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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Game Face: Historical Fiction Gets Serious

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. For relaxation, he writes westerns. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at

Your historical fiction manuscript sits on a knife’s edge. Falling to one side awaits epic historical fiction. The other side? Epic historical failure.

Historical fiction owns an element that comes with significant responsibility. It’s time to get serious.

Historical fiction shapes views of the past.

For good or for bad, historical fiction forges images and impressions of the past into minds. When the American gold rush is mentioned, many minds reference Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love.  American Civil War? Gone with the Wind or Killer Angels. Many feel they know medieval history because they’ve read Pillars of the Earth.

Use history wisely.

Because in historical fiction, history is the flour of bread. If the wrong ingredient is added, is the recipe ruined? For some, no—they like salt instead of baking powder. But historical fiction readers are usually informed. They know what the pudding should taste like. And if you use skim milk instead of whole milk, they’ll know.

Raise the history standard in your manuscript. That means reading.

And more reading. Until you don’t tell your friends how many books read. Until you pretend you watch TV, so you can fit in. Until, embarrassed and ashamed of your dirty little reading secret, you have three Goodreads accounts with fictitious names just to keep track of your books.

Reading history leaves an impression on you.

When at long last you sit and write, after reading your fill, history dominates your head. Nothing specific, maybe—just history. You can’t help but write history. Sweeping themes of humanity. Struggles of what it was to live in another time.

Graduate yourself from knowing about history to living history. Breathing it. Loving it. Writing the past.

Leave the reader an impression of what the past was really like.

Mr. Leavell, where do I begin studying history? How do I get my historical fiction game face on?”

You’re serious? Good.

A great overview of world history is Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World, followed by The History of the Medieval World, and just out is The History of the Renaissance World.

In the back of her books are notes and bibliographies. These are trusted sources. If a time period interests you, read the books she lists. Those books list sources. It’s okay to find those books and read them. And then read the primary sources listed. You can find gold mines in the bibliography of any historical books.

Then contact your local college history professor and ask what she’s reading. Read those books, along with the ones she’s written. And finally, subscribe to periodicals and journals, such as the American Historical Review. Sure, they’ve got some bias, like taking down Christianity, but it’s the latest in historical thought. And someday, you might be in a position to combat bias.

Keep reading until this hobby of loving history has gone terribly wrong, taking over your life. When your manuscript falls off the knife edge and on the side of epic historical fiction, keep reading history.

What's your favorite historical fiction novel? Author? Time period?

Gideon's Call is an unprecedented tale of tragedy and triumph amid the backdrop of the Civil War through the story of Tad, a very clever slave boy who comes of age as America’s war reaches the sea islands of South Carolina. Tad’s desire to better himself is obstructed by the color of his skin, until Northern soldiers force the evacuation of white plantation owners, setting 10,000 slaves free in a single day. These circumstances seem like a dream, except that the newly freed slaves have no money, no education, and little hope for the future—unless someone rises up to lead them. Based on true events, Gideon’s Call is the dramatic tale of a young man who battles the shame of his past and faces the horrors of war and unimaginable prejudice to become the deliverer of thousands of freed slaves.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hey, Don't Forget...

Tie a string around your finger if you have to, but whatever you do, don't forget about Novel Rocket's LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile!

This is for unpublished novelists. That is, writers who have completed a novel (or more) but have never had one contracted with a traditional publisher.

Is that you? Is your story Historical, Middle Grade/Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, or Speculative? Then there's still room for you!

The first two categories, Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Thriller and General Fiction, are already closed. We're still taking entries in the remaining four, but the submission deadline for Historical Fiction is coming up soon (June 10), so don't dilly-dally.

We look forward to receiving your entry!

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. 
Ransom in the Rock, the third title in her Christian space fantasy series, released May 15 and is available in print and ebook. 
Fly through the Gateway to Gannah for some serious sci-fi adventure!

Squeaky Clean Manuscripts ~ Sally J. Ling

Final Self-Editing

Sally J. Ling

Writers write. Editors edit. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Now, writers, whether fiction or non-fiction, have to be their own editor, and the task can be daunting to overwhelming. So what’s a writer to do? 

When I published my first five books with traditional publishers, the publishers had editors on staff. It was the editor who then went line by line through my manuscript to catch any grammatical errors, content issues, or problems with sentence structure.

Today, manuscripts are expected to be in ship shape when they reach the publisher’s or agent’s desk. That’s not an easy task for many of us. Most writers are more interested in telling a compelling story than worrying about the details. But times have changed. Now, writers have to do their own editing, or find someone else do it for them. Ah . . . there is the rub.

If you’re not interested in hiring someone to professionally edit your manuscript (though I highly recommend this even though it can run from a few hundred dollars into the thousands if you’re looking for both content and grammatical editing—who said being an author was inexpensive?), then perhaps these suggestions will help you do most of the final editing yourself, thereby limiting your financial exposure for a paid editor.

But . . . let me warn you, even with the most experienced editor, or the dozens of pairs of eyes that may review the manuscript before publishing, in most cases not all the errors will be caught. It is rare when I read a print or digital book that I don’t find a word left out, misspelled, used out of context, or even a duplicate paragraph. To minimize that happening to you, I offer the following final self-editing suggestions.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you have a solid story line, dialogue is clear, point of view is appropriate, and you’re simply looking to catch any final problems. I’ve found that reading my manuscript in a variety of different formats makes the story look different (even when I’m sick to death of it!), and the problems often stand out, many times, glaringly so. Also, reading your manuscript on a different device—say a tablet rather than a desk or lap top computer—allows you to see errors as well.

So . . . here are my suggestions for that final self-edit:

  1. Read your manuscript on your computer. Make corrections.
  2. Put it away for a few weeks (This helps you see the story in a fresh light.)
  3. Print it out. Re-read it. Make corrections.
  4. Read it out loud to someone. Make corrections. (This is a great way to find glaring issues, such as duplicate or misplaced paragraphs, unrealistic dialogue, or content that doesn’t make sense. You’ll also be getting feedback as you go.)
  5. Make a pdf. Re-read it. Make corrections. (I realize that you are re-reading the same story just in different formats, but you will be surprised how many errors you will find just switching to a different format.)
  6. Send to “readers.” (These are a handful of people who will give you an honest opinion and who can catch additional typos and story glitches.)
  7. Send to an editor. (This needs to be someone experienced, not a friend, unless this friend is also a professional editor. Steps 1-6 will help you cut down on the time it will take for this step and the expense.)
  8. Upload your book as a print book or e-book. Re-read in printed proof copy or digital format. Make corrections. (You can skip step 8 if you’re sending directly to an agent or publisher.)
  9. Publish or send to agent/publisher.

I realize final edits can be a time consuming process (yes, it does take weeks). But better to take the time up front to edit it in these formats than to have readers turn up their noses at your story because of too many grammatical or content problems. Nothing kills book sales quicker than poor reviews.

Here’s wishing you much success with your self-editing. I’d love to hear about your experience using these techniques, and if you have other suggestions, please let me hear about them as well. You may contact me at

Note: For those who write fiction, a great book to read before you get to my final editing suggestions is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book gives proven techniques to help writers turn their manuscripts into published works of fiction. I’ve found it extremely helpful.

Sally J. Ling, Florida’s History Detective, is an author, speaker, and historian. She writes historical fiction and nonfiction and specializes in little known stories of Florida history. As a special correspondent, Sally wrote for the Sun Sentinel newspaper for four years and was a contributing journalist for Boca Raton, Gold Coast, Delray Beach, Boca Life, Jupiterand Palm Beacher magazines.

Based upon excerpts from her book Run the Rum In, Sally appeared in two TV documentaries-- “Gangsters” - the National Geographic Channel, and “Prohibition and the South Florida Connection” - WLRN, Miami. She served as associate producer on the latter production. She has been a guest on South Florida PBS TV and radio stations, guest presenter at the Lifelong Learning Society at Florida Atlantic University and Future Authors of America, and guest speaker at numerous historical societies, libraries, organizations, and schools.  Sally lives with her husband, Chuck, and her cat, Kitty, and splits her time between Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Wolf Laurel, North Carolina.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Help for the Weary Writer by Carla Stewart

Award-winning author of five novels, Carla Stewart has a passion for times gone by. It's her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.”
She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop. Since then she’s had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla was the 2011 trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”, an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) finalist in 2011 and winner in 2012, a two-time Genesis winner, and an Oklahoma Book Award finalist four times. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more about Carla on her websiteTwitter, Facebook, GoodReads, & Pinterest.

I just turned in my sixth contracted book – something that a few years ago I never imagined would happen. To say I feel blessed is an understatement. Saying that I was exhausted is not. It was the second book “from scratch” I’d written in twelve months, and while others do this quite readily and successfully, it stretched me to the outer limits. And left me feeling as if I couldn’t write another word. Ever.

And yet, there was a part of me that was heavy with guilt for not being able to move right into the next proposal/social media craze/book idea. Somehow in the quest to write more books, gain more followers, and achieve success, the entire point of writing in the first place had taken its toll. I wanted to curl up and sleep for a week.

As novelists we’re in the constant state of creating worlds and characters that entertain readers and give them an escape from their harried worlds. Yet, we often fail to give ourselves the same grace—moments of abandoning life’s pressures and just being in the moment. In turn, our readers don’t get the full benefit of our best work because we haven’t refilled own wells of creativity. The next step will surely be writer burnout.

Am I alone in this presumption? I don’t think so as I read posts and social media updates almost every day from writers who are at their wits’ end. Giving up isn’t the answer. Taking a sabbatical might be. Even our Lord rested on the seventh day.

How to take a sabbatical:
  • Take stock. You know what deadlines and obligations you have. Fulfill those and plan a date in the near future when you will take a rest.
  • Decide how long your sabbatical will be. Some people can bounce back and be refreshed in a week or two. Others may need three months or even a year. It’s always wise to keep in mind that if you disappear for too long, you will lose momentum with your audience, so know what your goals are and whether or not you may be making a change of direction and can afford a longer period.
  • Remove distractions. Clean your house. Make sure your bills are paid up to date. Be strong and say no to anything that may keep you from your planned time of sabbatical.
  • Unplug from the electronic world. If you feel it’s necessary to announce that you’ll be scarce for awhile, that’s fine. Do inform anyone who needs to know how to reach you if needed.
  • What to do on a sabbatical. Listen to your soul. Activities should be directed by what comforts or inspires you. If napping for an entire day in the hammock in the back yard is your idea of heaven, do it. Take walks on nature trails. Go to concerts or plays. Spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Go to the mall and people watch. Paint a picture. Take a picture. Write a poem. Visit a flea market and buy something that makes you happy. Take the time to visit with an elderly neighbor and listen to his story with your heart. Invite a friend you haven’t seen in awhile to lunch. Have family game night and do include your children in some of your activities. Truly listen to them and let their laughter fill you. Take a cooking class or art class. Go on a picnic or a weekend trip. Build something out of wood. Plant a garden. Journal words that make you smile or tidbits from your day that touched you and identify the emotion it gave you. Walk a labyrinth and count your blessings.
  • Lose yourself in books. Not just the ones you’ve been saving because someone said “you have to read this book” but old favorites, the ones that inspired you to become a writer. Read something outside your preferred genre or that classic you’ve been meaning to read since 1995. Re-read your favorite book of the Bible. Memorize it.
  • Resist the urge to return too soon. You will notice, as I have, that ideas will start coming, and the temptation to open a file or start a new project is enticing. Instead, keep a notebook handy and jot down your ideas, a future to-do list or tasks that have come to your attention while you are on sabbatical. Like the dirty dishes in the sink, they will still be there when you’re ready to tackle them.

A time of rest is different for everyone, but refilling the well that is uniquely you will help you gain perspective on the important things in life and massage the worn-out corners of your heart and mind.

Rest. Refuel. Arise with sparkling new ideas and stories you can’t wait to plunge into. The world is waiting for the best you have to offer. That which only comes when you’ve given yourself the gift of unfettered time.

Do you struggle with burnout? How do you fill your creative well?  

For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.

But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Divine Moments

By Yvonne Lehman

Twenty-three authors lined up in front of the stage at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last week to receive their copies of Divine Moments. My presentation of the books was on Tuesday evening and that was genre night. Several of the contributors were dressed like a character of their choice but most of our group wore dark pants or skirts, white tops, green ties or green flowers, representing the book cover. Being my usual self, I went to extreme and dressed like a tree.

But let me share with you how this all came about.

One evening, after a day of participating in the 2013 Blue Ridge Conference, several us sat in the beautiful lobby of Mountain Laurel hotel on the campus of Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.

Cindy Sproles told a story that had us all gasping with amazement of how God showed up in an almost unbelievable way. Someone else, then others began to remember and share their stories. Some were sweet, some humorous, others serious, but all were about knowing his presence with us. I thought of the praise song, “Our God is an Awesome God,” in which the words are repeated over and over. I’ve often wanted to say, “Go further. Don’t just repeat the words. Tell me in what ways you are amazed by God.”

That’s what we were doing that evening. We were joyful, talking loudly, laughing, loving, sharing those special times which became a time of praise. Others joined us to hear these stories and share their own. The realization was that we all have awesome and amazing stories to share but we don’t always take time or don’t have the opportunity to share them.

Exhausted by joy, we finally needed to disburse so we wouldn’t be cranky and negative the next day from lack of sleep. A few of us lingered, feeling so blessed at knowing we are worthy because Jesus made us so when he died for our sins. We are loved because the Bible tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God.

We wanted to keep sharing…and that’s how this book came into being. It is a book of praise, of Divine Moments. These stories have come from all over the United States, England, and Canada, shared by people of all ages, backgrounds, occupations, and educational levels. What a joy to think of Divine Moments happening all over the world every day. Since there is so much negativity around us, we find it a privilege to share about God’s presence in the world and in our lives.

These stories have been generously donated. The writers knew they would receive no monetary compensation but they have experienced what we all do, a sense of peace and joy when we give without expecting anything in return. Well…we do expect something because we know God blesses, and in unexpected, wonderful ways. We’re thrilled that all royalties from the sale of this book will go to a worthy organization, Samaritan’s Purse.

We know there are many more Divine Moments out there. If you’d like to share something for our Divine Christmas Moments, email me at

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lessons I've Learned ~ Stephanie Landsem

by Elizabeth Ludwig

Stephanie Landsem
Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.

How many books do you have published? What is your latest title, and what do you have coming up? 

Howard Books, 2014
The Well, which released last June, was my debut novel and the first of The Living Water Series published by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster. In February, just in time for the Easter season, The Thief was released. The third book in the series, The Tomb, is on my editor’s desk and will be published in February, 2015. 

You were last featured on Novel Rocket in 2013 when your debut book, The Well, released. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then? 

Writing is hard work! And it is often discouraging. I’ve learned that my interactions with readers lift me up and give me the encouragement to keep at it. It really is a great blessing each time I hear from a reader who has been touched and inspired by one of my books. 

What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion? 

I’ve learned that the ‘big’ venues are important – Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and the like. But so are the smaller interactions. And sometimes they are the ones that open doors to amazing promotional opportunities. A conversation at lunch, responding to a reader’s email, or meeting with a small book club has often led to bigger opportunities like speaking engagements or important contacts that I never would have known about otherwise. No effort is small if I am connecting with readers. 

What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried? 

Before The Thief released, Howard offered a promotion of The Well e-book for a reduced price of $1.99. It was a great way to get my name out to readers who were interested in biblical fiction. The promotion was shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Bookbub and resulted in a huge spike in sales. And since the first chapter of The Thief was included at the end of The Well, I think it really helped stir up interest in The Thief when it released the next month.
 What are the least effective promotional activity you’ve tried? 

It’s my own fault, but I am not good at Twitter. I keep hearing that it is an excellent venue for authors, but I’m inconsistent about using it and feel like I don’t have much of a connection with actual readers. It’s something I plan on working on because I can see Twitter’s potential; I’m just not enthusiastic about using it. 

What’s your favorite way to connect with your readers? 

I’m an introvert, so I really like one-on-one, in-person conversations. My favorite thing is to visit small book clubs and really get a chance to talk to a reader in depth. I also enjoy writing blog posts about my historical research and hearing from readers in the comments. Talking history is one of my favorite things and I’m always looking for like-minded history buffs. 

What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you tried? 

Howard Books, 2013
For the release of The Well, I drove into Minneapolis to an incredible Middle-Eastern deli. I loaded up on pita bread, hummus, olives, dried figs and every other biblical delicacy I could find. I made gift baskets for my release party filled with all sorts of delicious food and a copy of The Well. I also did an on-line giveaway of food and the book that was well-received. I’m kind of a foodie, and I love to let my readers enjoy the actual tastes of biblical times. 

What’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity? 

Just a few weeks ago, I went to a local book club. Instead of a ‘the dog ate my homework’ story, one of the members had a ‘the dog ate my book club book’ story. She came in with pictures of how her dog had found her copy of The Thief and chewed it to shreds! Luckily, she had already finished reading the book. 

 Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books? 

I’ve seen God’s hand in my writing journey from the very first moment and I know he’s got the promotion angle covered as well. It’s hard to see at the time, but I have confidence that every opportunity has come about through a loving nudge by the Author of Life. 

What are your top tips for new authors promoting their first book?

Don’t get discouraged! It’s a tough job and it takes more than a book launch to build a base of fans. Start a newsletter list. Don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter for your followers. Have your own database of dedicated readers even if it only starts out as 20 people. Treat them like friends: share your news with them, give them first shot at giveaways and promotions. They will be your most loyal fans. And of course, the best advice I ever got was to do what you do best: write the best book you can write. None of the rest matters if you aren’t making that next book everything you and God want it to be. 

Thank you, Stephanie. We've enjoyed visiting with you today! To learn more about Stephanie and her books, visit her at:!/stephlandsem 

Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of the EDGE OF FREEDOM series from Bethany House Publishers. She is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit

The Big Black Line

by Alton Gansky

Alton Gansky writes books, edits books, and teaches others to write books. He even reads them.

My first steady job was at McDonald’s. I worked the counter, fried burgers, submerged French fries in a vat of hot grease (those were the days), made milk shakes and cleaned everything in sight. The job was stressful but it came with the benefit of low pay and the chance to make some friends. I and my workmates couldn’t do anything about the first part, but we knew how to blow off steam after work. Sometimes we would borrow some of the larger trash cans in the restaurant, fill them with water balloons and head to the nearby bay for a friendly, 1 A.M. balloon fight.

When we tired of pelting each other with bulging sacks of water we switched to bowling (taking care not to confuse a bowling ball with a water balloon). One late night run to the local lanes taught me a lesson that has served me well over the decades.

Among our troop of fast-food professionals, was a high school senior. He was tall, agile, and built like a Buick—he was easily the most athletic of us all. If we had a customer with a temper problem (we worked near the beach and late at night and so had many a strange, two-legged creature stop by) he would step to the service counter, large metal spatula in hand, and say, “Is there a problem here?” Wonder of wonders, whatever concern the drugged-up customer had evaporated. Let’s call my friend, “Tank.”

Tank was a high school athlete with a keen mind. When we went bowling my goal, my only goal, was to beat Tank, then rub his nose in it. Never happened. Still, one game went badly for him. He could not dial in his stride, arm motion, or find the right spin on the ball. By the third frame it was clear he was off his game. I admit it: I was glad. This was my chance to earn a higher score so I could prance around him, pointing and chanting, “I beat you, I beat you.” The beating would be worth it.

I watched his frustration grow and waited for the inevitable crack in his calm demeanor. At the end of his fifth frame, just after he threw his ball (which rolled like a cube down the lane), he straightened and marched to where I was keeping score. I had just said, “Don’t sweat it, Tank, most girls have trouble with that shot.” I wondered what life would be like without my head. What was certainly a grace from God, Tank ignored me, took the grease pencil from my hand and drew a big, black line between the the fifth and sixth frame.

“I’m starting over.” He tossed the pencil on the scoring table.

“You’re in the middle of a game,” I said. “You can’t start over.” (I was born with above average intelligence but below average wisdom.)

“I can’t restart the game, but I can restart my attitude.”

Bingo! Wisdom beyond his years. It hit me. He couldn’t change the previous five frames but he could change the next five. And he did. (Yes, he beat me again.) There is the lesson for writers. In the down season, the “I can’t get anything to work” season, we can draw a big, black line on the scorecard of life and start over in our minds. We don’t have to wait to January 1 to make New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s can come in June or any other month we choose. We’re free to chart a new course anytime. We can reevaluate, make mid-course corrections, explore new paths, or make changes anytime we want or need to. The only person to stop me, is me.

Tank didn’t care if I liked his big, black line or not. If I didn’t, then it was my problem, not his. That line gave him permission to make changes and start over. The same is true for you.

Not bad wisdom from a seventeen year old.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Interview w/ Novelist Carla Laureano Laureano is a bit of a Renaissance Woman. She has held many jobs—including professional marketer, small-business consultant, and martial arts instructor. Recently, she has added “published author” to her repertoire. Her first novel, Five Days in Skye, was recently chosen as a double-finalist in the RWA’s 2014 RITA Awards. Oath of the Brotherhood marks her fantasy debut. Carla graciously took some time to chat about her writing career, YA fiction, theology in storytelling, and the possible future of Christian publishing.

* * *
MIKE: You’ve recently had back-to-back books published by different publishers in different genres. How’d that happen? And do you consider yourself a romance author or an epic fantasy author? Both or neither?
CARLA: It definitely wasn’t planned that way. My fantasy was out on submission, and given the difficulty in selling inspirational fantasy in this market, I didn’t want to start writing another epic speculative series. I took a few months to see if I could write a romance novel and discovered that not only was I capable of doing it, I enjoyed it. When ACFW time came around and I’d didn’t have any serious bites on the fantasy, I decided to pitch the romance. I came home with several requests for the full manuscript… and two days later found out that my fantasy was going to committee. I was then in the surreal position of having two contract offers almost simultaneously, and since the editorial calendars didn’t overlap, I accepted both.

It’s hard to call myself strictly a fantasy author or a romance author, because I truly love writing both. (Naturally, I would pick the two most polarizing love-‘em-or-hate-‘em genres in which to write.) I’m not going to lie—writing two genres simultaneously is more than challenging—but they’re so different that switching back and forth gives my brain a rest and lets me appreciate the things that are unique to each genre.
MIKE: There’s lots of “behind the scenes” things that happen to bring a book to publication – life issues, some sort of inspiration, a professional contact, a significant learning curve, etc. What are some of the most significant “behind the scenes” components that have led to your becoming a published author?
CARLA: I’ve had some people comment on my “immediate success,” but in truth, I’ve been at this for almost twenty years. I wrote fantasy for the general market for years, coming close with agents a couple of times, but I was never able to sell a book. I finally realized that in trying to remove all spiritual components from my stories, I was hampering my natural voice. Once I decided to let the stories be told the way they were meant to be told, I started to find some interest in my work in the CBA. I went from being a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest to having six books under contract in only two years. But that would never have happened if I hadn’t put in the work of learning my craft, submitting, and learning from my mistakes for nearly two decades.
Oath-of-the-BrotherhoodMIKE: So Oath of the Brotherhood is being marketed as YA. I’ve long contended that YA is a bit of an artificial construct. Because a significant swath of YA readers are adults, in some ways, labeling a book YA is a tactic to get adults and young adults to read it. In your opinion, what distinguishes YA fiction from adult fiction? And do you agree that the label is kind of nebulous?
CARLA: In some genres, like romance or mystery, I think the label is necessary. There tends to be a pretty big content divide between YA and adult in those types of fiction. But with regard to speculative fiction, I do agree that the YA label can be a little nebulous. It’s the nature of speculative fiction to deal with bigger issues that would appeal to both teens and adults. Add the fact that the bildungsroman has always been a favored vehicle for telling speculative stories, and the gap between them narrows even further.

That said, there are some specific differences between YA and adult in terms of storytelling approach that I’ve only recently identified for myself. Generally, YA takes one or perhaps two characters and filters the bigger plot through their point(s) of view. If adult speculative uses a wide-angle lens, YA takes a zoom approach. There’s also typically a stronger and more integrated romance thread that’s integral to the story, whereas in most adult speculative fiction the love story could be removed without too much damage to the overall plot. Additionally, YA tends to handle the issues of sex and violence with more delicacy and less detail than adult fiction.

So from that perspective, YA is very much its own genre. I think it’s more helpful to ask what it is about YA that draws in adults. What appeals to me is the visceral nature of a close-in approach to storytelling. It’s almost as if literature tells us when we graduate from YA to adult books, “It’s time to grow up now. Trade all feeling for logic, and toss out the idealism while you’re at it.” But the issues dealt with in YA still resonate with people of all ages: identity, the need for acceptance and belonging, feeling of helplessness in a world that is simultaneously too big and too small. There’s also a sense of hope in most YA speculative fiction that we lack in our more cynical adult fiction, the idea that the world is worth saving and that a single person can make a difference. Even in The Hunger Games, which I think we can agree takes a pretty dim view of human nature, the reader gets the sense that it’s meant as a cautionary tale—and by extension, that we must take action now if we are to avoid this horrible end.
 MIKE: One Christian author, in writing about the limits of speculative fiction, recently suggested that zombies should be out of bounds for Christian fiction. Unless the fictional cause of zombie-ism is viral, there is no biblical precedent for the soulless dead returning to life. Of course, theology is important to a Christian writer. But how much theology do you think a Christian should impose upon their fiction? Should ANYTHING be fictionally out of bounds?
CARLA: I’m of the opinion that nothing should be imposed on a story that isn’t already there. I think that’s part of the complaint many people have with Christian fiction, that the religious aspect can feel tacked on or forced. Even a highly religious book in which the theology or the moral message is integral to the storyline or characters development will not feel preachy. But just like you can’t just decide to set a novel in space and call it science fiction, you can’t throw in a church scene and a conversion scene and call it Christian. It has to be organic to make sense.

That said, I’m quite conscious of the theology that I’m putting forward in my writing, both out of an understanding of the market and a sense of personal responsibility. If I put a Christian-like religion in a speculative setting and then through my story or characters imply that Christ is not the path to salvation, am I responsible for those who might be led away from the central tenet of our faith by those ideas? Possibly.

But does that mean that every book I write has to have an overt parallel to Christianity? No. And I don’t even think I have to have any recognizable religion in a book for it to have a Christian worldview. (It just might be a little harder to sell in the CBA.) I’m in an interesting position myself. Because the conflict between paganism and Christianity was a central one in the Celtic world upon which I based my setting, Oath of the Brotherhood has a pretty strong Christian slant. The other stories I’m developing have a much lighter spiritual thread. Will those books find a home with a traditional publisher? Only time will tell.
 MIKE: I have been fairly critical of Christian fiction, its readers, and the strictures that govern it. It’s tilted predominantly toward women and women’s titles, the stories tend to avoid more edgy subject matter, and follow a traditional redemptive arc. What are your feelings about the current Christian fiction industry? Are you hopeful or skeptical?
CARLA: I’m not sure I have a good answer on this. Most days, I think we’re headed in the right direction. We’re seeing edgier titles (though mostly in the women’s fiction/romance arena), and I know of a handful of new speculative projects that have been contracted by Christian publishers in the last few months. Not to say that I think the books out there now should not be published—it would be egotistical to argue that others’ reading tastes are less valid than my own. But I am encouraged that we may see a wider variety of titles, genres, and subject matter in the coming years. It will be interesting to see if the continuing buyouts of Christian publishers by the Big Five result in more choices or fewer choices in Christian fiction.

What checks my optimism on the subject is the immediate backlash against the publication of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian by Convergent Books, a sister imprint of Waterbrook Press under Penguin Random House. Despite the fact that Convergent and Waterbrook have completely different editorial missions, some people immediately called for a boycott of Waterbrook as well. If decisions made by a progressive imprint can harm a press that is related only by business structure, I wonder if conservative publishers will compensate by moving in the opposite direction and becoming even more cautious in their acquisitions.

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You can find out more about Carla and connect with her at her website, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest

Sunday, May 25, 2014


by Cynthia Ruchti

I sat at my computer to work on this blog post. Two seconds later--isn't that always the way of it?--my husband asked if I wanted to go fishing on the pond.

Since I'd just returned from  a week of girl time with my daughter, it appeared the only logical answer was, "Yes. Sure. Let's go fishing."

Warm, still night. Calm waters. Mosquitoes merely curious, not on the hunt. Perfect evening, made more perfect by my simple worm-and-bobber rig pulling in the first fish, the most fish, and arguably--according to my husband--the largest.

I watched the bobber, as still as a bead glued to glass unless I twitched the line or a fish tugged on the other end.

Because the wind had packed up and gone home for the day, the surface of the water showed every wrinkle of movement. I could watch the concentric circles of ripples move from the bobber centerpoint outward to the far shoreline.

The ripples were visible because the waters were calm. Ripples would have showed little if at all if the wind had ruffled the surface.

Do we always see the way our small word-bobbers reach beyond the spot where they land? When we cast our "lines" into the water, are we always privileged to watch the concentric circles, the ripples, move farther and farther from where they started? No.

It's been said that for every reader who writes a note or makes a comment on a blog or on social media, a thousand others thought about it, but didn't. Some experts say the number may be closer to ten thousand.

In ideal, smooth water conditions, we may see evidence that our work made a splash. But most of the time, we write without the privilege of knowing if our words mattered at all. We write anyway, reminding ourselves that if a breeze is blowing, wind howling, or a storm raging, the ripples we make are masked, but still as real as the rule of physics that can make a tiny bobber's influence felt on the far shore. It's another place where faith shows up. We write because we believe that--in God's all-wise plan--His words and the words, sentences, chapters, stories, books He enables us to write start a pattern of ripples the keep radiating from center.

"Cast your bread upon the waters," we're told in Ecclesiastes 11:1 ESV, "for you will find it after many days."

It took a trip to the pond, fishing pole in hand--and a moment of reflection about the ripples  a bobber makes--to remind me to keep casting, whether I see results or not. And to praise God for the calm water days when the ripples are obvious.

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through award-winning novels, novellas, devotions, nonfiction books, and through speaking events for women and writers. Her latest releases are When the Morning Glory Blooms (novel), Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices (nonfiction), and the newly released novel All My Belongings. You can continue the conversation here or on her website or