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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Anniversary post with Deborah Raney

Novel Journey is in its 5th year! To celebrate, we wanted to catch up with our very first interviewee, DEBORAH RANEY.

Deborah is at work on her 19th novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books, the Clayburn Novels, are from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.

Deb, much has changed in the 5 years since Novel Journey began. What new things have happened to you?

The most significant new things for me are two precious grandsons, a new daughter-in-law, and sending out baby to college. Ken and I have only been in the empty nest for a month now, but already we’re finding it quite sweet!

I noticed your website has also undergone a new look. What about in your fiction? What new things have you learned since we first interviewed you?

I’m with a new and wonderful publisher these days, Howard Books, which became an imprint of Simon & Schuster shortly after I came onboard. I just finished the first book in my second series for Howard, and believe it or not, I’m learning to add mild elements of suspense (yes, me! President of the Big Honkin’ Chicken Club!) Don’t worry, my novels are still––and probably always will be––contemporary women’s fiction, but I’ve enjoyed adding threads of adventure and suspense.

In my sixteenth year as a novelist, I finally feel I’ve found my voice––or at least I’ve become comfortable with it. I’m not a literary, poetic writer. I write a pretty straightforward, popular-fiction kind of book, and I’m fine with that. I think I’ve become a sparser writer, just telling my story and dispensing with too much description. I’m learning to let dialogue and my characters themselves carry the story.

Tell us about your latest release.

The first of my Hanover Falls novels series for Howard/Simon & Schuster will release in May. The series in a nutshell: After five heroic firefighters die, their surviving spouses band together to cope—and to try to resolve the mystery surrounding the fire that killed their loved ones.

That sounds like a complex series, rife with drama. I cant wait to read them. How did you come up with the idea for these stories? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

On June 20, 2007, my husband opened the newspaper to the horrific story of nine firefighters who lost their lives battling a fire in a furniture warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina. My niece’s husband and his father are firefighters, so I knew something of the amazing strength of the firefighting “family,” and what an ongoing tragedy such an event would be to that community. I wanted to explore the issues these people would be dealing with in this new series.

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

This story really took me out of my comfort zone. The inciting fire in my novel takes place in a homeless shelter, so I knew it wasn’t a coincidence when our church got involved in ministry at a local homeless shelter about the time I began working on this series.

I went through the volunteer training and have helped out at the shelter whenever it’s our church’s turn to supply volunteers. Most nights are quite uneventful, but the very first night I was there, just about everything that could happen, did happen.

It was a baptism of fire and I came home exhausted, my head spinning with ideas for my novel. On the way to bed, I happened to glance at my calendar, only to realize that I’d showed up one week earlier than I was scheduled to! I soaked up more “research” material in that first night than all the nights since!

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

Occasionally I sit in front of my computer without a clue what comes next. I especially seem to hit a wall about 12 chapters in. Once I get over that hump (my books are usually around 40 chapters long) it’s like coasting downhill, but I struggle with the second fourth of the book. My best tricks for getting over that spot include:
• brainstorming with writer friends, or my husband
• reading an excellent novel
• going for a long walk
• attempting to outline a few chapters ahead (a huge sacrifice since I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer)
• Sometimes I find I just need to step away from writing for a day or two. Often, if I spend that time answering my reader mail, or working on promotion, I come back to the computer with a reminder of why I write.
• Of course, a deadline is the best motivator ever!

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

I’m very visual. I see my stories playing out like a movie. I love Scrivener software (sorry, for Macs only) with its virtual bulletin board and a way of organizing research material that keeps it all in front of me as I write. I still create an actual bulletin board, too, with photos of my characters, maps/blueprints of my settings, and other visual and tactile “talismans” that help me get into the story.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you, and how do you overcome it?

First draft! Hate it! The blank page paralyzes me!

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

Editing. I LOVE rewrite because, for me, that where the creativity begins to flow. That’s where the bones of the story finally develop flesh and sinew and my characters finally begin to breathe.

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

Write from what God is doing in your own life, and your stories will feel genuine. If God is working on honesty and transparency in your life, let that be the struggle your protagonist is battling. Of course, your heroine may be learning her life lessons in the witness protection program, while you’re learning yours raising teenagers, but the point is the same: write from your heart and your stories will have heart.

Thank you, Deb, for joining us at Novel Journey once again. I'm looking forward to the Hanover Falls series.

Happy Anniversary, Novel Journey!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Publicize Your Book--Getting Started

How to Publicize your Book: Getting Started

From Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval (Perigee, )

Look at what other writers have done successfully.

Before you set up a web site or blog, look at other authors’ sites to see what works. Start doing this a year before your book is out.

Some sites to look at: Brad Meltzer ( To see how a novelist creates ways to attract attention); Jeff Carlson ( To see how a site can provide one stop shopping for readers and the press with press kits, photos, appearance schedules, contests)

Find out what your publisher is planning to do to launch your book.

Talk to your editor about what the house is planning for publicity 6-7 months before your book will be published. Then you can plan whether to hire a freelance publicist or supplement with your own efforts. Many books get a simple press release and review copy mailing. There’s much more to be done but you may have to initiate it. Start by…Reading everything you can about book publicity. What to read? Here are four great resources:

1., a publicity and marketing site run by a former journalist, offers many great ideas for publicity as well as plenty of advice about how to approach reporters—useful in the event you ever set up your own interviews.

2. Buzz Balls & Hype, Lots of smart publicity advice here from novelist MJ Rose.

3. This site covers the business of publishing. Check out the frequent coverage of effective author promotions and videos.

4. Publishers Weekly ( Learn about the publishing industry here. Search the word “promote” and you’ll come up with tons of information about what authors and publishers are doing to market their books.

Build your tribe.

What is a tribe? The people who know and like you or take an interest in your work. Build the mailing list of everyone you know, professionally and personally. You’ll market to this list through emails, postcards, press releases, invitations to readings. Then you’ll build on that list particularly as you being to network through online marketing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What's More Dangerous, Amish Heroines or Christian Vampires?

by Mike Duran

Okay, so Eli the Buggy Driver wouldn't stand a chance against Count Orlok. However, in the world of Christian fiction, both may inflict their own share of damage.

According to an AP Report from this summer's ICRS in Denver, Amish heroines and Christian vampires are expanding opposite ends of the religious publishing gamut:

The Christian book business, optimistic that a little literary escapism might be an antidote for readers in hard times, is turning to bonnets, buggies and bloodsuckers.

Even as Christian publishing suffers during the recession — one study found net sales for Christian retailers were down almost 11 percent in 2008 — several publishing houses are adding or expanding their fiction lines with both the tame (Amish heroines) and boundary-pushing (Christian vampire lit).

This couldn't be more indicative of both the boundaries, and the pushing of them that's going on in the Christian publishing industry. Amish fiction and vampire lit represent polar opposites -- literally conservative and liberal bookends -- of the Christian fiction spectrum.

But while most Christian readers have serious reservations about the inclusion of vampires in their literary camp, I think there are just as good of reasons to worry about the upsurge of Amish heroines.

The undisputed [Christian publishing] industry leader is so-called Amish fiction - typically, romances and family sagas set in contemporary Amish communities. They're a surprise hit with evangelical women attracted by a simpler time, curiosity about cloistered communities and admiration for the strong, traditional faith of the Amish.

The success of the genre has spawned not just new Amish fiction authors but spinoff series about other cloistered communities. If you want to sell it, as one literary agent put it, put a bonnet on it.

In all fairness, I've never read any Amish fiction and am sure that much of it is well-written and inspirational. My problem is not with the genre itself but with the degree to which evangelical women are "attracted by a simpler time," curious about "cloistered communities," and admire "the strong, traditional faith of the Amish." Talk about escapism! I'm not sure what's worse, imagining the redemption of revenants or pining for strapping young men in suspenders to whisk one away to a world of gentle breezes and white steeples, with nary an atheist in sight.

Face it,
Amish fiction can be just as escapist, unrealistic, and unhealthy as vampire fiction.

In fact, at its heart, the desire for tradition, simplicity, cloistered living, and chivalry, may be dangerously close to idolatry. Christ commissioned His followers to penetrate the world, embrace its citizens, and influence its course. Maybe it's me, but Amish fiction seems less about
engaging the world and more about escaping it. So while the "Amish reader" fears that vampire lit is embracing the darkness, the "vampire reader" fears that Amish lit is retreating into the light. But even though both worries may be legit, the Christian vampire concept is the one taking all the heat. Why is that?

Either way, I'm thinking that "Amish heroines" are just as potentially dangerous as "Christian vampires." Besides, if the devil appears as an "angel of light" (II Cor. 11:14), there's more chance he's lurking under a bonnet than in a coffin.

What’s important?

Anita Mellott writes to encourage others on their journey of life. With a background in journalism and mass communications, she worked for 13 years as a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International. She balances homeschooling and the call to write, and blogs at From the Mango Tree (

“I guess I’ll get a job when my kids go off to high school.” Debra, a friend and fellow homeschooling mom, picked up a doll from the floor to hand to my toddler as we sat in my family room. “What about you?”

I grinned and pointed to my toddler, “It’s going to be a while before that happens. But when it does, I’ll probably write full-time.”
“What?” Debra dropped the doll and stared at me. “I thought you were doing that stuff as a creative outlet. You mean you’re actually working toward publication?”
“Well, that’s what most serious writers do.”
“But, you don’t even know if you’ll be successful or not, Anita.” Her eyebrows almost disappeared into her bangs.
“Umm, well to be honest, I figured if God called me to this, He’ll work things out…” My voice trailed off as she shrugged and turned her attention back to my toddler.
Success. The word embedded itself in my mind and made its presence known almost daily after that conversation.
What would success as a writer look like? Multiple contracts? My books in stores around the country and perhaps even in other countries? High book sales? An income?

As the months passed, rejections trickled in and a paying market closed. I was ever aware of the uphill task of breaking into the publishing world, especially as a newbie.
Would I ever be successful as a writer?
But what was success? The question was never far from my mind. I loved the exhilaration when words gave life to the teeming ideas in my mind, and the sheer joy when everything began to fall into place under the guidance of the Master Designer.
But was it enough just to write? I neither had contracts, nor pay checks. I spent every spare minute working on a single idea that I felt drawn to time and time again.
Was Debra right?

Several months later, my tween and I sat at our kitchen table, discussing a heart issue that raised its ugly head now and then.
“What Daddy and I really need from you is obedience.” I tried to catch her eye as she twirled strands of hair around her finger and looked everywhere else, except at me.
“Did you hear me?” I raised my voice. “You don’t always have to ‘get’ why you’re supposed to obey, you just need to do it.” I stopped short.
“That’s it!” I pounded my hand on the table. My tween started.
“What?” She stopped twirling her hair and looked at me.
“That’s it.” My voice went up a decibel.
“Mama, what’s going on?” She stared as I began to drum my feet on the floor, joy bubbling up inside.
“It’s obedience, that’s what it is.” She rolled her eyes. I laughed.
“Don’t you get it? That’s all God requires of me. It doesn’t matter whether what I write gets published or not. It doesn’t matter whether I earn a single cent from writing or not. All I need to do is obey Him.”
“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22, NLT

From the Mango Tree

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Free Song Download

I wanted to share some exciting news with you guys. Recently, my husband, Scott Dotta, was approached by Lifeway and B&H about having his song, Talk to Me, as the theme song for a website promoting Beth Moore's prayer book—Praying From God's Word.

Their marketing on this is really interesting. They've started a website called PrayerGates, which is an online community of women uniting in prayer.

Talk to Me will be available for free download during the entire promotion. So if you'll allow me wife bragging rights . . .

You can explore the website here.

You can download Talk to Me here

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview ~ Awful Library Books Blog

Share the story behind the Awful Library Books blog. First, let me guess... Mary and Holly started as young intern librarians (is there such a thing?). But, Mary and Holly were no ordinary librarians. Oh no. Instead of the traditional shushing, they liked to play clever pranks on unruly library patrons. One day they went too far. How were they to know that the now shrieking-in-terror woman was the new wife of the mayor who was just putting the final touches together on the key to the city for the new library director? Poor Holly and Mary were sentenced to the basement archives where they were to sort the books that did not sell at the annual library surplus sale. And the rest is.........

Oh, Kelly- I like this version so much more! Actually our story is very dull. Holly and I were presenting at a conference on collection quality. We always enjoyed old books or odd topics and shared a few titles. We were trying to make our point about keeping your collection current and useful. Some of these books do that just beautifully!

What are your favorite awful books?

I get new favorites all the time! We got such a chuckle out of Dee Snider’s Teenage Survival Guide. Holly is a huge metal fan. We also get such a kick out of titles like the History of Umbrellas or A Passion for Donkeys. There isn’t anything wrong with these books, they are just funny. I also keep wondering what went through the mind of the librarian when he or she was ordering this material. Did someone really say “hey we need a book about umbrellas”?

Do you have any favorite "differing opinions" stories? I.E. a disgruntled author.

Weeding is a tricky subject for any librarian. Each library is unique and has a certain character. One book might be awful for one library but perfectly useful for another. We have some great discussions on the merit of some books. Most often there is a problem with understanding the scope and mission of a particular library. For the most part public librarians are about information for current needs: popular reading material, homework help, basic research on a medical situation, resumes and cover letters. Preservation is way down on the list. Once in a while libraries will squeeze some budget and space for local history

As librarians who see book lovers day in and must have some practical advice for our readers...feel free to share insight with authors who don't want to be featured at Awful Library Books Blog?

Lack of research or fact checking can really annoy me and many of my big readers, especially if someone is familiar with the setting or situation. One voracious reader complained to me that an author went on and on about Grand Rapids, Michigan being in the Central time zone. (In case anyone cares, it is in the Eastern time zone) Reader told me she couldn’t get past that mistake and quit reading the book.

Share a few things you love about books, libraries and book folks.

Both Holly and I think librarianship is the best job out there. We geek out all kinds of books, databases and have a great time with the public. Even awful books are a hoot and make us smile.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Author Interview ~ Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh’s debut novel, The Unfinished Gift, has just come out this month, published by Revell. It's already been selected by Crossings and Doubleday book clubs as a featured book for their members. RT Book Reviews magazine gave it 4.5 Stars and a Top Pick rating in the Inspirational category. His writing style has been compared to Richard Paul Evans, best-selling author of The Christmas Box. Dan has already finished the sequel, The Homecoming, scheduled for release in June. He has served as a pastor at the same church since 1985. He and his wife Cindi have been married 33 years and live in the Daytona Beach area, where he spends his spare time researching and writing his third novel.

Hi, Dan. Welcome to Novel Journey. This is your debut novel. Can you tell us about it?

The Unfinished Gift begins a week before Christmas in 1943. It's about a little boy, Patrick Collins, whose mother has just died in a car accident. He's being driven to stay with a grandfather he has never met (even though he lives only thirty minutes away) while the Army tries to locate his father, a bomber pilot in England. Patrick’s father and grandfather haven't spoken since before he was born. The story shows how God uses this remarkable little boy, a shoebox full of love letters, and a dusty old wooden soldier, to bring about a dramatic change in the old man's heart.

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

The creative process is a mysterious thing. For this book, there really was a big “what if” moment. Every Christmas I love watching those classic stories on TV, the ones that grab at your heart and really affect you. I don’t mean the stories that just stir up the “holiday spirit,” but the ones that really tug at your heart. I wanted to write a story like that, one that at least had the potential to affect others the way these stories affect me.

The story actually came to me back in 1998. That Christmas, I started praying and thinking, almost “listening” for one. The whole thing came to me over two or three days. I actually saw the ending of the book first, just like a scene from a movie playing in my thoughts. Over the next two days, different parts of the story kept dropping into my head. I kept stopping and writing them down. In a few days, the whole story was there, from beginning to end. Like a detailed synopsis. From there I sat down and started writing the book.

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

His name is Patrick Collins; he is only seven years old. He’s thrust into an almost impossible situation, armed only with the memories of lessons his mother taught him about life and faith before she died. But the thing is…he believes them and acts on them, including praying for help when it all gets too much. Patrick, as a character, still really affects me.

His character emerged more fully as I thought about his mom, who dies just before the book begins. I wanted to honor the labor of a young mother, who simply did her best to demonstrate a credible faith to her son, and teach him everything she could in language he could understand. But she did reach him and really prepared him surprisingly well to face this incredible ordeal.

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

Top to bottom, I enjoyed everything about writing this book. The only downside were the times the story was flowing so well but real life forced me to “climb back through the wardrobe” (for CS Lewis fans), and leave my story world behind. Because I write in my spare time, I could only write in one or two hour spurts.

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

Time. Finding time to write. Getting great thoughts and ideas at the wrong time. It’s actually much better now than it was at the beginning.

In 1998, when I began writing The Unfinished Gift, I got about halfway through and had to set it aside. It’s a long story but, essentially, the Lord made it clear to me that my kids needed my spare time more than I needed a creative outlet. I didn’t write a thing for ten years. They’re grown now, and two years ago my wife urged me to start writing again (she loved this story).

I picked it back up, wondered if it would all come back to me. As I read through to where I stopped, it sucked me right back in, and I kept writing it until I finished. I actually cried in two or three spots (I am such a sap).

What does your writing space look like?

Since we live in central Florida, I like to write outside in my backyard. Since the sun moves, I have 3 writing spaces. I’ve sent you a picture of the nicest looking one, our courtyard. We live in the same house we bought back in 1985. It was developed back when people believed in big yards, so it’s nice and private.

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

I’d spend more time with family and friends. And occasionally I’d spend time in this mindless activity I enjoy, playing an online WW2 game called Call of Duty. It’s like being a kid again, playing army in the neighborhood with my friends (only with way better graphics).

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I’m sure I do to some extent. But sometimes, after I get to know them better, it feels more like I’m “getting into character,” so I can reflect what they’d do and think about the situations I’m putting them through.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

Unforgiveness and bitterness will eat you up inside and over time make you a mean, uncaring, isolated person. And you won’t even know you’re the problem. But God, in His mercy, will reach out to you with the gospel of His Son, in a number of creative and remarkable ways.

And I hope The Unfinished Gift grabs people’s heart, and they will want to see it made into a movie, and the movie is made by really good actors with a decent budget, and I get to watch it at Christmastime someday with my grandkids (when I have them), and it makes us cry and laugh, and talk about it long after the movie is over (I can dream, can’t I?).

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

Since I’m writing books set in time, I read non-fiction history books about the time I want to write about. When I read, I imagine what it would have been like to face these things myself, because I could have (no one has control over the circumstances of their birth). I get to where it almost feels like time travel for me. I can really see it, feel it, etc. When I get there, then I write.

I’ll usually write the story out first; not in an outline, more like telling it by a fireplace. Then I go back and start making my way through. Along the way, things happen I never saw at the beginning. In fact, some of the best things.

Each time I write, I’ll go back and read what I’d written last, which helps me reconnect and see it like a reader might. I revise a good bit then. When I get to where I left off, I start writing some more. Months and months later, I’m done. Then I’ll read it all straight through, maybe a few times, catching things I missed, cutting out wordiness, refining. The last step is to have a handful of avid fiction readers I trust read the whole thing and alert me to any spot that wasn’t clear or tempted them to want to skip.

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

Since this is my debut novel and the book just came out, time will tell if anything has worked well. I’m still a fulltime pastor, so it’s more a question of what I’m capable of doing with the time I have, which isn’t much. I mostly pray and respond to the marketing situations that present themselves. There have been quite a few. So far, most are related to the internet. It really is an amazing way to reach a lot of people. But I am doing some more traditional things locally and have dedicated most of my 2009 vacation time for this fall, in case any other doors open up.

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

The sequel to The Unfinished Gift will be out this summer, which I’m very excited about. It’s called, The Homecoming. When I finished the first book, I didn’t plan on writing a sequel. But a second story did emerge (I guess I wasn’t ready to leave these people). I received a lot of feedback from my test readers, almost all asking the same thing: “Now later on, this is going to happen, right?” And they were suggesting the same second story I was thinking of. So I began to write it. Halfway through, I pitched it to my agent and editor, and they loved the idea.

Right now I’m working on my third novel. It’s a similar genre, but a different storyline and characters. Set in 1857, it involves a newlywed couple and a shipwreck. I get to travel back to the beginning of San Francisco, old New York, and experience life out on the open sea.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Maybe a few thoughts to writers still on the way, who’ve yet to see their first book published. Writing is a craft with many facets. They all matter and they all take time to develop and mature. Most who finally get published know well they haven’t “arrived.” They’ve just reached an important place. But they must keep growing and honing this craft. Write as often as you can; when it flows and when it won’t. Read good books on writing well. Read well-written books. Get sucked in, then go back and read them again as a learner. Connect with at least a handful of people who love reading and despise flattery. They could be writers, but I’ve heard some of the best editors have never written a book. Listen to what they say, not what you think.

And for me, praying helps. Helps a lot actually.

To read a review of The Unfinished Gift, click here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Giveaway by Jeff

Jeff has agreed to giveaway a book. Just leave a comment for him after his interview and he'll choose one person to receive an autographed copy of his holiday mystery.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Author Interview with Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is the author of the Cassie O'Malley Mysteries, an amateur sleuth series set deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Jeff is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America. He loves to write early in the morning. "You can usually find me at my computer at 5:30 in the morning," he says, "plotting someone's murder."

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

It took me thirteen years to write my first manuscript. Twenty-seven years if you count the re-writes. Of all the things that I've written, The Last Bodhisattva is probably my favorite. But it will never be published.

I began writing the book in 1975, at the age of 23, and wrote on-and-off for thirteen years, completing it (for the first time) in 1988. Believing I had a publishable novel (and knowing nothing about agents, or publishers, or, frankly, anything at all about the book business), I bought a Writer's Handbook and began sending out queries. I spent the next year collecting rejections. Actually, I considered it a promising sign when I received a rejection. Mostly, my queries went unanswered. I tucked the manuscript away in a file cabinet and went about my life.

Every few years, for the next fourteen years, I pulled the manuscript out of the cabinet and did a re-write. The last time I attempted a re-write, I had just turned fifty and I was having a very hard time relating to the character that I had first written nearly three decades earlier. I did a complete re-write, framing the story as a memoir. Satisfied that I had successfully finished the story, I put the manuscript back in the file cabinet where it will remain.

But that final re-write did something I hadn't anticipated. It motivated me to start writing again. I had an idea, something about putting a character on a back road in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in the hour before the sun comes up. Five months later, I had finished the first draft of a murder mystery. Six years later, I’ve authored three Cassie O’Malley Mysteries. So I guess I was supposed to be a mystery writer. My latest book, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder, was released in October by Five Star.

Do you think an author is born or made?

I think that story tellers are born, but authors are made. There’s a line in The Gates of the Forest. It's the last line of a Hasidic parable that Elie Wiesel recounts as a preface to his novel The Gates of the Forest. “God made man because he loves stories.”

I think man is born to tell stories. It is part of who we are, part of what makes us human. But there’s a pretty big jump from telling a good story to writing a publishable book. Being an author is hard work. In that sense, I definitely think that authors are made.

What is the first book you remember reading?

The first book that really motivated me to be a reader was And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss. The funny thing, in the context of your previous question, it’s the tale of a young boy’s penchant for making up stories.

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

Beyond some of the obvious things like a love of the written word and a fondness for whiskey, I have found authors to be extraordinarily generous with their time and their talent. Authors seem to take genuine pleasure in helping aspiring authors on the path to publication.

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

I don’t. And if someone else does, I hope that they’ll share their secret with me.

What is the theme of your latest book?

Holidays are murder.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

If you’ve ever been to a shopping mall during the Christmas season, you understand the urge to kill.

Selah: Flannery O'Connor

If you’ve read any Psalms, you’ve noticed the word selah. Hebrew—roughly translated, stop and listen. Let those with eyes, see, and with ears, hear.

Far too often, we're busy tuning out. Our eyes glaze, and we don’t see. The dramatic wisdom of untold centuries rushes over our feet, fresh and cool and invisible.

But it only takes a moment to step onto the shoulders of a literary giant. To pursue wisdom. Seriously, why read Noel De Vries when you could be reading, say, Flannery O'Connor?

Here she is, from her brilliant book Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Enjoy the view. And selah.

The Catholic novelist frequently becomes so entranced with his Christian state that he forgets his nature as a fiction writer. This is all right, this is fine, if he stops writing fiction, but most of the time he doesn’t stop writing it, and he makes … [a] spectacle of himself…

We are not content to stay within our limitations and make something that is simply good in and by itself…. Yet what is good in itself glorifies God because it reflects God. The artist has his hands full and does his duty if he attends to his art. He can safely leave evangelizing to the evangelists.

The Catholic novelist doesn’t have to be a saint; he doesn’t even have to be a Catholic; he does, unfortunately, have to be a novelist.

…what we call the Catholic novel is not necessarily about a Christianized or Catholicized world, but simply that it is one in which the truth as Christians know it has been used as a light to see the world by. This may or may not be a Catholic world, and it may or may not have been seen by a Catholic.

We see people distorting their talents in the name of God for reasons that they think are good—to reform or to teach or to lead people to the Church. And it is much less easy to say that this is reprehensible. None of us is able to judge such people themselves, but we must, for the sake of truth, judge the products they make.

Poorly written novels—no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters—are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying.

… the novelist who is a Catholic may feel some friction between what he is supposed to do as a novelist and what he is supposed to do as a Catholic …. Is he supposed to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be? Is he, as Baron von Hugal has said, supposed to “tidy up reality?”

When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.

The tensions of being a Catholic novelist are probably never balanced for the writer until the Church becomes so much a part of his personality that he can forget about her—in the same sense that when he writes, he forgets about himself.

…the conscientious novelist works at the limits of his power and within what his imagination can apprehend. He does not decide what would be good for the Christian body and proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, he confronts what stands in his path…

The poet is traditionally a blind man, but the Christian poet, and storyteller as well, is like the blind man whom Christ touched, who looked then and saw men as if they were trees, but walking.

We reflect the Church in everything we do, and those who can see clearly that our judgment is false in matters of art cannot be blamed for suspecting our judgment in matters of religion.

Noel De Vries is a youth librarian percolating her second novel, a YA märchen set in 17th-century Holland. Visit Noel at Never Jam Today.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Points of View and God’s Command

Marcia Laycock is a pastor's wife and mother of three grown daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone, and has published two devotional books, Spur of the Moment, and Focused Reflections. Visit her website -

Writing is a lot of hard work, but sometimes, it’s a lot of fun. Writing a scene from every point of view, for instance, can be fun and enlightening. The exercise also deepens your own understanding of what’s going on in that scene. When you see, feel and hear from the perspective of one character, then rewrite the scene from the point of view of another, you are able to create a scene that is more real, with dialogue that works and body language that is significant. To write well it helps to get inside the skin of each character.

It could be said that to live well, you have to do the same. We’ve all heard the axiom about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Jesus said something even more profound and more difficult. He said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Jesus walked more than a mile in our shoes. He lived a life as one of us; then He took all our sins upon Himself and went to the cross for us. His idea of love was to sacrifice His place in heaven to experience the pain and suffering of humanity. His idea of love was to suffer humiliation and death.

How can He expect us to do the same?

He expects it because He has shown us how to do it and given us all we need to accomplish it. It is not by our own virtue that we are able to love others, not by our own will that we extend the hand of friendship to those who act like our enemies. It is in God’s strength, through His righteousness, by His Spirit, that we are enabled.

When we accept the love of Christ extended to us, it flows through us. Then and only then can we extend His grace, be His hands and feet, and love others as He loved us. It is then and only then that we can say, with Christ, “Not my will, but thine.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Reader's Discussion of The Shack

I recently started reading two novels at the same time. One was The Kite Runner which was exquisitely written, moving and entertaining. A masterpiece in my eyes. Can you tell I loved it? The other was a sleeper hit, William P Young's The Shack.

This book has been on the NYT best-seller list (hitting number one) for over a year now. I was curious about the hype. Even after reading the first chapters, I still am.

This controversial book has really spoken to some good Christian folks whose opinion I trust, while others had a knee-jerk reaction to it, refusing to continue reading it, often giving the reason of not feeling comfortable with the author "putting words in God's mouth".

Others still have said they didn't think the writing knocked their socks off but the story was great. And many people I know read the book and are neither moved nor repulsed, but leave it shaking their heads not quite getting what the fuss is about.

If you've read The Shack, what's your opinion? If you loved it, tell us why. If you didn't we'd love your reasons as well. We love talking books!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Author - Lecturer Linda Weaver Clarke ~ Interviewed

Linda Weaver Clarke is an author and lecturer. She travels throughout the United States, teaching a “Family Legacy Workshop” at various libraries, encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into a variety of interesting stories. Clarke is the author of Melinda and the Wild West, a semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” The historical fiction series, “A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho” include the following novels: Melinda and the Wild West, Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, and Elena, Woman of Courage.


Blog Spot:

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My new novel, “David and the Bear Lake Monster” is all about deep-rooted legends, long family traditions, and a few mysterious events. David quickly becomes one with the town and its folk and wonders why they believe in this Bear Lake Monster. It just has to be a myth. While visiting the Roberts family, he finds himself entranced with one very special lady and ends up defending her honor several times. Sarah isn’t like the average woman. This beautiful and dainty lady has a disability that no one seems to notice. He finds out that Sarah has gone through more trials than the average person. She teaches him the importance of not dwelling on the past and how to love life. After a few teases, tricks, and mischievous deeds, David begins to overcome his troubles, but will it be too late? Will he lose the one woman he adores? And how about the Bear Lake Monster? Does it really exist?

The mystery of the Bear Lake Monster has been an exciting part of Idaho history ever since the early pioneers arrived in 1863. The legend of the Bear Lake Monster made life a little more exciting for the pioneers. Some people claimed to have seen it and gave descriptions of it. Throughout the years, no one has ever disproved the Bear Lake Monster. A bunch of scientists tried to discredit the monster and said it was a huge codfish that was shipped in from the East but could not prove this theory. Does the Bear Lake Monster exist?

The interesting thing is that all the reports have pretty much the same description. The monster’s eyes were flaming red and its ears stuck out from the sides of its skinny head. Its body was long, resembling a gigantic alligator, and it could swim faster than a galloping horse. It had small legs and a huge mouth, big enough to eat a man. Of course, it only came out in the evening, at dusk. Is the Bear Lake Monster fact or fiction? Whatever conclusion is drawn, the legend still lives on and brings a great deal of mystery and excitement to the community.

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

After writing the biographies of my ancestors, I couldn’t stop writing so I turned to historical fiction. When I finally decided to be brave and submit my work to publishers, it took me a year to find one. I thought this was such a long time but have since found out that was a short time compared to most authors. So I felt very blessed for finding one that wanted my books.

Do you 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.

Whenever I feel discouraged regarding my work, I remind myself that my publisher wouldn’t have taken a chance on me if my work were crappy. Whenever I get a bad review, I have to remind myself that everybody has their own opinion. That doesn’t mean my work is bad. I’ve read some bad reviews on books that I absolutely loved so that helped me to realize that everyone has an opinion.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Life experiences! I have taken many of my ideas from real life. My first book, “Melinda and the Wild West,” was inspired by a true experience that happened to me as a substitute teacher. A former teacher labeled a young girl as a troublemaker and her classmates would not let her forget it. The teacher put her behind the bookshelves so she wouldn’t be a menace to anyone. A similar experience actually happened to my own daughter and my brother way back in the ‘50s. I wanted to tell this story but in the form of historical fiction, bringing out the importance of not labeling students, that negative labels tear down and positive labels build up. Even though this was the inspiration behind my book, I always like to include a love story. This book eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.”

In my second book, “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story on the courtship of my parents. They didn’t meet the conventional way. They met through letters. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father and they didn’t even know what one another looked like. The day they met, my mother told me that her heart leapt within her and a warm glow filled her soul and she knew she would marry this man. In my story, you don’t know who the mysterious stranger is until the end of the book. Some readers guessed right while others were pleasantly surprised.

In my third book, “Jenny’s Dream,” Jenny learns to forgive. This also comes from a family experience, something that a family member had to learn. Jenny has many dreams and wants to accomplish something remarkable in the world. She has read about the courageous women who were self-reliant, daring and determined such as Susan B. Anthony who fought for Equal Rights, an important part of American history. This was one of Jenny’s Dreams, to make a difference in the world. There is one thing standing in her way of focusing on her dreams, though. She must learn to forgive and put her past behind her. In this story, childhood memories begin bothering her and she realizes that before she can choose which dream to follow, she must learn to forgive those who have wronged her. She learns that forgiveness is essential to our well being, that we’re only hurting ourselves by not forgiving. This story is about accomplishing one’s dreams and the miracle of forgiveness. Like I said, this story was inspired from a real life situation.

My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration for “David and the Bear Lake Monster.” Sarah became deaf at the age of one and was a very brave and courageous woman. She never let her deafness stop her from developing her talents. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story. To me, the experiences of my ancestors have always intrigued me.

Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She never sat on the sidelines at dances because of her natural ability. She was known for gliding across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness, not only on the dance floor, but also while swimming and diving. People would actually throw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them. They would applaud, letting her know how much they enjoyed watching her, and then throw another coin in the water. Once an intruder actually hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom, and all the way out of the house, and down the street for a couple blocks, whacking him as she ran.

In my research about the “hearing impaired,” and talking to a dear friend who became deaf in her youth, I became educated about the struggles they have to bear. It was a surprise to find out that some struggle with self-esteem and the fear of darkness. I didn’t realize that concentrating on reading lips for long periods of time could be such a strain, resulting in a splitting headache. After all my research, I found that I had even more respect for my great grandmother and her disability. What a courageous woman!

To read excerpts from each of these novels, visit this page.

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.

In my new adventure series, I’ve chosen to solve a mystery. In doing so, I had to call up the Fish and Game and ask them how much cyanide accidentally spilled in a river would kill fish. He answered my question but I knew I had to tell him why I was asking or he might think I was about to do such a thing.

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

Research is an important part of writing. Learn everything you can about the area your story takes place, the time period, non-fictional characters, and historical facts you would like to add, to both educate your readers and to make the setting feel real. While the reader can’t be there physically, they can be there mentally. Description is very important in a story. Paint a picture like an artist, describing what you see and feel. Make the scenery believable by describing the crunching of pine needles beneath your feet or allow the reader to smell the pine trees in the forest. When doing research, it makes the book come to life and it’s so much fun to imagine what things must have been like as we learn more about history. Research is an important part of writing.

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

The biography of my parents! It was so much fun to write. I had love letters that my dad wrote to my mother and letters he wrote home as a missionary in Florida. Those letters are precious to me and I got to know my father in a completely different way. I found out that he was a very romantic person in his letters to my mother. I was so impressed with the person he was deep down inside. I inserted these letters into his biography. Using his autobiography, things I remembered about my parents, and black and white photos from the “old days,” I felt this was my best work, probably because it was personal. It won’t be published. I wrote it for my children.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

I would like to uplift others through my stories, to make people feel good deep down inside, causing them to smile or laugh.

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

When someone e-mails me and tells me how much they enjoyed one of my books and they can’t wait to read the next one. When a young teenager gives me a hug and says thank you. That makes all the hassles worthwhile.

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

Description. I tended to be brief with my description of scenery and characters. In the beginning, my editor had to remind me, “Add more description.” After being reminded several times, I finally got the hang of it.

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

I outline everything I want in my story, listing the things I want to include so I won’t forget.

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?

In the beginning, I create my story and don’t worry about it being perfect. The second time around, I make sure I’ve developed the characters to my satisfaction. The third time around, I add all the extras, sort of fill in the holes and add a little spice to the story. I’ve come to realize that I can’t concentrate on everything the first time around.

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

I receive e-mails from readers of all ages. I remember an account that really touched my heart. A woman wrote me and said that her mother had lost her sight and had to order books on tape for the handicapped. She said that her mother usually listens to the tapes only once and then sends them back. Then she said, “I wanted you to know that my mother listened to your tape 3 times before sending it back. She wanted to know when the others would be on tape.” Wow! That made my day!

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

Radio and Internet interviews are wonderful. It helps the public to get to know you better and what you write.

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

I would like to encourage everyone to write their family stories down. It’s important to teach our children their heritage. Each of us has a story from our ancestors to tell. If these stories are unwritten, then they’ll be lost forever. It’s up to us to write these experiences down. Our children need to be proud of their ancestors. Leon Garfield said: “The historian, if honest, gives us a photograph; the storyteller gives us a painting.” In other words, paint your story and teach your children their heritage.

My last book in this series, "Elena, Woman of Courage," has just been released. As a celebration, I'm having a free book give-away for the first book in this series: Melinda and the Wild West. This book was a Semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” Go to my blog and leave a comment on the "Elena, Woman of Courage Press Release" along with your e-mail address. I will announce the winner on my birthday: Oct 2nd.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Author Interview ~ Christina Berry

As a single mom and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time out of her busy schedule to write about the heart and soul of life. She’s one of those crazies who enjoys Math and Literature, majoring in both with a minor in French. All that confusion must have influenced her decision to be team captain of a winning team on Family Feud. Get to know her better at

This is your debut novel. Can you tell us about “the call?”

My agent, Sarah Van Diest, had been back and forth with me on the phone and over email for a few weeks as two houses were showing a lot of interest in what was then titled Undiscovered. House “A” said they would be making an offer, but nothing concrete came in. House “B” rushed the project through so they could compete.

Being a compulsive email checker, I actually found out House B—Moody—had come through with an offer about three minutes before I answered The Call. Instead of breaking the news to a clueless author, Sarah had to listen to me shriek with excitement for a few moments before she could even speak.

Tell us a little about the book:

The Familiar Stranger is about a couple going through a really rough patch in their marriage. When an accident incapacitates the husband, their relationship must be redefined. Which would be a lot easier to do if BIG secrets from his past didn’t raise their ugly heads. Despite the upheaval, the choices they make involving forgiveness and trust might allow a new beginning. Or … they might not.

You can see the back cover copy and what other authors have said about The Familiar Stranger by going to

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

In the summer of 2006, two stories appeared in the newspaper. One was a huge, national story; the other a smaller, local-interest item. I wondered what it might look like if those two stories conceived a child. Boom! I had the entire plot. It will be interesting to see if readers can figure out which stories inspired the book.

Though the plot of The Familiar Stranger came from the news, I’d been looking for a fictional vehicle to express the lessons I’d learned regarding forgiveness in my own marriage. I knew no one was interested in reading my particular story, but I still felt God had given me something to say. My husband and I worked through a major issue six years ago and found a vibrant, renewed marriage on the other side.

However, that same issue broke our thirteen-year marriage bond permanently. Now as a newly-single woman, I’m in the midst of promoting a book that touches far closer to home than I would have ever dreamed. If no one else ever reads it, I’ve been convicted and encouraged by my own words. If that isn’t a gracious God at work, I don’t know what is!

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

Sounds like a simple question, but I’m going to take Complex Answer for $300.

One of my main goals was to show both perspectives of the marriage and make the husband’s choices and the wife’s behavior understandable. I chose to go back and forth between first person of His and Hers, similar to the early 90’s movie He Said, She Said. [here’s a link if you want it:]

Most of the CBA market is geared toward female readers, so several editors had concerns with the story starting in Craig’s point of view. Because of this, I needed to know him inside and out. Fortunately, he arrived in my imagination fully formed, though I didn’t always know the whys of what he did, I knew the hows. The whys explained themselves by the time I wrote the first draft.

But Denise carries half the book. I needed to know her just as intimately. She also “arrived” as a complex character, but took on nuances and that womanly paradox of consistent character and erratic behavior as the edits progressed.

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

Most: The story flowed, weaving its own subplot quite naturally. I enjoyed meeting my daily word count goals and finding out what would be happening next that fit with the plot points I sketched out beforehand. Until beginning The Familiar Stranger, I had never started a fresh novel with such training and professional preparation. I loved feeling prepared and equipped to plunge into the project.

Least: There are a lot of layers to the story, a precise timeline, and hints of intrigue. Frustration could get the best of me when I edited and the change dominoed throughout the book. My greatest fear? That I would leave a now obsolete foreshadowing statement that should have been removed.

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

As a single mother of young children, and currently serving as a foster parent, time is my biggest challenge. I have to make sure my family knows they come first, but to balance that with treating writing as a career.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Any character has some aspect of my personality, for better or worse. I can only write what I know. I’ve seen a richness develop in my writing as I’ve grown in my faith and walked through some valleys in the last decade.

Denise and Craig’s story is based on the lessons of forgiveness God taught me when my marriage fell apart … the first time. Accordingly, many of the emotions Denise goes through correspond to what I felt, though our situations differ. However, I also wanted to really understand the male perspective, so Craig took on parts of me as well. The path away from God and following temptation is something we can all recognize and, unfortunately, identify with.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

The recent changes in my life—losing my husband, facing finding a “real” job, selling my home—have done nothing but solidify what I hope to be the theme of the book and my life: Live Transparently—Forgive Extravagantly. If reading The Familiar Stranger makes even one man or woman be more honest with his or her spouse or delve into trust issues in a healthy way, I’ll consider it a success. Maybe there’s a hurting heart that can find a new path to forgiveness because of the story.

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

My previous writing—joint efforts with my mother, Sherrie Ashcraft—has been heavily plotted and I’ve known almost everything about the characters before diving into the story. Writing with a co-author, we both need to know exactly how a character looked and his or her history. We wrote out each scene’s main plot point and point of view character on index cards and posted them on a large corkboard. We also found catalog models that looked like our characters, made collages of the pictures, and slipped our character interview in the back of the plastic sleeves.

With The Familiar Stranger, the first scene came to me like a movie. Once the first chapter was written, I took a few hours to write down how I saw the story progressing. Then I numbered each main point and called it a chapter. All told, I had just over one page of plotting. To keep everything straight, I made notes about the characters as I went along. A very different experience to write by the seat of my pants, but I’m working through my current book in the same way.

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

In November 2006, my mother (who is, again, my co-writer on other projects) and I launched our website and asked our friends and family to subscribe to the Ashberry Lane Newsletter. Technically, this marketing effort began before I wrote a single word of The Familiar Stranger, but it laid the foundation for my current marketing.

We set a goal of getting 1,000 subscribers before one of our books made it to print. While we’re still a couple hundred short, setting such a goal pushed us to recruit from real world, shoutlife, facebook, and conference contacts. Having access to 750+ interested readers and the building of momentum over the years has been priceless. I can’t imagine starting at ground zero in the midst of all the release hoopla!

As soon as Moody designed the cover and secured the ISBN, Amazon and put the book up for pre-order. Though I haven’t seen much of a push from other authors, I decided to really promote pre-ordering. We’ll see if it worked!

I’m also focusing on making one reader at a time, whether it be the woman who waited with me as our snow tires were removed at the tire shop, or the checker in the grocery store. Pretty much just looking at me sideways will earn you a business card.

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

I’m about 1/5 of the way through my next manuscript, Unafraid, a story about a girl’s kidnapping, and how her life unfolds because of the trauma. One of my characters is a PI, so I’m having loads of fun with the research.

The quirky wit my sometime co-author/ always mother and I display in our infrequent, humorous newsletters (sign up at garnered the attention of an editor. You just might see a funny, non-fiction cooperative work from the Ashberry Ladies at some point in time. Plus, I have a funky TV-based devotional a house is interested in.

Busy, busy, busy!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If I may, I’d like to speak to those of you who have been writing for years and have yet to get published.

Start a new novel.

I'm a stubborn girl—just ask my parents. My mother and I reworked and reworked our co-authored story for eight years, each time putting our newly acquired writing knowledge/skills to use. We were determined that it wouldn't end up in a box in the closet or shoved under the bed. I still love that manuscript, and it's actually very close to selling, but it wasn't until I took the advise of others far sager and more experienced to start a new novel that I finally made my first sale.

Undiscovered was started in earnest September 2007, written by February 2008, edited by June, won second place in the ACFW Genesis Contemporary category, and was renamed The Familiar Stranger and contracted by Moody Publishers in October. A two-year journey from writing the opening scene to publication—a miracle that happened because I opened myself up to a new story.

Monday, September 14, 2009

RITA Award Winning-- Irene Hannon

Irene Hannon, who writes both romance and romantic suspense, is the bestselling author of more than 30 novels. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction), the HOLT Medallion and a Reviewer’s Choice Award from RT Book Reviews magazine. A former corporate communications executive with a Fortune 500 company, Irene now writes full time from her home in Missouri. To learn more about Irene and her books, visit

Tell us about your latest project.

An Eye For An Eye, the second book in my Heroes of Quantico romantic suspense series, is now hitting retail shelves. As the series title implies, the three books revolve around the FBI. Two of the heroes are members of the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue
Team, and the third is a special agent. While all of the main characters appear in each story, the books stand alone—meaning the plot wraps up and doesn’t carry over to the next book. Book 1, Against All Odds (my debut suspense novel), has a two-continent setting and involves a diplomat, his estranged daughter and a terrorist plot. An Eye For An Eye is a psychological thriller in which a reunion is shattered by a sniper who’s still on the hunt. And Book 3, In Harm’s Way (April 2010) revolves around an infant kidnapping, a Raggedy Ann doll, and a heroine who must convince the FBI her strange story is true.

Although these books have introduced me to many new readers, Against All Odds was actually my 27th published book. (Prior to that, I’d written only contemporary category romance.) And the results of my leap into suspense have been phenomenal. Against All Odds was on both the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists for multiple months and has gone into a third printing. One radio interviewer even likened it to a Robert Ludlum novel! An Eye For An Eye has been called “superbly written” by Booklist, which said it “delivers all the thrills and chills Suzanne Brockmann’s Team Sixteen series with the subtly incorporated faith elements found in Dee Henderson’s books.” So I’m really glad I broadened my horizons!

As you mentioned, your novel Against All Odds debuted on the CBA bestseller list and stayed there for months. To what do you attribute that success?

Dee Henderson’s endorsem
ent. And here’s how that came about. When Against All Odds was in production, the Revell team and I tossed around names of authors we might approach about endorsing the book. But none of the ones we discussed wrote the kind of book I did—except Dee Henderson. The problem was, no one at Revell had a connection with her. Nor did I.

But I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. So I went on her Web site, sent her an e-mail cold, and asked if she might consider reading the manuscript. She responded immediately, and graciously said she would—but warned me she endorses only about half the books she reads. I was fine with that. So I sent her the book and made a note on my calendar to follow up in about six weeks if I hadn’t heard from her.

Less than ten days later, I woke up one morning to find an e-mail from her waiting in my in-box. It had been sent at 1:42 a.m. She said the book had made her late for an engagement the evening before and had kept her up late to finish it. She offered three fabulous quotes, including the one that appeared on the cover of Against All Odds: “I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do.” I was blown away by both her kindness and generosity.

Countless readers have told me that this quote is the reason they picked up my book. So I will be forever grateful to Dee for her role in my successful launch into this genre.

We love to hear about your journey to publication.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! In fact, I like to say I made my professional debut at the age of 10 when I was one of the honorees in a complete-the-story contest sponsored by a national children’s magazine. But much as I loved writing, in college I became enthralled with psychology and ended up choosing that as my major. (I did work on the college newspaper, though!). Sometime during my junior year, however, I realized that to make a living in psychology, I’d need to get a master’s degree. So I was at a crossroads. Since I needed a master’s anyway, I could go on in psychology—or I could switch directions and get a master’s in journalism. In the end, writing won out.

After college, I got a job in the corporate communications department of a Fortune 500 company. I wrote executive speeches and magazine articles by day and worked on my novels at night. By the time I sold my first book, many years and many rejections after I began writing fiction, I had three completed manuscripts ready to go.

In the intervening years, I’ve written for four different publishers. For the past 11 years, I’ve been writing contemporary romance for Steeple Hill. But a few years ago I decided I also wanted to do bigger books. I dabbled with a longer contemporary romance, but the market didn’t seem interested. One editor I met at a conference said my story (about two estranged sisters who reunite one summer when their mother has a stroke) needed a stronger hook…like an Amish theme. Not my thing. So I tucked the completed manuscript away in a drawer, where it remains.

At the same time I was struggling to find my longer-book niche, I was also struggling, period. My corporate career had vaulted me into an executive position that left me no time or energy for fiction writing. Plus, fighting rush hour traffic, battling corporate politics and being indentured to a relentless BlackBerry that never slept had lost its appeal. So after winning the RITA award in 2003, and with a 3-book contract on the table, I was able to ditch the corporate world without becoming a starving artist. And once I was able to write full time, I had time to pursue an idea for a suspense book.

The next hurdle was finding an agent. I didn’t need one for category, and I was always comfortable handling the business side of writing. Moving into single-title, however, I knew I’d need an agent to shop the book around for me. I assumed, after selling more than two dozen books, that finding one would be easy. Not so. Seems category doesn’t count much when you want to move to bigger books. But after a several-month search, I connected with Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary at a conference.

By then my first suspense book had morphed into a series. Two more FBI characters had appeared, begging to have their stories told. So without even a nibble from a publisher, and in between category commitments, I took the plunge and wrote the whole series on spec. I’m happy to say my leap of faith paid off when Chip sold the series to Revell!

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

I have a tendency to overuse certain words and phrases. An editor pointed this out to me a few years ago about one word in particular (gaze). I thought she was overreacting, so I did an auto search of the manuscript and…yikes! As I told her, if the word had been graze instead of gaze, there wouldn’t have been a blade of grass standing! That sensitized me to the issue, and I began to notice other words that appeared too often, too. So I started a list. Now, whenever I finish a chapter, I search for every one of those words and revise if they appear too often. Same with adverbs. (An editor told me I used too many of those as well. So “ly” is also on my search list.) This fine-tuning process has become almost an obsession—and a bit onerous as the list continues to grow—but I do think it’s improved my writing.

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

I think through every point in my story very carefully. As a result, I rarely have plot holes. I also love doing dialogue—to me, it’s not so much writing as simply transcribing the conversation taking place in my head between my characters. I just listen in. I was born with a logical mind and I’ve always been fascinated by interpersonal relationships (remember the psychology degree?), so I think that’s why I do well at both those things.

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

Learn as much as you can about how the industry works. Read exhaustively in the genres that interest you. Target your work carefully. Join a professional writers organization. And I did do all those things as best I could. But when I started writing, there were almost no resources for romance authors. Romance Writers of America, a fabulous organization, wasn’t chartered until 1981 and was in its fledgling days when I began writing. Today I consider it an invaluable resource. The monthly magazine alone is worth the price of the membership.

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

First, a word about promoting category books—I’ve come to believe it’s an exercise in futility. Category books sell huge numbers, the majority through book clubs, and they’re on retail shelves for a very short time. So any marketing efforts an author makes will have very little impact on total sales. I no longer do any promotion or publicity specifically for my category books, unless asked.

Single-title novels are a whole different ballgame. There, you may sell fewer copies, but the return on each is far higher. So every sale counts. My suspense publisher, Revell, does a great job with promotion and marketing, and I feel very blessed to work with such a dedicated and professional team. They set up radio interviews, arrange blog tours, buy high-profile, targeted ads and distribute my books to key reviewers. All of those things are important, and many authors have to do them on their own. I do send out e-mail notices to readers on my suspense list, accept every offer I get to guest blog or do an online interview, and answer every reader e-mail or letter. That personal touch takes time, but I think it goes a long way toward building a loyal reader base.

In the end, though, I think the single most important promotional tool an author can have is a website that’s updated regularly.

What do you do to improve as a writer?

I listen to every bit of feedback I get from my editors and constantly put my writing under a microscope. I read other authors’ work with a very analytical eye and try to learn something from each book. I go to as many workshops as I can when I attend conferences. I’m very cognizant of the fact that complacency is deadly and that there’s always room for improvement. So I’m open to every opportunity to hone my skills.

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

Mila 18 by Leon Uris, A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford, Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn, The Guardian by Dee Henderson and The Gamble by LaVyrle Spencer.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Every reader letter touches me, and many have been memorable. A few stand out. With my category romances, I recall one from a very atypical romance reader—a 23-year-old man who stumbled across my book, read it because he was bored, and told me it inspired him, taught him some valuable life lessons and gave him the guidance he’d had trouble finding himself. Another reader said one of my books helped her see through the darkness and pulled her back into the light. Very powerful stuff. And I love the reader who wrote, “No one but Nicholas Sparks can grab me and get my attention after reading only a few pages—until YOU!”

With my suspense books, I’m getting feedback from both men and women, and I’m loving the letters that contain lines like this one: “I bought your book this past Tuesday evening and spent the entire day today reading it! I did have to put it down a few times just to breathe.” And I was thrilled with this comment: “I have been a Nora Roberts fan for a few years now and have just worked my way through all of her romantic suspense books. Your book was just as captivating.”

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

One of my biggest pet peeves is how commercial fiction—and the romance genre in particular—is often considered less worthwhile than “literary” fiction. There was an excellent article about this in the August 29 edition of the Wall Street Journal, called “Good Books Don’t Have To Be Hard.” It suggested the pendulum may be swinging back to an appreciation for novels with strong plots that entertain as well as enlighten—including genre fiction. I hope so!

As for romances, I’ve never understood why so many people dismiss them as trivial. Not long ago, I read a review about a romance that said readers must pick between mental nourishment and romance—snarkily suggesting that stories about two people working to overcome often formidable obstacles in order to build a life together can’t engage the reader’s mind as well as the heart. The reviewer also denigrated what she called “the best romance tradition” of an ending suffused with “a sense of almost religious redemption and possibility.” What a sad commentary on our world when a hope-filled ending seems so implausible that it renders a book too unrealistic to be taken seriously.

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

I love working with words. Put together in just the right way, they can be incredibly powerful. So I love the polishing phase, when I can massage a sentence until I reach the point where I say, “Yes! That’s exactly right!”

Least favorite? No contest. I hate working on proposals and synopses!

What has surprised you most about this industry?

When I was unpublished, it was the difficulty of breaking into the published ranks. I had no idea it would be so hard! Once I was published, I was surprised how my new status changed the complexion of writing. When you’re seeking that first contract and writing for the pure joy of following your muse, all you have to worry about is creating your best story. Once you’ve landed that contract, however, you realize that publishers don’t want one-book wonders—they want authors who can produce regularly. The first sale isn’t the summit; it’s the start of a whole new journey. And in addition to being expected to continually create new books, you now also find yourself doing promotion, creating/maintaining a website, answering reader mail, keeping accounting records, proofing galleys…the list continues. So the pressure is on, and writing becomes a business as well as a passion. It’s still fun, but it’s a job—with deadlines. Which means you now have to plunk yourself in front of the computer even when you’d rather be doing something else. And that’s an adjustment.

Advice to aspiring authors?

I’ll share a few thoughts from an article I recently wrote on this topic.

1. Read a lot—especially books similar to ones you’d like to write. And read with a critical eye. Why does a particular scene work? How does the writer use dialogue? How is point of view handled? Does the book drag anywhere—and if so, why? What is the mix of narrative and dialogue? Does the author break any “rules”? If so, how did that help—or hinder—the story development? What made this book stand out for you? It’s amazing how much you can learn if you analyze what makes a book a tick. Even better, do this exercise with some fellow writers and learn from each other.

2. Join a professional writers’ organization. I highly recommend Romance Writers of America, but there are many other good groups out there, too. Find one that focuses on the kinds of books you want to write. The networking and information exchange is invaluable.
3. Master the basics. I can’t emphasize this enough. A manuscript with typos, misspelled words, incorrect punctuation or bad grammar is unprofessional, and both the book—and the author—immediately lose credibility with an editor or agent. If you have trouble with any of these things, bone up on the technical aspects of writing or have your manuscript vetted by someone with these skills before submitting it.

4. Start writing—and keep writing! As I mentioned earlier, I had finished three books before I sold my first novel. (And all three sold in rapid succession.)

5. Once you feel your manuscript is ready for publication, start submitting it. As important as it is to polish a book before sending it out, remember that it will never be perfect. Waiting for perfection can paralyze you. So get all the technical aspects polished, make sure the book is the best you can write at this point in your career, and go for it.

6. Listen with an open mind to input from editors and other writers. This is often one of the hardest skills to master. We all make such a personal investment in our work that it’s hard not to take constructive criticism personally. But when we do that, we often get defensive—and that can blind us to very good suggestions. Remember that if an editor responds with a personal letter, no matter how many critical comments or suggestions it contains, it means your manuscript caught his or her attention. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself. So consider the comments a free class in fiction writing and learn from them. That doesn’t mean you have to incorporate an idea you don’t agree with, or change your voice. It just means you should take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the experts and use that to advance your career and develop your talent.

7. Set aside time to write—and do it on a schedule. It’s way too easy to find other things to do, but if you have a schedule you’re more inclined to actually produce. Making yourself write even when the muse is hiding or you’re not “in the mood” is one of the marks of a professional writer, whether you’re writing full time or juggling your writing with a day job. Even an hour three times a week is a schedule. And it signifies commitment.

8. Finally—believe in yourself and persevere. This is a tough, tough business rife with rejection. We’ve all heard stories about writers who get multi-million-dollar deals for their first book. Yes, it happens. But it’s very, very, very rare. Most novelists try for years to get their first contract. So don’t let rejection get you down. Continue to hone your craft, do another polish on your rejected manuscript and send it off again. And while you’re waiting to hear back, start a new book!

Parting words?

I’d also like to say a few words about Christian fiction. For years it’s had a reputation as being too preachy and heavy-handed in terms of evangelizing. In truth, some of that is deserved. But the genre has changed considerably over the past few years. Now, Christian fiction refers more to books with a certain worldview. In my books, the faith content is subtle and reflected more in characters’ actions than in words. As a result, any reader who likes compelling fiction without four-letter words, gratuitous violence or graphic sex would enjoy my books. I would love to find a way to convince more secular readers to wander into the Christian fiction aisle at their local bookstore. I think they’d be very pleasantly surprised.

Now, to wrap things up, I’m excited to announce that I just sold a new three-book suspense series to Revell! For more info, you can visit my Web site at