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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

With 74 books published, Margaret Daley has won multiple awards for her work: the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year, the Holt Medallion, the Golden Quill, Winter Rose, and the Barclay Gold. Prior to retiring 2 years ago, she was a teacher of students with special needs for 27 years and volunteered with Special Olympics as a coach. She is serving as the ACFW Volunteer Officer and has taught numerous classes for online groups, ACFW and RWA chapters. She enjoys mentoring other authors.

Organizing My Writing

When I was considering what I wanted to write about for this blog, I started to write about setting goals, which I think is important, but then I began to wonder what would help writers make their goals. Organization came to mind immediately.

Now I know there are writers who are not organized and manage to write what they set out to accomplish, but over the thirty years I’ve been writing with twenty-three of those years working a full-time job as a teacher as well as raising a family, I have found that if I wasn’t organized I would never have been able to write over seventy books.

What do I mean by organization for a writer? Let’s start with your work area—whether it is a corner of a room, the dining room table or an office. When I let my office go—when I’m on a tight deadline—I begin to fill overwhelmed—like my office looks. I have a hard time finding items I need, which means I spend more time looking for them when I should be writing and meeting that goal.

Odds and ends having to do with the writing business (promoting, doing line edits and reading your galleys) need to be dealt with. Sometimes they seem to be all I do instead of writing. What I try to do is organize them in a list and rank them in importance. When I do that and start with the most important task and work my way down the list, I feel I’m accomplishing what I need to and I have a visual list where I can see my those completed jobs marked off. I particularly feel good when I reach the bottom of that “to do” list.

I have a file case where I keep folders for research, promotion, story ideas, books I’m working on, articles I’ve written, materials for classes I teach. If I keep things filed and not stacking up they are easier for me to put my hands on them when I need to. Time is precious and I hate wasting it searching for a paper I need.

Like my file case, I also like to keep my files on my computer in folders, detailed enough that it is easy to find what I want. Periodically I go through my bookmarks on my computer and delete the ones I don’t use anymore, put the ones I go to more often at the top. I also go through my saved emails every once and a while and make sure I only keep the ones I need.

But the most important thing I have to keep organized is my writing and the story I’m working on. I often use charts to keep track of my characters and plots in my stories. I have one chart that tracks the hero/heroine’s goals, motivations and conflicts scene by scene. It breaks down the conflict between internal and external. It also keeps track of the faith element, secondary characters, suspense/mystery storyline and love development between hero and heroine. I write romance and romantic suspense so I’ve adapted the charts to fit my needs as a writer. It isn’t hard to set up through Excel.

Another way I keep track of my story and its elements—major and minor ones—is I keep a notepad with the information about the story on it. There are so many details to keep straight—a description of a house, a person, minor characters who aren’t in the story much, pets, character tags--and I found this helps me.

I had a reader once write me to tell me I had changed the name of the heroine’s deceased husband’s first name in a series from book one to book three. He was only mentioned once or twice in the first book but was talked about quite a bit in the third one. I never caught the mistake until the reader wrote me.

So a writer needs to track what goes on in a series from book to book. Keeping a notebook about the series will help. If you are setting it in one town, you might want to draw a map of the town or the important places that pertain to your series. If this is all in one place, it is much easier to look up something you forgot from book one to book two or three. You don’t have to spend a lot of time digging through papers or rereading the book to find the answer you need.

It is important to set writing goals and trying to keep them, but in order to keep them, it might help to get organized—on your computer, in your office and in your writing.

Ten years ago Jordan Masterson left her hometown heartbroken--and pregnant. Now, yearning for a connection with her family, the single mother returns to Tallgrass, Oklahoma. But she's shocked to find her son's father--unaware he has a child--a vital part of the community. Zachary Rutgers owns the ranch that the local homeschoolers use for riding and recreation. Which means little Nicholas, Jordan and Zachary will be spending a lot of time together. Jordan must tell Zachary the truth about their son--and ask for answers herself. Hoping the heart of her cowboy will still be hers for the taking.

Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for Heart of a Cowboy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What's a Blog Tour? ~ Kathy Carlton Willis

Blog tours are like virtual book tours. We provide blog hosts with information we want them to post on their blogs for us, and then they drive traffic through social networking to those sites. Each blogger has a different realm of influence—a different readership. The combined effect of being on multiple blogs in the same week helps increase your search engine rankings and exposure. Some of the blog hosts will also write reviews of the book. Some just post what we provide them. They are accustomed to working with us, so it’s a happy partnership. For their effort, we send them a copy of the book they are promoting.

Lots of companies are using bloggers to help with marketing and free advertising, as well as consumer reviews. Ask Target who their biggest fans are, and they will say “mommy bloggers.”

So, it’s sort of like running the same commercial on a bunch of different stations at once so that you get multiple audiences. And it stimulates an appetite for the book by the very consumers we hope will purchase the title.

Marketing experts say that consumers often need 7 “touches” before they make a purchase, so we like to try to get the word out in a variety of ways to achieve this purpose: newspaper, social networking, radio, TV, internet, reviews, bloggers, book signings, speaking events, advertising, etc. We also try to do direct-to-consumer awareness and pitch-to-media promotion as well. So, blog tours provide one touch in a plan that includes several other elements as well.

How do blogging and/or blog tours fit into an author’s overall marketing plan?
Blogging by the author helps set them up as an expert on certain subjects-each blog should fit a niche. It develops a readership and a platform. It also allows the author to network with other bloggers and trade services such as blog tours.

Blog tours fit into the marketing plan because they develop a grassroots level exposure to the book, creating buzz thanks to the oldest PR method on the planet, “word of mouth.” Other bloggers will reach readers the author couldn’t reach any other way.

What method do you use to plan the blog tour?

Normally we use an e-blast that has the press release of the book, including the author bio, the photo of the book cover, photo of the author, and a Q & A style interview with the author. We also like to add one other element to personalize the tour—sort of like lagniappe (a little something extra). And some of our authors also choose to provide a grand prize giveaway, so we coordinate the drawing of that winner.

Any other additional thoughts on blogging and blog tours?
I would highly recommend authors be willing to post blog tours for other authors on their sites, to develop a network so that when their own books are ready to go on tour, they already have a long list of blog tour hosts ready and willing to return the favor.

We have over 500 in our database for blog tours, and often run between 25-50 hosts who volunteer for any given tour. Some authors select the number they wish to limit their tour (if books are limited) or they tell us to run as many as possible.

What the blog tour service covers:

  • designing custom e-blast

  • sending e-blast to our database of blog tour hosts

  • making a mailing list of all volunteers

  • mailing complimentary books to all blog tour hosts signed up for this tour

  • following up with volunteers and answering any questions

  • posting blog tour on our professional blog and listing all blog links to drive traffic to all the blog tour hosts

  • following up with any stragglers who haven’t posted the blog tour before the tour wraps up

  • gathering names of finalists for giveaway from blog tour hosts

  • writing e-blast announcing prize winner and thanking all hosts for their participation

Here are some examples of blog tours:

Today’s article is by Kathy Carlton Willis, wife to Russ, mom to Jazzy the Boston Terrier, author, editor, publicist and a certified CLASSeminars speaker. Kathy Carlton Willis Communications encompasses her many passions. Learn more about how she reflects Christ as she shines the spotlight on others at: or

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why is "Speculative Fiction" Under-represented in Christian Bookstores?

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a Christian who reads speculative fiction (supernatural, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.) is the lack of speculative titles available in Christian bookstores. It is routinely estimated that 75-80% of all Christian novels are some form of romance, which leaves the other quarter-of-a-percent to duke it out for the remaining space. But apart from the two big names -- Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti -- spec titles are a rarity in Christian bookstores.

While many groups have formed (independent presses, blog tours, message boards, crit groups, etc.) aimed at addressing this disparity, the bottom line remains:
Christians who like speculative fiction are forced to find their "fix" outside the Christian market.

Why is this?

I privately queried one industry insider regarding the dearth of spec-fic in Christian bookstores and they wrote back with this answer:
"'s not just a CBA thing. Across all of publishing, sales of Spec fiction lag behind many other kinds of fiction. The spec/fantasy crowd (both writers and readers) are an extremely vocal minority. They are always out there screaming that there's not enough spec fiction to suit them, but publishers have not seen profit in it. Believe me, if they did, everyone would be publishing a lot more spec."
I'll be honest: I have a hard time believing this. I mean, when Borders and Barnes and Noble contain aisles -- not just a couple shelves -- aisles of horror, science fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy, it is really difficult to believe that "publishers have not seen profit in it." On top of that is the prominence of spec-fic in popular culture. For instance, of the 50 highest-grossing movies of all-time, more than half contain speculative themes (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider Man, etc.). In literature, there’s Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight epic and Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which have sold gazillions of copies. Nevertheless, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market.

So what gives? Is this industry insider (and their professional peers) deluded? Are they part of some grand CBA conspiracy to suppress the growth of speculative fiction? Is the spec/fantasy crowd simply "an extremely vocal minority"? Or are Christian readers really not that interested in speculative fiction?

I recently posted on this subject at my website (link HERE) and received a lot of great response (the comment thread is currently pushing 50). Nevertheless, the answers remain varied. Of the possible reasons why speculative fiction is under-represented in Christian bookstores, these seem to be the most common:

  • Demographics; the Christian market is primarily geared toward women, and women, by and large, don't prefer spec titles

  • Christian publishers are behind the times, operating under an "old model," unwilling (perhaps unable) to risk broadening their market

  • Speculative titles are "unsafe" and push the boundaries (thematically and theologically) of traditional Christian fare

  • Christian bookstores cater to conservative clientele; hardcore spec fans cannot go to Christian bookstores to find their "fix"

Anyway, these are the going theories.. While I have several of my own, definitive answers appear elusive. Either way, I guess I'm part of that "extremely vocal minority." What about you? Why do you think Speculative Fiction is so under-represented in Christian bookstores?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," in stores Spring of 2011. You can visit his website at


Wanted: Writers of suspense/crime/mystery/cozy mystery novels for entry in our contest. Identifying features: a plotting mind and observant eyes; possibly an avid reader; suspect has never published a novel through traditional venues. Must be turned in on or before July 10, 2010. For further details, enquire within.

Special Alert: Writers of other genres are also wanted. These suspects cre
ate fictional accounts of contemporary or speculative events for the purpose of entertaining men, women, and/or young adults, enticing them to willingly suspend their disbelief. May be armed with laptop.

Persons of interest, and those with information that might lead to the appreh
ension of any such suspect, should contact Please provide a completed entry form along with the following evidence: first chapter of the suspect's fabrication and a short (one- to two-page) synopsis.

Reward: Each respondent will receive a personal email of thanks from the contest administrator. If printed out and framed, this can be used as a wall ornament or conversation piece, and will make you the envy of all your friends.
Furthermore, each monthly winner will receive Fifteen Minutes of Fame right here on Novel Journey. So don't be shy; turn yourself in!


Anita Mellott homeschools and blogs“Words of Encouragement and Hope” at From the Mango Tree:

A global black-out of 2 minutes, 17 seconds offers people a glimpse of their futures. Those who didn’t have a flashforward assume they have no future. ABC’s recently-axed series, "Flashforward," follows federal agents as they unravel the mystery of who caused the black-out and why.

That every decision has multiple alternatives, each of which sets off its own train of events, much like falling dominoes, fascinated me. As I’ve watched the main characters pursue or avoid their futures, the magnitude of the hope that Christ brings overwhelmed me. “And this hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). It’s “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

The One who spoke the world into being, yet fashioned me holds my future. So I echo the Psalmist’s words in awestruck humility, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalms 139:16-17)

Though His path seldom avoids the storms, a rainbow fills the sky at the end. For every night of weeping, “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Even when I walk through the darkest valley, He will be with me. His rod and staff will comfort me (Psalm 23:4). No matter where He leads, His peace, which transcends all understanding, will guard my heart and my mind (Philippians 4:7).

When doubts toy with my mind—“Did I make the right decision? Is this what He’s led me to do?”--His promise brings peace, “…in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6).

]Faith can take the upper hand because He who has promised is faithful.

During the times I stumble and get ahead of His timing, He who is rich in mercy hears my cry and redeems me. “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (Isaiah 30:19). I can rest in Him because He knows best. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Anita Mellott
Blog: From the Mango Tree:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 Christy Award Winners

Congratulations everyone!

Contemporary Romance
Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)

Contemporary Series, Sequels & Novellas
Who Do I Talk To? by Neta Jackson (Thomas Nelson)

Contemporary Standalone
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson (Thomas Nelson)

First Novel
Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (Tyndale House Publishers)

Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Bethany House Publishers: a Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Historical Romance
The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen (Bethany House Publishers: a Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (Howard Books: a Division of Simon & Schuster)

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)

Young Adult
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

Call for Books!!

The church I attend is opening the only Christian school in its county this year. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and money to accomplish this goal. As such, they are holding a huge community auction on July 11 and are seeking donations.

I've been asked to help raise donations and would seriously love your help.

Are any of you (publishers, authors, agents) willing to donate a basket of books, autographed copies, complete series, etc?

If so, I can't tell you how much I would appreciate it. This congregation reads! Donations can be sent to:

LifeSong Family Church
Donation for Auction- Lewisburg Christian Academy
1041 South Ellington Parkway
Lewisburg, TN 37091

Friday, June 25, 2010

Author Sophie Littlefield ~ Interviewed


Sophie’s first novel (A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, St. Martin’s Minotaur) features a rural Missouri housewife-turned-vigilante. It was nominated for the 2010 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the Anthony Award for
Best First Novel, and won the Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Mystery of 2009 by RT BookReviews Magazine, and appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle and IMBA bestseller lists. Her young adult novel, BANISHED, will be released by Delacorte in October 2010. Her post-apocalyptic suspense series for Harlequin Luna will debut in March 2011. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in a variety of publications. Sophie lives in Northern California with her family. Visit her at

What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

Believe it or not, I’m pretty happy with the path I’ve taken. That might be a surprising response
considering how long it took me to be published (well over a decade) and how many books I wrote before selling (nine).

But the things I did right – if only accidentally – are these:

1. Never give up. Every rejection I ever received only fueled my determination and made me try that much harder.

2. Build a community. There are writers in my life who have been there from the beginning, as well as the friends I’ve made every year since, and their support has meant the world. I didn’t choose them based on what they could do for me, but they have been unfailingly generous no matter how many or few writing credits they had to their name.

3. Keep expanding your world. I love a challenge – and I may have a teeny-tiny little focus issue – so it’s been natural for me to keep trying new genres, media, formats. While there are certainly times when it makes sense for a writer to concentrate her efforts more narrowly, I’ve found that casting my net wide has kept me fresh, engaged, a
nd delighted with my job.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Organization is very difficult for me. I’ve had to step up my efforts many times over to meet the challenges of timelines, bookkeeping, contract details, research, correspondence, travel arrangements and speakin
g engagements. It is only because I cherish my career with all my heart that I am able to force myself to set time aside to create lists, calendars, timelines, etc.

It has helped me immensely that I am the parent of two children who have wildly different personalities and gifts. As I frequently tell them, no one can be good at everything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give our best efforts to the struggle. Just because it takes me longer to perform organizational tasks, and I’ll never do them beautifully, doesn’t mean I can’t do a competent job, one I can be proud of. When I remember that I am setting an example for my kids, it spurs me to do the best job I can.

What is
the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

This is deceptively simple: Never hold back.

It’s easy to start worrying that you’ll run out of ideas when you’re writing a series or even a standalone novel. You start fretting about the pacing of the final scenes when you’re still staring over the gulf of the unwritten middle, and it’s tempting to slow things down, toss in some narrative, keep your characters’ emotions in check.

Far better to put the pedal to the floor on page one and careen ahead. Not only will you never run out of ideas, it seems that the more passionately one flings one’s heart onto the page, the more rapidly the well re-fills.

In the process of building a novel, if you worry about all the different aspects at once, the loose threads and uncertain outcomes and wobbly character arcs and sketchy motivations and missing details, you can easily fuel the not-good-enough voices and paralyze yourself. If you can focus on the single story moment in which you find yourself, if you can experience it as deeply as your fictional characters do, then it will be a success.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

I am desperately passionate about two things: stories and my children. Absolutely, they fuel each other – since the moment my kids were born I have been their storyteller, reader, listener, imagination coaxer. When my children were younger, I wrote far less, and it was my great privilege to give my time and energy to them. Now, they are growing up and it’s my responsibility to allow that to happen, and that means building my own life apart from them. How blessed I am that this career has been waiting in the wings for me all these years, and the journey of being a parent has given me an emotional depth, richness, and maturity worthy of building books around. At twenty-five, I had a limited emotional palette. I had no idea what depths of devotion, pride, fear, protectiveness, sorrow, rage, and hope I was capable of. Now I can create far more compelling stories because I can identify and appreciate many more human impulses.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I’m working on the fourth Stella Hardesty mystery and having so much with it. I’ve taken her on the road to help out a distant relative, but she ends up with a stowaway and stumbles on a gruesome scene and – oh, just a whole bunch of stuff happens…and she’s about to turn 51, which seems like an age for new ventures, with the milestone firmly in the past.

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.

At the time, it seemed like my publication path was unbelievably long…even unfairly long. I don’t like admitting to feeling that way, because I’m a firm believer in not comparing one’s successes or experiences to those of other writers, but year after year I watched other people land contracts and it felt like it would never happen to me.

However, I have come to realize that my extra-long apprenticeship was a gift. Occasionally I go back and take a peek at all of those shelved manuscripts and it is very clear to me that they were deeply flawed. The writing gods were looking out for me when they ushered those stories gently back into the closet – I would not want to be known for a debut book that featured unsympathetic characters or bland story lines or maudlin prose or acres of uninterrupted narrative.

That said, I remember how confident I was when I completed my first manuscript, a romance titled THE LOVE EQUATION about computer dating, long before era. I was quite certain that every person in America would be captivated by it…

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.

I struggle with every negative comment or review. At this point, I’m convinced that every author does. To all of my colleagues who say they don’t read their reviews, listen to criticism, care about the lists, etc. I say a heartfelt and affectionate pshaw. It does get easier, but only because we learn techniques for handling the hurt and get a little more disciplined about applying them. Here’s just a few:

· Check in with your trusted writing friends (not your non-writing friends who, much as they love you, really don’t get it) and ask them to remind you how fabulous your work is, how hard you’ve worked, how much you’ve accomplished– and remember to be there for them when it’s their turn

· Remind yourself that it is impossible to please everyone, and that trying will only make you crazy

· Get back to work.

This last is the critical piece. I was just corresponding with a friend this morning about how, when you dive back into the work, everything else fades away.

As for block…uh uh, sorry, I don’t go there. I’m absolutely committed to being in the chair every day. Yes, there are times when you’ll do more staring at the screen and possibly crying than writing…too damn bad. It’s the job. And, to quote my favorite twelve-step aphorism, the only way out is through.

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

I’ve made more mistakes than anyone I know. I think most of them have been of the too-much-enthusiasm and impatience variety, but I’ve also been inappropriate, headstrong, embarrassing, and downright unprofessional. I’ve sworn that when I am asked to be the Bouchercon Grand Master at the age of eighty, my speech is going to reveal all, and it’ll be a doozy, let me tell you!

I would like to say that I’d tell my former self to slow down, be a little more patient, trust the system. But that’s advice I’d never take in a million years – I just don’t possess the sit-still gene.

To salvage some useful advice from this, however, I’d say this: when you build your team, make sure that you choose people who “get” your style and can work with it. My agent and editors know that I’m more dive-in than think-it-through, and they have been great at working with me. I have definitely met publishing folks who are wonderful and talented and who, I am quite sure, I would drive insane in less than a week. It’s probably best that we don’t work together…

One other thing: there is a type of mistake that you can’t recover from, and that’s being an asshole. That kind of footprint is like Neil Armstrong’s on the moon dirt – it’ll be there through the millennia. People do remember, and they bide their time. I’ll tell you this: I remember everyone who has been a jerk to one of my friends, and some day, somewhere, somehow, the scales will get evened up.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Um….wake up, look around, press “go” on the imagination button?

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.

My friend Juliet Blackwell and I are always talking about how hard it is to tell our non-writing friends that no, actually, we don’t think a spa weekend/girls’ night out/wine tasting in a limo/cooking class would be a blast – we’d rather keep writing, thank you. They think we’re crazy. And it has led to some hurt feelings.

It’s not that I don’t like to have a good time. But good times for me always take place in the context of story. When I talk to people at cocktail parties or barbecues, I usually want to know two things….first, what are you reading and second, what’s really going on in that head of yours? Are you feuding with a relative, having murderous thoughts about a boss, having an affair, cataloging your bitter regrets…what is your biggest secret, your deepest regret, your fondest unspoken hope? Your home remodeling plans, children’s accomplishments, views on our nation’s leadership….eh, not so much.

You can see that this makes me a really inappropriate guest, and why I generally am most at home with writers and passionate readers.

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

It’s what everyone else has already said…read widely, write regularly, and pay more attention to your own voice than your critics.

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

I had a light-switch moment when I went from dabbler to zealot and, uncoincidentally, it happened when I was facing the prospect of defining who I would be when my kids were grown. At the time, they were 12 and 14, and they needed me to let go a little bit (I may have been a bit, ahem, overinvolved, overprotective, over-everything).

I took a long and sobering look at the years ahead and realized that many of the alternatives that work for other post-homemaker women simply weren’t going to work for me. I am not a complacent person. I am not capable of contentment. I am not particularly good at balance. The vocations and avocations I saw other women embracing did not strike a chord with me.

But I am capable of sustaining mood and creativity swings that would slay an ordinary person. And I had been saying I wanted to write for years…so it was time to get my ass in the chair and do it. I wanted the second half of my life to matter deeply, at least to me, so I took a deep breath and got started.

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 love my short stories! They are dark and violent and do not have much of an audience, but they allow me to work out themes and characters in a compact space. Short stories can have a striking impact, an emotional punch, that’s different from the work you can do in a novel. Partly because they have such a limited readership, I can experiment with things I wouldn’t attempt in my series, and I am proud of taking chances, even when – especially when – they don’t quite work.

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

Urrrmmmm…you’re kidding, right? I have thousands, because I’m a cranky and unreasonable person. We were at a conference recently and there was this sign that some [lovely, well-meaning, much nicer than me] volunteer had posted that said “Handshake-Free Zone.” This was when many people were battling flu, so I understand the sentiment. But I turned to my friend and said “That makes me want to make out with the next person who walks by.”

Luckily she convinced me to restrain myself…

Here’s a more appropriate one: I hate when you’re talking to someone at an industry event and they start looking over your shoulder for the more interesting/more important/hotter person. I feel like jumping up and down like a toddler and screaming “Hey look at meeeeee!”

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

I tremble with awe when I discover that I’ve managed to work a theme I care about into the story. For some reason, this can never happen deliberately. There’s a bit of advice I have on my web site that I really believe in – “let them emerge from early drafts.” You write the story, populating it with the characters that fall from your brain, and respect the lessons you have learned about pace and conflict…and sometimes, if you are lucky, you read through it and discover you have said something important about growing up or grief or longing or whatever.

And you shed a little tear about how brilliant you are, and then you live in fear that you’ll never pull it off again.

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

Plot! Plot, plot, plot. Interesting things happening. Things happening, period. I can create characters all day long, but I have to work really hard to build action and tension into the story.

I haven’t so much “overcome” this issue as found some clever workarounds. My favorite is to call my brother and go “uh, what happens next in my book?” Another favorite fix is that call I get from my editor saying “erm, were you planning to add any mystery to this mystery?” Then there’s my long-suffering critique group…I basically just show up and sob until they fix it for me.

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

Sing with joy. Seriously, the first oh, ten thousand or so words of any new book are the lyrics of the angels, pearls of wisdom strung on gossamer golden threads. I glow with confidence, am kind to my children and animals, wear lipstick and cook real food for dinner during this stage.

Then it comes to a screeching halt when I realize I have no idea what happens for the next eighty-five thousand words. And everything goes to hell, and people have to tiptoe around Mom and hide the scotch bottle again.

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?

Used to have those, until I started having to juggle harder and harder deadlines. Now, I just have to grit my teeth and get to work, whether I’m cross-legged on the floor of a crowded airplane gate, or in the bleachers at a lacrosse practice. I think it was Gregg Hurwitz who said the single best piece of writing advice he ever received from a grizzled veteran was “Learn to write on planes, son.”

That said, I’m a bit of a word count slave. I don’t recommend this, because there really are days when you’ll work harder for 500 words than you will the next day for several thousand, but I try to average 2,000 or more words a day during a first draft.

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

My favorite anecdote: a pair of sixty-something ladies approached me at a signing not too long ago and said some nice things about the book. One complimented me extravagantly on having chosen a wonderful theme. “Oh,” I said, surprised, “and what would that be?” Her answer: “That women over fifty should have all the sex they can.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Book Starings, er, I mean Book Signings

When I was trying to get published, I dreamt of the moment I would be sitting in a Books A Million or Lifeway signing copies of my novel. Well, that moment has finally arrived.

I just finished up my Atlanta book tour and thought you might be interested in my experience. Man, it was awesome. People waited for hours just to get to meet me and have me sign their copies of Crossing Oceans.

The local papers were really good about covering the events and I even made the front page of a few!

People gushed about my writing, my outfit and how skinny I look in person compared to my pictures. I left feeling really good about myself, my writing, and life in general. I can't wait to do this again!

Um, are you laughing? You are if you've done a few book signings.

Really, it was more like wearing a big sign that says "Kiss me, I'm contagious."

Most of the stores were really good about doing some PR with signs about the store and handing out fliers ahead of time, but not all. In one case, my Atlanta host and good friend, Ane Mulligan, rushed me across town so we would be on time for an evening signing. When we arrived at the store, there was absolutely no indication an author was going to be there doing a signing. I mean not only were there no signs, fliers or anything like that, I mean there were none of my books out, not even a little desk for me to sign at.

Lucky for me, I'd already been humbled a time or two before hand, so I wasn't all that surprised or bothered. I simply said to one of the clerks, "I'm an author who's supposed to be doing a signing here tonight."

He gives me a dull look and says, "Oh yeah, the manager mentioned something about that. I'll get you a chair."

So, there I stand for two hours, handing out promotional book markers and apologizing to people because I don't know where they can find a book on sushi rolling.

In my limited book signing experience, I've had events where I signed hundreds of books, and then others where I've signed just one.

What I've learned in a nut-shell is this: book signings= lessons in humility.
This video pretty much says it all. Here's another article you might find interesting as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tess Gerritsen on E-Readers

Tess Gerritsen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University. Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and was awarded her M.D. in 1979. After completing her internal medicine residency, she worked as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1987, Tess's first novel was published. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller, was soon followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, "Adrift," which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson. Her thriller, Harvest was released in 1996, and marked Tess's debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Paramount/Dreamworks, and the book was translated into twenty foreign languages. Now retired from medicine, Tess writes full time and lives in Maine

~Used with permission~

I came late to being an e-reader convert, but yes — I did eventually come around to appreciating the devices. I own a Kindle, and now a Cool-ER, although they will never co-opt the affection I’ll always feel for the good old-fashioned book. But when I do sit down with an e-reader, there are several features I demand. These are just my own preferences, and others may disagree. But if any manufacturers out there are paying attention, and you’re wondering what we readers want, here’s my list.

First, here are the features that are ABSOLUTELY necessary. If the e-reader doesn’t have these, it’s a deal-killer for me:

PORTABILITY. I want my e-reader to be lightweight and easy to slip into my purse. Which is why I prefer a 6-inch screen, about the size of a paperback novel. Any larger, and you defeat the whole purpose of an e-reader — and that’s to take it on vacation, or on a plane. One of the hottest new models I saw at CES is a combination e-reader and electronic writing tablet. It weighs several pounds. Sorry, but I am not going to buy that monstrosity. If I want to take notes on something I’m reading, I’ll just bring an old-fashioned steno-pad. Here is where an e-reader like Interead’s super-portable Cool-ER has a huge advantage. The mantra for manufacturers should be lighter, lighter, lighter!

SIMPLICITY OF USE. I am not a techie genius. Don’t make me puzzle over a thousand different menus. Make the e-reader as easy to use as a plain old book — that is, so easy that any child can use it. Think of me as a middle-aged child. Who just wants to read the darn book without a struggle.

EASILY ADJUSTABLE FONT SIZE. I am of an age where I haven’t yet accepted the fact I need reading glasses. Help me maintain my delusion. Give my an e-reader that, with a mere click of a button, can instantly enlarge the font. And give me a larger font option than the current e-readers do. The print needs to be even bigger! (And for my mom, who has macular degeneration, HUGE font would be great!)

SUPER-LONGLASTING BATTERY LIFE. Luckily, the current e-readers seem to satisfy this particular demand. The Kindle lasted on one charge throughout my entire Turkey vacation. The Cool-ER has an 8,000-page-turn battery life. I don’t want to be in the middle of Africa and suddenly have my battery run out, with no possibility of a re-charge. What this means is that color-screen e-readers are not going to be on my shopping list anytime soon. Their battery lives are way too short. I’d much rather have a plain old B&W screen that lasts me throughout a two-week camping trip.

NON-PROPRIETARY FILE ACCESSIBILITY. Here’s where I have a beef with my Kindle. Sometimes I want to read material that’s not Amazon-mediated. I want to read another author’s galley. Or I want to read a scientific article I’ve got on my home computer. Or my own manuscript in progress. I want to be able to upload that file directly onto my e-reader without having to go through Amazon (and pay for that privilege.) My Cool-ER allows me to do that, as long as I convert my doc file to pdf. I understand that the Sony e-reader also allows this, which is a huge plus.

Now — here are features that are nice, but which I don’t consider necessary for me to consider a purchase:

WI-FI ACCESSIBILITY. I know this is the hot thing, being able to download newspapers and books wirelessly. But right now, with my Kindle, I get no Whispernet accessibility where I live, and it doesn’t bother me all that much. And when I’m traveling, if I want to read, say, the New York Times, I’ll just buy a paper copy. If I’m in an area where I can’t buy the NYT, it’s usually also an area where I can’t get Whispernet either. Besides, Wi-Fi usage really drains that battery fast.

AUDIO. Yes, I know, it’s nice to be able to hear an audiobook on your e-reader. But isn’t that what an iPod is for? (And much smaller, too.)

TOUCHSCREEN. Well, this would be cool. And I would love it. It may be one of those features that I soon consider necessary.

HUGE FILE STORAGE SPACE. The Cool-ER can take up to five gigabytes of data. That’s way more than I’ll ever be able to read. I mean, how many thousands of books do you need to carry on vacation? The current e-readers all have plenty of storage space, so adding additional thousands of books on my device isn’t really a big selling point for me.

WRITING PAD/EMAIL CAPABILITY/BLAH BLAH BLAH. By now, you’re talking about so much weight that you might as well bring your laptop computer. This is no longer e-reader territory.

In short, what I want in an e-reader is the equivalent of a good, old-fashioned BOOK. Something for recreational reading. In the end, there is no device as simple, as uncomplicated, as a book. Give me that old-fashioned experience. Don’t load it up with doo-dads which I don’t need.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Social Networking for Authors ~ Kathy Carlton Willis

Today we’re going to talk about social networking. Some are afraid to start because they fear it will be addicting, stealing time from other more important tasks. I’d like to suggest that if I can social network for me AND my clients in just 3 hours a week, you can fit in half an hour every so often, if you plan well and discipline your time.

Acquisition editors are now asking writers what sort of social networking they have set up. This is part of our platform, and also shows we will team up with the publishing houses in marketing any books they contract with us.


Writers can network with their readers, fans, audiences, and niche-markets, while building platform, creating test markets, and more, through social networking. You can even pick up assignments by being at the right place at the right time. Editors and clients will feel like they know you through your posts—like they know your work ethic, your style, your ability to meet deadline. I’ve received several new projects through social networking. At this time, the two most popular are facebook and twitter.


Wendy Gardner, of Gardner Publicity notes that facebook serves writers well because "Facebook allows you to create a fan/group or book page, where you can post a photo of your book cover, a synopsis of your book, and news, as well as send email messages to your fans or members without necessarily having to be 'friends' with them."

You can set your blog entries to also post on facebook, a great way to multi-task!

Get creative and use facebook in unique ways to interact with your readers while at the same time promoting your work. The main caveat is to remember NOT to sound like an infomercial—post updates in the same way ladies would visit across the fence while hanging laundry. If you wouldn’t say it in person to someone, don’t say it on facebook or twitter.


  • Use the “info” tab to post reviews of your books.

  • Use the “video” tab to post book trailers and vlog-casts.

  • Create book clubs for readers, and lead them through discussion questions as the group reads the book together.

  • Offer special deals.

  • Announce book signings and speaker events.

  • Post links to all the blog URLS for an upcoming blog tour.

Find the balance between personal and professional. It’s not the place for you to act like a frat-boy or housewife of “X” county, ESPECIALLY with photos. Stay consistent to your branding.


Twitter is like micro-blogging. In just 140 characters (not words) you update your followers on your current status. Add shortened links to URLS for any book reviews, blog posts, blog tours, etc as a great way to help drive traffic to other websites mentioning you and your projects. It’s fine to follow other writers, but also be sure to follow those who are in your niche-market. They might follow you back and learn of your work. Also consider following media—they are always looking for new guests.

Whenever you are going to be speaking, signing books, or doing an event of some kind, be sure to post about it in advance to encourage your followers to be there, and also post as it happens, to build excitement for those who cannot attend, and then later after the event, to praise those who made it possible.

Take an hour or two once a month to write as many twitter updates as you can brainstorm. Make sure they are quippy, have a great hook, provide a value-added service, or have some other reason to be of interest to the reader.

Schedule these tweets (twitter updates) on a scheduler program. I use:


Another highly recommended one—that I might try next month, is I’ve heard that:

  • It shows how many characters remaining.

  • It shrinks the links (URLs).

  • It pre-schedule tweets if you post them on hootsuite in advance with an assigned date and time.

  • It allows you to set it to limit updates at 122 characters (including the link), so others can retweet it without losing the link due to too many characters.


Originally a job networking site, LinkedIn has a more professional slant than facebook, though the process for setting up an account is very similar. It has sort of a resume feel to it.

Take some time to join groups related to writing, publishing, and promotion/publicity. This will allow you to network with others having the same interests, and also to learn new tricks of the trade from them. It’s a great place to ask questions and gather advice. Some even pick up writing assignments through this.


You can join the world of social networking with a little planning, creativity, and discipline. And doesn’t that sound a lot like writing?

Today’s article is by Kathy Carlton Willis, wife to Russ, mom to Jazzy the Boston Terrier, author, editor, publicist and a certified CLASSeminars speaker. Kathy Carlton Willis Communications encompasses her many passions. Learn more about how she reflects Christ as she shines the spotlight on others at: or

Novel Log

When I was a teenage writer, I filled piles of notebooks. Not only journals--random plot ideas, possible character names, odd news stories. They never became coherent projects, however. Too much chaos.

But when I became a woman, I put childish ways behind me, and opened a private blog specifically devoted to my work in progress. Yes, someone could probably hack into it and scoop the Great American Novel while I watched helplessly from my living room sofa, but as an unpublished scribbler, the benefits outweighed the risks.

I can maintain a pretty, search-able notebook from any location in the world, with each new idea dutifully dated and filed, a sidebar full of research titles, helpful links... If nothing else, a novel log motivates me to keep my project alive.

Posts range from thinking out loud--

"So Magtel goes off in search of Jantina. Do the boys know of their mother's treachery? They must. They heard from the tower. How much do they care for their step-sister? What are their plans when they fly out? They are still children, remember. Is there another character that provides additional emotions/motives that I am missing?"

to notes gleaned from other blogs and writers--

"Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak... the Hero’s Journey.

1) The Ordinary World. Max dons his trusty wolf suit and gets into trouble
2) The Call to Adventure.Max is sent to his room, where a forest appears
3) Refusal of the Call. But Max doesn't do anything until it grows even more
4) Mentor. Whoever sent the boat...
5) Crossing the First Threshold. Max sails away in that private boat that shows up
6) Tests, Allies and Enemies. Max sails for over a year
7) Approach to the Inmost Cave. The most dangerous place in the Story World. Max arrives where those scary wild things live
8) The Ordeal. And they do their level best to scare the bejeezus out of him. But he stands up to them, see…and stares them down.
9) Seizing the sword. The hero often receives some reward for surviving. And the Wild things make him their king.—the most wild thing of all.
10) The Road Back. The hero must deal with the consequences of all that he/she has done in order to gain the reward. And now the real rumpus starts!
11) Resurrection. This is the second Ordeal, the final confrontation. Then Max, grown lonely and homesick, stands up to them and makes them stop. Not only that, he punishes them--just as he was punished.
12) Return With the Reward. Then a wiser and calmer Max arrives back in his room and found his supper waiting for him.

to photos to quotes to maps and outlines.

So--how do you keep your WIP together?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Giving Birth

Marcia Laycock won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her devotionals have been endorsed by Mark Buchanan, Phil Callaway and Jeanette Oke. Visit her website -

Author Kathy Mackel made a statement recently that resonated with me deeply. She talked about the responsibility we have as writers who are Christian, who are indwelt with the Spirit of God who says, “give life.”

Then she quoted Isaiah 26:18 - “We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind.”

Kathy admitted that she was afraid of birthing only wind. I admit that I am plagued by that same fear. I want my writing to count both now and, God willing, for eternity. There is an awful lot of wind being birthed in this world. We can’t afford to miss the opportunity to birth words of life.

But that responsibility can rest heavily on our shoulders and if we’re not careful we will lose the joy. We begin to believe that it’s all up to us. We too easily forget that God’s inspiration is in us and that only God can make a baby. He is the ultimate creator, the source, the muse, the inspiration. By his very nature He wills to birth in us the words of life needed by the world. By His very nature he has ordained the praise of His people who “go out in joy.” For nothing God ordains can fail to bring forth life.

Having just spent a weekend with a lot of very joyful people I find myself longing for that day when even the “trees of the fields will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12). But in the meantime we do not have to fear the “birthing of wind” because God is in us, making known to us the “mystery of his will according to His good pleasure” (Eph. 1:9).

Though we are but flawed creatures of dust, God has filled us with His Spirit that we might be filled with joy and enabled to prophesy - to tell forth all the goodness and glory of the Lord. Whether it be in poetry or prose, an interview or a news story, whether it be a fantasy novel or a contemporary romance, whether it be written for the Christian marketplace or the secular, all can accomplish that goal.

May we all go out in joy, sing as though only He were listening and write as though only He were reading.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guest Blogger ~ Ron Benrey, Part II

Ron Benrey is a widely published writer who has coauthored nine Christian romantic suspense novels with his wife Janet. Ron wrote two novellas independently and has written ten non-fiction books. His latest book, Know Your Rights, is an easy to understand guide to everyday law, will be published in December. Ron taught writing courses at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently teaches at major writers’ conferences on topics ranging from plotting and publishability, to Fiction After 50®, the fine art of becoming a novelist later in life. Ron holds a degrees in electrical engineering, management, and law. He’s a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ron and Janet live in North Carolina.

NJ: Ron delivered this keynote to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in May, 2010. This is Part II.

Let Novel-Writing Teach You Christianity ... and Vice Versa, Part II

Once I felt certain that my model was a true two-way street, the inevitable happened. I’d apply the fiction-writing analogy every time I listened to a sermon. I’d often leave church with fresh guidance about writing novels. And cheerful feelings about a dull sermon.

The first tidbits I gleaned were fairly minor. A sermon about the lack of information about Jesus’ early years convinced me to eliminate all details, no matter how interesting, that don’t directly advance the story. And, a message about Judeans finding signs and wonders in the miracles done by Jesus drove home the point that showing is better than telling.

Then came my first high-powered epiphany. It happened when our pastor preached on Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” His message stressed that each of us was created for a purpose.

The obvious fiction-writing parallel is that every character I create must have a definite purpose. Every character, even the extras, must advance the story. Or heighten the drama. Or reveal a truth that reinforces the novel’s theme.

I’d only just wrapped my brain around this concept, when the analogy delivered another startling insight: As the creator of a fictional world analogous to God’s Creation, I should love my characters. This broad notion morphed into a sharply focused commandment. Don’t invent any characters you won’t (or can’t) love.

A while ago, I thought about writing women’s fiction because Christian publishers buy so much of the stuff. Well, I struggled mightily and wrote several angst-filled chapters. But I knew, really truly knew, that I’d never love those characters.

Delete! I felt wonderful afterwards.

My musing about lovable characters led me to deeper ponderings about story: We all know stories must move forward, and story movement can happen in plot events or in the hearts of characters who change during the progression of events. I began to wonder: Is Christ’s story plot-driven or character-driven? I finally decided the Gospels demonstrate an interesting hybrid. The Hero followed a complex plot line, but emerged with his inner natures unscathed. However, the men and women who interacted with Jesus experienced industrial-strength character arcs.

Will this work in a novel? I hope so. It’s the plotting scheme I’ve used in two new novels I’m planning.

At this point I have to issue a safety warning. Mostly to keep me safe. My next observation, which flows directly from the fiction-writing analogy, will annoy-off many Novel Journey readers.

Awhile back, our pastor sermonized on Ephesians Chapter One, Verse 5. That’s the teaching that God chose us for redemption before the foundation of the world. In my opinion, the unmistakable insight for novelists is we should know the destiny of every character before we write our first chapters. In other words, be an outliner rather than a seat of the pants novelist (what some call “instinctive writers”).

Think about it! Planning ahead is the way God manages his Creation. Perhaps it’s also the right way to create fictional worlds.

Enough controversy! Let’s retreat to the shelter of an obscure theological mystery, an aspect of the Biblical creation story that I call the enigma of Adam and Eve. I’ve always wondered why God didn’t zap the pair and start over with two humans smart enough to obey instructions? After all, His “investment” to that point was only a few hundred pounds of clay and dust, and two whiffs of His breath.

The fiction-writing analogy suggests an answer. Anyone who’s been to a meeting of a fiction critique group knows that novelists fight fiercely to not modify their creations. We wince at minor changes and we disdain major rewrites, even when key players go off the rails. We also strive to rehabilitate errant characters, because we do love them. We’re delighted when our prodigal creations begin to behave.

Coincidentally, I worked this out a few days before a guest pastor talked about freewill and humankind’s proclivity to disobey God. Naturally, I applied the analogy, because I (like most novelists) have run into heroes, helpmates, and villains who won’t cooperate, who seem determined to do their own things.

The reason, I think, is that we must give our lead characters a kind of freewill: Somehow, I have to keep Me the author out of the characters I invent, or else they will parrot my likes, my dislikes, my personality, my world view, my age, and my gender. I want female characters to act like women, kids to act like kids, and none of the men to echo me.

Because I simultaneously juggle dozens of plot and personality issues I have to assign each character to an individual part of my mind and let these “people partitions” (as I call them) run on “autopilot.” Like it or not, some characters will go astray. I think that’s how fictional freewill works. However, I’m open for other suggestions.

Recently, I used the fiction-writing analogy to examine a problem that is plaguing the novel-writing biz. The traditional route to publication has become so challenging, that some frustrated novelists are thinking about switching to something with greater odds of success. Say, responding to a Nigerian email scam.

Does the fiction-writing analogy have anything to say on the subject? Another big Yes, indeed. A recent sermon on covenant theology convinced me that those of us who create fictional worlds also make covenants with our characters. After all, they rely on us to uphold and sustain them.

Christianity affirms that the Creator of the Universe keeps his promises. However, Christianity also teaches that a creator can make a new covenant when it becomes necessary. And so, with apologies to Jeremiah:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Novelist, when I will make a new covenant with the characters I create, not like the covenant that I made to put them in local bookstores. For no longer do readers buy novels that way, but chiefly at Wal-Mart, Amazon, supermarkets, and airports.

And this is the new covenant that I will make after these days. I will write my characters’ lives on Kindles and iPads. I will embrace ebook publishing and Print on Demand. My characters will dwell securely at Winepress and Lightning Source. I will not bemoan the loss of the traditional publishing model, but espouse the new paradigm.

For no longer shall each reader find book reviews in newspapers, or browse bookshelves, and read blurbs on the back covers. But savvy readers shall say: “We know this Novelist for his website, for his blogs, for his Twitter Tweets, and for his other social networking.” I shall establish this new covenant so my characters will thrive and prosper. They will know that I am their Novelist, and they shall entrance my readers forever.

Hey! It could happen.