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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Summer of Success

Facing a career crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about Donna Summer lately, as a result.

Donna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (genres)? Further, did you know that she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975s disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. Start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) and stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth. But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

What are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance/historical/suspense/other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years—three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.
That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:
  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”
Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?

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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The 12 Days of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas is a series of novellas releasing every two weeks as ebooks on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. An Unexpected Glory, by our very own Marcia Lee Laycock releases October 31st. Here is an interview with both Kathi and Marcia about this exciting series.

First of all, Kathi, please introduce yourself.

I’m Kathi Macias, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, author, abolitionist, former Harley-Davidson rider known as “Easy Writer,” and lover of chocolate anything.

How did the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas series come to be?

I’d actually been playing with the idea for several months when I mentioned it to Giovanni at Helping Hands. He jumped on it. We started chatting, and pretty soon I decided it would be a lot more fun to have 11 other writers come onboard and help me write this collection/series (one story each) than to try to do them all myself. I’m so glad I did because it’s turned into a really fun project!

Have you collaborated with other authors this way before?

Not exactly in the same way. I’ve been a part of similar ones Murray Pura put together, and I once co-compiled a women’s devotional with contributions from scores of women, but this one is the first of a fictional series I’ve launched—though more are in the works!

What did you enjoy about the process and what wasn’t so much fun?

So far I haven’t found anything that wasn’t fun, though the marketing aspect is always a bit stressful and time-consuming for me. Everything else has been a blast. The only downside was that the slots filled up so quickly I had to start turning people away.

Do you have plans to do it again?

Absolutely! When I found myself turning people away, I decided instead to add them to the list for future projects (two per year at this point—a Christmas series and a Mother’s Day series). We are currently filled all the way through 2015!

We’ll be watching for them. Where can readers go to find the stories in The 12 Days of Christmas series?

The first story (mine, titled “Rules of Engagement”) will launch the series on September 1st. It will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Each new story will launch two weeks apart.

Thanks, Kathi.
Now let’s hear from Marcia. To begin, Marcia, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a pastor’s wife, mother of three beautiful grown daughters and two great sons-in-law. I’m also the caregiver of two loveable golden retrievers. <grin> I’ve had the privilege of living a short distance from the Arctic Circle, in Dawson City Yukon and two degrees off the equator in Papua New Guinea. I began writing at a young age and now have two novels and three devotional books in print, one of which, Abundant Rain, is a collection of some of the devotionals for writers I’ve done for Novel Rocket. I also love doing a lot of speaking for women’s groups. My heart is to see women encouraged and brought closer to Christ.

How did you become involved in this series of Christmas stories?

A friend who had been contacted by Kathi emailed me to see if I’d be interested. I jumped on it right away because I had a Christmas story that I’d really like to get out into the marketplace. But God had a different plan. Another idea popped into my head and once I got going on it I realized this was the one to put into this project. It became An Unexpected Glory.

Is this the first time you have contributed to a series like this?

Yes, although I have contributed to several anthologies in the past, the most recent of which is the Hot Apple Cider books, two collections of thirty-some Canadian Christian authors. I also recently contributed to The Story for Scripture Union Canada – a series of devotionals designed to be read on an iphone or ipad that take the reader through the Bible in one year. Working on The 12 Days project has been great because I’ve been in touch with the other writers. We’ve been reading and giving feedback on one another’s stories. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m excited that they are releasing as ebooks, which makes them accessible to so many.

Do you have other projects under way?

I’m always working on something. The third expanded edition of my devotional book, Spur of the Moment will release soon on Amazon so that’s been exciting. Right now I’m putting together the first three chapters of a mystery novel for an agent in the US. Hoping that evolves into a fiction series.

Thank you ladies for being with us on Novel Rocket. We wish you great success with this Christmas series.

Kathi Marcias’ 12 Days of Christmas novellas can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online distributors. An Unexpected Glory releases October 31st with a Thirsty Thursday party on the Helping Hands Press facebook page.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting Interrupted While Reading a Great Novel

Do you get annoyed when you're immersed in a captivating novel and someone breaks the moment?

I do. Not as much as I did years ago. Darci used to dread the times I'd find a can't-put-down-novel because I'd hit the pause button on life till the book was finished.

These days not so much. (Yes, I'm actually maturing in my old age.)

But I still cracked up when I saw this video, because a part of me still knows how the guy feels. Maybe it's the same for you.

Does life go on hold when you find a novel you love? What's the last novel that did that for you?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, THE CHAIR, SOUL’S GATE, and MEMORY’S DOOR. He’s also a professional speaker and owner of Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at and on Facebook:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Classic vs. Contemporary "Christian Horror"

I was recently interviewed for Radio National's Encounter program on the intersection of horror & religion. (You can download a podcast of the one hour program on "Sacred Hour" HERE.) I was the lone representative for "Christian horror." Among other topics, I broached the difference between "classic" and "contemporary" versions of the genre.

Admittedly, the term "Christian horror" is seldom used by execs and readers of Christian fiction. Nevertheless, there's so much overlap between a biblical worldview and horror tropes that the connection between "Christian" storytelling and the horror genre seems inescapable.

In The Grotesque in Art & Literature, Theological Reflections, "theology" and the "grotesque" are seen as intrinsically connected. The two pivots of biblical history that involve horror and the grotesque are:

  • The Fall of Humanity (and all its ensuing fruits)
  • The Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Christ (i.e., the redemption of Fallen Humanity)

As I stated in the above interview, perhaps the greatest of all "horror," biblically speaking, is that humanity has turned its back on God. Those created in God's image have become unmoored to their Maker, the most hideous of all realities. In so doing, we have become monsters. In fact, it could be argued that an even greater "horror" superseded and spurred these: the Fall of Lucifer. Because of these three overarching biblical themes, not only is the grotesque and horrific regularly invoked in Scripture, some of the greatest Christian artists and writers employ grotesquery and horror in their work.

So when did "classic Christian horror" start? It's hard to say. Some trace it back to the Renaissance:
In the visual arts, Renaissance painters such as Hieronymus Bosch demonstrated the vivid connection between religious faith and the horrific imagination. The Bible and the Catholic Church were the driving inspiration behind Bosch’s art, yet many of his more surreal works, such as the right-hand panel of the triptych The Garden of Delights, offer nothing less than an all-out horror show. His paintings are a veritable ‘Where’s Wally?’ of horrific images. Men have arrows rammed into their anuses and fish-headed monsters devour people whole, only to defecate their remains into a pit filled with other people’s vomit. This is horror at its most extreme – and it is informed by religious ideals.
On the fiction circuit, Dante's Inferno (completed in 1314) and Milton's Paradise Lost (originally published in 1667) could, I think, rightly be considered Christian Horror. I've even suggested elsewhere that Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), in some ways, fits under the "Christian horror" mold. Even more contemporary is Charles Williams. Williams was a member of the Inklings (along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) and wrote novels with overtly religious and horrific themes. Two of his novels which are most commonly associated with the Christian horror genre are:

  • Descent into Hell (1937) — Generally thought to be Williams’s best novel, Descent deals with various forms of selfishness, and how the cycle of sin brings about the necessity for redemptive acts. In it, an academic becomes so far removed from the world that he fetishizes a woman to the extent that his perversion takes the form of a succubus. Characters include a doppelgänger and the ghost of a suicidal Victorian labourer. It is illustrative of Williams’s belief in the replacement of sin and substitutional love.
  • All Hallows' Eve (1945) — Opens with a discussion between the ghosts of two dead women wandering about London. Ultimately explores the meaning of human suffering and empathy by dissolving the barrier between the living and the dead through both black magic and divine love.

The above descriptions were cribbed from Wikipedia.

So was Williams the last of the great classic Christian horror writers? I ask this for several reasons, mainly because the contemporary Christian fiction market seems so detached from its historical (and perhaps, biblical) roots.

"Contemporary Christian horror"  emerged within a new, growing, industry. In many ways, I think this industry is still finding its sea legs. However, our industry's early  conventions, which include lack of a biblical apologetic and Fundamentalist leanings, have tainted our view of the genre, more specifically, the horror genre.

Still, one of Christian fiction's biggest selling, most influential novels, could rightly be considered, horror. As far as I can tell, the first significant step back into the classic Christian horror tradition was Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, which continues to be one of the best-selling Christian novels of all-time.
Which leads me to several questions:

  • When did we turn this corner from "classic horror" to "contemporary Christian horror," and what did that turn involve?
  • What is the primary differences between "classic Christian horror" (like Dante or Charles Williams), and "contemporary Christian horror"?
  • Is it safe to say that Frank Peretti is the "father of contemporary Christian horror"?
  • Is it also safe to say that This Present Darkness was the first real contemporary horror novel?

Of course, since Peretti, the canon of Christian horror has expanded. Tosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir.” Melanie Well’s “When the Day of Evil Comes.” Ted Dekker's Boneman's Daughter. Robert Liparulo’s “Comes a Horseman.” Tom Pawlick’s “Vanish.” These are just a few on a fairly extensive list.

It is troublesome, at least to me, that our industry continues to shun the "Christian horror" label. Especially when we have so rich a history of, not to mention biblical precedence for, producing horror lit. So when did we turn the corner? And will we ever turn to embrace the label?   

* * *

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


Can you identify with this young man? Held against his will, he was taunted, beaten by a bunch of thugs who should have been his friends. They blindfolded him, shouted insults, posted horrible things about him...all untrue.

They mocked what he wore.

They mocked him as he hung dying.

Luke 23:23 says the bullies' "voices won out." Their taunting turned to a crowd frenzy that ratcheted up from bullying to cries for Jesus to be put to death.

You and I know those events as part of the crucifixion story. But if you're like me, you've focused on what Jesus suffered on the cross and may have missed the "bullying" aspect of what happened prior to the cross.

Comfort for us is tucked between His moans. He's intimately acquainted with our physical distresses because of what He bore. And He's intimately acquainted with the emotional toll of being bullied and misunderstood.

Seventh grader pursued by your own classmates, He gets it.

Employee crushed under the pelting hail of unkind words from your employer, Jesus understands.

Author reading needlessly tactless or intentionally mean reviews, that sickening feeling in your stomach isn't unfamiliar to Jesus.

Little girl on the playground pushed around by a taller girl with more muscles, you're not alone.

Of all the people who didn't deserve it, Jesus--the Son of God--seemed the least likely victim. But He was taunted and mocked and bullied at a level few of us can fully imagine. It threatened to take His life. it didn't. The Bible tells us He laid down His life for us.

Abandoned by the very people who might have protected Him, Jesus bore it alone.

We know very little about what became of the bullies. We have to assume some of them regretted what they'd done, once they heard the truth. I wonder if they were among the people to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection. The gentleness with which He walked after the resurrection leads us to believe that if He did appear to them, it was with a forgiveness they didn't even know to request.

Bullied by an insurance company, a neighbor, a coworker, a dissatisfied reader, a family member? Take heart. Jesus understands even that.

And look how He turned out.

QUESTION FOR YOU: If you've ever been bullied, how did you hang onto hope until it stopped? Is there something specific you were led to do that helped defuse the bully's hostility?

Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels, novellas, devotions, and nonfiction. Several dozen of her devotions are included in Guidepost's Mornings With Jesus 2014, available now. Also currently available are her novel When the Morning Glory Blooms and her nonfiction Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices, both from Abingdon Press, as well as other books listed on her website.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Can’t Take a Research Trip? No Problem

Carrie Turansky is the award-winning author of eleven inspirational romance novels and novellas. Her latest are The Governess of Highland Hall, Snowflake Sweethearts, A Man To Trust, and Surrendered Hearts. Carrie lives in New Jersey with her husband Scott who is a pastor, speaker, and the author of several parenting books. When she is not writing she likes to travel with Scott on ministry trips and to visit their kids and grandkids, work in her flower gardens, and cook healthy meals for family and friends. Carrie loves to connect via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Can’t Take a Research Trip . . . No Problem

Traveling to your novel’s location is the ideal way to absorb the atmosphere and see the setting as you prepare to write your novel. But what’s an author to do when a research trip isn’t possible? Here are few ideas that have helped me with my research.

Discover the Wonders of Google Image Search

When I was researching The Governess of Highland Hall I was blessed to be able to travel to England. We rented a car and toured the Oxford area, The Costwolds, and the Peak District. I saw some beautiful historic homes and gardens, spent a day at a delightful country fair, and visited lots of quaint villages and farms.

We enjoyed our trip tremendously, but when I came home I still didn’t have an exact location for my story. I wanted to find an estate that had a Downton Abbey kind of feeling, but was unique. I continued my search online using Google and Google Image Search looking for English Country Estates. That is how I discovered Tyntesfield, an amazing Victorian Gothic Revival house and estate near Wraxall, North Somerset, England.

This beautiful estate was purchased by the British National Trust a few years ago, and is now open to the public. Many tourists and professional photographers have visited and posted their photos online. Typing Tyntesfield into the Google Image search box turned up hundreds of photos of the interior and exterior. These were just what I needed to help me visualize the house and grounds for my series.

At one point in my story, the heroine visited The London Royal Opera House, and I wanted to describe that accurately in my story. I typed it in the Google Image Search box, and pages of photos popped up. After looking through those I could easily describe the stage, elaborate ceiling, and box seats almost as well as if I had been there.

Watch Movies and Documentaries

When I did a Google search for information about Tyntesfield, I discovered a documentary had been filmed there. What a gold mine! The narrator took viewers on a tour, explained the history of the house, and showed many of the unique features I might not have seen even if I had visited there.

Movies and documentaries are a great way to learn more about the setting and time period of your novel. Many of these are available online, so do a Google search and also search on YouTube and Netflix.

When I was researching my current series, I looked for movies set in the Edwardian era and watched Anne of Green Gables, Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey, Titanic, Berkley Square, Manor House, and documentaries about Highclere Castle/Downton Abbey and other English manor houses. Viewing those films gave me great inspiration and practical information I could use in my series. Your local library is another place to look for films and documentaries related to your setting or time period.

Join Pinterest and Start Pinning

Pinterest is a wonderful source for images and information, and it’s a great place to pin and save what you find online so you can access it later and share it with your readers. I created boards for England, Tyntesfield, Downton Abbey, Life in the Early 1900’s, Edwardian jewelry, Edwardian fashions, Edwardian Brides, and boards for each of my books. Pinterest also has a search feature that comes in handy. I needed information about young women being presented at court, so I typed that in and found several photos.

Some of those images took me back to websites with information about how the girls prepared, how they dressed, the order of events, and even how to curtsy. I saved those images on one of my boards and referred back to it when I wrote that scene. Here’s a link to my Pinterest boards for some more ideas on how to use it for research.

Traveling to the location where your novel is set is a great experience, but when that’s not possible we are blessed to live in an age when tons of information is available online. So I hope you’ll try some of these tools as you delve into the research for your next novel!

The Governess of Highland Hall

Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his town young children and his deceased cousin’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from financial ruin The last thing he needs is the distraction of a kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

“Everything about this book breathes upstairs-downstairs, and I was swept away into the world of Highland Hall—the language, the customs, the clothes, the drama, the romance, oh, the romance! Absolutely charming. . .” ~ Susan May Warren, RITA and Christy Award winner and best-selling novelist of Duchess.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Top 20 Things to NEVER Say to a Writer (and the responses we want to make)

by Edie Melson

Below is my list of comments I’ve received over the past years since I’ve come out as a writer. Following each is what I wanted to say. I’m happy to report that I’ve never (at least until now) given in to the temptation.

Top 20 Things to NEVER Say to a Writer!

  • 1. Are you published? (I really don’t have the space here to get into this. I usually just do a mental eye-roll.)
  • 2. I have an idea for something you should write about. We could split the profits. (yeah, I do all the work and you get half of almost nothing. Sounds like a deal to me…)
  • 3. I wrote a book, can you contact your publisher/agent for me? (You really wouldn’t like what I had to say about you.)
  • 4. Why don’t you take the day off, it’s not like you work for a living. (unprintable reply)
  • 5. Can I read your manuscript? (Like I don’t have enough stress in my life already)
  • 6. Writing must be the easiest job in the world. (If you like 20-hour days, pennies per hour, horrific critiques, and serving up your heart for others to chew on daily.)
  • 7. Anyone can write a book, what else do you do? (see number 6)
  • 8. You should get that published. (Really? Like I hadn’t thought of that.)
  • 9. I’ve heard that if you….you’ll be a much better writer. (Nothing I like better than advice from someone who has no clue.)
  • 10. Aren’t you finished with that yet? (I am, I just decided not to submit it.)
  • 11. I hate reading, it’s such a waste of time. (unprintable reply)
  • 12. Have you ever written anything I might have read? (Yes, if morons could read.)
  • 13. Will you read my manuscript? (*running and screaming in the other direction*)
  • 14. Are you still doing that writing thing? (Believe me, if I could quit, I would.)
  • 15. When can I get your book for free? (What part of “I do this for a living” do you not understand?)
  • 16. Can you edit/write my essay for me? (I write commercially, not academically. There is a difference.)
  • 17. Will you make me a character? (Only if I can kill you.)
  • 18. What do you do with all your spare time? (in the vein of number 17, why don’t you come over and find out…)
  • 19. Writing, can you make a living at that?

  • 20. Writing, it must be nice to make so much money for not doing anything.
I’d love for you all to share your experiences with funny responses as the people around you commented on your writing life.

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.