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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Your Story a Diamond? ~ by guest blogger Maureen Lang

Maureen Lang is the bestselling author of eleven books, many of which have earned various writing distinctions including RWAs Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, A Holt Award of Merit and finaling in the Christies. She is also a four-time finalist in ACFWs Carol Award. Her titles The Oak Leaves, On Sparrow Hill, My Sister Dilly and most recently her three-book Great War Series, all published by Tyndale House, have consistently received positive reviews from such places as Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times. Visit her on her website and Facebook.

NJ: Leave a comment for Maureen and be entered in a drawing for a free copy of her book.

Is your story a diamond?

Like many married women, I wear a diamond engagement ring along with my wedding band. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it and my gaze is arrested—most often when the light hits my ring just so, particularly sunlight. While I might not believe diamonds are a girl’s best friend, I do admit to being easily fascinated by something that appears to possess an endless sparkle.

A well-crafted story can be a captivating gem, too. A good story can catch my attention and provide a memory that seems everlasting—which is why such a thought prompted me to wonder if my stories could pass a diamond-inspired grading system.

The Four C’s of Grading Your Story Like a Diamond:

Clarity: Well-crafted stories have a sense of clarity that all the best diamonds possess. Readers may bring their own interpretation to a story but they’ll never be confused, frustrated or muddled by a story that works.

Carats: Well-crafted stories have just enough carats—in other words, their size is just right. There are never too many pages in a story that’s working for a reader! Some fans might think there are too few if they don’t want a story to end, but most readers of a well-crafted book will utter that satisfied sigh when the last page is turned, because the size is just right.

Color: Well-crafted stories are colorful. They mix fascinating characters with just the right setting and apparently insurmountable obstacles that somehow are believably and heroically overcome, bringing us to a satisfying end.

Cut: Well-crafted stories are cut to just the right shape, just as diamonds are. We may dream about writing outside the box, but for the sake of book buyers, publishing sales staff and PR workers—not to mention bookstore shelf-stockers—we need to write books that fit somewhere. Even when editors say they want something fresh and new, they still need to call it something so they can sell it to the rest of the publishing world. A mystery? A romance? Even more generic terms like General Fiction or Women’s Fiction call to mind a certain type of book.

More diamond elements for our precious stories…

Dedicated authors and their editors can spot that diamond-in-the-rough idea that can be expertly cut and polished into a marketable story.

A well-crafted story has a sense of timelessness, just like those endless facets of my diamond reflecting light. Characters are revealed to readers mid-stride, and readers recognize a sense that those people filling the pages already have a well-established life. Likewise, hopefully at the end of the story the reader is left with a promise of that character’s life going on and on.

A well-crafted story can be handed down, just as my ring will be handed down. There’s nothing better than to be told by a friend that a book touched them. Word-of-mouth advertising is every writer’s dream, because it’s the most effective.

And finally, well-crafted stories are priceless—yet so much more affordable than diamonds.

So if you’re wearing diamonds or just enjoy looking at sparkling jewels, let them inspire you to write a diamond of a story!

NJ: Leave a comment for Maureen to be entered in a drawing for a copy of her book.

Springtime of the Spirit

The winter of an unjust war is over. A springtime of the spirit awaits.

Germany, 1918
Four years of fighting have finally come to an end, and though there is little to celebrate in Germany, an undercurrent of hope swells in the bustling streets of Munich. Hope for peace, fairness—the possibility of a new and better tomorrow.

It’s a dream come true for Annaliese Düray. Young and idealistic, she’s fighting on the front lines of Munich’s political scene to give women and working-class citizens a voice in the new government. But she’s caught off guard by the arrival of Christophe Brecht—a family friend, recently returned from the war, who’s been sent to bring her home.

It’s the last place she wants to go.

Christophe admires Annaliese’s passion, unable to remember the last time he believed in something so deeply. Though he knows some things are worth fighting for, he questions the cost to Annaliese and to the faith she once cherished. Especially when her party begins to take its agenda to new extremes.

As the political upheaval ignites in Munich, so does the attraction between Annaliese and Christophe. When an army from Berlin threatens everything Annaliese has worked for, both she and Christophe face choices that may jeopardize their love, their loyalty, and their very lives.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Self-Publish and Watch the Dollars Flow In?

My column on Jan 25 stated that “self-publishing will remain hot, but it still won’t make people any money.” The column got picked up and disseminated around the blogosphere, with some people torching me for claiming I’m biased against self-publishing.

Rot. Self-publishing is a great idea, and I’m helping several authors do it. Your e-book with a traditional publisher these days will earn you a 25% royalty. Your e-book with a self-publisher will earn you a 70% royalty. On paper that looks like an easy decision for an author. 

In fact, a couple days ago thriller author Barry Eisler made headlines for turning down a half-million dollar deal with St Martins in order to self-publish. Maybe you’re thinking you’re going to follow his lead, self-publish your book, and start watching the dollars flow in.

Um… don’t put any money down on that Maserati just yet. I work with authors full-time, have for years, and while the percentages look great, the numbers don’t always work out. You see, self-publishing is still PUBLISHING, and the keys to success are still (1) write a great book, (2) market it exceptionally well, and (3) know how to sells large quantities. Unfortunately, most self-publishing authors are not doing any of those three. They’re frequently taking a manuscript that’s been rejected everywhere. I know this sounds elitist, but it’s just possible all those agents and editors who rejected that book know something that you don’t know. 

Maybe (just maybe) if everyone has rejected your manuscript, it’s not because “the system is stacked against you.” It could be you could use some editing. In addition, if you don’t know how to market your book, you’re dead in the water. You could produce a great book and people may not flock to it – there’s too much competition, and if readers don’t know about it, they can’t buy it. You’ve got to know how to reach readers and get them to buy your book or self-publishing won’t make you any money.

I’ve been spending time talking with self-published novelists, and you’ve got to work to find people who are making more than a couple hundred bucks per month. Many are making $20 per month – including one author who turned down a $5000 offer because she was convinced she could do better. 

So, frankly, I think Barry Eisler got taken. Somebody convinced him he could do better than to cash that $500,000 check and let a great company like St Martins market and sell his book. They’re probably wrong. Eisler is good, but does he have enough of a following to sell that many books? I don’t think so. AND he now has to be a full-time marketing and sales guy, rather than a writer.

So yes, I think self-pubbing is great. But it’s not a miracle solution for your career. And yes, there’s still some wisdom in listening to all those experienced publishing people who know something about the business.

Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where Do Writers Fit in the Church?

If you have the gift of teaching, evangelism, hospitality, or helps, there is a place for you in the Church. If you have administration skills, musical talent, or simply like to serve, there is a place for you in the Church. But if you are an artist, a writer, a poet, or an actor, you're out of luck.

Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, believes that:

Christians often misunderstand the role of creativity. Few churches get involved in the arts, and as a result, many creative individuals feel separated and alienated from God and His body of believers.

That's how I've been feeling lately -- "separated and alienated." Probably because our church recently studied the topic of spiritual gifts and callings. The funny thing is: It's not ignorance of my calling that alienates me; it's awareness of my calling that alienates me.

I mean, where do writers fit in the Church?

The church needs people to man the nursery, host Bible studies, organize social events, plan outreach opportunities, visit the sick, counsel the hurting, and recycle bulletins. But... poets? Seriously. What practical purpose do poets serve in the local church?

It's a conundrum. On the one hand, if God "calls" some members of His Body to write fiction,

direct theater, sculpt, or paint abstracts, how do those callings practically relate to the local church? If they don't, are we prepared to say that writers, artists, and actors are peripheral to the real mission of God on earth? And if they're not -- if fiction writers actually serve an important role in the Body of Christ -- why isn't there more of a practical place for them?

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. You can visit his website at

In the Hands of the Master Jeweler

The jeweler’s gnarled fingers moved with a deftness that belied his age as he examined my broken earring.

“Can it be fixed?” I looked at the shiny bald patch atop his head encircled by tufts of grey hair as he bent over my earring.

He straightened, gestured for me to sit in a chair, and then walked to the back of the store, where he lit a fire. With the bellows, he coaxed the flames till white-tipped tongues spiraled upward. He grunted as he bent to place the bellows on a rickety table. Then, he picked up the two pieces of the broken earring with a large pair of tongs, and thrust it into the flame. As the earring pieces glowed red hot, I scooted my chair back. The jeweler pulled the tongs out, and began to hammer the pieces together. A few moments later, the pieces were doused in an aluminum bucket of water, hissing as they cooled. He placed the earring on a small bench, taking his time as he gently molded it into shape. Then he began to smooth the surface of the earring with a tiny file.
Fascinated, I watched as he repeated the process several times. Almost an hour later, he placed the earring on the glass counter in front of me. I picked it up and gasped, turning it over looking for the line marking the break in the earring. As I ran my fingers over the delicate filigree work, not even the slightest of bumps indicated where the pieces were molded together. I looked at him in disbelief.

A smile creased his weathered cheeks as he said, “Earring broken, but I fixed it.”

I often think of the old jeweler in his tiny store, tucked away on the corner of a busy street in India. I’m reminded that the fire of trials may glow red-hot at times. Though I may think He’s silent, the Master Jeweler is ever present, molding me, with tenderness and love, into a vessel for His glory. Some day, I will gasp in awe when I realize how He transformed those times of pain into a delicate filigree that enhanced the beauty of His handiwork in my life. I am never too broken for Him to fix.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all
kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7

Anita Mellott writes to encourage others. She has more than ten years of experience as a writer/editor in the nonprofit world. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in summer 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Michele Scott ~ Interviewed

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

If I was starting out today, I would do everything that I could to educate myself about the business aspects of publishing and understanding contracts, how to read them, etc. I think writers tend to be dreamers and obviously creative and even naïve when it comes to matters of dollars and cents. From my experience because I didn’t go into initial contracts fully educated on business matters that I left some things on the table that would have helped my career in the long run.

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

TIME is my main struggle. As a working parent who has a day job and also a writing career—time is what I struggle with. It’s important for me to keep a schedule and employ help. I now schedule my
writing time, my family time, my marketing and PR time, time with my horses, etc. I find that by having my time scheduled that I don’t stress and get caught up in the overwhelm of all that needs to get done. I also have so many ideas in my head for new stories that I wish I could write them all RIGHT NOW, but that isn’t possible. Therefore, I keep an idea folder and when I finish a book I dive into that idea folder and see what still resonates with me.

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

Sit your bum in the chair and write, write, write. It works.

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

Rescuing brutalized/neglected horses. Horses in general fuel my passion in many ways. I love working with them, writing about them—everything about their souls works for me. If I didn’t write, I would train horses.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My new release coming out March 15th is “Happy Hour.” This book is really a book of the heart. It’s about four women friends living and working in Napa Valley. They deal with everyday issues that many women can relate to from dealing with teenage children, aging parents, financial problems, blended families, dating after forty, etc. They get together regularly for their own Happy Hour where they lean on one another, laugh, cry, shout—whatever they need. It’s a story of friendship, family, and faith. There are some heavy aspects to the book but because I personally deal with a lot of issues in my own life by using laughter, I write humor into my stories. Life is about the journey and it’s not always fun and easy but on the flips side, it isn’t always hard and painful and that was what I wanted to convey through these women and their friendship.

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

I could write several pages on this but I will do my best to give you the short version. I wrote for twelve years and completed a half a dozen manuscripts and about as many partials before getting picked up by a publisher. I received over 200 rejection letters during that time period, but I kept putting work out and just really sticking to it. The lows were the rejection letters, being dropped after six books for Berkley by them, and being “taken” by “industry” people who I trusted. The highs are when the first three books sold and I received that call from my agent. The first paycheck! And most of all, not long before I did receive that first contract was when my middle kid who was nine-years-old at the time saw me in tears over another rejection letter. I was really ready to throw in the towel. My son said to me, “You can’t quit. Don’t you know, Mom, that God wouldn’t have given you the gift to write if He didn’t think you couldn’t do it?” Pretty powerful. You can be assured I sat back down at my computer and wrote a new book.

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

I think all writers experience self-doubt. I definitely do. When a new book is about to come out I anticipate but also stew a bit wondering, “Did I do my best work? Will readers like it? Does it convey what I wanted to?” All of that plays in my head. Then I have to just let it all go and trust my abilities as a writer and be grateful that I can actually do what I love for a living.
I don’t have writer’s block that often, but when I do—I do something physical. I go for a walk or I go ride my horse. This takes me away from the story long enough for something to click in my brain. I give my brain the issue and then I let it go. Doing something physical gets the brain going every time.

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

I wish I had known that publishers do not spend any money on writers who don’t have the name behind them. I would not have made some of the financial decisions that I did that harmed us. However, looking back I do think some of those decisions helped me in getting my name out there.

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

Learn the business, read, write daily (even if it is only a page), learn all the new technologies available to writers, have a good editor proof your work, and be willing to take constructive criticism—listen to what readers tell you. They usually know best. They definitely know what they want.

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

My dad. He taught me the value of perseverance and sticking to your passion.

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

I am actually very proud of “Happy Hour.” It’s a good book with a lot of heart and soul into it. I’m also very proud of a book I wrote sixteen-years-ago that is a big family saga. I revised it not too long ago and plan to release it under the title “The Cartel,” and writing under the name Sofia Cruz. It is a big book and the story line sticks to me to this day. I loved the characters. It’s very different from all of my other work (thus the pseudonym) but I really love the book.

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

To see and be involved with my Nikki Sands’ mysteries on TV (for many, many seasons). That is a goal.

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

When a reader e-mails me how much she loves my books. That is truly the best. It’s my goal to entertain readers, make them feel connected to the characters in some way. So when someone takes their time to send me an e-mail basically letting me know that I have done my job, it is really awesome!

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

My kitchen table.

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

I start out with my “what if…?” Then I sit down with a pad of paper and begin sketching the basic idea. Then I hop on the computer and begin writing character journals form first p.o.v. After that I do a short outline and then I jump in and start writing the first draft.

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

I have a pretty busy/full life. There are times where I just have to write wherever I am—in my office, at my kitchen table, in my car, in a hotel room, etc. I have to write with noise around me (kids and animals). I like to write at least 10 pages a day. I really like to write with my dog Java next to me or my kitty Holly in my lap.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?


What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Saggy Middle can happen and when they do—I get physical to start me thinking again.

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

I had a writer e-mail me and let me know that because of a workshop she had taken that I taught at that she had won a major writing contest and through that found a literary agent. She attributed all of that to me. She’s the writer so she really should take the credit, but I have to say that was pretty cool.

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

If I knew what worked I would tell you. Try everything. There isn’t anything that I have not tried and I am still working at it. J

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

Believe in yourself, write because it’s your passion (be honest about that), stick to it, and remember that in this world of writing that patience is your biggest asset. If you are not a patient person then you should probably think twice about writing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are You A Productive Sheep?

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” Stephen R. Covey

I fear accountability. There, I’ve said it.

I need it; but I avoid it.

It hasn’t always been so. Early in my time at Bethel College (Indiana), I was invited to join a group called the Writers’ Accountability Network (WAN). You can still see me and the group

Members of WAN began each month by sharing their goals for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, we all reported on our success—and where we didn’t quite measure up. In between, we encouraged each other.

I’ve never completed so much writing! In fact, while a member of that group I wrote the first draft of my novel.

What happened?
As I took on more responsibilities professionally—a good thing—I soon found myself over-committed—a bad thing—and left the group.

I’ve worked on the novel sporadically since then, never with the intensity and commitment of those days.

It’s time to again seek the accountability I need to be productive. The benefit WAN provided was that of Proverbs 27:17: “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” (The Message). The fight for productivity won’t be easy; but I’m determined.

I need to make changes. I need to embrace, again, the power of being a good sheep.

Setting boundaries
The biblical idea of Jesus as our shepherd and us as His sheep has always resonated
with me. I have sheepy tendencies. In WAN, we were all sheep within the same pen. The fences (goal-setting, accountability, encouragement, and reporting) helped us be good sheep together.

What fences can I build now to get back that level of accountability?

Fence 1—Television: I can’t give up it up entirely, but can I use the hour or two I’d normally give to American Idol for writing? (Can’t give up Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—that’s good writer TV. Besides my wife and I enjoy watching them together.)

Fence 2—Social media: It’s time to wrestle my email and Facebook addictions to the ground. There’s a place for both, but too much of a good thing can be a problem.

Fence 3—Mornings: While in WAN I got up early to write for an hour before reporting to my job—and it worked. I completed the first draft. I need to repair the holes in this fence.

Fence 4—Accountability: This is the gate to my sheep pen. I need to find a writing partner, another sheep, who will make sure I do what I say I’m going to do—and who’ll cut me no slack when I don’t.

I have a person or two in mind, but if you think you’re the sheep I’m looking for, send me an email: opusmle (at) gmaildotcom. I’ll get baa-ck to you.

What do you do for accountability?

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 ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Novel Journey is so proud to announce ...

Crossing Oceans, by our own Gina Holmes, 
has been nominated for 

Word Count. . . Sanity-Robbing Obsession or Necessary Discipline?

Kimberley Woodhouse is a wife, mother, writer, and musician approaching life with a positive outlook despite difficult circumstances. A popular speaker and teacher, she has shared at more than 750 venues around the country. Her previous book, Welcome Home: Our Family's Journey to Extreme Joy, chronicles her daughter's extremely rare health issues and how the Woodhouses received an amazing gift through the ABC television program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Kim and her husband have two children and live in Colorado.

Kayla Woodhouse is a teenage author whose life-altering medical condition (a nerve disorder that prevents the body from regulating its temperature or sensing pain) has not stopped her love for swimming and other adventures. No Safe Haven is her first novel and makes her the youngest published full-length novelist from a royalty-paying publisher.


For those of you who are (or who have hung around) a writer at any point in time, you've probably heard the terms "word count."

“What’s the word count on your latest novel?”

“What does such and such a publisher look for in a word count for such and such a genre?”

What’d you get on you word count today?

Those two little words can send an author into the stratosphere of jubilation when the muse is flowing and words pour onto the page. The same two little words can turn an otherwise sane and happy author into a throw-everything-out-the-window-grab-a-baseball-bat-to-smash-it-all-then-stomp-on-it type person.

Yep. We writers are always striving for that elusive number.

Word Count.

Be it a daily goal or the completion of a manuscript, wordsmiths sure do seem to place a lot of importance on numbers.

And a lot of writers will admit that they hate numbers. Many of them hate math in general. So what is it with this obsession we have with numbers?

After much pondering (not really), I've decided to share my thoughts (or lack thereof) on this subject.

1. We need numbers. Life, and thus our stories, would be boring without numbers. (Who would be interested if the reader didn’t know how old our characters are, what year they live in, or how many half-decaf-caramel-lattes they drink each day?)

2. Numbers help you exaggerate in order to make your point more meaningful. (She rewrote the scene for the 5-trillionth time.)

3. Numbers help us with deadlines and parameters. (You'll never have a publisher ask you to deliver a manuscript of unlimited word count whenever you feel like it.)

So now that I have shared my abundance of wisdom on this matter of numbers, I must get back to my own word count after teaching my kids that "yes, you still have to do math even if you want to be a writer."


Jenna Tikaani-Gray and her twelve-year-old daughter, Andrea, are on their way home, hoping for a fresh start after a lifetime of medical trials and great sorrow. But when sabotage brings their small plane down, they find themselves fighting for their lives. And they don’t know what’s more dangerous: the weather and terrain of Sultana—one of the most hazardous mountains in Alaska—or the armed men chasing them.

Hardened by the loss in his life, Cole Maddox knows the best path is one he walks alone. No one to care for—or about. That way he can focus on what matters: getting a secret technology safely into the hands of the US Military. But when the plane he’s on with Jenna and Andie crashes, it will take all his skill and strength to get them out alive—and all his determination to stay in his self-imposed solitary confinement.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If You Write it, it Will Sell

I recently received a letter from a fellow novelist bemoaning the unfairness of one novel's success over another. Or, more specifically, my novel's success over hers. She wrote to tell me of the long list of my novel's flaws and how her own was excellent and deserved the success mine had.

Let's forget the underlying issues of the whole thing for a minute and just look at the surface complaint. Her novel, in her opinion, was superior, and deserved the bestseller status and readership.

It may be entirely true that her book is more deserving, but does that necessarily matter in the world of publishing?

I can think of several authors who are geniuses, in my opinion, who don't sell the numbers they should.

It's no secret that many of the books that win awards never win a place on most consumer's shelves. 

Why is that?

The obvious answer is that many of the novels winning the awards are literary fiction and literary fiction tends to not sell that well.  Call the readership masses simple-minded if you like, but they just want to read a good story that doesn't fly over their heads. Fair? Maybe not.

So, back to the excellent author whose novel hasn't sold very many copies. She may be the next Madeleine L'Engle, but just because you think you write an excellent novel doesn't mean everyone's going to agree, and dare I state the obvious? It might not even be true.

She forgot the first lesson the rest of us learned in Writing 101-- taste is, above all, subjective. You may think certain authors who sit atop of the NY Times list to be hacks, but obviously, not everyone agrees.

Secondly, even if every critic in the world shouts from the rooftop that your novel is the best ever, doesn't mean it will find an enormous readership.

I don't know why.

It could be because you have no way of getting your book out there. You have no platform. Your publisher is a cheapskate who doesn't believe in marketing or publicity. The two hundred people who read your novel aren't word-of-mouth types.

My debut, Crossing Oceans, is doing very well, but that doesn't mean my sophomore novel will. I realize and accept this. I learned long ago that life is not fair, and not so long ago, that the publishing business really isn't. I also understand human nature well enough to suspect it's a lot easier for me to be objective when it's my novel doing well.

I had no expectations that my debut would do particularly well. I hoped it would, but I didn't expect it would. I know how unpredictable this business is and accept that.

I suspect my excellent author friend is having such a hard time because she had high expectations that were dashed. The higher the expectations in life, the higher the disappointment tends to be.

All Excellent or myself can do is write the best novel we're capable of, check our expectations at the publishing door and accept the things we cannot change. It would also be nice if we could be happy for those who gain what we dream of, remembering how fickle and subjective this crazy business is. We may be one another's competition but we novelists are also a very small clan who few on the outside understand.

Today I may be at the top. Tomorrow, Excellent may be and next year we may both be has-beens who can't land another contract. I don't know any writer who doesn't suffer from heartache in one form or another, be that from rejections, bad reviews, poor sales, or whatever. Let's cheer each other on as we hope for the best, not just for ourselves, for one another.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Middle Grade Author Interview: Kate Milford

Kate is the author of THE BONESHAKER and its forthcoming companion book, THE BROKEN LANDS (Clarion Books, Spring 2012), as well as several plays, a couple of screenplays, and an assortment of scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as self-aware ironmongery and how to make saltwater taffy in a haunted kitchen. She is also a contributing writer for the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture at and a passionate shutterbug. Originally from Annapolis, she splits her time between Brooklyn and the Magothy coast. She has a husband called Nathan and two dogs called Sprocket and Ed, and drinks way too much coffee.

Your debut novel, "The Boneshaker," was released in May 2010. What are the highlights of your journey to publication?

The whole thing started as a short—maybe 150 page—draft I wrote fast, in just about two weeks in order to enter a contest. Needless to say, it didn't win, but that was my first effort at writing children's fiction. After that, I had lots of help in rewriting the story and lea
rning how to tell it better: my mom, my friend Julie, my husband, and then later, my amazing critique group and my agent, Ann Behar and my editor at Clarion, Lynne Polvino. I found my critique partners through the SCBWI message boards and they've become some of my very dearest friends. After some pretty substantial rewriting I spent weeks in researching agents, and I got very, very lucky and approached the right agent for me at a time when she was looking for what I had to offer. Then I got equally lucky when Ann placed the book with an editor at Clarion who not only loved it but really understood the story I wanted to tell.

ghts after the book sold: seeing the thumbnails for the illustrations Andrea Offermann did for the cover and the interior...seeing the advance review edition, which was the first “book form” of my story...finding the first copy in Word Books in Greenpoint and breaking down in tears...Betsy Bird's review for her Fuse Number Eight blog and Cory Doctorow's review for BoingBoing and every lovely review since then...getting my first email from a reader and every communication I've had with readers since...meeting Andrea and getting to see her original painting for the cover which is BEAUTIFUL...being invited to a middle-school book club last summer for a discussion and a Boneshaker-themed dinner...and, of course, being asked to write the next part of the story.

Why do you write for young people?

I like the fact that books for kids still rely on strong storytelling, strong characters, strong images, and basic human conflict. Kids will follow you through great leaps of imagination, but they won't stand for weak stories or characters. Also, there's something about the books you read and love as a kid that makes them stick with you forever. It seems to me that all the things that made me wish from a young age to be a writer ha
ve always been tied most closely to those books. Does that make any kind of sense?

Your prose in "The Boneshaker" has the feel of classic oral storytelling, and oral storytelling plays an important role in the novel itself. Did you intentionally develop that tone?

Yes and no. I wanted the narration to be intimate and personal, sort of conversational—I wanted to eliminate as much as possible the feel of an author's voice telling the reader what Natalie was thinking or feeling. At the same time, I did want t
here to be several instances of actual storytelling, too, and the prevailing wisdom (which generally I believe wholeheartedly) is that showing is always better than telling—so I knew I was going to be walking a fine line by having three or four places in the story where the passing of information came from one character telling another a story. If anything, I was worrying more about that—about keeping the storytelling bits from seeming like exposition. I'm glad it came together.

What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?

We are big Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows fans in my family, and I think my sister and I destroyed copies of The Westing Game and Fantastic Mr. Fox that we kept in the family car for long drives. But most of all I've always loved fantasy. In middle school I remember being utterly depressed after finishing Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence (my first experience with the sadness that comes with finishing a desperately-loved series), and I still read the second book every year or so. The Phantom Tollbooth is another one I loved endlessly and still re-read. I think the main thing I took from the fantasy I read as a kid was a love of world-building. Now that I think about it, even the stuff I was writing as a kid and as a teenager was more about the places I got to invent, their legends and history and geography and rules, than about the people in them. Which, by the way, is something I still get carried away with and have to rein in.

What prepared you to write for children?

That's a good question. I'm not sure. I'm the oldest of four sisters and brothers; maybe
that helped. I do love to read children's literature for its own merits, and I definitely write the kind of thing I like to read. Also I sort of also feel like I never outgrew age fourteen and I'm married to a man four years younger than I am, so that's like living with a kid on some levels.

What are a few of your all-time favorite books?

The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper), The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin), The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), His Dark Materials (Phillip Pullman), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), The Crying of Lot 49 (
Thomas Pynchon), House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski), The Innkeeper's Song (Peter S. Beagle, Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller), Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino), Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges)...problem with this question is I could really go on for kind of a long time...

What aspect of storytelling is most challenging for you, and how do you develop your weak areas?

I can overcomplicate things for sure. I like complexity and puzzles and the joy of a story coming together in the end, and sometimes I get way too ambitious. Also, again, sinc
e I love world-building so much, I often have to really reel in the part of me that wants to dwell on the history and lore of the world in which the story is set. As for developing those weaknesses, I'm undergoing some massive learning right now as I'm finishing The Broken Lands, which is the prequel to The Boneshaker. I had to build the story up from a half-page synopsis intended for a novella to a book-length manuscript in three months (including December, during which I got very little done), including all the necessary research (which was A LOT). This is turning out to be the best learning experience yet, because I don't have time to let myself get carried away with too much complexity. The basic story comes first and the rest gets layered on afterward. It's taking a lot of discipline, especially since as I get close to the end I keep figuring things out that solve early problems but that require massive retrofitting.

Because two sequels to "The Boneshaker" are planned, you have previously reserved your opinion on the character Simon Coffret, a guardian angel (of sorts) who did not fall from heaven, but jumped of his own free will. The Drifter, another prominent figure in your book, wanders eternally, recruiting defecting souls who desire something besides heaven or hell. Can you offer any comments on the existe
nce of third parties in "The Boneshaker's" universe--forces outside the rigid lines of good and evil?

I'm going to try and avoid saying much, because The Broken Lands is going to explain quite a lot of that. You'll learn more about the jumpers, about Jack the Drifter, and about the place they hold in the world. The Broken Lands will also give you a pretty good hint about what Natalie will face back in Arcane when we return to her story.

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

Oh, man, that's a good one. Well, ask me in a week and I might change my tune, but today what I want most of all is to be able to write short fiction. I lack the ability to be an effective storyteller in under 250 pages, and I really admire the efficiency that allows short story writers to be able to do what they do in such a brief span.

Your current work in progress is a novel set in Nagspeake. When can we hope to see it on shelves?

Well, as it turns out, we get The Broken Lands first, even though four months ago the thing was just a vague idea in the back of my head! Weird world, publishing. But that you can look for in Spring of 2012!

Life-lines and a Truckled Soul

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

I’m sure all of us have been stunned to silence at the devastation and fear overwhelming Japan. As my husband and I watched some of the news footage we couldn’t help but use the word “apocalyptic.” It is at times like these that I feel a deep urgency to break the silence that lies heavily upon me. It is at times like these that the world needs words of hope and healing. Words like “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4), and these – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Isaiah 43:2). The people of the world need to know that God says - “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Words like those can be a life-line to those in dire situations. We should never underestimate the power of God’s word nor doubt that He is in control.Neither should we underestimate what He might do with our words, our skills. He has given them to us for a purpose and for a particular time. Sometimes we may doubt them, doubt our own abilities, but there is nothing God cannot do with a truckled soul.

As I watched The King’s Speech recently that truth hit home again. It was no accident that the King’s wife found just the right man to help her husband; no accident that his brother abdicated, putting him on the throne just as Hitler began his march across Europe; no accident that another man, Winston Churchill, also deemed to be “less than” by many, became Prime Minister of England at that same time. My husband commented how Hitler and Satan must have been rubbing their hands in glee as they watched what was happening in England. They must have thought victory was in the bag. Yet Satan’s plans were being foiled by God’s at every turn and, as usual, he used the most unlikely of heroes.

There is one scene in The King’s Speech that exemplified this fact. The King and his family have gathered to watch the newsreel of his coronation. As they are about to finish, the newsreel continues and shows Adolph Hitler giving a speech. One of the King’s daughters asks what Hitler is saying. The King replies, “I don’t know, but he is saying it very well.”

Bertie’s self doubt plagued him, yet he moved forward, accepted the role God had placed on his life and struggled to do it well. He was God’s man, God’s choice, with all his flaws and failings and it was God who accomplished his plans through him.
As a follower of Christ, with many flaws and failings, I take great courage in that. As a writer who is Christian I rejoice in it.

Ps 121:5-8 5 - The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; he shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. (NKJ)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Author Catherine West ~ Interviewed

Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. Catherine and her husband live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, with their two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. Catherine’s debut novel Yesterday’s Tomorrow, will release in 2011, through Oak Tara Publishers.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My debut novel is called Yesterday’s Tomorrow, a contemporary romance published through Oak Tara. Here’s the blurb:

It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined.

As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while desperately trying to keep tabs on her only brother who enlisted some time ago, but both tasks seem impossible.

When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.

In an unexpected twist, Kristin and Luke are forced to work together. With war raging all around them, they engage in their own tumultuous battle of emotions. Headstrong and willing to risk it all for what they believe in, they’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill their own private agendas. Kristin is after a story that might get her the Pulitzer. Luke wants retribution from the enemy that took away his family. In the face of death, Kristin and Luke must decide if they’re willing to set aside selfish ambition for the love that seems to have ambushed them and captured their hearts.

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

Convoluted. Great word! Well, I guess I started pursuing publication back in the dark ages, before there was Internet, which says it all. I gave up for a few years, my kids were small and I found there just wasn’t enough time in the day for writing. Once they were in school, I decided to try again. I came back on the scene just as the Internet was being born, and realized this was something I wanted to do. And boy did I have a LOT to learn! But I managed to find some wonderful critique partners, joined writers groups and kept going.

The hard times were dealing with rejections. I didn’t know enough yet to understand why I wasn’t getting published! J The highlights were when published authors started taking an interest in me, complimenting me and really encouraging me to keep going. That’s when I knew I was on the right path. And of course the biggest highlight for me was landing my agent, Rachelle Gardner. She is truly a gem and full of wisdom about this business, and a great source of encouragement to me.

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.

Um…I don’t have any helpful hints, do you? LOL. Writers block is a biggie for me. I tend to have really good stretches where the words just tumble out, and then nada. It’s tempting to wail and bash my head against the wall, but I’m prone to migraines so I’ve learned to hold back. Usually what I do is get out of the house. Walk. Garden. And read. There’s nothing like reading a great book (or a not so great one) to kick the muse back into gear.

Self doubt? As I sit here waiting for my first published book to be born, I am literally plagued by doubt. I won’t be at all surprised when the phone rings to tell me they made a mistake and they’re not going to publish it after all. But I’m told this is perfectly normal, so I’m not too concerned. These twitches are starting to bother me though…

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

If I were to list all the mistakes I’ve made, you’d need to take out another page for your website. I’ll narrow it down by saying this business is HARD. If you think you’re good, you probably aren’t. The hardest thing for me was dealing with those first few rejections. I did not have a thick skin and it was very difficult to accept that I was not going to be next up on The New York Times Bestsellers list. I think it’s really important to have a good understanding of the publishing business an life as a writer, before you decide to plunge in headfirst. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you truly believe this is your calling, then prepare yourself as best you can by understanding that publication is [probably] not going to happen overnight for you.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I love watching people. Reading the newspaper or magazines. There are so many stories out there, the hardest thing is finding which one resonates enough with me that I want to spend the next few months writing it. It’s usually the idea that won’t go away.

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

“Do the homework.” There are a TON of resources available to aspiring authors. Make use of them. Read those agent and writers blogs, network, join writers groups and get yourself into a good critique group. Invest in books on craft, take online courses and go to conferences. Learn, listen and apply. Yes, all this takes time, effort and money, but if you want to make this your career, as in any business where you’re the boss, you’re going to need to put out that initial investment.

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

I think writing Yesterday’s Tomorrow has probably changed me the most, for the better. It was the first manuscript that I really believed in, and the feedback I received from it led to me finally believing in myself and knowing that I was a writer. There is a wonderful published author who emailed me after I’d posted a question about the manuscript on a writing loop. She showed a real interest in the story and even read some of it – her feedback and critique was SO encouraging, truly invaluable. Her willingness to reach out and mentor fledging writers inspires me to do the same.

God opened so many doors during the writing of that novel. I was able to connect with my agent, and eventually she offered representation, and even though we went through a lot of rejections with this book, I believe all those experiences, hard as they were, made me stronger and encouraged me to keep going.

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.)

For me, I have to say my debut novel. This was a one of those stories that just wouldn’t go away. I learned a great deal during the process, both in the researching and the writing. I found an enormous respect for those men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. It was a heartbreaking experience for me, as I literally lived, slept, ate and breathed Vietnam for months. I used to dream of jumping out of helicopters!

I wrote it, rewrote, wrote it again, I don’t know how many times. It truly is the book of my heart for many reasons. I think that the message of forgiveness and restoration is one that will resonate with a lot of people. Ultimatley, it’s a final surrender to God in the hardest of circumstances that puls the characters through – this perfectly parallels the journey this this book and I had on the way to publication. I was told many times that this story would not be published. But I knew it was meant to be, and I didn’t give up. And I believe the end result was worth the struggle.

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

Ha. Why does it have to be so darn subjective?! No. Really for me, and I guess it’s not a peeve, but more an obstacle I need to overcome, it’s the waiting. Everything takes uber-long in the world of publishing, and I am not a patient person. But, like my wonderful father always says, “All good things come to those who wait!” Thankfully for me, this has proven true.

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

Abolish nuclear weapons and end world hunger. Aside from that, gracious, I don’t know! The fact that people are going to be able to read my work is so humbling for me. Really, I want to be able to tell stories that entertain and leave you feeling good at the end. I’m not out to change the world. I’ll settle for giving my readers a book they can’t put down, and a story they’ll remember for years to come. That may be a lofty goal, but we’ll see.

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

Oh, I love this! It’s when you’re in the middle of writing a scene, and all of a sudden something pops out of you, your character says or does something that leaves you absolutely floored. Because its perfect and you wonder why you couldn’t have thought of that in advance. It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I go a little nuts! It’s one of those cool writer phenomenons that only fellow writers understand.

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

About ten years ago, I decided to search for my birth family. That experience is one that changed my life. I went through the gamut of emotions – there probably isn’t a single one that I can’t now tap into when I’m writing. I’d liken it to having your soul ripped out, cleaned up and put back in again – you’re never the same. Major life-changing experiences I think can only serve to heighten your ability to tell a story.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

We built our home a few years ago, so I was fortunate to be able to delegate a room that I call the study. My desk faces the ocean, the walls are my favorite color green, and I even have a fireplace, not that I’ve used it yet! But it’s wonderful to have a room I can hide away in. Although I do share a bit of the space with my husband, but my desk is bigger than his. J

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

POV! I was a terrible head-hopper. If I pulled out some of my early manuscripts, you’d get whiplash. And I was a passive writer. Everything was in past tense. That was a really hard habit for me to break. I still have to slap myself for doing it on the odd occasion, but thankfully, practice makes perfect. Or at least good enough.

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

Pray! Well, actually it really should be. A lot of times I know God’s given me a story, but sometimes I just need to make doubly sure. I’m pretty good with that gut instinct feeling though.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I’m an SOTP’er all the way! Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so, but I’ve discovered I can’t change it. So I go with it and hope for the best. Once I get through the first draft, I feel a lot better.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Because I am not a plotter, I really struggle with the middle. That’s where I tend to sit back and do a more detailed outline. By then I know my characters and I can start to figure out where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. And yes, I usually find I need to make my characters a lot more complex by this point. I tend to have the most trouble with my female characters. For some reason the guys just waltz in and take over from the first page, and they’re always so darn cute…

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

Not really, I’m very new at this! I think the biggest thing for me is networking. Spreading the word through the Internet, blogging, connecting with other writers and just hoping that people love my book as much as I do!

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

Yes, "Find x > 3 such that

ln(x) <>

Seriously, I don’t even know what that means! I’d just like to say thanks for having me, and to all those aspiring authors out there, keep going! Don’t give up. One day all that hard work will pay off, and you’ll find yourself on Novel Journey. And yes, you’ll shake your head and wonder how it happened.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Born to Beauty

Imagine you are at the summer Olympics, watching the 100 meter sprint competition. BANG goes the starter’s pistol and they’re off, all incredibly fast, but one runner is clearly first across the finish line. Now imagine that one runner is not the winner. Imagine if the winner were selected instead based on how hard the athletes had to train to get there, or which one overcame the most life challenges to get there. Imagine if we all decided to give the gold medal to the runner with the most fans in the stadium, or based on the opinion of a few of the most popular people in the crowd.

As strange as each of these scenarios might seem, I have heard Christian novelists seriously suggest almost exact parallels in discussions about excellence and beauty in fiction.

Contrary to popular opinion, the beauty and excellence of a novel are not determined by popular opinion. Nor are beauty and excellence determined by how hard one works on a novel, or by the number of obstacles one has to overcome to finish a novel, or by what we love to read, or what a million other readers love to read, or what Oprah loves to read.

If the winner of a 100 meter sprint were judged on the basis I described, athletic excellence would become irrelevant. Similarly, if a novel were judged based on how we feel about it or how well it sells, beauty and excellence would become nothing more than synonyms for desire or popularity.

If beauty and excellence exist in the arts at all, then there must be some objective basis on which we can unequivocally state that a particular novel is excellent or mediocre, beautiful or bad.

This suggestion commonly invokes outraged responses. For example, one often hears, "But so-and-so thinks it’s beautiful!" Or else, "But a million people bought it!" But these two arguments spring from the circular, self-referencing, illogical proposition that some people think a novel is beautiful, therefore beauty is whatever some people think it is.

Others will protest, “Not all novels can be literary!” But “beautiful” is not a synonym for “classical” or “high brow”. Every genre can be beautiful and excellent in its own way, therefore writing merely for entertainment is no excuse for mediocrity.

Finally, one hears what I call the “best defense is a good offense” objection: "Who are you to decide what's excellent and beautiful?" But this is a red herring. What’s really being asked is, “If beauty and excellence are objective facts, then how are they defined? (And if you can’t offer a definition, then you must be wrong.)”

What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if we demand a definition of beauty from these people instead? Faced with our demand, perhaps they will turn to Merriam Webster:

"Beauty. Noun. 1: the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit. Loveliness."

But this is nothing more than that same circular, self-referencing proposition again. This is beauty as a thing that's relative to me . . . my senses, my pleasure. What’s beautiful for me may not seem beautiful for you, but don’t tell me it isn’t beautiful. I should have the right to decide what’s excellent and beautiful for me. This is beauty as a relative concept, a thoroughly postmodern definition.

Now, some questions. If beauty is truly defined as a thing that’s relative to me, my senses, my pleasure, does it mean beauty changes whenever I change my opinion? Does it mean a thing is beautiful if anyone on earth believes it’s beautiful, even—for example—someone who’s clinically insane? And does it mean beauty remains true even if the thing that I consider beautiful causes pain to others?

By this definition an erotic novel about sex with children would be considered beautiful and excellent, for example, since it gives pleasure to some people. But if we are sane, we will realize child pornography is never beautiful even if it gives some readers pleasure. And in realizing that, we will also understand we have effectively decided beauty and excellence are rightly measured by a standard beyond mere human pleasure or opinion. We have added a moral dimension to the definition. We have insisted that beauty and excellence must be good, and in so doing, we have placed them alongside love, justice, holiness, and all the other earthly manifestations of God's glory in the list of "every good and perfect gift", which we are told "is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows [or like human opinions]."

The higher things like love, justice, holiness, excellence, and beauty can only be rightly understood in reference to something which is constant, just as the 100 meter sprint can only be properly judged on the basis of uncompromising meters and seconds. Therefore, love is what God is. Justice is what God requires. Holiness is how God is. Beauty and excellence are how God appears. In other words, God Himself is the constant against which these higher things are measured.

It could not be otherwise. Think of how distorted these higher things become when we try to define them in terms of our own opinions or our pleasures. Think of what human law has done to how we think of justice. Think of what dysfunctional churches do to how we think of holiness. Think of what our culture does to our idea of love. Think of what pride and the profit motive have done to beauty and excellence in the arts and letters.

Beauty and excellence are how God appears.

This definition makes us uncomfortable, as do all the higher things which follow in God's wake across the universe. Real justice is uncomfortable. (It often means more, or less, punishment than we desire or deserve.) Real holiness makes us uncomfortable. (It can mean loneliness and isolation.) Real love makes us uncomfortable. (It almost always leads to sacrifice.)

It's much more comfortable to define beauty and excellence in terms of what we like, or feel, or want, or in terms of what we're capable of producing. Otherwise we must examine our true motives for writing in the first place. Otherwise we have to do the pride-destroying work it takes to strain toward excellence and beauty in our work. Otherwise we have to compare our work to something unchanging, eternal, and glorious, and that is worst of all, because if God Himself is the ultimate standard for beauty and excellence (and He is), then nothing we could write can possibly compare.

But don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean excellent and beautiful writing is impossible. The Bible speaks of beautiful tents, beautiful cities, and beautiful clothes, after all. We only need to understand the basis on which God has called them beautiful.

A man named Samuel once tried to pick a king based on his idea of what a king should be, but God told him to pick a shepherd boy instead, because, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In exactly the same way, and contrary to popular opinion, the beauty and excellence of a novel are not determined by popular opinion. If any novel is beautiful or excellent, it is so because of the author’s heart—the motivation—not because of outward appearances.

Does this mean that anyone who loves God can write a novel and it will be beautiful and excellent? Does it mean that even mediocre novels are still beautiful and excellent in God’s eyes if the author writes them with the proper spiritual attitude?

The answer in both cases is no, of course not.

God doesn’t give the same gifts to everyone. Only writers with God-given talent can produce novels of beauty and excellence. No matter how much someone may want to see his name on a published novel, or how hard one works, no amount of love for God will overcome a lack of talent.

And it is impossible for mediocrity to arise from a proper spiritual attitude, because such an attitude means we will be completely willing to work within the gifts God has given, submitting to His plan, and we will use what He has given to the utmost, and then whatever our area of giftedness, we will always, always, always produce beautiful and excellent results within it.

We can know we’re working in our area of giftedness if the work sometimes fills us with a joy very like the way one feels in love, because the talents we receive are given out of heavenly love.
We can know we’re working in our area of giftedness if the results we accomplish sometimes seem as if they are beyond our own ability. As the Bible promises, if we will obey God, He will give in a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" kind of way. As David famously said, "My cup runs over." Where God gives talent, He gives generously, even more than we ourselves suspect is possible.

If we accept our talents for what they are, not trying to turn them into something else for the sake of fickle pride, not settling for less than we what were born to create, then what we make of them in life will always be excellent and beautiful. But this is impossible if we insist on defining beauty and excellence as less than what they truly are, for they are nothing less than a reflection of the Lord on earth.

Athol Dickson's novels transcend description with a literary style that blends magical realism, suspense, and a strong sense of spirituality. Critics have favorably compared his work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher's Weekly) and Flannery O'Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner and three have won Christy Awards including his most recent novel, Lost Mission. His next story, The Opposite Of Art, is about pride, passion, and death as a spiritual pursuit. Look for it in September, 2011. Athol lives with his wife in southern California. Visit his website at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plotting is Easy. . .

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes wanted to be a writer since knowing what one was. Her first book won the National Readers Choice Award in 2007, and her third book was a Carol Award finalist in 2010. Between December of 2008 and January of 2010, she sold thirteen books to Barbour Publishing, Avalon Books, and Baker/Revell, making her total sales fifteen. Recently, she added two novella sales to that collection, as well as having her first book with Baker/Revell, Lady in the Mist, picked up by Crossings Book Club, and three of her books chosen for large print editions by Thorndike Press. She has been a public speaker for as long as she can remember; thus, only suffers enough stage fright to keep her sharp. In 2002, while in graduate school for writing fiction, she began to teach fiction in person and online. She lives in Texas with her husband, two dogs, and too many cats even for her. Visit Laurie at her website

Plotting is Easy. . .

Or at least it’s not as difficult and daunting as I used to think it was once I figured out that working out a plot is simply answering four basic questions.

Once upon a time, I sat down and just wrote. Pantsters I’ve heard them called. Since I’m a skirt girl, I found this a bit difficult to relate to. I didn’t want to write and hope the story went somewhere because, for a long time, it never did. It was like packing the car for a journey, heading out of the driveway, and getting stopped at the entrance ramp to the expressway—uh, duh, where am I going? Right? Left? Or do I want a winding country road instead?

But other people‘s plotting techniques didn’t work for me. I’ll leave those anonymous so I don’t offend anyone if they think I’m dissing their program. I’m not; it just didn’t suit my need to have structure, yet have the freedom to expand or diverge a bit, too if necessary.

“Know the story—as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story—before you commit yourself to the first paragraph….If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you?”
-John Irving

It comes down to four basic questions to ask yourself about your story. I call these WWW&H.

W1: Who are you?

This is all about getting to know your character, what your character’s reason for existing is. In other words, what makes her—them—tick and why?

Example: In Lady in the Mist, my heroine, Tabitha, has her identity tied up in being a midwife because it’s what she was taught and what she knows. She loves it, yet she knows it’s not who she is; it’s what she does. Yet this is how others see her—the midwife, respected, feared, not necessarily loved.

W2: What does she want?

This is the crux of plot. If the characters don’t know what they want, no story can happen. Mind you, you can have a story where the character is trying to work out what they want.

Example: Tabitha wants to be like other women—loved, respected, a wife and mother. She wants security after a life of loss.

W3: What is your character willing to sacrifice?

Here is where scenes and the pushback that makes tension and conflict occur. If the character just goes with the flow—no story. You can go as far as necessary in working out what you do to your characters to make story happen. The black moment is the climax of this point.

Example: Tabitha is willing to give up a future that looks secure on the surface in exchange for discovering the truth of bad things happening in her village. She is willing to stick to her moral principles, too, and help the man she falls in love with even though she is certain him leaving her is inevitable.

H: How does the character change?

This is the epiphany moment, the lesson learned, the post black moment wrap-up. How is your character different at the end than she was in the beginning?

Giving an example of this one is difficult without giving away endings.

This is the foundation of the private and group lessons I teach unpublished and published authors alike—helping them take their ideas and turn them into story. Once I learned how to plot before I started writing, I started selling books.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Want to Help Japan, but Not Sure How?

On March 11 Japan was hit by the largest earthquake in the country's history. The 9.0 magnitude quake triggered a massive tsunami along the northeastern coast — sweeping away entire villages with walls of water more than 30 feet high. World Vision emergency relief staff are on the ground, assessing urgent needs and distributing relief supplies. Please help us respond quickly to this disaster.

"We are now facing the most tragic disaster in our country's history," said Kenjiro Ban, World Vision's Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Manager.

World Vision plans to distribute relief supplies to meet the daily needs of quake and tsunami survivors. We will also focus our efforts on responding to the emotional needs of children, who are the most impacted after such a traumatic event.

In the wake of a disaster, World Vision is often one of the first organizations to begin relief work by distributing pre-positioned emergency supplies and sending highly-trained staff to assess and respond to the most urgent needs. We remain on the ground for the long haul, rebuilding communities and restoring hope.

Please join us in praying for the children and families impacted by this devastating natural disaster in Japan. And send a gift to help them today.

In the event that donations exceed what is needed for Japan Quake and Tsunami Relief. World Vision will redirect funds to similar activities to help children and families in need.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Out of the Slush Pile, 2011 Edition

Last year's contest for unpublished novelists generated a favorable response, and several people indicated they’d like the opportunity to participate in a similar event again.

We heard you, Novel Journey readers, and now, here’s your chance.

OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE 2011, Novel Journey’s Second Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest will be similar to last year’s beta version, but with variations in the duration, and in the judging.

Duration: Instead of judging each category twice in the year, we’ll do each category only once. The contest will run through the second half of the year only.

Judging: We'll provide a little more feedback on the entries, giving some specifics as to the judges' opinion concerning what could be improved and where the writer shines.

Otherwise, the rules will be pretty much the same:

•We’ll have six mini-contests, one in each of six categories. See schedule below.

•Prizes: Each winning entry will be posted in this blog on the dates listed below and will be eligible to win the Grand Prize.

•In December, we’ll announce the Grand Prize, which will be chosen from the previous six winners by a separate panel of judges. The winning entry will be submitted to appropriate agents and editors, and the author will receive an original Muse created especially for the winner.

• No money will exchange hands; no entry fee is required, and no monetary prize will be awarded. This is simply an opportunity for unpublished writers to bring attention to their work. If agents or editors reading these entries want to see more, they can contact us and we will get them in touch with the winning author.

Who can enter?

Any unpublished novelist not affiliated with Novel Journey who has a completed manuscript ready to pitch. For these purposes, self-published authors are considered unpublished. Authors of published articles, poetry, plays, and works of nonfiction are eligible if they have never had a novel published by a traditional publisher.

How does an interested writer enter?

Download the Entry Form.

Fill it out and email it, along with your complete first chapter and a synopsis, to

Please do not send the entire manuscript; only the first chapter and synopsis will be read. However, we do ask that the manuscript be complete, so if an agent or editor is interested, you will be prepared to provide it.

What format would you like? Email attachment? Body of the email?

I’m glad you asked! A Microsoft Word document is best; if you don’t have MS Word, .rtf will suffice.

Last year we accepted entries pasted into the email, and even PDF files in one or two cases. But Word attachments are easiest for us to process.

My first chapter is really short. Can I send two?

My first chapter is really long. Can I send the whole thing?

I have a prologue. Can I send it in addition to the first chapter?

Answer to all three questions: Yes. Probably.

We want to a good sampling of your writing, but we don’t want to have to wade through a novella-length chapter, either. If you submit up between 3 – 4000 words, that should be about right.

Use your best judgment. If your first chapter is 4239 words, don’t cut it off at 4000; send us the whole thing. If your prologue + first chapter is 3000 words, that should be sufficient; don’t send half the next chapter just to bring the count up to 4000.

What categories will we have to choose from?

Historical Fiction (WWII era and before) – this means all historical fiction, including romance or mystery

Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Cozy Mysteries

Contemporary Fiction/Women’s Fiction (from 1950 to the present)

Middle Grade/Young Adult Fiction

Contemporary Romance (NOT historical)

Speculative (Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror)

Can I enter in more than one category?

Yes, if it’s a different novel.

You may enter a novel only once – a story may not be submitted in two different categories (that is, you cannot submit the same story as both Mystery and Contemporary Romance).

Here’s this year’s schedule:

Historical Fiction, including Historical Romance

Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT May 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: June 13, 2011

Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Cozy Mystery

Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT June 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: July 11 2011

Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT July 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: August 8, 2011

Middle Grade/Young Adult

Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT August 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: September 12, 2011

Contemporary Romance

Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT September 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: October 10, 2011


Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm EDT October 10, 2011 – Winner Announced: November 14, 2011

Grand Prize:

Each of the winners of the six mini-contests will be entered for the Grand Prize. This winner will be announced on December 12, 2011.

Suppose I’m a winner. How many people are likely to see my chapter when it’s posted? Do you have a lot of agents and editors in your readership?

We can't give you an exact figure, but we can tell you that a lot of people in the business read this blog. So whatever the numbers, you can be assured that winning entries will get exposure. Moreover, the Grand Prize winner will be guaranteed review by a panel of agents and publishers. So this is a free opportunity to get your name and your work out there where it will be seen by industry professionals.

When will you start taking entries?




In every category?

Yes. The deadlines listed above are the last dates we’ll accept entries, but you may send in your entry for any of the categories anytime before the date listed.

Do you offer any guarantees?

Yes. If you enter, we promise we’ll do our level best to give you a fair shake.

Is that a money-back guarantee?

Absolutely! You must be satisfied or your entry fee will be refunded.

I didn’t think there was an entry fee.

There isn’t; you get what you pay for, don’t you know.

I’m getting confused. Could you recap all that for me?


•The contest is for unpublished novelists.

•Enter by the dates above – a story can be entered in only one category, but different stories can be entered in different categories.

•Download Entry Form

•Include your first chapter and a synopsis.

•No entry fee.

•Email entries to:

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Contact Yvonne Anderson, contest administrator, at the above email address.