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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Introducing Author Dorothy Love





Dorothy Love published more than a dozen novels for preteens and young adults in the secular market before moving to the CBA and returning to her literary roots writing Southern historical fiction for adult readers. A former university professor, an avid traveler and sustaining member of the Southern Historical Society, she shares a home in the Texas hill country with her husband and two golden retrievers. Visit her online at http://www.DorothyLoveBooks.com

Tell us about your new release:

Beyond All Measure is the first of the Hickory Ridge romances. Set in the foothills of the great Smoky Mountains in 1871 it’s the story of Ada Wentworth, a young Bostonian who, having lost everything—her family, fiancé, and fortune---journeys to Hickory Ridge for a position as a lady’s companion. Her plan is to stay only until she can save enough money to establish a millinery shop back east. But then she meets Texan Wyatt Caldwell, owner of the local lumber mill who has plans of his own. As their feelings for each other grow, Ada must let go of her bitter past in order to embrace God’s plans for her future, and to trust Wyatt with her heart.


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

Most of my stories start at an emotional level. What would it feel like to lose everything, and to feel that your father and your fiancé were to blame? How would you get past that, forgive them, and learn to trust again? I grew up a Southern girl in a storytelling tradition, and stories of the South that is long past resonate with me. I love and respect our history and I love telling stories about ordinary people who quietly accomplished remarkable things, and then slipped behind the veil of time. I want to afford readers a peek behind that veil. Ada, my protagonist, lived in my head for several years, whispering snippets of the story into my ear, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the story firmed up in my mind. Then I was able to see and hear her and Wyatt awake and dreaming. Some days I woke up wondering where they were.

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

The funniest thing happened during line edits. I read copiously before writing any book—journals, diaries, histories, and I try to cover all the bases with regard to historical accuracy. But sometimes the smallest of details will slip past. I had a line in which my hero, Wyatt, realizes his feelings for Ada are growing like kudzu—a Southern plant that can grow as much as a foot in a single day. I thought it was an apt description. But my wonderful line editor, Anne Christian Buchanan, discovered that kudzu didn’t come to Tennessee until 1900. Some thirty years after my story takes place. So of course I changed the line, with profuse thanks to Anne, but I sure hated giving up that perfect image.

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

I began writing in earnest in the early 1990s. Back then I was writing for preteens and young adults. I came to writing from a background in education and followed the old advice to write what you know. What I knew were kids and teenagers—what they worried about, how they talked, what their dreams were. In 1994 I submitted my first ever historical novel for preteens to Holiday House, a small, independent New York -based publisher that specialized in children’s literature. Seven months went by without any word, and one day I got up enough nerve to call the editor, the fabulous Margery Cuyler, to ask if she had had a chance to read my novel yet. A long silence followed and I steeled myself for rejection, but Margery said, “I’ve been meaning to call you. We all love your wonderful book and we want to publish it.”

My brain fogged over. I could not speak. Margery said, “I’ll get the offer together and call you tomorrow.” I pulled myself together enough to say “Thank you, that’s lovely news.” Then I got off the phone with her, called my best friend and screamed. It was a magical moment. I went on to publish five more books at Holiday House and then moved to Simon and Schuster where I published several more YA novels. I came to the CBA in November of 2009, my new agent submitted the proposal for the Hickory Ridge series in December of 09, and I went to contract with Thomas Nelson in January of 2010. I’ve been working on this series nonstop every since and loving every minute of it. Southern historical fiction is my passion.

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

Some famous writer—I forget who—said that only rich writers can afford to have writer’s block. The rest of us can’t afford it. I’ve heard about it, but I’ve been lucky never to have experienced it. There are days in which the writing flows effortlessly and days when it comes hard, and getting each word onto the page is like pulling teeth. I find the work is harder when I am physically tired, or when I have too many family responsibilities on my plate. Getting some rest and checking a few items off my “to do” list helps me refocus.

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

I’ve made research trips to the locales of most of my novels, and I take photos to help me remember details. Sometimes I put up a couple of pictures to help with specifics, but mostly I go inside my head to write. Some of my friends have music going when they work, but that would make me crazy. I need to be in a cool, quiet place, and have at least two hours of uninterrupted time in order to turn out usable pages.

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?

I’m a planner. I begin with the central premise of the novel in mind, and when possible, the title. I write a 5 to 7 page outline before I begin. So I mostly avoid those pitfalls. I worked as a journalist all through high school and my university undergrad days, so I learned to “write tight” as we say. No adjectives, no adverbs, just verbs and nouns. My first fiction writing teacher, Peggy Moss Fielding, used to write in purple ink on my manuscripts, “More! We need more!” I had to learn to add description to my work. That was probably the most difficult part of writing for me.

How do you overcome it?

See above.

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

I write in a second floor office in my house. It has a couple of big windows that overlook the street, my old oak trees, my neighbor’s palm trees, and my blooming crape myrtles. When I need a break I turn my chair around and there is always something beautiful to look at. This office is in a smaller space than in our previous house and my oversized desk takes up too much room. I need a smaller desk, or a bigger office.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Up at 5 am. Feed our two golden retrievers. Make breakfast for my husband. We have breakfast and read the morning papers. He leaves for his office around 7:15. I’m usually at my desk by 8 or 8:30. Most days I work till 5 or 5:30 with a break for lunch and sometimes a break for running errands. Most nights I make dinner and then we relax with a book, or TV if there is anything good to watch. To bed by 10 or 11. It’s a very disciplined, quiet life.

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?

Depends on what scene I’m writing. Very emotional ones drain me and I have to take them slower. Other days the words flow faster. I am in awe of those writers who can consistently produce 5,000 words a day. A very good day for me is about half that. But I tend to edit and revise as I go. That’s the perfectionist in me.

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

Don’t write about what you know, write about what you want to know.

My agent introduced me to Stanley Williams’ book, The Moral Premise. That has helped my writing tremendously. I’m looking forward to taking his class at a writers’ conference later this year.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Read a dozen books for every one you write. Read with intent. The best book I know on this topic is Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

Don't Forget...

This year's Out of the Slush Pile/Fifteen Minutes of Fame contest is underway.

The judges are currently reviewing -- and enjoying -- the first round entries (Historical). The submission deadline for for the second category, Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Cozy Mystery, is June 10. We're looking for a winner, and you still have tim
e to send yours in.

So get a clue: search out the entry form, and send it, along with your first chapter and synopsis, to NovelJourneyContest@gmail.com. We're dying to read your stories!



Yvonne Anderson lives in rural Ohio, where she writes speculative fiction and blogs at www.YsWords.com. Her debut novel,
The Story in the Stars, the first in the space fantasy series, Gateway to Gannah, is now for sale on Kindle. Print editions will be available later this month.

Writing from the Opposite Sex's Point of View

My sophomore novel releasing this September--Dry as Rain--was originally a third person, dual point of view (POV) book written half from the wife's pov, half from the husband's. You see I didn't think I was ready to write an entire book from a male pov. I am, after all, a woman. I would have to do much research to get it right and I was up for all that. . . UNTIL... my publisher told me they wanted it to be first person all from his viewpoint. They said I wrote the man's point of view better than the woman's. What does this say about my estrogen to testosterone level? I'm not sure and don't guess I really want to know.

Not wanting to throw a year's worth of work away, I figured I'd better at least give it a try.

Did I get it right? I don't know. I guess I'll have to find out from the male reviewers. My husband read every word and I'd get an occasional raised eyebrow with, "He'd only say that if he were gay," remark which I would, of course, change, but all in all he gave me a thumb's up.

He was instrumental in some of the scenes where he would add a detail here or there that I never would have thought of, paperclips stuck to the back magnet of a dealership plate or the smell of new tires on a showroom floor.

Particularly tricky were the scenes between my main character, Eric and his best-friend Larry. I know how women relate, but it's not like I've ever been able to observe two male friends with no one else around. Having a guy who's willing to say yay or nay on a scene was a life saver. I also will probably draw some fire for saying the mindset I put myself in to write from a guy's perspective, but when have I ever cared about being politically correct?

So, below are the tidbits of masculinity I traded my girly thoughts with. Are they true of most men? Gina shrugs. They were true of my main male character though.

1. Men have an ego. They compare themselves with other men, differently than women compare themselves to other women. We size up her beauty, her figure, her talent and intelligence. My male character sized up his competition literally, by size first, followed by job,  income and attractiveness.

2. Men's eyes are drawn to flesh, like women's are to beauty. I'm apt to look at a beautiful vase, a pretty flower, a sunset, he might also admire those things but there's a stronger magnet in those high-heeled legs strutting by his table. My main character describes it this way: My eyes were drawn to flesh like metal to magnet, if my Aunt Edna showed some skin, I'd have to look whether I wanted to gouge my eyes out after or not.

3. The best defense is a good offense. Okay, maybe I'm paranoid, but I've noticed that at least the men who've been in my life abide by this philosophy. Catch them doing something wrong and they will turn it around into something I've done in less than a minute flat. No matter what he does, I end up being the one to apologize. I gave my character this defense mechanism.

4. Not all men are womanizers and cheaters. Maybe not even most, but there are plenty who are. My main character commits adultery, but his best friend would never have done it. Why does my main character cheat? She stops touching him, looking up to him, respecting him and he thinks, loving him. He succumbs when a woman he works with looks at him like he was the man he used to be. For him it came down to loneliness and needing admiration that he'd lost from his wife. Yes there's remorse and redemption of course.
5. Live and let die. Women will feel weird around their best-friend if they've fought. They might not talk for months and if they do someone is profusely apologizing most likely. Men? At least my male character? He and his best friend duke it out literally and the next day they're having lunch. Talking about it? Um... that's what the roughhousing was for. 'Nough said.

6. Sports. Yeah, they like them. My main character watches his favorite player make a killer layup and feels as happy as if he'd been the one to make it. Yeah, women don't tend to do that.

7. Feeling the pressure to succeed for the entire family and sometimes missing the boat. My main character, Eric, gives up a life his family loves near the ocean to give them the so-called American dream. A McMansion, luxury car, private school. It takes him losing his wife to realize relationships are more important than how much is in the bank.

8. Love makes the world go 'round. I think men want true love as much as women. My main character, Eric, certainly does. He misses it when he loses what he and his wife, Kyra, had. He describes the lonlieness as quite literally killing him a little more each day.

Okay, that's certainly not an exhaustive list but it's a lot of what ran through my mind as I wrote Eric Yoshida in Dry as Rain. I'd love to know how flawed or correct my thinking was. I'm writing my fourth book from another male's viewpoint, so please tell me if I'm off and what you can add to the list.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DRY AS RAIN

From the bestselling author of Crossing Oceans comes a powerfully moving story that tests the limits of love’s forgiveness. Like many marriages, Eric and Kyra Yoshida’s has fallen apart slowly, one lost dream and misunderstanding at a time, until the ultimate betrayal finally pushes them beyond reconciliation. Just when it looks like forgive and forget is no longer an option, a car accident gives Eric the second chance of a lifetime. A concussion causes his wife to forget details of her life, including the chasm between them. No one knows when—or if—Kyra’s memory will return, but Eric seizes the opportunity to win back the woman he’s never stopped loving.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Marketing as Good Stewardship

Dear Author: Is it God's will for you to sell a lot of books?

To some, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding God's will. To others, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding book sales. Either way, when it comes to successful marketing, there seems to be a strange dance between skill and luck, hard work and good fortune. Or to spiritualize it -- there is a give-and-take between the book's creator and the author's Creator.

Have you noticed that marketing often gets a bad rap from Christian writers? Don't get me wrong, I'm no marketing whiz. Like most of you, I am much more comfortable writing than selling. Nevertheless, it puzzles me how some Christian writers approach marketing. It goes like this:

I'll do the writing, but God must do the marketing
.


In her post Why Do We Think Jesus Will Do All Our Marketing?, Mary DeMuth quotes Randy Ingermanson:


I’m hesitant to say this because I know I’ll immediately hear from people who say that I have no faith, that I am sacrilegious, or that I am Not A Real Christian. But somebody needs to say this. So here goes:

The worst advice I have heard is “Jesus will do all your marketing for you.”

Let’s be clear that Jesus is on my management team and I consult him often when making big decisions. But in my experience, Jesus has never typed a press release, called a radio station to set up an interview, posted a blog entry, fixed the CSS on a web site, or written copy for a sales page. (emphasis in original)

Randy's POV takes aim at a perilous but pervasive mindset among many Christian writers: We've come to see writing as "spiritual," and marketing as not. Marketing is the "ugly" part of writing, the "worldly" dimension of being an author, the "necessary evil" you must tolerate, the downside of being published, the greens in an otherwise tasty meal.

This bifurcation is symptomatic of the sacred / secular mindset suffered by many evangelicals. It goes like this: Church is sacred, work is not. Praying is sacred, doing the dishes is not. Reading the Bible is sacred, reading Robert Frost is not. Serving at the homeless shelter is sacred, volunteering at the art gallery is not. Thus, writing is sacred, marketing is not. Which is why
  • We over-spiritualize the writing process, and
  • We under-spiritualize the selling process
One of the unspoken (but perhaps intended) results of such a compartmentalized view of writing is this: We can always blame poor book sales on God. "I am proud of my book," we say. "It just wasn't God's will for it to take off." Heaven forbid that an author blame themselves for poor book sales.

Please do not misunderstand me: Just because you approach marketing with vigor and savvy is no guarantee your book will do well (and really, what is "doing well"?). There are multiple factors to a book's success -- like good writing, hard work, the right publisher, market trends, endorsements, platform, etc. (see self-published phenom Amanda Hocking's post entitled Some Things That Need to Be Said.) And having all those things in place is still no guarantee your book will perform well. Nevertheless, the person who sees God as having "called" them to write can inevitably stick God with the blame if their book tanks.

For this reason, I'm starting to believe it is helpful to see writing and marketing as flip sides of the same calling. If God's "called" you to write, then He's "called" you to market.

I'm thinking of The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In this classic tale, not only did the master entrust his servants with different sums of money, he held them responsible for their management of said sums. Those two elements are the crux of the lesson: (1) Gift and (2) Management. So for the writer, that looks like this:
  • Writing is your gift / talent.
  • Marketing is your part of the stewardship of the gift / talent.
No, marketing is not the only part of stewardship. Nor is it probably the biggest part. I faithfully manage my writing talent by trying to write better, not just trying to yell louder. Marketing is just one way to "multiply" my talent, which seems to be a big deal for the master in the biblical parable.

Another interesting spin on marketing from a biblical perspective could be this: Your talent is intended for others, not just you. This may sound supremely arrogant, as if you are "God's gift" to others. Nevertheless, Scripture teaches that our talents are not meant entirely for personal gain. Take this verse: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (I Peter 4:10 NIV). So...
  • Your talents are a gift from God
  • Your talents are given to serve others
The point being: If your writing gift is intended for others, how else are you going to deliver besides, um, just writing?

Of course, if a Christian writer's sole purpose in marketing is to "get rich" or "become famous," they probably missed the gist of their "gifting." This isn't meant to imply that prospering from your talent is wrong, but that the heart of marketing (from a biblical perspective) is sharing, not getting rich, it is connecting with others, not just advancing your "brand."

So for the Christian writer, getting an agent, growing in the craft, employing an editor, expanding your platform, studying trends, jumping through hoops, may not seem very "spiritual," but they can all be parts of being a good steward with your talent.
And parts of selling more books.

Yeah. Writing is a lot more fun than marketing. Marketing can be a grind, it can be distasteful, it can bring out the absolute worst in a person. Nevertheless, marketing can also part of "good stewardship."

Question: Do you agree that marketing gets a bad rap from writers? Should it? Do you tend to see marketing as the "un-spiritual" part of writing? Do you think it's God's will for writers He has "called" to sell books? What are some signs that a person is going overboard with marketing?

* * *
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 www.mikeduran.com.

Today & Tomorrow Only . . .

Novel Journey is having a special 
buy one month get one free advertising sale today and tomorrow only. Buy any ad for the month of June and get July free . . . or. . . book July now and get August free.

Click HERE for prices and information

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Matter of Perspective By Anita Mellott

Tourists buzzed around the deck, and cameras flashed as the Statue of Liberty came into view. As I moved up to get a better look at the towering edifice, I swallowed against an unexpected lump in my throat. 


What went through the minds of the boat-loads of immigrants when they first saw Lady Liberty? Did they fight tears like me? What hopes and dreams welled up in their hearts as they approached the shores of New York?


Despite the flurry of tourists around me, I stood quietly drinking in the majesty of this symbol of hope and new life. Ten minutes later, when the engines revved and the boat moved away from the island, I was the only one left at the prow of the boat. I watched as the gigantic statue soon became a speck on the horizon. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, I thought as we passed under the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Sometimes that’s what happens to God’s presence in your life.” As the whisper sounded in my heart, I shivered.
Then I remembered the countless times I reach for my computer rather than my Bible when I awake. Or how more often than not, when confronted with a problem, I reach for the phone to call a prayer partner rather than dropping to my knees. Or the times when my attempts to meet a deadline steal my time with Him.


“But, Lord I want your presence to envelop me, to overwhelm me even more than the sight of the Statue of Liberty.” As a deep yearning welled up within me, I remembered the verse, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  


The King of all Kings, the One who spoke this world into being, invites me to tarry with Him, to know Him, to fellowship with Him. The moisture from the spray wasn’t the only thing that wet my cheeks at those life-changing words. 
“Lord, forgive me for losing my perspective. You, who are the Creator of all, the One besides whom there is no other, and whose majesty has no equal, You call me to lay my burdens before You, to give me rest. Help me seek You above all else. May I know what it is to learn of You and rest in Your presence.”


When Anita Mellott isn’t homeschooling, she writes to encourage others. Her book, School Is Where the Home Is: 180 Devotions for Parents is available for pre-order.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pass the Pooch ~ Stephen Bly


Pour The Coffee & Pass The Pooch

By Stephen Bly


Copyright©2008


While some big towns like Denver, San Francisco and Virginia City had fancy restaurants, most frontier cafes kept things simple. Often called chophouses, hunks of meat hung in the backroom. Cooks chopped off a slab and fried it up for you. Not too fancy. Nor sanitary. Most times it was only “slightly spoiled.”

For cowboys on the trail, they filled up with biscuits, bacon, and beans. There wasn’t much beef because no boss wanted to slaughter his own cattle. If a cow wandered in from some other herd, it could be butchered and fried, but for the most part bacon and salt pork dominated the menu.

But they had coffee. Ah, good old boiled coffee. I can almost feel the coffee grounds strain between my teeth. The brand was probably Arbuckles. That tastes something like a Starbucks tall Americano with a quadruple shot…and mixed with a bit of mud.

Plenty of sourdough bread thrived on long trail drives. The cook’s prized possession included a 5-gallon, wooden sourdough keg. When getting ready for the trail drive or roundup, the cook put 3 or 4 quarts of flour and a dash of salt in the keg. He poured in enough water to make a medium thick batter. Sometimes a little added vinegar or molasses hastened fermentation.

When the dough got ripe, this whole batch got dumped. The keg seasoned and a new batch again mixed in the same way. Everyday new batter filled the keg. Placed in sunlight during the day and wrapped in blankets at night kept it warm. Some cooks slept with their kegs on cold nights. An outfit that allowed harm to come to its sourdough keg suffered the consequence. Most cooks defended their kegs with their lives.

By the late 1880s air-tights (canned food) appeared, such as peaches and tomatoes. That provided more ways for the camp cooks to make dessert.

One trail favorite proved to be Hounds Ears & Whirlups. Thin sourdough batter dropped onto hot grease and fried brown. The dough usually spread out in the shape of a dog’s ear. Whirlup sauce consisted of water, sugar, flavoring and spices. If available, dried fruit was chopped or mashed into the mixture and bring it to a boil. It thickened a tad as it cooled, then poured over the Hounds Ears. A big hit with hungry cowboys.

That sounds better to me than Pooch…a dessert made with tomatoes, sugar, and leftover bread or biscuits, cooked over the campfire. Although my Oklahoma grandmother made something similar.

Ah, life on the trail. Pour the coffee and pass the pooch.


Stephen Bly is a Christy Award finalist and winner for westerns for The Long Trail Home, Picture Rock, The Outlaw’s Twin Sister and Last of the Texas Camp. He has authored and co-authored with his wife, Janet, 105 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He and Janet have 3 married sons, 4 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild and live in the mountains of northern Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Find out more about the Blys at their website or blog


To download Stephen Bly’s own Spicy Elk Chili recipe, go to the Free Stuff Page

Stephen would like to know "What old-time recipe do you recall from your parents or grandparents that makes you think of camping out or life on the trail?" He will buzz by on June 16th and randomly choose one Novel Journey reader to receive a copy of Throw the Devil Off the Train. You can leave your memory in the comment field of today's post. June 15th 11:59 p.m. is the cut off. Make sure Stephen can reach you by email or blogger handle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Novel Journey Authors Final in the Inspirational Reader's Choice Awards

Congratulations to Gina Holmes and Ronie Kendig and all the finalists!

2011 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award Finalists

Women’s Fiction
The House on Sugar Plum Lane by Judy Duarte (Kensington)
Chasing Lilacs by Carla Stewart (FaithWords)
Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman (Thomas Nelson)

Long Contemporary
Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes (Tyndale)
The Six-Liter Club by Harry Kraus (Howard)
Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio by Serena Miller (Summerside)

Short Contemporary
Tender Mercies by Mary Manners (White Rose)
White Roses by Shannon Taylor Vannatter (Barbour)
Rodeo Redemption by Teri Wilson (White Rose)

Long Historical
The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House)
Abbie Ann by Sharlene MacLaren (Whitaker House)
A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin (Revell)

Short Historical
Walker’s Wedding by Lori Copeland (Harvest)
The Substitute Bride by Janet Dean (Steeple Hill)
A Matter of Character by Robin Lee Hatcher (Zondervan)

Romantic Suspense
Too Close to Home by Lynette Eason (Revell)
Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze (Waterbrook)
Nightshade by Ronie Kendig (Barbour)

Novella
The Snowflake by Jamie Carrie (Broadman and Holman)
Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Anita Higman (Summerside)
A Bodine Family Christmas by Marta Perry (Steeple Hill)

Believable character change

For Christmas, I love making sugar cookies with cookie cutters. It’s fun to slather colored powdered-sugar frosting for that extra layer of sweetness over those recognizable holiday shapes.


Even though frosted differently, those cookies all look the same. There’s not a lot of difference between my cookies and the ones my kids create. And they taste exactly the same—sweet perfection.

One of the challenges writers face is creating characters who don’t look like all the others. Characters who aren’t stamped out of the same dough everyone else is using.

God changes lives—just not mine
I was reminded of this during a recent sermon. Our pastor at
Springs Community Church, Eric Carpenter, had just begun a series called “Practical Atheist,” focusing on Christians who believe in God, but live as if He doesn’t exist. (Based on Craig Groeschel’s book, Christian Atheist.)

At the beginning of the sermon Carpenter said, “It’s like when we say we believe in a God who forgives, but refuse to accept His forgiveness personally or refuse to forgive others. We believe in a God who changes lives, but don’t believe we can change in meaningful, deep, abiding ways.”


That’s when I thought of the characters in my current manuscript. Are they cookie-cutter Christians, cruising through life with a few bumps and scratches that are easily covered by a new layer of “holiness” frosting? Or are they authentic Christians even while living real, flawed lives?

And if they aren’t, what would my book be like if they were?

Creating misery
My characters—and yours—need to suffer, and not just a little. I need to find each one’s core weakness and exploit it. Then exploit it again and again and again.

We need to find the point in each character where they’re a practical atheist—where they don’t fully trust God or haven’t completely made Jesus their Lord, even though they outwardly claim otherwise. And then we need to make them miserable in that exact area.

When we do that, we can help the character—and the reader—find their way back to God or more fully turn their weakness over to His strength.

And that’s when our characters step out of the cookie cutter and start to live and breathe. That’s when the story we’re telling becomes transformational—for the author and for the reader.

Are you having trouble with your characters? The Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s 16-lesson Journeyman course has excellent lessons on advanced characterization techniques as well as on dialogue, point of view, plotting, researching, storyworld, voice, and much more. Or, in just seven lessons, complete our Fiction That Sells course where you’ll learn about creativity, plotting, characterization, scenes, point of view, dialogue, and self-editing.

Both courses come with exclusive one-on-one instruction, encouragement, and support from an experienced mentor. For information: http://www.christianwritersguild.com/.


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, May 25, 2011

Meg Moseley ~ Author Interview

Meg Moseley is still a Californian at heart although she’s lived more than half her life in other states. She formerly wrote human-interest columns for a suburban section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and home schooled for over twenty years. Meg enjoys books, travel, gardening, her three grown children, and motorcycle rides with her husband Jon. They make their home in northern Georgia. You can visit Meg on her website or her blog.

Tell us about your new release:

When Sparrows Fall is the story of Miranda Hanford, an isolated homeschooling widow who needs to break her ties to a cultic group. Jack Hanford, her estranged brother-in-law, is an outspoken professor who helps in her hour of need but challenges her choices at every turn. Miranda wants safety and security for her children; Jack values freedom above security but doesn’t understand that breaking free may cause Miranda to lose everything, including her children.

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

I started playing with the idea when I noticed disturbing changes in the homeschooling movement. When I started teaching my first child at home, most homeschoolers were nonconformists who reveled in their freedom. But by the time my youngest child was a teenager, some influential leaders in the movement advocated conformity to standards that I find ludicrous.

For instance, some people believe a young woman shouldn’t attend college or work outside the home but should stay under her father’s roof until she marries—and then she’s to stay home and produce as many babies as possible. My “what if?” moment came when I imagined a woman who chooses to defy that patriarchal society, at great risk to her family.

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

The strangest thing happened after I’d completed the book, when I learned about some real-life events that were eerily close to some of my crazy plot twists. Now, I no longer worry that parts of the story might be implausible or melodramatic. These things happen. They really happen.

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

After thirteen or fourteen years of trying my hand at novel-writing, I was approaching the close of another year without a contract. It was starting to feel silly to expect anything but more rejections, but then my agent told me Multnomah wanted to buy When Sparrows Fall.

I remember sensing that we’d found exactly the right publisher, and that has proven to be true. My editors have been fantastic about letting me keep my original vision for the story with minimal revisions, and the whole team has been just was wonderful.

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

Once in a while I experience writer’s block, but I’ve learned to ask myself a few key questions. Am I unsure of my character’s goals and problems? Or am I writing the scene from the wrong viewpoint? Or is there a timing problem? It’s often one of those three problems. Once I get to the bottom of it—poof!—writer’s block is gone.

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

I think visual elements are the easiest for me to incorporate into a story, but I don’t consciously focus on including them. Once I’ve finished a rough draft of a scene, I like to run through it again like a movie playing in my mind, so I’ll remember to add sensory details. I don’t gather visual triggers like pictures or props. My office is already messy enough without dragging more stuff into it.

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?

Plotting is difficult for me. I love to create characters and settings, and I love seeing the themes develop as I get to know the characters, but my characters have nowhere to go if I don’t give them a solid plot.

How do you overcome it?

I analyze my characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts, but that sometimes only confuses me. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm with somebody, or sometimes I’ll let the plot straighten itself out while I pull some weeds or do the dishes. There’s no surefire formula. It’s different for every story, but that’s a blessing. If the battle is new every time, so is the victory. It never gets old.

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

I prefer to write in my simple little office because that’s where I feel the most like a real writer who’d better buckle down and work. I can write anywhere, though. I’m pretty good at tuning out noise and distractions.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Most days start with making coffee and shoving the cat off my computer chair. Early morning is my best time to write, so I try to make writing my top priority then. Later, my day is a mixture of writing, office work, and a minimum of housework. I’m very lucky to have a husband who doesn’t mind too much if my muse talks me into ignoring the house for long periods of time.

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?

When I know where I’m going, I can get there fast. But that can’t happen until I know my plot. I have written many, many pages that I had to scrap later because they were just part of my convoluted process of discovering the plot. But I don’t even look at the word count while I’m writing. That involves numbers. I don’t do numbers.

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

I like what Erskine Caldwell said: “The important thing is to live first, have something to write about. If you have enough to say, you’ll say it all right.”

Do you have any parting words of advice?

How about… let’s get off the Internet and write!


When Sparrows Fall

Freedom. Safety. Love. Miranda vows to reclaim them - for herself, and for her children.

A widow and mother of six, Miranda Hanford leads a quiet, private life. When the pastor of her close-knit church announces his plans to move the entire congregation to another state, Miranda jumps at the opportunity to dissolve ties with Mason Chandler and his controlling method of ruling his flock. But then Mason threatens to unearth secrets from her past, and Miranda feels trapped, terrified she’ll be unable to protect her children.

College professor Jack Hanford is more than surprised when he gets a call from his estranged sister-in-law’s oldest son, Timothy, informing him that Miranda has taken a serious fall and he has been named legal guardian of her children while she recovers. Quickly charmed by Miranda’s children, Jack brings some much-needed life into the sheltered household. But his constant challenging of the family’s conservative lifestyle makes the recovering mother uneasy and defensive—despite Jack’s unnerving appeal.

As Jack tries to make sense of the mysterious Miranda and the secrets she holds so tightly, Mason’s pressure on her increases. With her emotions stirring and freedom calling, can Miranda find a way to unshackle her family without losing everything?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chip MacGregor ~ Blogging from BEA


Chip MacGregor is a literary agent and the President of MacGregor Literary


Ten things I’ve noticed at this year’s Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York…

E-Books: Amazon just announced that they’re selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed books. So yes, digital titles are outselling printed titles. But… that’s a bit of a tricky fact. Amazon will sell anything you choose to stick into a digital file (your company’s annual report, your seminar files, your class notes), so not every e-book they’re selling is really a “book.”





Readers: The color Nook is great, will read the most types of files, and allows you to surf the web. B&N is announcing a touchscreen Nook today. Apple has sold a couple million iPads, and it remains a cool devise, though most at the show feel it’s more a sales tool and less an e-reader. Kindle is still the leader, though it’s clear the folks at Amazon are doing everything possible to tick off publishers. The Sony Reader is trying to make a comeback with a touchscreen. Can’t see what feature Border’s Kobo Reader offers, or why the Pandigital or Alex e-reader cost so much. (This year’s BEA is being held in conjunction with BlogWorld and the New Media Expo, btw.)
3.   


Short and Cheap: If there’s one trend that’s clear among e-book documents, it’s that the short story and novella are coming back via digital platforms, and that a low price point (some as low as 99 cents) is motivating people to buy them.


Fiction Rules the Digital World: At the Digital Book Conference (a sort of pre-conference session) it was made clear that fiction dominates e-book sales. Some publishers claim fiction is outselling nonfiction on e-books by a ten-to-one margin.




And History Rules Fiction: Any quick look at a publisher’s list of novels will reveal that historical stories still hold mass appeal. From Amish (I’ve had more than one publisher ask me, “Do you have anything Amish?”) to The Great Immigration to British Class Stories, history rules.
6.     


Amazon is now a Publisher: The online retailer announced they’re starting their fifth publishing line – Thomas & Mercer, a line of thrillers. That goes along with Montlake, their romance line, and means they’ll compete directly with their suppliers. Eventually a major publisher is going to stop working with Amazon.
7.    


Stores Still Matter: A study here revealed only 6% of people who buy a book were satisfied by their online browsing experience… so 94% of readers want another way to view books. Which means the bookstore still matters. Now everybody is trying to figure out how to make money turning bookstores into showrooms.
8.   


Barnes and Noble may be for sale: Which makes no sense, since the retailer just fought off a buyout. But that’s the word at the show. And, of course, Borders is still trying to survive and remake itself.
9.     


This year’s International Focus in on Italy: Um… yeah. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend in Eat, Pray, Love, “If Italy ever invades Ethiopia again, and is successful this time, you can brag about knowing a language that is spoken in TWO countries.”


The Big Books include: Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, film critic Roger Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself, Justin Torres’ debut We The Animals, Alexsander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing, Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One, and Ronald De Feo’s Calling Mr. King. There are always celebrities here (Ellen Degeneres and Diane Keaton are both doing book signings), and the lunatic fringe lives on. To wit: Lawyer Mark Lane, who created a cottage industry by claiming conspiracies in the JFK assassination (until all were proven untrue) has a new book, this time detailing the conspiracies of the RFK assassination. It’s never too late to be crazy. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Author Interview ~ Diane Moody



Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Diane Moody writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her first non-fiction book, Confessions of a Prayer Slacker, released from Journey Press in August 2010. Don’t Ever Look Down: Surviving Cancer Together, co-authored with friends Dick & Debbie Church, releases in April 2011. Her first novel, The Runaway Pastor’s Wife, debuted earlier this year, and her second novel, Blue Christmas, releases this fall.

A graduate of Oklahoma State University and a former pastor’s wife, she and husband Ken now live in the rolling hills just outside of Nashville. They are the proud parents of two grown and extraordinary children, Hannah and Ben. When she’s not reading or writing, Diane enjoys an eclectic taste in music, movies, great coffee, the company of good friends, and the adoration of a peculiar little dog named Darby.

You can visit her website at www.dianemoody.net and catch up on her blog posts at www.dianemoody.blogspot.com/


Tell us a bit about your current project.

My first novel, The Runaway Pastor’s Wife, came out of a counseling experience during a difficult time in my life. I’d just been through a spiritual meltdown right on the heels of peri-menopause (ouch). I was a mess. My counselor suggested I pour some of my “angst” onto paper. I’d been a minister’s wife for almost fifteen years, so I knew immediately what my story would be about: a pastor’s wife who runs away from home! The twist? Her former college sweetheart shows up unannounced at the same cabin in Colorado, terrified and gravely wounded. Not exactly the best time for a blizzard, now is it? Therapeutic indeed!

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

I have a plaque over my desk quoting Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up!” Hard to improve on the wisdom of ol’ Winston.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book?

I was extremely shy as a kid. But I learned I could be bold and brave and anyone I wanted to be through my writing. Years later, my high school creative writing teacher often praised my work and encouraged me. Still, it took me another twenty-five years until I decided to get serious about my passion and another fifteen before I saw my first book in print. Along the way I had several near-misses. An agent who signed me then basically didn’t do anything; some other disappointments along the journey as well. But I have to say, when that first case of books arrived last year, all that was forgotten. Pure bliss!

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

I wish I’d known that my personal success as a published author does not rest solely in the hands of overworked editors and agents. I learned the hard way that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I wasted precious weeks and months, even years, waiting to hear back from publishers who never responded, even after they’d asked for full manuscripts. It took more than a decade to land my first contract, then two more contracts quickly followed. But I’ve finally, finally learned I’m no longer bound to someone else’s “approval” before I get more books in print. E-publishing and self-pubbing has changed all that. It feels great to have a chance to sit in the driver’s seat for a change!

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

I’d tell Drippy-Eared Di to first learn her craft. Surgeons don’t operate until they’ve perfected the necessary skills, so why do we as writers think we can just wing it? I’d tell her to devour every possible resource, in books and online. Go to writers’ conferences. Join a writers’ group online or in your town. Sign up for a critique group. But just as important, I’d advise her to develop a thick, thick skin. Rejections are inevitable. A while back, my writing buddy got her 100th rejection. I took her out to celebrate. She refused to give up and today she’s selling books like crazy. Love that!

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

Not too thrilled about the marketing expectations that now fall primarily on the shoulders of the author or the necessity of a “platform” before you can get a foot in the door at some publishing houses. But it is what it is. (You can quote me on that.) I’d rather just write.

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

To hear how my book has touched someone’s heart. I’ve been blown away by the response to Confessions of a Prayer Slacker. God has used that quirky little book to rekindle a passion for a daily, personal prayer time in so many lives. I’m very humbled by it all.

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

When my daughter Hannah was a teenager, she was completely obsessed by a certain boy band. For Christmas that year, I wrote her a short story about a slightly older character named Hannah who met and fell in love with the lead singer of that group. She shared the story with her friends and they begged for more. (Gotta love when that happens.) I wrote more, adding chapters in installments. Hannah posted it on the group’s “fan fiction” website and we started receiving hundreds of emails asking for more. At one point we logged in more than 65,000 readers, with over 1000 emails crowding my inbox. For the first time I realized I could actually write something others were thrilled to read. Since that time, I’ve fictionalized the group (no more boy band), and I plan to release Blue Christmas next fall. How fun is that?

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

Cast my characters! I make photo-layout pages for each of my characters. I have a blast doing it, but it also helps me get into their heads better because I can see them.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Primarily SOP. Most of the time my characters want to write their stories themselves. But I’m trying to learn to be a plotter. Really I am. Really.

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

No, but I’d love to mention that my daughter Hannah has designed all my book covers. She’s a phenomenal graphic artist (brag alert) and I can’t imagine doing a book without her designs. Plus a huge thanks to the team at Novel Journey for allowing me to share my story here and for such a fascinating and informative blog. You all do a great job!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Roadblocks

I was on my way to meet some friends for lunch and already running late. Seeing the flashing sign on the highway did not make me happy. Expect delays. Construction ahead. Haarrummph. Sure enough, the vehicles ahead of me started to brake. I slowed down with the rest of them and slid into the long line that was almost at a standstill. Then I noticed my hands were gripping the steering wheel rather tightly.

I took a deep breath and told myself to relax. Then I remembered commenting to my husband that it was about time this stretch of road was repaired. I sighed. The work was necessary for everyone's safety and there was no other way to do it than to make the traffic slow down and take a bit of a detour. Causing my blood pressure to hit the roof would not change anything. My friends would wait for me. I sat back and turned on a favourite CD.

Road blocks, whether on a physical highway or in our lives, are not easy to deal with. We have people to see, things to accomplish - delays look like nothing more than something that will add stress to our days. But, as a friend recently reminded me, they usually have a purpose. Like the construction on that local highway, the work is usually necessary - perhaps essential - to our mental, physical and spiritual well being.

I ran into a few road blocks in my writing career this week. They were frustrating and I admit they did not inspire me to praise. They almost pushed me to rage. I have books to write, books to market, words I know God will use to help and to heal - but the roadblocks keep popping up. Yes, I know God's timing is always perfect but these detours into cancer clinics and other road blocks that are suddenly thrown in my path don't seem to help. But yes, I know they do have a purpose.

Slowing down has its advantages. I'll be able to do more editing on my manuscript, since its publication has been delayed again. I'll have more time to pray about those who need to read it and how I should go about getting it into their hands. I'll have time, in those cancer clinics, to pray for and minister to people whose lives are all too real, all too painful. Perhaps stepping out of the realm of fiction into cold hard reality will give me a different perspective about my writing and about my life. Perhaps these detours and roadblocks are necessary, even essential to the work that God has ahead for me to do.

Perhaps there is no perhaps about it. I just need to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (Hebrews 6:12).


****
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 2011.


Abundant Rain, collection of devotionals for writers has just been released here. Visit Marcia's website

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Blog ~ Diva vs. Dork - Crossing the Etiquette Line ~ Michelle Griep

Diva vs. Dork ~
Crossing the Etiquette Line


By Michelle Griep

Having just released my second book -- UNDERCURRENT-- you'd think I'd be beyond the "oops, do I have broccoli in my teeth?" jitters with the whole writing/waiting/editing/waiting/marketing thing. Not so much. As a matter of fact, since UNDERCURRENT released with a different publisher the whole experience feels freakishly like a first date...one I really want to fuse into the memory of the "person" across the table. Unfortunately, I've had a few more faux pas than I'd care to dwell on. Broccoli smoccoli
, try miscommunication with someone who holds your future success in his or her capable hands. Yikes.

However, book one and two have given me a little insight into ONE area of this writing game. Reviews. As both an author seeking reviews and a writer of reviews, I’ve learned a lot from both angles…and I’ve got a few tidbits to share that just might spare your reputation from earning dork or diva status.

Let me help you avoid the pitfall of the ‘Step a little closer so I can slap you’ syndrome—an ailment that’ll make publishers want to avoid you like the pox.


The inner Diva can sometimes rise up and cause us to behave in a way that doesn't really drive our goal: reviews that will influence sales of our books. Should you seriously ask your publisher to send a hard-bound copy of your book to your third-cousin twice-removed for a review? The relative who wouldn’t know a review if it bit them in the behind? A cousin you honestly only want to impress with your rockstar writing ability? No, no, no. When requesting review copies from your publisher, provide a list with legitimate names and contact information (including ARC format preference) for bloggers, Amazon reviewers, and bookstore managers who can and will influence the buying public. Don’t try to cop freebies for your friends via the ‘reviewer’ route.

Another diva disaster can be dodged by remembering to hold the cheese, please.

Most reviewers don’t care about your flowing prose and literary background, and they certainly don’t have time to read a convoluted synopsis. You think acquisition editors are busy. Sheesh. You ought to see the TBR pile most reviewers store in their house, their garage, their mother-in-law’s spare bedroom. Give them a reason to put your book on top of their reading Mount Everest. When asking publications or websites to review your upcoming NY Times bestseller, clear and concise is the key. Wrestle the inn
er diva into a choke hold and think snappy, grab-em-by-the-throat one or two liners to get their attention. And if you’re prone to wimp out in your ‘sell it’ sentences, get over that. Someone believes in your ability enough to publish you. Promote that fact and help sell your book. But let your writing hook ‘em, not your effusively worded e-mails or your subtle literary symbolisms.

Escaping the ‘Excuse me, your pocket protector is showing’ disorder.

Writers are tonsured hermits at heart, but marketing is part of the game and reviews are important playing pieces. That means you’re going to have to ask for some and not simply via cybe
rspace. Voice-to-voice, face-to-face, networking with reviewers is crucial. Put those junior high debate class skills to work. Speak clearly and confidently. You can blame static on a bad cell connection but there’s no excuse for mumbling.

Take the initiative to dig up review sites then don’t be timid in contacting them. Another resource is to ask reviewers you already know if they can refer you to any others.

One last thought, no matter if you have diva-esque or dork-like qualities, send your reviewer a thank you. I’ve written hundreds of reviews. How many thank yous do you think I’ve rece
ived? I can count them on one hand. Who’s books do you think I will automatically shove to the top of my review pile when I get their newest release?

Speaking of new releases (warning: shameless commercial break), have you gotten your copy of UNDERCURRENT yet? Here’s a blurb:

People go missing every day. Many meet with foul play. Some leave the social grid by choice. Still others are never accounted for. Such is the fate of Cassandra Larson. She leads a life her undergrad students can only hope to attain…unti
l she tumbles into the North Sea—and a different century.

BIO:

Michelle's been writing since she first discovered Crayolas and blank wall space. She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota with 5 other mammals (both human and canine). And don't forget to check out her debut novel, GALLIMORE...a Wizard of Oz tale with a Medieval Twist, available at Amazon or Black Lyon Publishing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on Writing Accidental Erotica

I might be in trouble. Today I got a letter from an author I respect. I had asked him to consider endorsing my upcoming novel The Opposite of Art. He wrote to say he couldn’t do it. There is, in his opinion, too much “sex stuff” which would offend his readers.

Uh oh.

It’s true this is something of a crossover novel, my first attempt to dip a toe in the general fiction waters, but even so I would never write an erotic scene on purpose.

Could it be I’ve done that accidentally?

Could I be that out of touch?

Usually in this column the idea is for me to offer you advice, but this month is different. This month, I’m the one who’s flummoxed.

Befuddled.

Discombobulated.

And here’s why:

There’s no sex scene in The Opposite of Art.

To the best of my recollection, the only places in the novel where having sex is mentioned is in conversations about a woman’s breakup with the protagonist. She leaves him because of her conviction that their premarital sex is wrong. Conversations about that, it seems to me, are a good thing.

Right?

In the interest of full disclosure, there is a scene where the protagonist thinks about this woman’s body, but he thinks of it as a painter would, using terms an artist might use, landscape terms (hills, valleys), not as a lover would, using sexual terms.

He thinks of her as a painter might think of how to paint a nude because he's, you know, a painter. Also, that scene is intended to say something about the artist in the early going, about how he thinks about all the people in his life, so it really is there for a good reason; it’s not gratuitous.

And it seems to me the language in Song of Solomon is much more suggestive than that scene. Any reader who finds such a scene titillating would probably object to nudes in paintings at the Louvre.

But of course my friend is right to think there are such readers.

Just as even the sight of a woman's ankle can be titillating if you're Amish, or a fundamentalist Muslim, or an ultra-orthodox Jew, there are also evangelical readers (a fringe element among us I hope, but very vocal, as fringe elements tend to be) who also think of sex and the human body as something that should not be spoken of, written of, heard or seen.

And now, a brief aside having nothing to do with writing fiction:

Such people always say their attitude is based on respect for the female body.

But it seems to me people who take offense at merely observing (or reading about) the human form are living out of balance. Ironically, their point of view leads to much the same mistake as some pornographers who claim to appreciate the female body while actually objectifying it.

Question: who is more reduced to object status: a Playboy centerfold, or a woman in a burqa?

Answer: it's a distinction without much of a difference.

And now, back to writing.

I hate that term “edgy fiction,” don’t you? I’ve certainly never thought of my own work that way. But here I am, up against it, possibly. Or possibly not. All I know for sure is this: I respect the author who warned me, and many of his readers are also my readers, so here I am, wondering if The Opposite of Art will have trouble in the Christian market.

The novel's coming out in September. So why not just wait and see?

Well, it's always fun to watch a train wreck in slow motion, and if this book is going to kill my career anyway, I might as well help folks have fun. Also, while it's way too late to stop the presses, it occurred to me that we could have a teachable moment here, (for you, if not for me), a classic example of an author misjudging his readership.

The only question is, which author has misjudged the readers: me, or the author who wrote to warn me?

To get to an answer, it does no good for us to talk in theory. We need actual examples, because one person’s “edgy” is another person’s “mainstream.” So with apologies in advance to anyone offended by what follows, here are some excerpts from The Opposite of Art which I suspect my friend has in mind.

Scene One: a painter and model, former lovers, in the painter’s studio. The painter says . . .

“Well, as long as you’re here, how about taking off your clothes so I can paint?”

“I told you I’m not going to do that anymore.”

He tried to hide the disappointment. Over the last few months, Suzanna had become his favorite model. He had painted her so often he already knew how he’d have her pose this time. Naked on the bed she’d lie almost on her belly, her left leg and left arm straight down, her right arm cocked underneath her chin, and her right leg bent so that her ankle lay upon her calf. He imagined how the open window’s draft would raise goose bumps to cast tiny shadows in the oblique bedside light, her brown curvatures assuming surrealistic forms, a mountain range, a field of dunes. His eyes would roam across the shapes and masses as they would across a landscape, the slightly upraised shoulder as one peak, the buttocks as two others, the graceful spine curving between them like a hanging valley. The play of light would impose intriguing shades upon her dark skin. Shadows within shadows. Something beckoning, that same elusive quality he had almost seen within the streaks of black across the bricks.

“Please, baby,” he said. “I really want to paint you tonight.”

“That’s not all you want to do to me.”

He smiled. “Well, that too. But first I want to paint.”

“Only if I leave my clothes on.”

He sighed. “Oh, all right.”

Scene Two: the same characters later on, breaking up because she has begun to view sex differently . . .

She touched his arm with the back of her fingers, lightly, and then removed her hand. “I can’t stay.”

He felt his jaw set with a sudden rush of anger. Turning, he strode out of the bedroom into the little sitting room. He leaned against the white enameled kitchenette and lit a Marlboro, knowing that annoyed her almost as much as marijuana. She followed him, stopping in the middle of the sitting room, one foot on the edge of the tarp beneath his easel.

“Please don’t be mad,” she said.

He took a deep drag on the Marlboro and stared at the ceiling. “I’m not mad.”

“Of course you are.”

Still looking away from her heartbreakingly beautiful face, he exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Whatever you say.”

“It’s not that I don’t love you.”

“Who said anything about love?”

“Danny, please.”

The tremor in her voice broke through his resolve. He looked at her and immediately regretted it. It was hard to be angry when she stared at him all doe-eyed, but still, he had his pride. “I just don’t get you. Sex is beautiful.”

“It’s not about the sex. That’s just the way it comes out between us.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“It’s not that hard to understand. I love you, Danny. I fell really hard for you. But I lost myself.”

“Lost yourself?” Flicking the cigarette butt into the kitchenette sink he said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Making love and not being married . . . it isn’t who I am.”

“Oh, I see. It’s not you. So who was that other chick?”

“I’m just trying to—”

“Seriously, who was she? I’d like to know, because she seemed like she was having a great time, and I’d like to get her back in here.”

“Please, I—”

“I remember a couple of weeks ago she was over on the bed screaming, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and I sure got the impression she meant every word.”

“It’s not that we weren’t—”

“In fact, I remember a few times when she couldn’t seem to get enough.”

She stared at him with those eyes which were the only thing he had ever doubted he could capture on canvas, and he basked in her beauty, and he longed to get down on his knees and worship her, beg her to reconsider everything, just be with him without conditions, but he knew it wouldn’t work. Something in him fought all that.

End of Scenes

Obviously this is tame stuff for a general fiction readership who are accustomed to constant barrages of F-bombs and clinical descriptions of sex acts, but if you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re either a Christian fiction writer or a fan of Christian fiction. That means you fit the demographic profile my friend is worried about.

So what do you think? Is this too much for the Christian fiction market?

And if it is too much, should it be too much?

And why?

Or why not?

Go ahead: have at it.

And don't mind me while I lie here on the tracks.


Athol Dickson is a novelist, teacher, and publisher of the DailyCristo website. His 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.