christian spec-fic artists, the market has never been brighter for either publication or realism. A sense of propriety demanded by our audience is simply part of the challenge to us Christians who find ourselves driven to write novels.

I wrote Flashpoint for an audience who’d been raised
churched. Readers say my gang-leader and government agent protagonists are realistic, yet they don’t curse. My weapons are non-lethal, and the sexy anchorwoman who sells lies to the public is clothed—all this in a gritty 2036 setting. Again, believers don’t want to read that stuff, so it’s up to authors to make such things believable and entertaining.


5.) What effect do alternative publishing ventures -- specifically, small independent presses and royalty POD publishers -- have on the genre? Do they increase interest and build readership, or undermine its potential expansion in the mainstream market?

BECKY: I’ve pretty much changed my mind about POD publishers. When Jeff first unveiled his ideas for Marcher Lord Press, I was disappointed it would be POD. But with the changes publishing is experiencing, I think MLP might be on the cutting edge. The question will be, Can writers make enough money via this format to keep writing? If POD can develop an in-store presence, as I think Thomas Nelson is aiming for, I think there’s a big future there.

I think all the different enterprises help the genre. There are far more writers than there are open slots in traditional publishing houses, even if they published nothing but speculative fiction. From what I see online, more and more young people are lining up with fantasies they want to publish too. I think we mostly write what we want to read, so this many speculative writers can only help bring more attention to the genre.

Of course, if my theory is accurate, it also means we aren’t finding enough books on the shelves to read, which is why we’re writing so much!

FRANK: The current state of business is what it is, for all of literature’s genres. Major houses sign new authors infrequently—they sign proven established names. It’s simply more profitable, working smarter rather than harder, to use small Indie presses and royalty POD publishers as the minor leagues. Slush piles are a thing of the past for the big boys. Once the smaller companies have risked establishing new successful authors, along comes the MegaCorp with the standard rich-and-famous contract, to steal that author away. The Shack is a case study. William P. Young submitted his manuscript to large houses and was rejected for the same reasons spec-fic authors hear—too Christian for mainstream and too controversial for ECPA. Young and a couple of friends established Windblown Media, their own publishing company, and ordered 10 000 copies printed.

After
The Shack exploded, publishers, including houses that had rejected him, began calling. Young’s Windblown Media signed a distribution and marketing contract with Hatchette Book Group (once Time-Warner Books); there are now 6 million+ copies in print and it still holds #1 on the NY Times Best Sellers list. The more one knows about business and marketing, the greater one’s odds of publication.

If there are dollars to be made, big companies board meetings result in phone-calls to the William P. Youngs of the world. Christian artists may have literary fiction-ministry visions, but in the end, it’s about the mOnEy. Sad, but at least our art form thrives. Those poor Christian sculptors!

JEFF: What effect do alternative publishing ventures have on the genre? Very little. Oh, the major houses say they're watching Marcher Lord Press and pulling for me, but until one of these ventures takes off like crazy I think it will just validate the hesitations these traditional houses already have.

I've actually given up trying to change the industry. After working within it for 12 years and meeting with mostly frustration, I've decided to just go off and try to build something new out in some pioneer state.

Indie houses like
MLP are trying to reach people the traditional CBA houses have already written off, after all. And they're trying to succeed with books that traditional CBA houses know won't fly with their core market.

The reason I did
MLP is not to do anything to the publishing industry, but to get these incredible writers hooked up with these amazing fans of Christian speculative fiction. Let the big cruise ship that is CBA publishing steam along on its way. We're going to do something fun all on our own.


6.) What advice would you give to Christian authors who write Speculative Fiction? Continue aiming mainstream CBA / ECPA and hope for change? Forego the big houses and go the independent, small press route? Or forget straightforward religious themes altogether and write to the general market?

JEFF: Well, you have to write the books of your heart. If you can do that and go for (secular) houses, try it. But don't think that things are easier in the ABA. It's much more difficult to get noticed there, much less published. Much more competition.

I think writers of Christian speculative fiction ought to try to get their books published through the traditional CBA houses. If they get in, they're almost guaranteed to sell more copies of the book than most indie presses can move. And that's a good thing for the writer. There's always the chance that the book will go big.

At Marcher Lord Press I tend to attract two kinds of authors: 1) frustrated first-time authors who see a possible outlet for their writing and 2) seasoned, multi-published authors who are tired of playing the CBA game and just want to write the book of their hearts--which happens to be speculative. Both groups love speculative and are frustrated to discover that no one else wants their off-the-map stories.

So give the big CBA houses a try if you'd like, but don't buy the new yacht yet on hopes of landing a big advance. If that route doesn't work out, consider the advantages of going with a small house that loves what you write and knows how to get it to the people who can appreciate it

BECKY: My advice is to write the story God puts on your heart and mind, then trust Him to show you where to go. ECPA needs good books. The general market needs good books. For some writers with good networking, they can get their books out without the backing of a larger publishing house. The independent publishers provide that avenue, but they also need good books. Nothing hurts the reputation of Christian speculative fiction, no matter who the publisher, more than a poorly written book.

So my second piece of advice is for all of us to be perpetual students of fiction.

As to forgetting “straightforward religious themes” I would say, why would you do that? Of course, God hasn’t called everyone to write “straightforward religious themes,” but if He has, then it would be a huge mistake to forgo those.

If by “straightforward religious themes” you mean didactic themes, however, then I say, there’s no place for those in any book for any publisher in any market. That’s not good fiction.

FRANK: Writing, like any art, is a journey. I’ll never stop wondering how there can be so few musical notes and so many songs. So few colors and so many paintings. Literary artists have distinct styles, voices, purposes, preferences, and forms. Every writer’s sojourn is as different as their approach to the craft.

Authors have a first piece. Mastering the craft may be a personal waypoint on one’s trek, but one never stops learning. Similarly, the day comes when a writer researches beyond craft. One may encounter business success for their art, and is then able to spend more hours of fiction word-count. In business just like in craft, there are only individual journeys—too many different paths from point
A to point B for anyone to say this is how you find success. Individual victories are measured in too many different ways. I will say one must bring the Boss one’s best effort. All one can do is spiritwalk the Parable of the Talents. Show up every day in faith, and let His will be done.

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Thanks once again to Frank, Becky, and Jeff, for their participation and terrific insights. We're blessed by you guys and appreciate your hard work! And don't forget to leave a comment if you'd liked to be entered into our
Midnight Diner eBook giveaway... or if you just want to add to the discussion.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All We Have to Do

Marcia Lee Laycock is a pastor's wife, mother of three girls, caregiver to two golden retrievers and a six toed cat. She is also the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for the novel, One Smooth Stone. Her devotionals have been widely published.

The voice coming out of the speaker was clipped and rapid. “What kind of muffin would you like? We have carrot, fat wise carrot, blueberry, fat wise blueberry, cranberry and fat wise cranberry.”

My husband and I fell into a fit of giggles. Fat wise? As we waited at the second window for the goods to be delivered, he joked. “I wonder if it talks? If it’s wise, it must be able to talk. What do you think a wise muffin would say?”

“I only care about the fat part,” I replied. “A nice plump muffin. Yup, that’s what I want.”

The muffin was, in fact, small, heavy as a stone and decidedly mute. As we pulled away from the fast-food restaurant, my husband continued his banter about fat wise muffins until my daughter groaned and asked him to quit. He shook his head. “I feel sorry for people trying to learn English.”

Sometimes the way we use words makes no sense. This seems to be particularly true in advertising. For instance, consider the expressions – “jeans your skin,” and “my bottoms are tops,” or “lips that don’t quit,” and “two thumbs fresh.” Our culture speaks in slogans and metaphors, not to mention anagrams.

It’s no wonder we laugh at the poster that reads, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Words can obscure understanding even when intentions are pure. Words can twist meaning when intentions are evil. There are, however, words which can be trusted, words which are meant to heal and bless, words which will never die.
Psalm 12:6 says, “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.”

Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What words does the Lord speak to us? Words of assurance and comfort, words of challenge and sometimes reproach, words of guidance and warning, words that nourish and heal. Our culture lives by the words of advertisers and slogan writers, words meant to spin the coin out of our pockets. God’s words are meant to bring truth, life, peace.

As writers we are charged to do likewise, to imitate Christ is this, as in all things. This can at once free us and bind us. The responsibility can sometimes overwhelm, but the good news is that we are not alone. He is guiding our minds and our hearts and when we yield to Him the outpouring will be words of life and blessing. The good news is that He has purpose for our words too, and those purposes will be accomplished by His Spirit, to His glory.

The good news is, it’s not up to us. All we have to do is write.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Interview With Don Hoesel

Don Hoesel is a Web site designer for a Medicare carrier in Nashville, TN. He has a BA in Mass Communication from Taylor University and has published short fiction in Relief Journal. He lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with his wife and two children. Elisha’s Bones is his first novel.









Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

Hunter’s Moon is scheduled to come out in Spring 2010. It’s about a writer living in the south who returns to his Upstate New York home for the first time in almost two decades, and who has to finally deal with the family’s dirty little secret.


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

I came up with the idea for Elisha’s Bones over dinner with a friend. We were actually discussing how writers come up with story ideas, and I’d made the comment that just about anything could be turned into a story. By way of illustration, I mentioned a recent Sunday school lesson about the passage in 2 Kings, where a man rises from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones. And once I said it, I realized I had my next story idea.


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

I started writing my first novel in middle school and got about two hundred pages in before giving up. And then I really didn’t write much until a few years after college—1995. Even then, I didn’t try to pursue publication seriously. That didn’t happen until 2004. That’s when I signed with my agent, Les Stobbe. For the next few years, Les sent out manuscripts, and one finally stuck at Bethany House. So the approximate time between actively deciding to pursue publication and hearing that Bethany House had accepted Elisha’s Bones was a little over three years.

As far as hearing about the book’s acceptance—if I recall correctly, Les mentioned that BHP was interested in the manuscript but I may have actually received the official notice from Dave Long, acquisitions editor at BHP, via email. And I’m not entirely sure what went through my mind, except that I know it was some combination of relief and excitement. Because while I’d only spent about three years in active pursuit of publication, I’d been writing for a long time, so I guess it felt like a much longer process. And the next thing that went through my head was that I hoped the contract came before Dave changed his mind!


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

I rarely get writer’s block, but I can spend a very long time working over a single paragraph because it just doesn’t sound right. When that happens, I can rewrite that paragraph thirty to forty times. I guess that may be a form of writer’s block, but at least it’s the kind in which I feel like I’m at least doing something, even if it’s just throwing words at the page to see what sticks.

On those few occasions when I do get real writer’s block, I either start work on something unrelated (like a short story) or take a break and read a book. The more you read, the more likely you are to find something to steal—er, I mean, pay homage to. What's the most difficult part of writing this story and how did you overcome?

I know this is a terrible answer, but I don’t think there was a hard part. I was pleased with the story, and happy with what BHP let me do with it.



Show us a picture of your writing space.




What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up at 5:30 AM and drive forty-plus miles to work. I manage the communications department for a Medicare contractor. After work, I drive the forty-plus miles home, then help with homework, ballet practice, baseball, dinner, and baths, etc. Once the rest of the family is asleep (9–10 PM) I write, usually calling it quits around 1 AM or so.

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

I start with either a character or an idea. Once I have that, I try to let the story build organically around them. It’s usually a pretty linear process in that the story unfolds itself for me. I self-edit a lot as I go, which means that by the time I’m done with my first draft, I feel pretty good about it. So when that draft is done, it’s rare that I’ll do a wholesale revision, although in the case of Elisha’s Bones, my editor suggested some changes that proved to be substantial.

In your opinion, what’s the best novel ever written?

I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’ll list a few that mean a lot to me:
The Sun Also Rises
Nobody’s Fool
The Risk Pool,
Joe
Father and Son
One Hundred Years of Solitude; the list could go on for a very long time.

What writing advice helped you the most?

The best advice I received was to read. Even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. You get to see how other people approach writing—and it’s just fun.

What advice hindered you the most?

Outlining. I know outlining works for some people, but I don’t much care for it. I prefer to start with a character or two, and a basic plot, and see what happens.

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?

I wish I would have spent more time early on really studying the craft of writing. It would have saved me some of the trial and error—a lot of the stuff that was just too bad to ever show anyone. Although there’s probably something to be said for that process, too.

As far as publishing, I really don’t have any complaints. While it may feel as if it took a long time to get a book deal (three years) I’ve heard that’s actually pretty quick. I was lucky to sign with a great agent (I can’t overemphasize the value of a writers’ conference), and he just kept at it.

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

Since this is my first book, I’m still getting my feet wet in marketing. So far, what I think I’ve learned is to make use of your family, friends, and business contacts, etc, and not to be shy about letting people know you have a book out there. Then, try to do as many book signings as you can and take advantage of all interview requests, even if you don’t think you’d be good at them (I’m a perfect example of that!).

I think if you do the basics, you’ll be in a good position to think of more innovative ways to market. But I’m still looking for some of those, so let me know if you have any ideas!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Go to a writers’ conference. In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing I did to get published. After that, get sleep wherever and whenever you can.

Author Robin Burcell ~ Interviewed






Robin Burcell
, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. She is the author of the Anthony Award winning SFPD Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie novels: : Every Move She Makes, Fatal Truth, Deadly Legacy and Cold Case. Her thriller about a forensic artist for the FBI, Face of a Killer, debuted November 2008. You can visit her website here.


What is your current project? Tell us about it.

I am currently finishing up the next book in my new series. The Bone Chamber continues with Sydney Fitzpatrick, FBI agent/forensic artist. This time, she's off to Washington, D.C., then Rome.


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 started writing seriously in 1990, sold my first book in 1994. I came home for lunch, saw the answering machine blinking, and hit the button, hearing the editor from HarperCollins saying she wanted to buy my book. I remember jumping up and down and my gun belt and duty gear jangling as I jumped. Oh, and my cheeks hurt from the permanent smile on my face for the next three days.


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.

Always self-doubts. Every book I turn in I wonder if it's right. So far so good, but those self-doubts don't go away. In fact, they grow stronger with each book. I'm fairly certain that some of the stuff I have written since that first book came out is drivel, but like a good friend says: you can't fix what isn't written. So if you're not having self-doubts, you aren't writing.

And that is also the key. Some of that drivel has shaped up into great books. Case in point: I was certain after I had finished the early draft of FACE OF A KILLER, that it was horrible! But I didn't give up, kept at it, made change after change and finally ended up with what became the final draft.

If I have one piece of advice, it would be to write first, then check e-mail. Oh, and remove all the games from your computer. They become time suckers.


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 would have joined the proper writing organizations much earlier, started networking and learning the business.


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

The best advice from John Lescroart, NYT author, who said, "A page a day and you have a book done in a year. The worst? Write what you know. It should be: Write what you love.


What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

History. Finding that bit of obscure knowledge that can be twisted into something relevant today. Also, I'm fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to experience the wilder side of things.


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.


I'm sure I have, but most people dismiss my interest in the obscure as part of my profession. They are usually more surprised to find I write, than to find I am interested in how someone might die…


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?

The first setback was an agent query letter returned (accidentally) with a rejection. The query letter had notes from a pre-reader on it, with the word “YUK” written across the description of my story. I’m sure they didn’t mean to send it back to me, but they did, and I cried, certain I was completely foolish to ever presume I could write to begin with. But I made a firm decision to put it from me and persevere. That book sold to HarperCollins, and I like to think that maybe the agent was sorry… The next setback was the birth of my twins right before that first book came out. Life instantly changed and I was not able to write for a couple of years. And I certainly have thought about quitting on more than one occasion. But every time, I remember why I started to write. I love to read, and I love to write, so I keep at it.


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

Join a couple writing organizations and learn the business. For example Sisters in Crime is a great one for the mystery side, Romance Writers of America for romance and romantic suspense. Both are invaluable for networking and learning the business. If you're going to take advice from someone, take it from someone with real publishing credits, or someone who has been there, done that. I took advice from a few who had been around, but didn't really know what they were talking about, and it really set me back a couple years in my career.


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

My husband, who, when I first started writing longhand, and showed him the pads of paper I had filled with my first story, told me to buy a computer, because it looked like I was serious. And again, when I said I wasn't sure if this was a good business to be in, because it was so rocky and there were no guarantees on sales—he reminded me that I was writing for the love of it.


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

Each book I write, of course. Most recently, FACE OF A KILLER. I think it moved my writing into a whole new direction. I moved from first person to third, multiple point of view. It is also high action and more complex.


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?”

To tell a good story. I might add to write what you love, as opposed to writing what you think will sell, and you will never be disappointed—at least with what you are currently working on. I think that when a writer is writing what he or she loves, it shows in his or her work.


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

I do. But I can't think of anything off hand that won't take up way too much space.


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

I'm always dreaming. That's how I got started writing! But the big dream? International bestseller. How is that for aiming for the top?


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


The favorite part is getting to use my imagination to create a story, then hearing back from readers about how much they liked it. The least favorite part is that I have so many ideas, and not near enough time to get them all into story form, which rather equates with the solitary sitting in front of the computer trying to get all that writing done.



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?


Well, I think it's my day job. Being a cop has definitely given me that advantage of writing realistic police procedure and exciting chase scenes. Goodness knows I've been in a couple during my years on the force. But the truth is that once I had kids, I saw things in a different light, and that also changed the way I write.


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

Nothing special. A desk in my living room, now converted to an office. I use a space heater, so that I can heat the room without heating the entire house. It looks very normal.


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

Writing every day. Not sure if I have conquered that, yet…


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

Open a blank page. It’s the sitting down and writing something on it that is the hard part.


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?

Actually, I like to go to bed and "dream" where I'm going with the book. Each night, I think about where I've left off and picture it in my mind, trying to imagine where I'll go next. It's almost like trying to force a dream. Quite often I fall asleep instantly. I think that thinking about the book helps me to relax. But every now and then I'll find that I'm able to work out a problem that hasn't been able to resolve itself just staring at the computer screen each day. When that happens, I have to get out of bed and write it down, lest I forget. Sometimes the idea is so strong, I’m sure I won’t forget, and then I wake up and can’t remember. Best to keep a pad of paper by the bed.


Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination.


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?

First off, get it on a page. Can't fix what isn't written. But for me, the hardest is pulling together the ending, tying up all the loose ends, making it exciting without dragging it on and on while the hero confronts the killer in that exciting, are-we-gonna-make-it moment.


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

Every time a reader writes to me, it's memorable. I love hearing from readers. But I think it's the young readers that stay with me. I've had a few teenagers, 13 or so, who acquired the book from a sibling or parent, then braved the internet to write to me. I've been in touch with a few of them for years, "seen" them off to college and their first jobs. That's been very cool.


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

I think my favorite one was when I first broke into mystery and Lee Child e-mailed me out of the blue, saying he had read EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES, and that he "loved it!"


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

Good question. In this economic climate, buying expensive ads or spending all your advance on promo is just plain silly—especially when you consider what an average print run is these days. Better to build an internet presence, pick one or two good conferences to attend for networking and spend your time writing the next great book.


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

What’s the name of your most recent book? Face of a Killer! (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Truthfully, I can’t think of a thing!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Digging Deeper...Sharon Hinck Revisited

Sharon Hinck writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary people experiencing God’s grace in unexpected ways. Known for her novels’ authenticity, emotional range, and spiritual depth, she’s been a Christy finalist and Book of the Year winner, and was named 2007 “Writer of the Year” at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. When she’s not wrestling with words, she enjoys speaking to various groups, and spending time with her husband and children at their home in Minnesota.

Welcome back, Sharon. You've published six books since the last time you visited Novel Journey. Has continued success made writing easier, or more difficult?

Both.

Before being published, the yearning to share the work with others was often painful in its intensity and I struggled with feelings of doubt and futility and confusion about my calling. Being published was a true joy and gave me a hint that perhaps I was heading the right direction. But as books were published, there were many more potential distractions—the steep learning curve about the industry, new responsibilities and time commitments, opinions of others, sales numbers—and lo and behold, I struggled with feelings of doubt and futility and confusion about my calling. :-)

And the more I learn about writing, the more I’m aware of my inadequacies, so in many ways the work is more difficult.

Many authors struggle with only writing in one genre. Having been multi-published, what are your thoughts on this?

I totally understand the wisdom of focusing on a specific niche and building a readership. I meant to do that. All my novels have been contemporary women’s fiction with strong faith themes. Yet the stories God guided me toward- the stories I felt a passion to tell- have ranged on the spectrum of humorous and poignant, and have even woven fantastical adventure into a women’s fiction journey. The diversity can keep things interesting, but I know it makes the marketer’s job more difficult.

How much marketing do you do? Do you market all of your books at once, or concentrate solely on the newest release?

In the broadest definition of marketing, making connections with others, I do quite a bit. I spend time corresponding with readers, enjoy visiting bookstores to chat with staff, and have participated in group events such as Christian Author’s Network, the ACFW booksignings and bookclub, the Motiv8 Fantasy Tour. I also love speaking at churches, libraries, and conferences. This can be a lovely secondary calling that supports the task of writing books. Or it can become a distraction that spend creative energy in the wrong direction. I’m constantly asking for God’s help in finding the balance.

With a new book’s release, I focus on the new release (especially in terms of media interviews), but when I speak to groups, I’m able to introduce folks to all the books.

So, tell us a little about your latest release:

Penny, a Navy chaplain’s wife, witnesses a violent crime and struggles with post traumatic stress while her husband is on his first deployment. Far from family and friends, she fights to heal for the sake of her seven-year-old son, even though ordinary tasks take heroic efforts. She’s haunted by flashbacks and is tormented by fear, so she designs a project to speed her recovery: doing one small, kind act for a different person each day. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and often used by God in surprising ways.

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

I usually discover a character first, and then begin to unravel what brought them to this moment of conflict or change. As I got to know Penny, I wondered why she battled fear. After I realized what the trigger was, I wondered why she didn’t have more support around her. I found that she had recently moved, and I wondered why. Eventually I discovered it was because her husband was a chaplain. That led me to the question of “with all the circumstances contributing to her struggle, how will God bring her healing?”

As those who have struggled with any long-term illness – emotional or physical – know, He brings help and grace in a variety of unexpected ways. That became the core of the story.

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

I loved all the lively and unique people that Penny encounters and the way she changes them and they change her. The difficult part of writing the story was finding a balance that was true to the depth of struggle that someone with anxiety and depression faces and yet was uplifting and hopeful and still was an entertaining story.

What does your writing space look like?

Now that a few of my children have grown, I have a spare room that looks out over a pond beyond our back yard. I have a big old homemade desk that I inherited from my dad. But with a notebook or laptop, most places can be a writing space, and I’ve written in many various locations.

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

I love hiking, I love chatting with friends, I love teaching and speaking and music and gardening.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Maybe. Or maybe they put themselves into me.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

All my novels acknowledge that following Christ is sometimes confusing and painful, and that we are very flawed vessels for His use. But God’s grace leaks out through the broken places in our lives. He is with us even on the darkest roads, and can take tiny steps of faith and multiply them into blessings in our own life and the lives of others.

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

I’m taking a bit of a sabbatical . . . catching my breath after the release of several novels in a short time span.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Two themes that have resonated for me as a writer have been to be available and authentic. I love the lyrics of the old spiritual, “I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing…and obey the Spirit of the Lord.” It’s easy to get lost in goals, dreams, ambitions, and assumptions. For me, the greatest joy in this journey has come from stopping and listening – seeking His voice about what to write, when to write, how to write, and what to do with a story after I write it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

5 Quick Tips for Mysteries ~ Guest Sharon Dunn


Sharon Dunn writes humorous who-dun-its. Her Bargain Hunter mystery series combines two things she loves: the hunt for a good deal and a fun follow the clues mysteries. You can read more about Sharon’s books at Sharon Dunn Books. She is currently at work on a romantic suspense for Steeple Hill.

Five Quick Tips for Writing Better Mysteries

1. Start your story as close to the crime as possible.

There is nothing like a body dropping to get a reader’s attention. This is what I call the shoot-first-and-answer-questions-later policy. Background and establishing character relationships can happen in later chapters. Most good novels pose a question in the early chapters of the book that carries through the whole book, for mysteries the question that is asked is who-dun-it. Assuming that the crime is a murder, that question cannot be asked until someone dies.

If the needs of the story make it impossible to start with the crime, there should be at least the threat of a crime or the early stages of someone setting up a crime in the first chapter. My first Bargain Hunter mystery Death of a Garage Sale Newbie begins with a woman leaving a cryptic message on her friend’s answering machine where she says she has discovered something dangerous from the past and that she is afraid. In later chapters, the woman who made the phone call disappears and is ultimately found murdered.

2. To create false suspects, give every important character a secret.

Part of writing a good mystery involves people doing suspicious things even if they didn’t commit the murder. A secret can be something as small as a character who has a crush on someone or has been writing a novel on company time. Or the secret can be something bigger like a character who doesn’t want people to know they have done time in prison or is having an affair. Characters who have something to hide will do things that make them appear to be guilty thus creating the red herrings that a good mystery usually has.

3. Plot twists often rise out the greater crime and the lesser crime.

As with all good novels, a twist at the end of a mystery makes for good story structure. Usually, a plot thread leads the reader to believe that a certain character is guilty. At the end of the book, that character may even be arrested. The twist comes when a different character turns out to be the culprit. In order to play fair with the reader, it may be that the character first presumed to be the guilty party has been committing a lesser crime like embezzling or maybe they have been helping or covering for the real murderer, anything that makes them look guilty.

The important thing in creating the twist is to lay the ground work so that when the real killer is caught, the reader hits their forehead with the heel of their hand and says, “I should have seen that.” One of the tricks I use in creating the plot twist is to write the rough draft of the novel as though Suspect A is guilty. In the rewrite, I will look back through to see which other character had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime, or with some revision could have had the means, motive and opportunity. In the rewrite, that Suspect B becomes the guilty party.

4. Remember the rule of three.

Mystery readers are used to picking up on buried clues, but they don’t like to feel like something was so buried there was no way they could have noticed it. At the same time, flashing neon signs that says This is a Clue is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. If a clue is going to become the thing that breaks the case or moves the mystery forward significantly, bring it up in the story at least three times, preferably in different ways, maybe once in dialogue and another time through description. The best clues are the ones that seem innocent and benign at the time and don’t take on significance until other parts of the mystery fall into place.

5. A sleuth who has a personal stake in solving the crime makes for a more compelling story.

While police detectives and private investigators are motivated to solve a crime because their paycheck depends on it, giving a sleuth a stronger reason to find the murderer creates more story tension. When a female detective is called in to investigate a murder in a girl’s dorm, you have created an interesting premise. When the detective’s sister was recently the victim of an assault in that same dorm, you have created a compelling premise.

For an amateur sleuth, having a personal stake is almost a necessity. In my first Bargain Hunters mystery, the personal stake for the head Bargain Hunter Ginger was that her best friend is murdered and the police are willing to write it off as an accident. In book two in that series, Death of a Six Foot Teddy Bear, Ginger is a suspect in the crime. In Sue Grafton’s T is for Trespass find P.I. Kinsey Millhone find herself solving an identity theft case because her neighbor is one of the affected victims.

Death of a Six-foot Teddy Bear

Ginger and her husband, Earl, are in for a wild ride in Calamity, Nevada, along with the other BHN (Bargain Hunters Network) ladies--college student Kindra, mother-of-four Suzanne, and sassy senior Arleta. They came to town for the Inventors Expo and some outlet shopping, but instead they endure lost luggage, broken air conditioning, and a long line of people angry at hotel owner Dustin Clydell. With the Inventors Expo and the Squirrel Lovers convention both in town, the Wind-Up Hotel has somehow overbooked.

Before the night is over, a man in a teddy bear costume is found dead, the Inventors Expo is canceled. . .and the authorities want to talk to one of the BHN ladies!

Read a review of Death of a Six-foot Teddy Bear on Novel Reviews.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sci-Fi Co-Authors, Mike Lynch & Brandon Barr

Brandon J. Barr was born and raised in Redlands, California, where he lives today with his wife, Amanda. He graduated from California Baptist University in 2004 with a B.A. in English. Brandon has published numerous short stories in various magazines, including his latest publication, “Running for Malaika,” in the inspirational magazine, Haruah: Breath of Heaven. In 2006, he took first place in the Christian Fiction Reviewer’s short story contest for his story, “At the End of the Time Jump,” and in the Dead Robots Society’s 2008 1st chapter writing contest for After the Cross. Brandon’s first novel, When the Sky Fell, is scheduled to be released by Silver Leaf Books in March 2009.

Mike Lynch currently resides in San Jose, CA with his wife, Kathleen, and two children. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1986 with a B.A. in History, and San Jose Christian College in 1994. Mike has written, Dublin, a book chronicling the history of Dublin, CA. Published by Arcadia Press, it was released in 2007. In March 2009, Mike’s first novel, When the Sky Fell, is scheduled to be released by Silver Leaf Books. Mike has also published short stories in several magazines, including “Surf’s Up,” a story awarded “Best of Show” in the Residential Aliens 2007 flash fiction contest. His latest novel, After the Cross, took first place in the Dead Robots Society’s 2008 1st chapter writing contest, and his latest short story, “Beyond Horizon’s Edge,” took 1st place in the 2009 Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll.





You have a unique journey to publication story. Please share it with us.


Mike: This may be surprising for some, but I was not much of a reader growing up. Movies and television were my genres of choice. The flickering images of far off worlds and strange, alien civilizations during my growing years are what fueled my imagination. This makes it all the more strange that I would suddenly come to a realization in 1981 that I could write a novel.


Armed with only blind determination, and a writing style that lacked any semblance of coherent story telling in the beginning, I set about on a 28-year journey to get “When the Sky Fell” published.


Even though the first draft of my novel only took three months to write, it was so filled with spelling errors and story elements I wasn’t happy with, that I couldn’t bear the thought of editing it so soon after finishing, and so I shelved the manuscript until 1996. With the advent of the personal computer, I dusted off my novel and started plowing through the laughable dialogue and poorly realized characters.


After several months work, a halfway decent story began to emerge. But in so doing, I had created a 650-page monstrosity. Again, the thought of editing something I knew was way too long felt overwhelming, and so I shelved the manuscript again. I then spent the next nine years off and on polishing the story, and trimming it down where I could. When I felt it was finally in publishable shape, I went to the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2005.


One of editors I met there thought my novel showed promise, and asked to see the entire manuscript. After a year of waiting, I received the bad news that the publisher decided to pass. I went to Mt. Hermon the following year, but the people I showed it to felt the Christian Science Fiction market was too limited, and they also passed. It was at this point I seriously contemplated quitting. But before I did I wanted to give it one last chance, and contacted another Christian science fiction author I recently met on the Internet—Brandon Barr.


Brandon: I met Mike over the Internet four years ago...we were both Sci-fi writers and Christians, so we had an automatic camaraderie. We exchanged a few critiques on each other’s writing, nothing major. When he gave me the proposal to heavy edit the novel and become a co-writer, I jumped on it. I was humbled, a bit scared, and really excited. After ten weeks I’d gone through the novel twice closely with Mike.


After we had it polished, Mike went to the Mt. Hermon writer’s conference and tried to pitch it to Christian publishers. When that didn’t happen, we sent it out to the secular markets. Silver Leaf Books liked it and we were excited to sign on with them.


Tell us briefly about When the Sky Fell.


The year is 2217 and a fleet of stellar cruisers led by Commander Frank Yamane has amassed at Mars to make a stand against humanity’s greatest threat, the Deravan armada. Outnumbered, outclassed, and outgunned, Yamane’s plan to stop them fails, leaving all of Earth at the mercy of an enemy that has shown them none.


Faced with the planet’s imminent destruction, Commander Yamane has no choice but to seek the help of the Antarans, an alien civilization he had defeated in a war a decade before. Though they have every reason not to come to Earth’s rescue, Yamane sets forth on a desperate journey to the Antaran home world, knowing that the survival of mankind is hanging by a thread.


Tell us about the experience of co-authoring.


Mike: Though Brandon and I have developed a good working relationship, I know co-authoring a story is not for everyone. The creative process is very personal, and some people have a hard time receiving negative feedback from someone else. But that is what needs to happen if they have any chance of finishing their novel.


A good way to do this is to spell out in detail the creative process that works best for them. Since Brandon and I know that the story must come first, each of us has the permission to critique the other’s work however we see fit. Sometimes, we are on complete agreement. Other times, a bit of convincing in required. So far, neither of us has taken negative comments in a personal way. We listen to each other’s reasons why something in the story needs changing, and then usually find ourselves agreeing with the other. In the end, the story always ends up being that much stronger because we both embrace the collaborative effort.


Brandon: Since writing “When the Sky Fell,” Mike and I have co-authored two other books, and I have to say, it has been the most enjoyable experience. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. Hard work behind closed doors. It’s like you have a secret life that few people understand, and you end up spilling your ideas upon poor, unsuspecting friends and family at every given opportunity because—my goodness, there is so much creative energy pent up in your mind you feel like you’re going to detonate.


On the other hand, co-writing a book could be a complete disaster. Feelings can be hurt, toes stepped on. It takes the right personalities to make it work. On one side, we have to be very upfront with each other on whether we like something or not—be it a word, sentence, paragraph or chapter. But on the opposite side, we have to be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging. The end result...iron sharpens iron, and we come away with a great story.


Why science fiction? And why Christian Science Fiction?


Brandon: Science fiction is a hugely broad genre. It can be near future or far future, soft sci-fi or hard. There are sub-categories such as apocalyptic, dystopian, military, alternative history, space opera, steampunk, and cyberpunk.
Like most other genres, it can either be escapist or direly relevant—or somewhere in between. Science fiction has so many gifts that other genres don’t have, and I would certainly say it’s the freest genre in terms of rules. I can’t go into those gifts because I would need twenty pages.


Why science fiction? Well, in the case of “When the Sky Fell,” I would answer: because you can have good guys and bad guys duke it out in cool spaceships! You can have high adventure, experience amazing galactic wonders, and you can have great characters who carry out their struggles in these fascinating settings.


Why Christian sci-fi? I find it hard to exclude the biggest influence in my life, God. I know Mike shares this sentiment. We write from within our worldview, and that is a Christian worldview.


Mike: I agree wholeheartedly with Brandon. With science fiction, I have the freedom to write about far off worlds and places that exist in my imagination. To me, it is much more enjoyable to write about people and places that are not bound by the limitations of our present existence.


As far as why Brandon and I wrote a Christian Science Fiction novel, we also recognize this particular genre gives us the opportunity to talk about issues that have a huge impact on people’s lives, but at the same time, in a way that allows us to communicate ideas and concepts that are easier for the reader to accept than if we told them in a more straightforward manner. This was the strategy Jesus employed when He communicated the truths of God’s kingdom through the use of parables. Brandon and I wanted to do the same thing with “When the Sky Fell.” Using the science fiction genre as a metaphor, we were able to incorporate the gospel message into the story in a way that is both entertaining, but still communicates the truths of the Bible.


It should be noted that this strategy is not without precedent in our time. In the original “Star Trek” television series, Gene Roddenberry talked about the Vietnam War, prejudice, society injustice, poverty, etc. in many of the episodes he produced. He didn't come out and say, "Hey everyone, stop hating each other." He had Kirk beam down on a planet where that was happening, and showed them a better way to live. Since the audience isn't being pounded over the head with the message, they are more apt to accept and think about it. In our case, rather than telling the reader he needed to repent of his sins and find salvation in Christ, we incorporated that message into a science fiction story in a way that is still accessible to him, but in a way that doesn’t water down the gospel message.


What are some of the special challenges that go along with writing in this genre?


Mike: I am creating a world that doesn’t exist. That means it is my job to describe an imaginary world that has to come alive in the mind of the reader. My story must also be interesting, entertaining, and most important of all, honoring to God. Along the way, if I have communicated the truths of the Bible in a way that engages the reader, then I have done my job well.


Brandon: I think Mike really hit the point when he talked about making the setting and the characters come alive in an unfamiliar future world. There’s a balance of giving the reader new glimpses of what the future looks like, and grounding them in familiarity so that they can hang their imagination on something. If a reader can’t imagine the setting, or if a character is too strange and foreign, then we’ve let the reader down.


How are you reaching the fan base and/or doing your part to expand it?

Brandon: I’ve created a blog dedicated to “Christian science fiction” where I try to draw attention to all aspects of speculative fiction, but with a Christian worldview (www.brandonbarr.com). And another huge part of reaching our fan base has been joining with the Lost Genre Guild. The guild has been a supremely energizing catalyst for expanding the Christian speculative fiction movement, and Mike and I have enjoyed watching the excitement as it continues to escalate. Hopefully one day the speculative genres will have a serious presence in Christian bookstores.



Mike: We have also created our own websites, mine being www.mikelynchbooks.com, and are involved with other Christian writers who share our passion about science fiction and fantasy-based stories. We regularly participate on online forums committed to trying to convince Christian publishers that science fiction is a viable market that has enough of a fan base to warrant them taking a chances on our kinds of books, specifically the Lost Genre Guild and the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. Silver Leaf Books already has the novel listed on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online books sites. If people are curious about the book, they can check it out there, or just go to the Silver Leaf website (http://www.silverleafbooks.com/).

Tell us more about the Lost Genre Guild, it's purpose and how large the membership is.

Mike: As I have already alluded to, the Guild is made up of about 200 Christian writers who have a love of science fiction and fantasy. Like myself, many of the members have tried to get their novels published by many of the major Christian publishing houses, only to have the door slammed in their faces. Not because their work wasn’t any good. Rather, the reason offered is typically something along the lines of, “there is no audience for your stories.”


When one looks as the huge success of Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. ,we refuse to believe their assessment is true. However, since most Christian publishers hold to the idea that the time-tested genres are the ones that ensure future success for their businesses, we will continue to write and hope for that eventual breakout novel. Only then, I suspect, will Christian publishers finally see the market that has been there all along, and we will proudly place ourselves on the bookshelves next to all those thriller and prairie romance novels.


Tell us about your publisher.


Mike: Silver Leaf Publishing is a small print that has been around for about 6-7 years. Since they are new, they are not in a financial position to offer us an advance for our novel, and most of the advertising rests on Brandon and mine’s shoulders.


However, the one big perk we do get with them verses a big publisher is creative freedom. For example, after we signed with Silver Leaf, they sent us some of the artwork from previous novels they published. It quickly became apparent to Brandon and me that it wasn’t something we wanted for our book, and were given permission to hire our own artist. I have a friend who works at Pixar Animation Studios, and he created a great cover for us. If we had gone with a big name publisher, there is no way we would have been able to come up with our own cover artwork.


Brandon: They’ve been great to work with. Since they are a small press, you receive more intimate attention. It’s almost as if your success is their success, and vice versa...you’re not just one of hundreds of authors sustaining their company. Since they only have a handful of authors, the success of the company really rests with us, and so they are much more motivated to ensure our success. With a big publisher, we would be seen more as very small fish in a large pond.


What are, in your opinion, a few of the best of the best novels of science fiction?


Brandon: In no particular order: Dune, Ender’s Game (the entire series), Fahrenheit 451, War of the Worlds, The Martian Chronicles, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Jurassic Park, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, The Postman. And there are scores of great sci-fi short stories.


Mike: Since I wasn’t much of a reader growing up, my experience is much more limited than Brandon’s. With that said, I would have to say Star Wars, Lucifer’s Hammer, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.


What have been your challenges trying to promote your novel? What seems to be working and not?


Mike: Since our novel is scheduled to be released until next month, we haven’t had any problems promoting it…at least not yet. Brandon and I have been talking it up with family members, friends, and on the Internet. So far, the results have been very positive. However, we also recognize that people telling us they like the story is not the same thing as them actually buying the book. My biggest concern at this point is getting our novel into bookstores. Since Silver Leaf Books is a small publisher, book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders are far less likely to stock our novel on their shelves than publishing houses that are better known to readers.


How can fans of science fiction and fantasy help the cause of expanding the market?


Mike: The best thing they can do is buy science fiction and fantasy books. Unfortunately in our culture, reading is quickly becoming a lost art. In a world of downloadable movies and instant text messages, most people today do not have the patience to spend a week or two reading a book. In my mind it is simple math, the more books people buy and read, the more they will expand the market. That is why Brandon and I appreciate the work Novel Journey is doing. If more people set about promoting the joy of reading to others, I believe in time we can reverse this trend.


Brandon: I would have to say make books cool again by talking about them. Movies and television have replaced the written word as a form of social interaction (remind anyone of Fahrenheit 451). Let’s start talking about books again and get peoples’ imaginations and minds engaged. Science fiction is one of the best genres for positing big ideas, and philosophy’s. Christians need to be there.


Thanks so much for being with us. Parting words?

Mike: We appreciate you giving us this opportunity to talk about our book and our writing experience with your members. Through your efforts of exposing them to authors who are just getting started, such as Brandon and myself, you are giving us a chance to enjoy a greater measure of success as authors, and we thank you for that.

Brandon: I share Mike’s sentiments. Thanks for your interest!