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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Author Interview ~Pam Lewis

Pam Lewis lives in rural Connecticut with her husband, Rob Funk. Her lifelong fascination with water and with family secrets is at the root of Perfect Family. Since 1991, she has worked as a freelance writer of business and marketing communications. She is the author of the novel, Speak Softly, She Can Hear. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and various literary magazines.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

When 24-year old Pony Carteret — ace swimmer — is found drowned at the family summer home, her bizarre death rips apart her staid New England family and unearths secrets thought long buried by their keepers. William, Pony’s older brother cannot accept that her death was an accident. Confronted by the family’s well kept tapestry of perfection, William uncovers the circumstances of his sister’s death, the truth of his own birth and a dangerous secret his mother has kept hidden for a generation.

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

I grew up moving to cities and suburbs all over the country. In each new place , I was intrigued by the great houses in the wealthier sections — fortresslike houses with big sweeps of lawn, impeccable landscaping and never anyone to be seen. I found these houses so intimidating. They seemed to me, even at a young age a façade, and to fill a need people had to put a great structure between themselves and everyone else. So yes, there was a sort of “what if” moment. What if the people in those house were protecting a secret not just from the world but also from each other. What would it take to shake that secret loose, and what would happen to all of them as a result?

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

William sees himself as an average guy, the son of above-average parents and outside the loop of his three younger sisters. So he’s a loner with a longing to fit in alienated and , now in his 30s, cynical about his family. His strongest familial attachments are to his eccentric aunt Minerva and to his sister, Pony, whose death affects him very deeply. I’m very attached to William, having myself been the daughter of a tough and fairly cold father. Writing is always an exploration and in many ways, a self exploration, so perhaps I was finding out what it might have taken to force my own father into a confrontation.

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

I love starting a book, and this one was no exception. It’s very exciting to have the characters flesh out in my imagination, to wake up in the wee hours and start thinking about them right away. And then to set them all into motion, with a sense of where they’re headed and what will happen. The middle is always much more difficult. It’s daunting to be in the middle of a novel when all those parts I’ve let loose needs to be drawn in and managed and begin to be directed toward an ending. I felt much better about this when I was talking to my agent about it. She laughed and said, “Oh yes, like you’re Mark Twain and in the middle of writing Huckleberry Finn you forget which way the river runs.”

What made you start writing?

I don’t know what made me start writing. I’ve always done it. It was fun for me. A release, a place to be clever. I used to write nonfiction. I loved seeing my name on articles. Then I began writing fiction and it took much longer to be published.

What does your writing space look like? (Insert picture if possible)

My workspace (seen here in all its cluttered glory) is in the room on the ground floor of our house in the woods. I look out over a small span of lawn, down into a swale and as I write this, there is a herd of deer in the swale, several of them lying down looking exhausted. I’m guessing these are pregnant females who will give birth in a week or two. There are also wild turkeys who cross in front of the window, raccoons, the occasional coyote and some resident barred owls I like to talk to, now that I’ve learned the rhythm, which is “Who COOKS for you.”

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

I work out. I go up to the gym and get on the elliptical trainer and the treadmill with my iPod and listen to books on tape. If the weather is nice I hike or take long walks around where I live. And I read, of course. But I think it’s time to get involved in a volunteer activity like Habitat for Humanity. Writing is such a solitary existence, and too often when I work or volunteer, the jobs turn out to be more writing, so I’m looking forward to doing something with no relation to writing whatever. Hammering houses together sound like a good plan.

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

I work out. I go up to the gym and get on the elliptical trainer and the treadmill with my iPod and listen to books on tape. If the weather is nice I hike or take long walks around where I live. And I read, of course. But I think it’s time to get involved in a volunteer activity like Habitat for Humanity. Writing is such a solitary existence, and too often when I work or volunteer, the jobs turn out to be more writing, so I’m looking forward to doing something with no relation to writing whatever. Hammering houses together sound like a good plan.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I’m in all my characters. Parts of me, experiences I’ve had. Many outdoor experiences find their way into my books. Hiking, trekking and particularly the wilderness training I’ve had that teaches you what to do in a wilderness emergency and also happens to scare the bejesus out of me.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I’m in all my characters. Parts of me, experiences I’ve had. Many outdoor experiences find their way into my books. Hiking, trekking and particularly the wilderness training I’ve had that teaches you what to do in a wilderness emergency and also happens to scare the bejesus out of me.

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

My novels begin with images. In the case of Perfect Family, that image was of a woman drowning because her long hair had become caught in something deep under water, a terrifying idea for me that I couldn’t shake. And then I had another image, of a grand house in a tony suburb as well as the image of a particularly grueling whitewater trip I’d taken once in Idaho. After that, I fleshed out the woman and then her family and that’s when I came upon William as the main character for telling the story. But it’s a little like a dream for me, with very vivid pictures and not very clear connections. The connections, then, are my job to make. And pin down and tame into a cohesive story.

I revise constantly as I write. The computer makes this so easy. I write one day, reread the next and can tell if something sticks or not. If it doesn’t out it goes. The best is when I’ve forgotten a scene and reread it fresh. It’s so much easier to know what works and what doesn’t I can spend days working on just a few pages. Once the novel I draft is done, I revise two or three more times myself and then may revise the whole again depending on what my editor has to say.

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

Ah, my favorite books include Drop City by T.C. Boyle which I found laugh–out-loud funny and completely absorbing. I have a deep affection for a short story collection by Tobias Wolf called In the Garden of the North American Martyrs. I admire his honesty in everything he writes. And right now I’m reading the Blake Bailey biography, Cheever, and I have every intention of going back to reread Falconer, a book that stuck me powerfully at the time he wrote it. And for structure, I’ve always loved Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Oh, and Alice Munro Is another favorite. Her short stories are both quiet and pack a punch.

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?

Early in my career, I wish I’d believed the people who said the best way to learn to write was to write. After having written two books and now being on the third I understand the wisdom in this. The more you do of it, the more you learn. Keep pushing out those books. Show them to people, get feedback from people you trust and then act on that feedback.

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

I don’t do enough marketing because I’m not sure how to go about it. I have a website and anyone to whom I send an email gets the link. I talk about my writing on Facebook. I read whenever I have the chance. This is an area I wish I knew more about.

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

I’m at work on a novel whose working title is Minke set in the early 1900s about a young girl in a small Dutch town who is swept away by a much older man and taken to the frontier town of Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina where her baby is kidnapped. It’s taking a load of research, but I’m enjoying that part of it a lot.

The winners of Cheryl Wyatt's book, Ready-Made Family are:
Cara Slaughter
Mary Connealy
Patricia W
Please email me at and give me your snail mail address.

Lynette Sowell on Setting - More Than a Stage

Lynette Sowell’s books have taken her to northern California, the 1800s Louisiana bayou, nineteenth century Wyoming, contemporary New York City, and most recently to Tennessee, the setting of her cozy mystery series published by Barbour. The Wiles of Watermelon is her most recent novel. In late summer 2009, she looks forward to taking readers to the Gilded Age of Newport, Rhode Island. You can learn more about Lynette and her books at her website.

Setting: More Than Your Book’s Stage

When you decide to write a book, how do you know where it’ll take place? Is it somewhere you know, or someplace you’ve always wanted to visit? Or are you tired of reading books that could take place anywhere? Maybe the setting doesn’t seem to matter or may seem an afterthought.

We who are newer authors are trying to discover that bigger book inside that begs us to write it, and we want to find our niche somewhere on the bookstore shelves. We need to think carefully about where we set our books. One of the questions editors want answered is where you’ve set your story.

For example, I considered setting a future book in Texas. I shared my idea with an editor. Her response? “Oh, that sounds good. But could you find a setting besides Texas? I’ve seen quite a few Texas proposals lately.”

Like many writers, part of me moaned inwardly, “But I love Texas. Books set in Texas are selling, because I’ve seen plenty of them on the shelves.” Which may be true. But our job as writers is to find something fresh in our setting, even in a setting that’s been used hundreds of times. That special twist will make our book stand out from the crowd.

The tricky part about writing is it’s both art and business. We’re passionate about our book, as we should be. But passion isn’t always enough to sell a book, especially if an editor has half a dozen (or more) manuscripts set in the identical location as our
book. This is the time to think business. How will your proposal compare to the others on that editor’s desk? You can’t really know. But we do want to give our readers an experience with familiar elements, yet one that also contains the unexpected.

For example, my family and I have taken quite a few road trips over the years, from the Rocky Mountains to the Texas Gulf Coast, and over to Tennessee. While traveling, we saw Wal-Mart signs as beacons in unfamiliar surroundings. With Wal-Mart, we pretty much knew what to expect when we walked through the doors. As travelers with children, we liked this a lot.

But we also liked to wander through local flea markets or dusty shops to hunt for treasures that aren’t stamped “made in China.” We stopped for lunch at restaurants with parking lots filled with vehicles of local residents. When we bypassed the golden
arches, we found unique experiences that we didn’t discover anywhere else.

The same applies to our search for the right setting. It’s okay to have familiar elements that editors expect. Remember, though, that editors aren’t looking for the same thing they’ve seen before in each town they’ve passed through. Take time to evaluate your story. Go off that well-worn path and don’t stop at the first place that everyone knows.

Which is why you should investigate the where of your story to find that unique, unexpected element. Searching for that nugget involves research and sifting through available information. If you can, visit your setting. Take pictures. Imagine your character in that place.

Maybe you can’t travel to your setting. Make the Internet your ally. Read local newspapers, visit local on-line forums, and check out the Chamber of Commerce for your particular town. If you’re brave and careful, visit on-line photo sites and search for photos labeled with your setting. If you’re creating a fictitious town, your job may be a little easier—you can combine the flavors of a locale and use that to spice up your book’s setting.

Now that we’re at the end of our time together, let’s resolve to take that passion for our books, and use that energy to discover something unique about our setting. After all, we want to take our readers on an amazing trip they can’t experience anywhere else.

Newlywed Andi Hartley is not at all sure she’s ready to look like an over-ripe melon. . .

In fact, she’s still getting used to being married. But her husband, Ben, wants to start a family right away. Gulp.
Their family plans are put on hold, however, when Andi's kitten runs from the house to their watermelon field and digs up a bone attached to the remains of a thirty-year-old skeleton. Buried secrets come to life. . .and then the colorful owner of Greenburg's best eatery is murdered. As Andi unearths more and more of the suspicious history surrounding the skeleton, she realizes both deaths are related. Is she also about to unearth a murderer?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Should Christian Fiction Specialize in Hope?

by Mike Duran

Thanks to Jessica Dotta, for the heads up on this. From the article in
The Tennessean, Christian fiction thrives during economic crisis:

Local Christian publishers who launched or expanded their fiction lines in recent years are enjoying the fruits of their labors thanks to an unlikely source — the flagging economy.

While sales of Christian nonfiction have stalled during the recent economic crisis, sales of Christian fiction remain strong.

Karen Ball, executive editor at Southern Baptist-owned B&H Publishing Group, said that people are looking for a way to escape from the bad news of layoffs and plummeting stocks. "When reality gets ugly, fiction takes off,'' she said.

Along with escape, Christian novels specialize in Christian hope.

There's some wonderful secular fiction out there, but it's not offering any hope," Ball said. "If anything it's discouraging. In Christian fiction, there's hope in the midst of trouble." (Emphasis mine)
Framing Christian fiction as an agent of hope -- perhaps the only fiction "offering any [real] hope" -- is interesting, and I think captures the essence of what many readers expect from the genre. They want something uplifting, redemptive, inspirational, encouraging, and/or ultimately optimistic. But specializing in hope has its pros and cons.

Some Christians authors will, no doubt, hedge at that suggestion. I mean, what could possibly be wrong with offering hope to a dying world? Isn't that what the Gospel message is intended to do? After all, people shouldn't approach Christian fiction expecting to be bummed out or dejected. Nevertheless, being consistently hopeful --
especially as it relates to storytelling -- has its downside.

One problem with defining Christian fiction in terms of hope is predictability. In other words, if readers buy Christian fiction to feel good and extract hope, then no matter how bleak a storyline, they should always expect a somewhat uplifting resolution. Not only does this expectation handicap the genre (i.e., most conclusions are foreseeable), it hamstrings Christian fiction writers into more conventional plotlines. Furthermore, an overly optimistic angle whitewashes the failings and pitfalls of our lives and faith. We are forced to frame the Christian experience as inevitably rosy, and ignore the ambiguity, regrets and ruin that sometimes befall followers of Christ. While Christian fiction should provide hope, it should also be artistically free to explore the realisms of life with and without God. In fact, it is this grim reality that often spurs one on to a less superficial search for answers.

There are many stories in the Bible that are not manifestly hopeful. Take the Book of Judges. The recurrent phrase in this Old Testament book is “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” The result? Bad men ruled them, and the nation suffered. The consequences of sin are as much a part of the Christian worldview as is the hope of redemption. But the Christian novelist who seeks to leave their reader with just that conclusion (i.e., that narcissism, self-indulgence, egoism and gluttony lead to ruin) will have a hard sell in today’s religious market. In other words, by specializing in hope are we unintentionally downplaying or ignoring other equally relevant themes in the Gospel?

So specializing in hope has its downside, one that authors and readers should genuinely consider.

On the other hand, there are good reasons why readers migrate towards Christian fiction during difficult times.
For when it comes to hope, Christianity trumps all other worldviews. Of course, this statment will not sit well with the PC police. But the fact is, without God, there can be no real hope. With every terrorist bombing and nuclear sub, the utopia of humanistic conspirations gets more and more laughable. Atheism offers nothing beyond a vapid existential buzz before eternal evaporation. Hinduism proffers an impersonal karmic cycle when, after millions of migrations, we merge with the Soul of the Cosmos. Like it or not, the biblical worlview is philosophically congruent, jibes with the state of things, and unlike humanism, atheism, and Hinduism, is practically applicable to the human plight. No wonder people seek out Christian fiction during troubled times!

In the article above, editor Karen Ball notes, "There's some wonderful secular fiction out there, but it's not offering any hope." This observation is not unique to readers and publishers of religious fiction. Some have suggested that this years' Academy Award juggernaut,
Slumdog Millionaire, was riding the reactionary tide against last years' incredibly dark Best Film nominees. In other words, filmgoers wanted hope. Atonement, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, and the ultimate Academy selection, No Country for Old Men, were all pretty grim fare. I liked all of those movies, yet it's hard to not feel crappy after seeing them. (This is also why many feel that a better film, The Dark Knight, was virtually snubbed at this years' Oscars -- it was just too dark.) While Slumdog has its dark elements, it is ultimately buoyant. (But as I suggested in another post, even though the film took place in the dregs of the Hindu caste slums, it had to appeal to a more transcendent element, i.e., Destiny, to invoke hope.) Obviously, people are sick of bad news. We need to see a movie with a bang-up dance sequence once in a while.

But back to my point:
People choose Christian fiction because it is more naturally grounded in hope than secular fiction. Humanism offers me no real hope. Atheism offers me no real hope. Hinduism offers me no real hope. But if the tomb of the crucified Nazarene is really empty, I've got a pretty good reason to end my book with a bang-up dance sequence.

Specializing in hope is a tightrope that authors of Christian fiction must walk with the utmost care. While making our characters live happily-ever-after may satisfy both audience and editor, more often than not it can become contrived and predictable. Not to mention,
unbiblical. After all, the hope supplied by Christian fiction must be far more than just a happy ending.

Come and Stori

Marcia Lee Laycock is a pastor's wife, mother of three grown daughters, care-giver to two golden retrievers and a six-toed cat. She is also a writer and speaker. Visit

In Papua New Guinea most of the people speak a pidgin language, a trade language, called Tok Pisin. When my family and I moved there we spent the first while learning how to speak it. I loved that time because of the many phrases and words that made me smile.

For instance, when someone invites you to visit he or she will say, "Yu mas cam na stori wantaim mipella" - "You must come and story with me." Because the written word is a relatively new thing there, verbal communication is vital. Telling stories is their way of understanding the world and people around them, their way of relating what is in the depths of their hearts.

A man who had lived in that country a long time said, “you don’t just blurt information here, you must build on it, make it into a drama, give it life.”

I once watched a Papuan friend tell a story to a small group. We were sitting in a half-circle, the story-teller squatting in the middle. His head swivelled as he made eye contact with those on both sides, often repeating parts and using his hands with emphasis to make sure they were getting it all. His audience leaned forward, intent on his words, even though it was a story they all knew well, an old folk tale that had been told and re-told for many generations.

I have heard it said that there are less than thirty unique plot-lines from which to choose when writing fiction. With such limited material, I once despaired of ever doing anything unique. But, like that Papuan man who kept his audience spellbound, I have discovered that it isn’t so much the story itself that captures people, but the way in which it’s told and the unique perspective of the teller.

Jesus knew this when he told stories to those he sat with in the markets and houses of Palestine. The stories he told weren’t anything new. They were simple stories about fishermen and farmers, about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. But as He told them He allowed them to see with His eyes, giving them a perspective that took them to depths they had never gone before. In a sense, He told them what they already knew, but in such a way that they drew in their breath with fresh understanding. He allowed them to see with His Father’s eyes and the view was suddenly astonishing.

We too can open the eyes of our readers to the wonder of our world and our God. The Apostle Peter, as he was preaching, once said “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Peter 1:16).

We have not seen Jesus face to face on this earth, but we have seen his majesty. We’ve seen it in the world around us, in the people around us, and most astonishingly in our own lives. As believers we have had the longings of our hearts satisfied, the drama of our lives given meaning, and that which was once dead brought to life. That is the story we can and must tell, over and over, in all the plot lines and all the turns of phrase.

It is a simple truth, the essential truth, the only story. May He find us faithful.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Upcoming Interview with Donald Maass!

We're pleased to announce that next Saturday, we'll be featuring our interview with literary agent Donald Maass talking about his upcoming Release, The Fire in Fiction.

USA Today’s Top 145-150

USA Today has their own bestseller list, which you can check out HERE. What’s fun about it is that it goes back 150 books.

The other day I was looking at the list, thinking, it would be nice to be on the list, but it must not be a lot of fun being at the very back—because the average person is most interested in the top ten or twenty.

That’s when I decided it be fun to give some publicity to the novels at the back of the list. I skipped the non-fiction because . . well, we’re NOVEL journey.

This was a fun post, because some of these books have been higher up, while some were new to me.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel

Perfect Fifths: A Novel

The Book Thief

Fatally Flaky

Okay, out of curiousity:

Guest Blog ~ Jason Berggren ~ 10 Things I Hate About Accomplishing Goals Part 2

10 Things I Hate About Accomplishing Goals:
Lessons Learned While Writing My First Book

[Part 2 of 2]

Last week I wrote about the first half of the ten difficult lessons I learned while writing my first book 10 Things I Hate About Christianity: Working Through the Frustrations of Faith.

Like I said, I had to face them
head-on in order to achieve this goal that consumed my heart and monopolized my mind. I hope these lessons can be a catalyst for achieving your own goal as you turn your dream into reality.


You need time, but it is not on your side. If you don’t figure out a way to balance your job, school, love-interest, marriage, kids etc, you’ll never accomplish your goal. Sound hard? It is. That’s why it’s called a labor of love. In the real world a passion will drain your time. Just try to find a healthy balance that you can live with and won’t ruin your life, job, or family. Keep in mind, taking time for one thing means taking it from another.


You will fail. I know that’s not warm and fuzzy, but it’s true. Remember Thomas Edison? The fact is, most successful endeavors are built on a long succession of lesson-learning failures. That’s really the point. Just learn from it. Talk to a successful person and I’m willing to bet they’ll back me up on this. I can’t tell you how many bad decisions I have made. As much as it pains me, I am trying to prepare myself (as much as I can) for the fact that my book might not be successful. In fact, (statistically speaking) it probably won’t. That’s life. Will I learn from failing? I sure hope so. It’s the only solution.


You know why people can’t stand most artists and writers? They know everything about everything. They’re not teachable. People who aren’t teachable don’t take any advice from anyone. But someone else’s perspective is important. You always need an outside opinion, good or bad. You’ve got to learn to ask for input and be able to take it. Just try to know the difference between negative criticism and constructive input. How will you know? You’ll have to decide that one for yourself. And don’t think someone has to be an artist (or whatever is in line with your goal) to have helpful input. Listen to the .02 cents of nobodies, somebodies, and anybodies. The best goals are accomplished with the help that comes from standing on the shoulders of others.


I know it’s a religious term, but revival is real. That is to say, your vision/goal/idea will die. You will inevitably lose momentum. No one will care. Life will interfere or get really stressful. You’ll start to hate your idea and get sick of it. You will change as a person. Your core idea will likely need to evolve many times over. I rewrote my book several times. It’s 60K words, but there is easily another 60K that ended up on the cutting room floor. Like Frankenstein, do whatever you have to do to revive your goal back to life every time it dies. Stay focused. Keep believing. Make adjustments. Reshape it. Roll with the punches. Just bring it back to life! It will never get done if you don’t.

Build a Vision:

Yes, building a vision is different than setting a goal. Setting a goal is the end of one point, while building a vision is the beginning of another. It is a long-term, big-picture look at what you want to happen in the end. You have to think beyond your goal a little. Once you have a tentative vision of what you want the future to look like, then just fill in the steps¾seeing is believing, after all. What is it that you want to do? Write one book? Write one book every 1-2 years? Write, speak, and consult? Now how can you get there? The vision will change drastically as time goes on. That’s fine. But the vision gives a framework and avenue for the goal to flourish and evolve. It keeps you moving. Building a vision is not easy. It is one of the hardest things for me (and probably you too). Most artistic people aren’t strong in administrative tasks, which building a vision is. But you have to do it in order to accomplish your goal.

This is some of what I’ve wrestled through while writing my first book. I wish you many blessings and much success in your goal. Beyond that, I would like to help in any way I can. That’s why I’m doing a phone conference called 10 Things…LIVE! It’s for dreamers like me and you’re invited. You just need a phone to be part of it. I’ll be talking in more depth and fielding questions on the difficult process of accomplishing a goal. Visit to sign up. I’m even throwing in a FREE copy of my book for everyone who does!

And this just in. See Jason talk a little bit more about his book and his beliefs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The winners of Cheryl Wyatt's book, Ready-Made Family are:
Cara Slaughter
Mary Connealy
Patricia W
Please email me at and give me your snail mail address.

Author Interview ~ T.L. Higley

T.L. Higley is the author of five novels, including the recent Seven Wonders Novels, Shadow of Colossus and City of the Dead.

Shadow of Colossus was recently named a finalist for the Christy Award in the historical category. Tracy is a wife and mother of four, and lives with her family near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Welcome back to Novel Journey! It’s been a couple years since you visited with us. What have you been doing?

I’ve been hard at work on a series I’m really enjoying, the Seven Wonders Novels. The books are each set at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and are fast-paced, historical suspense.

You published several books since the last time you visited Novel Journey. Has continued success made writing easier, or more difficult?

Perhaps it gets a bit more difficult the more you learn, because you become more critical of your own work. But overall, I’d say that it has gotten easier because I’ve come to trust myself more. My family doesn’t hear “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” quite as often. I’ve learned that even on the days when I don’t feel like writing I can push through and do it. I’ve learned that I can meet deadlines that seem impossible. And I’ve learned to intercept the biggest problems in my writing and fix them earlier.

I’m sure you’ve had your share of reviews. What impact did this have on subsequent books?

I’ve been blessed with some wonderful reviews, and these make me feel good for a bit, but I don’t think they really have an impact (for me) on subsequent books. As to whether these good reviews have impacted sales of the books, that’s really difficult to measure. When a review has a negative comment, I try to be open to the criticism. But often the very thing one reader criticizes, another will praise. Overall, it’s probably better to avoid reviews!

Are you a plotter or a SOTP (seat of the pants) writer? Why?

I’m a plotter, for sure. It suits my personality! I’m organized, driven, efficient and not very spontaneous. Don’t I sound fun? I enjoy the time spent outlining my novels, and don’t think I could do it any other way. There are always surprises, of course, when writing the first draft. But for the most part, I know where I’m going from start to finish.

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

I’ve done various amounts of marketing over the years, but what I have found to work best is targeting the most influential groups of people (booksellers, reviewers, even the sales reps at the publishing house) to get them excited about the books. And I’ve tried to make my website an interesting place for readers to visit. I do some book-specific marketing as each book is releasing, but generally I try to take advantage of opportunities as they come.

The last time you visited Novel Journey, you said your favorite part of being a writer is research. Higley: “I love to learn, to dive headlong into books and come up gulping for air, with my fists full of new facts.” With your upcoming historical release, is that still true?

Definitely! But since my last interview here, I’ve added a fun component to my research – travel! In the past two years I’ve been to Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Jordan doing research for the Seven Wonders Novels. My travels have yielded so much information, adventure and a real feel for ancient times and places, and it’s been great fun weaving all of that into these books.

So, tell us a little about your latest release:

City of the Dead came out last month, and is the second of the Seven Wonders Novels. It’s set in ancient Egypt, during the building of the Great Pyramid, and is a murder-mystery that challenges the pyramid’s engineer to stop a serial killer.

How did you come up with this story?

That’s always a hard question to answer. Ideas evolve so gradually, it’s difficult to trace them backward. I’ve always loved ancient history, and I thought the Seven Wonders would be a great way to “take a tour” of ancient times and places. When it came time to write about the Great Pyramid, I found the construction of it so fascinating that I wanted to feature its builder as the main character. After that, I conspired to send some trouble his way, and give him a secret that might destroy the kingdom.

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

Hemiunu (or Hemi as he is called by most) is an actual historical figure. In fact, I’ve walked through his tomb! He was the architect and engineer of one of the oldest man-made structures in the world, and probably the cousin of the Pharaoh for whom he built it. I knew a man such as this would be very logical and rational. What better way to mess with him than to give him a mystery he can’t solve?

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

I loved immersing myself in ancient Egypt. It’s a fascinating culture, with highly developed religious and cultural systems. They’ve left us so many artifacts to study that we can get a fairly clear picture of their lives.

Probably the hardest part of writing this book was that I’ve never written a book in the first person before. I’ve written male protagonists, but to write in the voice of a man who lived 4500 years ago was challenging. I actually started it in third person, but after several chapters, Hemi’s voice was clearer in my head, and I switched. It was fun, but very different for me.

What does your writing space look like?

I’ve been blessed with my own office space in my home, which is a good thing because when I travel, I keep bringing back lots of stuff! My shelves are getting crammed with bits and pieces of the world.

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

I would go back to school, get another degree (in history), and perhaps go on to teach at the college level. This is something I’d really love to do at some point, so who knows?

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Yes, I suppose there’s always a bit of ourselves somewhere in there, isn’t there? I mentioned earlier that I’m a bit like Hemi – logical, analytical. It was easy for me to imagine a character who finds it hard to take time for relationships like he should.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I would love for readers to get a sense of the ways in which our Redeeming God has been at work in the lives of all people, throughout the entire drama of human history. His fingerprints are evident in all these ancient cultures, and always He preserved a remnant of faithful ones who would seek out relationship with Him. We are part of this continuum, and He is no less interested in us!

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

The third book in the Seven Wonders Novels, Guardian of the Flame, will release in October of this year. It’s set in Alexandria, Egypt, beside the Lighthouse, and features Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and a cast of fascinating characters getting themselves into trouble. I have really enjoyed writing this one! You can get more information and see the trailer on my website,

Any parting words of advice?

Be careful to listen to God’s call on your heart, on the part of you that knows, really knows, who you are called to be. And then follow. If you know that writing, or any form of communication, is innately part of who you are, then don’t stop! There are myriad ways to communicate truth, and published fiction is only one. The important thing is to be faithful to the call.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And the Winner is...

The winner of Marshall Karp's autographed novel is... Nicole! (Please email Gina through her website with your address so this can be sent to you.) Congratulations!

Cheryl Wyatt on How to research Action Romance

Born Valentine’s Day on a naval base, Cheryl Wyatt writes military romance. Her Steeple Hill debuts earned RT Top Picks plus #1 and #4 on eHarlequin's Top 10 Most-Blogged-About-Books, lists including NYT Bestsellers.

Okay, let’s talk research. How does one research for action romance? That sounds interesting, since action romance is unique. Tell how you get your ideas for the action, for the career choice for the hero and heroine, etc.

On researching action romance and choosing interesting character careers for action romances:

I actually like to find real people who are in those career fields and pick their brains. I found this so hard to do prior to getting contracted because I didn't want to come across as a stalker or something. LOL! Now that I can actually say, "I am a multi-published author" or "I'm researching for a contracted book," it's much easier for me to step out of my comfort zone and ask for assistance.

Thankfully with the release of my third book (Ready-Made Family-IN STORES NOW) in my Wings of Refuge Series from Steeple Hill, which feature a team of U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJs for short) people in those fields or related to PJs who have become aware of my books have started contacting me and offering assistance because the books truly honor their career. So they're happy and honored to help.

Other research methods are: Obtaining true/real training manuals from those careers. One of my trademarks as a writer I think is that I love to come up with very unique careers, at least for one of my lead characters. My editors are telling me the Wings of Refuge Series is selling well. And I think that a big reason for that is due to the very unique career of the Pararescue Jumpers that this series highlights.

As far as matching up a heroine to such a strong, Alpha hero, it's kinda nice to have the heroine (or hero if the heroine happens to have the more unique/edgy career) other character to be in a more normal career. That adds to the "opposites attract" angle that I commonly have in my books. Though some of my books do contain both hero and heroine who have very unique and far-from-mundane/cliché careers, most have one “normal” career for one of the lead characters.

Another way I research is through the Internet, but you have to be careful and triple check (at least) anything you find online. Libraries, books and other forms of media are a huge draw for me when I'm researching. I visit forums of the careers I choose for my characters. For over five years now I have been on an F-22 Raptor forum with fighter pilots so I can hear their dialogue and get the terminology right and ask them questions and have them verify my research as best as possible.

I have a really funny story about that but I'll suffice it to say that, after about thirty hours of exhaustive research, I'd finally nailed a certain scene in the book. And the pilots let me know that I was on target and that it was authentic....expect for one thing....They had to remind me that birds don't generally cruise at 30,000 feet. LOL! I'm talking feathery birds, not planes. So though I'd gotten all of the technical stuff down...I'd somehow lost my common sense. Not sure what the moral of that story is...but I laugh every time I think about it.

Cheryl's favorite research and writing spot

It helps to have family members and friends in these career fields too. But if you don’t, visit the communities that they “hang” in and let them know you’re in need of research assistance. BE SURE they are TRULY in that career field, especially if you are writing special forces/special ops. MOST men who are REALLY in those careers won’t tell strangers. Same goes if you’re writing FBI, CIA, snipers, detectives, private investigators and other “undercover” type characters.

Writer’s groups and conferences are a great way to come in contact with professionals who are willing to help writers with research too. ACFW has a list of research professionals in their Member’s Only section with contact information of people in career fields you may have your characters in. Romance Writers of America and ACFW both host workshops by individuals in certain career fields that authors tend to write about a lot, such as law enforcement, military, investigative careers, etc.

I HIGHLY recommend authors to join these writers’ groups and attend conferences or at least purchase the conference CDs to get the teachings. You will be able to use much of what you learn. Also, Discovery channel programs and programs on TV that highlight certain careers in a documentary form are good for getting ideas on unique careers. But be careful of the fictional shows like CSI and medical dramas, etc. Most of those do not accurately portray those careers, though those shows are highly entertaining and some of my favorites, I would never use things I “learn” in a CSI episode to plot a book. LOL!

Best of luck in your research endeavors and in choosing a career for your character that will interest editors and agents, rivet your readers from the first page to the last, and leave them longing for your next book.

My last advice is don’t skimp on research, because your readers in-the-know WILL call you out on your errors. LOL! Yet don’t add EVERY detail either or your readers will be bored to tears and lost in the unfamiliar technical jargon.

The most important thing I want to mention when researching and creating characters with unique careers is to be as honoring as possible to those careers. That way the “real” heroes and heroines out there will be honored by the stories rather than offended. Word of mouth in those communities sell a LOT of books. Or not, depending on how you portray their career.

Ready-Made Family, Wings of Refuge series - In stores now! Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for 1 of 3 copies of Ready-Made Family!

Amelia North needs refuge, and finds it--in Refuge, Illinois. Stranded there after a car wreck, the single mother expects to be cold-shouldered. After all, she’s already been rejected by her parents, her church and her daughter’s father. Instead, she finds a town full of people with open hands and hearts…including pararescue jumper Ben Dillinger.

Ben wants to help Amelia and her daughter find safety and stability. Instead, he finds himself freefalling—right into love with the ready-made family.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Interview with Hollywood Writer/Producer, Novelist, and Murderer?... Marshall Karp (and a free book giveaway)

Marshall Karp, an advertising executive who wrote award winning commercials (including the classic "Thank You, Paine Webber" campaign), left a career of interrupting television shows to write for them. He created "Everything's Relative," a CBS comedy starring Jason Alexander, moved on to become writer/producer for the NBC hit, "Amen," then served as writer/co-executive producer for ABC's "Baby Talk" starring George Clooney, and NBC's "Working It Out," starring Jane Curtin.

After writing hundreds of commercials, dozens of TV shows, a play (Squabbles), and a feature film (Just Looking) Karp fulfilled a lifelong fantasy by killing the people he worked with in Hollywood. In his novels only, of course.

FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY! Want to win an autographed copy of Karp's novel? Simply leave a comment to be entered.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

In FLIPPING OUT, the third in the Lomax and Biggs series, a killer penetrates the world our two LAPD homicide detectives live in. A cop’s wife is murdered. She’s someone Lomax and Biggs knew and liked. In fact, everybody liked her. There seems to be no motive.

And then, another cop’s wife is killed. Both victims were part of an ingenious real estate scheme run by bestselling murder mystery author Nora Bannister. Nora buys a house in LA dirt cheap, and then while her partners work on turning it into a showplace, Nora murders someone there — in her next book. When the new book and the house go on the market, there’s a bidding frenzy among people who want to live in a house that’s on the cover of an international bestseller.
Is someone stalking the house flippers or is the murderer after cops’ wives? Either way, Lomax and Biggs have to track down the killer before he (or she) murders the other real estate partners, including Marilyn Biggs, Terry’s wife.
Sorry if I sound like a book jacket. Occupational hazard.

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.

Whoever said that happiness is a journey, not a destination, never tried to get a book published.

Most of my life people have paid me to write. I’ve written a TV commercial starring John Travolta, a sitcom starring George Clooney, a movie directed by Jason Alexander, and a tuna fish can label featuring solid white albacore (hey, we all have to start somewhere).

And of course, I always wanted to write a novel. Hey, it’s hard for a writer to spend a rainy afternoon at a bookstore and not think, “I can do that.” But the actual act of doing it seemed daunting. Then one day, Jim, a guy I worked for at J. Walter Thompson advertising asked me to read his manuscript. It was a fantastic thriller called Along Came a Spider, and Jim, of course, was James Patterson.

I watched Jim’s career take off and I was thrilled for him. We kept in touch and about ten years ago, he and I had lunch and I pitched him the basic idea for my book. Over the course of that lunch he gave me brilliant feedback and encouragement. Five years later, I was able to take a sabbatical and decided to give it a shot. I bought a bunch of index cards, pulled out my notes from that long-ago lunch with Jim and wrote on the first card – Chapter 1 – Familyland. Guy inside the Rambunctious Rabbit suit gets killed.

Here are the highlights of the next five years. I hired a freelance editor, blocked out as much of the book as I could, and started writing. After 50 pages, she read it and told me to start again. This time, remember it’s not a film script, she said. She reminded me that I don’t have a location scout, a set decorator, a wardrobe department, actors, and a director to paint the picture. I have to paint it myself. So I went back and rewrote, putting in all the stuff I figured most people skip over.

A hundred pages into the book, my wife informed me that my sabbatical was over and it was time to find a job. I put the book down, and on September 10, 2001 started looking for real work. The next day was 9/11. I was in New York City. My daughter was at Ground Zero.

She survived, and in the soul-searching aftermath of those days, I decided I didn’t want to go back to work, and the world didn’t need another murder mystery. I put it in a drawer for nine months. I finally went back. A year and a half later, Dec, 31, 2003 — New Year’s Eve — I finished the first draft.

I rewrote it for my editor, found an agent (with the help of Mr. Paterson) and rewrote it two more times for my agent. Note to those of you just starting out — even if you land an agent, he or she may tell you that your book needs an overhaul before they’ll submit it.

On Dec. 31, 2004 (New Year’s Eve again) I finished the fifth draft. My agent started sending out manuscripts. Rejections started coming in. They all went directly to him, so he spared me most of them. But he sent me a few. Here’s a few selected excerpts from one of them.

Well, I have to hand it to you — Marshall Karp is really talented. But …

Lomax's voice is fabulous, but …

I really enjoyed the sense of humor and found the characters fully
developed, but …

What I am looking for in a mystery/thriller is a continuing character with a more original job than cop (not that the rest of the plotting wasn't original - it was quite clever) and/or the kind of series that can incorporate cutting edge forensics or explosive legal drama.

We are focused on growing our existing authors and taking on new projects only if we believe they can really compete in this overcrowded market.

If Mr. Karp decides to write something else — mystery or no mystery — please feel free to send it my way. He seems to have the gift of the voice, which is where it all begins.

With rejections like that, it’s hard for the rejectee to feel sorry for himself. She liked me. She turned me down, but she really liked me. I sent her some nice lingerie.

On August 31, 2005, nine months after the rejection slips started coming in, I fell in a lake and almost drowned. It was an accident. Really. The fact that I was bummed about my writing career had nothing to do with it. I almost drowned as a kid, and despite learning how to swim many times, I’m still phobic. So when I was alone with the dog on a rock by the lake and I slipped and dropped straight down into about twenty feet of water I thought — no I knew — it was all over.

Going down for the third time I finally gurgled for help.

And somebody came running out of the woods, grabbed a huge branch and dragged me out.

Suddenly being an unpublished writer didn’t feel so bad. I was a living, breathing, grateful unpublished writer.

Twelve days later — less than two weeks into my new life — my agent called. A publisher wanted to buy my book. Two books if I’d be willing to write another one. They would publish it in the Spring. They said it was so tight, that the rewrites would be minimal.

“But that publisher rejected it six months ago,” I said.

“They rejected it because they never published a mystery before. But they decided your book was so good, they just had to publish it.”

You asked what went through my head. To the best of my recollection, it was joy and disbelief. But not necessarily in that order.

And that’s a story I’ve never told before. I’d like to say it was quite a journey. But it’s far from over. That’s the best part of selling your first book. You start to believe that the real journey is just about to begin.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

No. But with an asterisk. Neurotic, insecure writer is a redundancy. But these days, while I may have doubts, they’re not about self.

I’m often not satisfied with a chapter, a character, or a plot twist, but I’ve learned to question the work on the page, not the guy who writes it. I won’t get it right every time, but that’s not a problem. I learned years ago to stop striving for perfection. I strive for excellence. I’ve gotten there before, and I have no doubt that I can get there again.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

None that I regret. Meaning that I didn’t piss off too many people in the publishing world. I think my biggest mistake was putting pressure on myself, and judging myself based on the reactions of others. But I think all writers looking to get published spend half their time thinking of how to get published and the other half second guessing. A lot of that time would be better spent writing the next book.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

There are a lot of people who can prevent you from becoming an author, but only one person who can stop you from being a writer. I don’t know if someone said that to me or it just took shape in my head, but it’s something I tell every aspiring author who is ready to throw in the towel because they’re not yet published. Some of them are inspired. Occasionally some idiot asks me who the one person is who can stop him from being a writer.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

They’re not buying that. You need more “cutting edge forensics or explosive legal drama.” The six words in quotes are from the rejection letter above. Writing is a ridiculous and complicated balance of art and commerce. The publishers are interested in what’s going to sell. They will also be the first to tell you that if they knew the answer, they would only publish best sellers. There’s nothing wrong with an author having his finger on the pulse of the marketplace. But don’t listen to people who push you in the direction of what’s selling now. By the time you figure out how to do it, (assuming you can ever really figure out cutting edge forensics), what’s selling in the new NOW will be something else. You’re a writer. Write. Don’t take dictation.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

If you’re an aspiring author, don’t have a timetable. No matter what date you set to finish a first draft, find an agent, land a publisher, you’ll be wrong. You won’t even be close. And every time you miss one of your self-imposed deadlines, you’ll have convinced yourself that you failed. Just write it. You’ll know when you’re done.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

In 1990 a film production company fell in love with my screenplay for “Just Looking.” “But it’s just not quite there yet,” they said. They asked me for a rewrite. I worked at it for nearly two months. And then they said no. I was crushed. But ten years later, it was that vastly improved draft that got sold, and turned into a feature film.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Disappearance by Philip Wylie.

It’s about that eternal conflict. No, not liberals vs. conservatives. Not the Yankees vs. Boston. But men vs. women.

Men, imagine if suddenly every single female in the world disappeared. They do in Chapter 1. Now ladies, imagine if every single male disappeared. That’s Chapter 2. From there on we follow their parallel universes.

The book was written in 1951, so cold war politics and a world where girls weren’t trained to fly airplanes, much less run governments, will feel dated. But the essence is timeless. I read it when I was young and impressionable. It was reprinted in 2004. I read it again and continue to be impressed.

Rather than single out other books, there’s a long eclectic list of authors whose work I have loved and whose writing has influenced mine. Here are just a few: William Goldman, Meyer Levin, Leon Uris, Joseph Heller, Katherine Anne Porter, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Nelson DeMille, David Baldacci, Jeffrey Deaver, Frederick Forsythe, Stephen King, Harper Lee, Neil Simon, Dave Barry, Woody Allen and my former colleague in advertising, James Patterson.

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

During those nine months after 9/11 when I put down my first novel, and began searching for something meaningful to do with my life, I discovered Vitamin Angels. It was founded in 1994 by Howard Schiffer. Howard would ask vitamin companies to donate their products, and then, with the help of volunteer organizations, distribute them around the world where vitamins and nutrients could literally save lives. He was unpaid and did it all in his spare time.

I called him, and I was immediately captivated by the mission — providing basic nutrition to people in need. I told him I didn’t know companies who could give away vitamins. But I knew some who might donate money. He had never thought about that, so we decided to give it a try. I was struck by a few basic facts. Millions of children go blind from a lack of Vitamin A. Half of them die. All it takes to prevent that is one megadose of Vitamin A, administered twice a year. Total cost — twenty-five cents to save one child from going blind.

An idea formed in my head — Operation 2020 — a campaign to eradicate childhood blindness on the planet by the year 2020. With one phone call we found our first corporate sponsor. Then we began to attract others — schools, individuals, even kids willing to part with tooth fairy money to save another kid’s life.

Last year Vitamin Angels reached (and saved) over 7 million children. We are operating in 40 countries. We are distributing 100 million prenatal vitamins a year. In one country our newborn initiative shows that by giving one dose of Vitamin A, two days after birth, we can reduce infant mortality by 20%.

As for me, I’m still deeply involved in the organization. I do a lot of writing for them. Speeches, brochures, letters — when Howard calls, I’m there. And somewhere over these past eight years I wrote six words that are as meaningful to me as the 130,000 words in my first book. It’s our tagline.

Be an Angel. Save a life.

And as long as I have your attention, I’ll ask for your support.
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

It’s not like any business I’ve ever experienced. I think that’s because I’m not really in the publishing business. I’m a product. I’m that thing my publisher sells. In many ways I’m like the bottle of Coca-Cola, the jar of Grey Poupon, or the carton of Minute Maid orange juice I used to sell when I was in advertising.

Consumers may have strong feelings about the product, but ultimately it’s the marketing, sales, and publicity departments who decide how you’re marketed, sold, and publicized. I understand it in part. The actress who stars in a movie doesn’t decide where and when the movie opens. My job is to write the books, and have a relationship with my readers. But after all those years being the guy who did the marketing, I miss being entrenched on that side of the business.

I don’t know if that’s a pet peeve or a regret. Or just some inmate wishing he could run the asylum.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

It all starts with an idea that will help shape the book. In THE RABBIT FACTORY it was the first chapter. In BLOODTHIRSTY I had a motive and means of killing I had never seen done before. In FLIPPING OUT I wanted the victims to be cops’ wives, something that would hit close to home for my characters.

The idea is the beginning. Something to build on. I kick it around with one or two trusted people — not always my editor, because I want her to see the fleshed out idea with a fresh eye. Then I build the crime story. This is the point where I do the most research. Talk to cops, visit the morgue, drive through a neighborhood, stick up a liquor store.

At the same time, I think about how the arc of my main characters will develop. Mike met Diana in Book 1. By the end of Book 2 they were living together and people were asking me when’s the wedding, and where are the kids. The character arc usually is the basis of the B plot, and then I have to think about how the A and B plots will converge

But I don’t write the book until I see the handwriting on the wall. My handwriting on about 60 index cards. My books are called (and I hate the term) police procedurals. That’s because I start with a crime and the reader gets to follow Lomax and Biggs through the process of catching the killer. So my index cards not only tell me what happens, they also include a timeline and a calendar so I can track the events hour by hour, day by day. As the author, I have to be aware if my characters are going through something on a Monday morning or a Friday night, because people think and act differently depending on what day of the week it is.

And then I write. There’s usually a deadline, so I set goals. It averages out to about 500 words a day. But of course, Chapter 1 can take a week to write. By Chapter 60, I’m on a roll, and it can take less than a day. I write mornings, afternoons, and/or late into the night. I work at home, so I have plenty of time to goof off, but the commute is short. No matter how much research I’ve done up front, this is where the story unfolds and the details become critical. That’s where Google comes in. I can find anything on Google. I can even scout a location using Google Earth. It’s indispensable. Thank you, Larry and Sergey.

After my editor has read the first draft, I get her notes and go over them with her. Sometimes I disagree and she accepts my logic. But more often than not, she winds up pushing me in a direction where rewriting makes it better. Which if you don’t know already, you should learn in a hurry. Writing is all about rewriting. After first draft revises, there are probably two more rounds, each one shorter than the last. And that’s it. There’s no pat formula. Every author has his or her own way. This is the one that works for me.

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

I want to continue writing Lomax and Biggs mysteries as long as people want to read them. If I ever stopped, I’d really miss those guys. But I also have a burning passion to write a non-fiction book about my favorite personal topic, mid-life career changes.

I was 40 years old when I first woke up to the fact that the 21-year-old Marshall wound up in advertising because he couldn’t bother to read beyond the A’s in the Help Wanted section. Was the 40-year-old Marshall going to follow that kid’s plan for the next 30 years? I decided that the answer was no. I didn’t want to spend the rest of his life (now my life) in advertising. I wanted to be sitting in my house in the woods, dog at my feet, getting paid to write murder mysteries. All I had to do was walk away from the life that 21-year-old Marshall had planned for me.

Now, having done it, I want to write about it and see if I can help other people without sounding too self-helpy. The working title is Confronting the Teenager Who Screwed Up Your Life.

There are a lot of middle-aged dentists, lawyers, ad guys, and English teachers who look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and wonder — is this all there is? I plan to interview a bunch of people who wonder why they’re stuck, and a bunch of others who got unstuck.

This will not be a dry self-help book. It will be hilariously real, because the official formula for being funny is Pain plus Time equals Comedy. My own mid-life crises (yes, plural) were painful. But enough time has passed so that I can turn it into belly laughs. I think it’s a book that a lot of people over 39 are going to want.

And I lived it, so I know I can write it.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

I quit advertising. I left television. I gave up screenwriting. But I will never, never, never quit writing.

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

Fave: Getting paid to do something I would gladly do for free.

Lest fave: Waiting for feedback.

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

A ton. More than I ever could have imagined. My website, updating it often, blogging regularly, writing letters, emails, answering fan mail, blog tours, store visits, books signings, contacting booksellers, reviewers, posting on Facebook, Twittering…

Here’s the good news. I spent half my life in the marketing business. I don’t know book marketing per se. That’s because no one does. But I know a few things, and I’ve learned a lot more. In fact, my friend Joseph Finder (I like to be seen with best selling authors) recently suggested that I start posting a few marketing tips for authors (both published and aspiring) on my blogs. I don’t know. Feels a little presumptuous. But if anyone has read this far, I could use some feedback.

My advice for now? Figure out what works and concentrate on the places where you get the most return on your investment. Oh, and if you’re still teachable, learn to type with more than two fingers.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Many. Some are so complimentary I can’t repeat them. Some are from people from my past. Army buddies, high school friends, people I worked with, old girlfriends… it boggles the mind. Then there are the people with problems. Not many, but most often they complain about the profanity. I always try to answer thoughtfully, and in fact, I finally wrote a blog about it.

But the most memorable was a real heartbreaker. First you’ll need some background: For those of you who don’t know, Mike Lomax, one of my two protagonists, is a recent widower when we meet him in THE RABBIT FACTORY. His wife Joanie, who died six months before the book opens, has left Mike a series of monthly letters, so even though she’s gone, her presence is felt. In fact, she is writing to Mike (and to us) during the time when she is going through the final stages of her life.

Here’s what this reader wrote.

Evan Hunter is alive. I've finished BLOODTHIRSTY and hope you are almost ready to release the next Lomax and Biggs episode. Both books were what a novel should be. Good luck and thank you for the enjoyment. Like Joanie, I am soon to be gone from cancer. I like that you don't sugar coat that aspect.

I wrote to him immediately, but my response bounced back. His email didn’t accept incoming mail from anyone not in his database. The best I could do was to put his name in FLIPPING OUT and hope he’s around to read it.

Parting words?

Novel Journey is a site for writers. Published, aspiring, rejected, accepted, happy, confused, neurotic, manic, depressive, busy, lazy, full-time, part-time, busy Mommy, stressed out Daddy, hard working, pipe dreaming, self-doubting, overconfident, I-have-a-better-chance-of-winning-the-lottery-than-getting-published, wannabe writers.

If you fit into one of those slots, and In case you missed what I said before, let me say it one more time.

There are a lot of people who can prevent you from becoming an author, but only one person who can stop you from being a writer.

Write on, boys and girls