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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Author Interview- Gina Conroy

I'm so excited to interview one of Novel Rocket's own team members! Gina, this is your debut book. Tell us about it.

Buried Deception is my novella in the Cherry Blossom Capers collection and is about a Mount Vernon archaeology intern and widow Samantha Steele who wants to make a good impression at her orientation, but her babysitter gets sick and she’s forced to take her rambunctious children to work. There she has a run in with security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter who’s haunted by his past. Through several mishaps, a forgery is discovered, and it’s up to Samantha and Nick to set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other to catch the thief… or the results could be deadly. 

Was there a specific 'what if' moment to spark this story?
I can’t remember the specific “what if” moment, but back in 2005 I was homeschooling and took my children on an east coast tour hitting all the historical spots. Mount Vernon was one of them and as I was walking through the mansion, especially George Washington’s office, I kept thinking about the antiques and if they were real or replicas. Later, when I wanted to try writing a mystery I kept coming back to Mount Vernon. We were also studying Egypt and archaeology at the time, so I thought it would be fun to explore the “What if someone discovered that an artifact at the Mount Vernon mansion was a fake?” The characters, story, and plot just grew from there.

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

It’s hard to remember since I started this novella back in 2006…Hopefully I left all the strange and funny things for my novella!

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

I had reverse writer’s block, if that’s even what you’d call it! When this novella didn’t sell the first time, I added 36,000 words and pitched it to some other houses. It didn’t sell. Then my anthology partners wanted to submit to Barbour again, I was reluctant. If it sold, that would mean cutting it down and the story had evolved since the originally novella. But I agreed and a week after we submitted, we had a contract. So instead of banging my head against the wall to ADD words, I was banging my head hoping to figure out how to CUT words. After many months of editing and cutting and editing and cutting some more, I finally did it! And I’ve been told it’s a fast paced page turner. And it better be because there was no room for fluff! LOL!

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

The only visuals I use are in my mind. I see the scene and write what I see. Oh, I tried making charts and plotting and spent hours looking for my characters on website, but for me, it was just a waste of time. I have to write in a void. No music playing. Just the hum of the overhead fan. Then I tune into the pictures in my brain and let the scene play out before me.

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?

Writing is the most difficult part of writing for me. I get distracted by life and social media. I also believe the lie that I need a huge chunk of time to get into my story world. If I could discipline myself to write a little bit every day, I might write faster. But I’m still a mom carting around four kids to different activities, and I have other hobbies of my own I’m pursuing. I actually prefer to write in big weekend chunks, though I know there will come a time when I’ll have to write every day. I’m sure another contract could help me over come this procrastination problem!

What's your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?

I like to think characterization and voice are my strengths. I’m not crazy about reading setting or descriptions, so my writing is usually lacking in those areas until I go back and add them in later. Yet, in the case of this novella, I had to slim down in every area. It was tough deciding how much description and characterization was enough. But I like to think part of the fun for the reader is filling in the blanks and allowing the character to come to life in their mind. In my opinion, too much description inhibits this.

Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?

When you’re writing a mystery, there’s always problems of the facts and clues not adding up. Several times I started to confuse myself with the mental puzzle I was creating and since some of my evidence used math, it took me several times to think it through to make sure it added up. There was police and archaeology procedure I needed to get just right, and I had to take into account that this was a contemporary story located in an actual place people visit. Last time I went to Mount Vernon The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center wasn’t built, but after talking with an archaeologist on site, I realized I needed to add the building into my story.

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

My primary writing space is in my office on my red couch or at my desk. But when I need a change of scenery I write at a coffee shop, sometimes the public library in one of those study rooms when I need to shut out the entire world. Several times a year I hide away in a roach motel and try to crank out 10,000 words. In fact, I can write more in one of those weekends than in an entire month!

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?

Yes and yes. Sometimes the words flow…other times it is like pulling a stubborn hair from my brow! But the best thing I’ve learned over the years is NOT to edit while I’m writing. This is so hard for me and probably why after seven years I only have three finished manuscripts and a bunch of half completed ones. It’s because I always had to edit before I moved on. Now I’m learning to move on before I edit. One trick I use to satisfy my internal editor is to strike out the crummy drivel I’ve written, the stuff I KNOW I need to change or completely remove later. By striking through the words I trick my brain into thinking I’m on track with my word count and I’m moving forward while my editor is happy that I’ve recognized the garbage I’ve just written.

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

I remember Randy Ingermanson saying that it was okay to write bad. Then my agent, Chip MacGregor, solidified this for me by saying “You can’t fix nothing.” Those two pieces of advice have really helped me let go of the perfection mentality of editing while I write. And it’s helped me write faster.

How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?

I have an entire blog and six years of my life devoted to trying to figure this out. I’ve interviewed over a hundred writing moms and dads and the one thing I’ve learned about balancing writing with family is that it looks different for everyone. For me, the amount of writing I do goes in seasons. There was a time in the beginning my priorities were skewed. I put writing before everything else and I got out of balance to the point that I had to lay down my writing for a season. After seven years of struggling to find balance, I’ve finally found freedom in the seasons of life. I don’t sweat not writing when I can’t, and I try to focus on what’s in front of me. Of course, it’s still a struggle, but I try to keep things in perspective. There will be a time when my kids will be grown, and I will have the time to write. For now, I’m embracing this season of life and the time I have with my kids.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t ever give up on your dream. It’s not an easy road, but I believe if you learn and grow, and never give up, you’ll be one step closer to where you’re supposed to be.

Cherry Blossom Capers Summary:

Four townhouse neighbors encounter romance and mystery near our nation’s capital. In State Secrets, White House assistant chef Tara Whitley and FBI agent Jack Courtland stop a plot to sabotage a State dinner—and find love still hidden in their hearts. In Dying for Love, attorneys and opponents Ciara Turner and Daniel Evans uncover love while searching for justice. In Buried Deception, archaeologist Samantha Steele and security guard Nick Porter dig up love while uncovering a forged artifact.  In Coffee, Tea and Danger, amateur sleuths Susan Holland and Vince Martinelli find love while investigating a string of mysterious accidents.

Gina Conroy is the founder of Writer...Interrupted  where she mentors busy writers and tries to keep things in perspective, knowing God's timing is perfect, even if she doesn't agree with it! She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. Gina loves to connect with readers, and when she isn’t writing, teaching, or driving kids around, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Disappearing Women ~ Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo) --as appeared on Murderati on August 23, 2011

Now that I'm in my fifties, I'm noticing more and more what generations of women have complained about: that right around this age, we start to disappear in the eyes of the world. As we grow gray we become invisible, dismissed and ignored. No wonder there's a spike in suicides as women pass the frightening threshold of fifty. Invisibility happens to us all, whether we were once fashion models, prom queens, or hot actresses. (With the possible exception of Betty White.) When we lose the dewy glow of reproductive fitness, suddenly society thinks we are no longer worth the attention.

 Yet men in their fifties still get plenty of attention, both in real life and in the movies. Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery, were alll playing sexy action heroes in their fifties. Silver-haired men, at their peak of political or financial power, are considered hot catches and Hollywood producers don't bat an eye at the thought of casting a 50-year-old film hero with a 30-year-old heroine. But a celluloid romance between a young man and an older woman? Well, that's got to be an outrageous comedy, right? A story that no one would really believe, like Harold and Maude. Because while fiftyish men can be sexy as hell, a fiftyish woman is just, well, somebody's boring mother.

Life is so unfair.

It's unfair in crime fiction as well, where you don't find many sexy, kickass heroines in their fifties. Which strikes me as surprising, considering how many authors are women in their fifties. You'll find plenty of fictional heroines in their twenties, thirties, and forties. But then women vanish as heroines until they suddenly pop back into view on the far end of the age spectrum as sharp-eyed, inquisitive Miss Marples in their seventies. And these older heroines are often objects of amusement or even ridicule, the troublesome old biddies who solve mysteries only because they can't mind their own business.

I try to remember any older heroines in the books I've been reading. The only recent one who comes to mind is the narrator in Alice LaPlante's TURN OF MIND (a terrific novel by the way). Alas, although that heroine is tough, smart, and determined, she also has Alzheimer's disease. Not exactly the sexy heroine I'm looking for.

I confess, I too have been guilty of ignoring the fifty-year-old heroine. Part of it was my desire to meet the demands of the fiction market. People want to read about sexy heroines, don't they? And if I want to sell film rights, wouldn't a younger heroine be more attractive to Hollywood? Years ago, I wrote a book that featured a number of senior citizens (LIFE SUPPORT), and one of the discouraging comments I got from my then-Hollywood agent was a dubious: "Gee, there are an awful lot of old people in this story, aren't there?"

When I started my writing career, it made sense for me to focus on young heroines, because I could identify with them. As I got older, so did my heroines. They matured into their thirties and then their forties, just as I did. But suddenly I hit fifty, and my heroines didn't cross that line with me. They stayed frozen at forty-something, the oldest age that I believed the marketplace would still accept them as romantic heroines. I certainly know that women can be sexy at all ages; I just didn't have any faith that readers would think so. Or that they'd accept a 50+ woman as an action hero.

Then, a few years ago, I came across an article about martial arts master Bow Sim Mark. Now in her seventies, Master Mark is credited with bringing Chinese martial arts to Boston, where she still teaches at the studio she founded. How cool, I thought. Here's an older woman who really can kick ass. And swing a sword. And even take down a Navy Seal. If a woman like this exists in real life, why couldn't I put her in a novel?

So I did. In THE SILENT GIRL, the character of Iris Fang is a 55-year-old martial arts master who not only swings swords and takes down bad guys, she's also sexy. So sexy, in fact, that Detective Barry Frost, who's two decades younger, develops a wild crush on her. Unlikely, you say?

No more unlikely than a real 70-year-old female martial arts master. Or a 98-year-old woman who just earned her tenth-degree black belt in judo.

As I scan popular fiction and film, I find that on the rare occasions when an older woman does play action hero, it's a real crowd pleaser. In the movie RED, about retired CIA agents called back to action, the scene everyone seems to love best is Helen Mirren grabbing a gun and shooting up the place. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, the audience whooped in delight when staid Professor McGonagall went wand to wand in a fierce duel with Snape, and when mad mama Molly Weasley finished off evil Bellatrix LeStrange. Call it hot flash fury; these women are forces to be reckoned with. They may be silver-haired but they're also capable, powerful, and ready to fight.

We all know such women exist in real life. Now it's time we start seeing more of them in fiction.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dancing with Donald Maass and How a Dream Encouraged Me to Write

Dreams are funny things. Sometimes they’re an expression of the day’s events, other times they connect to the subconscious, ranging from normal to bizarre. There’s no doubt there’s a whole phenomenon gathered around dream interpretations, so when I had a dream that Donald Maass was my drama coach dancing with me ballroom style as I sang “Popular,” I had to laugh and take a closer look!

As far as dreams go, it started out pretty normal. Random craziness with an obscure goal as I traveled somewhere. Sounds like most dreams, right? But when I finally arrived at my destination, I was surprised to find I was in a Donald Maass acting workshop. Yes, acting! While he talked and demonstrated some dance moves, I tried to imitate them, but I was barefoot and everyone else wore shoes. So I put mine on. A pair of black pumps I owned in real life used for my ballroom dance lessons, but they hurt my feet, so I took them off.

Then we were asked to sit in chairs in a semi circle around the dance floor. As Don placed everyone in their seat, I tried on a few pair of shoes I was carrying with me and settled on a funky pair of red flat boots with lace up ties. When he got to me, I was the last one and instead of placing me in a chair he took my hand and spoke to me. How I wish I could remember that conversation, but in essence he told me I was going to dance a scene with him and that it might not be in my comfort zone, but he wanted me to be open minded and try it.

At first, I was reluctant, but agreed. Then we started to dance, ballroom style, first cautiously as I timidly sang “Popular” from the Wicked musical. My steps were small and unsure, my voice muffled as I sang with “cotton in my ears.” Then he whispered, “Follow me and take big steps.” And we glided across the floor as I belted out the song, “I’m gonna be Popular.” Dancing felt effortless as my partner carried me, and I sang my guts out. While dancing, I didn’t worry about what I looked like or how I sounded (because I had no clue with cotton in my ears.) I just trusted my partner and knew by the smile on his face that I was going to be popular.

When the song ended and I poked a baby alligator peeking up from a drain in the floor (after all, this WAS a dream,) I heard the roar of the applause coming through my cotton-plugged ears, and I knew I was popular. Then I took my seat, not in the semicircle, but in the audience.

Was this dream a sign that one day I’d be ballroom dancing with Donald Maass? I highly doubt it! Each part of the dream could be explained away by recent real life events that week like taking ballroom dance lessons, driving my kids to play practice, watching “Dancing with the Stars” and even the “Drop Dead Diva” episode where Jane is in one of her fun dream sequences, dancing with a popular male vocal Chip and Daleish group and her old, frumpy boyfriend shows up for a dance. I’m not saying Donald Maass is the frumpy boyfriend, but I had been immersed in his book, Fire in Fiction, all weekend.

What about signing “Popular?” Easy. My daughter and I had been cranking up the Wicked sound track that week and we did sing it, but we also sang half of the songs on the cd. So why THAT song? That’s when I decided to take a closer look at my dream. And that’s when all the random pieces of the dream came together to confront my conscious dreams, goals, and fears!

When I started reading Fire in Fiction, I was inspired to work on my WIP again which scared me on a couple of levels. It was based on the real life story of my grandmother, and I was writing in a new genre, Women’s fiction. Honestly, I didn’t want this story to be another practice WIP on my way to publication. I wanted this to be my breakout novel! So Donald Maass as my dancing/acting/writing coach made sense. Trying on different shoes until I found a pair I was comfortable in was obviously encouragement to be myself in my writing and not conform to what others thought I should be wearing…or writing. Even poking the alligator in the drain could be interpreted without a dream dictionary. I needed to “poke” my fears and insecurities that seem to rise up from nowhere, no matter how small.

As for the song, “Popular?” No dream interpreter needed either. I want this WIP to be popular and sell!! And if I dig a little deeper and am honest with myself, I want to be a popular author, though my definition of popular has changed and matured over the years.

Dreams are funny things. At first glance, they could be explained away by real life activities, but if you dig deeper than the obvious, they can speak truth to your soul and encourage you in your writing.

What did my dream speak to me? I need to turn on the music/story inside my soul, sing/write my heart out the way I see it, and take giant, scary steps toward publication.

How about YOU? Has a dream ever spoken truth concerning your road to publication?

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. "the other Gina," is a 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, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meet Bonnie Calhoun ~ the writing world's busiest author

As the Owner/Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance Bonnie has helped use the 220+ blogs of the Alliance to promote many titles on the Christian bestseller list. She owns and publishes the Christian Fiction Online magazine, which is devoted to readers and writers of Christian fiction. She is the Northeast Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). At ACFW she was named the ‘Mentor of the Year’ for 2011, and she is the current President of (CAN) Christian Authors Network. Bonnie is also the Appointment Coordinator for both the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. In her spare time she is an avid social media junkie, and teaches Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and HTML as recreational occupations.

Bonnie, you've been at this gig for a long time. While writing, you started a successful blog tour company and the best online Christian magazine out there. How do you do it all?

Well…to tell you the truth, sleep is really over-rated *snort-giggle* I think it’s because if my hands aren’t busy being productive, they are busy being destructive (getting me in all sorts of trouble…for which I’ve learned over the years…run very fast.)

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind? (Be as specific as possible)

Oh…so you want me to relive the puking and falling down thing all over again? Okay…start from the beginning. This is all a God journey. Seriously! I really had no plan. I decided I wanted to become an author after reading the Left Behind series…that’s a whole other story. But I started writing, joined a few Christian writing loops, and went to my first conference. The following year, I went back to the conference and met my agent Terry Burns at dinner…I had an appointment with a totally different agent. Then for my first publishing contract, it came about after I made a totally random remark to an acq. Editor at Abingdon. From actively writing for publication to first contract was two years.

Now finding out was another story…I yelled, screamed, hyperventilated…fell down, got up and puked…and then repeated the process numerous times. *shaking head* not a prety sight…nope! Not a pretty sight!

Was there a specific 'what if' moment to spark the story of Cooking the Books, your debut novel?

Nope…a lot of that is autobiographical 

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

Uhmmm…strange or funny. Well truthfully just the fact that the Lord let’s me wake up in the morning is extremely funny to me. But with this book…no. Now there was a manuscript I was working on that was a disaster book…not disaster as in bad writing, but disaster as in volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, tsunamis…and every time I wrote a scene, a disaster would happen in real life. I figured if I didn’t stick that puppy in a drawer, there’d be no United States left to read it!

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

Huh? Whatcha sayin’? Oh, yea…hi! No I never bang my head against the wall. The bump has now become a newer improved part of me with an elegantly raised and calloused surface. I refuse to call it part of my head, so no…I never bang my head against the wall.

Actually my “writers block” is never for a whole book because I’ve already got the plot playing in my head. It’s usually just a block on a particular scene…so I skip that scene and go on and write one that is percolating in the bump on the front of my cranium.

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

Nope…not at all. I’m a mental writer…er, uh…that didn’t come out right…well it did, but that’s another story too. The story is playing in my head like a movie. I write in scenes like a script writer, so I don’t really need visuals. Usually my characters gel in what they’re going to look like AS I write, so I may actually be all done writing before I pick out the people representation images.

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?

That’s a short answer…dragging the story out long enough to fill a full sized book. Since I think like a script writer, I write in short succinct scenes, and need to fill it in with all the visuals and “mentals” that people need as readers.

What's your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?

My strength is in being able to write a great bloody and suspenseful scene J

Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?

Yes…but they’re not avoidable problems…for example…language. My street
thug characters wouldn’t have been very believable saying “Auh geepers creepers.”
So I had to use my ability as a writer to convey their “attitude” without inappropriate language.

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

Ack! No pictures please! My jammies are not for public…or private consumption! I do a lot of my writing in my store. I’m a seamstress and clothing designer by day, and I’ve sewed for 50 years (literally) so I don’t need to think to sew. I think of a scene and when the front end of it starts dropping out of my RAM (random access mind) then I stop sewing and write until the scene is all down. Now at home, is when I do editing because I have to sit and stare at pages and contemplate.

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?

Six of one, half dozen of the other J Some days I’m a wiz…some days I am wiz…Cheese Wiz that is…speaking of cheese…I love taking breaks when words don’t want to come and I write emails to my crit groups about how much I’m not writing. And I have had days when, if I had the ability to count Facebook words, I’d have written a whole novel!

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

“Just sit your butt in the seat and write!”

How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?

I haven’t figured that part out yet. It just seems to work on its own.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Ahhh…parting is such sweet sorrow…uh, oh…I guess not those kind of words.
Yes…parting words…if you want to be a writer, then just keep writing. If you want to be published, learn the craft, write a great book, and pray.

Cooking the Books

After her mother dies from a heart attack, Sloane Templeton goes from Cyber Crimes Unit to bookstore owner before she can blink. She also "inherits" a half-batty store manager; a strange bunch of little old people from the neighborhood who meet at the store once a week, but never read books, called the Granny Oakleys Book Club; and Aunt Verline, who fancies herself an Iron Chef when in reality you need a cast iron stomach to partake of her culinary disasters. And with a group like this you should never ask, “What else can go wrong?”

A lot! Sloane begins to receive cyber threats. While Sloane uses her computer forensic skills to uncover the source of the threats, it is discovered someone is out to kill her. Can her life get more crazy?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing Books is a Lot Like Competing in American Idol

I was watching American Idol the other night and it struck me how much alike the music and book industry is.

This particular episode had Tommy Hilfiger guesting. His job was to assist the Idol contestants in finding some style.  My favorite contestant, Phil Phillips, showed the designer the gray t-shirt he was planning on wearing and was met with well meaning advice regarding the drabness of that color on stage. All the contestants were given advice that, to me, didn't seem quite right.

The next stop for the Idols was to get critiqued by musicians who have gone before them. One singer was told she was coming on too strong. She needed to sing softer. This turned out to be awful advice when it came time to perform. She shined only when she let loose and wailed the chorus. Her appeal had always been, to me, her passion. 

My favorite, Phillips, was advised to get rid of his guitar as he was, in their opinion, using it to hide behind, and start moving his hips around and grooving. I cringed. What makes this guy so much fun to watch is that he’s unassuming. He isn’t up on stage girating like a boy band. He’s playing his guitar in his t-shirt and jeans, and putting his amazing music on stage, rather than his pelvis. His facial expressions, more than his dance moves or clothes, are his brand. 

Thankfully, Phillips and many of the other singers filtered the advice they were given and ended up not completely screwing up their big shot.

As writers, we join critique groups, hire professional editors, and enter contests where we receive sometimes excellent, sometimes detrimental feedback. What makes us unique is often white-washed out for fear of breaking imaginary rules of writing, or offending one group or another.

We must have, like the fortunate Idols, the ability to weed out what fits, and forgo what doesn’t. The person giving the advice is a person, like us, with opinions that are subjective, and bent to their taste. It’s so important to be able to filter out the helpful. I hope and pray that for myself I am filtering out the not quite right advice and holding too the good. It’s not always easy to know what's what though. This is why there’s power in multiple counselors. Any one of us is more than able to give bad advice. When one says it, maybe. When two say it, probably. When three say it, its almost definitely time to take heed.

But critique wasn’t the only comparison I made watching American Idol that night. What also struck me is as a published writer, I'm on stage too. There are people cheering, and there are people booing. I'm the favorite of some, the least of others. As I look out into the audience, what I see are thousands, if not millions of other hopefuls who would kill to have the shot that I have. Many of them are as good, if not better than me. If I don't take my shot seriously, they'll be more than happy to step up and take my microphone. 

Just as the singers are only as good as their last song, we writers are only as good as our last story. If we throw out a song that no one likes, or sing it  poorly, we’re going to get voted off. In our world, that means no more book contracts. This is serious business folks. There's no room for lazy writing. We get one chance to belt it out. If we’ve been honing our craft, practicing, learning, growing and giving it all we have, writing with all the emotion the story calls for, we may get to write again next week. 

I've got a lot more stories in me. I'm not ready to go home.

Gina Holmes is the founder of Inspire a Fire and Novel Rocket. Her debut, Crossing Oceans, was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice, as well as being a CBA, ECPA, Amazon and PW Religion bestseller. Her sophomore novel,  Dry as Rain, released in 2011. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her family 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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I’ve Joined the OCCWF Conference Staff!

It’s official — I’m part of the Orange County Christian Writers Fellowship (OCCWF) 2012 Conference staff. This year’s conference will held May 18-20 at the beautiful Radisson Hotel in Newport Beach, CA.

The OCCWF faculty includes literary agent Rachelle Gardner, editor and writing mentor Mick Silva, author and screenwriter Bill Myers, Urban Fantasy novelist Merrie Destefano, and senior editor of Regal Books, Steven Lawson, just to name a few. You can find the entire faculty list HERE.

I’ll be leading a 1-hour workshop, a m/s critique group, and be available for consultations, 15 minute sessions with anyone who wants to pick my brain, solicit my advice, or punch me in the nose for something nasty I’ve written. Here’s my workshop blurb:

The Christian Speculative Fiction Writer – This workshop will discuss the continued popularity of speculative themes in our culture, how speculative themes mesh with Scripture, the market challenges that Christian authors in this genre face, and growing outlets and approaches for aspiring Christian Spec-Fic writers.

Did I say how thrilled I am?

Anyway, registration is open. If you happen to live in the SoCal area, I’d love to meet you!

* * *

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now and his novella, "Winterland," is available in e-book formats. Mike's sophomore novel The Telling releases May 2012. You can visit his website at

Justice Feels Good

Today's guest devotion is by Kristin Billerbeck, from: Delight Yourself in the Lord…Even on Bad Hair Days © 2011 Summerside Press

Justice Feels Good

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt.  He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” 1 Samuel 25:39

Let’s face it, a just sentence feels good.  If it didn’t, the Lifetime Movie Network would be out of business.  There would be no abyss-falling villains at the end of the Disney movies, and there would certainly be no Court TV.  When the unrighteous get theirs, and we get to witness it, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes over us as humans. As much as we’d like to be pious and beyond such pettiness, it secretly feels so good to watch evil perish. Especially if we’ve seen the victims of their wrath suffer.
I admit it; this is why I love the story of Abigail in the Bible. She was married to an idiot. Nabal’s name actually means “foolish” and, worse than being a fool, he was a fool for no purpose – other than to be contrary and show his power. He might have sacrificed his entire family and all his servants for the opportunity to exert his rights over David and not give David and his men a few of his flock. Out of his foolishness came pure wickedness.
Fearing that her household and her children would perish over Nabal’s decision, Abigail defied her husband and humbly appeared before David with supplies and an apology on behalf of Nabal’s behavior. She asked David to remember her when he was able.
Abigail, being a smart wife, waited until morning after Nabal had slept off his drink to tell him of her actions. Rather than being grateful for being alive, Nabal was struck like a stone and died ten days later.
Now, I’m not wishing anyone dead. I’m only saying that, when the right man gets his, there’s such a beauty in earthly justice. Abigail’s fortitude and humility saved the lives of many. Not only that, but David returned for her later and asked her to be his wife. A vast improvement after Nabal, I’m certain. 
I love this story of how a woman put her faith in God and defied evil. Naturally, we don’t always get to see God’s justice here on earth, but we must remember God’s love for us when all feels lost.

Today’s Prayer: Dear Jesus, this morning, I pray that I would hear Your righteous voice in my ear, that I would do the best thing for You and for all the people You have entrusted me to care for and look after. When I feel all hope is lost, remind me that You hate evil so much more than I am capable of, and that Your will should be done here on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Kristin Billerbeck is a best-selling author of over 30 novels and novellas.  She is a Christy award nominee, a two-time ACFW Book of the Year winner and the author of What a Girl Wants.  When not writing, Kristin is generally hovering over her four children and hanging out in Silicon Valley coffee shops. Visit her Website at

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Show the Heart, Tell the Mind

Last time I wrote, I contended that Christian writers should preach in their fiction. But I think we all agree that we shouldn't be preachy. There's a difference between preaching and being preachy.

This week I'd like to talk about two movies that opened in theaters last night. One, you've heard of: The Hunger Games. The other one, October Baby, is lesser known. 

I read The Hunger Games several years ago, and last night I saw October Baby.

Two stories. Two messages.  

Both preached, but only one felt preachy to me.

Let's look at Suzanne Collins's story first. The Hunger Games books, as great as they are, have their faults. The story world is as three-dimensional as a map drawn by cavemen. The action, particularly in the last book, reads like a violent video game on a shot of 5-hour ENERGY. But one charge no one has laid on the books is that they are preachy.

Is this because Collins has no message? Nope. Her anti-war message comes out, loud and clear. In her books she's saying that war is bad. That we have met the enemy and he is us. That there are no good guys. That even the winners come home broken.

Collins has said in interviews that growing up as an army brat affected her. Her father was gone a lot when she was little. She waited for him to return. She worried. When he finally came home he suffered with nightmares.

It is no surprise, then, to find an absent father in The Underland Chronicles and in The Hunger Games trilogy, or to find soldier characters who are hurt and haunted by the brutalities of war.

And yet, the books are not preachy. No one says, "War is hell." Or, "War is costly and even the winners go home broken." Collins gets all that across by keeping that rule we all learned first: Show, don't tell.

That's what fiction is all about. Right?

Last time, I quoted Pullman as saying, "'Thou shalt not' might reach the head, but it takes 'Once upon a time' to reach the heart."

That's just another way to say "telling" reaches the head, but "showing" reaches the heart.

Collins shows people dying. She doesn't need to tell us war is bad. We've suffered through it with Katniss. We watch the broken warriors limping off the field of battle.

With October Baby, on the other hand, there was some telling. I hate to discourage anyone from seeing it. It was a wonderful movie that accomplished what it set out to do and the acting was very good. I'm glad I saw it instead of The Hunger Games. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't preachy in places.

I don't think I'm giving away any spoilers, but if you are going to see the movie, you should watch it before you read any more. Because if you read my complaints it will probably take away from your enjoyment of the scenes I discuss.

Still here?

OK, then…

October Baby is about a nineteen-year-old girl who finds out she was adopted. Worse yet, her birth mother aborted her. She sets out on a road trip to find her birth mother. It's a good movie. Very good. There were a couple of flaws, though. There's a clichéd scene in which a priest tells Hannah she has to forgive. That's preachy because the priest wasn't put into the story early enough. He feels contrived. And why contrive something like that unless you want to preach? Which is exactly what happened.

But I want to look at the preachy scene that came about when the writer got some telling in, via the nurse who was present at Hannah's birth. The movie had effectively shown that unborn babies, aborted at twenty-two weeks gestation, are living human beings. The young woman is standing right in front of us. A living person. If we didn't think abortion was murder before, we have to ask ourselves now, what it is exactly. This girl was alive and her mother tried to kill her. There's no other way to look at it.

So I was disappointed when the nurse said something like, "They said it was a mass of tissue. That's all. Just tissue. Not alive." And then later, "You were born and I didn't see tissue. I saw a living person," or something along those lines.

This is preachy. It's telling. It's appealing to my head. It's making a logical argument.

And it's out of place in a novel or a movie.

If the main character already knows a thing then the reader has already seen and there is no need to tell, just to make sure readers get it.

Preaching in Christian fiction has been a hot topic this week. Check out Becky MillerMike Duran, and Mike Dellosso if you want to hear more arguments for and against the practice.
 is the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, Georgia. She has published short works in a number of places and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She can usually be found blogging about young adult novels at                                                                                                                  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Author Interview with Jack Cavanaugh

Author, Jack Cavanaugh

Today I'm excited to introduce you to a writer I admire greatly, novelist Jack Cavanaugh. He's an award-winning, full-time freelance author with twenty-five published novels to his credit. His nine-volume American Family Portrait series spans the history of a nation from 1630 to the present and is still in print nearly fifteen years following its release. 
A student of the novel for more than a quarter of a century, Jack takes his craft seriously, continuing to study and teach at Christian writers conferences. He is the former pastor of three churches in San Diego County and draws upon his theological background for the spiritual elements of his plots and characters.
His novels have been translated into a dozen foreign languages, largely because of the universal scope of his topics. Jack has not only written about American history, but about South Africa, banned English Bibles, German Christians in the days of Hitler and Communism, revivals in America, and angelic warfare. 
Jack’s current writing schedule includes motion picture screenplays and e-book serial fiction with Internet distribution. His novel Death Watch has been optioned to be made into a motion picture by Out Cold Entertainment, Inc.

Jack has three grown children and lives with his wife in Southern California.

So many aspiring writers think there is a set path to getting published, would you tell us about your journey to publication?

Settle in, because my journey to becoming an author was down a long and winding road. The initial seed was planted thirty-five years ago. I was in seminary preparing for the pastoral ministry and one of my professors — a prolific author himself — said, “Men, if you want to expand your ministry geographically and beyond your lifetime, write.” He was right, of course. Think of all the people C.S. Lewis continues to influence all these years after his death.

The seed germinated when, as a pastor, I witnessed the incredible power of story to teach spiritual truth. The idea of writing Christian fiction took root and I began attending a local writers’ critique group and attending conferences. However, instead of encouragement, I encountered a significant obstacle. Every editor, every publisher told me the same thing: “Jack, Christian fiction doesn’t sell.” They were right. At the time, it didn’t.

So I altered my strategy and eventually got published writing articles and promotional pieces while crafting proposals for devotional books. But I didn’t stop studying how to write fiction. I figured if I could get a few non-fiction books published, maybe I could talk my editor into taking a chance on fiction. The strategy was based on getting some non-fiction books published. That didn’t happen, so I started a new hobby — collecting rejection slips.

Then, along came Janette Oake, Frank Peretti, and Brock and Bodie Thoene, and the door to Christian fiction opened, and there I was standing on the doorstep with proposals in hand. All those seemingly wasted years of attending conferences paid off at Mt. Hermon. My first contract was for four novels (The American Family Portrait series), which eventually stretched to nine books.

Remember I told you the journey was a long one? From the time I began seeking to get published to the time of my first contract was thirteen years. Was it worth it?

Do you really have to ask?

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the industry since you began and how have they affected you as an author?

Oh my . . . where do I start?

Should I start with hand-printing manuscripts on papyrus and vellum with goose-feather quills? Actually, it wasn’t that long ago, but sometimes it seems like it.

There weren’t any computers. Manuscripts were typed page by page on typewriters. White-Out was my best friend. Then, when computers came on the scene, publishers wouldn’t accept manuscripts printed on dot-matrix printers, so I bought a daisy-wheel printer that typed as well as a typewriter, only with all the paper jams it took a full day to print out two complete manuscripts per publishers’ request. 

Of course, then it had to be mailed. $15 postage, unless the publisher wanted it overnight, then it was $60. When email first appeared, I told my editor about it — the publisher didn’t have email yet — and how, if they were to get email, I could send the manuscript to him in seconds. He said it would never happen because then they’d have to print out the two copies. 

Let’s see. What else? There was no writers market guide. Sally Stuart was teaching us how to track industry changes using a file system at writers’ conferences. To get the most recent changes, we either had to attend a conference, have a writer friend who was working with the publisher, or call the publishers individually and request updated information.

And there were no agents. You were on your own with the publishers. Funny thing, when agents first began showing up, no reputable Christian publisher would work with them. Now, most publishers won’t work with you if you don’t have an agent.

How have these changes effected me? The computer and the Internet has made manuscript preparation so much easier. As for the relationship with the publishers? I sorta miss the old days when you called your publisher or editor on the phone directly. Going through an agent still seems impersonal to me.

If you had a crystal ball, give us your predictions on how readers will enjoy books ten years from now.

If Amazon and Google achieve their goal, we’ll have access to any book that has ever been written, no matter how obscure. As a writer of historical fiction who lives to read primary source material, that thrills me to the tips of my toes.

With cloud computing and quantum processors running computers, access will be instantaneous. There will be no shelf space limitations. Your library will literally be the wealth of the world’s books. I imagine notes in margins will be a thing of the past; instead, you’ll insert spoken comments into the text. If you want, you’ll also be able to access other readers’ recorded comments, or interact with readers live who are at that moment reading the same passage.

I don’t believe text books will ever be a thing of the past. Printed stories have an advantage over all other forms of storytelling in that they access the most powerful and creative resource available — the human imagination.

If you could share anything with an aspiring author what would it be?

One Christmas my brother stood in a long line at a bookstore to get a signed copy of Dean Koontz’s latest, Intensity. As he reached the front of the line, my brother told Mr. Koontz that he was buying the book for me and that I was also a novelist just starting out. Dean Koontz wrote the following inscription:

“Perseverance counts.”

And now I pass the same advice on to you, writer-to-writer-to-writer.

I urge you to take to take time and visit Jack's websites. 
and for writers:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writing Conference Connections

When you help organize a writing conference, you sometimes wonder whether the conference connected with those who attended—whether they picked up on the vibe you were trying to create, or not.

Occasionally you receive feedback from a conferee—or you observe a moment during conference—that eases your mind and makes you know the effort was worth it.

With the Writing for the Soul conference, one of the things we strive to create each year is a sense of community among those who attend. So, it was a joy to see that lived out—particularly between the finalists in our Operation First Novel contest.

Group dynamics
In January, we notified the five finalists—Kimberley Gardner Graham, Jim Hamlett, Clarice James, Peter Leavell, and Terrie Todd—that one of them would see his or her book published by Worthy Publishing, our co-sponsor in the contest, and receive $20,000.

What happened next was special.

The finalists formed a support group for each other and I was lucky enough to be included in their email group (which is still going strong, by the way). Some of what they shared was pure silliness (limericks, anyone?), but they also went deeper. They began to pray for each other—and for the conference.

Leavell (right), the eventual winner, said it best: “One prayer surfaced, ‘Please, Lord, let the book the world needs win. Not our wills, but Yours.’ We all rallied around that thought. Of course we each wanted to win, but God was more important.”

Singing solo
But that was just one group of five who clicked, right? Not so fast. Another conferee, Cecilia Accetta, submitted a blog post for the Guild’s blog (read her full post). In it, she wrote about the welcome from Jerry B. Jenkins that was included in our conference notebook: “Welcome to the 2012 Writing for the Soul Conference! It’s good to have you here.”

After sharing some conference highlights, Accetta (right) concluded her blog: “By far, the best thing was knowing that everyone there gets you. I felt at home—like I was sitting at a dining table with friends. Jerry Jenkins may have said in his letter that it was good to have me there, but the truth is it was good for me to be there.”

What about you?
That’s good to hear as a conference organizer. Heck, that’s good to hear as a writer/editor and as a person involved in the publishing industry.

And it makes me eagerly anticipate (yes, already!) our 2013 Writing for the Soul conference—so I can enjoy the stories that come out of it. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying a new playground. He also plays with words as the editor-in-chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and as a contributor here on Novel Rocket. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.