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Saturday, December 31, 2011

This is the Ghost of Your New Year Resolution's Past

This year has been a good one for me. I celebrated my third Christmas with my husband and on the home front am the happiest I've ever been. I have (now) 5 wonderful children/step-children, 2 dogs, a fish, and just recently added 2 birds. I saw my first novel, Crossing Oceans, go on to hit multiple bestseller's lists as well as win a Carol Award, and a RWA's Inspirational Reader's Choice, and final in ECPA's Gold Medallion Award and Christian Retail's Retailer's Choice Award.

I also released my sophomore novel, Dry as Rain, somehow surviving the toughest editorial challenges (I hope) of my career. Sophomore novel behind me, I went on to write book 3. It was the easiest one so far to write and I'm hoping it might be my best so far.

I turn it in tonight before the clock hits midnight.

I, along with the team, completely revamped Novel Journey, turning us into Novel Rocket and launched a new faith-based website

I also became a full time writer, giving up my night job as a hospital floor nurse. This luxury might not last forever, but it's a blessing today!

It was a very full year. In fact, I didn't realize just how full until I sat down to write this post. Wow. No wonder I'm so tired!

Not all my goals or resolutions were met though. I thought I'd go back through years past and see what some of my old ones were... and yours.

Every year I resolve to lose those last ten pounds, which are now twenty, and get in shape. Guess I'll be adding that to the pile of goals again this year.

I thought it might be fun to go back old New Year's posts and dig up some of your old resolutions, and since we apparently haven't done this in years, I had to go waaay back, years back,  to remind you of how far you've come or goals you may have forgotten.  Here's a few:

2008 Kimberley Payne said...

"Get to know Him that's a resolution that I plan to keep!"

2008 Our own Marcia Laycock resolved to: throw off the guilt, replacing it with a healthier mentality and to write that novel and that article.

2009 Jessica Dotta resolved to change her definition of success. To become a better writer, one less focused on book sales and more about writing to the best of her abilities.

2007 Janet Rubin admitted that having a book published was a dream of hers and that reading more books was a resolution.

2008 Kaye Dacus: In 2006, my goal was to sign on with one of the top agents--and at the end of the year (well, first week of Jan. '07, actually), I signed with Chip MacGregor.

In 2007, my goal was to have a publishing contract by the end of the year. I received my contract from Barbour for my first novel on December 7, 2007.

So, In 2008, I've set career/networking goals such as creating and implementing a marketing plan for my book release, judging in the ACFW Genesis contest, applying to teach at the ACFW conference as well as the grad school program of which I'm an alumna. But I've also set writing goals such as completing the revisions on my sold ms early, finishing the sequel and submitting it by a certain (early) date, as well as getting my historical trilogy sold by the end of the year. 

2008 Ane Mulligan: 
My goal is to finish the draft of this manuscript by the end of Jan and have it to my agent a month later. 

2008 Jennifer Griffith:

Health Goal--to regain the fitness that I lost due to a knee injury/surgery and take it to a higher level

Writing Goal--to focus on revisions of my completed manuscript and complete the "story" part of another manuscript

Spiritually--to allow God to fill in my gaps and to trust Him more.

2008 kc said... I still have a few outstanding projects: updating my business cards, setting up a website, and finding an agent. 
I hate goals and I hate resolutions. But I have made an agreement with myself to complete a rough draft of my first novel by the time I turn 40, which is in September. So I have roughly 8 months. I have made a daily word count goal, which I'm already behind on! However, I'm determined. God help me, it shall be done.

2008 Kelly Klepfer said, "I'm going to finish a proposal I keep kicking around and sub it before February 15th." 
2008 Wayne Scott's goal was a simple, "to start writing again"

So, folks, don't be bashful, tell us how you're doing and share your goals and resolutions so we can haunt you with them in years to come. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Novel Rocket Now on Kindle!

You can now get Novel Rocket delivered daily to your Kindle as a free 14 day trial, so you can read us anywhere your Kindle travels!

Chef Author ~ Christy Morgan ~

The Blissful Chef ® is the creation of Christy Morgan. I am a vegan macrobiotic chef and cooking instructor. My business includes things like healthy cooking classes, lectures, private instruction in people's homes, consulting and corporate team building. My first cookbook Blissful Bites came out in September and I'm so excited to share it with you!

Christy contributes wellness tips and healthy recipes for various websites like One Green Planet, Elephant Journal, Happy Cow, Christina Cooks, and

Tell us a little bit about your journey from the beginning of your blogging career to holding your cookbook in your hands...

I was teaching cooking classes and doing personal chef services for about five years in Los Angeles. Blogging had become really popular at that time and I felt like I had something to share. So I gave it a shot. Around the same time I got on Twitter and started connecting with others across the globe. I'm a big fan of many cookbook authors. Having a cookbook felt like a natural extension of my blog and gave me an opportunity to connect with even more people on a deeper level.

Was your path to publication of your cookbook serendipitous or calculated? Give us some of the highlights or sweet moves you made.
Getting a cookbook published was calculated for me and the whole process was a lot of work. I spent many months working on the proposal, which is needed to send to potential publishers. After sending it out and not getting a book deal I went back to the drawing board to make my proposal more polished. Turns out I really had two books on my hands and had to split them up. Also I needed to make it more marketable. After many more months of work I had a great proposal that I started sending to literary agents. I found one I connected with and had a book deal within a month. Then the publishing process took another year to have the book in my hands. It was a long, hard road but one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

What writing experience do you have? What is your food background? Did you ever dream of being published?

My writing experience was very little before I started blogging, but I've been an avid reader since I was a child. I knew the kind of writing that I loved although I wasn't very confident that I could produce that kind of writing. I'm still self-conscious of my writing and have a long way to go! Regular blogging helped me gain more experience. When I first started I joined a month long world wide group blogging event called Vegan Month of Food. The goal is to write at least 5 times per week about all things food. This seemed like the perfect thing for a vegan chef to do. It was a wonderful experience.

I worked with a writing coach while I was working on my book proposal. That was crucial to my growth as a writer. She helped me polish my book proposal, which included sample chapters of the book. Blissful Bites is not just a cookbook with recipes. It is full of information and is meant to be read almost like a novel, front to back one time before you start cooking from it. Once I started working on this book I knew it would be published. I created a few ebooks before BB to test the waters and those were well received.

Share some of the most difficult aspects of crafting a cookbook? Did any of those surprise you?

Writing a cookbook is a lot of fun! Creating in the kitchen and feeding others is one of my favorite things to do. I had been teaching classes for years and had an extensive recipe collection already started. So the recipe writing was the easy part.

The editing process was the most challenging thing. Cooking is like a science and things have to be fairly exact. Only a chef can edit recipes and be on the look out for things that don't seem right within a recipe. I had many people editing the book for grammatical errors, but I had to do the hard editing. I will have another chef help edit my next cookbook because when you are looking at the same content over and over again for months on end things will likely be missed. Thankfully there aren't too many errors in BB! Lets just say the next one will be a lot easier to write and edit. I've learned so much from this experience.

What have you had the most fun with since embarking on this journey?

The most fun for me is connecting with people and being able to help them on their journey to healthier, happier lives. It warms my heart to know that my blog, cooking videos, cooking classes, and cookbook have played a part in transforming peoples' health. And eating all the delicious test recipes is always fun.

What advice would you give the blog/book naive Chef Christy if you were coaching her on her cookbook or blog adventure?

Be prepared to be married to your work and don't expect to make lots of money. Being a blogger and author rarely can financial support you so you must have another way to make money. Always have fun and don't lose your sense of wonder and desire to help others.

If someone is thinking about writing a cookbook what are the three things they better know before they start?

You must have an established audience and a good target market to get a book deal and sell books. I started blogging as a way to build up my audience. Social media is crucial for all authors to build your fan base.

Never take shortcuts, be accurate in your recipe writing, and have others test test test your recipes. If you are blogging these recipes tell a story and always post photos of the recipe. People want to see the finished product.

Obviously you need a unique idea or angle. The cookbook market is very saturated and it's becoming harder and harder to get a book deal. Be open to self-publishing your first book to get it out there.

What are the three marketing ideas that you are glad you pursued?

Creating a brand that is catchy and lasting, but is a true expression of myself.

Getting really good at social media and take time every day to connect to my audience. Follow people on Twitter that you admire and see how they are successful in connecting with their audience.

Doing a book tour where I could meet people face to face. Book tours have become sort of obsolete but I love connecting with people in real life, doing cooking demos and talks and sharing samples from Blissful Bites. Once people try the food they usually get the book. :)

What marketing ideas ended up being a waste of time or resources?

I don't feel like print advertising is worth the cost. After trying it once I never did it again. With the Internet there is not as much need to spend money on advertising. In the six years I've been in business I've spent very little money in this area. You can do things like write articles for other websites, be a guest blogger, make cooking videos, do lectures and cooking demos, and use social media for marketing yourself. All these things are free but do take time out of your day. But I love this kind of stuff!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to have written many more cookbooks and continue to write for many other publications. Teaching is my passion so I will be teaching across the globe. I want to start doing cooking classes for low-income families and dispel the myth that a vegan diet is one of privilege. I want to continue touring, meeting people in person and showing them how easy and delicious a plant-based diet is on many levels.

In the spirit of the new year and all those resolutions we tend to make, Christy is sharing a recipe with Novel Rocket readers.

Makes 1 dozen

I seriously could eat cornbread every day. I love it that much. This is a breakfast cornbread muffin that is to die for when topped with Earth Balance and served with a cup of Earl Grey tea. These are wheat-free, but not gluten-free.

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup barley flour (or other whole-grain flour)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Dash cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup unsweetened rice, almond, or soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 can (14 ounces) crushed pineapple in its own juice (or pineapple chunks)
Oil spray, for pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray muffin tin with oil or line with cupcake liners. Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, then fold in pineapple. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Spoon into muffin tin until almost full. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let sit for 5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

3 Secrets to Getting Published

You’ve heard it before, there are no overnight successes. Well, there are a couple I know of, but thankfully we’ve remained friends to this day. For the rest of us publication takes three things. Sweat, tears, and perseverance.

Sweat. It’s what got me from being an unpublished novice writer to a published author. We all start out green, thinking our prose are brilliant until our first critique. Then the scales fall from our eyes, and we see that we have a lot of learning to do. That’s when we roll up our sleeves and learn new terms like head hopping, info dumps, and backstory. All the things our WIP is filled with that we’re not supposed to do. But we’re excited, ready to learn, not afraid of the work before us. We buy a couple of craft books and start to learn the rules.

Rules? Yes, writers need to follow them if they want to be published. It’s the published writers, and those darn overnight successes, that get to break them! ;) Once we start to learn the rules it’s then the real writers are separated from the fantasy writers (and I’m not talking genre.) It’s then we start to sweat. It’s then a writer needs to ask the question, “Am I willing to put in the hard work it’s going to take to become a published author?” It’s a question I had to ask myself for the last seven years after every disappointment and rejection.

Tears. If you want to be a published writer, there will be many. Writers have heard over and over again that writing is not for the faint of heart, that you have to have thick skin, and when you’re knocked down over and over again (and you will be,) you have to get up again and again. And it’s true. I’ve been knocked down so many times I swore I’d never get up. But I always did because I’m that stubborn and determined to keep at it until I succeed. I’ve learned a couple of tricks to deal with the tears and disappointments. You might want to figure out what works for you and keep them handy for when the time comes!

Perseverance. This is what separates the writers from the wannabes. You’ve also heard that if it was easy everyone would be doing it. There are many who start on this writing journey only to fizzle out and quit too soon. What keeps me going is not knowing what God has planned and the fear of missing out because I gave up too soon. It’s not easy to persevere through sweat and tears, but when I keep my mind on the goal and my heart attuned to my calling, then quitting isn’t an option.

Writing isn’t easy, but it is attainable if you remember the three keys to getting published. You need to work hard, handle disappoints, and pick yourself up and start typing again. If there’s any other way to succeed in this crazy business, I’d sure like to know!

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. "the other Gina," is a new monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. She's the founder of Writer...Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, releases from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. So she knows a thing or two about getting published. Now she's searching for the secret to landing a three book contract!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bleeding on the Page by Ginny Yttrup

Ginny L. Yttrup is the author of Words and Lost and Found (releases February 15, 2012). She is also a mother, pet lover, friend, life coach, and child of God.

Bleeding on the Page

“You don’t need your brain to write, Ginny.”

I laughed. Yeah, right. What does he know? He’s a life coach, not a writer. But he didn’t laugh with me.

Then a sense of knowing came over me—one of those moments when you know the words spoken didn’t come from the speaker, but from the Spirit through the speaker. I stopped laughing and listened.

“Write from your gut. Write what you know. Write out of control.”

I recalled words he’d spoken the week before. “Don’t edit your life as you write.”

I felt my heart clench like a fist and tears came to my eyes. I’d simply stated that I was struggling with brain fog following three surgeries in six weeks. I was concerned about the impending deadline for my third novel. I didn’t need a challenge, just a bit of sympathy.

Yet again, in that mystical way of the Spirit of God, I knew the words were not his own. Still, I argued with him. I thought back to my last novel, the one pending release. Scenes I’d written flashed through my mind, and with them came the agony I’d felt as I’d written. The names and places had been changed, but otherwise, they were scenes from my own life—scenes dug from the depths of my emotional pool. Just like the first novel, the second bore my tears and blood on the pages. “That is how I write.”

“There’s more. There’s more of you. Give it all.”

I curled into myself on my bed as I listened to him through the phone. You’re asking too much of me. The thought wasn’t directed at my coach, but at God.

Since that conversation, a familiar writing quote has nagged: It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. The quote is attributed to Paul Gallico—but there are similar quotes attributed to other writers through the centuries.

That, I believe, is what’s asked of us—writers who also happen to be Christians—believers in Jesus Christ. We’re asked to sacrifice as He did out of a heart of love for those we serve: our readers.

That’s an opinion—mine.  It’s not a Biblical mandate for writers.

But loving others is a mandate, and in my experience, I only love well when I’m honest. Transparent. Vulnerable. I love completely when I open a vein and bleed for another. When I’m willing to lay down my life for my brother or sister.

It requires the humility of exposure.

The risk of disclosure.

The pain of judgment.

Ironic. I chose to write fiction so I could hide behind a story. Novelist’s clad in pajamas sit behind computer screens, sip coffee, and craft stories. We don’t tell the truth. We tell a story.


And no.

That is the dichotomy of the storyteller. The circumstances are created, but the emotions are our own. And in that way, we are challenged to tell the truth.

To love.

And to lay down our lives for others.

Lost and Found

It appears Jenna Bouvier is losing everything: beauty, family, and wealth. When her controlling and emotionally abusive mother-in-law accuses Jenna of an affair with her spiritual director and threatens to expose them, Jenna also risks losing her reputation as a woman of faith. Will she capitulate to her mother-in-law’s wishes again or fight for what she holds dear? As Jenna loses her life, will she find it?

Andee Bell has found exactly what she wanted: fame, fortune, and respect. There’s also a special man in her life—Jenna’s brother. Despite her success, a secret quells Andee’s contentment. As memories torment, will she find peace in a relationship with God, or will she sabotage herself while also taking down the only person she cares about? As Andee finds her life, will she lose it?

Moving between San Francisco and the Napa Valley, Jenna and Andee form an unlikely relationship that leads them to a crossroad. They can follow familiar inclinations, or risk it all and walk in faith.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Confessions of a Book Reviewer . . . Revisited on the Other Side of Publication

Gina Holmes is the President and founder of Inspire a Fire and Novel Rocket and award-winning author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain. In 1998, Gina began her career penning articles and short stories. Ten years, and a stack of rejection letters later, she held her first published novel. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her husband and children in southern Virginia. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit

A few years ago, (8/25/09), before I was published, I wrote this controversial piece from the perspective of a book reviewer. Here's the piece again, with my take on it today, as an author being reviewed. Am I eating crow? Maybe a little.

I have a confession--sometimes I agree to review books and never do. Sometimes I agree to review books and leave out two dozen things I didn't like, to focus on the half dozen things I did. Sometimes I'll choose one flaw out of ten to include in my review out of fear that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will hurt an author's sales, shatter their ego, and leave them with a terminal case of writer's block.

In the past, I've read books that I thought were good, but had a few flaws, and I, trying to be fair and honest, said so. What did this earn me? Heckling from the author. Persistent whining until I finally took the review down and ultimately gave up reviewing all together.

I could write a hundred positive things in a review, but then mentioned it could have used a little more breathing room between action scenes, or the characters seemed to lack emotion in some places, or whatever, and guess what the author would cling to? Being an author myself, I understand that. I do.

What I don't understand is the inability to take any sort of criticism and learn from it.

Now that I'm going to be on the other side of the reviewing fence with my upcoming release with Tyndale, Crossing Oceans, I'm sure that I too will be feeling the sting of criticism. I hope that I will be able to see the truth in another's critique of my work. I hope that I will read reviews, even ones that tear me apart and cling to any truth, no matter how painful, and be a better writer for it. Becoming a truly great writer is so much more important that seeming to be.

To those authors who share the: "Any bad review is a result of sour grapes" philosophy, here are a few thoughts to consider:

1. Reviewers do not pick out flaws in a book for spite. We are not jealous of you. If you got a bad review, it is not because of sour grapes. It is because we didn't like your book. Sorry, but it happens.

Now: There are far more spiteful reviewers out there than I have ever dreamed. Of course not all writers of negative reviews are spiteful, but I have come in contact with bad reviewers who actually admitted to jealousy when explaining why their book should have had the success my books (particularly my debut, Crossing Oceans), has. Some reviewers do seem to be mean spirited. I've read reviews of my work that weren't anything but objective and balanced. I took for granted in this piece that reviewers were professional and unbiased. This is no longer true if it ever was. 

2. If we said one or two negative things about your novel, understand that there were probably at least a dozen more that we mercifully left out.

Now: I still agree with this for most reviewers. Most reviewers are kind, some too kind maybe, and will point out negative along with positive. There are many so-called reviewers who will post one line reviews saying something like, "This was the worst piece of vomit in the history of the world. There is no redeeming value in this work." I had no idea this type of "reviewer" existed. As a reviewer myself, if I absolutely hated a book, I passed on reviewing. I understood the subjectiveness of taste and believe nearly all works have some redeeming quality. But then that's how I am as a person. 

3. The kind things were likely overstated, the unpleasant, under.

This is true of most reviewers, particularly the professionals and readers of CBA fiction. It is not true of all reviewers. Many take exactly the opposite approach. 

4. We do not HAVE to find a flaw. There is no book reviewer rule that says we have to. So, if we've found one, it's really there. Really. I know this has been a misconception many authors have.

Again, true of most reviewers but certainly not all. Often a flaw is a subjective dislike of a style or where the story went that the reader didn't like. 

5. We want to see you succeed, write well, hit the NYT best-sellers list. If you actually consider there may be some truth in our reviews and improve, you might just get there.

True of professional reviewers, particularly in the CBA. Not necessarily true of all reviewers. Some, particularly nasty ones seem to hate all things that mention God. This type of "reviewer" often would like very much to see most Christian novels fail for reasons that aren't at all literary. 

6. We're not right all of the time, but we are right most of the time.

This is often true of good reviewers, professional reviewers, unbiased reviewers, of which there are fewer and fewer. Most so-called reviewers now are simply readers who now, with Amazon and other online book stores can write anything they want without thought. I've read many reviews that the writer admits to never having read the book. I have yet to read a professional review, even unflattering ones, that didn't have some truth to them. The trouble is now everyone is a reviewer. Kind of like anyone can put out a sign and call themselves an agent. Doesn't mean they're good. Doesn't mean they know the first thing about books. 

7. We would be harsher (aka more honest) with our reviews thus making you a better writer if we weren't worried you'd attack us.

Ouch. I had a fellow novelist write the harshest review out of all I've received. Calling my book basically poorly written slop with no redeeming merit at all. I was so fascinated by another CBA author tearing up my work so publicly that I wrote her. (Bad idea)  A literary friend went on the defensive for me and well, I'm sure that reviewer considered herself attacked. 

8. Most of us do not get paid to review books. You are not doing us a favor by giving us your free book in exchange for a review. We'd rather throw out fifteen dollars and get a book we know is good than get a free book that probably won't do much for us. We are doing reviews out of the kindness of our heart. Plus, we really are hoping to find a masterpiece and help promote it.

I still agree with the above. Reviewing is very time consuming!

9. We DO realize how subjective reading taste is, therefore quite often we choose to not review a book we've been sent than to write something scathing.

This is true. Often we won't get an endorsement or review not because the reader didn't have time or forgot but because they read it and didn't like it. Many lay reviewers (anyone with a computer) will throw out their opinions without thinking them through or realizing that their is a real live author on the other end of the computer screen. 

However, most unprofessional reviewers do not understand subjectivity at all. 

10. We secretly hope each time we review a book where we point out a flaw that the author will pay attention and never do it again so that next time we can gush and call it brilliant, perfect and amazing. We really, really, really want to read amazing books.

I think most reviewers really do want to read amazing books. I no longer think this is universal. I think some people, and this often goes back to religion attackers, don't want Christian novels to succeed and will find flaws with them no matter what. It used to be that most reviewers were truly book lovers. Now everyone is a potential reviewer. Even those who can't string a sentence together themselves or have no idea what foreshadowing or symbolism is, let alone know how to recognize them. 

So, next time you get a review that gets under your skin, try not to assume the reviewer is jealous of your genius or a frustrated wannabe, or that they HAD to make up some flaw just to keep the respect of the other reviewers. Assume that maybe, just maybe, they made a point that you can learn from and by all means say thank you--even if, especially if, the review isn't one hundred percent positive. Because if it was, they probably didn't read the book you wrote, or they're not being completely honest, or they're you're mother/sister/bff.

What I have learned having hundreds of reviews myself now is that:
A. I cannot both be a literary genius AND a hack. My book is drivel to some, life-changing to others. 

B. The more successful a book, the more apt it is to draw criticism. Most of that isn't sour grapes, but there is a lot more of that than I ever dreamed. 

C. There are people who will give you negative reviews not because of literary merit but because they disagree with your faith, or the choices your character made, which would be different than theirs, or simply because they're having a bad day or hate the genre. 

From professional reviewers, I have picked up a few things to consider  when I'm writing that might make the next book a little better, but that's rare and usually I have to really read between the lines. Mostly I'm reading one subjective opinion after another. 

I've also learned that reviews do seem to directly affect sales. When I find myself getting a string of tough reviews, my sales online do seem to take a dive. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The 10 Best Christian Fiction Book Covers from 2011

You can't tell a book by it's cover, but a good book cover can make a world of difference for writers and readers. Nevertheless, the elements that comprise a "good cover" can be rather nebulous. That's why this list is entirely my own. I am not being paid by anyone to make these selections and promote their book, nor is this representative of the Novel Rocket brain trust. I just happen to dig cover art. I know I missed some great covers; feel free to mention noteworthy ones in the comments.

At one time, it could be said that the Christian fiction market lagged in creative covers. But thankfully, things are changing. Historical / Amish / Prairie Romance-type covers dominate the market and, in my opinion, they tend to look... the same. This isn't to say there isn't good ones, but that after a while they look rather generic. On a bright note, however, indie publishers are making headway with competitive quality covers, notably, Living Ink Books and Marcher Lord Press. Anyway, this is my list and I’m stickin’ to it!

Honorable mentions: The Ale Boy's Feast, Winter, Vigilante, Kiss of Night, Hero in Hiding, The Baker's Wife, Corus the Champion, Roadside Assistance, The Inheritance of Beauty.

Hurrying Off

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16) 
Would I get everything done in time for Christmas? I stared at my to-do list, feeling as if Christmas had sneaked up on me after a busy Thanksgiving. Would I have the time to bake, entertain, and finish up the Christmas cards and the semester’s schoolwork? The thoughts dampened my joy at Christmas.
Over the next few days, in keeping with my Advent tradition, I read Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. The words “They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16) kept coming back to me. 
I imagined the shepherds, terrified at first, as a blinding light lit up the dark night sky. Then, spellbound, they listened to the exquisite harmony of the angelic chorus, “Glory to God in the highest.” As the last notes faded, I pictured the shepherds staring at each other, eyes wide. The flocks bleated and scattered, as the shepherds, almost falling over themselves, hurried off—to tackle their Christmas to-do lists—to shop, bake, and decorate.
No! They hurried off to see the baby whose birth the angels had announced. In fact, that baby—Jesus—was the sole focus of every participant in that Christmas account. 
As that truth began to permeate my heart in the following days, the chains of being busy with preparations for the season began to snap and fall away. I bowed in prayer. “Lord, thank you for reminding me that all that matters is you. Forgive me for getting sidetracked by Christmas preparations. Help me hurry off to you this season and always.” 
What is your focus during Christmas?
Excerpted from School Is Where the Home Is: 180 Devotions for Parents by Anita Mellott, copyright © 2011 by Anita Mellott. Used by permission of Judson Press,
Author, and homeschooling mom, Anita Mellott has post-graduate degrees in Communications and Journalism. She worked as an editor with Habitat for Humanity International, and headed the Department of Journalism at her alma mater in India. She blogs at From the Mango Tree.

Merry Christmas!

To our Novel Rocket family, we'd like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

For unto us, a child is born!

Luke 2 

The Birth of Jesus 

1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. 

The Shepherds and Angels 

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 

11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 

17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ultraviolet, by RJ Anderson, Reviewed

RJ Anderson just keeps getting better and better. If you have some last-minute shopping to do for a teen-girl-reader today, pick up a copy of Ultraviolet.

Alison wakes up in a hospital confused, missing some memory, and thinking she's crazy. She spends most of the book, trying to figure out how she killed a girl and made the body disappear. She knows she never intended to kill the girl. There's no question that whatever she did, it was an accident, so the reader is rooting for Allison from the beginning, wanting her to find out what happened to the girl.

I loved this book. It's not really my type of book, but RJ Anderson has done it to me again. I didn't like faery books until she sucked me with Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, so I trusted her enough to start Ultraviolet even though a gal in a mental hospital sounds a little depressing to me.

I couldn't help but be intrigued by the back cover copy:

Once upon the time there was a girl who was special.
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her. 

I'm so glad I started the book, because once I started, I couldn't put it down.

Alison is a wonderful main character. She's smart, she's vulnerable, she's honest, she's actively trying to solve her problems. I loved this girl. And her story is gripping because there is a mystery that I was dying to find the answer to. The book is not a mystery, though, even though it contains a mystery. It's not a coming of age, even though the heroine does come of age. It's not a romance, even though there is romance. It's not contemporary, though it starts in the present day. It's not a sci-fi, though it contains futuristic elements.

I don't know what it is exactly.

I mean, at the end I know, but to tell you ahead of time would ruin the story for you. Is it a contemporary about a girl fighting mental illness, or is it a medical thriller, or is it sci-fi? That's all part of the mystery that kept me reading through the book. Allison thinks she killed a girl. Not only that, she thinks she disintegrated the girl. Is she crazy, or did it really happen? How could it happen? Why does she think she did this?

This is one of the smartest, most gripping books I've read in the past several years. It reminds me of When You Reach Me in the melding of genres. And while it entertains with the mystery, it also gives us a fascinating look at synesthesia and a very real look at the inside of a mental institution. I have visited a beloved brother in mental wards often, and Anderson nails this aspect of the book.

This story is probably one that people will love or hate, though. I'm not sure about that, but I can see where the twist at the end would bother some readers. It was actually foreshadowed, but I can see where some people would be thrown off balance by it.

I loved the book. Loved. The. Book. I thought the writing was phenomenal, the characters were compelling, the mystery was gripping, and the ending was wonderful. But I guessed at the ending half way through. I suspected, at least, the direction it was going. There were clues.

So my recommendation is that you buy this one and read it with an open mind. Enjoy the lovely writing and the smart heroine. Here's a sample taken at random:

For the first time in my life, the thought crossed my mind that I might be better off dead. Not that I had any real intention of committing suicide--in fact the thought had barely occurred to me before I shoved it into the dustiest, most cobwebby corner of my mental attic. 

And another one:

I would rather have swallowed a live puffer fish and chased it down with broken glass, but I could hardly say no. 
This girl is smart, and she has a distinctive voice because she has such a unique way of viewing and hearing the world, and because she's been raised to believe she's probably mentally ill. But despite her tough life, she's not mean. She's got the wit of the New York attitude without the mean, sarcastic edge. I loved her--really thought she was wonderful--and I hope we see a sequel where some time has passed and old friends find each other. (Please, Ms. Anderson.)

And if you have a teen girl with a Kindle, you can download it for Christmas without any trouble at all. A great stocking-stuffer, this one.
Sally Apokedak wishes she could write as well as RJ Anderson and plans to read Ultraviolet over again, to study the character in an attempt to see why she was so lovable.  

is represented by Reclaim Management. Her short works have been published in various magazines,including Highlights for Children, she blogs about young adult novels at, and she'd be thrilled if you would go over there and check out a sample of The Button Girl, one of her YA manuscripts.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This is Grace

Today's guest devotion, by Cynthia Ruchti, is from: His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not © 2011 Summerside Press

This is Grace

“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Eph 1:7-8

My first grandchild entered life on a tsunami of pain. A devastating wave of emotional and spiritual concerns accompanied what should have been a joy-filled announcement—“Mom, we’re pregnant.”

The words were couched with shame and embarrassment. My son and his girlfriend weren’t married and faced far more challenges than the fact that she craved fish sticks and FunYums. They both knew they’d made bad decisions. One of those “what were we thinking?” decisions meant that now, rather than ironing out their relationship issues and dealing with a 747-worth of baggage, they—and we—prepared for a baby in the house.

As with most parents of young people in trouble, we were heartbroken over their choice to bypass the divine plan for a husband and wife to bring children into the world in God’s glorious timing. It’s not that we didn’t understand how a thing like that could happen. But my husband and I and everyone else concerned knew that the path my son and his girlfriend chose came laced with difficulties and complications they weren’t prepared to handle, challenges the Lord never intended them to experience.

The young woman was homeless and a legal issue kept them from getting married right away. My son had a home of his own a few miles from ours, but the expectant mom lived at our house. As her belly grew, we tamped our disappointment and chose to love and forgive, taking our cue from the mercy that floods the pages of Scripture. Together we walked through morning sickness and fatigue and community stares and whispers. We traversed a path of embarrassment and concern, and faced challenges that only happened to “other people.” We felt every bit of the baby weight on our own frames and somehow adopted the waves of nausea and the clenching of false labor in our own bodies.

But through it all we counted on the wonder of the Lord’s forgiveness, His redemptive heart, His ability to turn what started out distressing into something of great beauty. It’s what He does. He molds rough clay to make art. He recycles pain to make a place for His joy to land.

As expected, He did just that.

At 4:30 in the morning one day in September, my son came to get us from the waiting room to lead us into the birthing center where a new life had entered the world moments before. Warm and bright-eyed and rose-petal pink, the child was laid into my eager Grammie arms.

“Mom,” my humbled but glowing son said, as if a formal introduction were necessary, “this is Grace.”

I drew that darling baby to my heart, as I imagine the Lord drew me, and answered, “Yes it is. This is grace.”

Today’s Prayer: Father God, how is it that You can make something so incredibly beautiful out of the messes we give you? Yet You do. And we’re grateful. You don’t just forgive, You lavish the riches of Your grace on us.  Thank you for the exceptional and exceptionally well-loved child Grace, and for where-would-we-be-without-it divine grace.

Cynthia Ruchti writes and produces the drama/devotional radio broadcast, The Heartbeat of the Home. She is editor of the ministry's Backyard Friends magazine, the author of a novel and novella recognized with nominations for Reviewers' Choice, Retailers' Choice, and Readers' Choice awards, and speaks for women's groups and writers' events. Visit her website at

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Novelist/Travel Writer ~ Henry Biernacki

Henry Biernacki has traveled to more than 120 countries and continues to travel as a pilot for Virgin American Airlines. A four-sport letterman in high school and a two-sport letterman in college, Biernacki holds a Bachelor of Arts in romance languages and international affairs. He lived in France, Germany, Taiwan, the West Indies and Mexico before settling in his current home in San Jose, California.

You have traveled all over the world. What is the most beautiful spot you have experienced on this planet. Why not wax poetic....give us a good taste of travel writing.

I have discovered this of traveling: no one place is any better and at some point, the more you travel, you are not a guest anymore! When is that? I do not think you know when that is, although you seamlessly stroll into that phase of travel as you do with other impressive portions of life. People around the world have invited me in their homes, making me feel like I am part of the family.

Many places could be anywhere, but this place could be nowhere-nowhere except here! Nepal and the Himalayas do have a way of seizing a human.

(No More Heroes, Chapter XXI, The Voices of Travelers)

It was a strange feeling to be a foreigner again in such an isolated world. Even Siberia was closer to most people’s imagination. Niklas felt closer to himself in such a foreign land. Funny, how so much solitude can make you understand yourself. Traveling cures isolation through intellectual hands-on education.

The air was as still as an animal waiting to catch its prey. Suddenly, there was no cool breeze in the orange sky. Besides the bus-park, the rest of Kathmandu slept as he drifted through the small streets to find Thamel. That was the best place to stay for cheap guesthouses with the best bed bugs he could find. That early in the morning he could feel the streets unwinding like a tired man does as he wakes from his deep sleep. The city’s alleys stretched with rickshaws, fruit and chai that vendors sold at wholesale prices, which would then be sold at market prices later in the day to hungry Nepali and travelers alike. He couldn’t see the bags of spices yet, but he could smell the fennel seeds, cumin powder and the anise seeds. Incense burned and smoke filled the narrow wet unpaved alleys.

A Nepali man walked around a Buddhist Temple. He spun the prayer wheel, then touched the middle of his forehead, then his heart. Iron prayer wheels continued to move all day while black soot rose from the burning candles. Women threw water on the ground and swept the dust outside their small shops. He began to think to himself as he saw a man eating with his right hand. The man scooped a hand full of curry-rice and shoved it in his mouth. Nothing in Nepal reminded him of anything familiar.

A traveler could see life in the morning of a new country when the locals are even sleeping. Everything could be closed and the smallest signs could reach out to grab his attention. The buildings could be seen because people are not cluttered in the streets. All Niklas saw were children sticking their heads out of small windows. One child had dark eyeliner, framing her eyes and one red tika mark on her forehead.

How did experiencing/writing about locations, scenery, and culture trigger the desire to write a novel?

Buried in the past, are the phases that have made us who we are today. Those ever so gentle, subtle influences guide me. When I began traveling, I wanted to see monuments, cities, and countries. I hastily realized people were my reason to be on the road while I constantly reminded myself to stay orientated on learning, not become fixated on one idea. I wanted to bring together the geographical setting with a unique form of writing. It flowed into more and more pages where some distinctive cities were the background of the story, woven between the dialogue of the characters. The result happened to be my first novel, No More Heroes.

How different is writing a novel from your job as a pilot? Are there any commonalities between them that work nicely together?

Those are excellent questions. On the surface writing and flying would appear to be as different as the humanities vs. science on a university campus. They have very similar qualities as well.

While I write, I do not care where I go with story or the outcome. I want it to adjust and evolve. When I fly, I go with a destination. I have to know everything along the route of flight and how to arrive there.

I travel the way I write: I never plan. I modestly go, allowing the path to unfold as I progress, taking in the surrounding experience, and then filling in details later. While traveling, I rarely know what day it is. When I am in the cockpit I rarely do not know how many seconds I am off on the flight plan. I want to be surprised when I travel, but I am paid to foresee things happening while flying and not be surprised.

The applicability through a given experience aids to help one understand the similarities in writing and in the cockpit. You do not need to know a lot of words to write, on the contrary, you may write with simple words and have a far more complex selection of experiences, which words shall describe in a novel. As in flying airplanes around the world: the more experiences you have, the far more safe you are going to be. It is going to help you be a much more safe and well-rounded pilot.

In the end, when you write an article or a novel, you expose yourself with words just as you do with every landing. People remember a merciless, poorly written novel as they can very well recall a dreadful landing. People will judge you harshly with how you write and how you land an aircraft.

Culture vs. scenery, which is quickest to catch your eye and heart?

The true poet sees the background of an experience, a situation if you will within a culture, occurring around him. Scenery is the forefront; it is easy to appreciate, taking photos and leaving to another area to take more photos. The art is obtaining culture, the moments of catching the most crucially subtle details, which gives writing a complete life, all its own. That comes from the people who make up the culture.

By traveling solo, I orient myself around infrequently regarded sights, smells, tastes, and sounds involved with the local daily action. I grasp at a variety of widening experiences: not meant to take away from me, the individual, but moreover, a dramatically important immersion in my own fundamentals, adding towards ultimately understanding another culture.

Many of our readers do research that requires travel. What are some important details for them to keep in mind?

By far, the best outcomes from my travels seem to have simply arrived by doing non-standard notions and rarely researching where I am going. If you are going to be travel writing, an important thought is making sure your shot record (immunization) is up-to-date, and if you need a visa to enter the country? Beyond those two easy-to-find-out-questions, I believe in going to explore, not having a map, not having a clue, and certainly not having an idea what you want to do except create an experience, one which you may be writing about for several others to enjoy when you return.

The more I research something, the more I find out how different the place is when I end up going to a particular spot in the world. Just as each day is different and our lives change, the cities around the world also change. Why would I need to research something when the experience I am going to have is going to be rightly unique?

If your work does require you to travel, spend more time on the flight working on what you need to, so when you land you do not have to be in the office. If you are traveling for research in writing, you could also take the books you need. By being in the location, you are going to understand far more by reading about, it as well as being right there. I believe in the surprise effect, adapting to a new experience, which equips oneself with the skills to learn far more than if the person never extended beyond the already known-safety-normal-existence.

Finally, while you are in a city somewhere in this world, find a unimportant cozy café where you may sit to slowly take in the surroundings. Those cafes have the local people and the ones who slowed down their day to enjoy it. They will sit and talk to you rather than rush off to work.

Give us a "snapshot" of your path from pilot to travel writer to novelist...hit the high or low points of your journey.

After I graduated university, I went traveling around the world, sleeping in the streets, hitchhiking, taking trains, buses and any way I could travel, I would go. I spent 3700USD that year. When I returned to the United States, I decided to go to flight school.

The deciding factor for this way of life was I wanted to be paid for my hobbies. Why work to have a way of life, but rather be paid for my way of life? I had been writing for a few years before I began flying. I unhurriedly progressed with my writing as I went to flight school.

I began taking flight lessons at Sunrise Aviation at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. There were times I slept in my van outside a hotel. I woke up to use their pool as my shower. When I had my commercial multi engine: I went to the West Indies; from island to island to see if I could get hired to fly. I met Tony Ottley in St. Kitt’s. I made absolutely nothing, maybe 1000USD a year. Yes, a year! I flew vegetables around the islands. At the end of the day I took vegetables out of the boxes so I could eat. It was not about the money. I wanted to fly for the love of flying and not to make money yet. There is a time to make money and a time to earn my way and that was one of those times to earn my path.

During the entire process, I continued to take my journal with me, taking notes after notes, filling journals after journals and trying to grasp the elusive details behind the actual experience going on around me. I never really had a “low point” in my pilot to travel writer to novelist, yet I can say there were times I asked, “Is this worth it? What is the outcome going to be?” I simply had to respond to myself, “Is it not about the outcome, but rather the process, the manner with which I am doing it.”

I flew in St. Kitt’s a few years. If I did not fly there, I was going to Africa to fly. From there, I continued to get job after job after job to gather more experience. My big break was when Omni Air International hired me to fly all over the world. Bob Zeng and Jeff Nauman gave me a perfect opportunity to step into a new world of flying ETOPS.1

Today, I have Airbus319/320, Boeing747-400/757/767 type ratings. Out of my 8000 plus hours more than half have been flown internationally. Currently, I am a captain flying for Virgin America (Airbus 320). Before Virgin America I flew with China Airlines (Boeing 747-400), then Omni Air International (Boeing 757), Air Wisconsin (CL-65), Shuttle America (SF340), Ottley’s Enterprise (PA23-250).

If readers were interested in looking into travel writing what resources do you recommend?

Select a location, around the world, that lacks charm or where many people do not go, and then go. Going to places, already discovered by the masses is the quickest way never to have an article released. The boundless frustration of enduring those episodes of being lost in a new part of the world justly gives life to writing. For travel writers, they must build credibility and maintain validity with an audience.

Write as many articles about various topics. When you complete one, begin another. That was the best advice I received from Nancy and Lisa at Big Blend Magazine several months ago. Take notes on absolutely everything. Use those ideas in your articles. Most ideas come from the small notes I took before and then I expand on them. Write an article a month or two articles, sending them out to multiple sites. The more your name comes in front of them, the more likely they will finally ask you to write something for them. If nobody picks up the article, place it on your website.

The title of the article should have the key words that can be picked up by the internet and publications. Also, have a unique spin on the subject. For example, if you are going to write about Buenos Aires, write about how you got lost, taking a bus from the airport to the city center. Describe the scene on the bus and how you felt being lost and how much you saved by taking the bus. That is going to make people read and want to seek your name out for more articles.

In the end, I do believe in taking a philosophy book. Take several books with you on your travels. You are going to be going through several moments alone and thinking about what you are going through is a must. I do think having those sorts of books you have are crucial to describe some of your viewpoints.