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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Do I Write in the Christian Market? ~ Guest blogger Sandra Robbins

Sandra Robbins, a former teacher and principal in the Tennessee public schools, writes mystery and romance for the inspirational market. She is married and has four children and five grandchildren. Sandra and her husband met when she was still in high school and he came to the college in her hometown. They met in the church where they were married three years later. They’re still members of that congregation and have seen their four children baptized and married there. Without the help of her wonderful husband, four children, and five grandchildren who’ve supported her dreams for many years, it would be impossible to write.

Why Do I Write in the Christian Market?

For as long as I can remember I had a dream that one day I would write a book. I didn’t talk about it, and no one in my family knew that I harbored such a wish in my heart. I’d worked for years as a teacher and had advanced to the position of school principal. I had a good job. I had a family. I had responsibilities. But I had a dream.

When I finally announced my news that I was going to write, I had a decision to make. What market did I want to pursue—the secular or the Christian market? Most of my reading had been mainstream books, and I assumed that’s the path I would follow. However, God had other plans for me.

At the time I was principal of an elementary school. One of the teachers brought a book to my office one day and told me I had to read it. It was by Terri Blackstock, an author I’d never heard of, and the title was Private Justice. When I started reading that night, I couldn’t put it down and went on to read the other books in the series also.

Something happened to me during the reading of those books. God revealed to me that these were the kinds of books I wanted to write. I wanted to craft stories that told of Christians who struggled with the bad things in the world and how they could find strength and peace in knowing that God walked with them each day.

Dreams can come true, and mine did. I sold a manuscript, and then reality set in. I was no longer writing for my own pleasure, my book was going to be read by people I would never know or see. I would know nothing of their lives, and they would know nothing about me except the words I wrote. Writing for the Christian market was more than telling stories to entertain people, it was a ministry.

The word scared me. What qualified me to minister to people who were struggling with problems I knew nothing about? Sure I had a college degree and was an educator, but wasn’t ministry for preachers? And then God humbled me with words from II Corinithians 5:18. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given us the ministry of reconciliation.

As a believer, I had a ministry to tell others about God’s love whether I was a writer, a teacher, or any one of a thousand occupations. When I accepted Jesus, I became a new creature who was given a mission to reconcile the world to Jesus Christ. Now God was telling me to use my writing so that I could be an ambassador who spread His word to those in the world who had not believed.

What an awesome responsibility! But it’s not mine alone. He gave the same command to all His children. It’s not an easy task, but it is one that is expected of us. Sometimes the going gets tough, and I become discouraged. When I do, I think of my life verse in Isaiah 40:31. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

So, why do I write for the Christian market? God has impressed on my heart the need for a hungry world to know more about Him. One way I can do that is through my writing. I have often said that I pray the words I write will be like tiny seeds that I am sending into the world. I don’t know where they’re going, but I pray they will find fertile soil wherever they land.

The Columns of Cottonwood

She grew up there; she lived through the war there; she lost her parents there. Even in its burned out condition, it’s still home to Savannah Carmichael. But now it belongs to a stranger—a foreigner!—who paid the back taxes on it and bought it right out from under her.

Dante Rinaldi never expected that the culmination of his dream—to own some of Alabama’s rich farmland—would mean the destruction of someone else's. He hasn’t done anything illegal; in fact he’s worked hard for the privilege of land ownership. So why does Savannah Carmichael’s plight affect him on such a deep level?

Both believe in the sovereignty of God, but how can this situation be orchestrated by Him? Can they find a solution. . .a compromise to benefit both?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Too Many Interviews, Not Enough Time?

You're published. Now what? You market, of course. And marketing means interviews. As in requests for interviews.


Sweet because it marks the culmination of all your hard work to get published. Sweet because you can share your excitement and encouragement to others who aren’t quite as far down the path. But after the first few, they can become yet another thing to juggle as you work on edits for your contracted manuscript and write toward the deadline for your newest novel. Add in family and friends, social engagements and soccer practice, and you’ve got a problem. A big problem. So it’s easy to feel justified in serving up pat answers to the questions you’ve been asked to answer.

Don’t do it.

Interviews are important. They are a way to connect to your intended audience and gain new readers. To the question, “How long did it take for you to get published?” go ahead and answer, “Six years.” I dare you. Six years.

How profound. How inspiring. How. . .absolutely dull.

After reading the first question of an interview submitted for posting here at Novel Journey, I can tell whether the author has really put their heart into the answers or if the interview was approached as a necessary evil. Really good interviews will reward the time and effort you put forth in answering the questions. People will recognize the passion and feeling with which you craft responses. It will make them more curious about you as a writer and about your books.

Here are some suggestions to make your interview more memorable.

Target your audience.

Put personality into your answers.

Use a conversational tone.

Good questions = good interviews. If a question doesn’t intrigue you skip to the next one. (Like the time someone asked me if I were an inanimate object, what would I be--huh?)

Check your spelling and punctuation. Nothing screams, “I’m an amateur” like poor grammar skills, and it is not the interviewers job to edit.

Just as in your writing, use strong verbs, colorful similes and metaphors.

If the problem is time, pace yourself. Choose the toughest question and answer it the first day. Edit that answer the next day, then answer another question and repeat the process until the interview is finished. Procrastination is your worst enemy. When you’ve completed all the questions, shoot them to your critique group and ask them to let you know if anything falls flat, doesn’t make sense, or needs to be expanded upon.

You want people to click with you on that first question and stay with you through the entire interview. By then, hopefully, you’ll have won over a new fan. Or two. Or ten.

S. Dionne Moore is a multipublished author. In addition to interviewing debut and established authors for Novel Journey, she also teaches over at The Borrowed Book (blogspot). For more info visit her at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why Do Christian Publishers Tolerate Violence But Not Profanity?

If you're an author aiming for the Christian market, it is far easier to write about one character shooting another than cussing them out. Better a bucket of blood than a pinch of expletives. Just peruse the Christian fiction section of B&N and you will find your share of serial killers, hit men, assassins, abusers, and wannabe anti-christs plying their trades.

But I dare you to find one character who ever says “damn.”

Why is this? Why do Christian publishers tolerate violence more than profanity?

Now, by being "tolerant" of violence, I am in no way suggesting that there is a glorification of violence or an excessive amount of it. Indeed, in relation to the general market, violence and gore in Christian fiction is probably minuscule. Cursing, on the other hand, is non-existent. So somehow, somewhere along the way, a concession was made for violence and against profanity. But why?

I have two theories about why, in Christian fiction, violence is more tolerable than cussing.

First, the presence of violence and bloodshed in the Bible allows us to condone the presence of violence and bloodshed in our stories. The world is a violent place. Christians aren't immune to death, disaster, and criminal behavior. So why should we scrub our stories of it? Likewise, Scripture corroborates, telling of wars, dismemberment, hellish torment, and grisly crimes. Of course, the Bible does not go into graphic detail. We are told that David removed Goliath's head, without a play-by-play of the hewing. Likewise, the "mass drowning" of Noah's neighborhood is left to our imagination.

Furthermore, the Christian life is often viewed as a fight. We are described as soldiers and warriors; our lives are a real struggle against real spiritual opponents. The inclusion of violence in our fiction is an expression of our struggle to follow Christ in a dark, evil, world.

So my first guess is that Christian publishers tolerate violence because the Bible contains bloodshed and violence, the Christian life is a battle, and Christian aren't immune to the evils of our fallen world.

But why is there a more liberal approach to violence than profanity? Why show a hit man stalking his prey and a serial killer fulfilling his sadistic urges, without so much as a single expletive? I'm sure there's several possibilities, but the one I keep returning to is this:

Contemporary religious fiction is tethered to Fundamentalist roots. Much of the Christian art industry -- Christian film / fiction / music -- is a reaction against secularism. This posture can be traced back to early Fundamentalism's withdraw from many American institutions like politics and entertainment. Holiness, for Fundamentalists, came to be defined in terms of "negatives" -- no smoking, no drinking, no movies, no makeup, no dancing, etc., etc. Much of the evangelical counter culture was rooted in this cultural separation. Christian art became an alternative to "worldly" fare. As such, it was defined as much by what it didn't have, as what it did. I think that's still true today.

In this Fundamentalist "hierarchy of holiness," some sins are just worse than others. Homosexuality is worse than gluttony. Smoking is worse than envy. Drinking is worse than gossip. And dancing... well, let's not go there.

Consumers of Christian fiction appear to employ this "hierarchy of holiness." Thus, we've come to see the presence of profanity in our fiction as worse than the presence of violence. In the same way that we inflate certain sins like homosexuality or smoking, we have inflated certain words. (Which is why it is far easier to decapitate an antagonist than have him utter the dreaded "dammit.")

The flip-side, however, is that by cultivating this hierarchy we inevitably "deflate" or "diminish" other evils. Like violence. Either way, we have come to believe that it's worse to read an expletive, than to read about murder. That's why, for the Christian author, it is much easier to portray a drowning, a strangling, an electrocution, an assassination, or a mafia-style execution, than to simply show a character cuss.

I'm just not sure how else to view it.

Anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts. Do you think Christian publishers tolerate violence over profanity, and if so, why?

* * *

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 February 2011. You can visit his website at

Prayer’s Power

Anita Mellott homeschools and blogs “Words of Encouragement and Hope” at From the Mango Tree. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in late summer 2011.

The document’s white space mocked me as my fingers hovered over the keyboard. For the second day I’d sat at the computer for several hours. Nothing flowed.

“Lord, shouldn’t I work through this passage of Scripture?” I only had three days to write the remaining twenty-two devotionals for my book before editing it and sending it to my critique group. “Would I make the deadline? Would the publisher grant an extension? Was this the book God had led me to write?” Heaviness took over.

“Sounds like warfare. I’m on it,” promised a writing friend when I explained what was going on.

I sank to my knees that afternoon in desperation and surrender. “Lord, You’ve brought me this far. Help me trust You to see this project to the end.”

The next morning, a freedom took hold of me as never before as my fingers danced over the keyboard. I made my deadline with a day to spare.

When I tackled laying out the devotions over the year, I had no clear idea where to place each devotional. My new laptop restarted on its own every few minutes. Then it slowed down so much I could have cooked and served my family a gourmet meal. On the third morning I clued in. I prayed over my computer, manuscript, and the index cards that covered my dining table. A gentle peace took hold of me. A few days later the book was laid out.

I’m not one to see spirits behind every event or to blame the evil one when things go wrong, but I couldn’t get away from the timing of the two episodes. Spiritual warfare is real for Christian writers. Paul, in Ephesians 6, lists an array of weapons of warfare. Prayer was my offensive weapon. In the first episode, the breakthrough was miraculous and exhilarating. The second answer, while no less miraculous, only came through persisting.

Paul underscores the importance of prayer by mentioning the words “pray” three times, “praying,” and “prayers” once each in verses 18-20. He encourages us to pray in the Spirit (verse 18). I had no idea how to pray against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (vs. 12), but God’s Spirit within did, interceding on my behalf (Romans 8:25-27).

In verse 18, Paul urges us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” We don’t know when the enemy will strike, but constant prayer keeps us alert. Constant prayer during the attack empowers us to get through. The breakthrough, whether immediate or over time, always comes when we’re on our knees.

Paul’s request for prayer in verses 19-20 resonates. It’s a prayer for writers of faith: “Pray also for me, that…words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

[ACFW] 2010 Carol Award Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 Carol Awards!

Contemporaroy Novella -
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Tyndale House, Karen Watson, Editor

Historical Novella -
Christmas Bells for Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad
Steeple Hill, Tina James, Editor

Short Contemporary -
A Texas Ranger's Family by Mae Nunn
Steeple Hill, Melissa Endlich, Editor

Short Contemporary Suspense -
Evidence of Murder by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Steeple Hill, Emily Rodmell, Editor

Short Historical -
The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh
Revell, Andrea Doering, Editor

Young Adult -
So Not Happening - Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson, Amanda Bostic/Jamie Chavez, Editors

Long Contemporary -
The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry
Moody Publishers, Paul Santhouse, Editor

Long Contemporary Romance -
Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson, Natalie Hanemann/Jamie Chavez, Editors

Mystery -
The Case of the Mystified M.D. by A.K. Arenz
Sheaf House, Joan M. Shoup, Editor

Suspense/Thriller -
Intervention by Terri Blackstock
Zondervan, Sue Brower/Dave Lambert, Editors

Long Historical -
Stealing Home by Allison Pittman
Multnomah, Alice Crider, Editor

Long Historical Romance -
Cowboy Christmas by Mary Connealy
Barbour Publishing, Rebecca Germany, Editor

Speculative -
Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge
Marcher Lord Press, Jeff Gerke, Editor

Women's Fiction -
Never the Bride by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge
Waterbrook Press, Shannon Marchese, Editor

Debut Author -
The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh
Revell, Andrea Doering, Editor

Friday, September 24, 2010

Author Brenda Novak ~ Interviewed

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has three novels coming out this summer-WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT & KILLER HEAT. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May . To date, she's raised over $1 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

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

I would join a writers group first thing. The networking and support of being part of a large group, all actively seeking publication (or working to stay published and build a career) is invaluable. I wrote my entire first novel by myself, completely unaware that these writing groups existed (naïve, I know-LOL). The manuscript for OF NOBLE BIRTH (published in November 1999) came in at 800 pages-well beyond the market, which was a mistake I wouldn't have made if I'd started networking sooner. Then I found Romance Writers of America and realized that all the market info I needed was readily available through them (also realized I needed to trim that first book down to 400 pages, which is what I did in order to sell it)-as well as opportunities to meet agents and editors.

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

Achieve balance between my work life and my personal life. As a writer, you can work from home, which is fabulous. That makes you more available to your family. And yet...the work is never done. There's always something you can be doing to promote your work (doing all the social media, preparing content for your web site, dreaming up a new contest or promo item), or sell something else (a book in a different genre, a short for Amazon or whatever). It's tough to know when to call it a day and focus on something else. Fortunately, I have five kids that sort of force the issue. But I'm worried about what will happen when they all move away. Maybe I'll sit at this desk 24/7. LOL

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

The best writing advice I've never heard has been attributed to Nora Roberts (I'm not sure if she was the first to say it, however): "You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix blank one." This gives you permission to write without editing before it ever hits the page, and that's so important to getting those pages out there, where you can refine them.

The advice I always give to new writers is very simple: Believe. If you truly believe, you'll do whatever it takes to research the market, learn the craft, finish the book, get it out there, etc.

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

Love ignites my passion. I'm a true romantic at heart. Last night I watched A WALK TO REMEMBER (for the millionth time) and realized how excited I get over two people falling in love. I especially enjoy seeing love create a metamorphosis in people who were previously angry or bitter. It's such a healing balm.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I have three books coming out this summer-WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT and KILLER HEAT. These books revolve around a private security contractor based in L.A. called Department 6. The operatives specialize in undercover operations here in the U.S. and take on some pretty challenging and dangerous cases. For instance, in the first book due out July 27th, two operatives (Rachel and Nate) have to infiltrate a dangerous cult located in the middle of the Arizona desert, where they are completely cut off from outside help.

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.

Highlight: Finding Romance Writers of America and all they can offer to an aspiring romance novelist.

Lowlight: Learning my first manuscript, OF NOBLE BIRTH, was twice as long as the market would bear and would need to be rewritten.

Highlight: Finaling in the Golden Heart after rewriting OF NOBLE BIRTH and securing a reputable agent, who sold the book to HarperCollins.

Lowlight: Being orphaned before the book ever came out (which means my editor was fired and I was cast adrift).

Highlight: Meeting my current editor, Paula Eykelhof, at a regional conference and selling her a contemporary manuscript for the Superromance line.

Lowlight: Not being able to place another historical.

Highlight: Building a readership in Superromance and crossing over to Romantic Suspense with TAKING THE HEAT.

Lowlight: Nothing comes easy. Lots of hard work to build a career writing both.

Highlight: Three new RS books coming out this summer and three more on the way for next summer!

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 don't think I'd be human if I didn't have doubts. There are times when I think I've lost my touch, or that everything I write is drivel. Writing is an emotional business, filled with highs and lows (a bad review/a new sale; a difficult manuscript/a Rita final, etc.). I try to do my best to keep it all in perspective. I think it helps to be grateful for the good and to remember that "into every life a little rain must fall."

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 wish I'd known about those who take advantage of the unpublished. Before I found RWA, I met up with a literary agent who told me that I had "promise." He said that I just needed a professional editor to refine the work and then my book would be ready to submit. Not surprisingly, he had just the gal. So he charged me $75/hour and his editor took a whole year to go through my manuscript. When it was finished, it was no more fit for market than before, which meant I'd wasted $5000 at a time when my family desperately needed the money. It was one of those "live and learn" experiences, but definitely an expensive wrong turn on my part.

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

I'd have to say my editor, Paula Eykelhof, has been the biggest influence on me. She's such a warm, moral individual, who has always encouraged me to make my books deeper and richer. I think it's her feedback that has help shape my career and even the types of books I've ended up writing.

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

I'm particularly proud of the Christmas novella I have coming out in an Superromance anthology this November ("A Dundee Christmas" in THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING). I've written other Christmas novellas, including "On a Snowy Christmas" in THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, which is up for a Rita this summer, but they all turned out to be stories set at Christmas. I think "A Dundee Christmas" is my first true Christmas story, and I love it.

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

This one is easy for me! When my son was diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes, I wanted to do something to fight back. I dreamed of raising a million dollars for research. I even felt this driving need, this urgency and couldn't get it to quiet down and leave me in peace, despite the fact that I had more than enough on my plate already. I had five little kids, was just launching my writing career and had no time or resources. But then I came up with the idea of inviting my publishing contacts and fans to help raise money. I launched Brenda Novak's Online Auction for Diabetes Research at six years ago. The first year, we raised only $35,000, but that figure has grown steadily from year to year and...drum roll, please...this year we broke the $1 million figure I'd dreamed about from the beginning.

I know this would not have been possible without my writing career, because it's fellow authors, industry people and loyal readers who've made it happen.

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

Having a career to call my own gives me the biggest buzz. When I married, I expected to be a stay-at-home mom, always providing support for my husband and his business. That I've created a successful business of my own is a wonderful feeling and has provided so much joy and fulfillment-and opportunities to travel and meet people I never would've met.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I'm definitely a pantser. If I outline, I feel as if I've already told the story and get bored with it. I believe my subconscious writes the book before I do, if that makes any sense. So if I use my intuition and am careful as I go, I typically don't have to do a lot of rewriting-and yet I can let the story carry me away and go with the creative flow.

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

The fan mail that touches me most deeply are the letters and emails I get that tell me my book carried them away during a difficult time in life (while they were going through chemo, while they were taking care of their aging grandmother, etc.). Those really make all the effort I put into my books worthwhile.

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

I think have a fabulous web site is the best marketing tool available. It takes a great deal of work to keep the content changing and to make it reader interactive, but I'd recommend being creative in the use of a web site as the best marketing tool available today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Self-Publish Book Give Away

Note from Gina: While self-publishing isn't the way I went, or the way I think most of you should go, it is right for some. I was sent this book and found it to be a good resource. We will pick one person from the comments to receive a free copy.

You want to get published. You want to control the future of your manuscript and your writing career.

In this fifth edition of a self-publishing classic, best-selling author Marilyn Ross and publishing expert Sue Collier empower writers to publish their own work with minimal risk and maximum profits.

Inside The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, writers will find step-by-step guidance on publishing and marketing a book. From print-on-demand publishing to subsidy publishing to true self-publishing, the book provides a thorough explanation of how to decide which option is best.

Marilyn and Sue then help writers jumpstart a publicity campaign with a detailed marketing plan and timetable, as well as appendices filled with marketing contacts, organizations and vendors. Writers will also benefit from valuable case studies and examples of how other publishers have found success.

This expanded and revised edition of the bible of self-publishing also offers the latest information and cutting-edge advice on e-publishing and Internet marketing, with a chapter on ways to leverage social media marketing to create buzz and stand out from the crowd.

With an in-depth discussion of exclusive distributors, plus coverage of the most recent changes in bookstores and the book-selling industry, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing equips writers with everything they need to publish and promote their books and take control of their writing career.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Blogger ~ Liz Johnson

After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations, Liz Johnson set out to work in the Christian publishing industry, which was her lifelong dream. In 2006, she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream-being an author. Along the way, she wrote articles for magazines and worked as a freelance editorial consultant. Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she enjoys exploring her new city, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces.

NJ: Liz is giving away a copy of Vanishing Act. Leave her a comment to get into the drawing.

Finding a Character in Your Setting

I’ve been writing stories for more than three-quarters of my life. I’ve been putting my ideas down on paper (or computers) since I was six. But I’ve only recently begun to understand the importance of setting, the time and location, within a novel. This is an area in which I’m certainly not an expert. But after a recent trip to Prince Edward Island, I’m beginning to see how settings can become real characters.

Of course, we all understand how setting can help shape a story. You can’t write an Old West book set in Boston. Six-shooter gun fights in the street don’t work as well on old cobblestones. And a book that takes place anywhere in America in 1864 is going to be affected in some way by the Civil War. And a narrative set in small-town America will almost always include a busy-body, who’s into everyone’s business. And what’s the point of placing characters in a seaside town if they never visit the beach or sail on the water?

The setting should always impact the story. But how does it become a character in and of itself?

Let me answer that by offering an example. In the story of Anne of Green Gables, a red-headed orphan with a huge personality, all other characters—while fantastic—pale in comparison to the heroine. Except, maybe, Prince Edward Island itself.

As I read the Anne books in college, I fell in love with the island. With the descriptions of red roads and beautiful flowers and the simple beauty of rolling countryside. The wind and the waves and the heart of The Gentle Island.

So when my mom and I made our first trip to the island this summer, it was like visiting a pen pal that I’d never met but knew through and through. Walking in the wind there was like getting a hug from a friend I didn’t even know I’d been missing. Dipping my toes in the ocean was like standing in the pages of a favorite book.

I didn’t really do any other reading about PEI except reading the Anne books, and that was enough to know the heart of the land that Lucy Maud Montgomery loved so much, that the island has called Anne’s Land.

Certainly Ms. Montgomery isn’t the only author to bring her setting to life. Many Southern fiction books bring the locale alive as well. But if it’s possible to make the setting of a book its own character, why doesn’t every author do that?

First, it’s hard. It’s very difficult to weave the time and place throughout a story without shoving it in the readers face. It takes a delicate hand and a strong storyteller to write it well.

Second, few books have a setting strong enough to be its own character. Take for example my second book, Vanishing Act. It’s set in the fictional town of Crescent City, Colorado, which is big enough to hold a junior college, but not so big that it would have a university. These are important factors for the story, but Crescent City isn’t the only town that the story could possibly take place in. Any number of small towns across America would suit just as well. Crescent City does its job well, but it’s neither unique nor does it bring its own spirit to the story.

So how do we maturing writers make settings into characters?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer for that. Like so many parts of writing, it takes a lot of practice.

As you’re practicing, might I suggest a few questions to ask yourself?

Could this story be told in another time or place with the same result? What spirit does the setting bring to the story? Does the setting bring hardships or success to the other characters? Are descriptions of the location as important as descriptions of the other characters? Is it as much of a friend as the people on the pages?

Let’s all keep practicing, and I think we’ll soon discover that we’re writing characters that never speak a word.

Eighteen months ago, Nora James watched as her father was shot in an alley-and then she fled. She changed her name, her appearance and her job, hoping to keep her father’s shooter at bay. For months, it worked…but now her luck has run out. A ruthless assassin is on her trail, and soon Nora, now known as Danielle, will be found. But this time, she has FBI agent Nate Andersen by her side-right? The handsome agent would give his life to protect Danielle, but he’s wary of giving his heart…until a deadly confrontation leaves him with both on the line.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Author Interview with Carol Award Winner A.K. Arenz

Alice K. Arenz not only writes classic romantic suspense, she also writes cozy mysteries under A.K. Arenz. The Case of the Bouncing Grandma, was a finalist in ACFW’s 2009 Book of the Year contest. The second in The Bouncing Grandma Mystery Series, The Case of the Mystified M.D., was a 2010 ACFW Carol Award Winner!

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

Thanks for having me. As to how long did it take for me to get published, I’d have to say the majority of my life. I’ve been writing since I was around twelve – I’m considerably older now.  I began to work seriously toward publication in the mid-1970’s, had an agent with a big New York literary agency for five years during the 1990’s, quit writing for almost seven years, joined ACFW around 2003, and got my first book, The Case of the Bouncing Grandma, published in 2008.

Do you think an author is born or made?

I believe it’s a little of both. God hands out the gifts/talents, but it’s what we as individuals do that either enhances those gifts or not. We can’t just expect everything we need to be handed to us – at least I don’t think we do. I’ve had to learn a lot, and figure there’s even more left to learn.

What is the first book you remember reading?

I had some books that were accompanied with records where you would follow along in the book and when a “ping” sounded, it was time to turn the page. One of those that really stick out in my mind is CINDERELLA. I think I was about five years old, and remember listening to it while I was sitting at the kitchen table. Awesome memory!

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?
We’re always learning, always striving to improve our craft.

What is the theme of your latest book?

I’m not sure there is an actual theme. It’s a mystery/suspense written with the hope that it will entertain the reader, make them feel happy about the time and money invested in reading it.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

In the mid 90s I took a class called Creative Writing in Fiction at a nearby university. One of the things I walked away with was that if you truly wanted to write, if it’s what you felt you were called to do, you had to trust your gut. Sometimes relying on critiques and such can stifle you---but that’s something each individual has to decide.

Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?

Like I said, my biggest hope is that the book entertains.

When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?

When I read back through it and I get that “Ahhhhhh” feeling.

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

I honestly hate researching – though I’ve learned the necessity of doing it. Since I’m a seat-of the-pants-er, I love the thrill of discovery as I write.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

By using the one-liner : Their faces were the same. Will their fates be as well?”
If you like mystery/suspense, romantic suspense, you’ll enjoy MIRRORED IMAGE.

Thanks for having me today. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hunger Games: No Comic Arena

You probably know the Hunger Games novels. Maybe only by name?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Suzanne Collins began her series two years ago with epic-level action and suspense. As I wrote then, "Games is full of promise for sequels that will equal--perhaps even surpass--it in conflict, development and satisfaction." The YA trilogy's final installment hit shelves last month, and even before its release, Mockingjay was one of the most talked about books of 2010.

It's tempting to embrace a story, any story, that pours so much water on the Twilight fire, but don't leap before you look. Remember that Collins is writing for adolescents, pliable minds, who, more than any other target audience, are actively building the beliefs that will shape their future lives.

"Because it presents the child with a portrait of a world he is, in real life, only just coming to know, every book teaches a new way of thinking about that world. The question is not whether a book teaches but what and how and whether its intent is to humanize a child or merely to socialize him." John Goldthwaite, The Natural History of Make-Believe.

So what does Mockingjay teach?

It's realistic, in that it doesn't try to paint rainbows. But the ending lacks any hint of a redemptive future, which is what makes tragic novels truly meaningful and inspiring. Instead, we see a listless fate that just stretches on and on. A husband, sure, a couple of kids, sure, and yet you can almost hear the heroine heave an impassive sigh as she narrates these developments.

Ever-after life is not always happy, not always exciting, very true, but the worldview that shines through hardly humanizes Collins' readers. Post-war life in Panem is empty, and her main characters seem almost dead inside. Which is absolutely the reverse of, say, the early Christians, who lost everything they loved, were persecuted almost to death, and yet still counted life worth living. "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

Compared with that mindset, the atmosphere of Mockingjay is nihilistic, a world where there isn't much point to anything, no reality except love (perhaps). Not quite the kind of satisfaction I anticipated two years ago.

For sure, Collins didn't take an easy Twilight out, where "everyone gets everything they want, even if their desires necessitate an about-face in characterization or the messy introduction of some back story. Nobody has to renounce anything or suffer more than temporarily—in other words, grandeur is out." (Publishers Weekly)

There is plenty of suffering and renunciation in Mockingjay. More than enough. However, that last line definitely rings true for both series finales--"grandeur is out."

As John Goldthwaite would add, "Such a belief [that the world is Sustained in its travels] is the one just warrant for inflicting pain in a children’s book—for only by its felt presence can the pain be borne.... The only lasting justification for make-believe literature is the redemptive grace of agape, through which the world, with all its perils and squalor, may be revealed to children as a comic arena socially and a terra incognita invested with true mystery and true light."

No Soliloquy on a Septic System

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

"You are merely a player about to deliver a soliloquy on the septic system to a couple dozen poplar trees and a patch of pale blue sky.” "Gravity" by Louis Jenkins from Just Above Water.

If I believed that I’d quit writing. But I don’t. I believe God designed me, talents, warts and all, “to do good works which he has prepared for (me).” That includes writing the stories from my life that will touch the lives of others, the poems that creep up on me and arrive unbidden on the page and the articles about other people who have allowed me to tell their stories so that others may be inspired. It includes, too, the fiction I struggle to release from my brain and heart.

As I look back at my writing career, which spans (gulp), almost a quarter century, I see God’s hand guiding and directing. Some might say it was all coincidences but really, who but God could have done this –

Not long after becoming a believer, a friend asked me to go with her to a seminar called Speak Up with Confidence. The teacher, Carol Kent, talked a lot about writing as she taught about speaking. And the burning desire to write, which had been simmering in me all my life, suddenly ignited.

A few weeks later we arrived at the small church where my husband was taking over as senior pastor. He was told he had to write a weekly column for the local paper. Feeling overwhelmed he asked if I would do it. That was the beginning of six years writing a faith column for that paper. When that one closed I approached the other newspaper, but they declined the offer.

As I was leaving the office, I felt a strong nudge to tell the editor my husband and I were about to leave for a year-long mission adventure in Papua New Guinea. “Would you be interested in a couple of articles from there?” I asked, pretty sure he’d say no thanks. Perhaps he felt sorry for me, since he’d turned down the column, but he shrugged and said I could send him one or two and maybe he’d run them. I sent him two and he requested more, with a short note, “Ever considered a career in journalism?” When we returned home he called and asked if I’d not only be interested in writing the column but also doing some other work for him. That was the beginning of almost 15 years of writing for that paper.

About that same time I saw a small ad about a Christian writers’ group meeting nearby. I signed up right away. Discovering that fellowship was a huge encouragement. That year I won first place in their short story competition. The next year I was asked to join the executive. That was the beginning of over twenty years of active involvement with Christian writers.

During that time people started asking me to compile my column into a book. I dismissed the idea, but people kept asking and then someone said that maybe God was prodding those people, so I prayed about it. A few weeks later I met a man who worked for a small independent Christian publisher. A few months later The Spur of the Moment was released, selling out the first edition quite quickly. That was followed by an emailed column that went out to over 5,000 people. Then a second book evolved, along with more articles in magazines, and short stories in journals.

I’d always loved writing fiction and had won several contests and prizes over the years. I’d written five full length manuscripts but had never done anything with them. I’d just finished my fifth manuscript, One Smooth Stone, when a new Canadian publisher launched a contest to find the Best New Canadian Christian Author. I sent my manuscript to a couple of writer-friends to see what they thought. They said go for it so I did. One Smooth Stone won the contest and was published.

Coincidences? There are too many to be called chance, too many to mention. All of them evidence that none of us is “merely a player.” We are Christian writers with value to God and those around us. We are not delivering a “soliloquy to a septic system” but words with heart and meaning that are not floating out to “poplar trees and blue sky” but to people who need to hear them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Author Allison Pittman ~ Revisited

Allison Pittman is a Christian author and speaker who watches too much TV, eats too much chocolate, and lives a gloriously flawed life covered by the grace of her savior Jesus Christ!

What was the most difficult part of writing For Time and Eternity?

~~It’s hard to explain, but I truly felt a sense of spiritual warfare almost from the beginning of the project. I had wonky things happen with my computer, and sometimes an absolutely oppressive sense of writer’s block. Not blocked for ideas really, the story just rolled out for me from the first spark. But, a block of motivation. Everything seemed to take precede
nt over writing. I felt a firestorm of distractions. More than any of my other books, I felt I had to rely on God for both focus and motivation. And, praise be to God, I think the book stands as a victory to that struggle.

What will be your response to those who might struggle with the historical facts and what it does to the modern Mormon church’s reputation?

~~I’ve always said that I didn’t intend for this book to “take on” the Mormon church, or even the practice of polygamy. It’s the story of a woman’s search for a true, deep, sincere relationship with Jesus Christ. She is a woman who rejects Mormon teaching; Mormons reject the fundamental truths of the Gospel. Mormons have largely built their reputation on the fact that their teachings are “different” than those taught in Scripture. Much of what is said by the characters who represent the Mormon leadership in the book comes from primary source texts of LDS sermons, editorials, and spiritual writings. The modern, mainstream Mormon church denounces the practice of polygamy, and that denouncement underscores the fact that it existed. But they also have a reputation for supporting a “gospel” that changes to suit the needs of the Saints. One thing that the Lord put on my heart during the process of writing this book is this: converts to the early LDS church were simply people seeking God. Modern converts to the LDS church are people seeking God. The relationship between Christians and Mormons has never been a smooth one, but I can’t help but think that the growth of the Mormon church might not have been such an exponential burst if Christians had reached out in love rather than pitchforks and torches.

How did this story start? With the doctrinal differences or with the thought of a woman being expected to share her husband? Share how you married the two threads.

The story actually started with the husband character, Nathan. It started with the idea of a man so desperate to please God, so in need of love and acceptance, he would follow any teaching that offered that guarantee. From there came the love story; I always wanted to underscore the fact that these two—Nathan and Camilla —truly loved each other. I was fascinated with the idea that both Nathan and Camilla were facing a choice between following their faith in God, or their love for each other. Both were facing the same sacrifice.

Where did you begin with your research?

~~Hard to say “begin…” I read some books on Mormon history, some of The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and the Covenants—sacred texts to the LDS church. I spent several days in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, strolling through museums and had an eerily quiet, solitary afternoon at the Great Salt Lake. I also read through several message boards populated by former LDS church members, and that was really chilling. There is so much hurt coming out of that church. Interesting, Christians leave their churches to pursue worship with Mormons, but very few Mormons leave their faith to pursue true Christianity. They are hurt, betrayed, frustrated—so broken and made to feel so unworthy. Such defensiveness against any aspect of faith. They’re taught: it’s this, or nothing. And, sadly, feeling disenchanted with Mormonism, they’ll choose nothing. That is the core of Nathan’s battle in the book. If he pauses for one second to think that the prophecies of Joseph Smith are false, then he has absolutely nothing to believe.

How did you choose which details to include in your story?

~~ I also don’t use this book to hi-light the Mormon trail itself—that laborious trek across the country. Not that the journey wouldn’t make a great story—lots of conflict and drama…disease, death…all that fun stuff. But, face it, for the most part, it was just a lot of walking. And walking. And riding. And walking. For Camilla and Nathan, it was little more than the world’s worst honeymoon. History also tells us that the first few years in Deseret also meant plagues of locusts and other hardships. Again, great stuff—and maybe fodder for future books. With this as the initial book in the series, I wanted to focus on one woman’s very personal choice; I didn’t want the grand historical drama to overshadow this very personal conflict. I’m always a firm believer that great fiction comes from small stories.

Without spilling the plot beans, do you have research details that will make further books in the series even more controversial or challenging to write? Why?

~~ The second book in the series deals with military conflict between the United States government and the Mormons. Current headlines that deal with the government’s role in allowing freedom of religion have nothing on what was happening in Utah just before the Civil War.

On a personal note. I LOVED Saturdays with Stella. Do you plan to write more non-fiction? And what might it be?

~~ Aw, thank you. Miss Stella-Bella continues to bless people—I get emails all the time from readers who love that book, too. I’m excited to be leading a ladies’ Bible study group this fall through Saturdays with Stella. Unfortunately, no, I don’t have another non-fiction book in the works right now. Stella was such an amazing gift from the Holy Spirit, and I’m always keeping my heart and mind open! But, readers who love Stella can still get new stories if they go to my website,, and sign up for my newsletter!

Which is your preference to write, fiction or non-fiction and why?

~~ That’s tough. I’d have to go with fiction, though. Like I said, Stella was a gift. Whenever I try to flesh out ideas for other books, I find that I have a couple of good paragraphs…and that’s it. So, you know, they become the occasional blog, or newsletter piece, or even just a good facebook post. But fiction? Endless. It’s so consuming—the research, the character building, the dialogue you repeat over and over in the shower until you can grab a towel and try not to drip on your keyboard as you type it out before the voices go away. I love hiding my personal grudges within unlikeable characters and planting seeds of the Gospel in the lives of those characters who are redeemed within the pages.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thoughts on Kitsch in Fiction

I read somewhere—I think it was C.S. Lewis—that the devil’s favorite trick is to get people to pick one truth to the exclusion of another. He doesn’t care which direction we stray off the Path, so long as he can get us off the Path. That is certainly true for novelists.

Writing a good novel is much like walking a very narrow path. A novelist can fall in one direction by ignoring the audience altogether (call this “elitism”), and in the other direction by pandering to the lowest common denominator in the audience (call this “kitschiness”). The first mistake results in truth or beauty withheld due to a failure to communicate, usually because the author is too in love with her own words to sacrifice them for mere readers. The second mistake results in truth or beauty corrupted due to “dumbing down” the words to suit readers who refuse to think. As with most important things in life, maintaining a good balance between these extremes is not so simple.

Among Christians writing novels, the problem of literary elitism is fortunately rare. Unfortunately however, the problem of literary kitsch is all too frequent in novels by Christians. Recently I got some insight into why this is, when to my very great surprise I heard several published Christian novelists and working Christian painters and sculptors deny that there is anything wrong with pandering to the lowest common denominator in one’s audience.

Clearly, a mistake can’t be avoided if it isn’t seen as a mistake, so it seems worthwhile to explore this problem.

What is a “kitschy” novel?

“Kitsch” in literature involves two closely related ideas. First, it’s the literary equivalent of a politician kissing a baby. It means going for an easy and superficial emotional response instead of doing the more demanding and enriching work required to draw the audience deeply in through genuine connection. The emotion in kitschy work means little or nothing, and most people know it, but the audience so strongly hungers for what it ought to mean that many will pretend it’s real and worthwhile anyway. In other words, kitsch is similar to ideas like “corny,” “cheesy,” or “saccharine.” But that’s only part of the meaning.

Kitschy novels are also the literary equivalent of faking a friendship in order to get something from a person. They place theme or message ahead of everything else. The novelist might devote time to their “friendship” with the audience, saying the things one says to friends, giving gifts and doing favors, so to speak, but if the underlying motivation is to get something from the audience—to get the readers to do something, think something, believe something—then every other aspect of the novel is corrupted and in the end the audience either: a) feels they have been used (if they are smart), or b) is manipulated and doesn’t know it (if they are not so smart). Either way, the reader’s experience is similar to that of a con man’s victim. Even if they do or believe what the novelist hoped, it is not for genuine reasons, not sincere, but only because they were tricked. This is particularly abominable if the novelist’s goal is to communicate the gospel. How could any Christian think God would approve of spreading the Good News through cheap tricks?

Why this is wrong

Since the definition of "kitsch" includes the ideas of mediocrity and manipulation, I assumed all of my more artistic and literary friends would agree that kitschy art and literature is undesirable, but as I mentioned, it turns out that’s not so. Some don’t even agree there is a problem. Fascinated, I asked them a lot of questions and it turns out there are at least four common arguments for why kitschy art and literature should be accepted. Each argument contains the seeds of its own destruction.

The first argument is, “Who are we to say it’s kitschy?”

This is driven by an admirable desire to avoid judgmentalism, or else by a less laudable tendency to make tolerance a virtue for its own sake. Either way, we should return to the definition of “kitsch”. Does the work go for an easy and superficial emotional response? Is it driven by a message to the exclusion of other legitimate artistic concerns? These questions transcend personal taste. One need not like a novel to respect it, to agree that it is sincere, complex or deeply meaningful. To a very large extent it is possible to say, “This is good work,” or, “That is bad work,” based on definable criteria rather than personal opinion. Legitimate literary and art critics frequently overlook their personal opinion to base reviews on these objective standards.

Also, we should return to the idea of an artistic spectrum and note that the existence of “gray areas” as we move toward both ends of that spectrum doesn’t mean we can ignore the dangers further on in those directions. Some novels stand in a gray area between the balanced middle and a bias toward elitism on one end, or kitsch on the other. Legitimate differences of opinion may exist about the nature of the work in those gray areas, but that doesn’t excuse a thinking person from standing firm against the general mistakes of elitism and “kitschiness” in principle.

The next argument for accepting kitschy art is this: “Lots of people like kitschy novels, so let’s leave them alone.”

This may be driven by another admirable instinct, which is the desire to avoid causing offense or hurting feelings unnecessarily. After all, if you tell an audience you think their favorite novelist’s work is kitschy, it will likely cause offense. And it is certainly true that “lots of people like kitschy novels.” But for a Christian this is the simplest argument to dismiss, because of course we know the world’s approval is never a reason to define anything as acceptable. Often the truth is just the contrary. In the fallen world, people have a long history of settling for the mediocre. This is what we do when we choose anything but Christ. So as Christians, we know better than to respond by saying, “Well, they seem to be happy, so let’s leave them alone in their ignorance and error.”

Part of our role in life is to shine the light of God’s love and perfect beauty into all the dark and muddled corners of this world. Therefore Christian novelists in particular bear a responsibility to stand against both haughty elitism and the (much more common) easy kitschiness that infects the world of Christian fiction. We have a responsibility to demand instead a kind of literature that respects the audience enough to sincerely attempt to engage them (no elitism), and to engage them in ways that are honest and important (no kitschiness). If the audience is too ignorant to understand that they need this, or too ignorant to even know such a thing is possible, then it is our responsibility to help them see the possibilities they’re missing.

A third argument I’ve heard is, “If it’s the best work a person can do, that’s good enough for God.”

Often the widow’s mites are cited, or the parable of the talents, and of course it is perfectly true that our best (and nothing less) is exactly enough for God, whether our best is excellent in worldly terms or not. But it is a long way from saying that, to saying God doesn’t want us to improve, or God doesn’t care if we are working in the wrong field.

In this case we’re assuming the novelist does not want to produce kitschy work; she just can’t help it because she hasn't the skill or the experience to do otherwise. Skill and experience being two different things, we should look at them separately.

When a writer's level of experience is not up to the task, the proper thing to do is to honor their effort and sincerity—as God does—while honestly critiquing the work for what it is. No good can come from lies or prevarication, from saying the work isn’t kitschy, or the kitschiness of the work doesn’t matter. The novelist is robbed of a potential learning experience, and the suffering public is subjected to yet more mediocrity. If the novelist is young in her genre but appears to have the fundamental gifts required, those who are qualified should explain where she has gone wrong and help her find her way, but we should never pretend a kitschy effort is acceptable.

As for skill, Christians are taught that everyone is given particular gifts. In Exodus for example, it says of Bezalel, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs...” Clearly then, artistic ability is a gift from God. Although everyone is given gifts, not everybody is given artistic gifts. Unfortunately, many people desire artistic gifts they were not given, or else have become convinced they have those gifts when they do not. Much misery is caused by the pursuit of goals requiring gifts we do not have. Therefore when we encounter someone who seems to be determined to pursue an art form for which they are not gifted, we do them no favors by pretending the results are in any way acceptable. On the contrary, the kindest and most loving thing is to steer them away from the arts and toward the area of their true giftedness, because it is only there that they will be fulfilled.

A fourth argument commonly used to justify kitschy novels is, “God can use it. Many people have been blessed by it. Some people have even been led to Christ by it.”

Here we find yet another good motivation gone wrong. Of course we never want to interfere with God’s work on earth (not that we really could), but it is flawed theology to think God approves of a thing simply because He can use that thing.

Consider Assyria, a nation of idolaters, which God used to punish Israel and ultimately to return them to faithfulness. Think of Judas, used first by Jesus to teach the value of “a beautiful thing” (perfume worth a year’s salary poured extravagantly on the Lord), and then used again to demonstrate that Jesus was not coerced, but instead freely chose to give his life for you and me (“what you are about to do, do quickly”). And above all, think of the cross. What Christian would dare to say God approved of the Assyrian culture, or of Judas, or (heaven forbid) which of us is prepared to say God approved of crucifixion? Yet how the cross was used!

Similarly, we must never make the mistake of approving of kitschy novels—or mediocre work in any part of life—simply because our mighty God is fully capable of using even kitschy things for His good purposes. That would make us guilty of violating the command, “Do not test the Lord.”

Let the light shine

The Bible has a lot to say to novelists. Among them are these three facts: 1) Artistic creativity is a gift from God; 2) We are to bring our very best to God; 3) We are to let our light shine before men, that they may see our good deeds, (
our work), and praise our Father in heaven. Given those imperatives, there is no excuse for Christians to approve of kitschy novels (bad "deeds") which reflect poorly on the Lord, just as there is no excuse for the egotistical obscurity of elitist writing. As in so many other areas of life, the Way lies in the balanced middle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Blogger ~ Anita Higman

Award-winning author, Anita Higman, has twenty-six books published for adults and children. Her latest book is Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe (Summerside Press) and is a 2-in-1 novella collection with coauthor, Irene Brand. As a special promotion to accompany the book Anita and Irene created a free Christmas gift book (in e-book form) to view, download, or email to a friend. It’s full of family traditions, memories, recipes, and cozy Christmas thoughts. Please feel free to check out their new book, Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe, view the book trailer, and receive their free Christmas gift book on Anita's website.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There is but one art, to omit.”

He obviously appreciated the power of editing. I call it power, because editing has the ability to transform a rough draft into something remarkable. Something salable. After I complete a rough draft I go over it quite a few times, checking for problems, large and small. Here are just a few of my editing checks. You’re welcome to add these to your own personal list.

1. Did I sprinkle in backstory like a fine spice or dump in the whole jar at the beginning?

2. Do my characters have quirks and ticks like real people?

3. If I repeated words are they beautifully rhythmic or just annoyingly repetitious?

4. Is it clear who’s talking, or will readers need to stop to figure it out?

5. If I altered anything midway—character’s hair color, season of the year, etc, did I make those changes all the way through the manuscript?

6. Did I check each “was” and “were” as well as other scrawny verbs? Do any of them need to be removed from the herd?

7. Is the word “that” used so much that readers will become so weary of that that they’ll want to use my novel pages for kindling?

8. Have I included literary devices such as sensory details, foreshadowing, irony, metaphors, and similes to give my story depth and delight?

9. Did I dip so randomly and deeply into the barrel of limp and lifeless adverbs and adjectives that my prose came out with a sickly purple hue?

10. Are the elements of action, description, and dialogue balanced in my story?

11. Is my point of view consistent, or did I slip into head-hopping?

12. Is the setting clear in each scene?

13. Are my characters memorable and believable, or are they one-dimensional and uninspiring? Even with their flaws are my heroine and hero relatable and likable? Do I want to cheer them on?

14. Will readers easily know the year, the season, and the time of day?

15. Does my timeline have inconsistencies?

16. Did I vary the length of sentences in my paragraphs so they’re eye-appealing and easy to read?

17. How is my pacing? Is there a good rhythm to my storytelling? Are there passages I need to slow down or speed up for effect?

18. Do I have too many summary paragraphs? Do some need revision so I’m showing and not telling?

19. Does my work have the fine brush strokes of subtext dialogue?

20. If I’ve written in first person does it look like there was an “I” explosion all over the manuscript?

21. If the professions and hobbies of the main characters are important to the story will the readers get a good look into this part of their lives? Was this material presented in a way that is organic to the story, and did I check the information for accuracy?

22. Is my dialogue mind-numbingly boring or realistic and fresh?

23. Have I read the work out loud, or at least did I have my computer read it to me? By the way, the woman who reads to me on my computer is named Crystal. Even though she is a little robotic sounding, I know when I listen to the words I will “hear” errors that I won’t “see.” Give it a try. It really works.

I hope this mini version of my editing checklist is helpful in all your novel-polishing endeavors!

Two Christmas stories - one historical, one contemporary - under one cover.

Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: An Appalachian Christmas

A promise to her dying sister compels Julia Mayfield to take her young nephew to Mistletoe, Kentucky, a tiny town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. Sparks fly when she meets David Armstrong, a World War II veteran like herself. Even as shadows from the past weave a dangerous web around Julia and David, will their love flourish like the mistletoe that blankets the nearby hills?

Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: Once Upon a Christmas Eve

Hollie Goodnight's store has just been voted best Christmas shop in America. All the new publicity draws flamboyant novelist Van Keaton to the cozy town of Noel, Missouri, demanding to write Hollie's story - a dramatic tale of misfortune and triumph. She is swept up in his world of beautiful words and fanciful interludes ... until Owen Quigly, her lifelong best friend, launches a plan to win her back.