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Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Write the Unmarketable Novel

Not a good plan, huh? Any writer with an ounce of sense will choose to write a novel that fits the marketplace. A book that will have editors clamoring after it.

Unless, of course, said novelist has no idea about the market. Say, for example, said novelist has been a stay at home mom for the last twelve years and decides to try her hand at writing that book she always dreamed of. She has no idea what the market wants. Heck, she’s not even sure she’ll finish the novel. What she does know is that she needs to write something that excites her. Something that she would want to read. Something that will keep her typing in the middle of homeschooling and running kids to a never ending list of extra-curricular activities.

For me, it was a love story set in the middle ages. Of course I adore the world of knights, jousts, and pageants, but much more drew me to the 1300s. In that time period I saw a deep and authentic spirituality in the medieval saints that I felt would truly speak to a contemporary audience. I saw a time before our current denominational schisms and Christianese dialect where I might explore faith through new eyes. There I could set my story of finding freedom, healing, and the true meaning of love.

Strike one! I had no idea that Christian publishers weren’t looking for anything set in the medieval period. That in fact, most agents would turn down the project after one paragraph of my cover letter based on setting alone.

And I thought it would be great to write the book in first person. I love first person novels. They’re so intimate, and I figured it would help me get into the head of that fascinating heroine I planned to create.

Strike two! How was I supposed to know that the present trend in point of view runs toward a multiple limited third person perspective? I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a trend in point of view. Let’s face it, I probably would have needed to pull out my graduate creative writing texts to even remember what it meant.

Most importantly, I wanted to write a realistic novel with a fallen heroine who struggled with selfishness, sin, and sexual temptation—but that still contained a powerful spiritual message. Because, after all, that’s the book I wanted to read and almost never found.

You guessed it…Strike three!

Okay, I’ll confess I had a clue this one might be a problem based on the fact that very few of these books seemed to be available. I knew my novel would probably be too Christian for the secular market and too edgy for the Christian market. Eventually the spiritual elements took on a life of their own, and I realized I had no choice but to hope for the best in Christian publishing.

So that, my friends, is how to write the perfect unmarketable, edgy Christian, first-person, medieval novel that nobody wants to buy. But there’s an upside.

The upside is, if you do indeed want to sell this book, you can’t settle for decent. You have to work and edit and revise for years until the book is capable of overcoming all those strikes. Until people say things like, “my all time favorite book,” compare you to Geraldine Brooks or Francine Rivers, and call your writing “light rippling across water.” If, and only if, you keep working and learning and developing your novel, you just might find a company like WhiteFire crazy enough to publish it. After all, it only takes one yes. And that company might be awesome. And let you use your daughter for the cover model. And even keep your steamiest scene because they understand you’re using it to make an important spiritual point.

The journey to publishing my debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion, was not an easy one. But you know what, looking back, I can’t say I’d change a thing.

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, is from Whitefire Publishing, 2011. Dina is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of 
                                               grace. For more info:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Moving from Passion to Purpose and Power ~ Lisa Sellman


Lisa Sellman, owner and professional dog trainer at Aloha Pet Care; Dog Training, volunteers for half a dozen charitable organizations. She believes that community service is its own reward, a message that resonates throughout her new children’s book The Legend of the Wolves of Gunflint Lake.

Moving from Passion to Purpose and Power 

By Lisa Sellman 

Mirror neurons have been named the most important recent discovery in neuroscience.  A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when a subject acts and when a subject observes the same action performed by others.  Founded in 1992, neuroscientists observed that the same neurons in the brain of monkeys fired when they themselves picked up a nut as when they observed another monkey picking up a nut.  

Mirror neurons explain many behaviors that a humans exhibit.  Excitement at a sporting event, celebrity endorsed products, or even being prejudice can be explain by mirror neurons.  In reality, the crowd is not playing the game, the purse does not have magical powers, and all humans are unique and not limited to the color of their skin.  

The challenge of being human is that we can see others suffering and feel that pain ourselves.  Our true self wants to take that pain away so we don’t feel the pain within.  We all year to live a life free of suffering and it starts by asking yourself, “How can I serve others?” 

Each time we answer that question with an action, we are saying yes to our true self and yes to the life that we are leading.  This leads to empowerment and you will step out of the victim mentality which is so pervasive today.  Being positive changes the way you see the world.  The seeking desire that others have the answers you seek changes when you can fulfill the needs of others.  We comfort others as we comfort ourselves.   

I started choosing to volunteer in 1997.  I happened across an article in the travel section about a canoe trip in the 10,000 Islands chain in Florida and it sparked my interest.  I contacted the organization, Wilderness Inquiry, and found out there was an opening for a volunteer to assist on the trip.  The trip was in about 10 days and I had time accrued at the hospital where I worked.  I have found this happens all of the time with volunteer activities.  You don’t really plan them – they enroll you and you are just along for the ride. 

That week 14 years ago, has led me to continue volunteering with Wilderness Inquiry for trips in the Boundary Waters, Cascade Mountains of Washington, Dog Sled Trips in Northern Minnesota, and just recently a canoe trip in Montana this past July.  I also daily seem to find something to do to help out somewhere for other organizations and individuals that inspire me.  The people that I am suppose to “help” instead help me to see that we are all alike.  Just like me, they seek happiness, avoid suffering, and may feel loneliness and sadness.  Just like me, they want to fulfill their needs and learn about life.  

My own passion, I have discovered, has been feeling this connectedness that never goes away.  I see what is real in life and no longer only see the concepts that separate us. A happy life for me is one where I feel accepted and know that my ideas and actions are making a difference in the world.   

Isolation and a feeling of hopelessness was very real to me at one time.  Seeing what is the reality and possibility in my life through helping others and being open to the needs of others has healed me and led me forward to a life of purpose. 

Had you told me that I would be writing and that I would publish a children’s book about being of service in your community last year, I would not have believed it.  By following my passion and purpose, my power leads me on paths that bring more and more joy to my life.  Inspiration comes to me now in many forms and I am able to discern quickly what resonates with my true self.  The words that I write, the actions I take, the choices I make, all are aligned so that I can best be of service and encourage others to see their lives as one of meaning and miraculous potential.  The moment I start feeling lack or even fear for my future, it is like wearing a wool sweater that was put in the dryer by mistake.  It used to do the job and I wore it often.  Now it is just an itchy thing that needs to be thrown out and replaced with something that fits.  

Love Christian Speculative Fiction? Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is.

Susan Mitchell sees herself as an ordinary soccer mom, until she’s pulled through a portal into another world, where a nation grappling for its soul waits for a promised Restorer to save their people.

She has always longed to do something important for God, but can she fill this role?

While she struggles to adapt to a foreign culture, she tackles an enemy that is poisoning the minds of the people, uncovers a corrupt ruling Council, and learns that God can use even her floundering attempts at service in surprising ways.

This new expanded edition of The Restorer includes an in-depth devotion guide for readers who want to dig into the spiritual themes of the book, bonus scenes providing glimpses of the story through a variety of characters, and fun extras including links to songs and recipes.

"I love it when what’s typical gets twisted around, and Sharon Hinck has done that again…Brilliant…Highly Recommended." Christian Fiction Review

"What a ride! Hang on to your speculative seats!"


Larger Than Real Life Characters

This weekend while writing in a coffee shop, I was distracted by real life characters. The people around me, like this guy who greeted this girl with three kisses. His wife? Girl friend? I watched how they talked and interacted. How they were overly considerate and accommodating to each other’s needs. They were obviously dating, or newly married! But they were fairly normal. Nothing special about their interactions, so I went back to my writing.

Then I noticed the guy who came into the coffee shop panting, a backpack slung over his gray sweatshirt that was ripped at the shoulder and soaked, his pants tattered at the cuff. He grabbed the free water, sweat dripping from his forehead, and hunched over just a bit…obviously overheated. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He downed the water, filled his cup again, and set his backpack by the computer, telling the barrista he’d order something…but in a bit. I wondered…who is this guy? What’s his story?

He looked out of place in a yuppy coffee shop, but ordered a frozen drink. Was he homeless? I didn’t think a homeless person would spend $5 on a drink. Down on his luck? Maybe. Running from an axe murderer? Probably not. So why was he there? Where had he just come from? And why was he wearing a sweat shirt on a 100 degree day?

This is the second time in two weeks in two different coffee shops that I’ve witnessed an out of place, larger-than-real-life character that made me stop and ask, “What’s his story?”

In “Writing the Break Out Novel,” Donald Maass talks about larger-than-life character qualities. He says, “A larger-than-life character is someone who says, does, and thinks things that we would like to but never dare. This does not necessarily mean turning your characters into wise-crackers or pulp clichés. It does mean pushing them out of their own bounds, whatever those might be.”

It also means putting them in out of the ordinary situations.

Those are the kind of characters and stories people like to read about and those are the characters we need to write. The affectionate couple in the corner were ordinary. I gave them a once over, then moved on.

I. Moved. On.

To something more interesting. Someone more interesting.

How do you create larger-than-life characters so your readers can’t move on, but are compelled to ask “What’s his story?” 

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. "the other Gina," is a new monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. She's the founder of Writer...Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, releases from Barbour Publishing in January 2012.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Staying inspired is daunting

Alice J. Wisler grew up in Japan as a missionary kid in the sixties and seventies and now writes Southern fiction from her home in North Carolina. In memory of her four-year-old Daniel, she teaches writing through losses workshops and founded Daniel’s House Publications, a grief organization. Her fourth novel, A WEDDING INVITATION, is about belonging, being invited and accepted, something she feels each of us yearns for.

Staying Inspired!

Inspiration hits you and you know what we’re going to do. You push aside the urge to make Grandma’s Grits Casserole, decline an invitation to the local high school play, forgo coffee with a friend, and set out to fulfill your heart’s calling. Filled with ideas that are brimming with brilliance, you can hardly wait to have that time for yourself to begin. The task? You’re going to write a novel!

You’re so inspired, it’s crazy. Wow, if only your ninth-grade literature teacher could see you now. You open a Word document, the empty file beckoning you to fill it with drama, adventure, romance, and hey, you’re good, let’s add some witty dialogue.

No distractions for you. You tell your children to hold all phone calls. You’re busy here, blazing a new trail. “Make room, Charles Dickens and Jane Austin, I’ll be joining your ranks soon,” you say as a smile expands across your face.

The words fly from your ingenious mind onto the computer screen. Your fingers type rapidly, each word a work of art. After completing a page, you decide that it’s time to read your masterpiece. Aloud, you begin. “It was a dark and stormy night.”  Uh.  Really? A voice that was so encouraging just hours ago, now betrays you by speaking in a squeaky voice to taunt, “This sounds like a first grader wrote it.”

Stepping away from the computer, defeat filling every crevice of your creative mind, you head to the kitchen to cheer yourself up with a piece of chocolate. As you eat another piece and another, you conclude that the world doesn’t need another novel anyway. You call your friend to say hey, your hectic schedule just opened up and you can make it for coffee, after all.

What killed your muse? What caused you to stop when you started with such inspiration? Only a myth. The myth is that writing is easy. Remember that inspiration is only one percent of the equation.  Perspiration is ninety-nine percent. Getting inspired to write—scanning the newspaper or community news bulletins for ideas, eavesdropping on others at Starbucks—is a piece of pie compared to that other word you seldom hear about these days—discipline.

I’ve been writing stories and novels since I was six. Embarking on the task was easy. I bought pencils, notebooks, and scented erasers (my favorites were melon and strawberry) from the local stationer’s store in Awaji, Japan, picking out just the right ones to accomplish my inspiration. On the walk home from the store, certainty gripped me. Within the pages of this newest notebook, I’d be able to create a story so worthy of awe and praise that I’d be the talk of the town (in a different way than I was used to being talked about as a tall, noisy, blonde-haired gaijin with the American nose).

Dare I admit that over the course of my childhood, I had a closet of unfinished projects? Or were you already suspecting that?

So the question that continued to nip at me even into my adulthood was: How do you stay disciplined?
My two cents on staying inspired and motivated would include:

Make sure you have an idea for a novel that you’ve thought through really well. You know, action and some sort of crisis and characters that are real. I think romance is always nice, but it might not fit into your genre. By all means,  toss in a recipe or two (I do and then when I’m weary from writing and go to my kitchen and make the recipe, chalking it up to research. That’s why each of my published novels has recipes in the back).

Add to the plot and subplots each day for at least a week before you start to write. Have a design for your work, just don’t point and shoot. Keep layering it, layer upon layer. Outline if that helps. A thorough synopsis is an invaluable tool, allowing you to see more clearly how your storyline all fits together— if you can stomach the tediousness of forming one.

Write with music! Write even when you aren’t inspired. Chances are that if you keep at it for fifteen minutes (you can set a timer), you’ll be motivated to continue by the end of the fifteen-minute segment.

As we say in the South, get ’er done!  Keep at it. Whether it is adding to your page count or word count, set a goal and stick to it. Make realistic daily goals, somewhere between 5 to 7,000 words. The reminder on my desk is: “The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.” I loathe running, but the prompt keeps me focused.

Oh, there are so many more nuggets of wisdom I could tell you about how to stay inspired, but hey, this article is getting kinda dull to write and I’d rather be outside walking in the autumn leaves.  Plus I heard that there’s a new batch of Hello Kitty scented erasers on sale at Target.

Gotta go! As we say in Japan, gambatte (good luck)!

A Wedding Invitation

It's hard to concentrate when the past keeps shoving its way into your thoughts...

After returning home from teaching in a refugee camp in the Philippines, Samantha Bravencourt enjoys her quiet life working at her mother's clothing boutique near Washington, D.C. When she receives an invitation to her friend's wedding in Winston-Salem, NC, she's excited to reconnect with her college pals.

But the wedding turns out quite differently than Sam expects. A chance encounter leads to a reunion with Carson Brylie, a fellow teacher and the man who once broke her heart, and Lien, a young Amerasian girl who desperately needs Sam and Carson's help.

But working with Carson might put Sam's tender heart at risk once again. Is she willing to forgive the past and take another chance on love?

10 Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Book You Haven't Even Sold Yet

Gina Holmes is the author of the award-winning novel, Crossing Oceans and newly released Dry as Rain. She founded Novel Rocket (formerly Novel Journey) in 2005 where she continues to wreak havoc to this day. She and her sexy husband and fabulously good-looking and brilliant children make their home in Southern Virginia. You can learn more about this modest writer at or

When you’re constantly receiving rejection letters from publishers or agents, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is publicizing a novel you can’t even seem to sell.

Before I continue, let me stop a moment and give this very loud and clear disclosure: nothing, nothing, NOTHING, matters more than writing a killer book. Spend 99 percent of your writing time perfecting your craft and fashioning a story that will change the lives of those who read it, or at least entertain the heck out of them.

But with the other one percent of your time, even if you’re just starting out, start building yourself a PR folder. You’ll thank yourself later.

My debut novel, Crossing Oceans, released May 2010 with Tyndale House Publishers. Though it was the first to earn a publishing contract, it was actually the fifth novel I’ve written. I started my marketing folder back on book two because I was sure it would be published. Although book two still collects dust, as does three and four, I’m lucky to have gotten that head start.

The thing with publicity is if you wait until your book is releasing or even about to release, you’re almost too late.

Once you sell your first novel, you often are under contract for a second, and possibly third. I was contracted for a second novel which was due the end of the month my first novel released.

I had more than a year to write this novel, so I didn’t stress. Until that deadline snuck up on me and I wasn't even close to being finished. What happened? Well, I had some personal things that set my writing back. I got married to an amazing man who distracts me just by walking by. Major life changes, no matter how good have a way of slowing the literary flow—for me at least.

After what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time, I finally turned my sample chapters in for approval… they weren’t approved. The story I'd planned and plotted was too different in tone from the first. I was asked, for my own career good, to hold off on this one and try something else. Both my agent and publisher were in agreement, and after a little consideration, so was I.

I found myself with just a few months to publicize my all important, debut novel, and write my all important sophomore novel.

I also had children, a day job and Novel Rocket to tend to. Guess what? I was certainly stressed, but not as stressed as I would have been had I not started preparing for that moment years in advance. I’d like to share some of what has helped me.

What can you do now to get ahead of the eight ball?

1. Buy your website URL and begin to build it. You can go very expensive and pay thousands for a professional site, or you could start small and do something like godaddy, where you build your own site. I took a third route and hired someone to make me a template and then set it up like a blog, so that I could tweak and update it easily.

2. Get professional headshots. I hired a friend whose work I admired but who is still considered an amateur. For fifty dollars and my husband agreeing to baby-sit for an afternoon, I got a few really great and professional looking pictures. Don’t let anyone convince you that a good headshot is a waste of money for a novelist. On Novel Journey we post lots of author photos, many of which look like candid shots that other people are cut out of. Remember how important perception is. I look at a substandard picture and I subconsciously think this author is no perfectionist, and am less likely to want to read their work. Spend the money and get a good promo picture of yourself.

3. Keep a file filled with the names of magazines you come across that fit your writing. For example, if you write Victorian era historicals, Victorian magazines might later be interested in an article written by you. Jot down the names of them and any other publications you come across that might be a fit. This will save you a lot of research time later on.

4. Keep a folder of book reviewers you’ve come across that seem to enjoy the type of stories you write. I send myself emails with the reviewer’s name, books they’ve reviewed and liked, their email address and, if I know them, how I know them. While it’s true that they might not still be reviewing when your book finally releases, it won’t hurt to try.

5. Start reading marketing/publicity books now and take notes. My personal favorite is the simply titled Publicize Your Book. If you can only afford one book on marketing/publicity, I highly recommend you make it that one.

6. Read The Tipping Point. It will explain some very important concepts on what makes things popular. It’s an easy and surprisingly entertaining read.

7. Read How to Make Friends and Influence People. The book has been around forever for good reason.

8. Keep a list of natural influencers. You’ll call upon these folks later for help in getting the word out about your book.

9. Help anyone you can. For one, it’s just the right thing to do, for two, what goes around comes around.

10. Start building your platform now. Write articles, create a blog with excellent and frequently updated content, volunteer to teach classes on what you’re an expert in, or for whatever committees in ACFW, or other writing organizations you belong. People are much more likely to be interested in your book if they feel like they know you and you’ve shown interest in them.

In conclusion, Crossing Oceans, my debut novel went on to hit CBA, ECPA and PW's bestseller's lists.  Did my platform and diligent efforts pay off? I tried to do everything right—to write an excellent story, to build a platform, network, help others, and everything humanly possible to publicize my book.

Was that what made the  difference?
That’s the kicker, maybe yes, maybe no. The thing with publicity is that no one really knows what works. All we can do is write the best book we’re capable of, not let any chance pass that will help get the word out about it, and say our prayers.

With my sophomore novel, Dry as Rain in stores now, I get to ride the up and downs with as much wonder as the first go around. It's still every bit a mystery as it always was, but I'm doing what I can once again to help my book's chances of finding readers. . . and not letting book three's deadline catch me off guard this time. 

Behind every broken vow lies a broken heart.
When Eric and Kyra Yoshida first met, they thought their love would last forever. But like many marriages, theirs has gradually crumbled, one thoughtless comment and misunderstanding at a time, until the ultimate betrayal pushes them beyond reconciliation. Though Eric longs to reunite with Kyra, the only woman he has truly loved, he has no idea how to repair the damage that’s been done.

Then a car accident erases part of Kyra’s memory—including her separation from Eric—and a glimmer of hope rises from the wreckage. Is this a precious opportunity for the fresh start Eric has longed for? Does he even deserve the chance to find forgiveness and win back Kyra’s heart . . . or will the truth blow up in his face, shattering their last hope for happiness? A richly engaging story of betrayal and redemption, Dry as Rainilluminates with striking emotional intensity the surprising truth of what it means to forgive.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Danger of Inspirational Fiction

The term “Inspirational Fiction” has become synonymous with much of what is labeled Christian fiction.
  • Hopeful
  • Uplifting
  • Positive
  • Wholesome

These are words commonly associated with the genre. But does “Inspiration” rightly portray the essence of the Christian Gospel?

At the outset of our current recession, one columnist noted that Christian fiction thrives during economic crisis:

Local Christian publishers who launched or expanded their fiction lines in recent years are enjoying the fruits of their labors thanks to an unlikely source — the flagging economy.

While sales of Christian nonfiction have stalled during the recent economic crisis, sales of Christian fiction remain strong.

Karen Ball, executive editor at Southern Baptist-owned B&H Publishing Group [Ball is no longer with B&H] , said that people are looking for a way to escape from the bad news of layoffs and plummeting stocks. “When reality gets ugly, fiction takes off,” she said.

Along with escape, Christian novels specialize in Christian hope.

There’s some wonderful secular fiction out there, but it’s not offering any hope,” Ball said. “If anything it’s discouraging. In Christian fiction, there’s hope in the midst of trouble.” (Emphasis mine)

This portrayal of Christian fiction as an agent of hope is common, and I think it captures the essence of what many readers expect from the genre. They want something uplifting, inspirational, encouraging, and/or ultimately optimistic.

So is this why the genre exists, to evoke or inspire hope in those who despair? Is this why readers seek out Christian fiction, to recharge their Inspirational battery? If so, I think that’s a problem. Let me offer three reasons why the term Inspirational Fiction can be dangerous for both writers and readers.

LITERARY PREDICTABILITY: If readers buy Christian fiction primarily to feel good and extract hope, then no matter how bleak a storyline, they should always expect a somewhat uplifting resolution. This is a common charge against Christian fiction. Not only does this expectation hurt the genre (i.e., people know what to expect), it also hamstrings Christian fiction writers into more predictable plot-lines. Things have to work out, or else it’s not… inspirational.

SUPERFICIALITY: Another problem with defining Christian fiction in terms of Inspiration is that it potentially glosses over the “darker” elements of life and faith (i.e., that humans are depraved, do depraved things, reject God, and can ultimately spend eternity in hell) and opts for convenience (happy ending) rather than complexity. Stories that move predictably toward uplifting resolutions often sacrifice deeper issues (and biblical clarity) for superficial resolutions.

AN INCOMPLETE GOSPEL: It’s been said, The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. Before the Gospel “frees,” it makes us “miserable.” While the Holy Spirit infuses God’s children with love, joy, and peace, He also convicts world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8). The Gospel damns before it releases. Much Inspirational Fiction misses this “miserable” part of the Gospel. It conditions us to see God as The Fixer and our stories as Pep Pills for troubled times. The ultimate message is, “Come to Jesus and everything will work out.” But is that the essence of the Gospel?

This last point is the most important, and potentially the most charged. Does Inspirational Fiction (or, at least, our expectations of it) trivialize the Gospel, turn it into a bandaid for all our ills? Does the genre substitute theological depth for feel-good fluff? I think it can. Sadly, many Christians have replaced theological “steak and eggs” with a Chicken Soup for the Soul mentality. And Inspirational Fiction potentially caters to that mentality.

Yes. The Gospel offers inspiration and hope. It is good news! But real biblical hope is based on a sense of hopelessness, not humanistic, formulaic, emotional quick-fixes. We can’t save ourselves, we need a Savior. And following Him means carrying our cross along a very narrow road. That road is often rocky, strewn with unpredictability and hardship. Multitudes have died seeing their hopes and promises left unfulfilled.

But does Inspirational Fiction accurately capture that reality?

* * *

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now and his novella, "Winterland," will be available in e-book October 2011. You can visit his website at

Listening Moments

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)

“I think we need a ‘listening moment.’” My Bible study leader looked around the room, and continued, “Let’s see what the Lord has to say as we take a few minutes to meditate on this Scripture.”

While the ladies scattered to different areas of the house, I remained on the sofa and gazed at the green canopy of trees through the picture window. After a few minutes I closed my eyes. Soon, the pressures of my to-do lists, and my cares and anxieties faded away as His Word whispered peace to my heart.

The “listening” moments ended all too soon, and we regrouped to share and pray.

Through the day my mind kept going back to those few minutes of sweet peace in His presence.  I remembered Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel. As he waited for the Lord, He didn’t come in the strong wind that “rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks” nor was He in the ensuing earthquake or fire. Rather it was in the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19: 11-13).  

It’s not always in the midst of chaotic daily living that I hear the Lord, nor is it on the heights of success—the good book sales, the signing of a contract or the day a book releases—that I seek or even hear Him. Though I daily read His Word, pray and spend time in worship, I sometimes lose the joy of tarrying in His presence. Though I seek His direction each time I sit down to write, I need to quiet my heart to hear His still, soft voice in every area of my life. “Lord, forgive me,” I whispered as I held my Bible close, when I realized what I needed more of in my life. "Help me seek You in everything and quiet myself to hear Your whispers in my heart.”

Author, and homeschooling mom, Anita Mellott has post-graduate degrees in Communications and Journalism. She worked as an editor with Habitat for Humanity International, and headed the Department of Journalism at her alma mater in India. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Should Reading Fiction Be Hard?

Last week Athol Dickson started a discussion on this blog that touched on what typical Christian readers want from novels. Mike Duran followed up with the suggestion that reading too much message-driven fiction might dumb readers down. If all we eat is baby food, will our teeth fall out, leaving us with no way to chew meat when it's served to us?

This is worth pondering.

First, is it true that the typical Christian fiction reader wants all her questions answered and she wants the answers to include a moral message? Is it true that the readers who want a clear message are usually the ones who don't like thinking much about a novel?

It is true that Christian publishers are now putting out novels in which some reviewers say they can’t find any spiritual message. I remember an Amazon review I saw a while back on The Charlatan's Boy, by Jonathan Rogers. The reviewer gave the book a one-star rating. I'm sorry, but Rogers couldn't produce a one-star book even if he were in a coma. He'd have to be all the way dead to write a one-star book. So what did the reviewer dislike so much? The title of the review was "No spiritual content" and the reviewer told us that:
"Grady is searching for truth, but doesn't ever make any kind of choice to stop deception, just finds what satisfies him and then the story ends."
I'm reading the review and thinking...searching for the truth...finds what satisfies him. Isn't that a picture of spiritual struggle and salvation?

I read Grady's story, empathizing with the little orphan boy. He was being raised by a liar who told him his parents had given him up because he was too ugly to love. This is exactly what Satan told me for a long time: Your sin makes you so ugly that your Father can't love you. Happily, I learned that this is only half the story. The Father is seeking his children and he goes to great lengths to find them and bring them home. So I read Grady's story, hoping his parents would find him. I think others did as well.

That one-star review was buried under a page full of four and five-star reviews, many of which mention the spiritual elements in the book. (One reviewer says this book gives "possibly the most accurate representation of the character of God of any since C. S. Lewis." Whew!) Still, Rogers probably isn't selling as many books as some authors who are giving readers novels with messages writ large.

So does that prove that typical Christian fiction readers want gospel flooding over them like mighty oceans and doctrine slapping them as waves slap the shore--noisily and at regular intervals?

I like to believe I'm typical. I look like the women who buy Christian novels--I'm a white, middle-classed, (past) middle-aged, evangelical woman. I'm also a reader who likes answers more than questions, and I love to find the gospel tucked away in books. OK I'll admit it: I even enjoy finding the gospel strutting right out in the open, especially if it's got shiny new shoes on its feet.

What is it that bothers me in a book, then? The lack of answers? The lack of four spiritual laws and an altar call? Am I turned off by novels that make me think? Do I just want to be entertained?

I like to think. I listen to sermons, I read nonfiction books, and I read blogs, all because I like to think and interact with the ideas of others. I bet the same is true for you. I bet that's why you are reading this blog post, in fact. I like to think when I read fiction, too, but with fiction I like to feel more than think. To put it simplistically, I think and feel when I read both fiction and nonfiction, but nonfiction more often engages my brain while fiction engages my heart.

When I read a novel, I want to love the main character. The best characters become dear friends. I empathize with them. My favorite characters often make me laugh and they are almost always generous in nature and given to honesty.

Because my emotions are so involved in fiction, when a character I love acts in a way I can't tolerate it makes me dislike the book. We all choose friends we can get along with. If a character I love becomes increasingly selfish or falls away from the faith or is in any way worse off morally at the end of the book than at the beginning, I'm going feel that the friendship was a waste of my time. If the protagonist I've loved and rooted for has struggled through the hardships in the book only to lose ground morally, I feel cheated. I've slogged along with him and I want to get some gain for my pain. I'm probably not going to buy more books by that author, because it cost me emotionally to love her character and then lose the friendship.

So I'm not looking for a big bowl of message handed to me not only skinned and roasted, but also all blended up into baby food. I'm looking for characters I can live with and grow with. I want characters who will grow in virtues I find attractive in people. I like them to learn to be honest and self-sacrificing and humble.

Am I that far from typical? What about you? Are you looking for message? What turns you off to a novel? Are bestselling Christian novels knee-deep with messages?
When Sally Apokedak was eight, she fell in love with reading. The books she loved best had messages buried at different depths, but she never read novels intent upon improving her mind. She read for the joy of meeting new friends who often lived in fascinating worlds and did dangerous things.

Sally writes novels set in worlds she wants to visit and filled with characters she likes to hang out with. Her short works have been published in various magazines, including
Highlights for Children, and her YA novel The Button Girl is currently being reviewed by publishers. She is represented by Reclaim Management. She blogs about young adult novels at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On to the Next Shrub, Page or Abode ~ Christopher Bollen

Christopher Bollen is a writer who lives in New York City. He has contributed to many publications including New York Times Magazine, Vice Magazine, Fantastic Man, and V Magazine. His interview series at V Magazine includes literary and cultural luminaries the likes of Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Brett Easton Ellis, Patti Smith, Roman Polanski, and Brad Pitt. He is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine. Lightning People is his first novel. For more info on Christopher Bollen, visit

On to The Next Shrub, Page, or Abode

by Christopher Bollen

There is some advice for victims of disaster in the 2003 documentary, Touching the Void, which recounts the miraculous survival story of a mountain climber with a broken leg who crawled to safety in the Peruvian Andes, which also turns out to be smart advice for novelists. When discussing how he managed the impossible task of getting down the mountain, Joe Simpson explains that he didn’t envision crawling all the way to the bottom. Instead he made little, manageable goals for himself—get to that rock, crawl to that passageway, make it to that first piece of scrub brush.

When I began the task of writing my first novel Lightning People five years ago in my cottage apartment in the West Village, I tried not to envision the almost unimaginable feat of writing hundreds of pages of fiction, where my characters knotted together in so many elaborate braids until the final resolution it seemed an exhausting endeavor even before I turned my computer on. Instead I followed Joe Simpson’s survivalist trick: get to the end of the first scene of the marriage at City Hall; put down this character’s backstory on her first disastrous love relationship; just make it to the scene of the first murder and tomorrow, when you’re rested, you can tackle that murder.

Little by little, hour after careful hour, I crawled through my first draft of Lightning People. At one point the manuscript neared 600 pages, and if five years before I had known it would take so many years and so many sore muscles, I probably would not be writing this essay now. Let’s allow the poets to be the dreamers of the family. Novelists are the closest literary equivalent of injured mountain climbers. It doesn’t take long views to write fiction. It takes the sustained willpower of wanting to get out with your life.

I wish I could say that writing for me is a constant pleasure. Surely, it must satisfy some innate itch in the back of my brain that can only be scratched by my fingernails tapping on computer keys and putting down pieces of a story. But I’ve often felt that writers are like addicts with their work (and the fact that so many great writers have also been addicts is a thesis very much worth exploring at a later date). It is not so much pleasure but need that brings us every morning to the page to continue in this rather bizarre practice of inventing worlds. And for any writer who has his or her “good days,” the results are a bit like a drug. Hours vanish unblinking, and somehow an entire scene with dialogue and details has managed to be laid down.

Since Lightning People was my first novel and since I already had a career as a magazine editor, I did not have the benefit of an advance or full empty days to devote to writing. For me, the novel was a nights-and-weekends ritual. I was thirty years old when I started and had just moved into a Tolkien-sized cottage on West 12 Street entirely hidden behind an apartment building and surrounded by a back garden of oak trees.

On the outside it looked like an enchanted fairy-tale house. On the inside, it looked like a matter for psychiatric intervention and perhaps a case for the Board of Health. It was tiny with just enough room for a desk, a chair, and piles of paperbacks and art books which began to arc like crumbling garbage columns. There was no oven, only a mini-refrigerator, and since it was built in 1927, there was no insulation in the walls to keep out the winter frost. Nevertheless, I found it a very quiet, peaceful writing zone, in the heart of the city but also removed from it (or as the previous tenant described it to me, “like the hotel in The Shining in that no one will be able to hear your screams.”)

After three years of living in the cottage, the part of me that wanted a happy New York renter’s existence wanted to move. The problem was that I wrote well in this absurd little folly. I could concentrate without neighboring footsteps or traffic horns. I could smoke the odd cigarette, step right out the front door when I needed some fresh air, and I could simply look around at the cobwebbed beams or the blue sky through the tarnished skylight whenever I was stuck for a detail. In a sense it was like an architectural talisman to keep up the work. I promised myself that I wouldn’t move until I had finished the first draft. That might only be three months, I said as a comfort. Of course I was lying. It took two more years. I guess what I’m trying to say is that much of my process for writing relies on quiet without any uncontrolled interruptions, and the routine of a place that I could count on to be mine at all times. I formed such a mental connection between the story in Lightning People and the yellow-walled stucco cottage that even now I associate that novel with living at that address. I also used the cottage as the residence for one of the older characters of the book: a salty ailing gay “real New Yorker” who was spending his last days in life and in the city in this falling down shrine. Perhaps that operated as a reminder to myself not to become Brutus Quinn and know when it was finally time to abandon the place. Not long after I turned in the final manuscript to my agent, Bill Clegg, did I finally submit my future to another kind of agent: that of real estate. I moved into a bright, big single bedroom in the East Village last year. I often worry that my next novel will suffer because of my need for a little more residential comfort—the new place doesn’t have the same magic or nearly as much peace and quiet. But I do believe process has everything to do with environment, and the environment best for stories is not necessarily best for existence. Still, I’m hopeful to make a writing home here. And if it doesn’t I still have the number of the cottage’s owners stored on my cell phone.

What It Means to Me to Write Christian Fiction

What It Means to me to Write Christian Fiction
What do you think of when you hear Christian fiction? It seems to mean something different to everyone. There are those who think of only prairie romance, or fluff novels full of little substance, or novels written by authors who couldn’t make it in the “real world” of fiction, (I had a friend who was trying to get her secular novel published, that said if she couldn’t get a contract, she’d throw a few Jesus references and a scripture or two in and take it to the CBA, (Christian Bookseller’s Association)—um, good luck with that plan.)
Many people seem to think the term simply means fiction minus the curse words and flesh, aka “safe” fiction.

Read the rest of the article HERE. 

The Call to Community

I live a blessed life. No, really. I do.

Lately I’ve been realizing just how blessed, as I’ve coordinated several large-team projects.

These projects have increased my coordination skills, but they have also taught me about human relations—which means I’m learning things that will eventually inform my character development.

Being part of something bigger
News flash: Writers are sort of solitary creatures. But give them a cause they believe in—say the promotion of Christian fiction or the education of neophyte authors—and it can be hard to turn off their enthusiasm.

But it’s not just enthusiasm. Writers and editors are evangelists for writing and editing. In the Christian arena, I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t willing to share his or her experiences in order to help another writer overcome a challenge or take the next logical step.

Contests and conferences
For instance, the
Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest recently closed for this year. At the bell, we had received 118 entries.

The next day I parceled out those entries to our volunteer judges—all working (and successful) writers and editors. I can’t name them, because judging is anonymous, but to a person they were excited to have the opportunity to offer guidance and feedback to those 118 unpublished authors—one of whom will no longer be unpublished at the end of the contest.

I am also the editor-in-chief for the American Christian Fiction Writers ezine, Afictionado. For the month of October we’re producing two special editions of the ezine:

  • ACFW Carol Awards issue: For this project, 35+ book reviewers joined forces to provide reviews of 45 books in 15 categories. The fact that almost every reviewer met deadline—and many came in early—was icing on the cake. The cake was the enthusiasm with which all the reviewers participated. Check out their work on Oct. 1, 2011, at

  • ACFW Conference issue: Here more than 40 reporters and 8 editors volunteered their time and talents to report on every session, keynote address, and Early Bird workshop. What makes is so sweet is that each year about half of the crew are new participants and half are returning for another helping. This edition of the ezine will publish on Oct. 15, 2011, at the same URL.

Making a difference
None of this would be possible without the volunteers who make it happen. If you’re involved in any of these three projects, I hope you know you have my thanks.

But, even if you’re not involved, I hope you can see the importance of coming together as a group to make a difference in people’s lives—of being a part of something bigger.

As Christians, that’s what we’re called to—to community. To mutual support. To, as Michael Card once wrote, “day after day…take up the basin and towel.”

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the editor of Afictionado, the ezine for American Christian Fiction Writers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Breaking In- Debut Author Sandra Orchard

Sandra Orchard was the 2009 Daphne DuMaurier Award of Excellence winner in the unpublished category and sold to Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense the following year. She lives in rural Ontario, Canada where inspiration abounds for her novels set in the fictional Niagara town she's created as their backdrop. Married with three grown children, when not writing, she enjoys hanging out with family, brainstorming new stories with fellow writers, and hiking or kayaking in God's beautiful creation. Visit her at her website.

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

The idea for the series came from wondering how believers who are undercover cops reconcile the bad things they’re obligated to do in the execution of their assignments with their faith. For the first book, I explore the question what if an undercover cop finds the perfect woman, but can’t tell her who he really is or what he does for a living? Worse than that, what if his mission threatens her safety and he can’t tell her?

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

Yes, actually. Even though I had an agent who was prepared to submit the story to LIS for me, on a whim I entered the first fifty pages in the 2010 Golden Heart. I’d never entered that contest before and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I didn’t expect was to have the entry
disqualified by one of the judges for being in the wrong category! Needless to say, it was very satisfying to see the judge proven wrong.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I’d been writing fiction for almost six years, when I got “the call”. It was actually an email. My emails are preprogrammed to go to different folders. So when I saw that I had a new email in my Agent folder the day after Labor Day—the day my agent sa
id the editor would give us her response to my manuscript—my heart sank. I figured that if I’d gotten the contract my agent would call. So…I read all my other email before I even opened the folder!

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

Oh yes. I check email, surf the net, eat, match socks, complain, lament, complain. Oh wait…you mean how do I break out of it? Well, that’s a topic for a whole other blog. (Sept 19th at Seekerville to be exact.) But I’ll tell you that one of my most consistently reliable methods is to jump ahead to a scene that I can visualize and start writing from there. Oftentimes, things will present themselves that allow me to work backward.

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

No, I’m the kind of reader who skips over all those details about what kind of clothes characters are wearing etc. I wouldn’t know a Prada from a you name it. That said, I do search out photos that depict my hero and heroine and then keep running notes as to hair and eye color etc. so that my green-eyed blond heroine isn’t brown-haired and brown eyed by the end of the book…unless of course she’s going undercover!

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

Pacing. Once I know the suspense plot, I want to rush through and make it happen, but in the process I tend to neglect the romantic thread.

How do you overcome it?

I write in layers. I get the suspense plot down. Then I go back and look at how it can be stretched out in order to layer in more romantic tension and character development.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a
cozy attic nook?

I have a small office with a u-shaped desk and along one wall there’s a nine-foot long counter with cupboards beneath and a bulletin board above for storyboarding.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I take my dog for a walk with my neighbor, have breakfast, and do devotions, then my days are pretty much dedicated to the various aspects of writing, whether that be writing a new chapter, revising a finished one, writing a blog or writing marketing copy. I break for lunch, and sometimes my afternoons are spent doing chores or enjoying my grandbaby or visiting shut-ins or getting together with writing buddies to brainstorm ideas. If not, I keep going the same as the morning. After supper and spending time with family, I often read—fiction, or nonfiction on writing craft or marketing. My most productive writing time for “new material” is usually between 10 pm and midnight after my internal editor has gone to bed.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Except for those magical midnight hours I mentioned in the last question, I have to tweeze out each and every word. Although… if I move out of the office and write with pen and paper, the words often flow better, probably because my brain doesn’t slip into edit mode. But… it takes me so long afterward to type up what I’ve written, because I edit as I go so that the net result for the time is about the same.

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

Write what you love to read, where your heart is, not to the ever-shifting market.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Remember what Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." And enjoy the journey!

Deep Cover is the first book in my Love Inspired Suspense series, Undercover Cops: Fighting for justice puts their lives—and hearts—on the line.

Maintaining his cover cost undercover cop Rick Gray the woman he loved. Sweet Ginny Bryson never really knew Rick. He never gave her the chance. Not then, and not now, when he's back with a new alias to gather evidence against Ginny's uncle. The man's crimes led to Rick's partner's death, and Rick wants justice to be served. But his investigation is stirring up trouble, and Ginny is smack-dab in the middle. Someone wants Ginny to pay the price for what her uncle has done. But how can Rick protect her without blowing his cover, jeopardizing his assignment...and risking both their lives?