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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Interview ~ Krista McGee

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

I would read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers before I wrote one word. I would attend writer’s conferences and join a writer’s group. In short, I would get as much preventative help as I could!

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

Other people’s opinions. Oh, man. My entire day can be ruined by one bad review. I am learning to handle it with God’s help – reminding myself that I can’t please everyone, but I can please him in how I respond to others’ responses.

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

The best writing advice I’ve heard was from my editor, Becky Monds. She always tells me not to go easy on my characters. “Don’t be so nice!” Conflict drives a good story, so creating conflict in my characters’ lives – both internal and external – is crucial.

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

I am a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. Knowing him and making him known drives my passion for writing and for life.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

Anomaly is a dystopian novel, set in a future where the world has been destroyed by nuclear war and the only survivors are scientists who determine to create a new world. Their world is inhabited by people whose ability to think, question, and feel is removed. They each have a job to do to help the State run smoothly. Thalli, however, is an anomaly. She questions what she is taught, she is not content to be just her pod Musician. She longs for more. And she gets more, but not in the way she expects.

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

I wrote a really terrible book fourteen years ago. I was in a new place with not much to do, so I wrote. I didn’t know anything about the publishing process, so when I finished the book, I sent the whole thing to one publisher. I received a rejection letter a couple months later, and I didn’t write again for a decade. When I started the second time, I read up on the writing and publishing process. I even found an agent who said, once I finished my book (what eventually became First Date), he would represent me. So I finished it and wrote him. That was four years ago. I still haven’t heard back from him! But I did find an agent who was actually interested in representing me, and eventually, with her help, I found a publisher.

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

Write! If you have an idea, a desire, then go for it. Don’t let excuses keep you from writing. Write ten minutes a day, if that’s all you can do at first, but do it. Don’t edit, don’t fix your errors, don’t rewrite. Get the whole thing on paper, then you can go back. It won’t be perfect. No manuscript is. But it CAN be written. You CAN do it.

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

I don’t particularly care for having to “sell” myself. I love talking about my book and interacting with readers. But having to post “Buy my book!” stuff is difficult for me. 
Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

I want to go on research trips to Europe. I’d write about anything if I could just be sent over there for a few weeks/months J.

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

I LOVE hearing from readers, especially readers who have been encouraged or challenged by my books. Emails from my readers make my day!

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

I have had the opportunity to live in both Costa Rica and Spain, a year each. Those experiences were amazing and eye-opening. I know what it’s like to learn a new language as an adult; I know what it’s like to adjust to a new culture. My worldview is so much broader for having spent time in those amazing countries, and my writing is informed by that worldview.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you'd like.

I write at a desk in my room – not so unusual. But I sit on a medicine ball to write – slightly more unusual. Because I have metal rods in my back (I had surgery to correct severe scoliosis when I was 13), the ball is far more comfortable than a traditional desk chair.

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

I write out a 2-3 page summary, and from there, I write out chapter summaries. I like to have a clear “map” of where I am going before I begin writing my manuscript.

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

I “warm up” for writing by checking email, Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I’ll write a blog entry, anything to wake up my fingers and my brain.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I prefer to have the plot written out. I like knowing where I’m going and thinking through how to get there. Although, with Anomaly, I only had a skeleton outline. It was scary, but it really helped me develop more plot twists.

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

My manuscripts tend to be choppy in the first draft. I need a second and third time through to tighten up the elements and characters.

Krista McGee’s passion to see teens excited about serving God is a driving force behind her novels. Ever since college when she spent a summer working at a youth camp, McGee knew she wanted to invest in teenagers. Since then she’s been involved in a variety of youth ministries and currently teaches at a Christian school in Tampa, FL.

McGee broke into the writing world during her time in Spain. A friend encouraged her to submit an article to a Christian girls’ magazine, and it got published. Once her family moved back to Tampa, she got the idea for her first novel, First Date, a modern take of the story of Esther. Her subsequent books, Starring Me and Right Where I Belong, are based on Rebekah and Ruth.

When Krista McGee isn’t living in fictional worlds of her own creation, she spends her days as a wife, mom, teacher and coffee snob.

Learn more about Krista McGee and her books at Readers can also become a fan on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Lessons from Dogs

Sometimes when I’m goofing with my two dogs, Baxter and Taffy, God will snap his fingers, hold his hand over my nose, and tell me to “Sit. Stay. Listen.” And when I do, I learn valuable lessons.

Almost every morning I have the same breakfast—two slices of peanut butter toast. I love peanut butter. At one point in my (much younger) life, I was going to marry peanut butter. My siblings still make fun of me for this—I do not care.

However, during the year I was unemployed (except for freelance work), every morning Baxter and Taffy would come and sit attentively near the table, convinced  I would either give them some toast or drop a bite accidentally. Their faith in my generosity (or sloppiness) never wavered.
    Taffy, the trusting one
  • Lesson 1: Faith looks a lot like perseverance. If I would sit at God’s feet every morning and believe He’s going to give me something good—even if he hasn’t for a while—then I’m right where I need to be just in case he does. This lesson also applies to prayer requests.
Eventually, the dogs’ faithful attentiveness prompted me—not out of guilt, but out of a desire to share with my faithful companions—to reward their faith with one bite of crust each from both pieces of toast. Every morning.
  • Lesson 2: God does not share his bounty with me (not defined as anything related to money) because I beg, but because I am his child and he loves me.
The first time I offered the dogs their pieces of crust, Taffy came to me immediately, without question, and took the bite from my hand. Baxter held back. He looked at what I offered, sniffed it, and finally took it from my hand, hesitantly, as if he expected me to take it back.

Let me be clear. I am a soft-hearted man. I have never given my dogs reason to fear me or to wonder if the good I give them will be taken away. We have had Baxter five years and Taffy eight. They know what to expect.

So, they are not reacting to me with trust or hesitation. It is their nature. It’s the way they were made. One trusts completely and has since Day 1. One holds back, assessing and analyzing, and has since Day 1.
    Baxter, the hesitant one
  • Lesson 3: If I immediately take up God’s blessings and run with them in joy—or if I hesitate to accept the good things he has for me, it is not a reflection on God. It is the way I am. The way I was created. My nature.
Yes, I can (with God’s help) change my nature somewhat. For instance, I can train myself not to lie. But my nature—my default position, if you will—is what it is. Without the sacrifice of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I would remain largely unchanged until the day I die.

“What do these lessons mean to me, as a writer?” I found myself wondering one day as God held his hand over my nose.
  • My characters don’t have to show a strong, unwavering faith. Few people are gifted with that. But, when they face doubts and have questions, perseverance—moving forward from the last place they heard God—is a form of faith. Taking action based on what they know to be true of God is faith, even if he is silent.
  • Regardless of how much my characters pray for a certain outcome, God is under no obligation to provide it. I do not have to give my dogs crusts—I could give them carrots instead, or nothing. Our prayers do not obligate God; our prayers bring us into alignment with his will.
This one may be controversial, but I think it’s true.
  • My characters should not change by leaps and bounds, but by small incremental, sometimes nearly invisible, steps. Each one’s basic nature is their basic nature.
Can God do deathbed conversions of atheists? Of course. But the more likely outcome is that a lifelong, militant atheist, will go to his or her death an atheist. Can an abusive husband experience a turnaround, repent, and abuse no more? Certainly, but the more likely—the more realistic—outcome is that he won’t.

Redemption is still redemption even in (and sometimes especially in) those smaller life changes that pull our characters not in a new direction, but just slightly off the course they were on. Even a tiny course correction, over time, will significantly alter a character’s destination.

Resist tying up all the loose ends and ending your books with everyone happy and in harmony with God. The Word tells us the world won't end that way. Why should our books?

Your turn: What writing lessons have you learned from your pets?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal ezine, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at He has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Win An Instant Library From Tyndale House!

Help me celebrate my birthday! Today I turn 39, and as part of my book launch today Tyndale House Publishers is giving an instant library of over 30 titles!

What's so funny is that at the end of my 20's I thought I would enter publishing my 30's. Apparently I was decade off! To all you writers out there, it just goes to prove that you should never give up!

Help me celebrate by helping me spread the word about this giveaway!

Also, you can e-mail me a picture of yourself in a hat holding a teacup for another chance to win a copy of Born of Persuasion! See who else sent a picture!

 To enter to win the instant library, use the form below!

Day 28 - Instant Library of Tyndale Titles!

All for a Story and For Time & Eternity - by Alison Pittman 

Tattler's Branch, Skip Rock Shallows, Still House Pond, and Sweetwater Run - by Jan Watson

All In Good Time and Bees in the Butterfly Garden - by Maureen Lang

Flame of Resistance - by Tracy Groot

Promise Me This and Band of Sisters -by Cathy Gohlke

Brides of the West - Faith, Brides of the West- Hope, and Brides of the West - June - by Lori Copeland 

A Lineage of Grace, The Scarlet Thread, A Voice in the Wind, and The Last Sin Eater- by Francine Rivers

Grace's Pictures - by Cindy Thomson

Tangled Ashes and In Broken Places - by Michelle Phoenix

Wings of Glass and Crossing Oceans - by Gina Holmes

Beaded Hope - by Cathy Liggett 

Redemption and Remember -by Karen KingsburyGary Smalley

Secrets Over Sweet Tea - by Denise Hildreth Jones

Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales -by Randy Singer

Vienna Prelude and Prague Counterpoint - by Bodie & Brock Thoene

The Outcast -by Jolina Petersham

Dogwood -by Chris Fabry

Born of Persuasion -by Jessica Dotta

Man in the Blue Moon by -by Michael Morris

Take a Chance On Me - by Susan May Warren

Expect an Adventure by DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. She is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also the Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

Writing is a tough profession. The competition in today’s publishing world makes the strongest writers think twice about their commitment to excellence. Those of us who are lured by the magnificence of story are committed to creating a world where our readers slip into the shoes of our characters and are whisked away to an amazing thrill filled with uncertainty.

A writer has a gauge by which she measures her stories, the one she is currently writing and the future projects that are being shopped at publishing houses.

My personal barometer is for each reader to Expect an Adventure. This aspiration is a two-way street. If I don’t have the adventure of a lifetime while I’m writing the story, then how can I expect a reader to feel the same exhilaration? When I laugh, cry, hate, love, argue, discover, run for my life and leap high mountains, I expect my readers to take the same plunge. Oh, the span of emotions that expands the human heart.

Each book has to have deeper characterization than the previous novel, a more intricate plot, a setting that challenges the storyline, and more emotive conflict. No pressure there!

Once I establish my premise, my quest for dynamic characters begins. I insist upon an unlikely heroine
—a woman who is qualified and able to solve a problem. She’s a feminine creature, capable of feeling a variety of emotions, and she’s mentally strong, a woman who uses her wit to meet each new challenge. This woman may or may not be Christian at the beginning of the story, but she will learn to solve her problems through a Christian worldview.

The hero is a strong man who appreciates many aspects of the heroine. They differ in views and argue, but they learn to work together while they step from one danger to another.

The villain is motivated by greed. He’s highly intelligent and charms his followers with power, money, or wit.

Premise, characterization, and plot are tightly women. My plot must parallel the heroine’s chosen profession and put her into danger as she reaches for an impossible goal. She flexes her muscles and goes to work.

Plotting involves asking questions. What is the worst possible thing that could happen to my character? How can I raise the stakes in every scene? How can I keep the reader on the edge of her seat and glued to the pages of the book? My personal standards must meet the demands of today’s readers.

Are my readers breathless? Filled with excitement? Do they sense the danger? Are they swept away in a romance?

What setting interests or terrifies my heroine? I believe in research to validate my setting, and that means stepping into unfamiliar territory. I’ve been to Sudan, rode the line with the Border Patrol, interviewed treasure hunters, and made friends with the FBI.

If the passion for story will not let you go, I challenge you to take the plunge and write the adventure!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Self-Publishing Has Changed Author / Agent Relationships

Several months ago, my agent confessed that she "messed up royally." Actually,  Rachelle's post was a clarification of her previous post entitled Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? This post stirred up lots of pushback, most notably from self-published authors who felt she was siding with "Big Pub."

Frankly, I thought it was an overreaction on the part of many of the commenters and reminded me a lot of THIS POST where I suggested that waiting to self-publish was a good idea, was linked to some guerrilla self-publishers, called bad names, and I ended up doing a lot of back-tracking. I felt a similar (over-) reaction occurred toward Rachelle's post.

Don't get me wrong. There was lots of reasonable, civil, compelling arguments for why self-pubbing is better than traditional publishing and how big publishers can and do take advantage of authors.

Perhaps the big bat was the one swung by James Scott Bell in his lengthy comment, which began:
I found the very form of the question somewhat disconcerting. "Will my publisher LET ME?" Like I'm in third grade? Rather, the question should simply be, "How May I Self-Publish Successfully?" I'm not owned by a publishing company. I am not begging for Kibble. I am a writer who knows what he's doing, who can deliver the goods, and to whom readers pay because of said goods.

Writers who are "gung ho" to write more and make more money are doing what writers only WISHED they could do in the "old days." And our mantra is, we can work with publishers, too, as long as a mutually beneficial deal can be worked out. Which is how it should be.

The comment thread is actually very informative. It clearly gives you the sense that the tide is turning (has turned?) and the chips are on the side of the "underdog." And, frankly, some of the anger is warranted. I mean, I've invested far more time and money to market my books and further my brand than any publisher has. This doesn't mean I will, henceforth, forgo traditional publishing. It means I'm going in with the realization that I still need to work my ass off.

What I found most interesting, however, was the insinuation that Rachelle's post showed she was on the side of big publishers and not being an advocate for her clients.

I thought this was absurd.

Granted, this could be because I actually know Rachelle, have worked with her, and have never gotten the sense that she does not have my best interest in mind or that she's a shill for the evil "Big Pub." In fact, I've self-published two books since joining her team. No strings attached. And she's been nothing but encouraging along the way.

Which is why I appreciated what Ramona Richards, a novelist and acquisitions editor, said on Rachelle's follow-up post:
Rachelle, your posts don't often surprise me, but this one did. Anyone who would think you would be on the side of a publisher over a client is either 1) new; 2) not paying attention; 3) never negotiated a contract with you. As a "traditional" publisher who HAS done that last one, I know from personal experience that you are an excellent advocate for your clients. The industry is undergoing a sea-change right now, and there are a lot of unknowns. Your devotion to your clients is not one of them.

I think Rachelle was right to issue a follow-up, apologize for her "royal mess-up," and clarify her position. I couldn't help but wonder if her mea culpa is indicative of the tenuous author / agent relationship created by the new world of publishing. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see many similar "clarifications" in the near future on the part of agents assuring clients and potential clients that they are not lapdogs for traditional publishers and can play a legitimate role in an author's career.
Which means that the default position for literary agents will be teetering on the tightrope somewhere between those "evil" publishers and us newly empowered, and quite ready for payback, authors.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at

A Quick and Simple Task

I have never been an early riser. It was always a struggle for me to get out of bed in the morning when I was young. My sluggishness likely had a lot to do with the fact that I hid under the blankets with a flashlight reading until the wee hours. As the morning sunlight lit my room my mom would call several times before my toes would finally slip over the side and touch the floor. Then it took a long time in the shower to really wake up before heading downstairs for breakfast. And when I got to the kitchen the refrain was always the same. 

“Did you make your bed?”

I’d groan and trudge back upstairs, knowing there would be no breakfast until that small task was done. One morning I asked my mother why she always insisted that I make my bed.

“It’s a good start,” she said. “It means you’re ready for the day.”

I couldn’t help but think about my mom’s words this past Sunday as my husband preached on Acts 9 verses 32-43. It was verse 34 that triggered the memory. Peter had stopped in the town of Lydda where a man named Aeneas, a paralytic, caught his attention. He stopped long enough to heal the man, saying, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” 

That last sentence made me sit up straight. Why did Peter tell him to take care of his mat? Was it in the way? Was it unsightly? Or was Peter saying something more to Aeneas? I wondered if perhaps he was saying, get ready Aeneas, a new day is beginning, things are about to happen and there’s a purpose for you in them.

And that made we wonder about the purpose of the healing, the purpose of the blessing. God does not act randomly or without reason. His actions, and most especially his blessings, always have purpose.

That made me think of all the blessings I’ve been given in my life. It’s a long list and the realization that it all has purpose made me begin to think about what God intends me to do. He’s given me wealth so I should share it, food and a home to open to others. He’s given me health so I can do His will on this earth. He’s given me family that I might raise them to go into the world and bless others. He’s given me the talent of writing so that I might glorify His name through story. All of his blessings have an outward slant, none are intended to be hidden or hoarded.

My mother trained me well. Making my bed is still something I do each morning. It makes me feel that the day has started and I’m ready for it. This morning, as I did that quick and simple task I wondered what God had in store for me today. What am I to be ready for? Ready to hear his voice, ready to move when he says “go,” ready to speak when His Spirit directs. Yes, all of these things and more. I’m to be ready to receive His blessings and use them for His purposes.

What about you? Have you made your bed?

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 
Marcia's second novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary fiction category of The Word Awards. Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here. Visit Marcia's website

Friday, August 23, 2013

Feeding Your Creative Spirit—Are You Filling the Well or Draining it Dry? by Edie Melson

I’ve had a crazy few months. Between writing deadlines, family crisis’ and summer craziness, I’m running on empty. But I don’t have time to lay out for a couple of weeks and recover. There are still more commitments and deadlines looming in the near future.

So how do I keep going and find a way to feed my creative spirit? I do a little inventory and then get my schedule down to the basics.

The first thing I’m dealing with is mental fatigue. My mind is like a muscled that’s been overworked. It needs time to recuperate. To give it the time it needs, I’ll be watching the clock while I’m working and taking frequent breaks during the day. I’ll wander around my yard, have lunch with a friend, or just sit and enjoy a TV show.

Next on my list of issues is a disrupted routine. Many of you know I keep a pretty regular schedule. I have to, I’m too easily distracted as it is. A schedule helps me focus and stay productive. But the past few months my schedule has consisted of sitting in front of the computer for twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. No one can sustain that kind of workload for any length of time.

So I’ll become very rigid with my schedule (including the break times). This will help me stay on track, even as I give myself time to recuperate. My writing time will be shorter and my breaks a little longer.

The third thing I’m going to address in my life is nourishment for my creative spirit.  I need something to rekindle that creative that’s burned so low in my soul.
  • I’ll be spending more time reading—for pleasure. I may try a new author, or revisit an old favorite. I plan to go where my whims lead me. NOTHING from my to-do reading list allowed!
  • I’ll be doing some things that spark my creativity, like jewelry making or knitting. Something creative, but not something I do for money. Just opportunities that encourage my imagination to soar.
  • I’ll be going to the movies. This gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in worlds that other creative geniuses have imagined and most important, much-needed time with my husband and with friends
  • Finally, I’ll be finding a time for a short vacation. It may only be a one-day trip into the mountains or a local park, but my husband and I need the unplugged time with just each other as our focus.  

Now I’d love to hear from you. How do you refill and refresh your creative spirit? Share your suggestions in the comments section so we can all learn from each other.

Edie Melson is the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. Her popular blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands of writers each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her bestselling ebook on social media has just been updated and re-released as Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine. You can connect with Edie through Twitter and Facebook.