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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Author Interview ~ Christine Lynxwiler

Award-winning author Christine Lynxwiler considers herself hugely blessed to be a wife and mom who lives the crazy writer life in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her latest release Promise Me Always is the first in the Pinky Promise Sisterhood series from Barbour. When Christine isn’t writing, she and her family enjoy kayaking on the nearby river or relaxing together with good books. If you’d like to know Christine better, drop by her website sometime and check out her new release info or latest blog entry.



What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

I’m excited about my newest release, Promise Me Always, Book one in the Pinky Promise Sisterhood series from Barbour Publishing. The heroine, Allie Richards, wants to have her own landscaping company, but more than that, she’s driven to realize her full potential and make a better life for her daughters.

Some books germinate in your heart for so long that you can’t remember a time they weren’t there. Allie’s story is one of those for me. Her dreams, her struggles, her zany Pinky Promise friends, even her sense of humor – I knew them all well before I typed the first word. I’m hoping that intimate acquaintance with my characters translates onto the page in a way that makes the reader feel like she knows them, too.


To read a review of Promise Me Always, click here.

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

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but after I married, the dream stayed dormant until 1997, when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. One night when I was about to fall asleep, the idea for a romance came to me fully plotted. (Unfortunately, that rarely ever happens to me any more.)

When I finished the 75,000 word story, I was ready to market my book. Right. A friend gave me a copy of The Writer’s Market and I sent a proposal to a secular agent. In my cover letter, I remember I mentioned how I’d concocted an amazing combination, a romance for Christians to read. I’d never heard of contemporary Christian fiction so I thought I’d come up with a new genre! How embarrassing.

I waited a lifetime (three months) and called the agent. She told me her dishwasher was smoking and she thought it was on fire, so she couldn’t talk. I thought sure that was an excuse, albeit an elaborate one, to get rid of me, but she ended up sending me a nice rejection saying I should seek out agents/publishers in the “Christian fiction market.”

I signed up for internet service and discovered the (already thriving) world of Christian fiction. I also found out how little I knew about writing books. I started going to Lynn Coleman’s Monday night online workshop and ended up in a crit group with Tamela Hancock Murray.

My family was horrified that I was actually going into a “chat room” but they got over it when they read the revised drafts of my story. I finally realized that no matter how many times I revised my story, it was fatally flawed. The hero was a manipulating jerk for most of the book and in Christian fiction, that wouldn’t fly.

Probably to ease my disappointment, Tamela asked me if I was interesting in joining her and two other published authors in a few anthology proposals for Barbour. She and I came up with four ideas. Barbour’s Fiction Editor, Rebecca Germany, thought two of the ideas had potential. Tamela recruited two other pubbed authors for each anthology proposal. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis. We submitted the proposals and in January 2001, I got a call that Barbour wanted to buy City Dreams.

I was working the front desk of my husband’s chiropractic office at the time, but I jumped up and down and screamed. My husband and the patient he was with came out of the adjusting room. I guess they thought the building was on fire.

In early October, I got an email that they wanted to buy Prairie County Fair, the other anthology we’d proposed. These early sales were the beginning of a solid relationship with Barbour. Over the years, I’ve sold several other novels and novellas to them.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Only every day. Are there writers who don’t? As in any career, there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. But writing is so subjective. You can get a glowing review, but if you look hard enough, there will be a “Eww” review to balance it out. I try to take the self doubts and turn them into motivation to reach higher with my writing. I try. Some days that works. Others, I count it a success if I manage to just read through yesterday’s work and not delete it.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Okay. If I say “Only every day,” that will sound like I just have one answer for every question, won’t it? I’ll forego cutesy then and say, Yes. There have been many times in my writing career that I’ve thought of quitting. Specifically every time I have a deadline fast approaching and the story doesn’t seem to be working.

My husband and I owned and ran a sawmill during our early years of marriage. I remember stacking boards, being careful to keep each row the required width for a bundle. Sometimes, though, in spite of my best intentions, when I got in a hurry, one or two rows near the bottom would be too narrow. My neat stack of boards would “swarm” and instead of a nice bundle for market, I would end up with a chaotic mess. When my life “swarms” and I’m on a deadline, I think seriously of quitting. So far, once I’ve met the deadline, I reconsider.

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

Glue your backside to the chair and write.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t force the words. If you don’t feel moved, don’t write. Fine advice before you have deadlines, I guess. But once you’re on a schedule, writing is a responsibility, not an option.

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

I hate that you can spend years plotting and planning a story only to have one with a similar premise come out just before yours. Not that there’s anything that can be done about it. I just hate it.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

Just many times that life and deadlines have collided. When you’re staying at the hospital with a parent or nursing kids through the chicken pox, it’s hard to write a book in a timely manner.

What are a few of your favorite books?

This is the scariest question in the whole interview. Many of my favorite authors are close friends. What if I inadvertently leave one out? (Is there a button to leave this question open for addendums?) Tracey Bateman’s Claire books, Rachel Hauck’s Lost in Nashvegas, Susan May Warren’s Everything’s Coming Up Josey, Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson, Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series, Life Expectancy, One Door Away From Heaven, Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, and Brother Odd by Dean Koontz, Ted Dekker’s Blink and his Heaven series, Frank Peretti’s The Oath, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

I guess it would be Promise Me Always because the theme of the book – God is in control of our lives – speaks to me on a deep level. I laughed so much during the writing of this book, but I wrote the last segment through repentant tears. It’s a lesson I sorely needed.

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I wish I could, because that would mean I was somewhat organized. I try to write Monday thru Friday. We have a busy chiropractic office and two children who go to a small Christian school that has no bus. If everything goes well, I’m home writing by 10 a.m. I have lunch ready at noon, then write until 2 p.m. That’s the theory. Reality is I write whenever I can.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

I’d like to write 2500 words a day, Monday thru Friday. I do much less than that when a deadline isn’t pressing and much more when it is. If I were teaching my girls how to be a successful writer, this would be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” areas.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

I’m a plotter who writes by the seat of my pants. I have a plot when I start, but it’s always in a state of flux. Otherwise it’s just boring for me.

What author do you especially admire and why?

Good question. I admire Rachel Hauck for her unabashed love of the Savior that shines through in whatever wonderful story she’s writing, Tracey Bateman for her amazing prolific talent and her willingness to use it for God’s glory in every way, Susan May Warren for her captivating storytelling ability and her readiness to share her knowledge with new authors, Susan Downs for her incredibly poetic prose and quiet spirit of encouragement, Candice Speare for her determination to take her stories (and mine) to a deeper level, Lynette Sowell for her “never give up” spirit, Donita K. Paul for her courage and kindness in life and in writing, Tamela Hancock Murray for taking a chance on me, and Lynn Coleman for all the time and energy she’s given to further Christian fiction.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is writing – breathing life into a story, watching it take shape on the page, seeing the characters grow until they seem real, even to me. My least favorite part is writing – having to pound out words when a hundred other responsibilities call to me, seeing the words on the page and feeling that breathtaking fear that they’re not adequate, that they could be better/should be better, and that I don’t have the ability to make them good enough.

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

I do a lot of booksignings. I actually enjoy meeting readers. I’d love to do a newsletter, but not until I tame the deadline beast.

Do you have any parting words of advice?





Glue your backside to the chair, your fingers to the keyboard, shut off the internet until you meet your word count goal, and never give up!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Author Interview ~ Brian Garfield

Brian Garfield is a novelist, screenwriter and producer who wrote his first published book at the age of eighteen. His novel, Hopscotch, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. He's best known for his novel Death Wish, adapted for the film of the same title. He is also the author of The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History. The film sequel to Death Wish, Death Sentence is currently scheduled for a 2007 release. Brian and his wife Bina divide their time between homes in Los Angeles and Santa Fe.





What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

The current book, just out, is "The Meinertzhagen Mystery". I think of it as a corrective biography. It's intended to show how gullible we all can be. Several biographies have been written about the heroic Richard Meinertzhagen (British war hero, spy, natural scientist, explorer), and he figures as a historical character in a zillion histories and in various movies (e.g. "The Lighthorsemen") and tv shows. He lived from the 1870s to the 1960s, was a model for James Bond, worked for Winston Churchill and worked with T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia"), bestrode the earth and impressed a great many leaders.


His legend -- largely based on his own yarns and the thousands of pages of his diaries, some of which he published -- is a marvelous construction of exploits and heroics and scientific "finds". Some of them are true. Most of them are false. He was a wonderfully convincing fraud. . . . A moment's suspicion, years ago, led me on a quest that's lasted an absurdly long time and provided a convoluted mass of documentation, but it's created several great friendships, and the result shows how even celebrated leaders and earnest historians can be hoodwinked.

I’d imagine you use a lot of your fiction writing skills to make a biography interesting. It must be tempting though to want to embellish or put in clever twists that would fit the “story” perfectly but didn’t really happen. What are the challenges of writing biography as opposed to a novel?

Those temptations didn't apply, in this case. I've written nonfiction before -- "The Thousand-Mile War" is a history of World War II in Alaska, and contains no fictional elements; and "Western Films", a sort of encyclopedia. I've written pure fiction as well. Somewhere between those poles come a number of novels based on real people and events, or based on claims made by real people, and in those cases I've enjoyed adding elements to make the stories more exciting or to give us new views of characters.


(All the same, sometimes, even in historical novels, I do feel obliged to honor the facts -- for instance in "Manifest Destiny", a lightly novelized version of young Theodore Roosevelt's life as a rancher in Dakota Territory, TR's dialogue is made up almost entirely of his own words from his letters and other writings.)

"The Meinertzhagen Mystery" is fact and interpretation; the only fictions in it are those that were created by Richard Meinertzhagen as he constructed his mythology. It takes vastly longer to write this kind of book because you can't make anything up. Every fact, no matter how small, must be proved -- but this kind of investigative work makes the job fascinating. So you use muscles that are altogether different from the ones you use in writing fiction (or writing screenplays, which require still another separate set of muscles).

Impressively, the first novel you had published, you wrote when you were just eighteen. How did you learn the craft of fiction writing?

By reading and by imitation. My high school English teacher, Don Everitt, who is 100 years old now, encouraged me to write stories in place of class themes. Then I kept writing short stories and sending them off to pulp magazines. That was the very end of the pulp era, and the magazines kept folding.


I took it personally -- I'd send in a story, and the magazine would die. Made me feel downright guilty. Also I had a marvelous mentor in a great and amiable writer named Fred Glidden, who wrote novels and stories under the pen name Luke Short. He was generous enough to read my childish scribbles and criticize them as if I were a grown up and might actually understand what he was saying. In all, I think I became a writer because so many good people encouraged me to keep doing it until I got it right. I never did get it right, but am still trying.

Your bio is amazing. You’ve won the Edgar Award, were a finalist for the American Book Award and the Pullitzer. Seventeen films have been based on your writing, more than twenty million copies of your books have sold worldwide and you even earned a performance on American Bandstand with a top forty hit as a musician. It seems everything you touch is a success. What’s your secret?

Luck. That's not false modesty, it's fact. I work hard, and may or may not do good work, but in the end nobody in the arts can anticipate what will succeed and what won't. If there were a formula for hits there'd be no flops. The publishing and entertainment industries keep thinking they've got a lock on such a formula, and they keep proving they're wrong. If you look at any given bestseller list you'll find excellent works right next to dreadful trash. There's no relationship between quality and popularity. . . . Having said all that, I must add that the one sure guarantee of failure in the arts is to give up. Persistence comes second only to luck. If you keep trying, you have a chance to succeed. If you quit, you have no chance.

Success is said to change a person. Do you find that to be true of you? If so, how so?

I'm not sure how to answer that because I'm not sure what I'd have been like, or what sort of life I'd have had, if I hadn't been able to make a living as a writer. I love writing, as a craft, and have enjoyed it for a lot of years, but am lucky enough to have flown beneath the radar -- I'm not a celebrity and do not get recognized. Anonymity is freedom.


"Success" to me is largely the sense that I've done a good job, and once in a while it's reinforced by a compliment or two from peers. Celebrity in itself is not a measure of success, and in fact celebrity is horrible punishment. I've worked on the fringes of the movie business long enough to know that the only person more miserable than an out-of-work actor is a successful actor. I can't imagine why anybody would want to be a star. . . . In the monetary sense, I suppose material success has changed some things -- (a) I can do a lot of unpaid research and follow my nose wherever it leads me, and (b) I've become more generous over the years because we can afford to work with a lot of charities now.

What, in your opinion, is/are the element(s) your highly acclaimed works contained that made them so well received?

Suspense is the key to the stories (novels, movies). I don't know what else to suggest. Suspense, by the way, is not violence and it is not action. Suspense is jeopardy -- it's anticipation. What's going to happen next? Often it consists in the anticipation of danger. Too many people fail to understand that distinction.

With all your successes, you’re still best known for your novel adapted to movie: Death Wish. Is there a downside to that kind of notoriety for a certain work?

Sure. The new movie's title is "Death Sentence". Friends tell me the only way I can get anything produced is to put the word "Death" in the title. . . . They're kidding, sort of, but one early critique of my new Meinertzhagen book -- a critique written by someone who has not seen or read the book -- dismisses it as having been tossed off by "the guy who wrote Death Wish". One does get stuck with a reputation. Sometimes one may deserve it. All one can do is keep working and ignore the idiots.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re most proud of and why?

That's tough. Many prolific writers will say "They're all my children -- you're asking me to pick a favorite child?" To an extent I agree with that. I did a long apprenticeship in paperback Westerns and most of them are ephemeral, but of the books I've written since then, I'd be hard put to point to one with more pride than others. I think "Kolchak's Gold" is the best historical novel, and "Recoil" may have the edge among the thrillers, and "Wild Times" is my best (or at least longest) novel of the old West.


Of the movies, on the other hand, I can easily single out "Hopscotch" (Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson). It was hell to write (26 drafts) but pure joy to produce, to film, and to see. Movies rarely give a writer that kind of satisfaction because film is not a writer's medium. Among the films my second most proud choice is "The Stepfather" even though my connection is more ephemeral -- I was its creator and original producer, but the excellent screenplay is by Don Westlake, and we had to sell the project in order to get it filmed. It's not "my" movie, really, but I think it's a good one.

You have a movie coming out that you adapted as a screenplay from your novel. Can you tell us a bit about that?

It's the aforementioned "Death Sentence". Cast is headed by Kevin Bacon, Kelly Preston, John Goodman and Aisha Tyler. Director is James Wan. I wrote the novel, and the first two screenplay drafts. Subsequent scripts are by Ian Jeffers. At this writing, filming is completed and the movie is being edited -- it's tentatively scheduled for release in April (20th Century Fox). I haven't seen it yet.


The novel, which I wrote years ago as a sort of penance for the movie version of "Death Wish", attempts to demonstrate in dramatic form that vigilantism is not a solution -- it's a problem, and tends to destroy those who attempt it. So far as I know, the new movie preserves that intention, even though the details of the story have changed a great deal from book to movie script.

How did you go from novel writing to screen writing?

There's an assumption in Hollywood that if you're a successful writer in one medium (say, musical theater, or fiction) you're likely to be successful in others (say, movies or tv). This is not necessarily true -- they all are different art forms. Some writers are equally at home in several, but that's not a given. I'm a hopelessly bad playwright, for instance, and can't write songs or verse. I had published a number of Westerns and therefore, encouraged by my agent, Universal hired me to write a Western movie. It didn't get filmed, but it opened the doors.

If a novelist wanted to make that jump, how would you suggest they begin?

Find a good agent. Other than that, there are as many answers to this question as there are writers.

Of all the types of writing you do: novels, screenplays, non-fiction, etc., what’s your favorite and why?

The novel is the most rewarding, because it's your own. It comes from who you are -- what you feel, what you think, what you imagine. I enjoy the detective work of nonfiction, but feel limited by the facts, which exist separately from me. As for screenwriting, it's fun as an exercise and it can pay very well, but it's a poor third at best because unless you're producing and perhaps directing as well, a hundred people have the authority to "fix" your work, and most of them have no talent and no qualifications other than ego.

Newsweek reported that your suspense writing tips are the secret behind John Grisham’s success. Would you be willing to share a few with us … pretty please?

It's an article that was published in Writer's Digest in Feb. 1973 and reprinted in the 1994 Writer's Yearbook. Thanks for reminding me -- rather than take up more space here, I'm posting it on my website at
http://www.BrianGarfield.net.

With all the success you’ve experienced, do bad reviews (if you get them) get to you?

Oh yeah, I get 'em. They did bother me at first. After a while I began to realize that reviews aren't addressed to the author. They're addressed to the reader. I don't think I've ever learned anything useful from reading reviews of my work. (This is partly because a review comes after the book is published, when it would be too late to make changes even if I wanted to.)

If you could go back and talk to yourself at eighteen, what advice or warning would you give you?

At eighteen I was in the army. (Wrote my first-published book there.) With hindsight, I think I'd advise the young "me" to pay more attention to human behavior and less attention to pseudo-lit'ry formulas. My early stories were derivative of other writers, and relied more on convention than on observation. It's better to use your own eyes than those of a predecessor.

Is there a writing dream you still want to accomplish?

I want the book I'm writing now to be better than anything I've done before. That's always the dream.

Is there an upcoming author you’re particularly excited about?

He's too established by now to be called "upcoming," but I'm a great fan of the novels of Alan Furst.

What are a few of your favorite novels?

Anything by Graham Greene, John Le Carre and Michael Dobbs, among others.

Parting words?

Wanting to "be a writer" is silly. WRITING is great. First learn the proper use of the language. Then write.

Unfashionable Reading

Mike Duran lives in Southern California with his wife Lisa and four grown children. Chosen as one of ten authors for Infuze Magazine’s 2005 print anthology, Mike’s short stories have also appeared in Forgotten Worlds, Alienskin, Dragons, Knights and Angels, as well as the forthcoming Winter Issue of Relief Journal. His non-fiction is featured in The Matthew’s House Project and Relevant Magazine Online, and Novel Journey. Mike has written an unpublished novel entitled What Faith Awakes and is currently at work on a second. You can peruse his weekly ruminations at www.mikeduran.com.



There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
Thomas A. Edison

Quiz Show was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1994, garnering four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Robert Redford. The film, however, performed poorly at the box office and remains one of Redford ’s least successful titles. I recall reading an interview with the director in which he discussed the movie's mediocre draw. Redford suggested, among other things, that the film was too brainy for the average moviegoer and surmised, "It's risky to ask the audience to think."

Is that true? Is it risky to ask the audience to think?

In
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman posits that the medium of television has radically affected the most basic mental machinations. As entertainment has become a cultural force, public discourse is stilted; we no longer require stuff with substance -- as long as it's brief, sleek, polished or funny, it's watchable. Postman asserts that TV affects how we think; linear thought buckles under the barrage of images, our attention span wanes and we are, collectively, dumbed-down.
I was reminded of Postman's provocative book when I read
this quote by Zadie Smith found via Orange Crate Art:

But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, "I should sit here and I should be entertained." And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.

It's interesting that "the more classical model" of reading -- the idea that the reader should “work at a text” -- has become "unfashionable." Nowadays, we approach books as we do movies -- we want to be acted upon, rather than act. Among other things, the electronic age has heightened our expectations of a given media and lowered the requirements of participation. Thinking is out. Like a thrill park ride, we simply want to pay, get on board and be swept away; we want to surf channels and flip switches, be wowed and returned safely, without breaking a sweat. God forbid that we actually have to mine for the meaningful.

At one time, there was an unspoken vow between reader and writer, wherein the reader pledged to work hard and the writer guaranteed to make her. Alas, in our day, that vow is quite vintage. Not only have we produced a nation of the intellectually impaired, we have nurtured industries that appease our handicap. Trustees of that once sacred tradition (i.e., "the classical model") are now viewed as highbrow, academic snoots by the bored, thrill-seeking, literary-challenged offspring of the e-age. Why "work at a text" when the industry bigshots offer adrenaline injections?

The culture of "fast fix" entertainment creates a double-edged dilemma for the writer. For one, the drive to be heard amidst the media clamor can tempt us to short-cut literary depth in exchange for something more palatable, less substantial. If the kids want mac and cheese, we'll forgo the vegetables just to shut them up. Of course, it's later on down the road that their dietary deficiencies kick in.

In this sense, obesity and anemia have intellectual parallels. (Is this why there are less and less readers each year, and why theaters have replaced churches as the houses of the holy?)

It might be risky to ask the audience to think, but part of the author's calling must be to do so. I’m not suggesting we take the pop out of popular literature and eschew entertainment in favor of think pieces. Good writing need not be a chore to read -- nor must it be devoid of fireworks -- but at some point, the maturing adult must learn to use her molars.

It's been said that there's virtue in doing something hard simply because it is hard. Likewise, there is value in reading something dense simply because it is dense. This is the opposite edge. Not only must writers challenge readers, but readers should, as Ms. Smith puts it, "practice reading." Practicing anything can be tedium in the age of instant. But with microwave memoirs and fast-food fiction becoming status quo, I wonder that “practicing reading” will increasingly become more "unfashionable."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sunday Devotion: It's not as easy as it looks

Janet Rubin

This morning, my walk took me to the shore where I stopped to watch a mallard. Against the gray winter backdrop, his green feathers provided a delightful shock of color. He and his mate glided silently down an unfrozen corridor in the otherwise icy cove. The V’s spreading out in the water behind the ducks intersected and formed a W, the outmost edges of which widened until they were halted at the ice borders.

Web-footed labor concealed in the blackness beneath, the birds’ movement seemed effortless. Heads, necks, wings, all still, as if they were children’s boats pulled along by strings. Yet I knew of the unseen work that propelled them forward, the ceaseless paddling below.

When reading masterful writing—the sort of prose that flows poetically across the page, rich with texture, layers, and metaphor—I sometimes forget about the painstaking work behind the words. Such writing flows, seemingly without effort, and I imagine the words rolling from the author’s imagination, through his or her fingertips by way of a keyboard, falling into perfect order on the page. Envy turns me greener than the mallard as the desire to write something just as good stirs within me. I feel so inadequate. I could never write such prose!

But the truth is, the story did not form without labor. It undoubtedly came to be through a process marked by crumpled papers in a wastebasket, deleted paragraphs and chapters, edits, rewrites, and emptied bottles of Tylenol. While the work progressed, the writer may have experienced days devoid of inspiration, moments of self-doubt, and thoughts of giving up. He probably had to struggle to conquer some weakness- a propensity toward over-using adverbs or a tendency to “tell” rather than “show.” To bring the work to its polished end, there were most likely editors, critique partners, and people who helped in the researching of topics or places described in the book. And preceding the masterful writing were works of lesser quality, much of it unpublished, that brought the author to the place where he or she could pen something so good.

I should not be discouraged by the false belief that such marvelous writing comes effortlessly for some. Nothing great or beautiful comes without work.

How much of God’s work is unseen, going on beneath our skin, in the deep regions of our hearts and minds? Though we do not see or understand His ways, it is His work in us- the work He promised to bring to completion—that propels us forward on the straight and narrow path and draws us closer to Him. Even our salvation, which we come by so easily- by simply accepting His gift—was accomplished by Jesus’ work on the cross.

Father, Thank You for the unseen work You are continually performing in me. Help me not to be discouraged when I see the work of someone much more experienced and skilled that I, but to remember that beneath the surface of every great work there is blood, sweat and tears. Give me the strength I need to persevere, investing myself in the work I need to do in order to be the best writer I can be. Amen.


Proverbs 23:12 Apply your heart to instruction, And your ears to words of knowledge.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Whooooo- R- U?

I love the part of Alice inWonderland where the smoking caterpillar demands to know who Alice is. She flounders about, never giving a satisfactory answer. Do you feel like Alice when writing your author's bio?

Whether published or unpublished, take some time to craft a good bio. It might help move you past the editorial board or garner media interest.




Here is a typical bio:

About the Author:
J
oe Smith is a carpenter by day and author by night. He currently resides in Smalltown, USA with his wife and two daughters. He has two novels in print as well as one non-fiction book.

Did that tell you anything about him? His personality? What makes him stand out? Would you want to interview him?

Remember, from a media perspective, they want to make sure their audience is entertained. From a publisher's perspective, they want to know who they are investing money in.

It's not always easy finding what makes you different, what you're qualified to talk about, but dig deeper, make sure your bio has personality and reflects you.

Try out these articles I found on Google for starters:

http://julieduffy.com/writing/inventing_the_author.htm
http://www.absolutewrite.com/freelance_writing/bio.htm


Novel Journey Critiques ~ Week 4

CHAPTER ONE

The Honorable Judge Darlene Coleman’s office light was not the only one visible from the courthouse, but she was the only lingering long past closing time. Her co-workers had already started their weekend, while she sat staring at nothing in particular. She used the end of a chewed pen to dig under her runaway bun. The bobby pins no longer held the strands of hair in place. The more she scratched, the more her scalp seemed to itch. She wanted nothing more than to let her hair down and soak in a hot bubble bath. The week had brought her one tedious case after another. She needed the two days to unwind. Two days to get her life in order.

For the past hour, she rearranged and straightened the contents of her desk until it looked civilized. She couldn’t stand for her desk to get too out of hand. Organization was not her strongest skill, but nevertheless she liked to keep up the appearance.
One folder glared at her.

She knew better, but she picked up the folder anyway. Flipping it open, she started reading the first page. She would have jumped on it sooner. This week’s demanding docket of cases had drained her. A prosecuting attorney for over 10 years, Darlene was ecstatic to get the judicial nomination six years ago. There were some days that black robe mocked her though. She hated those days when her memory recalled cases she would have preferred were filed away so deep they weren’t worth remembering.

Removing the paper clip from the corner, she scrutinized each page. The document wording, including the small print at the bottom, had not changed. For some reason she expected to see something different from what was presented to her a week ago. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. One side of her scorned the opportunity. Her more adventurous side, shouted with glee. Back in the day she would have did a cartwheel and a few flips easily across the floor. Her body wasn’t bad for her age, but those cheerleading skills had long been lost.

Darlene looked at her watch and moaned. Her appointment was approaching fast. Why in the world did he have to see her now? It was her fault. Old insecurities had crept back once again to steal her thunder. What was that she heard Pastor Burns preach about a few Sunday’s back? God forgave us, we have to forgive ourselves. Even more importantly, we were not truly forgiven if we didn’t forgive others. The past had to be put to rest.

Someone was having a serious problem with letting go.

She slapped the folder closed and shook her head, completely unraveling the bun. Her jet black hair rippled down her back. The judge persona had officially been retired for the weekend.

Intent on leaving her desk neat, she stuck the file back in the basket, but not on top. She didn’t want to see it first thing Monday morning. No way was she going to repeat her actions today. It was so unlike her to lose her focus in the courtroom. She would make her decision over the weekend and contact them after lunch on Monday.
Desperate for food, her stomach growled in protest. The calories from the chicken salad sandwich earlier that day had long been extinguished. Darlene grabbed her bag and walked out the door, closing it behind her. The lock clicked in place. She turned to look over her shoulder expecting to see Maggie Laurens with her cleaning cart down the hall. The woman always fussed at her about staying late. She was sure the older woman would tease her about being in hurry for a date.

I wish I did have a real date tonight.

A long time ago she loved the man she was about to meet. Even though they were both mature, dozens of years of unspoken hurt and pain would always separate them from the possibilities of the past.

Trash cans were being systematically emptied up and down the hall by the feisty night crew, but there was no sign of Maggie. Darlene walked to the elevator. Thanks to a meticulous dry-cleaning regime each month, her navy blue suit looked as good as it did when she dug it out the closet at six a.m. Her long legs carried her down the hall towards the elevator within seconds. After she pressed the down button, she juggled her bag straps so they would not dig into her shoulder.

There really was not much in the bag. The weight she felt had more to do with her dinner meeting. She always wanted to ask him why he never married. Her singleness felt like a verdict handed down from God. Though lonely, she accepted it.
The elevator chugged to a stop and the doors slowly whirred open. Anxious to get to the parking garage, Darlene stepped in and pushed the ground level button. She sighed deeply as the doors closed. She was really looking forward to the weekend. It wasn’t going to be as relaxing as she desired. Decisions had to be finalized. For almost two weeks, she had avoided her mother and best friend, Candace Johnson. Both women were so much alike, she jokingly questioned whether or not Candace was her mother’s real daughter.

It felt good to have two people know you better than you knew yourself. At times it was excruciating, which was why she had to keep them at bay. Now more than ever she needed their advice and prayers. Despite being a powerful judge, she had discovered long ago she could not trust herself to make certain decisions.

# # #

Someone had been watching the judge from a distance. As soon as the elevator doors closed, her watcher rolled the cleaning cart down the hallway. A set of master keys were pulled from the cart. Judge Darlene Coleman, District 12 Criminal Court was etched into the gold plate on the chosen door.

Gina's Critique

This writer has mechanics down well. Good job. He/she sometimes takes time to really wordsmith and that's good. My suggestion for this chapter is (don't freak), to cut it. This isn't where the story begins. It should start at a point of conflict or with something really interesting. This, in my humble opinion, contains neither. At my first writer's conference a fabulous author told me to cut my first chapter or two. It was all telling and backstory. I wanted to scream (but didn't). I did later do what she asked and my story was much better for it. Though it, along with another completed manuscript of mine, sit collecting dust in my closet.

I suggest this author pick up ten or more novels and read their first few pages. Is there a lot of backstory? Telling? Mundane details? Probably not. The rest of your book may be novelicious but with a ho-hum first chapter (though again, the writing itself was fine), no one will ever read far enough to know.


( ) = suggest cut

[ ] = suggest adding

CHAPTER ONE

The Honorable Judge Darlene Coleman’s **Now that’s a mouthful. Good thing her last name isn’t Finkelweinsteinburgerman. Would she think of herself as “the honorable judge blubbedy bluh? Probably not. I suggest: [Judge Darlene Coleman’s] office light was not the only one visible from the courthouse, but she was the only lingering long past closing time. **Also, I don't understand that statement. So there's other lights on but no one besides her is working late? Why are their lights on then and why are you telling us this? I liked the wording of it, but the meaning was unclear to me.*

Her co-workers had already started their weekend, while she sat staring at nothing in particular. **Show it. Show her looking around at deserted desks, or what she hears, maybe crickets outside her window or the cleaning lady or whatever***

She used the end of a chewed pen to dig under her runaway bun. The bobby pins no longer held the strands of hair in place. The more she scratched, the more her scalp seemed to itch.
**Okay, this is gross. I’m picturing her hair greasy and lice-filled. If I was an editor, considering this, no joke, right here I would have laid this in my “no” pile. Not because the writing isn’t good, but because I don’t want to be grossed out by my main character right on page one. I’m picturing a slob. Not that scratching one’s head makes one that but one detail speaks for many others.***

She wanted nothing more than to let her hair down and soak in a hot bubble bath. The week had brought her one tedious case after another. She needed the two days to unwind. Two days to get her life in order.

For the past hour, she rearranged and straightened the contents of her desk until it looked civilized. She couldn’t stand for her desk to get too out of hand. Organization was not her strongest skill, but nevertheless she liked to keep up the appearance.

**Okay, this isn't the exciting opening you're capable of. We have a greasy bun-head judge sitting at a desk staring at nothing and rearranging her desk. We don't want to be told she keeps her stuff organized or that she’s possibly OCD (obsessive-compulsive), we want to be shown. Have her arrange her pens just so or whatever. But not on page one of your book. Begin with something exciting. Remember it’s the first pages that sells a book.***

One folder glared at her. **I like that you mix up sentence structure. Good job!

She knew better, but she picked up the folder anyway. Flipping it open, she started reading the first page. She would have jumped on it sooner. This week’s demanding docket of cases had drained her. A prosecuting attorney for over 10 years, Darlene was ecstatic to get the judicial nomination six years ago. There were some days that black robe mocked her though. She hated those days when her memory recalled cases she would have preferred were filed away so deep they weren’t worth remembering.

**Your writing mechanics are solid but the problem is you’ve got quite a bit of backstory. Backstory is anything that is not immediate action. Her being a prosecuting attorney for 10 years is backstory. Her getting a judicial nomination six years ago is backstory. Her recalling cases she would have preferred filed away is backstory. Backstory equals boring story for the most part.***

Removing **removing is a weak word. Be more specific and descriptive. Sliding is a little more detailed. Choose each word carefully. Take the time to pick the perfect one, not just an adequate one***

the paper clip from the corner, she scrutinized **in some places like with "scrutinized" you take the time to choose the right word and that's great. Do it each time.**

each page. The document wording, including the small print at the bottom, had not changed. For some reason she expected to see something different from what was presented to her a week ago. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. One side of her scorned the opportunity. Her more adventurous side, shouted with glee. Back in the day she would have did a cartwheel and a few flips easily across the floor. Her body wasn’t bad for her age, but those cheerleading skills had long been lost.

**You know the rules. Great mechanics but …and I'm sorry, but ... yawn.***

Darlene looked at her watch and moaned. Her appointment was approaching fast. Why in the world did he have to see her now? It was her fault. Old insecurities had crept back once again to steal her thunder. What was that she heard Pastor Burns preach about a few Sunday’s back? God forgave us, we have to forgive ourselves. Even more importantly, we were not truly forgiven if we didn’t forgive others. The past had to be put to rest.

**I like that you're giving her a wart. That's good ... however, this is a whole lot of telling. Show me all this. If you want her to seem anal, then have her behave anally, not tell us she’s anal. If you want us to know she works long hours, show her walking out to her work’s parking lot and it’s dark and deserted., etc. ***

Someone was having a serious problem with letting go.
She slapped the folder closed and shook her head, completely unraveling the bun. Her jet black hair rippled down her back. The judge persona had officially been retired for the weekend.
Intent on leaving her desk neat, she stuck the file back in the basket, but not on top. She didn’t want to see it first thing Monday morning. No way was she going to repeat her actions today. It was so unlike her to lose her focus in the courtroom. She would make her decision over the weekend and contact them after lunch on Monday.

(
Desperate for food,) RUE. (Resist the urge to explain. If her stomach growls, we get that it’s hungry. And try to stay away from melodrama as in her stomach being “desperate” for food. She’s just hungry. Just have it growl.***

her stomach growled in protest. The calories from the chicken salad sandwich earlier that day had long been extinguished. **Okay, it's cool that you're putting in real life details but know when to add a touch for authenticity and when mundane details are not needed. As with the calories in the chicken salad, why are you telling me this? I don't care about it. One of the keys to good writing is knowing what to cut. Sharpen your scissors and snip away what doesn't serve a purpose.

Darlene grabbed her bag and walked out the door, closing it behind her
.**We just left her office and I have no idea what it looks like. Paint the scene. Weave in senses. What did it look like? A few details that make my mind fill in the rest. A persian rug or linoleum? Oil paintings on the wall or yellowed posters? What did it smell like? What sounds are there? The water cooler bubbling? A mouse skittering within the walls? You get the idea. Paint every scene. Don’t go on and on but give us a few things that will flesh out in our imaginations***

The lock clicked in place. **Nice small detail. A sound. Good. Sound is often overlooked by writers.**

She turned to look over her shoulder expecting to see Maggie Laurens **Nice telling detail that she knows the maid's name. That says something about her**
with her cleaning cart down the hall. The woman always fussed at her about staying late. She was sure the older woman would tease her about being in hurry for a date.

I wish I did have a real date tonight. *I don't know if the italics didn't translate to blogger, but for those reading this, this is IM and would be italicized.

A long time ago she loved the man she was about to meet. Even though they were both mature, dozens of years of unspoken hurt and pain would always separate them from the possibilities of the past. **Where did this come from? I feel like all of a sudden I’m dropped into another story. I don’t think you transitioned this enough. Maybe really have the maid tease her. That way it’s on stage and more interesting and it transitions better**

Trash cans were being systematically emptied up and down the hall by the feisty night crew, **A. that was passive writing. Active would have read: The feisty night crew emptied the trash cans systematically. Minor difference but hopefully you see it.**

B. I can’t picture them. I can’t picture anything except her greasy black hair and a judge robe. I imagine she’s not really wearing that. What is she wearing? Have her unfasten her top button of her silk blouse or smooth out the creases in her dress pants or whatever**

but there was no sign of Maggie. Darlene walked to the elevator. **Are her high heels clicking against tile? **Thanks to a meticulous dry-cleaning regime each month, her navy blue suit looked as good as it did when she dug it out the closet at six a.m. **Its good that you're giving us a glimpse of what she's wearing without it reading like a grocery list, good job, however I feel like you’re holding a sign behind this character that says: "I’m anal." I already got this from her earlier behavior of cleaning the desk. Becareful not to overdo it. Trust the reader to get it. We’re smarter than we look.***

Her long legs *nice snuck in detail about the way she looks* carried her down the hall toward(s)*per Strunk & White* the elevator within seconds.

After she pressed the down button, she juggled her bag straps so they would not dig into her shoulder. **What kind of bag? A prada or a vinyl K-mart special? A few details will tell a lot**

There really was not much in the bag. The weight she felt had more to do with her dinner meeting. She always wanted to ask him why he never married. Her singleness felt like a verdict handed down from God. **I like that you used "verdict" with her being a judge. That's the kind of wordsmithing I'd like to see even more of. Good job.**

Though lonely, she accepted it. **Let this happen on stage. When the two of them together. I see no reason for this scene. It’s not interesting by itself and everything it establishes could better be established on stage. Show me their shaky relationship when they’re at dinner. You could also show her arranging her silverware in a specific manner to establish she’s OCD. And he could ask something about a case, etc. **


The elevator chugged to a stop and the doors slowly whirred open. Anxious to get to the parking garage, Darlene stepped in and pushed the ground level button. She (sighed deeply) *melodrama alert* as the doors closed. She was really looking forward to the weekend. It wasn’t going to be as relaxing as she desired. Decisions had to be finalized. For almost two weeks, she had avoided her mother and best friend, Candace Johnson. **This is all commentary, backstory or set up for another scene. A chapter shouldn’t exist solely for the purpose of setting up more promising chapters. Particularly not a chapter one. Get us to something immediate and pressing. Some action and dialogue**

Both women were so much alike, she jokingly questioned whether or not Candace was her mother’s real daughter.
It felt good to have two people know you better than you knew yourself. At times it was excruciating, which was why she had to keep them at bay. Now more than ever she needed their advice and prayers. Despite being a powerful judge, she had discovered long ago she could not trust herself to make certain decisions.
**Another wart. Good.*
# # #
Someone had been watching the judge from a distance. As soon as the elevator doors closed, her watcher rolled the cleaning cart down the hallway. A set of master keys were pulled from the cart. Judge Darlene Coleman, District 12 Criminal Court was etched into the gold plate on the chosen door.

**what’s this above? “Someone” had been watching. Are we in this someone’s pov? If so, I doubt they’d refer to themselves as “someone”. Make it a he or she or give them a name. Maybe: the watcher or whatever. Maybe you could make this whole scene from the watcher’s pov. That’d be more interesting. Show her staying late. Cleaning her desk. Letting down her long black hair (that she hasn’t been scratching with a chewed up pen.) Just a thought.

Jessica's Critique

Here's a quote from Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer that I think applies to this submission:

". . . the author introduces [character] to his readers all at once and in depth—stopping the story, in effect, for a summary of her character.

A lot of writers seem to feel they have to give their readers a clear understanding of a new character before they can get on with their story. They never bring a character on stage without a short personality summary. Or else they introduce their characters with flashbacks to childhood scenes that made them who they are—in effect, psychoanalyzing the characters for their readers." Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King

I've learned a lot about the character Darlene Coleman, but nothing that makes me care to read more about her. I think Gina's suggestion is good about not starting the story here. Perhaps pick it up when Judge Coleman realizes something is missing on her desk. That's a situation that would draw my interest and can be written in such a way as to communicate that this judge is meticulous.

I think this writer has strength in visualizing things, which help the reader "see" the story. (Example, removing paperclips from the papers, or the bobby pins not catching stray strands of hair.) But I advise them to be careful to do this sparingly. The idea isn't to overwhelm us with the details of the scene, but give us just enough that we have a sense of this "world."

My verdict--Work on pulling the reader into the story. Bring out the action.

Ane's Take ~

I agree with Gina that the writing is mechanically correct, but nothing hooks me in the opening. No POV to draw me into the character. No action in the first two pages. I felt like the author was talking to me. There wasn't much action in the whole thing.

If I picked this up in a store, I wouldn't have read beyond the first page but put it back on the shelf. This is all telling and little showing. There are a few grammar problems, too. Her more adventurous side, shouted with glee. No comma is necessary here. And: Back in the day she would have did that should be "she would have done."

Remain consistent with numbers—some were numerical, others spelled out. All numbers should be spelled out, until you get into large unwieldy numbers like 1,283,945. :)

Watch clich├ęs like "steal her thunder" – see if you can put a new twist on it.

I finally felt like I was in Darlene's head in the two paragraphs at the elevator. My suggestion would be to write a new opening, placing the judge right into some kind of situation that is filled with action.

The final paragraph I'd like to see in someone's POV. It's omniscient and felt like author intrusion to me. With this author's ability, that could have been chilling if done in the antagonist's POV.

I liked the author's wordsmithing in places. Very well done. With a new opening, this could be a good read. The talent is there
.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Author Interview ~ Elizabeth Musser


Elizabeth Musser dreamed and prayer for 30 years before getting her first contract. Busy at work on her 6th novel, she and her husband, Paul, have been involved in mission work with International Teams. They presently live in Lyon, France and have two sons, Andrew and Christopher.

What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

I just finished writing my new novel entitled Searching for Eternity. Here’s the hook: A French adolescent, newly arrived in America, searches for his missing father and discovers prejudice, espionage and eternity. The novel opens in Atlanta in 1964 and deals with culture shock, racial discrimination and social status. It also takes the reader back in time to the French Resistance during World War II and ends during the trial of Nazi Klaus Barbie in 1992. There’s mystery, betrayal, a love story and much more. It’s the story of what happens when a teenage boy goes ‘searching for eternity.’

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

Well, I started writing when I was six years old and I always wanted to be an author. I wrote for family and friends and my journals are filled with this prayer: “Lord, if you’ve given me this gift of writing, please show me how to use it and please let me write a book and dedicate it to my grandmother while she’s still alive.”

When I became a missionary to France, at the age of 22, I decided to make my quarterly prayer letters sent out to many individuals the best writing I could do. People liked my letters so much that they encouraged me to write a book! That helped me keep my dream alive. So I kept praying.

I had my first article published in 1990 and spent a few years collecting rejection slips and writing other articles.

Then in the summer of 1994, when my family was home from France on furlough, I attended a Christian writers’ conference. I was able to have a 15 minute interview with an editor from a publishing house. It just so happened that this man had at one time been a missionary in France, and I had met him years before. When I explained to him that I was interested in writing a women’s devotional, he replied, ‘We don’t need that, but we do need a woman novelist!’ I felt the Lord had put me in the right place at the right time.

At the conference I learned how to write a professional book proposal. I already had an idea for a novel and had always wanted to write fiction. So I returned to France, worked very hard for 4 months and then sent this editor my proposal. He really liked it and called me to say he would be presenting it to the committee that decided on contracts. He explained they could either say ‘no thanks’, ‘great, write the book and we’ll decide’ or ‘hey, we want to offer you a contract.’

I was at a prayer meeting one night (we’re six hours ahead of the States) and when I returned, my husband said that the editor had called and would call back. I was so nervous waiting on that call. When it came, the editor said, “Elizabeth, would you like to write a book?” I was elated! I could not believe it. It sounds like a fairy tale, dream-come –true, which it was. But it was preceded by 30 years of writing and praying (remember, the dream was born when I was six!)

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Oh, only about every other day! Even though I know the Lord has called me to write and I have had some success, there’s always the creative, sensitive side of me that can get down on myself and think—this is it! I’ll never write anything good again!

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Yes. In fact, I did stop writing for six months. I went through a time of deep depression and I finally understood that the Lord was asking me to stop writing for a time and work on other issues that were surfacing. This was so hard because I didn’t know if I’d start writing again or not. But those months were life-changing and so very important.

What mistakes did you make while seeking a publisher or agent?

Well, the first publisher just happened as I described, but soon after I got my contract, the publishing house was bought out and my book kind of fell through the cracks. Also, I was writing a trilogy, but I was querying for it one book at a time. The second book was picked up by the publisher, but it too got lost in the shuffle of some changeovers. In the end, the third book of the trilogy was never published by this house. An agent wanted to represent me and I hired her, but she was not able to sell the manuscript to any other house either (the novel was published in Germany, Holland and Norway). So my delight at getting published quickly turned into a big dose of reality when I realized getting the contract is just the very beginning of the uphill journey. Lots of excitement mixed with tears and disappointment. I had a lot to learn about the business of writing and of publishing.

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

I like to tell people that my formula for becoming a writer is: write, write, write and pray, pray, pray! The best advice? Hmm, well, I definitely agree with the adage that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Also, I think it’s true that we novelists should be concerned with writing excellent fiction. Excellent fiction will get published and sell. Continue to improve your craft.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

I didn’t receive it directly, but I read an interview where a very prolific author shared how she writes. She said she never edits anything. She just throws it on the paper, whatever comes to mind. I only read one of her books, but I thought it showed that she never edited. It was lousy! I believe an author must spend lots of time in first and second drafts, crafting and making his work excellent. It takes time.

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

Well, I really don’t like it when Christian novels are poorly written, with an emphasis on just preaching the message. No matter the genre, we must write excellent fiction. Many readers—not just Christians—are looking for quality fiction without the foul language and graphic sexuality. We Christian authors have a wonderful opportunity to reach beyond the church. I want to be committed to writing the best fiction I can. My goal is to write fiction that challenges and spurs on Christians and that can be handed to someone who is unchurched and used as a first peek into what Christianity is all about. Hopefully I can draw the reader in with a captivating story and realistic endearing characters and as she reads, she’ll be intrigued by the lives of a godly character.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

Living in France, for years I didn’t know anyone else doing what I was doing. I wish I could have been part of an authors’ exchange earlier on. I am now, and I find the input of other authors invaluable. I also think it would be time and money well spent to get to know the publishing house staff and get a feel for everything your book goes through before and after it hits the shelves in a bookstore.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

One of the hardest was not having the third book of my trilogy published and trying for years to get it published by different publishers. I still get emails very regularly asking when the third book will be published. I tell them that it is doing very well in Holland, Norway and Germany, but most of my readers don’t read those languages! It’s hard to let a book go, but it can be very damaging for a writing career if the author keeps trying and trying to get one book published and never moves ahead in writing other things. I am still poking around for a publisher for that novel, but I’ve written three novels since. You have to be willing to move forward in the midst of disappointment.

What are a few of your favorite books?

As a child, I loved Burnett’s A Little Princess as well as the Nancy Drew mysteries and Black Stallion books. As a teen I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s mystery romances. As a young adult, I appreciated Catherine Marshall’s Christy, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and BodieThoene’s Zion series. Now I enjoy reading a wide range of novels. Some recent favorites: The Kite Runner, Peace Like a River, Levi’s Will.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

My fourth novel, The Swan House, is about the environment in which I grew up. Set in 1962, it’s the story of a teenager from a wealthy family who encounters tragedy. To help her get past her grief, the family maid takes her into the inner city and there, the young girl learns about a whole new world. The book starts with an actual event—a plane crash that claimed the lives of over 100 Atlantans. Although the story is set in the early 60s when I was just a toddler, much of the background and the characters are taken from my growing up days. I was terrified to see the book in print. I thought my milieu would hate me for writing some of the things I pointed out. But it was the truth as I felt it. And that book has done very well and especially been well received in my hometown of Atlanta.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

In John chapter 3 verse 30, John the Baptist, speaking of the Lord Jesus, says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” I have been meditating on this verse. It applies to all of my life, of course, but I find it very important for my writing. I can get stressed out with deadlines and reviews and marketing plans and how many books are selling, and I easily feel overwhelmed. But when I go back and focus on Christ, reminding myself that I have given Him my words and my writing, peace follows. My job is to write the best literature I can and help—as I have time and opportunity—in the marketing of my books. But ultimately, I must leave the results up to the Lord.

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I usually head to my ‘writing chalet’ (a tool shed in our yard) at about 9:30 a.m., after my sons are off to school and I’ve had my quiet time and breakfast. I try to write until around 3 pm (I eat lunch at my desk). The rest of my day is usually busy with ministry and business and family. I say I have two part time jobs—writing and ministry in France—and one full time job—to my family.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

No, but once I’m actually writing my novel, I try to do a chapter a week—this means starting with a very rough draft and gradually perfecting it throughout the week. I am not a fast writer and I typically only devote about 15-20 hours a week to the whole business of writing.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

I tend to have an idea of the beginning and end of the novel, and I do lots of research because my novels are recent historical fiction. I write my synopsis and little tidbits that will happen in each chapter. I also do character sketches and timelines. But there are always surprises when characters don’t do what you expect and a minor character decides to take on a bigger role. I find that fascinating and fun!

What author do you especially admire and why?

I admire Catherine Marshall—she wrote beautiful fiction and non fiction, sharing her faith without preaching, painting pictures through her stories.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is once the story is started and the ideas are flowing. Each day in front of the computer feels like a hug from the Lord. I get to do what I love doing! My least favorite is all the business side of writing—the contracts, the marketing and publicity and the waiting for the book to come out, waiting for the reviews, waiting to see if people like the book…

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

I do lots of book signings and speaking when I am in the States. I pack in a lot during a couple of weeks. But I am limited with the distance. I am also trying to become more web savvy.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Write, write, write and pray, pray, pray!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Author Interview ~ Sibella Giorello

Sibella Giorello is a writer based in Issaquah, Washington. A Features reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for ten years, Giorello has won several awards for her writing and has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize.












What sparked the idea for your novel The Stones Cry Out?

Back in 1989, I left Seattle with my dog in a truck and headed for Richmond, Virginia. Fresh out of journalism school, I was offered a three-month internship by the daily newspaper there. I stayed 15 years. The South stole my heart.

Richmond is an unusual place. Genteel, cultured, but there’s also bitter blood on the land. That history seems to produce a sort of luscious human melancholia – an ideal backdrop for a writer.

Daily newspaper writing kept me busy, but I always scribbled fiction in notebooks. One day, I heard that the FBI had a forensic geology department. Now, I’d majored in geology as an undergraduate (Mt. Holyoke College) and I had no idea geology could help solve crimes. I figured most people didn’t know that, either. I wanted to find out more.

Ever the brash journalist, I picked up the phone and called the FBI, introduced myself, passed their background check, and started driving up Interstate 95 to Washington DC. The lab technicians were gracious and answered my crime-and-geology questions (obviously, we could only talk about closed cases) and then one geologist casually mentioned a civil rights demonstration in New York City, where he rapelled a brick building to gather evidence. Light bulbs went off in my head. I could see the clear imprint of a mystery, with Richmond’s haunted, hallowed ground as a backdrop.


What went into researching it?

The research was extensive. I probably made four trips to the lab in DC, then another four to talk with an FBI agent who also was a geologist. I filed several Freedom of Information Acts requesting data from old cases. Then I started bothering the Richmond field office and a Special Agent named Wayne Smith. This guy, I’m certain, was a gift from God. Hired when Hoover was still running the agency, he knew everything about being an agent. And he was a Christian who spoke openly about how his faith guided his work. He even took me to the Bureau’s firing range and proceeded to sink a series of powerful firearms into my sweaty palms. Let me tell you, after Wayne Smith’s tutorial, I could write with authority about FBI agents.

Other people helped too. A young female agent described what it was like being a chick in an old boy’s world. Two cold case detectives in Richmond let me hang out at the cop shop late at night. A state geologist carried soil to my house in a Ziploc baggie and explained why it was special.

If a writer is genuinely curious, and conscientious, people are happy to help with your research. Just don’t waste their time.


Do you think being twice nominated for your non-fiction will bring tougher reviews of your novel?

Hmmm, I hadn’t thought about that. But maybe it should. I mean, if the publisher is mentioning it, I better live up to it.

Does being nominated for a prize like that change your life in any way?

You’re still on the hook for all your bills, your husband still wants his socks washed, and your kids don’t stop wondering what’s for breakfast. So the prizes don’t change your life.

But they do shift some subtle things. We all operate under self-imposed ideas of potential, and getting some positive nods from peers can help you progress as a writer. Whenever I won a writing award, it only made me want to write better, to reach farther, to try something even more daring.

And that might be the only thing those awards are good for – goading us to write better for readers.

Many journalists go on to become novelists. Is a background in journalism an asset/hindrance or both to writing fiction?

That depends on how long you stay in the newsroom. I don’t mean that flippantly. You really have to be careful. The key is to stay long enough to learn how to write under any circumstances – and I mean any -- pounding out a profile in minutes while the reporter next to you sucks his teeth, the phone keeps ringing and your editor ambles up to chat about a completely different story, due tomorrow morning. Daily journalism is writer’s boot camp. And I’m grateful I went through it. I don’t get writer’s block.

At the same time, you have to leave newspapers before all your words start sounding like jackhammers.

How long did it take you to write this novel and how did a contract come about?

The writing didn’t take that long. Less than a year. But if you start counting from the very beginning of this project to this interview right now, it’s almost ten years.

Research began in July of 1997, when I first heard about forensic geology. I was pregnant with my first child and after he was born, I went to part-time at the newspaper, keeping free days open for research. The following year, my dad got very sick with cancer and needed my help. So here was this beautiful baby, my terminally ill father, my part-time job, and my ever-lovin’ hubby….I shelved the project. That was a difficult decision. But it was the right one. I’ve met too many writers who produce wonderful work while their personal lives erupt in disaster.

For almost three years, I didn’t work on the book at all. Except that I prayed about it. And I kept coming across the scripture, “He who waters will himself be watered.” I knew God would be faithful. I nursed my father until the very end, served my family with all my heart, and poured my intellect into journalism duties. One day after all this, an uncle took me to lunch and handed me an envelope. “What’s this?” I asked.


He said, “I can’t take the bumps out of the road, but I can smooth them out a bit.” Inside the envelope was a fat check. It meant I could shelve the journalism for awhile and work on the novel again. Truly, manna from heaven. My novel is dedicated to him.

So I picked up the project again. What was that like? Have you ever tried to row a boat that’s dead in the water? It was like that. But I kept rowing and when I finished, a friend suggested sending the manuscript to her agent. Now, she’s got this hugely successful New York City literary agent who is like the Patton of publishing. Enemies tremble at this woman. My manuscript went to one of her agent’s underlings, who sent me a letter. She was horrified – yes, horrified! – that my protagonist, who is a scientist, didn’t believe in evolution. And she just could not understand why this protagonist had to be a Christian. She actually compared it to being an alcoholic. This went on for several paragraphs. Finally, she said, “We might be interested if you lose the Christian angle.”


I wrote back: “You should get out of Manhattan more often. Thanks for your time.”

But another friend, Lee Knapp, a great writer and a Christian, suggested her agent. I sent Brian Peterson the MS via email. He took it on the spot. Revell was very excited and made a nice offer. They’ve treated me well. So a bumpy start ended with a soft landing.


Do you have self-doubts about your writing?

Yep. And I’m glad for them. If you’ve ever played sports, you know that the worst games are the ones where you walk on the field feeling too confident. A little fear, a little self-doubt can work in your favor. The key is not to let the fear paralyze your work. Give it to God and get working. Of course, this is a delicate balance, a daily exercise in judgment.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Not until my kids were born. I loved being with them so much. And at that time, some of my more fundamentalist friends started suggesting that a wife and mother shouldn’t pursue something like book writing because it takes time away from her family. Plus, we home school, so I hear this insinuation fairly often – how can your children be learning anything?!

Now, I’ve pondered these points. And I finally realized that none of these accusers, however well-intentioned they might be, are writers. They simply don’t understand. God made me a writer. He wants me to write. And quitting would be like somebody born left-handed who suddenly tries to do everything right-handed because the world says that’s what God wants.

I finally learned to simply listen to God, and let the chaff blow on by.


What mistakes did you make while seeking a publisher or agent?

Well, my reply to that New York agency probably sealed my fate in that realm.

But I don’t see that as a mistake. I’m actually grateful it happened. It showed me that as much as I wanted to get published, I wasn’t going to trade in my principles to get there.

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

Write what you want to read. I don’t know where I heard that, but it’s guided all my writing, from journalism to fiction.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

An editor told me to give up writing “fluffy” feature stories and start hammering out hard-nosed investigative pieces. I admired that editor so much I took the advice. But after writing one or two of those investigative stories, my eyes glazed over so badly I nearly went blind.

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

It took awhile to get used to the pace of book publishing. Daily journalism is a sprint from sunup to sundown. I really enjoyed that. Book publishing seems to be a series of sporadic sprints that amount to a marathon. You have to stay on your toes, but look long.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

It goes back to that idea of writing what you want to read. I spent too much time trying to write like other people. I finally decided to write the book I wanted to find at the library or book store.


Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

A big metropolitan daily flew me out for a series of interviews. I really wanted the job they were offering. But the managing editor and I just didn’t get along. He hated a story I wrote about Richmond high-society. Meanwhile, it was one of my favorites. And I was impertinent enough to defend the story during my interview. Suddenly he stood up, walked to the door, and pointed toward the hallway. I was crushed. But now I’m so grateful I want to send the guy a thank you note. That job would have been purgatory! You know that saying, “Ask God for what you want, but be willing to accept what He gives you – it just might be better than what you planned.” That’s the truth.


What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I’m always reading the Bible, that’s a staple. Other than that, I’m a very scattered reader. I’ll read anything. I comb consignment shops for really old books, things from the 1800s with titles like “A Boy Looks at Nature.” At the same time, I can jump into a fit of Elmore Leonard or John D. MacDonald or Stephen King. I’ll read their books the way people gorge on chocolate – reading until I’m sick. And recently I discovered Kate Atkinson. She’s a marvel. That’s the fiction side.

On the non-fiction side, because we home school, there’s always a weird assortment circulating through the house – atlases about spiders, blueprints for medieval castles, scientific descriptions of clouds. Homeschooling helps prime my research pump. In this family, each of us is on the road to find out.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

I wrote a story for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that probably means more to me than all my feature stories combined. A family invited me into their lives to witness their father’s fight against cancer. He was in hospice care, with brain cancer. They were devoted Christians, their only request was that my story honestly portray their faith. I stayed with them for months, and it was gut-wrenching, both to witness the struggle and then write about it. But these were amazing people and it was the first time I completely surrendered a story to God – because I knew I couldn’t write that story on my own, I was too broken up about the father’s death.

That story went on to win the Amy Writing Award, a $10,000 prize. But I don’t claim authorship.


Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately?

The amazing thing about the Bible is there’s always scripture that speaks to me. That book is truly alive. If I dip into the same passage twelve times, I get twelve different readings, and each exactly what I needed to hear.


Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

When I’m writing urgently, my day starts at 3 or 4 am. I write for several hours, before anybody can get up and start asking me questions like, “Do you know where I put the (fill in the blank)?” And when my writing is done, I can concentrate on life beyond the book.

After breakfast and chores, we start homeschooling, somewhere around 9 am. We’re usually done by noon. Sometimes I catch a quick nap. But I’m wary of that. The other day a girlfriend called. My sons told her I was napping, and she asked what they were doing. They said: “Oh, we’re just putting handcuffs on the dog.”

In the afternoon, we go for walks or hikes. Then it’s dinner and games, sleep and start all over again.

None of this would be possible if my husband wasn’t a saint.


Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

I don’t keep a formal goal because it can quench my fire. But my daily capacity runs naturally about 800-1000 words. Probably from newspaper days.



Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

Both. I like to dream and doodle and plot carefully, pretending to be an engineer, then I fly by the seat of my pants. Kind of like the slow grind of a roller coaster chugging uphill, before zooming down at warp speeds.


What author do you especially admire and why?

C.S. Lewis. That guy amazes me. Very few writers can navigate both the non-fiction and fiction waters so successfully. And he’s cogent about Christianity without losing the elegiac aspects of faith. If I could choose a brain, I’d take his.

What's your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

The 3 am wakeup call isn’t always a delight. But I don’t dwell on the least favorite parts of this gig. If you dwell on that, you’ll never write the book.

My favorite part is dreaming while wide-awake. As I write, another world appears. A wonderful sensation. And a small glimpse into what God must have felt, creating an entire world, then populating it with free will. I figure at any given moment He’s totally delighted, or despairing.


How much publicity or marketing do you do?

I’m learning the ropes. Publicity is a different aspect of writing, certainly. But after toiling in solitude all this time, I’m excited to meet readers. Like most writers, I’m an introverted showoff – shy, yet secretly delighted by the spotlight.


What do you know now, that you didn’t know before you held your first novel in your hands?

That I might be a sociopath.

Seriously, when I held my novel in my hands for the first time, I didn’t feel anything. I always thought I’d pee my pants with joy. But I just looked at the book for flaws, for what I might have done better. Then I went up to the office and started working on the next book.

Parting words?

Everybody who gets published says the same thing: Don’t give up. But they say it because it’s true. Persistence gets you published.




Monday, January 22, 2007

Author Interview ~ Julie Carobini

Born in Los Angeles, Julie Carobini is a California girl. Years later she went coastal, leaving the smog and concrete behind. Before that, though, she spent her teen years driving to the beach in her cute, yellow Capri—the one she earned selling cheese and beef logs on weekends at the Eagle Rock Plaza. From there Julie attended college, toiled in the hotel business for five years, married Mr. So Right and had three great kids.

Along the way she wrote more than a hundred articles for all kinds of publications, including Focus on the Family magazine, Decision, Key magazine, Aspire, and a bunch of others. Today she lives near the coast with her husband Dan, their son and two daughters.


What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My debut novel, Chocolate Beach, will be released by Bethany House in February 2007. It’s a story of three of my favorite things: chocolate, the beach, and a God-led life. My heroine, Bri, loves her life as a laid-back "beach girl" with a distinguished husband, a surf-ridin' teenage son, and a kicky job as a Southern California tour bus host. But her rose-colored sunglasses crack when she discovers evidence that her husband is tired of her carefree ways. The question is, can Bri reinvent herself—and recapture her husband’s heart?


As a Christian, I know there’s hope. There’s always hope. So while my novel is about missed cues and unintended consequences, it’s also a delicious story of grace.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I’m a long time article writer. I’ve written for Aspire (now defunct), Decision, The Ventura County Star, Focus on the Family, and many others. In between, I wrote a couple of romances that I couldn’t sell. I gave up fiction. All that rejection took its toll, and I decided not to write for a while. Instead, I took a part time job with my church.

But just weeks after starting my new job, an editor at Bethany House saw an interview of me in The Christian Communicator, and asked if I had any thing to submit. I laughed. I nearly said, ‘no’, because the one book that vaguely fit their guidelines had been written so long before. But I sent it in and waited. Charlene Patterson kindly reviewed it, rejected it, but also gave me valuable feedback. Although they weren’t interested in that book, she invited me to submit another proposal.

It took another year, but I wrote the proposal for Chocolate Beach, took it to the Mentoring Clinic at Mt. Hermon to get the kinks out of it, then submitted it to Charlene at Bethany. There was quite a bit of back and forth (i.e., they asked for more chapters and I quickly wrote and sent them) before I finally heard they wanted it, and then I cried!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes! But this keeps me humble, it motivates me to work to become a better writer, and it keeps me on my knees. God has a way of delivering peace in those times.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I’ve made the mistake of not being that disciplined. I’m amazed at all the diligent writers out there, staying on task without a contract. I might’ve sold something sooner if I’d not given up and kept working at it.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

The best advice I’ve heard (and not often enough) is to forget the literary vs. commercial debates! Find your niche and go there. Accept that this will probably take some trial and error, but if it’s God’s path for you, then it’s worth it. He won’t lead you astray. (Okay, yeah, I’ve embraced the chick-lit writer in me.)

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I’ve heard a couple of speakers pooh-pooh the value of writing articles as a means to publication. Although I don’t think it’s a necessity for a novelist, learning to write tightly-focused articles can be a helpful skill for any writer. I was advised to try articles and personal experience stories first, and it has given me invaluable experience. I learned to write on deadline, to lose extraneous words, and to work with editors. I also learned to use story writing and humor techniques in my non-fiction. Plus it gave me clips and credibility.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

That this business changes all the time. Years and years ago, I raised my hand at a writer’s day and asked if the editor thought there was any future in Christian fiction. Her answer? Absolutely not. Good writing makes new paths all the time.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

In my 20s, after realizing that Jesus truly was my Lord, I lost my desire to write. I’d always wanted to write bodice rippers—lol! But God is so good, and soon after I met Kathi Macias, who offered a writing class at church. I learned about so many other writing opportunities through her, and it changed my life. After some redirection, God gave me back my desire to write—and even turned up the flame. Ahem.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

My Life as a Doormat by Rene Gutteridge
Calm, Cool and Adjusted by Kristin Billerbeck
The Mitford Series (all of them!) by Jan Karon
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I wrote a feature story for The Ventura County Star about Christian surf dudes, and how they were taking waves for Jesus. After it was published, I got high-fives from surfers all over town, and even one caller who left me a message saying, “Rad-i-cal article, dude. The surf lingo was, like, 99% ac-cu-rate.” Hee-hee!

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

There’s pressure to be a bit of a ‘celebrity’, and I didn’t expect that.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

After hubby and I get our brood of three off to school, I typically drink more coffee, pray, check my email and blog a bit. My brain’s usually not ready to write well until about 10 am—I am so not one of this early morning writers! Often family duties take me away from my office in the afternoon, so I end up picking up the slack in the late evening. That works for me because I’m such a night owl.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I wish I could write faster. Some writers have a new book out every half-hour!

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

To make God and his people smile! I’d also like to set a book in every one of my favorite Pacific coastal towns, and to see my work make it to screens big and small. (I know, I know, dreaming big!)

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is when a scene falls together beautifully, ending and all. That’s sweet! The least part is the extra poundage I gain while sitting at my desk, trying to make that happen. Ack!

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

This is my first time out, and it’s overwhelming. Just when I think I’m done for the day, I think up some new marketing angle, and find myself ruminating on that. I email the Bethany House team—publicists and editors—whenever I’m unsure if an idea is feasible or how to go about it and they are quick to offer me their sage advice.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m better one-on-one than in a large crowd. So I’m doing a lot of marketing that way. For instance, I personally ask people to be influencers. I’m also visiting bookstores with a copy of my book and an offer to sign their stock—and a gift of chocolate, of course!

I recommend that writers read the CAN marketing blog for daily insights and encouragement.

Parting words?

Thanks so much Gina for hosting me today! And thanks to all who’ve visited here today. I wish you much success and peace as you pursue a life of writing.