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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eyes on Jesus

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

The line snaked through the lobby and the auditorium, spilling out through the doors of the Carter Center even though the book signing was well into its third hour.

“People have been here since 1 pm,” an attendant said as he laughed.

“Even though we only opened the doors at 3 pm,” chimed in another.

Several white, linen-draped tables piled high with books lined the walls. Secret Service agents stood at intervals along the way. Families and individuals milled around waiting for President Carter’s autograph. Muted chatter echoed through the building.

I moved the stroller back and forth to keep my toddler entertained as we waited. I noticed a familiar figure go through security and then begin striding purposefully in my direction. She drew closer and passed within inches of me, without a second glance to the left or right.

“Hi Deb,” I called. She hesitated and stopped mid-step. Turning around, her gaze fell on me. “Oh. Hi Anita.” She came up and faced me, with a rueful grin. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you. My eyes were on Steve.” And she pointed to her husband who was several feet ahead in the line.

We fell into an easy conversation and parted ways after a while. But her comment, “my eyes were on Steve” lingered in my mind.

What would my writing journey be like if my eyes were fixed on Jesus? Would I struggle as much with doubts and fears? How would I handle rejection? And publication?

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way…” Hebrews 12:1-2; The Message

Anita Mellott
From the Mango Tree

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music and Writing

Art inspires art. It amazes me how many master paintings have come from a scene from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems. Or how many musicians will say they were inspired by a certain book or movie.

It seems that that creative community turns to itself when in need of fresh inspiration. When I want to craft a scene, I often find myself flipping through old copies of Victoria Magazine to find the "feel" I want to create. Others I know keep pictures of characters, rooms and even snap shots of movie scenes.

Once question I often hear among writers is, "Do you write to music?"

It seems many of us have discovered that music is a way to tap into the emotion one wants on page and keep it there during the grueling, writing, editing, polishing phase.

For this poll, I'm asking specifically about music?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Guest Blog ~ Unconventional Success ~ Mindy Ferguson

Unconventional Success
by Mindy Ferguson

I confess that as a Chris
tian writer, there have been times when I have been discouraged as I watched for measurable signs of success rather than choosing to simply write as God leads. In our results oriented society, where job promotions and public accolades are won by meeting tangible objectives, it’s difficult to accept that faithfulness to God and our calling is success.

In other words, regularly blog
ging messages God places upon your heart is success, regardless how many followers are listed or comments are posted. Prayerfully declining an opportunity to write an article for a trade magazine is success if it would distract you from completing a script that you feel compelled to write.

I recently studied the prophet Isaiah’s call to ministry. Interestingly, when the Lord commissione
d Isaiah as a prophet, He made it clear that Isaiah’s messages would fail to bring repentance or healing in Israel. The prophet appeared to be a bit distraught by the Lord’s bleak assessment of his ministry results:

Then Isaiah said, “For how long, O Lord?” And the Lord answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land (Isa. 6:11-13 NIV

Wow! Not exactly the type of motivational message one might expect when being commissioned for the Lord’s work. It seems logical that if Isaiah was doing what God had ordained him to do, his ministry would produce desirable results. After all, if we are obedient, shouldn’t we expect success?

But Isaiah was to measure his success by his obedience, not by results. Sadly, conditions in Israel declined despite everything the Lord had Isaiah do and say. God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11) and He was at work through Isaiah.

Isaiah was told th
at a “holy seed” would remain in Israel. The Lord said that remnant would be like a deeply rooted stump that remains after all the trees on a piece of property are cut down. By God’s divine work and plan, that stump that remained eventually produced the Seed, which is Jesus Christ, who was born to save not only the nation of Israel—but all nations.

When we faithfully deliver messages God calls and equips us to write, we too are successful in the eyes of our Lord. That means we shouldn’t be discouraged by what we perceive to be a lack of results. God is always at work and He is able to bring about results in His way and in His time. We never know what “holy seed” might be planted through our writing. Our God measures our success by our faithful obedience.


Mindy Ferguson speaks nationally at women's events and has been involved in women's min
istry for years, teaching Bible studies, writing curriculum, and coordinating special events. Mindy is the author of Hugs Bible Reflections for Women (Howard Books) and the in-depth Bible study, Walking with God: From Slavery to Freedom; Living the Promised Life (Hensley Publishing). She lives in a suburb of Houston, Texas with her husband of twenty-three years and their two children.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Blogger ~ Susie Larson

Thoughts on writing the book, Embracing Your Freedom
By Susie Larson

In my travels as a national conference and retreat speaker, I observed that while we, as American women, are literally free, most of us are not totally free. Due to our own insecurities and painful past experiences, we tend to make rules around our hang ups, we allow our fears to limit our adventures, and we live smaller lives than God intended for us.

We tend to struggle with true freedom because it seems less painful to stay captive. We have so many comforts to prop us up, so many things with which to medicate our pain that we never really have to leave our captivity if we don’t want to. It takes courage and grit to embrace the bigger call on our lives.

As I pondered this idea of true freedom, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many of us are willing to stay captive – when we don’t have to – while millions today are held against their will in literal captivity.

Jesus wants us free. That’s why He came. It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free (See Galatians 5:1). The enemy wants us captive because it keeps us from being the radical world-changers God intended us to be.

A couple of years ago I had the idea to write a book that somehow connects our freedom with the freedoms of others. Though I knew this project would challenge and stretch me, I had no idea that I was about to walk into a battlefield.

I can’t begin to describe the opposition I encountered while writing this book. You know that poem, Footprints in the Sand? Well, my poem would be more fitly titled, Heel Gouges in the Sand. God, in His divine way, had to drag me through the process of writing this book because it was so grueling and costly at times.

My faith was stretched and challenged in big ways. I experienced several graphic nightmares; terrible sleepless nights; continual computer issues, harassing thoughts, health battles, and a constant sense that I was awaking a sleeping giant in my midst.

Day after day, hour after hour I pounded out the words in spite of the mental and physical exhaustion and my stirred up fears. But God was with me, cheering me on. And I am so thankful for His grace and patience with me along the way. Now that the book is in the hands of readers, I can truly say, it was all worth it.

Though I really didn’t have a fun moment during the whole writing process, I knew my assignment was an important one and I did my best to complete it. I will say though, when I held the first copy of Embracing Your Freedom in my hands, that familiar lump found it’s way to my throat and my eyes watered up instantly. This book was such a labor of love for me and my publisher did such a phenomenal job with the page and cover design, I was overwhelmed that God allowed me to be a part of this project. And can I say this? The finished product is simply beautiful.

Writing any book is hard work. And though my other books involved certain challenges and lots of discipline, this book took me to task in every way. Amazingly though, now that I am on the other side of this battle, I have a newfound conviction and courage to stand in battle. I am less afraid than I was before.

Isn’t that always the way it goes? We have to live our message – on a much deeper level than we’d like – before we are qualified to share it with a world in need.

My new book, Embracing Your Freedom, calls women to possess gritty faith and to tenaciously contend for their freedom in Christ. God has a big plan for our lives; He wants to use us in mind-boggling ways, but we will miss out on this great adventure if we choose to live small, self-protective lives and if we refuse to take on the giants in our land.

Susie Larson has spoken to thousands of women locally, nationally, and internationally. She works as an on-call host for talk radio show, Connecting Faith (formerly known as Along the Way), heard on six stations across five states in the upper Midwest. She is the author of six books, many articles, and has contributed to several books. She and her husband serve alongside national recording artist Sara Groves and her husband Troy as co-chairs of the International Justice Mission benefit banquet in Minnesota. IJM, among others things, rescues young girls from the horrific life of human trafficking.

Find Susie online:
Twitter: @SusieLarson

Guest Blogger ~ Sandra D. Bricker

Sandra D. Bricker has been publishing in both the Christian and general markets for years with novels for women and teens, magazine articles and short stories. With 12 books in print and another slated for publication in 2011, Sandie has carved out a niche for herself as an author of laugh-out-loud romantic comedy for the inspirational market. The Big 5-OH!, her first novel for Abingdon Press, hits shelves in February 2010. Sandie was an entertainment publicist for 15+ years, an experience that fuels her penchant for promoting her books with flare and creativity. She currently writes while working a day job as a content editor in Tampa, Florida, where she resides with a free-spirited collie named Sophie.

The Keys to Unlocking a Killer Book Proposal

In recent years, I’ve received a lot of comments on my book proposals from editors and agents. They’ve been appreciated, and sometimes praised, for their clean look, concise delivery of information, and attention to the publisher’s concerns about marketing.

To be fair, I should reveal that my proposal-creating skills stem from a background that not a lot of authors have. I was an entertainment publicist for 15+ years, and I learned during that time how to write a great press release, create media kits and organize information in a way that appeals to “skimmers” (those folks too busy to read every word; they just skim).

So, with that in mind, what makes up a great book proposal?

BREVITY. Editors have very little time. There is a picture of an editor in some dictionary out there, positioned right next to the definition of Skimmer. Bear in mind that they have anywhere from a dozen to a hundred proposals on their To Do list on any given day, and you’re only going to get a minute or so to capture their attention. The quickest way to blow it? Ignoring this tip to Be Brief.

FOCUS. Sure, you’re a fascinating individual with a ton of great experience. But try to keep your target audience in mind with each and every word on the page. Ask yourself one question: What part of my experience is MOST likely to tell this editor that I’m someone they want onboard? For me, my marketing experience is always something I try to include, even if it’s just one sentence. In addition, three readers’ choice recognitions for my first novel in the inspirational market tells them that I’m building a reader base among their specific demographic.

ORGANIZATION. Be sure to organize the information in a clean, concise way.

1. Title Page
a. Include your name, contact numbers, email address, Web site and/or blog address. If you have an agent that will be submitting it for you, be sure to include their information.
b. Give them the basics.
• The title of the novel
• The approximate word count of the finished product
• The type of book it is (mine always say something like “A Laugh-Out-Loud Romantic Comedy for the Inspirational Market”)
• A log line for the novel (for Always the Baker, Never the Bride, the log line was “They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too; but who would want a cake you couldn’t eat?”)
• A brief overview that reads like a back cover blurb, no more than a paragraph.

2. Author Information Page
a. A short bio, a half page at most. Remember: Brevity and Focus. What experience do you have that makes you the perfect author to round out this particular publisher’s list?
b. Add some brief marketing information. Be sure to demonstrate a clear understanding of your readership and how you plan to reach them. DO NOT present pie-in-the-sky dreams of what you want to do; instead, present what you’ve done before, and what you will do again.
c. It’s often helpful to include what I call The Short List, a brief mention of comparable books (successful novels that generated solid sales figures) already out there. If you can’t think of any, it’s better to skip this element than to say something like, “There’s nothing out there like this! It’s completely unique!”
d. If you’re a multi-published author, this will be the spot where you’ll include some sales figures to demonstrate your ability to sell books.

3. Synopsis
a. There are many schools of thought on the length of a solid proposal synopsis, but I like to keep it to about 2-3 pages because you want to capture the editor’s attention with the least amount of words.
b. You don’t have to worry about throwing in all of the unexpected plot twists. This is an overview of your story. One of the most important tips I can give you from the feedback I’ve received from editors is this: Be sure to write your synopsis in the voice and tone of the book you’re proposing. This is a very small but important stage where you can showcase you personality as a writer. For instance, my synopses are narrated with a present tense comedic tone.
• Example: When her father shows up for the opening at the same time, Emma suspects that Jackson’s so-called Family Circus is going to look awfully tame in the reflection of the Travis Cirque de Soleil!
c. I like to propose a question at the end of a short synopsis; something that makes the editor want to know more, while revealing just a hint of where I’m headed with the story.
• Example: Can these two ill-suited players master the high-wire act and make a go of their new business venture? Or will they take each other crashing downward, without a net?

4. Sample Chapters
a. A proposal will usually include the first three chapters; however, this is not a hard and fast rule. It is dependent upon your writing style and the length of your chapters.
b. A general rule of thumb: Include the first 40-50 pages of your novel.
c. Be very certain to format and organize these pages so that your excerpt concludes at a prime point that will make an editor really want to keep reading to see what happens next.

Olivia Wallace can’t remember a birthday that wasn’t marked by illness, tragedy or both. And now, as she approaches The Big Five-Oh, she is determined to change her course. Better late than never, right? That’s what Liv believes when she leaves a snowy Ohio winter behind and runs away to Florida to regroup. Amidst a crazy cast of characters that include a dog with a lampshade collar, a rogue alligator and a flirtatious octogenarian, Liv finds the biggest birthday surprise of all … A second chance at love.
To read a review of The Big 5-Oh! click here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Part II: Interview with Title Trakk Founder & Debut Novelist, CJ Darlington

C.J. Darlington's first novel, Thicker Than Blood, was the winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest. She is the co-founder of the Christian entertainment Web site A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania. When she's not writing, she's reading. Her hobbies include book and art collecting, fly fishing, painting and drawing. Visit her Web site at

(Continued from last week.)

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

Oh, this one’s easy---time management.

I am sometimes the world’s worst procrastinator, and I have let months of my life slip through my fingers without writing anything worthwhile. I’m not proud of that. It’s something I have to work on every day.

In fact, I’m just coming out of a period where I’ve allowed the internet, blogging, and all the social networking I’ve been doing eat away at my precious writing time. Not to mention my quiet time and family time. It slipped up on me.

How do I overcome these tendencies?
I’m still learning how. But what usually works is setting time limits on extracurricular stuff. Right now I’m experimenting with only checking my e-mail three times a day (at 10, 1 and 4 respectively), limiting non business related internet time to one hour (this includes blogging, Twitter and Facebook), plus I can’t be on the internet after five o’clock.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

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

It’s so hard to judge your own work. I had to ask my first reader/editor (who’s also my Mom!) what she thought was my one strength. She said that:

I’m not afraid of revision.
That’s true. I used to be, but not anymore. In fact, one of the funnest experiences of this whole publishing journey was when I got to work with my terrific Tyndale editor Lorie Popp. I loved having someone come alongside me and make my work stronger.

I attribute my attitude toward revision to Mom---she was (and still is) my first editor. She’s wielded her red pen on my work ever since I was a kid. She’s not afraid to tell me when something doesn’t work, but she also usually knows how to fix it. Thanks, Mom!

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

Enjoy every moment. Even the waiting. And never stop writing.

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

As I write this I’m still learning so much about publicity. But I remember reading a piece Randy Ingermanson wrote a couple years ago in which he recommended new

writers focus more on making friends with other published writers than editors and agents.
You’ll learn so much from those who area already treading the ground you hope to walk someday. I’ve found that advice to be true. I think it does help to have a blog and comment on other blogs. That gets your name out there. Writing reviews and posting them on Amazon is another way to give yourself a little exposure. A well-written book review will get noticed.

Tell us about Thicker Than Blood:

Thicker than Blood is just hitting shelves, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s the story of two estranged sisters. Here’s the little blurb Tyndale and I wrote:

Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?

What do you do to improve as a writer?

Reading other great novels is probably the number one way I learn how to improve now. When I first started I devoured every writing craft book I could find. I still read them, but nothing teaches me how to write better than reading great writing. I’m not one of those authors who’ll sit down with different colored highlighters and index cards and figure out exactly what makes a particular book tick (though I know of many who this works for). I learn better by osmosis.

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

I always find this question amusing when I see you ask it of authors. Do you get a lot of folks picking their own books as their favorites? Ha ha. I have so many favorite books in the CBA alone. One author I’m recommending everywhere I go is Sibella Giorello. Her first novel The Stones Cry Out won a Christy award for first novel, and her second book The Rivers Run Dry is even better.
If I write half as well as Sibella someday I’ll be doing well.

I love thrillers, so hook me up with a new James Scott Bell, Randy Singer, Tim Downs or James David Jordan and I’ll be happy. I also love Jenny B. Jones! Her books crack me up. One other author I like telling people about is Renee Riva. Her first novel Saving Sailor and its sequel Taking Tuscany were fantastic. Kinda like To Kill A Mockingbird meets Because of Winn-Dixie.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

I’m still wet behind the ears, so I haven’t had too many reader responses. I’m looking forward to hearing from my readers!

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

Not really. I’ve been so amazed by the generosity of CBA authors, and the editors and agents I’ve come to know have also been fantastic.

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

My least favorite part is having to manage my own time. My favorite part is managing my own time. Seriously …
I do love the freedom of being self-employed
(I’m my own boss at my day job too), but it also has its downsides. If I don’t meet a self-imposed deadline, it’s so hard to penalize myself.

Another of my favorite parts was seeing my book cover for the first time.
Tyndale surprised me with it on stage at the Writing for the Soul conference, and I was blown away. The designer, Jennifer Ghionzoli, captured the themes of the story so beautifully. I had always thought the coolest part of the entire process would be seeing the book cover for the first time, and I was right. For me that’s so awesome.

What has surprised you most about this industry?

Wow, that’s a good question. Some of what I mentioned about being surprised on my journey to publication applies here. One thing I’ve been very blessed to discover is how kind and generous Christian authors can be. I’ve corresponded with so many who’ve given so generously of their time and have been huge encouragements in my life.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to write the book of your heart.

Write something you’d love to read, not what you think the market needs
or you neighbor would like---what do you like?
Also, never give up. If God has put the desire in your heart to write (and He is the one who gives us our dreams), He has a way to fulfill it. Maybe it won’t happen exactly the way you first envision. If it had been up to me, I would’ve won the first Operation First Novel contest, but I am so glad now that I didn’t. Because God had me wait to be published, I was able to finish a second novel without the pressure of a contracted deadline. And I made connections I didn’t have in the beginning. God’s timing is always perfect!

Parting words?

Seek first the kingdom of God. This is something I’m having to live out day by day, but God keeps whispering it in my ear. Maybe He’s whispering it in yours too. Then, after we seek Him, all the rest will be added unto us. Thanks so much for having me, Gina!

You can read the first chapter of Thicker Than Blood HERE. Or watch the trailer HERE.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

If It Needs Interpreting, It Ain't Christian

by Mike Duran

I recently watched a film that reinforced one of my growing convictions about good art -- it evokes multiple interpretations. It's true of any good book or movie, isn't it? The more you think about it or discuss it, the more a new angle, a new subtlety, a new layer emerges.

The film I'm referring to is John Huston's version of the Flannery O'Connor novel, Wise Blood, which was recently re-released by Criterion. The movie captures O'Connor's signature style of "Southern grotesque" with audacious characters and disturbing religious imagery. So stark, so paradoxical, were those images, that I found myself puzzling over them days after I watched the film. What was the author trying to get across?

Apparently, I'm not the only one to wrestle with interpreting Ms. O'Connor's material. In the DVD extras, actor Brad Dourif who played the lead character Hazel Motes, was interviewed about the making of the film. At one point, he cites disagreement with the director over the central meaning of the movie. Dourif insisted that Hazel Motes, his character, genuinely converted to Christ. John Huston disagreed. "Motes went mad," contended Huston.

Interestingly enough, a recurring theme in the remaining extras is how Huston, a strident atheist who fancied spoofing religious nutjobs with the film, came to agree, begrudgingly, with his lead actor. "I believe I've been had," the director is reported to have exclaimed near the end of production. "Jesus wins."

Some Christian artists and writers don't like this kind of ambiguity. "If Jesus wins," they say, "then make it clear! Why make readers or viewers wrestle with interpretation?" These individuals believe that the "meaning" of a piece should be fairly obvious, unobstructed by metaphor, mystery, unconventional structure and unresolved plot elements. In other words, if it needs interpreting, it ain't Christian.

I dunno. In preaching, clarity is essential. But in art, ambiguity and paradox can be pretty powerful. That is, of course, unless we see our art as preaching.

So what do you think? Should Christian fiction need interpreting? Or must its "message" be plain enough so as to avoid ambiguity and misinterpretation?

Fifteen Minutes

Just a reminder about our new awards program, OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest. If you haven’t already made plans to enter, please check out the details.

The judges are reviewing (and enjoying!) the entries for Mystery/Suspense, the winner of which will be announced February 8.

As you can see from the schedule below, the next deadline for submissions, February 10, is for Contemporary/Women’s Fiction entries.

Readers of the male persuasion should know, this category isn’t just for t
he ladies; it’s for any story with a modern setting that doesn’t quite fit into any of the other categories.

You’ve still got two weeks, so shine up your first chapter and synopsis, and download an entry form.

Email your submissions, or any questions you may have about the contest, to

We look forward to seeing your entry!

No Answers

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada. She is the winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. A sequel will be released soon. Visit her website -

I’ve just finished reading this letter from a woman who was in Haiti when the earthquake hit and like many of the stories and images coming out of that country, it has left me stunned, weeping and asking questions.

Paramount among those crowding my mind is one thought – Why does God spare some and not others? Why did one man suddenly decided to leave his hotel for a “breath of fresh air” and stand on the other side of the street as the building collapsed, killing almost everyone inside? Why was that bus load of Canadians held back in the airport so that they were not in the Hotel Montana when the earthquake hit?

Why was an eighteen year old girl and another man killed on a busy Canadian highway when her car suddenly flew across a median and hit another head-on, five minutes after my husband had been at that very spot?

There are no answers to those questions, nor are there answers to the many others that plague us when disasters hit, when some are slain and others saved. The lack of answers might lead some to say, “There is no God,” or “God has abandoned us all.”

But there are other voices to be heard and heeded - like the voice of the woman who was dragged from the rubble of a building singing. Singing! And telling her rescuers there is no need to fear death because God is there. God is there. And then there are the voices of the people who gathered outside the crushed ruins of their church and prayed and sang and praised. The power of such faith is mesmerizing and awe-inspiring. They silence the voices of doubt and despair. They make all the unanswerable questions moot. God is there. Faith sustains. Yet we, as communicators of the Gospel, need to puzzle over all the unanswerable questions, we need to wrestle with them, not so that we may arrive at any wisdom from within us, but so that our wrestling might bring us to moments of faith that echo and resonate with those we are seeing on our television screens.

Tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti open doors of opportunity for those of us who have been gifted with words or music or art, because it is at these times that people look for meaning, for purpose and for beauty in the midst of the chaos. They look to us and, as the scripture says, we must be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). We must be able to point them to Jesus, in spite of the pain.

So as we weep, as we mourn and struggle and wrestle with God, let us dig deep into the foundations of our faith and cry out, through our art, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hillary Manton Lodge--Author Interview

Hillary Manton Lodge writes witty stories about normal people learning to live, laugh, heal, and understand the concept of God in a crazy world. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and works as a freelance photographer while chasing her passion for writing fiction. She and her husband live in Oregon

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

-The book is Plain Jayne. I kind of think about it as the next generation of Amish Fiction. While working on PJ I took a pretty journalistic approach, literally – my main character is a newspaper reporter. I wanted her to take an unsentimental look at this particular alternative lifestyle.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long did it take before your novel was published?

-I started worked towards publication as a young teen. The first novel I started working on seriously was a Civil War period piece. I had the opportunity to take it to an Oregon Christian Writers summer conference and become connected with authors such as Bonnie Leon. OCW has had a huge effect on my writing and my career. While I was learning how I worked as a writer, I was getting feedback from authors, agents, and editors, learning from people in the thick of it. My most important journey as a developing writer was finding my voice. Once I discovered the method that came naturally to me – first person with humour, things moved a bit faster.

I finally completed my first novel in the fall of 2007. I’d connected with editors at Harvest House in years past, and one of them was waiting to read that book. A few months later, I heard from another editor, saying she’d read the manuscript, read it, and wanted to meet for coffee. That’s one of the huge perks of living in the same town as a publisher you’re interested in!

That editor took my book to the publishing committee, who liked my writing but wasn’t sure the genre – contemporary fiction – would sell for a first time author. They asked if I had any interest in writing historical or Amish. I gave my editor pitches for each; she liked the Amish pitch best. I wrote three chapters, put a proposal together, and passed them on.

She got back to me with a list of changes to consider. I sat on that for, like, a week, then completely reworked the whole concept of the book. The second set of chapters she loved. That proposal went to committee, and I was offered a contract.

Somewhere in there I started getting overwhelmed with the process – I knew I didn’t know anything about the business end of publishing. Bonnie Leon suggested I talk to Sandra Bishop, who we both knew from OCW. I gave Sandra a call (or email, I don’t remember which). She now represents me, and I couldn’t be happier.

I have received a rejection letter. However, the person who sent it to me is my current editor.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Pitching projects before completion.

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

There is no magic formula when it comes to writing, just a lot of sitting.

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

Nothing specific, but avoid anyone who tells you to write a certain way. Your voice is your voice. Everyone has his or her own style. Don’t try to write like someone you’re not.

Show us your writing space?

I kind of rotate around our home – this is the place I probably land most often. And yes, that teacup is always there…

What would you advice would you give someone just entering this business? How should they maneuver the publishing life?

First step, write something really great, the kind of thing you’d enjoy reading. Push yourself. Challenge yourself. Ask the tough questions. Find your voice and don’t be afraid of it. See that project through to the end. Go ahead and read all the craft books you want while you do that, but keep writing. Invest in yourself as a writer before you pursue publication. When you’re ready, when your project is ready, pursue publication. It’s kind of like training before you run a marathon – you want to be prepared.

Maneuvering the publishing life takes a lot of discipline and a lot of patience. Having an agent you trust in your corner is a great piece. Having a good rapport with your editor is another.

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

Nothing will happen the way you want it to in your time frame. Learn to let go.

What's a good novel to read in regards to study of the craft?

The Princess Bride. It’s brilliant. Everyone knows the movie, but the book is even better. Goldman manages to write a fairy tale and a believable, fictionalized version of his life, all at the same time.

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

Pretty proud of the last chapter I wrote. I was sick most of the time I was writing it, but one of my critique readers liked it so much that she decided “swine flu must be my muse.”

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I catch up on email, marketing, and chores in the morning, generally settling down to write after lunch. My husband is in graduate school, so in evenings after he’s home from work we’ll often work on our respective projects together.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

Melody Carlson writes super fast. I write super slow. I wouldn’t mind borrowing her speed for a day. Or longer.

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

My hope is to make a living at this, which is hard to do. There are a few

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

I enjoy working from home. I hate working from home. There are difficulties with the fact that I can’t really get away from my job. But the euphoria that comes from writing something really fun makes it worth the craziness.

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

I blog regularly and stay active on Facebook and Twitter. I carry postcards for my book around in my purse – you’d be surprised how many people want to hear about your book! I’ll participate in a blog tour after the book releases. My advice is the advice my agent gave me – keep your marketing time structured, or it’ll elbow in our your writing life. I market in the mornings, and stay out of it for the rest of the day.

Parting words?

Come visit my blog at What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview ~ Author Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of Thirsty and an American who has been living in Shanghai, China, since April 2006. She is also a voracious reader, a happy mom, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in writerhead.

Kristin’s work has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, The Baltimore Review, The Gettysburg Review, and many other publications. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for almost fifteen years. If you’d like to learn more, visit here and here.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My debut novel Thirsty was published in 2009 by Swallow Press. It’s the story of one woman’s unusual journey through an abusive marriage, set against the backdrop of a Pittsburgh steel community at the turn of the twentieth century. While in places, Thirsty is as dark as it sounds, the thread of magical realism woven throughout lifts this story into one of hope and light. (You gotta check out the butterflies…)

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

I took the circuitous route to publication. I wrote the first scene of Thirsty in 1992 during my first semester in grad school; I finished the novel somewhere around 1999. Once I had a complete, polished manuscript, I tried (and failed) to get an agent for it. Lots of interest, but in the end, no takers.

Thankfully, I have this built-in belief in my work…never have I faltered from my writing path, never have I seriously considered taking up dentistry, never have I paid one lick of attention to anyone who suggested I might not make it in this business. After failing to get an agent for Thirsty, I put it away for a few years and worked on other projects…all along knowing that when the right time came along, Thirsty would find its home.

And it did. I signed a contract with Swallow Press in 2008…sixteen years after writing the first scene of Thirsty. How’s that for a journey?

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

Of course I have moments of “Oh, my god! Am I completely insane to think I can make it in the writing world?” but like I said, I refuse to put energy to such thoughts.

On the other hand, I do suffer this incredibly painful churning of the soul (which includes the stomach) whenever I’m subconsciously working on a particular aspect of a story. I get this unbearable welling of tension and angst that turns me into an insomniac and a nutball until I can sit down and pour out all that has been welling. (Sounds terrible, I know, but it’s even worse for my husband.)

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

One time when playing with the built-in camera on my new Mac laptop, I accidentally (and unknowingly) embedded a self-taken photo of me in a query letter I was emailing to an agent. I’m pretty sure the ghoulish morning photo with my curls poking up this way and that and a crazy, eye-rolling look on my face had something to do with why she didn’t sign me, but I’ll never know for sure.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I have a two-year-old daughter. Every morning when we set out on our daily walk around our neighborhood in Shanghai, I say to her, “Keep your eyes open. You never know what you’ll see.”

Now that she can talk, she says to me, “Mumma, I keep eyes open. I see big bus!”

Or, “Mumma, I keep eyes open. I see chicken man!”

Or, “Mumma, I keep eyes open. I see blue crocus!”

My best way of finding story ideas?

I keep eyes open; I see story.

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.

Hee hee…the “normals.” I love that term.

I get loads of looks from the normals when I’m reading my work out loud…which is all the time. As a writer, I’m obsessed with the rhythm and sound of every single word in every single sentence I put on a page. I read everything out loud (including this guest blog post)…over and over again; if I hear a clunker word, I replace it, and then I read the entire piece out loud again.

Of course, if you’re thinking I only do this in the privacy of my own office, you’re dead wrong. I read my work out loud in coffee shops, book stores, airports…pretty much any place they’ll allow me to plop down with my computer and work.

The normals don’t get this at all. As I ramble on and on, they stare, nudge one another, smirk, crinkle up their faces…all as they try to figure out if I’m off my rocker.

I like to keep them guessing.

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

The way I look at it, there are two parts to being a writer:
1)the mystery of discovering and writing stories
2)the business of finding homes for and marketing those stories
Keep the two parts separate. Trust the mystery of your story as you’re writing it. Listen to it. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. See it in your dreams. Carry it on your daily walk to the river. Once you’ve finished a story, believe in it. Then do everything you can to find a home for it.

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

There’s not one event or person that has changed me as a writer; writing, for me, has been (and continues to be) a cumulative path, one in which I’ve changed and grown slowly over time, sometimes as a result of an exchange with another person, sometimes as a result of an event, sometimes as a result of a random lightning strike.

But one significant moment sticks in my head. I was around nineteen years old, a freshman or sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I was taking a writing course with a grad student named Kitsey Ellman. God, I was the shyest person in class, but also, I think, the most determined to follow the writing life. Like a lot of my fellow classmates, I started out the semester writing flat, boring, young stories…no voice, no understanding of structure, etc. But then one day I let loose and wrote this story…a wacky story, probably a very bad story, but the first story in which I heard my voice. One (very politically incorrect) line was repeated throughout: “The fat, fat food server wants my potato.” Somehow it all worked.

The cool thing? Kitsey heard my voice, too. She called me out on it and made me (well, convinced me) to read it to a bunch of visiting English professors. They loved it, too…and god, did they laugh.

I think about that moment when I’m either hitting the high notes of my storytelling voice or straying too far from it. I don’t know whatever became of Kitsey, but that moment when she heard what I heard changed me.

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

I’m pretty proud of Thirsty…proud that I told the story I wanted/needed to tell…proud that women around the world are responding to it…proud that I persevered and believed in it.

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

I think writers should be paid the same salaries as NBA basketball players. We provide a lot of entertainment for folks.

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

A reader in, say, Los Angeles opens the online NYTimes Book Review and sees a review of my newest book. “Oh,” she shouts, “Kristin Bair O’Keeffe has a new book coming out! I can’t wait!” She calls her best friend to share the news, tweets about it to all her Twitter pals, posts a link on her Facebook page to the thumbs-up review, preorders one copy for herself and two copies to give as gifts. Then she goes to my website, looks up my schedule of upcoming events, sees that I’m going to be reading and signing books near her home, and puts the date in her calendar. On the day of the reading, she stands in line for almost an hour so I can sign her book. “Oh,” she says when we finally meet, “I’ve read all your books.”

Or something close to that.

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

I love when a reader “gets” it. Recently I had a terrific radio interview with Cyrus Webb at “Conversations Live,” a radio show about books and authors, and I tell you what…this guy does his homework. He read Thirsty backward and forward…and during the interview he honed in on a particular key passage in a way that showed, yep, he got it.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

I’m American. My husband is Irish. Our daughter is Vietnamese. We live in Shanghai, China.

This unique smorgasbord of cultures has taught me a good bit about life, the world, and people…it’s also given me a lot to write about.

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

Want a little peek into my writing life and the neighborhood in Shanghai that inspires me? Watch this video.

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

Dialogue was tough for me at first. (In fact, I think there were only three lines of dialogue in the first draft of Thirsty.) But by listening to the conversations going on around me and by practicing, I got more comfortable writing it.

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

New notebook. New blue Pentel EnerGel pen (preferably 0.5 mm ball, but 0.7mm will do in a pinch). Clean desk. Clear head.

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

Here’s my ideal writing morning:

It’s 5:00 a.m. A bit of fuzzy light squeezes through the curtains. My husband doesn’t wake as I roll out of bed, still carrying the morning’s dream with me. I stumble to the kitchen, pour a glass of grapefruit juice and a glass of water, and stumble back to my office. I sit down at my desk, content to be in the creative state I call “Writerhead.” I open my journal, write by hand for a while, then turn on my computer and start clicking away at the keys. A few hours later with a few thousand words under my belt, I open my office door and join the rest of the world.

Of course, as a mom to an energetic, chatty, absolutely hilarious two-year-old, my ideal writing morning doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Instead I squeeze the writing in where I can: while my daughter naps, while I have a few hours of childcare in the afternoons, in the evenings after she goes to bed.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

First draft? Seat of the pants.

After that? I put a lot of conscious thought to plot including a complicated organizational system that includes putting various colored stickies on printed chapters. (Way too complicated to explain here…but it works for me.)

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?

The hardest part for me is moving from the big, sloppy first draft to a somewhat-shaped second draft. I growl a lot as I try to figure out who the characters are, from what point of view the story should be told, etc. I’m usually pretty clear about whose story it is, but geez, getting all the dots to connect is hell. I love when the story has a firm shape (around the fifth or sixth draft) and I can dig into the close work.

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

Recently a fellow Twitterer tweeted: “Voraciously reading your novel. You are a helluva storyteller.” That’s exactly what I want to be.

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

Three things:

I love social media—especially Twitter, Facebook, and blogging. Despite the fact that I live halfway around the world from most of my readers (and potential readers), I’m able to connect with them on social media sites. In addition to getting Thirsty into a number of new readers’ hands, I’ve made some good friends and discovered new authors.

Although the jury is still out on how successful book trailers are at moving books, I’m a big fan of them. I had a great time creating one for Thirsty. Check it out here.

Readers love contests (and cool free stuff). I’ve given a number of copies of Thirsty away via contests on my blog and Twitter…along with cool free stuff from China. My theory? The more you give, the more you get.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Author Interview ~ Keri Wyatt Kent

Keri Wyatt Kent worked as a reporter for fifteen years before writing her first book and is the author of several books, including Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity (Zondervan) Breathe (Revell) and Listen (Jossey-Bass). When she’s not busy traveling around the country to speak and lead retreats, she’s writing. She’s a regular contributor to several magazines, including MomSense and Outreach magazine, as well as several websites and blogs. She’s a member of Willow Creek Community Church, where she has taught, led groups and volunteered in a variety of ministries over the last 22 years. She and her husband Scot have two teenage children and live in Illinois.

Hi, Keri. Welcome to Novel Journey. Tell me a little bit about your background and your family.

Scot, my husband of 18 years, and I have two amazing kids: Melanie, 15, and Aaron, 13. I totally love being a parent of teens. I was born and raised in the Chicago area, where we still live. We’re members at Willow Creek community church, where Scot & I met 20 years ago.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Hobbies?

I’m a huge reader—I’m often reading three books at once, and I finish reading one a week or so. My husband and I both like to play tennis. For me, tennis is also a social outlet—which is so necessary because writing is a solitary venture. I also enjoy gardening, and cooking. Oh, and Scot and I race our sailboat together. We’re a pretty active family. My kids each play one sport, so much of my spare time is spent watching their games.

What has God been teaching you lately?

To be fully present in each moment (in other words, to not be two places at one time!).

Good advice! When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer.

Where are you headed next?

I have less than five more years before my youngest goes off to college, so I am very aware that the time with my kids is short. Five years from now, I want to have no regrets about how I made the most of this season. So today, for example, that meant getting up early to write so I would have some time to go to lunch with my daughter this afternoon. But I’m continuing to write and speak. I am writing a book on New Testament words, which will release next year. I also do some speaking and magazine articles.

How did you get involved in writing?

I’ve always loved books. My fifth grade teacher affirmed my skills in writing—I knew then that I was going to be some sort of writer someday. I was a lit major in college, but when I worked on the student newspaper, I fell in love with journalism. I was a newspaper reporter right out of college and continued that until I started freelancing full time, when I had kids. There has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. It’s really the only career I’ve ever had. Even if it were not my job, I would write and journal. Writing helps me understand the world and try to make a little sense of my life.

As busy as you are, how do you find time to write?

If you wait until you “find time” to write, you will never write. You have to MAKE time. I write every day—some days for two hours, others for eight or more. If I have a meeting or a tennis game early in the morning, I schedule my writing for the afternoon. I try to write five days a week. When I’m on a deadline I write at least 1000 words a day. My goal is to write at least that all five days, but I don’t always meet that goal. Other days, I exceed it.

What did you enjoy most about the writing process?

I just love it when the ideas begin to flow as I’m writing, and I just get out of the way. I discover things (or more accurately, God gives them to me) as I write, in the moment. It doesn’t happen every time but it’s very cool when it does. I also love it when I write a really good sentence—it just sings. Again, a rare occurrence—and these serendipitous moments can only happen when you engage in the discipline of sitting down every day to write.

What was the most difficult aspect of the writing process?

Just making the time to do it. I have a lot of interests, I like spending time with friends, I want to be a good mom, I try to serve at my church. Carving out the time is a discipline.

Tell us about your latest novel. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Like many evangelicals, I grew up not hearing very much about living a lifestyle of compassion. We supported missionaries, but no one talked about living missionally here at home. (only about witnessing, which in my tradition was a mostly intellectual exercise). I started reading the Bible with fresh eyes, noticing passges like Isaiah 58, and Matthew 25 (where Jesus says, basically, that how we treat the poor and downtrodden will be a litmus test for heaven). And at first, I had to grieve a little–how come I never heard this growing up in the church? How should I live my life if this is really what Jesus taught? But I didn’t want to get stuck in the grieving/anger stage, and I figured I didn’t want other people to get stuck there either.

I wanted to share my journey of discovery with others. I’m not a social justice expert at all–I’m a suburban soccer mom taking halting, messy baby steps toward a compassionate lifestyle. I’m trying to figure out what it really means to love your neighbor, to reflect God’s heart for the poor, to think about the consequences of my daily consumption and choices, and thought I could share that process with my readers.

What are the major themes of the book?

The main theme is that every person matters to God. So first, I want my readers to realize that each of them matters, and each of them can make a difference. I gently prod them to get over their “little old me” syndrome and realize that even if they do one small thing, it could change them, and change someone else’s life. I also want to help them get over the idea that the world’s problems are so huge and complex that they can’t do anything about them. Yes, the problems are huge, but even helping one person is worth it, because that person matters to God.

The book is divided into four sections, which move outward from realizing your own worth in God’s eyes (part 1), showing compassion to your family and immediate neighbors (part 2), to extending yourself to people in your city or region (part 3) to finally tackling some global issues like hunger, human trafficking, disease, etc. (part 4). The book takes you on a journey. Each chapter is short, and you only read one per week. EAch week also includes reflection questions and action steps for both individuals and groups.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

I read the bible, as I said, with fresh eyes. Verses like Micah 6:8, which said “what does the Lord require of you? You know, o people, what is good: to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I mean, I never heard that growing up. None of those things are in that “four Spiritual Laws” tract that my sunday School teachers told me to pass out to my friends. So I read my bible again, trying to notice what Jesus said about the poor. I realized that he truly lived a life of poverty himself. I did word studies on words like “poor” and found verses, esp. in proverbs, like “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31) and

Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. (Prov. 21:13). That’s intense, you know? if you ignore the poor, God will ignore you! And I realized in our culture, where we are so oblivious about where our food comes from, where our stuff comes from, that we don’t even realize that we rely on the poor to have STUFF– the factory workers, farm workers, and so on– and that we need to be mindful of their plight, as God is. That our actions may, without our realizing, hurt the poor.

I noticed how many of the Old Testament laws reflect God’s concern for the poor, (things like gleaning, the Jubilee, etc.).

I also read a lot of books on Christian social justice, from people like Ron Sider, John Perkins, Will Samson, and others.

I also got involved with an inner-city ministry. I meet with the director of that ministry, just to hear what challenges she faces living in a very poor neighborhood. I serve breakfast at that ministry’s shelter once a month, I support them financially (tho I don’t want to only write checks, I want to go down there and see the people I’m helping). I am sort of a bridge between my suburban neighborhood and that ministry–I bring people down there to serve, take donations of clothes and stuff down there, let people know about the ministry. I think God wants me to do more volunteering there, so it’s something that is on-going in my life.

I’m a journalist, so my favorite way to do research is to gather true stories. I talked to a lot of people, and many of their stories are included in the book. I interviewed people who are living out the things I’m writing about. Talking with real people who are wrestling with how to live a life of compassion and justice–that was the most compelling research of all. they inspired me.

Why did you decide to use a devotional format?

There are a lot of books out there these days about social justice. I didn’t just want to write a book about social justice. When you read about something, you can keep your distance. I wanted to do so much more than provide information–i wanted to inspire transformation. That’s what all my books are about–connecting faith with real life. A devotional forces you to slow down–especially this one since you really only read one chapter a week. I wanted my readers to reflect on what they are reading, but then take steps to live it out. The compassion step and community step at the end of each chapter really help you to do that. They provide practical steps, things you can do to live out what you’re learning. It’s an intensely practical book–challenging, but very do-able. This format provides the space and practical tools to actually try doing, and doing something transforms us so much more than simply learning about something.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

When I was growing up, there was this unspoken understanding in Christian circles–the really committed people go to China or Africa to be missionaries. And we secretly hoped God wouldn’t call us to that. Today, we secretly hope God won’t call us to say, move to the inner city or to minister to the poor. What I hope my readers realize is that you can live a life of compassion and justice no matter where you are–but we cannot opt out. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors–all of them. I hope they will be motivated to love their neighbor–and that they will realize that their neighbor is not just the people next door, but everyone. I hope they will relaize that living like Jesus isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s the best way to live. I want them to believe that they can make a differnce, and change the world, one life at a time.

What would you say to someone who wants to become a published author?

I would ask them: what are you working on? Because a lot of people want to be an author but they don’t actually write. They just want to write, but they don’t do it. You have to start writing. Then, hone your craft. Take classes to get better at writing. Hire an editor and actually heed their advice. Join a critique group. Even best-selling authors can improve their craft and learn more.

Also, build your platform. Unfortunately, even if you are an excellent writer you need to have a way to publicize your writing. Learn about marketing, publicity, speaking. Publishers today aren’t interested in authors who don’t have some sort of platform. I think a lot of people don’t realize that authors are the ones responsible for marketing their own books. Accept and embrace that reality, and you’re ahead of the game.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Masters Seminars

Chip MacGregor is the president of MacGregor Literary. With more than three decades in the publishing business, he has made his living as a writer, editor, publisher, and agent, and has developed a reputation for sharing the real information with authors. There is no pie-in-the-sky with Chip – he’ll tell you exactly what you need to know in order to succeed.

Tiffany Colter is the coordinator of The Master Seminars, runs Command Performance Speakers Bureau, and writes a blog for writers called The Writing Career Coach. On that site she mentors writers in matter of business management, marketing, and time management principles. She is a columnist as well as a Daphne du Maurier Award Winner in the unpublished division. Tiffany also travels and speaks to writers and small business owners at conferences and via online webinars.

How can a writer get noticed in publishing right now?

Chip: In this tough economy, I think there are two ways to stand out.

For a nonfiction writer, you can build a huge PLATFORM, so that the publisher sees you're going to help them sell the book. That platform could consist of a busy speaking schedule, a broad media platform, a popular blog, a wide readership online, a wide awareness due to your credentials, etc. A platform will get a nonfiction author noticed. I've sold a couple books recently based almost solely on the author's platform.

For a novelist, you can create a huge IDEA. Let's face it, mid-list thrillers and crime novels are having a really tough time these days. The one thing that can make them break out is a big, over-the-top story. You might be able to find a small deal for your standard romance novel, but a huge story idea will get noticed and help your book be set apart. As an agent, I see lots of good stories. What I really like to see are the gigantic, out-of-the-box stories that will grab me and take me for a ride.

You have recently started teaching seminars across the country called The Master Seminars, what are those?

Tiffany: They are small group seminars hosted by Chip and include a variety of speakers. Susan May Warren teaches on writing a bestseller, Lisa Samson and Susan Meissner teach on adding depth to your writing, and Jim Rubart teaches on Marketing your Fiction. These are designed to really dig deep and help writers become a master of story and marketing. There is more information at or anyone can call me (Tiffany) at 734.474.5489 to find out more.

How did The Master Seminars come to be?

Chip: I have been asked to speak at dozens of college campuses, and a couple hundred writing conferences. I felt there had to be a way to reach out to writers with more in-depth, professional information that was focused very tightly on a couple things writers need to know about: fiction marketing and creating a bestseller. I also felt the conference experience wasn't giving newer writers enough of a chance to go in-depth with experienced writers in a smaller setting, so I approached a couple of respected, award-winning novelists and asked them if they'd work with me to create some more personal gatherings. That was the genesis of it.

Tiffany: When Chip came to me I was already running The Command Performance Speakers’ Bureau and loving it. He told me about his idea for small seminars teaching on marketing. This was right after Chip and Jim Rubart had spoken at conference on the need for strong marketing plans for writers. When Chip told me about it the writer in me loved it.

When I started working with the various speakers we clicked immediately. Jim has an incredible marketing mind. He doesn’t have a cookie cutter plan for each person. Many writers don’t feel comfortable with marketing. Jim understands that and knows how to work around it. I thought the marketing seminars would be the most intimidating for writers, but I was really surprised by the enthusiasm once people realized that they could market without living completely outside their comfort zone. In 2010 we’ll start our other topics and I know people will be just as excited.

What are some of your upcoming events?

Tiffany: We have a seminar every month from now to August.

In February, we have writing the Bestselling novel with Susan May Warren and I’m really excited about that. Her events are the best for people who aren’t published yet but want to be. I think we’ll see some real success stories as a result of those meetings.

In March, we have our third Fiction Seminar with Jim Rubart.

The May and July events on Deepening Fiction with Susan Meissner and Lisa Samson are already getting enrollments so people are enthusiastic about developing their craft.

We also have an update list where we announce new topics, special hotel rates, discounts and other updates. The sign up is at the Master Seminar’s website []. All of our events are currently taking enrollments and we’d love to have some Novel Journey readers at our seminars.

How did you choose to focus on the topics you did?

Chip: You can look at any online writers' group, and you'll discover they're spending a lot of time talking about marketing. But in all my years in this business, I've found very few people who know how to market fiction. It's always one of the topics I'm asked to speak on, and I simply felt there was an audience that would like to explore fiction marketing more in depth. I approached Jim Rubart, a novelist and a twenty-year marketing professional, about doing a seminar with me. He agreed, and I think the results speak for themselves. The fact is, we hardly have any competition for what we're doing, since so few people know how to talk coherently about the topic.

Tiffany: I get to talk to all of the people who are interested in our various seminars on the phone and by email. We have something for writers at every stage. For the pre-published writer who is stuck, Susan May Warren’s Best-selling Novel seminar helps you move to the next level. Adding Depth to your Fiction helps writers of all levels improve their writing, and Marketing your Fiction is the best marketing seminar I’ve seen.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Tiffany: One thing we haven’t really talked about is the level of support between participants. All of us who have been to writer’s conferences know how exciting they can be. You make great friends. You get excited about writing. The downside is they can sometimes be overwhelming because it is you, hundreds of people. You feel like you always have to be “on”. There are so many people there that you can begin to feel invisible. The thing that most appeals to me about these events, besides the content, is the fact that there are 16 participants or less. Every person is able to have personalized attention. You have a chance to build relationships and really get to know other people.

At our first event in Dallas we were working on the marketing plans for each person. We sat as a group while Chip and Jim would suggest ways to market an individual’s project. Then another participant would say, “Wow, I love the premise of your book. I write for this magazine. Can I have your email because I’d like to write an article on you?” Each person gets the vision of another person’s project. We not only build marketing plans but we also build friendships. Just last week I got a post-card announcing a book release from one of our Dallas participants and I interviewed another one for a feature article I’m writing.

Finally, our events are open to published authors and unpublished authors. We are also happy to work with people who are self-published and have e-books. Everyone who works with The Master Seminars is a writer. We welcome all writers to come.

What are some changes you see coming to publishing in the next few years?

Chip: I could go for hours on this topic. Let me do a quick laundry list of SOME changes:

1. continued changes to the delivery patterns of books
2. the shrinking of CBA as a distinct entity (and that does NOT mean the shrinking of Christian book sales)
3. a bunch of start-up niche publishers
4. a rocky road as we transition from ink-and-paper books to electronic books
5. a renewed interest in memoirs
6. a renewed interest in short stories
7. the shifting of most nonfiction to digital-only formats
8. the eventual price drop of e-readers, probably combined with other formats (perhaps also a phone, a video game, a music player, and a movie player)
9. two or three e-readers will take control of the digital market (history says to look carefully at Amazon and Apple)
10. a complete sea-change in the way we perceive and use public libraries
11. a comprehensive plan from the big New York houses for monetizing the internet use of books
12. digital books that combine text with other media (think "the newspapers in the Harry Potter movies")
13. a new role with publishers: media editors, who create those new products
14. newspapers as a boutique item
15. more charging of fees for e-zines, a handful of category leaders
that should get you started...

Tiffany: There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty in publishing right now. I see myself as a writer before anything else and understand the frustration many of us feel right now. Despite that we are living in an amazing time where publishing is no longer the mysterious world it was even a decade ago. Aspiring writers have an opportunity to connect with accomplished writers now more than ever.

I also see more of an emphasis on looking at writing as a business rather than a single task. It used to be when you said, “I’m a writer” it meant you wrote for a paper, a magazine or wrote books. Today writing is simply one part of a multi-faceted business. To some people this is a change for the worse. Other people like the idea of writing being combined with speaking, editing or other services. What is neat is that both views of writing are now open to us. I love writing books and columns and seeing them as products generated by my writing business. It makes the process more exciting because we can take the research from our novels and turn it in to non-fiction articles that generate revenue, name recognition, and an outlet for the details we had to cut from our book.