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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yeah, You're at the Right Addy

Yes, we look a little different today and we are a little different, a little more, a little better.

The launch didn't go exactly as expected. We knew there'd be a problem or two and of course, there was.

The main problem is that you were supposed to be redirected to, but we had some server type technical issues that will take more than a few hours to rectify.

While we get that worked out, please click on the new pages at the top and see what we're offering, and click on our sponsors, (those pretty little books to your right), those are the folks that keep us being able to upgrade and improve.

And if you're looking for writer-related services, visit the Rocket Pages tab, which is by far our favorite new offering. Think of it as a Craig's List for writers. Find your new editor, book cover designer, etc.

Thanks for your ongoing support. We're also now on Twitter and Facebook, so come and "Like" or "Follow" us to show your support.

Hope you like the new changes... more to come!

Tomorrow We Launch!

Well, tomorrow's the big day for Novel Journey. We get a new look and a new name. Come tomorrow, you should be able to get to us either through this url, or If you're subscribed through Feedburner or another RSS, you shouldn't have to do anything.

There might be a few growing pains and glitches, but bring them to our attention and we'll iron them right out.

If you haven't checked out what we WILL look like come tomorrow, visit

The countdown begins!

Last Day for July Advetisements

Tomorrow we launch Novel Rocket, so there's never been a better time to get exposure with us on your upcoming book releases.

To book a July ad, visit or contact gina at rnglh1 [at] yahoo dot com.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Novel Journey Columnist Patty Smith Hall releases debut novel!

Patty has been a significant encourager to me (Ane) personally. A member of a local writers group with me, she whipped my writer's-tail until I began to make and meet a daily word count. I'm tickled pink to host her debut Novel Journey interview.

A romantic at heart, Patty Smith Hall is an award winning, multi-published author. Her stories of encouragement and hope can be found in Guideposts, Journey and Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. Her Genesis award winning manuscript, Hearts in Flight, will be released by Love Inspired Historical in July, 2011. Patty resides in Georgia along with Dan, her husband of 28 years, two daughters and a Yorkie who loves to cuddle. Patty joined Novel Journey as a columnist in July of 2011.

Tell us about your new release:

Hearts in Flight

Serving her country as one of the Women's Army Special Pilots is Maggie Daniels's dearest wish. But there are obstacles to overcome above and beyond the enemies in the Pacific, including her overprotective family, skeptical fellow pilots—and handsome, distant squadron leader Wesley Hicks. Whatever it takes, Maggie will prove herself to Wesley, until she succeeds in winning his admiration…and love.

Wesley can see that Maggie's a first-class pilot. She's also too fearless by half. The war has cost Wesley so much already. Can he let go of his guilt for a chance at happiness—and can he learn to trust in God…and Maggie…enough to believe in love for a lifetime?

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

When my girls were younger, they spent a summer studying WWII—I don’t know if it was the Ben Afleck movie or a real love of history that got their attention but hey! It got them reading about one of the greatest times in history. Anyway, I was big on the girls knowing that women played a significant role in the war effort, so I was always looking for articles and books on women in WWII. One of them had a PARAGRAPH—one measly paragraph on the women pilots and I was totally hooked!

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

The greatest thing that happened was that my grandma played a part in picking out the setting. We were going to a family wedding at this fantastic plantation house a few miles down the road where I grew up. Now, this house is so neat—it served as a union hospital slap dab in the middle of North Georgia! Anyway, I was walking Grandma into the house and she starts telling me these stories. Seems my great aunt and uncle had rented this house in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s, and turned it into a boarding house. Grandma even pointed out a mini ball in the second level bedroom door frame.

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

I started playing at writing about ten years ago. I say play because I didn’t actually sit down and write! I took the classes, went to conferences but didn’t do the writing part. It wasn’t until my daughters graduated from high school and college that I truly turned my focus to writing full time.

Last March, I finally finished Hearts in Flight and turned it into my terrific agent, Tamela Hancock Murray, who gave it to Rachel Burkot at Love Inspired Historical.

Then the wait began—I swear, it was like waiting for Christmas morning, wondering if you’re going to get the big gift or a lump of coal. On August 5th while I was driving through the Chick-fil-a, Tamela called. LIH had not only offered me a contract, my book was going to be fast tracked for publication in less than a year! I still get choked up just thinking about it!

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

Everyone has those head banging moments! But I’ve found that if I just keep writing, even if it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written, the block eventually goes away.

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

I’m a huge visual writer. Most of my descriptions come from old black and white pictures I found at the Marietta Museum of History, particularly the ones about the Bell Bomber Plant.

But I love hands on research. It’s nothing for me to climb into the cockpit of an old bomber or pan for gold. I remember feelings—how something felt in my hands or what muscles I had to use to do something. To me, those types of experiences help the reader go deeper into the story and the characters. And I just love doing that kind of stuff!

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? How do you overcome it?

I use to be a pantser [seat of the pants writer] but I found it frustrating—it seemed to take me forever to finish a manuscript. So three years ago, I decided it was time to learn to plot. At first, I wasn’t sure I could even do it—I was a pantser for Pete’s sake. But I discovered through Laurie Schnebly’s Plot Via Motivation class that even I can plot! It changed the way I worked through my story.

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

This would have been a loaded question a few months ago because I didn’t really have a consistent writing place. I wrote Hearts in Flight at two places; either on the couch flat on my back or in the teen section of the local library.

But recently, my darling husband decided that I needed a place to go to write so now, I have a lovely office five minutes away from home where I get so much done!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I generally wake up around 7:30, eat breakfast, and do devotionals. Then I head to my office where I work from 9:30 to 2:30 or 3:00. After that, I come home, get things set up for dinner, then head off to meet my husband at the park to walk. Evenings are for spending time with Dan or our girls, reading, judging contest entries and watching Castle when it’s on!

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?

Not me! I’m doing good to get about 2 thousand words a day. But some days, the story flows and before I know it, I’ll have 3500 words down. I love those days!

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

The one thing I took away from the 2008 ACFW conference changed how I looked at my writing. Set a daily word count and try to meet it. Even if you don’t, you’ve got more words down than you started out with.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Writing is a waiting game so to paraphrase Winston Churchill—never, never, never give up!

NJ: To get on the notices for Laurie Schnebly's classes, click here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crossing Oceans Wins!

We just learned that Crossing Oceans won RWA's Inspirational Reader's Choice Award in the long contemporary division. Yay! Thanks to all the judges and folks that word so hard to make these type of awards available. 

Big News!

Novel Journey has been one of the best well known and read literary sites since 2005 when we were founded. We've had the same look since then, so maybe it's time for a change.

We're not only getting a new look, but also a new name. Novel Rocket. Why would we do such a thing? Well, the guy over at the dot com won't sell and posts "thought turds". No likey.

So, we started looking for another dot com we liked, and came across Novel Rocket and realized right away that was the perfect name for us.

We will be offering the same great blog content that earned us a ranking among Writers Digests best (yes, we're very proud of that!), but now we're so much more.


So kind of you to inquire.

We will be offering a service called "Rocket Pages". Think of it like a Craig's list for writers or a writers yellow pages. You need an editor, we have them listed on Rocket Pages. You need a logo designer, book cover designer, someone to set up your website, etc. That's right, Rocket Pages will be the place to come and find those folks.

What else?

You know just the right questions to ask. I like that about you.

Well, we also have services like the "Blasting Off Package" and the "Ready to Launch Package" which helps get you a basic website, business cards, book trailers, header designs, those sort of things.

What is this FOREVER SALE I'm hearing about? 

The forever sale is our way of saying thanks to our faithful NJ readers and to build up the Rocket Pages listings while word is getting out.

This is how it works.

On the Rocket Pages tab of what will soon be the new Novel Rocket site, if you have a service that will benefit writers and those in the publishing business, and you book a listing between now and the end of July, you will FOREVER get fifty percent off that listing, so long as your listing never expires. If it does lapse, you simply begin paying what everyone else is at the current rate.

We go live, God willing, July 1st. In the meantime, if you go to you'll only find a squatter page until go live. BUT you can see what we WILL look like in July by visiting our playground site at

All the info you need to book a listing, place an ad for your book or see what we're up to is there.

So, go take a look and tell us what you think!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interview with Amy Riley of the INSPY Awards

The INSPY Awards have begun their second year. Founded by Amy Riley of My Friend Amy, the INSPYs differ from traditional Christian book awards in that they "invite nominations from both the Christian booksellers’ domain and the general marketplace." The program is organized and judged by book bloggers and seeks to "serve readers in their search for the very best of faith inspired literature being published today." Amy is a prolific blogger with a real heart for good literature and growing literacy. She recently took some time to visit with me and field some questions regarding the INSPY Awards:

* * *

MIKE: First, thanks for visiting with me, Amy. Can you share a little about your vision for the INSPY Awards, what you hope to accomplish, and what the response has been like.

AMY: Thanks for asking, Mike! I used to read Christian fiction almost exclusively, but after I graduated from college I started reading more and different kinds of books. I enjoyed them a lot. At the same time, I discovered blogs and would find reviews of books like Peace Like a River by Leif Enger or Home by Marilynne Robinson, books about faith that had appeal to a wider audience. I also started noticing a certain discontent in my own reading of Christian fiction. I found that my favorite books were books where faith played a huge role, but many books felt more message driven than story driven. And I was discovering books in the general market that were deeply about faith but were going unnoticed by Christians because they weren't published by the right house. I wanted to find a way to highlight the books that speak to me, and a way to discover more. And because I'm a blogger who often blogs about my thoughts on these things, I discovered many others felt the same way. There's a successful blogger-organized award for children's literature and that's where the idea came about to do it in this way.

I hope that the INSPYs will celebrate great books of faith. I hope that the prejudice against Christian fiction that some Christian artists and authors have will begin to diminish just as I hope that Christians will learn there are other great books out there about their faith.

MIKE: Not long ago, I blogged about my confliction with "Christian awards. I tend to think Christian awards narrow, rather than broaden, our reach. Realistically, Christians are the only ones paying attention to Christian awards. So I'm wondering, do you share any of that confliction? And, if so, how do you think the INSPY Award could change that?

AMY: It's true that when you select something like "Christian" to label an award, you are by nature excluding others. I do, however, think that books of faith do more than "reach the lost." I think they encourage believers.

I hope, however, that the INSPYs will open up the idea of reading books about faith to others. Because we are casting our net wide, we may very well end up highlighting some books that people who previously wouldn't touch Christian fiction with a ten foot pole enjoyed. This may encourage them to check out other books on the INSPYs list. And of course, the opposite is true.

MIKE: You write on your blog that "...there is a noticeable prejudice against books called Christian fiction." Many Christians share that sentiment. But frankly, the claim can seem rather conspiratorial, even become an excuse of sorts. From your perspective, how do these "prejudices" surface and how rampant are they?

AMY: I think, quite frankly, because the Christian fiction market is smaller than the general market, when someone reads a bad book they are less likely to pick up another. I know many readers dislike the feeling that they are being pressured to believe the same as the author and, while Christians believe many of the same things, we also have different life experiences and views. I've had people express frustration with the feeling that characters are too one-dimensional or perfect. There's also a lot less choice in Christian fiction. I've even talked with publishers about the lack of literary fiction in Christian fiction and it doesn't seem like its availability will increase anytime soon.

MIKE: One of your stated goals is to highlight faith-driven literature in the general market. Can you give me some examples of general market books that meet your criteria for faith driven literature?

AMY: Books such as Peace Like a River by Leif Enger which includes the most beautiful scene of heaven I've ever read. There's also Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, a YA book about a pastor's daughter struggling in a very real way with whether or not she believed what she'd always been taught. I have to admit while reading Once Was Lost, I actually told people it read like Christian fiction to me. But it would probably never be published in the Christian marketplace because there are two instances of profanity. One clear distinction is I haven't read a general market book of faith that used a lot of Scripture to make a point or had written-out prayers or a few pages towards the end where the faith lesson was learned by the protagonist. Christian fiction doesn't always have that either... but sometimes it does.

MIKE: This "divide" between the Christian and the general market is intriguing, and in some ways, intentional. On the one hand are Christians who seek "alternative" fare, stories of non-explicit nature that respect faith. They like Christian fiction precisely because it's NOT general market. On the other hand, many Christians who sell to the general market resist the "Christian" label because it potentially limits their readership and boxes them in. Talk about this divide. Do you think it's good, bad, or necessary? And what are the risks in trying to bridge that divide?

AMY: This is a constant struggle for me. On the one hand, labels can be extremely helpful. On the other hand, they do box in whatever has been labeled as such. So it's actually mixed...books are unlike movies in that there are no ratings so people seeking books free from explicit sex or profanity have to rely on either the publisher's reputation or reviews from others. (i.e. I always point these things out in my reviews of general market books.)

I don't know that there are risks in trying to bridge the divide. I think celebrating great books of faith and helping people find them no matter what publishing house snatched them up first can only be helpful and good for books.

MIKE: Under the Book Criteria section you write, "The book must respectfully grapple with some element of the Christian faith." This seems like a pretty broad criteria. Can a book "respectfully grapple" with faith issues and NOT reach a redemptive resolution (i.e., someone gets saved, repents, or returns from backsliding)? Do you have any examples of books that you think capture this dynamic?

AMY: Interesting question. It is very broad for the precise reason that we didn't want to eliminate a book simply because we couldn't conceptualize how it would work. I do think a book can grapple with faith and not come to an easy answer. I think that reflects real life... we are all always grappling at differing levels. It's much easier to seek a closed answer and much safer. But we all have different life experiences and considering someone else's process can cause us to reflect on our own. One example I can think of off the top of my head is Something Beyond the Sky by Siri Mitchell. There's a character in that book that considers leaving her Mormon faith for the Christian but ultimately doesn't.

MIKE: Finally, what's currently your biggest need for INSPY to succeed? And can you tell my readers how they can be involved.

AMY: We need nominations! We need people to nominate the books that they love and think might be eligible. We can't possibly know all of the great books being published even in just the Christian marketplace so we need your help. We are also still looking for judges.

Most importantly, though, we need help spreading the word. Tweet, Facebook, blog about it... tell your friends! The more people involved the better.

* * *

Amy, thanks so much for taking the time to visit with us and share your vision. If you haven't already, please head over to the INSPY site and think about nominating some of your favorite faith-driven lit and even becoming a judge for the INSPY Awards. Book nomination end on July 15th. Thanks Amy!

What’s It All About?

Anita Mellott homeschools and blogs at From the Mango Tree.

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22b

“Write to encourage others.” I sensed a gentle “whisper” in my heart five years ago.

“What encouraging words do I have?” I argued. “Besides I’m spent after editing others’ words all day.”

The whisper continued through my job loss of 13 years as a writer/editor with Habitat for Humanity International and the angst of a high-risk pregnancy. When, against all medical odds, I held our baby in my arms, I knew I couldn’t ignore that soft voice any more.

As I wrote an article here, a devotional there, things began to fall into place in a way only God could orchestrate: an established author mentored me and introduced me to the American Christian Fiction Writers. I joined a critique group, where I was encouraged write a proposal for an idea that had been on my heart for a while--a devotional book for homeschooling parents. Twenty-seven rejections later, I signed a contract with Judson Press. About 10 days ago, School is Where the Home Is: 180 Devotions for Parents released—a testimony to God’s ability to bring to fruition an idea He had sparked.
As wonderful as it is to hold a copy of the book in my hands, I’m holding on even tighter to the following truths I’ve learned so far on this journey:

* It’s all about obedience. Sometimes God leads us to traverse paths that may seem strange—writing in a genre that isn’t considered “current,” or pursuing an idea that seems like it won’t work. Questions and doubts may fill our hearts when we sense the call. As we step out to obey Him, at times with trembling feet, our obedience can come at a price. We may be called to write through the valleys, or to keep writing without any signs of a contract. But it’s precisely in those moments of vulnerability--when our writing is a sacrifice--that He shows Himself strongest. The words of David during these times, bring comfort, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

* It’s all about His timing. Publication is in His hands. When the time was right, He opened doors I never thought were possible. He has also shut doors that can not be pried open. “In His time, He makes all things beautiful” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

* The results are in His hands. When I’m honest with myself, I admit I want to write a bestseller, to impact many for Jesus. Yet, in the quiet of His presence, He reminds me that He alone knows the end. I’m merely His vessel. I can only write when He fills me. Colossians 3: 23 reminds me, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” I am to do what I can to the best of my ability—studying and honing the craft of writing, and helping with marketing. The results are in His hands—whether it touches hundreds or a few--His economics are not mine. When I take the focus off myself and my desires and motivations, I can rest in what He desires to accomplish.

“Lord, please be the ink as I desire to be your willing pen.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dry as Rain Book Trailer

Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Blog ~ Galloping Gut Bags, Batman! by Michelle Griep

Galloping Gut Bags, Batman!

by Michelle Griep

Not too long ago, Athol Dickson proposed the dilemma of how much sex to put in a ‘Christian’ novel. An interesting post that raised some viable questions about deciding how much leg to expose in a story that’s marketed to churchgoers…or at least put out by ‘Christian’ publishers. I would like to pose a similar dilemma, albeit more modestly dressed, which is every bit as cage-rattling—


Case in point, my latest release, UNDERCURRENT, is a period piece set in the Viking age. I’m talking pillaging barbarians here, not purple people eaters tossing around a pigskin. These ruffians wouldn’t think twice about bagging up your guts and sending them off as a warning to a neighboring village. And I won’t even mention what a Blood Eagle is. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

The point is…how does an author accurately portray documented atrocities? I’m not advocating gore for the sake of shock and awe, but vital plot scenes that show the evil side of human nature. Does one need to flufficise the bloody bits for the sake of the squeamish and demure?

My opinion: write it like it is, keeping balance in mind. Not too popular of a stance, but at least allow me to explain how I drew this conclusion.

The Bible. Ever read it? It’s pretty graphic. Remember the chick who skewered a fella’s brains with a tent peg in Judges 4:21? The account didn’t go on for pages and pages of unadulterated carnage, but neither did it gloss over her act of violence.

And what about the whole crucifixion? It’s mentioned in more than one book of the gospels, down to the detail of poking a spear into Jesus’ side and spilling out his body fluids. Where are the censors that should’ve edited out that section or at least slapped on a PG-13 rating? Dare we allow our children to read about such nasty bloodletting?

The bottom line is that violence can be and should be rendered appropriately when necessary. It’s a part of life. This might be a newsflash, but not everything is rainbows and butterflies.

Will this limit your potential audience? Or put boundaries on your prospective market share? You bet it will, and you should know that up front. But here’s the deal…anything you choose to write about prevents some conceivable reader from picking up your book. Not everyone’s going to want to read about battle-axe wielding Vikings. But neither does everyone want to read about bonnet-brandishing Amish girls.

I, for one, will continue to write—and read—fiction that is real…which is quite the misnomer, eh?

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, June 23, 2011

Deborah Bateman is the winner of Karen Witemeyer's book.

Please email me at ane[at]anemulligan[dot]com with your snail mail address

Y? Because The Story in the Stars rocks

Yvonne Anderson, whose debut novel The Story in the Stars is out now from Risen Books, was one of those weird kids who always had her nose in a book—and always wanted to write one.
She once said: “I’m not sure if the best analogy (for writing) is addiction, illness, or an unrequited love affair. Whatever you liken it to, the drive to write is terminal. So here I am. A writer. Whether anyone likes it or not.”

Yvonne is also on the staff of Novel Journey, and is the administrator of the site’s OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest.

She is happily married and has four grown children and three grandchildren (who, she guarantees, are cuter and smarter than yours).

Read about Yvonne’s novel journey below.

You’ve had an interesting journey as a writer—share about your novel journey with us.

I’ve always loved to write, but for a lot of years I hardly had time to read a book, let alone write one. But there came a point when I was only working 12 hours a week at work, the older kids had moved out, the younger two were in school, and we’d just gotten a computer.

I was in the kitchen, cleaning up after breakfast, when a thought came to me. (This does happen, occasionally.) I had the time, and the equipment. I should write a book.

What a thought! I tried to brush off the idea, but it burrowed in. I finally figured out it was the Holy Spirit, not a tick, so I prayed about it.

Then, after feeling certain it was what the Lord wanted me to do, I sat down at the new computer and, like a thing possessed, I hammered out a 200,000-word monstrosity in nine months. (Yes, I did take potty breaks.)

I typed “The End” and then said to God, “Okay, now what?” The Lord led me straight to KingdomWriters where I was immediately plunged into a rigorous education and introduced to some wonderful people.

Some of those dear buds, namely Ane (Mulligan), Gina (Holmes), and Jess (Dotta), left KW and formed Penwrights. A little later they asked me to join them—and they’ve been dragging me along behind them ever since.

Like most writers, I’d been collecting rejections on a couple of different manuscripts for years. Eight years, in fact.

This past December, another dear writer friend, Michelle Griep, told me she’d been offered a contract with Risen Books.

I’d never heard of Risen but I checked out their website and liked what I saw.
So I submitted a proposal for The Story in the Stars, and they asked for the complete. A couple weeks later, they contacted me again and, among other things, asked about my “vision for the series”.

Umm, series? Well, yes, I had mentioned in my proposal that I’d drafted a sequel. So sure, maybe I could eke out a third. I started thinking about it, and quickly came up with a total of six additional story lines stemming from the original Stars.

The following week, when they offered me a three-book contract “with the possibility of more if the series does well,” my poor dear husband almost had to call 911. Even if I thought I might be offered a contract someday, I certainly never expected my first contract would be for three books.

Speaking of journeying, take us to Gannah—the location of your book, The Story in the Stars. How did you create this world?

I wish I could tell you, but I can’t, because I don’t know. I just started writing and it appeared on the screen.

In your critique group, Penwrights, you’re the one everyone wants to critique their manuscripts—and the one everyone fears critiquing their manuscripts. Explain that, if you can.

[Insert evil laugh.] I’m feared because, like a Gannahan, I enjoy bloodletting. Why people crave this torture is perplexing. Perhaps it’s because my mind works so differently from everyone else’s, the way I carve up their submissions almost looks like art instead of carnage, and they need something to hang on the wall in the den.

Or maybe they just like pain. It’s possible they get some tangible benefit from my insights, but I’m not sure.

What key critiques did you receive on The Story in the Stars that helped shape it into a manuscript that got picked up? In a related note, how did it change over time?

When I did the first draft, I never intended to show it to anyone. I was just having fun. But one of the symptoms of the writer disease is the insatiable urge to share what you write.

When I eventually tested the first chapter on the Penwrights waters, it sank—too many “was”es made the thing leak passively but surely. Plugging those holes throughout the manuscript was my first task. Then a couple critiquers complained it started out too slow.

I agreed with the criticism about the passives, but resented the suggestion that the opening should be changed. When the clamor grew louder, I said to myself, “You want to see slow? I’ll give you slow,” and—with the maturity of a four-year-old—I redid the opening like a fireside tale (Listen my children, and you shall hear…) and put the whole thing in omniscient point of view, with lots of blatant author intrusion.

Eventually I came to my senses and put it back in third person where it belonged.

Yvonne's Map of Gannah

About the character Pik. You were having trouble conveying his Karkarkian (or Karkar?) characteristics without telling about them—then inspiration, or a triple latte, struck. Take us through the process of struggling and finally breaking through that wall. And is it something we can do in our novels?

You’re right. Along with changing back from omniscient to 3rd person, I had to undo a lot of telling, some of which had been there from the beginning. One of the things I struggled with the most was describing Pik.

The Karkar people are extremely tall, and they lack some of the facial muscles the rest of us have. This not only limits their language, but it also makes their faces just about entirely expressionless. What they lack in musculature on their faces, however, they make up for in fine muscles on the sides of their heads. They express their emotions through subtle ear movements.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, just try conveying that without “telling” the reader. It wasn’t a triple latte; I think it was more like having tried everything else possible without success, including beating myself about the head until my unexpressive ears were cauliflowered. But here’s a snippet that demonstrates how I finally figured out how to “show” these facts about Pik without subjecting the reader to a lecture.

In this scene, Edwin Broward, captain of the medical research vessel that received the distress message from Gannah, comes to Pik’s office to tell him that a plague has reappeared and the Gannahans are pleading for help:

Something clumped in Pik’s gut like a not-quite-done Cephargian blood pudding. “What sort of plague?”

“The message calls it the Karkar plague.”

The pudding rolled over. “I had no idea it still existed.”

“Nor did I.” Broward paused. “Gannah’s never asked for help before. Ever. For anything.”

Pik said nothing. He couldn’t fathom the proud Gannahans being brought so low.

The shorter man looked at Pik with accusation in his brown eyes. “What do you know about this plague?”

Pik returned his glare with a Karkar impassivity no Terrestrial could match. “That was centuries ago. I’m not that old.”

“But you are head of my Infectious Disease Unit, and the plague originated on your planet. How do we stop it?”

“I have no idea.” Neither did he have any idea why one would want to.

“But you can research it.”

Pik’s ears swiveled in a Karkar shrug. He felt confident the captain, being a Terrestrial, would be unable to interpret the subtle gesture of casual disrespect, even if he noticed it.

But Broward frowned, perhaps picking up on Pik’s attitude through his hesitation. “Well? You Karkar might not have the musculature to make faces, but I know there’s something going on behind that expressionless mask of yours.”

The Karkar sighed. “Research the plague?” He paused again. “I suppose I could…”

“And you will. Quickly. We should be there in two standard-weeks. A great many more Gannahans will likely have died by then. Your plague just about wiped them out last time, did it not?”

“It’s a shame it didn’t.”

Broward’s brows rose. “You’re a doctor. How can you say that?”

Pik pulled himself up to his full, proud height, putting him eye to eye with the standing captain.

This shows Pik’s lack of facial expression, his facile ears, and his unusual height, all without resorting to explanation. And yes, this is the sort of thing anyone can do. Whatever vital facts we want the reader to know can be conveyed through the eyes and words of the characters. What amazes me is that I found it so difficult at first.

Were you always a sci-fi writer? If not, what drug you over to the Dark Side? Was there a “Luke, I am your Father” moment when you realized your destiny?

Until I wrote Stars, I’d never considered writing sci-fi, because I didn’t like the genre.
What little of it I’d read, I usually found too technical, too dark and depressing, or otherwise not enjoyable. But truthfully, I don’t think of Stars as sci-fi. It’s more of a fantasy that just happens to be set in space. And good, old-fashioned, Tolkien-esque fantasy is something I’ve always enjoyed.

What is the “what if” moment that launched The Story in the Stars?

I’d experienced some writing frustrations and questioned whether I should be writing fiction at all. While detoxing with some nonfiction, I discovered a little book called The Gospel in the Stars, which set forth the premise that God told the Gospel story to ancient man through the constellations. Though I found the idea intriguing, the book had archaic language and I found it hard to follow.

In an effort to make sense out of it, I decided it might be fun to write a short story incorporating the concepts presented in the book. I guess since stars were on my mind, I gave it a space setting. I never expected to get so carried away that it became a full-length novel—the first in a series of full-length novels, in fact. But I’ve always known I was too long-winded to be a short-story writer, and this just demonstrates that.

What is the best writing advice you have ever heard—or wish you had followed? Why?

Wow, I’ve received a lot of advice over the years. It’s hard to narrow it down to one juicy nugget, but perhaps the vital thing is to be patient. Don’t expect instant success. Keep learning, keep improving, keep submitting, and keep praying.

When God opens a door, run through it, but don’t wear your fingers down to bloody stumps trying to claw through a closed door. You’ll need those fingers for typing your next novel.

Speaking of your next novel, when is it coming and what happens in it? C’mon, you can tell us. We’ll never tell.

The second book in the series, tentatively titled Words in the Wind, is completed and in the hands of the publisher, waiting to be edited. Risen hasn’t set a release date yet, but I expect it to be in December or January. What happens in it? Well, we’ll see more of Gannah, more of Pik and Dassa, plenty of drama, and less humor than in Stars, but it’s all good stuff. I like it better than Stars, in fact.

What about Mom’s Mirror? (Ane made me ask.)

Mom’s Mirror was that 200,000-word monstrosity I pounded out at the beginning of this trek. It launched my journey, but it’s served its purpose, and I’m past that stage. I don’t envision ever dusting it off and trying to pitch it again—but then, I never expected to write a sci-fi series, either. So who knows?

(There, does that make you happy, Ane?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Surviving My First Year as a Published Author, by guest blogger Karen Witemeyer

Karen Witemeyer writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House, believing the world needs more happily-ever-afters. Her debut novel, A Tailor-Made Bride, is a finalist in the Best First Book categories for both the prestigious RITA® award and the National Reader's Choice Award. She makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three kids. Please visit her at her website.

Surviving My First Year as a Published Author

It's hard to believe that I've been a published author for over a year now. My first book (A Tailor-Made Bride) debuted in June 2010, and just last month, my third book with Bethany House, To Win Her Heart, hit the shelves. What an exciting whirlwind adventure this has been!

For those of you who are not yet published, I thought I'd share a few of the myriad lessons I've learned during the transition from hopeful writer to published author. Believe it or not, signing a publishing contract is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is just the beginning of another journey, one that will take you through unfamiliar territory with a whole new set of obstacles and pitfalls to navigate.

Learning to work with an editor.

Most of you have probably worked with a critique group or received feedback from contest judges on your manuscript. Some of you may have even invested in hiring a freelance editor to go over your book. All of this is wonderful for helping you perfect your craft, and I highly recommend it. I still work with my critique group on every book I write. However, making the switch from critique group to publishing house editor is like switching from working with a high school baseball coach to a major league manager. The expectations placed upon you increase and the time to make improvements decreases. Thankfully, the editor wants you to succeed just as much as you want to succeed, so it can be a marvelously rewarding partnership.

In learning to work with an editor, attitude makes all the difference. Here are some tips for making this process a blessing instead of a trial:

• Trust your baby to the care of another. You are no longer simply a passionate writer, creating the story that best pleases you. You are now a professional writer who must please a publisher and readers. Don't forfeit the passion, but temper it with professionalism. I often hear unpublished writers say things like, "If an editor ever suggested I change X about my manuscript, I'd find a different publisher." I strongly caution against this attitude. Publishing is a team effort. Be a team player and remember that the publishing world is a small one. Don't make things harder on yourself by gaining a reputation as a diva.

• Editors are allies, not enemies. It might not feel true when you get that 12 page, single-spaced substantive edit letter, but keep your defenses in check. Remember that your editor is there to help you create the best manuscript possible.

• Approach conversations with humility. Editors know the market better than you do. They know what their readers like. Submit to their mentoring and heed their advice, but don't be afraid to respectfully speak your mind if you have a strong aversion to one of their suggestions.

Dealing with deadlines.

• Everyone writes differently. Some pour out their stories unchecked then go back and add layers, weaving in editing as they work through multiple drafts. Some outline extensively before ever writing a word. Some spend weeks delving into research. I'm one of those odd ducks who uses both sides of my brain at the same time, editing as I go. This makes my pace slow as I constantly edit as I create, but I essentially write only one draft.

• The key to dealing with deadlines is to know your writing pace and plan accordingly. Set realistic intermediary goals. (For example, instead of a daily word count, I choose to set weekly goals. I try to write one polished chapter a week.) Then be sure to budget a cushion into your schedule to allow for unforeseen circumstances. Illness, family vacations, work duties—many things can pull you away from your writing. Don't add to your deadline stress by cutting things too close. I try to pad my deadline by 2-4 weeks to give myself some flexibility. Plus it's cool to get brownie points by turning in a manuscript early.

Handling Reviews

• Good reviews can send your spirit soaring, and bad reviews can send you plummeting into a pool of doubt and insecurity. You must learn to find balance. Some wise authors I know choose not to read reviews at all. I have to admit that I can't seem to resist the lure. I check my reviews on Amazon every day and eagerly await news from my publisher about trade reviews. Publisher's Weekly tends to give me great write-ups, yet the ones from Romantic Times are usually a bit lackluster. The inconsistency can be frustrating, but I constantly remind myself that reviews are subjective. That fact became very evident when my publisher decided to offer my debut novel as a free e-book download last month. I was pleasantly surprised by all the new 4 and 5 star reviews, but then there were the 1 star reviews that came with them. Ick.

• Not everyone will love your book, so gird your loins in advance.

• Enjoy the pleasure of positive reviews, but don't let them puff you up with pride. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. ~Proverbs 11:2

• Learn what you can from a harsh review. Look for ways to improve your craft for future projects. However, don't dwell on the sour words. They will destroy your confidence and steal your passion. Glean what you can, then walk away.

This publishing journey can be a long and arduous one, but it is rich with rewards as well.

For those of you who are still seeking publication—what makes you the most nervous about making the transition to published author?

And for you published authors—what other advice would you share with upcoming writers regarding what to expect after the contract is signed?

Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered for a chance to win a copy of my latest release, To Win Her Heart.

Having completed his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father’s knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past. But small towns leave little room for secrets. . . .

Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she steels herself against the attraction he provokes. His halting speech and hesitant manner leave her doubting his intelligence. Yet as the mysteries of the town’s new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.

Levi’s renewed commitment to his faith leads Eden to believe she’s finally found a man of honor and integrity, a man worthy of her love. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian’s affections?

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for this book! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Whither Goest the Christian Cozy? by guest blogger Ron Benrey

Ron Benrey co-authored with his wife Janet, nine Christian cozy mysteries. He also writes nonfiction books; his latest is “Know Your Rights, a Survival Guide for Non-Lawyers.” Visit Ron's website and check out the Benreys’ blog.

Whither Goest the Christian Cozy?

A few years ago, the director of a major Christian writers’ conference asked Janet and me to develop a four-session workshop on writing cozy mysteries. Participants wanted the course, we were told, because several major Christian publishing houses had announced they were shopping for cozies.

We were a tad bewildered by the sudden interest in cozies. Neither of our two cozy series — “The Pippa Hunnechurch Mysteries” and “The Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries” — had achieved stellar sales in Christian bookstores. In fact, we’d begun to doubt there was a significant market for Christian cozies.

Nonetheless, we developed the how-to-write cozy course and also took advantage of the new publishing opportunity: we sold “Glory Be,” the first of our “Glory Mysteries.”

Fast forward to this year, when I participated in several discussions about why Christian mysteries in general — and Christian cozies in particular — don’t do well in the fiction marketplace.

That the Christian cozy is dead seems to be conventional wisdom these days. The chief evidence is that:

1. Christian publishers terminated those dedicated cozy mystery lines.

2. It’s exceedingly difficult to get agents and editors to read cozy mysteries these days.

Happily … the report of the Christian cozy’s demise is an exaggeration. Our novels about the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum and Pippa Hunnechurch are selling quite nicely as eBooks, thank you very much. So are several other Christian cozies we use as “benchmarks” to gauge the marketplace.

What’s going on?

For starters, there’s no doubt that the market for cozies does fluctuate. Some publishing gurus say that the shifting demand for cozy mysteries is a barometer of societal angst. Before you laugh, consider their argument: Cozies apparently do well in the aftermath of wars, during economic upheavals, and in times of widespread uncertainty. That’s when readers seek out novels that show good triumphing over evil, honor traditional values, and have tidy endings in which the world is put right again.

If this nifty theory is true, 2011 is ripe for a cozy renaissance. Maybe that’s why our own cozies are attracting readers these days.

Or maybe—I think this is the more likely explanation—the answer lies in the new, improved Internet based book-selling infrastructure. It’s become lots easier for readers to find Christian cozies, because some online booksellers have resolved the cozy-mystery “shelving dilemma.”

For a perfect example of this, visit Navigate to the “Browse for Fiction” and you won’t find a “Mystery” or “Cozy Mystery” category. You will see a hefty “Suspense & Intrigue” catergory … and an even bigger “Romance” category. And you’ll discover cozy mystery novels in both.

The typical cozy mystery is somewhat suspenseful, but it’s hardly a thriller. Similarly, the typical cozy has romantic elements, but it’s not a true romance. A reader looking for a Christian cozy isn’t likely to browse among the suspensers or the romance novels. When our books were first available in bookstores, they were often in all the wrong places.

Search engines change the game, because readers can type in “Christian Cozy Mystery” — and immediately find a bunch. That happens at Amazon — and at CBD — but curiously, not at Nook.

For search engines to work, of course, someone has to actually look for Christian cozies.

Other publishing gurus argue that Christian cozy mysteries have lackluster sales because the novels were written for an audience that doesn’t exist. Secular cozies, this idea goes, are “clean and gentle reads” that are acceptable to many Christian readers, even if they include a few Christian publishing don’ts.” (Drinking, a modest cuss word or two, even the occasional discrete sex scene, to name a few.) Since vast numbers of secular cozies have been published, why would a reader bother seeking out a Christian cozy?

No reason at all—unless the reader wants a genuine cozy mystery that also contains a Christian message. I believe that readers buy genuine Christian cozies for the same reason they purchase Christian historicals, romances, time travel stories, and westerns. They enjoy reading Christian genre fiction.

I hope you noticed that I used “genuine” two times in the previous paragraph.

I believe that the real reason that Christian cozies have a checkered sales history is that most so-called Christian cozies ... weren’t.

A gentle Christian mystery with a pun-ish title, a clever cat, and a lighthearted cover illustration is not necessarily a cozy. Neither is a cheerful Christian romance with some satiric dialog and a murder or two. Cozy fans know the difference.

A genuine cozy mystery offers:

Clever plot twists that create an intriguing puzzle for readers.

An exotic setting that becomes a “character” in its own right. For example: an English village, an elegant manor house, an ccean liner in mid-Atlantic, a private island, a yarn shop, unusual college, or—in one of our series—a tea museum.

A memorable amateur sleuth with attitude. Much of the fun of a cozy is watching a quirky, but likeable amateur outthink the proper authorities.

An unusual “MacGuffin”—the thing the characters care about. In many mysteries, the MacGuffin is money; in a thriller, it’s often some sort of document (like the “letters of transit” in “Casablanca.”). Cozy MacGuffins often involve arcane pursuits, such as bell-ringing, trout fishing, odd crafts, executive recruiting, even curating a tea museum.

A friendly murderer who is invariably an upstanding citizen—the sort of person you’d be delighted to invite to dinner at your home. He or she is driven by straightforward motives—greed, jealously, revenge, or self-protection—and typically commits bloodless murders. Psychopaths or serial killers need not apply.

Idealized stakes rather than realistic dangers. The protagonist must resolve a matter of life and death—but nothing in a cozy is all that serious.

Cozies encourage page-turning, but at a less frenetic pace than a thriller. A reader can set down a cozy and pick it up the next evening.

Christian cozies add a Christian message that must be carefully constructed so that it doesn’t overpower the novel’s coziness. A non-preachy Christian message makes the pendulum swing both ways: While it’s undoubtedly true that many Christian-fiction readers like secular cozies, many secular readers enjoy Christian cozies.

If I may be forgiven a possibly prideful observation, it more difficult to write a Christian cozy than many writers (or editors) imagine.

They read like simple novels, but are surprisingly complex to build. Our full-length Christian cozies have five plots:

1. Main plot—which should never be the plot about identifying the murderer. This plot “drags” the sleuth into the mystery and keeps him/her/them engaged, unable to go home and leave matters to the local cops.

2. Murder plot—which includes the backstory of the crime that led to the murder.

3. Romance plot—which must not overwhelm the main plot. (Too many romantic mysteries were mislabeled “cozies” in recent years.)

4. Christian plot. It delivers the novel’s Christian message.

5. The “Other Plot”—which is usually humorous. (Ours have ranged from a story about unusual pets, to the challenge of a too-small house, to the search for an associate pastor.)

We began writing cozy mysteries because we love to read them. And we don’t plan to stop. We’re currently working on a pair of new Christian cozies that will expand two of our series.

So whither goest the Christian cozy? These days, into lots of Kindles and Nooks — and quite a few bookshelves. We say, Long Live the Christian Cozy Mystery!

Dead as a Scone

Murder is afoot is the sedate English city of Royal Tunbridge Wells … and the crime may be brewing in a tea pot!

Nigel Owen is having a rotten year. Downsized from a cushy management job at an insurance company in London, he is forced to accept a temporary post as managing director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. Alas, he regrets living in a small city in Kent, he prefers drinking coffee (with a vengeance), and he roundly dislikes Flick Adams, PhD, an American scientist recently named the museum’s curator.

But then, the wildly unexpected happens. Dame Elspeth Hawker, the museum’s chief benefactor, keels over a board meeting—the apparent victim of a fatal heart attack. With the Dame’s demise, the museum’s world-famous collection is up for grabs, her cats, dog, and parrot are living at with Flick and Nigel—and the two prima donnas find themselves facing professional ruin.

But Flick—who knows a thing or two about forensic science—is convinced that Dame Elspeth did not die a natural death. As Flick and Nigel follow the clues—including a cryptic Biblical citation—they discover that a crime perpetrated more than a century ago sowed the seeds for a contemporary murder.

From the Archives _ Interview with Michael Snyder

Click on Mike's picture to visit his blog.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

My first novel (My Name Is Russell Fink, Zondervan) is set to release in February of 2008. Russell is a guy who’s a little lost. He somehow gets it in his head that he gave his twin sister cancer when they were nine and he never really recovers from it.

He’s an artist trapped in the body of a copier salesman, his fiancĂ© won’t accept their breakup, and he deludes himself into thinking Sonny (his aging basset hound) is clairvoyant when tipsy.
After a not-so-routine mole-removal surgery, Russell finds Sonny dead on the kitchen floor. While searching for Sonny’s killer, our hero ends up discovering all the stuff he really needs, most notably a rather peculiar love interest named Geri. I could go on, but I’d rather you just read the book!

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head?

About five years ago I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing. My lovely wife said I should. I think we were in the van at the time. I wrote a few stories and devoured dozens of books on writing. I attended the FL Christian Writer’s Conference where at least two very cool things happened—Gayle Roper and Steve Laube (an editor at the time) said some nice things about my writing.

I completed a really super lame suspense novel. Or it might have been romantic suspense. Now I refer to it as ‘practice.’ My first agent shopped it all over and it was rejected by everyone. Some rejected it twice!

I quit writing for ‘the market’ and started writing to amuse myself. That’s when the light went on, so to speak. I attended the ACFW Conference in Nashville because that’s where I live. Since my story was so goofy and didn’t fit into any fixed categories, my brilliant strategy was just to hang out for a few days and make nice with people.

Then I realized how stupid it was to spend all that time rubbing elbows with basically the entire industry and not even try! So I dreamed up my pitch (and the rest of the story…I only had three chapters) on the way home that night. The next day I set about bothering all the nice editor and agent people with my oddball ‘pitch’. Gayle was there and said a few more nice things. Steve Laube (now an agent, my agent in fact) asked me to send him my stuff…but only after interrupting my pitch over dinner and basically making fun of me!

Let’s see…I kept writing the story, met more nice people at Mount Hermon, then started collecting more rejections. My strategy for my second ACFW Conference was worse than the first (we had an offer already), but I made a rather unorthodox pitch to Andy Meisenheimer at Zondervan anyhow.

I “got the call” on my oldest son’s birthday. We were all back in the van. I don’t remember much running through my head other than just being grateful…and maybe waiting on my agent to say, “Just kidding.”

Andy and Becky (and everyone else at Zondervan) have been amazing to work with.

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.

Daily. (That was to make up for that long-winded answer above!)

The only way I know to overcome the frustration and doubt is to just keep reading really great books and keep trying to write my own. Eventually I find the groove again and stop worrying so much about the results.

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’m sure I made a ton of mistakes. Thankfully I have a finely honed sense of oblivion.
I can say without any hesitation that two of my ‘mistakes’ paid off big time.

1) I began writing what I wanted to write without regard for categories and genres and stuff…even went so far as to tell CBA editors I was writing ‘Neurotica.’

2) My ‘loose’ attitude when pitching helped as well. I get as nervous as the next guy. But I was able to trick myself into thinking that it was an exercise in futility, that I had no viable chance at getting a deal cuz I was selling apples when they were only in the market for oranges.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Best? Write what you love and make no apologies for it, no matter what it is. I also think writing every day (within reason) is a great idea. Oh…and read, read, read…

Worst? Anything that starts with the word “Don’t.” You have to pick your battles, of course. But if you have an idea you love and can’t stop thinking about, sit down and write it. Then pitch it and see what happens.

Your passion can sustain your story through writer’s block and rejections and all that. And you might be surprised—a unique twist on a recognized genre is okay, but passion is contagious. Publishers all agree that they are looking for ‘fresh’ manuscripts and voices. In my humble opinion, fresh equals enthusiasm and passion. If you think about it, craft is what it is. Everyone has equal access to it. It can be learned, maybe even faked. But your unique story, fueled by your own brand of zeal is yours alone.

(Sorry…didn’t mean to get all Dr. Phil on you…)

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

My ‘source’ for ideas is just life. Just walking around and observing things. Eventually some outside stimuli dips its ladel into my own vat of neuroses and scoops out an idea.

My current novel grew out of two distinct ideas that occurred to me many months apart:

1) A character musing, “Dead people really annoy me,” and

2) What if a guy wanted to give his salvation back? As far as I can tell, neither of those original thoughts play a very prominent role in the story any more. But they did provide the initial fodder to get my behind in the chair.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

Yes, but thankfully it was thwarted before it got really bad. My first novel was a suspense story that involved drugs and bad guys and such. After attending a local writer’s conference I learned where to get my hands on some black market books. So for the sake of authenticity I ordered a few off the internet. I decided to use my down time on a business trip doing research, so I crammed all these new goodies into my briefcase and headed off to the airport. Only then did it dawn on me that it was probably not a great idea to board a post-9/11 flight with…The Pleasures of Cocaine, How to Disappear and Never be Found Again, and/or The James Bond Handbook (which includes, among other things, recipes for making bombs).

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share? Or have you ever been at the point where considered quitting writing altogether?

Not really, but not because it’s all been easy or because things have turned out just like I planned them. I’ve had a ton of rejections, but I never really lost sleep over them. My expectations have always been reasonable. Statistically speaking, I knew a publishing deal would never happen. That took some of the pressure off.

There’s an interesting balance I’ve always tried to maintain—the dual (and equally sincere) beliefs that I would a) eventually get a publishing deal, and that b) there’s was no way I was ever going to get a publishing deal. That contradiction really can keep you humble and determined to do the work.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Straight Man by Richard Russo
Douglas Coupland books…Hey Nostradamus, Life After God, and Eleanor Rigby
About A Boy by Nick Hornby
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
And the short stories of Lorrie Moore, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Erika Krouse, Graham Greene, and Brad Barkley.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I’m very fickle about my own writing. I’ve been known to love and hate the same passages within the same twenty-four hour period. However, one of my biggest deficiencies is also one of my greatest assets—my horrible memory. There have been countless times I’ve read my own work with ‘fresh eyes’, almost like I’m experiencing it for the first time, just like a reader. When the writing is good, that can be an exhilarating experience.

I think I still like Russell Fink pretty well but I haven’t read it in a while. And I did have the very good fortune of having Relief Journal publish a story of mine. It’s called All Healed Up and I’m still pretty fond of that one too.

Dean Koontz recently shared his take on the concept on “the writer’s sacred duty.” What comes to your mind at the mention of “the writer’s sacred duty?”

Telling the truth in our writing. It doesn’t have to be universal truth, or even actual truth. But it must be the absolute truth of the point-of-view character. I think some folks in the CBA worry that that will somehow tarnish their reputation or testimony if they cede the literary bullhorn to an irresponsible or seedy POV character. But I think we need to have the courage to stand back and let the characters speak their truth, while having the faith to realize that our (the author’s) world view will still permeate the work. This is especially true in a first draft, where you can write with abandon and know that no one will ever really see it. Then if you’re so inclined, you can tweak those same truths into something ‘less offensive’ on subsequent drafts.

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

Yeah, I guess. It’s all those darn rules and the fretting over markets and genres and stuff. I would love to walk around writer’s conferences with a magic wand. And every time I see someone in a tizzy over ‘showing vs. telling’ or making a frowny face while deliberating about whether to crack the market with this genre first or that one, I would tap them on the forehead and try to zap all the joy back into their writing life.

I wrote one novel (and a few short stories) with an eye toward the market. And just like learning all those rules, it was an invaluable experience. But...really big BUT…the real joy comes from writing exactly what you love because you love it. Creativity is a gift from God. And I just can’t imagine Him bestowing it on us to frustrate us or make us miserable. Genre distinctions are great. Rules are great. But they need to know their place in the process—either the basement, the attic, or chained to a post in the back yard.

To put it another way…you’d never catch Miles Davis in the middle of a solo, wondering, Gee, I hope this sounds jazz enough…or Michael Jordan on his way to the rim thinking, Okay, I know I’m only allowed a step-and-a-half between dribbles and I’m afraid I just took two! And the reason we all recognize their names is because they broke with convention.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Hokey as it may sound, I just want to keep writing and hope that a few people like it. (It wouldn’t break my heart if those few people told me they liked it at some point either.)

As far as concrete goals that I could (but probably won’t) put on paper? I have a decent idea for a children’s book. I’d love to see one of my novels be made into a (really good!) movie. But mostly to just keep on writing and enjoying the process.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I just love it when it works. That means different things on different days, of course. But I just love it when I’m surprised or when something funny comes spilling out or some deeper truth blindsides me and makes me stop and stare at the ceiling. I love the wonder of it all. I even love how hard it is sometimes. That just makes the payoff that much sweeter.

I really thought I would like ‘being a writer’ more. But even that gets awkward. I so don’t want to be that guy that’s always talking about my work in social settings, you know?

The least favorite? I don’t like it when I feel frustrated or pressed. But when that happens, it’s usually my fault anyway for having written myself into a corner.

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

Treat it like a short story instead. Or two or three loosely connected short stories.
This allows me to deal with a particular issue or two, and seems less daunting than staring down 300 pages. Besides, if it’s not working, it’s much easier to quit or change directions if you’re ontly committed to 20 pages.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Definitley seat of the pants. That said, my esteemed (and oh so cool) editor did impress upon me just how helpful a good synopsis can be. To borrow the jazz metaphor again, it’s nice to have a chord chart of the basic arrangement. But the writing itself is improvised. And if the band is really cooking, we just ignore the chart for a while. Someone will eventually cue the ending.

But then my metaphor gets mixed…cuz eventually it all needs to go to the film editing booth. So maybe I write like a documentary movie of a guy playing a jazz standard?

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?

Most of my problems stem from my acute inability to see the big picture. I’m incapable of seeing the forest. In fact, I pretty much get lost in the forest every day. But I do see the trees. And on a good day, I can see the leaves and the bark and the roots poking up out of the ground. So when theings get saggy, soggy, or soupy, it’s usually because I’m myopic or I’m lost or some of both.

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

Someone once said my writing made him laugh and cry on the same page. That was really nice.

This was fun too…apparently one of my editor’s faithful readers wrote him back after only a few chapters of Russell Fink and (paraphrasing here) said she pretty much hated the guy (Russell, not the editor) and that the only reason she was finishing the novel was as a personal favor to him (the editor, not Russell). Turns out, she ended up ‘falling in like’ with Russell (not the editor) by the end.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I need to figure that part out.

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

Thank you!
…to the nice folks at Novel Journey that invited me to come out and play. To anyone out there willing to invest the time to read something I wrote, including my ramblings here today.

And to anyone out there on his/her own novel journey, remember to read a lot, write a lot, pray a lot, and don’t forget to live your actual life.

(Here's Michael's newest release 2011)