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Monday, November 29, 2010

Women writers at war over fake book reviews on Amazon

The story involves subterfuge, jealousy and dirty tricks in the world of literature.

And its unlikely setting is the readers’ reviews section on Amazon.

Alongside details of a book for sale, the website offers supposedly independent verdicts from customers, including a rating of from one to five stars.

However, rival publishers are accused of hijacking the system to praise their own volumes and disparage the opposition.

Authors are turning on each other, agencies are charging up to £5,000 to place favourable fake reviews and Amazon has recruited a team of amateur critics to restore the balance.

One authorOne author, Rosie Alison, became so incensed by a series of barbed reviews on the website that she called in investigators to see if rival publishers were behind the stinging criticism.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Dilemma of Self-Promotion

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."

Proverbs 27:2

I'm not sure how most Christian authors reconcile this verse with the demands of marketing. It used to be that the publisher would trumpet their author's praise. But now, if a writer plans to sell books they've got to do more than toot their own horn. They've got to rent a high-wattage PA system and hire an orchestra to boot. Frankly, waiting for someone else to praise you (as the above Scripture recommends) can be a career disaster.

Yet there's nothing worse than watching an author go from a humble, struggling wannabe to a living breathing Spam advertisement. Not long ago, Kristen Lamb, in The Most Effective Author Marketing Tool, sadly chronicled what many desperate writers (and their internet presence) become:

This past week on Facebook I approved a friend request for another writer. Within MINUTES, I had four other e-mails. “Here is my website! Go to my blog! Look at my book! Here is a discount! Pass on to all of your friends and let me show them how to blah blah blah!” It made me regret I’d ever befriended this person. Rather than it being like Starbucks, “Here is a coupon for a free Frappuccino” (awesome), it sounded more like, “Me, me, me, me, me! Look at meeeeee!”

While most of us blanch at such brash PR, the question remains: How does an author sell her book without becoming an obnoxious bore? Surely the answer cannot be NO PR. And in lieu of publishers really putting some money into promoting an author, who else but the author is supposed to do that? Nevertheless, there is a fine line between marketing oneself and becoming "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (I Cor. 13:1).

Agent Jessica at BookEnds recently asked How Does Social Networking Work for You? She wrote, "What about an author’s Internet presence grabs your attention and impresses you, what turns you off?" The opinions inevitably clustered, including what turned most readers off about an author's website. Here's some samples:

Steve: "On Twitter and Facebook, it's important for authors to do more than merely self-promote. It's not that the promotion is inappropriate, but if that's all an author does with social media, she comes across as tin-eared and self-important."

Shawn: "...what doesn't work for me is when the author continues talking about the subject of their latest book, ad infinitum, in every post, tweet and status update. Especially after I've read the book. I want to feel some evolution to their thinking or it all begins to feel like one long advertisement."

RJones: "All day I see promotions on twitter, facebook, etc., like "My newest book is out May 25! So excited." or "Enter to win the contest! You could win book XY." Neither of those gave me any urge to read the book."

fivecats: "there's a fine line for me between an author's web site as a sales tool and an information point. i don't want a hard sell and i really don't want much of a sales job on the site at all."

Anonymous: "Some of the most obnoxious writer friends I have are forever and a day selling, selling, selling. You want to bash them over the head but of course you don't ever say a word because they are so sure this is the right thing to do..."

I find these comments instructive in two ways. First, most readers seem to recognize that authors need to promote themselves. No one begrudges a writer who pitches their stuff. In fact, if I go to an author's website and there is nothing about their books and where to buy them, I question that author's professionalism. Not only do readers tolerate a certain degree of marketing, we expect it.

But while most authors recognize the need to market oneself, there is also a point of diminishing returns, a point where self-promotion actually turns away potential buyers. I reached that point recently with another author. I was following their social networking stream until I began to see it was devoted, almost entirely, to plugging their own book. I finally un-friended them. Somewhere along the way, I had went from a reader to a unit-mover and the author went from a storyteller to a glorified car salesman.

Somewhere along the way a line was crossed.

The dilemma of self-promotion is where you draw the line. Where's the line between engaging your readers and selling your books? Or must an author always engage readers with ulterior motives? Where's the line between saying too much about our books and not saying enough? Where's the line between effective promotion and over-saturation?

Frankly, I'm not sure of the answers. Maybe the answers are different for everyone. Nevertheless, I am resolved about this: There must be more to my life than selling my book. And there must be more to yours than buying it.

* * *

So I'm interested: Have you ever stopped following an author because of their aggressive marketing tactics? And how can authors effectively promote themselves without slipping into crass PR?

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


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

“Mama, Mama, can we help a kid in the Appalachians again this Christmas?” My tween bounced up and down in her chair at the dining table. “Remember? Last year my discipleship group collected gifts that were on a kid’s wish list. I saw a video today. They have nothing. I mean nothing.”

She wrung her hands. “Sometimes they don’t even eat, Mama, and you know what? They walk for miles together to get food, like a tomato. Can we help? Please, can…”

My husband shook his head and interrupted, “Sweetie, it’s not about what we can do. What are you going to do to help?” Her eyes grew wide, and then she looked away and cast her eyes down.
I glared at him. What was he doing? Why couldn’t he encourage her? A deafening silence prevailed.

Slowly my tween raised her head. “I know, Daddy.” She moved the chicken around on her plate with her fork. “I...I was thinking. I’ll give my Nintendo DS.”

I almost choked. “But you saved up for that. Why don’t you give her your IPod Shuffle?
She looked at me. “Mama, I don’t even like my Shuffle anymore. I mean that’s why I saved up for a Nano. I love my DS. That’s why I want to give it to her. And, it was on the wish list.” A tear slid down her cheek.

I bent my head and studied the food on my plate, my cheeks burning.

I heard Jim say, “That’s a good idea. But take some time to pray about it. You should be peaceful about your decision.”

As I raised my head, I caught his glance and saw the smile spreading across his face. I understood what he had been trying to do.

“I’m so proud of you, Princess,” I told my daughter as I tried to smile while holding back my tears.

Christmas is about giving, but it took my tween to remind me about the essence of true giving: Giving when it costs.

I thought of my half-finished manuscript, the log of article ideas, the book proposal my critique group was encouraging me to send out, and the times I begrudge the early mornings and late nights it takes to write. Writing is more than a calling—it’s a sacrifice.

“Lord, you’ve called me to write to encourage others. Help me to give even when I don’t feel like it; to share from my heart selflessly. To give as you give.”

“…I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” 2 Samuel 2: 24.

Anita Mellott
From the Mango Tree

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First the Engagement, 10 Days Later... The Book?

LONDON – First came the royal engagement. Now — 10 days later — the first book.

"William and Kate: A Royal Love Story," by The Sun newspaper's royal reporter James Clench was published in Britain Friday, the first in a slew of new titles about the relationship between Prince William and Kate Middleton that publishers hope will set cash registers chirping in the months before their April 29 wedding at Westminster Abbey.

Published by Harper Collins and The Sun — both owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. — the book is scattered with photos by Arthur Edwards, the paper's long-serving royal photographer. Read the rest of the story HERE.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Special Black Friday and Beyond Event

75 Christian Authors * One Amazing Online Event

The Christian Review of Books in conjunction with CrossPurposes Bookstore is excited to announce the first annual Christmas Book Signing Bash.

Beginning on the day after Thanksgiving and lasting ten days (26 November
- 7 December), this book signing will be an unprecedented online event. 75
of today’s favorite Christian Authors have come together to answer
questions, chat with their readers, and offer signed copies of their
books—all without leaving the comforts of home and hearth!

Readers can search by author, title, or genre at the Christian Review of
Books ( and then follow the purchase links
to CrossPurposes Bookstore ( and buy autographed
copies of each book featured. The authors will sign the books and ship them
to the customers.

For a full list of participating authors, visit the CRoB.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Living Gratitude

As a writer, I have much to be thankful for this year including a new job as the Editor-in-Chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild in Colorado Springs CO. This job combines my two great vocational passions—editing and nurturing writers—and is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the U.S.

But a life overflowing with thankfulness is a fairly new endeavor for me—something I came to only in the last two to three years. I believe God wants us to be content with what He’s given us before opening new doors in our lives.

For years, I was not content. I loved my life. I loved, and still love (only now better I hope), my wife and family. But I always endured an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, letting petty annoyances fueled by ingratitude rob me of joy.

One day, I’d had enough. I determined to be grateful for what He’s given me because it’s all His anyway. My responsibility is to take what God’s given me, mix it with my talents and skills (which He’s also given me) and give Him back more. To live the Parable of the Talents.

With that change, my life became more satisfying. My relationships deeper, richer. My situation didn’t change; I did.

Then without my looking for it, at the point when I was content, God opened a door to a new challenge—the Christian Writers Guild. And with honest regret for what I was leaving behind, I stepped through that door with excitement.

It’s not easy to focus on the good—that’s not the way of this world. Here, we focus on what we don’t have, but feel we’re entitled to.

But I have to remember, I have nothing. My Father has everything. He will supply my needs.

My life’s verse is Romans 12:2. I memorized it in the NIV, but I love how The Message interprets it in context:

Place Your Life Before God
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”
(Romans 12:1-3)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

As Kathleen Y’Barbo grew up, she learned that her love of story could carry her off to places far beyond her small Texas Gulf Coast town. Soon she hit the road for real, earning a degree in Marketing from Texas A&M before setting off to such exotic destinations as Jakarta, Tokyo, Bali, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. Eventually, the road led back to Texas and a career in writing. Within a decade, Kathleen became a best-selling author of more than thirty award-winning novels, novellas, and young adult books. A tenth-generation Texan, Kathleen Y’Barbo has a daughter and three sons.

How High Do You Bounce?

“Success is not how high you reach; success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.” General Patton

Have you had to bounce yet? If you’re writing for publication, you’re somewhere on the cycle of getting, being, or staying published. Either you’re on the hunt for that contract, working toward a deadline, or, as in the case of seasoned authors, both.

What does this have to do with publicity and marketing? Plenty! Where you are in this cycle will determine the direction of your publicity plan. For the author seeking to be published, publicity should concentrate on name recognition and developing a platform. Authors with a contract in hand will want to develop a plan that sends readers flocking to bookstores for your book.

But what if you’re an author who has made it to the third category? Perhaps you’re flying high with sales numbers that are going nowhere but up. Fabulous! May we all be in that situation! Unfortunately, not all authors experience such a trajectory. Sometimes a writer’s journey zigzags instead. I’ve heard it said that an author is only as good as the last book sales. While I’m not sure I agree with that, I do think all who put pen to paper should be mindful that someday he or she may see the cellar rather than the penthouse.

So what’s an author to do?


Yes, bounce. When headed down–be it book sales, name recognition, or some other writing-related woe– turn things around and aim upward. Sounds simple, right? But how?

Start by looking back on what you’ve done, make a list, and eliminate any marketing efforts that flopped. Make note of what worked and add that to a separate list.

When you’ve exhausted your brain cells remembering what has and hasn’t worked, brainstorm what’s to come. Start by setting goals for bouncing back from this adversity. Are you looking to drive sales up? Then craft a publicity plan that will elevate your book in the public eye. Perhaps a blog tour (see last week’s column for ideas) or a few well-placed press releases will make a difference in this book. Have a bent for being interviewed? Start hunting places where you can get on-air conversations going about your topic. Not so connected? Find a good publicist and have him or her make the arrangements for you.

It’s all about the bounce. How high? That’s up to you.

When an aspiring reporter and a Pinkerton detective get tangled in Doc Holliday’s story—and each other—sparks can’t help but fly.

Despite her father’s attempts to marry her off, Anna Finch dreams of becoming a reporter. A chance encounter with legendary gunslinger Doc Holliday gives her the opportunity of a lifetime, but Pinkerton agent Jeb Sanders is about to ruin everything.

Though her father hired Jeb to keep her out of mischief, Anna’s inconvenient attraction to her hired gun only multiplies her troubles. She doesn’t realize Jeb has a score to settle with Doc Holliday, or that her association with the famous outlaw will affect more than just her marriage prospects. Between her father’s desperation to see her wed and Jeb shadowing her every move, getting the story and fulfilling her journalistic ambition just got far more complicated than she ever imagined.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Are You Warming Up to E-Readers Yet?

I love the feel of a book. A REAL book. Paper, pages, ink, glossy covers. So, when the e-readers came out, I wasn't rushing out to buy myself one. In fact, I really thought I would never want one. I have to stare at the computer screen much of my waking moments as it is, so the thought of curling up to another screen at the end of the day didn't warm me.

My debut novel, Crossing Oceans, is now being offered as a kindle and nook free download. While I was viewing how well mine was doing in relation to other free downloads (I hit #1 and am currently at #2 :-) I noticed lots of other free e-book downloads and discovered that you don't have to own a kindle to download the books. There is a kindle for pc app that was super easy and fast to use.

So, the girl (and I use that term loosely) that never wanted a kindle has a dozen or so books that she's dying to read loaded onto her laptop and is drooling over the possibility of owning a kindle. It will never replace a real book in my psyche, I guess much like my parents still think 8-tracks will never be obsolete, but it has it's place and pluses.

What about you? Do you own an e-reader now? And the more important question, have you downloaded your free copy of Crossing Oceans from B&N or Amazon?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We have a guest blogger for the Sunday devotional today.

Linda Ford lives and writes in Central Alberta Canada. She has published several historical and contemporary novels, which have a recurring theme of foreverness, commitment, the power of faith and the joy of family. Her most recent release is Christmas under Western Skies, an anthology published by Love Inspired, Historical, co-authored with Anna Schmidt. Visit Linda's website

As an author I get to enjoy many special things such as conferences where I meet like-minded people, plus letters from readers encouraging me that my story did meet some of the goals I had for it and travel in the name of research.

One such research trip this past summer included a journey to Yellowstone National Park. We arrived at Old Faithful minutes before it erupted. It began with steam pouring forth then boiling water began to bubble up as the spout grew higher and higher. The column of water appeared to dance. It was very impressive. We thought it well worth the trip as did several hundred others gathered about the geyser.

Old Faithful was named because of the faithfulness of its eruptions. In 1939 the eruptions occurred after an interval averaging 66.5 min. Over the years the interval has grown longer. It is more predicable than other geysers but each eruption is forecast according to the type of previous one. As Wikipedia explains, ‘With a margin of error of 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt 65 minutes after an eruption lasting less than 2.5 minutes or 91 minutes after an eruption lasting more than 2.5 minutes.’ This explains why, when you ask at the entrance to the park when the next eruption is they can’t always tell you. They can only predict it after an eruption.

Part of the reason the intervals have changed over the years is due to earthquakes in the area and vandalism. People like to throw things into the geyser to see if they get thrown back out on a jet of boiling water.

You see Old Faithful isn’t unchangeable. Not like the Faithful One—my God and Savior-- who changes not. Neither time nor attack can change Him. Malachi 3: 6 says, “I the Lord do not change.” He is the Rock. Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refugee.” I do not need a time keeper to predict Him, nor a guide to tell me what to expect from Him. His word reveals Him and He does not change. He is my Faithful One.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

National Book Award Winners 2010

Fiction winner: Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)

Nonfiction winner: Patti Smith, Just Kids (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Poetry: Terrance Hayes, Lighthead (Penguin Books)

Young People’s Literature: Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird

Friday, November 19, 2010

Author and Criminal Profiler Pat Brown ~ Interviewed

Pat Brown is a nationally known criminal profiler, television commentator, author, and founder and CEO of The Sexual Homicide Exchange and The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency.

Pat has provided crime commentary and profiling and forensic analysis in over one thousand television and radio appearances in the United States and across the globe. She can be seen regularly on the cable television news programs, CNN, MSNBC and FOX, and is a frequent guest of the Today Show, the CBS Early Show, Larry King, Inside Edition, Nancy Grace, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Joy Behar, and America's Most Wanted. For four seasons, Pat Brown profiled crimes on the weekly Court TV crime show, I, Detective. Criminal Profiler Pat Brown is the host of the 2004 Discovery Channel documentary, The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra. In the spring of 2006, Pat went inside one of Florida's maximum-security prisons to interview a child murderer for the Discovery Channel series, Evil Minds. In 2010 she profiled a new Jack the Ripper suspect for Investigation Discovery's Mystery Files. She is the author of The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychpaths (Hyperion Voice 2010) and Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers (Phoenix Books 2003), and is a contract writer for Crime Library. Pat contributed special feature content included in the 2005 home DVD edition of Profiler: Season Two and the 15th Anniversary Edition, 2006 DVD release of Quentin Tarantino's crime classic, Reservoir Dogs.

What motivated you to take your unique a criminal profiler and/or as an author?

I was shocked at how some police detectives were unable to recognize a good suspect, unable to understand psychopathy, and fail to move the case forward properly. I wanted to bring a better understanding and training to law enforcement and get serial predators off the streets. As for the becoming an author, my first book was, Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serials Killers. I wrote that one to knock down the Hollywood myths (fun though they are in a move or television show) and help people understand how serial killers really think, how they commit their crimes, and how investigations actually work. The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths has a three-fold motive: one, I wanted to show people how profiling SHOULD be done and help them understand it is not a profession that can only be done by geniuses and FBI gods of profiling. It requires logic and training. Secondly, I wanted to show how profiling CAN solve cases but if the profiler comes in too late, when the case is cold, then it is not going to be prosecuted. Sad, but true. Finally, I want to inspire people to take on the challenge of making a difference in the world. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how rich you are or what race you are, you can do a lot if you just go out and start doing it! I started my criminal profiling career in midlife with no background and, quite frankly, no support. I just sort of went blindly into the mire and here I am today, still mucking around in it!

What are some of the most overdone or cliched "bad guy" behaviors/characteristics that you run across in fiction or film? Why?

The worse offense scriptwriters make (well, people like it but it isn’t realistic) is that serial killers are always committing their murders to resolve a particular bad memory from childhood or from their romantic life. So, if Mr. Serial Killer’s ballerina girlfriend was found in bed with his best friend, then he goes out and kills dancers while they are kissing their boyfriends in the car, or if Mr. Serial Killer’s dad went to prostitutes and the whorehouse made the clients were red slippers, the killer offs men who represent his father and puts red slippers on their feet. In reality, serial killers simply tend to by losers who are angry at the world for dissing them and they get back at the world and get a sense of power and control by picking a victim they can overpower and do them in. Women are preferable because they are easy to control (you are going to win most of the time) and they can represent precious possessions of society (which is why most victims are quite cute and thin) and you can have fun raping them. Often a serial killer is portrayed as choosing prostitutes for victims either because his mother was one or he wants to cleanse society of bad women but the real reason is they are convenient and the police take a while to notice there is a serial killer out there because prostitutes/drug users often vanish or move of their own accord.

If an author wants to create a truly believable killer, what might be a surprising characteristic or two that you've discovered from your experiences?

They tend to be boring people! Really, no kidding! They don’t usually have a fascinating job or any hobbies to speak of. They go to some low-level job, go home, watch videos. Snore.

They lie, a lot. They lie for no reason other than to see if you buy it. They are rarely all that suave; they just learn a few tricks that work on naïve people and that is how they can coax a victim into their car or get a girlfriend.

What surprising or unique common characteristics have you discovered in victims?

Most victims aren’t very streetwise. They think they are safe when they should realize there is no reason to feel safe. A woman alone is simply not safe. They tend to be too nice. This is why you rarely see a tough street girl be the victim of a serial killer. He doesn’t want a nasty fight; he wants a pushover. He doesn’t want to risk losing as that would be humiliating.

Are there any very common characteristics (true-ish stereotypes) in types of killers/psychopaths?

Very narcissistic and totally lacking in empathy. This allows them to do whatever they want in order to get power and control in their lives. They also tend to not understand how people see them and they tend not to care. This is why they can blithely lie and then when caught not even look concerned.

Is there a crime that you are intrigued by that you feel you can't pull apart to your satisfaction? What is the element that most frustrates you?

I often feel when I go to a police department to work on a case, that I am going to read the files and study the evidence and come up with nothing. I worry that I will just have to say, “Sorry, can’t figure anything out.” Interestingly, I have never actually had that happen! Once I get the evidence in hand, I am amazed at how the crime scene develops in front of me. It always is astonishing how much the evidence does tell us about what happened. On the outside, without access to the evidence, I can only give some general thoughts about what happened; the true profile is in the details. Oh, one kind of case that IS sometimes hopeless is the “dead woman in a field” kind of case when the skeletonized body is found in the middle of nowhere. If there are suspects who were last seen with her, there is a chance of solving the case, but if the girl was hitchhiking across the country, good luck if no DNA is on her body to run through CODIS.

What percentage of your skill is science, what percentage is gut? Which one usually wins out?

GUT does not enter into it. This is one of the biggest battles I fight in getting people to understand what profiling really is. Oddly, even people who read my book, The Profiler, and see how I analyze each piece of evidence in the cases, will say, “Oh, it is just Pat Brown uses her gut and guessing!”

But, no, gut is not acceptable as part of profiling. One should go in with an open mind and start at the crime scene with the crime scene photos, and sketches, police reports, and autopsy photos and reports. Then one examines the blood spatter patterns, the injuries to the victim, all the pieces of possible evidence in a room (like a credit card that doesn’t belong to the victim lying on a table or the fact nothing was taken or a violent case of overkill yet nothing in the room is disturbed). I study each piece of evidence and reconstruct what occurred. I do not guess. I make sure I have valid reason for everything I conclude. Gut is what gets police detectives in trouble and why I end up profiling the case later. They guessed wrong about the motive and went down the wrong road, ignoring the actual killer and all the evidence linked to him. If they had reconstructed the crime FIRST, THEN they would have developed a motive and a suspect from what the evidence tells them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trouble in a Writer's World

All of my favorite novels tell fascinating stories that explore and express fundamental truths in ways which, ironically, transcend spoken or written language. Because that’s what I love to read, it’s also a pretty fair definition of what I try to write.

Not all novelists view their work this way, of course. While I seek to focus on important questions and issues, others seek to provide a few much-needed hours of diversion from the unattractive or uncomfortable parts of life. This is an honorable goal. A novelist can quite legitimately view her work purely as entertainment, just as a painter or sculptor might see her role simply in terms of producing beauty, without giving much thought to what beauty means.

I sometimes envy writers who choose not to think about their work on thematic levels. I suspect they may have fewer troubles.

For example, when a major New York house offered to publish my first novel, they cited the spiritual subthemes as one of its most intriguing elements, but their offer was contingent on my willingness to explore those ideas in a “more generic, less Christian” way. An author interested mainly in entertainment probably would have agreed, but to me it was like asking a painter not to use the colors red and blue in sunsets. I couldn’t do it, and had to walk away. It was a very troubling choice, to say the least.

By the grace of God that novel was published later with a “Christian” publishing house. Every other novel I have written since has been published by a so-called “Christian” publisher. This was not a choice I made for Christian reasons. I did it for artistic reasons, because until fairly recently Christians were the only publishers who would let me write the way I need to write. This was not true of novelists or poets who dealt with themes from perspectives that were Buddhist (Herman Hesse) or Jewish (Chaim Potok) or Muslim (Jelaluddin Rumi) but it was true for me. So I learned an important lesson:

Novelists who explore faith from an openly Christian perspective can expect discrimination, solely on the basis of their faith.

Still, at least I was working and learning and growing, and even selling enough to keep on doing it, which is all any artist really needs. Then, while exploring the relationship between humanity and evil in another novel, I encountered another kind of trouble. The publisher objected to the violence in some of the scenes, on the basis that a “Christian” novel should not portray evil in a way that readers might find unpleasant.

A writer interested only in entertainment would have agreed with the publisher’s concerns, of course. Unpleasant things are rarely entertaining. And I have always stood against gratuitous portrayals of evil, (for more on the subject see
this and this ), but as an author interested in artistic expression and exploration, I disagree with the idea that novels should never make readers uncomfortable. Space precludes including all of my arguments here, but one of the most powerful is the fact that inauthentic art is bad art, and art, like everything else a Christian does, ought to be done well.

Although my editor was sympathetic, my arguments fell on deaf ears at sales and marketing. They believed the book would not be well received by Christian readers. So I faced an ultimatum again, this time from fellow Christians, and again for the sake of art I had to move on. I had learned another lesson, or perhaps it was the same lesson from the opposite point of view:

Novelists who explore faith in a deeply authentic way can expect to cause offense in those who cannot or will not face unpleasant truths.

That novel went on to be published by a different Christian house, and to my delight it became a finalist for Christian publishing’s most prestigious fiction award. But it did sell poorly in spite of that honor, just as the sales and marketing people had predicted.

I assumed the mediocre sales were the result of the new publisher failing to take advantage of the prestige of being a finalist for the award. Then my next novel actually won that same award plus another one in the general fiction universe. The novel after that also won awards, and the next one was a finalist, and the one after that won still another award. Meanwhile, my work also garnered many excellent reviews from sources Christian and secular alike. Clearly, some people appreciated my commitment to fiction as a thematic art form. But as the years went by, in spite of all the accolades, sales of my novels never rose above average.

Meanwhile, other authors I knew who focused on entertainment had seen their careers blossom. They might never have received a starred review or won a major award, but their novels sold much better than mine. Watching this phenomenon through the years I learned a third lesson, which is a corollary of the first two:

Most novelists who succeed in exploring Christian faith artistically can expect a limited readership.

Sometimes I feel guilty for having spent all these years pursuing deeper themes in fiction instead of writing mainly to entertain. Have I been a prima donna, interested only in my own agenda? Should I have prioritized commercial success above artistic integrity in order to be a better provider for my family?

These three-in-the-morning, tossing-in-bed kinds of doubts can be difficult to shake. But then I think about the Christian life. Just as novelists who explore faith from an openly Christian perspective can expect discrimination, so Jesus
said “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Just as novelists who explore faith in a deeply authentic way can expect to cause offense, so it was said, “The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” And just as novelists who succeed in exploring faith authentically can expect a limited readership, so it was said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There’s nothing at all wrong with writing solely to entertain readers. Like a painter who is solely trying to produce a thing of beauty, entertainment can be a great blessing, as beautiful and beneficial in its way as any other part of creation. And while those who write to entertain may have fewer troubles in the writing world, if they live a Christian life they will have other opportunities to make sacrifices because “in this world you will have trouble.” But Christian novelists who lead their readers beyond mere diversion and amusement can expect the unique kinds of troubles I’ve described. So if you are that kind of writer, and if you are good at your work, then you should
take heart in those troubles. They mean your work is exactly what it ought to be: the natural expression of a Christian choosing to live life authentically.

Athol Dickson’s novels have been favorably compared to the work of Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner. All five of his most recent novels have been finalists for the Christy Award and three have won, including his most recent novel, Lost Mission. Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sense of Place ~ by Guest Blogger J. Mark Bertrand

Crime novelist J. Mark Bertrand is the author of Back on Murder (2010) and Pattern of Wounds (2011), the first two installments in a series featuring Houston Homicide detective Roland March. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. After one hurricane too many, he left Houston and relocated with his wife Laurie to the plains of South Dakota.


Forget about plot and character—what’s missing in so many stories is a sense of place. Mastering the art of setting can turn flat backdrops into scenic vistas, adding depth and flavor to your fiction. Unfortunately, setting is one of those topics we tend to rush through, thinking it’s just a matter of writing pretty descriptions.

It’s not.

A sense of place enriches characterization, showing us how characters feel about their surroundings, and how their setting shapes their choices. It also puts an indelible stamp on plot. Some stories can only emerge from certain milieus.


What we call “sense of place” is really writing that uses carefully observed physical surroundings to impress a story’s inner world on the reader’s imagination. Consider this famous description from the first chapter of The Great Gatsby:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

Writers attempting to capture a sense of place often clog their stories with long, static descriptions. They gum up their sentences with flowery language, which only calls attention to itself (particularly if the overwrought prose is confined to scene-setting). The result is too much precious and not enough presence. We associate this kind of excess with Victorian writing. Fitzgerald’s description isn’t like that at all. The details are well-observed, the language concrete. The scene ripples with motion. What’s needed, Fitzgerald knew, aren’t the prettiest words, just the most accurate ones. And the more succinct your scene-setting, the better.


On the other hand, the movies have misled us in the opposite direction. Today’s cinematic style of writing tends (ironically) to strip away the visuals, forgetting that films don’t take place on a blank screen. They use setting to sell the story, only it comes in the form of images not words. Some directors—Terrence Malik, for example—build stories almost entirely out of images, without relying much on character or plot as conventionally understood. Forgetting this, we front-load descriptions into the literary equivalent of an establishing shot, giving impatient readers something to skip over. This kind of over-articulated, static preliminary snapshot is precisely what authors yearning for a sense of place in their writing need to avoid.

To capture a sense of place in your story, begin by choosing the right setting. 

[This is Mark's work space.] 

This is as significant a decision as selecting the narrative point of view. It will dictate so much that follows. Choose a place that adds texture to the story. In other words, the best settings change the way everything gets done. Their beauty (or lack of it), their climate and geographical peculiarities all dictate how people feel about where they are. Choose somewhere the reader might like to go. And if possible, find a place that serves as a metaphor, so your setting can deliver thematically and not just aesthetically.

When I decided to write a series of detective stories, I knew the right setting would be crucial to the stories. I decided to set my Roland March books in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, mainly because very few authors in the crime genre had mapped the place out, and it struck me as a perfect metaphor for everything people hate about the modern American city.

Every detail—from the oppressive humidity to the gridlock to the endless swath of suburban sprawl—elicits a strong response from people who live there. Writing about a man who’s sworn to protect a place so many of its inhabitants would just as soon leave struck me as a promising start. It didn’t hurt, either, that in real life, Houston has had an ongoing and very embarrassing series of problems with its crime lab, which dovetailed nicely with one of my pet themes: the unreliability of the supposed “facts.”


Once you’ve settled on a place, rethink your plot and your characters in light of their setting. How will the location influence what happens? How will it affect the outlook of the people you’re writing about? If you answer these questions right, then your sense of place will come through in the storytelling and you won’t be stuck having to dump atmosphere into static establishing paragraphs.

The best descriptions capture things in motion. Either the environment is moving (as in The Great Gatsby), or we are moving through the environment. Or both. Don’t describe everything, just the one or two things that matter. Telling details give emotional color to the action without slowing it down. The key to this kind of lean description is to select suggestive images, glimpses that fire the reader’s imagination so that she paints pictures of her own in the gaps the author leaves behind.

Regions come complete with their own outlooks. People who live in certain places see the world differently, a fact you won’t discover in most travel guides. As important as details of locale are to capturing a sense of place, the intangibles of perception are even more essential. If an author channels the worldview of, for example, Scandinavia or the American South, the story will ring with more authenticity than one that only manages to get the landmarks right.

Released July 2010

Roland March is a disillusioned homicide detective with one last chance to save his career. All he has to do is find the beautiful missing girl every cop in Houston is already looking for. He has an inside track, a murder scene nobody else thinks is connected, but he's battling a new partner, an old nemesis, and the demons of his past. Getting to the truth might just cost March everything. Even his life.

Releases July 2011

For Detective Roland March, his latest case has become personal. March doesn't know the young female who was stabbed to death, but he thinks he recognizes the crime scene. Nearly ten years ago, March gained national fame as the subject of a true-crime book. But now this crime scene bears eerie similarities to that one. And whispers begin to emerge that March may have put the wrong man behind bars. Worse, Houston may now have a serial killer on the loose. As more cases emerge that seem connected, and threats against March and those closest to him build, he must solve the case--rescuing not only the city but his own reputation as a homicide cop.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Want to Get Published?

Mike Lynch currently resides in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1986, and then from San Jose Christian College in 1994. Mike’s first book, Dublin, published by Arcadia Publishing, came out in 2007, and When the Sky Fell, published by Silver Leaf Books, was published in 2009. He has also written a host of short stories, one of which, “Beyond Horizon’s Edge,” took 1st place in the 2009 Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll. American Midnight, also published by Silver Leaf Books, came out in June 2010. His next novel, After the Cross, is scheduled to be released by Ellechor Publishing in 2011. He is currently working on his next novel, The Crystal Portal.


It’s been said everyone has at least one book in them. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but I would venture to guess that most people have wondered at one time or another if they had it within them to write the Great American Novel. I was no exception.

Mind you, my first inkling came in 1981 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old who hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with his life. Despite this seeming setback, I pulled out my trusty typewriter and began pounding away on an epic science fiction tale of sacrifice, betrayal, and one man’s desperate journey to have humanity from destruction against a powerful alien race.

After months of diligent work, I did it. I had written a novel. However, as I read through the manuscript I discovered a mountain of spelling errors, cardboard characters, and disheveled plot elements. To put it plainly, my manuscript was a mess. The thought of revising the story felt so overwhelming to me that I promptly shelved it and moved on with my life, or so I thought.

As the years passed I couldn’t get the story out of my head, so I took another crack at it in 1996, this time on my newly acquired Macintosh computer. I dusted off my manuscript and set about fixing all the previously stated problems in the novel. Eight years came and went before a passable story finally emerged. Now, I believed, my book was ready. Or so I thought.

I did what all hopeful writers do to get the ball rolling, I wrote a manuscript proposal and sent it to every publisher and agent I thought might be remotely interested in my novel. It didn’t take long for the rejection letters to start appearing in my mailbox. Undaunted, I sent out another batch of proposals. Sadly, the results were the same—they all passed on my novel. When I heard about a local writer’s conference in 2005, I gave that a try, hoping face-to-face meetings with acquisition editors and literary agents might change my luck, but they weren’t interested either. I went to the same conference the following year, but the results were the same.

With no more prospects to pursue, I seriously contemplated giving up writing. I tried my best, given it two solid years of sending out proposal after proposal, but I figured I just didn’t have what it took to be a writer. But before I hung up my dreams of being a published author, I decided to give it one last try, and contacted an author I had recently met on the Internet—Brandon Barr.

Like me, he had a strong interest in science fiction. We also had similar goals as writers, and our writing styles were compatible with each other’s. On paper it seemed like a good match, and so I made a deal with him. If he agreed to re-edit the entire novel, I would make him a co-author.

Fast-forward six months, and we were finally ready to send out the newly-edited version of the story. Like before, it didn’t take long for the rejection letters started pouring in. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement. Even with the help of another writer, it still wasn’t happening, until one day in December 2006 when an envelope arrived in the mail from Silver Leaf Books. To my utter astonishment they wanted to publish our book. I cannot tell you the feelings that swept over me at that moment, most of it centering on disbelief. I had beaten the odds. I had found a publisher When the Sky Fell.

As my story attests, finding a publisher is a lengthy, laborious process. To a land a publisher takes a first-time author—on average—six years. Statistics say only one percent of all novelists will ever see their story in print. This is a sobering reality, but it has been this way from the beginning. There will always be far more hopeful novelists than there are publishing houses willing to take a financial risk on them.

For those committed to beating the odds, a strong belief in yourself and your story is absolutely essential. Perseverance is a word you become intimately acquainted with along the way. You have to keep going—no matter how many publishers pass on your work. According to “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul,” Louis L’Amour received 350 rejections before selling his first story, and Jack London received 600. Today, they are respected authors. Why? Because they didn’t give up.

So write that book lurking in the back of your mind and send it out. Rejection letters will come, but stay committed. If you are persistent enough, you just may find that one publisher who loves your novel as much as you do.


In his book Story Craft, children’s author John Erickson points out that 95% of all Anglo-American folksongs can be played with three chords.

“G provides the introduction, C creates suspense, and D resolves the tune back to G. It forms a circle, a whole. It has structure. Something inside us responds to the geometry of tone and harmony, and even listeners who don’t read or write music can sense it.”

Erickson compares the patterns found in folk music to the forms in oral storytelling tradition. “They use it because it works. Performing in front of a live audience, they can see how listeners respond to a story. If the audience doesn’t laugh, falls asleep, or walks out, something is wrong.”

The structure may be predictable, but the result is usually worth hearing, because of two elements the pattern requires: movement and resolution. As Francis Schaeffer wrote of Bach’s music, “There can be endless variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution.”

A strict form, but freedom within it. Wordsworth would approve. “[A]nd hence for me / In sundry moods / 'twas pastime to be bound / Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground...”

Erickson takes his logic to the next level: “A structured story says, without saying it, that there is order in the universe, and in this crazy postmodern world, that becomes a profoundly positive religious statement, an affirmation of the divine act of creation. Kids are drawn to it by instinct because they have a natural craving for structure and meaning. We all do.

“Until a few decades ago, writers worked within the constraints of public taste as defined by Judeo-Christian tradition. Even more radical (to modern ears), writers considered themselves part of the community that created those constraints. Did it limit their freedom of expression? Of course it did, but every craft imposes limits. Plumbers aren’t allowed to run sewer lines uphill. Roofers can’t invent new ways of laying down shingles. Diamond cutters are not free to express their whims in the shape of a gem.”

The problem is that modern artists, in a rebellion against constraints, have invented their own rules for structure and function. They create art for themselves, accepting no responsibility for any damage it might inflict. Erickson doesn’t blame artists for all of society’s ills, but he does remind us that “art is more than a mere reflection of society. It teaches and provides examples of what it means to be a whole, civilized human being.”

One of my favorite children’s novels of 2010 is Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker. In this rich debut novel, the patterns are those of the oral storytelling tradition. Evil is evil and can be overcome. Old stories are true stories, a help to those wise enough to remember them.
It's the kind of book you read aloud by the fire, with chairs drawn close. There is structure, there is harmony, there is movement and resolution. Such storytelling has kept countless myths and legends alive through the centuries, and it is the only kind of storytelling that will last beyond an artist's lifetime.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Confidence Properly Placed

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011Visit her website at

Some time ago a woman sent me this message - “Not very many people publish books in the area where I live. If they find out you have, they think you're bragging when you mention it. I've been brought up to be humble and it’s hard to break away from the traditions of family and culture.”

I think many artists within the church feel this way. Many of us have experienced those blank looks when we’ve tried to talk to people about our work, whether it be writing, painting, or some other artistic endeavour. Or worse, we’ve experienced the silent disapproval, even shunning. I have a friend who describes it as feeling like a peacock among penguins. So we stop talking about it. We don’t promote our books in our own churches. We feel that promoting our work is blowing our own horn and that seems to go against all we’ve been taught as Christians.

But, does it go against what a Christian is meant to do? Does God want us to remain silent about the work He has given us to do? I don’t think so. If you are an artist of any kind you might be saying, “But people don’t want to hear it.” Did they want to hear what Jesus had to say? The majority didn’t. “But they don’t understand.” Did they understand Him? The majority didn’t – not even His best friends really understood what He told them. Did He keep silent?

Well, at times He did. There were times when he healed and told the recipient not to tell anyone. He rebuked spirits and told them to be quiet when they tried to shout about who He was. The time was not right. But the time did come and when it did He preached and healed and let the people cry, “Hosanna to the King of Kings.”

Can we learn a lesson or two from Jesus here? Jesus is the supreme example of humility, of confidence properly placed, as Haddon Robinson defines it. He knew who He was, He knew where He was going, He was constantly listening for His father’s voice and when He heard it, He obeyed. That’s how He knew when it was time to be silent and when it was time to speak.

There will be many times in our journey as writers, as artists, when we will be reluctant to speak, to tell people – strangers, friends, church family – that God has given us a talent, given us a particular something to do and we have been working hard at it. They will reject us. They will not understand. We will want to keep silent.

Who can blame us, we say. Well, God can. Holding back from using what God has given us is something He’s not likely to reward us for. Read Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the ten talents. What happened to the one servant who buried his talent is not a pretty picture.

So what are we to do? Deuteronomy 31:7-8 gives us the answer. “Be strong and courageous,” Moses told Joshua. Some translations say bold and courageous. Joshua knew a little about humility – confidence properly placed. He knew who he was, he knew where he was going, he constantly listened for God’s voice and when he heard he obeyed.

Know who you are as a writer who is Christian, know where God wants you to go, constantly listen for His voice and when you hear it, obey.

Be bold. Be courageous.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Author Gabe Rotter ~ Interviewed


A native of New York, Gabe Rotter now permanently resides in Los Angeles with his pregnant wife. He graduated from the film school at The University of Southern California in 2000, and since has worked in television, produced a feature film, penned the novel Duck Duck Wally, written a comic book, and is currently Director of Development for Ten Thirteen Productions. He has several of his own projects in development for film and television adaptation.

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

I always say that the hardest part about writing, is writing. By that I mean actually sitting your butt down in the chair in front of the computer and doing the work. It’s so much easier to procrastinate, to think about writing, to check your email, go on facebook – WHATEVER. The writing itself isn’t that difficult. It’s the making yourself DO IT that is the hard part.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My current book is called The Human Bobby. It’s a story about a man who seems to have it all – a beautiful, loving wife, a child he adores, a great job, money, a big house and a few nice cars in the driveway. And then after a series of strange and tragic events he winds up with nothing, living as a homeless man on the streets. It’s a story about losing love and just how destructive that can be.

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.

Absolutely. I think every writer experiences self-doubt on occasion (like every day), and certainly most of us deal with writers block. I guess you just have to trust your instincts and know that some people will like what you do and others won’t. Of course, it’s the best feeling in the world to hear that someone LOVED your book, and it’s like being kicked in the… leg… when someone writes a bad review. But at the end of the day, your value doesn’t come from other people’s opinions of your work. It comes from the work and the legacy and achievement that you are leaving behind with that work. And as far as writers block goes – nature of the beast. Everyone has periods of ebb and flow. You just have to ride the wave when it’s there, and try to stay sane when it isn’t, knowing that the drought won’t last forever.

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.

When I was writing THE HUMAN BOBBY I wanted to talk to homeless people as much as I could, since I was writing about one. I guess I have the polite habit of asking people “How you doing?” when I first meet them. Well, on several occasions I had drunken belligerent homeless guys yell at me “HOW THE *%@$ DO YOU THINK I’M DOING?!?” That was always pretty uncomfortable.

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

My best advice would be to DO IT. Too many people say they want to be a writer, or a film director, or whatever it is, but they don’t do anything about it. No one is going to write your book for you, or walk up to you on the street and say “you look like JUST the guy to direct my next film!” In life you gotta go for it and create your own destiny. Sure, it doesn’t always work out, but if you don’t do the work, then you are certain to fail.

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.)

Believe it or not, I wrote a story when I was 11 that changed my life. Even at that age I had an innate story sense. I wrote a short story for school about Halloween that had such a great structure for something written by a child -- it even had a pretty surprising twist at the end. It blew everyone away – myself included. My teachers, my parents, even my class (who repeatedly requested that it be read aloud), all loved this thing that I had created from scratch. Before that, I never knew I had that storytelling ability in me, and I knew after that that I wanted to do it forever!

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

For me it’s that feeling that you hear writers talk about – once you get going writing, when you’re in the zone and it’s just flowing out of you and you don’t even really know where it’s coming from. It’s this heady, otherworldly phenomenon that is just so wonderful. And then, of course, there’s nothing more satisfying than when someone tells you they loved what you wrote.

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

I like to dive right in and just write it until I can’t write anymore. Just vomit (for lack of a better word) it all out onto the page. This usually seems to yield me about 40-80 pages, at which point I like to sit down and outline the rest of the story using index cards on a bulletin board.

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

How about I tell you about my LEAST favorite writing spot: my bed. I wrote my entire first novel (DUCK DUCK WALLY) while sitting up against my headboard on my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Terrible, terrible way to write a book and my back will probably never recover, but hey – I didn’t have a desk at that time so you gotta do what you gotta do!

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

Thank you so much for having me!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When the world wants happy endings

I write books.

And often those books deal with weighty issues: sexual abuse, spousal abuse, hypocrisy, trauma. Why would I write about such things? Mainly because injustice angers me. And part of the reason I write is my attempt to right the wrongs in this world.

Problem is, that kind of book doesn't sell. The world wants happy endings. Everything tied up. The hero getting the lady. The championship won. The marriage saved. The strained relationship restored.

I like happy endings too, particularly in my own life. And I like books where you see radical redemption. But I also appreciate truth-filled books, books that make me aware of an injustice I didn't know about. Books that teach me that humans made in the image of God can destroy or restore. Those books challenge me to think, to pray, to consider my own life.

I write this with a pained heart. A few weeks ago, I went to a conference in South Africa where I met a man from Iraq. Today he fears for his life simply because of his faith. His is a painful story, but one that needs to be told.

What I wrestle with as a novelist is this: do I bow to the market that longs for always happy endings, or do I continue to hit the hard issues? I understand that many of us read to escape this painful world. I get that. But my slot in this writing realm doesn't seem to be to write for escape. Others have been called to that, but not me.

So I'll write. Not to amplify my voice, but to tell the stories of those who are crying to be heard.

How about you? What are you called to write? Have you run away from that or bowed beneath it? Why?

Mary DeMuth is the author of nine books. Find out more at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finding My Tribe ~ by Guest Blogger Darlene Franklin

Award-winning author and speaker Darlene Franklin loves music, needlework, reading and reality TV. Talia, a Lynx point Siamese cat, proudly claims Darlene as her person. Seaside Romance and Prodigal Patriot, both historical romance set in New England, became available from Barbour this summer. Visit Darlene’s blog for information on book giveaways and upcoming titles.

Finding My Tribe

One of the buzz words circling the writing community nowadays is the concept of building our “tribe,” finding that core group of readers who in turn will enlist other readers.

In the five years since my first book, Romanian Rhapsody, came out I have grabbed every opportunity to make myself known that presented itself. I created my own blog, I appear on other people’s blogs, I participate in several writers’ loops, I’m on Facebook. As a result, I have discovered fellow writers and even some readers do recognize my name.

Yay! But what next? How do I find readers who (let’s be honest here) aren’t also writers?

I found a partial answer in an unexpected place. My new church suggested I sell books at the annual crafts fair. I agreed, then almost fainted when they quoted me the cost for the booth—$30. A part of me wanted to refuse, perhaps out of pride. I had never paid for a book event before. Why start now? Would readers even frequent an event for shoppers looking at handcrafted toys, homemade soap, sculptures, and adorable holiday clothes?

They did. In fact, I did better than most of those other booths—perhaps because my product was different. It only took a few questions. “Do you like to read? What do you like to read?” and launch a discussion on our common passion—books. I met teachers and writers, mothers and teenagers, church members and strangers. I added to my tribe.

Look what can happen when I don’t put God—or my writing career—in a box.

Bridge to Love

“I must accept the parson’s word about what
transpired between you.” Papa spoke directly to Beatrice.

“But I will not suffer that young farmer to speak against me. What did he say?”

“Surely that is a private matter between the two young people,” Mrs. Cabot said.

“He said”—Beatrice raised her voice over Mrs. Cabot’s objection—“that no matter what his feelings toward me may be, he refused to ask me to act against your wishes.” Her voice came close to breaking into tears.

“That is well.” Papa stared at the tea cup in his hand as if
ready to throw it against the fireplace. “These are my wishes.
I forbid you to speak to him or see him again. The man is not
fit to be the husband of my daughter.” He returned the cup to
Mrs. Cabot. “I’m afraid I have no taste for tea this afternoon.
Come, Beatrice, we are finished here.”