Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Win a Copy of "The Resurrection"

My debut novel The Resurrection officially releases tomorrow, February 1st. Novel Journey has played a huge part in bringing this book to life.

That process started way back in October 2004. I had submitted a short story to a writing contest sponsored by World Magazine. It was my first short story I'd ever written and received an Honorable Mention. More importantly, I was contacted shortly thereafter by a group of writers who were starting an online critique group. That group was named Penwrights and many of the contributors here were part of that original writing group: Gina Holmes, Ane Mulligan, Jessica Dotta, Noel DeVries, Kelly Klepfer and Yvonne Anderson. In a lot of ways, The Resurrection would not have been possible without them.

Back then, like now, I was the resident malcontent, asking annoying questions about Christian fiction, thinking too much, and shutting up too little. I had a lot to learn about the craft of writing and the industry, and little intentions to write a novel. But in January 2005 I floated a "big idea"to the Penwrights. About a year later, after many critiques, deletions, and rewrites, I finished the book which is now The Resurrection.

Anyway, I am so very grateful to all those at Novel Journey who have helped me to get here. And I wanted to celebrate my release date by giving away two signed copies of The Resurrection (a synopsis can be found the the Amazon link). The only requirement for participation is that the winners promise to post a brief review of the book (at least 200 words) on both their blog and Amazon. If you'd like a chance to be one of those winners, just leave a comment on this post with your email addy or contact link. I'll select a winner using contest ends at midnight tonight. Thanks again and good luck!

When We See Clearly

And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. Mark 8:24, KJV

Lord, I know what it’s like to see “men as trees walking.” A tear fell onto my Bible as I traced the words of Mark 8:24. For the past five months, recurring bouts of iritis had caused blurry vision—both during and after treatment—and weakened my sight. When my ophthalmologist diagnosed me with chronic iritis, I wondered if I’d ever see clearly again.

Then I remembered the man who saw “men as trees walking,” and I went to Mark 8:22-26. It brought peace and a surprising new perspective:

* Jesus didn’t heal the man in the town. Rather, He “took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town” (verse 23). Jesus often bids me leave my comfort zone, for it’s in the unfamiliar that I realize where my confidence lies and who my Source should be. But no matter how unfamiliar or rough the terrain may be—the possibility of losing my sight or moving into fiction writing, or stepping out to market a book—I’m not alone. Jesus takes me by the hand and leads me.

* Healing didn’t come instantly (verses 23-24). I don’t know why Jesus spat on the man’s eyes, put His hands on him, and asked what he saw. But the man’s answer resonates with me: “I see men as trees, walking” (verse 24). I don’t always understand the whys of life—a devastating diagnosis, the young life snatched away, the broken relationship, or why the query didn’t get a positive response. One thing I know—healing will come, sometimes in unusual, unexpected ways.

* Jesus restored the man. “After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly” (verse 25). On the day when I come face-to-face with my Lord, and gaze into His eyes of love and compassion, all else—that I could see or not, the reviews that stung, the slow book sales, the bruises of rejection--will fade in the light of His glory. All that will matter is that I sought Him, and followed His leading whether it made sense or not. That alone brings focus like never before.

So my sole resolution this year is to abide in the One who called me so I may know Him better and follow where He leads.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…”1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV).

When Anita Mellott isn’t homeschooling, she writes to encourage others (From the Mango Tree ). She has more than ten years of experience as a writer/editor in the nonprofit world. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in summer 2011.

Friday, January 28, 2011

First Contract!!!!

Novel Journey is thrilled to announce that one of our own just received their first publishing contract—and not just her first contract, but a three book deal!

Yvonne Anderson (our contest Diva, who runs the Novel Journey 15 Minutes of Fame Contest) has signed with Risen Books.

Gina, Ane and I have been crit partners with Yvonne for years now, and I can't tell you how excited we are for her. You guys are in for such a treat when her books are available.

A huge congratulations, Y!!

Author Bo Caldwell ~ Interviewed

Bo Caldwell grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Stanford University, where she later held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and a Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing. She has received a fellowship in literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council of Santa Clara County, the Georgia Shreve Prize in Fiction at Stanford University, and the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. Her first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was published in hardcover by Chronicle Books in October of 2001 and in paperback by Harcourt in September of 2002. The book was a national bestseller, one of the Los Angeles Times’ Best Books of 2001, and a Booksense 76 pick in both hardcover and paperback. The book was also selected for community reading programs in Pasadena (“One City, One Story”), Santa Clara County (“Silicon Valley Reads”), and the City of Claremont (“On the Same Page”). Foreign rights were sold to the U.K., the Netherlands, France, and Italy. Her second novel, City of Tranquil Light, published by Henry Holt in September of 2010, was a Los Angeles Times Bestseller, an October 2010 Indie Next Notable, and one of O Magazine’s Ten Must Reads for October 2010. Foreign rights have been sold in Italy and Turkey. Her personal essays have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and America Magazine, and her short stories have been included in Story, Ploughshares, Epoch, and other literary journals. She lives in Northern California with her husband, novelist Ron Hansen. A short essay on loss, and what writing the novel taught me.

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

What other people will think of what I’m working on. I have to stay focused on the work at hand and keep putting those worries out of my mind.

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

The path to writing and finishing this novel wasn’t a straight one. After my first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was published in 2001, I started a novel set in London in 1953. My first novel had been my first attempt at historical fiction, and I’d found that the parameters of a specific time and place were good for me as a writer, so I wanted to do it again, with a different time and setting. (Distant Land was set in Shanghai and Los Angeles from 1937 to 1961.) But try as I might, I couldn’t get the London novel off the ground – I didn’t have much of an idea of plot, and the characters didn’t come alive for me.

One day in the spring of 2002, I decided to give the novel my all and see if I could make some progress. But I couldn’t, and that afternoon, something inside me said, “Go back to China.” I knew exactly what that meant: my maternal grandparents had been missionaries in China, and my mom had often suggested that the story of their lives would make a wonderful book. But I’d never seen it; I’d mistakenly thought that missionaries’ lives would be too dull or simplistic for fiction.

That afternoon I went downstairs and found the memoir my grandfather had privately published for our family. I read it from a different perspective that day, and saw things I’d never seen before: his tenderness toward my grandmother, and the drama and challenges of their lives in China, and the sacrifices they had made in both going to China in 1906 and in leaving it decades later, once it had become home for them. I saw scenes and a wonderful story, and I wanted to tell it. I also saw the goodness in my grandparents. I felt that missionaries often get a bad rap in fiction, and that while there were and are certainly people who exploited or took advantage of the people they were sent to serve, there were also many people who gave of themselves and improved the lives of many people. I wanted to tell their story.

I started the novel in 2002 in and over the next couple of years I wrote about eighty pages. Those pages weren’t very good, but I forged ahead – I’ve accepted the fact that mediocre first drafts are part of my process. The characters didn’t quite feel real to me, though – partly because I was keeping them and their faith at arm’s length. I was trying to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and imagine how he felt about God, but I wasn’t writing about my own faith.

Then life intervened: in the fall of 2004 I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. I was fortunate – we caught it early and my prognosis was good – but I still went through six rounds of chemo followed by six weeks of radiation. The novel got pushed to the back burner, and when, now and then during treatment, I looked at what I’d written, it was like reading someone else’s work.

When I returned to it in the fall of 2006, I was a different person, and I came at the story and the characters differently. I no longer held their faith at arm’s length; instead of writing about my grandfather’s faith, I found I was writing about my own.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Yes, I absolutely experience self-doubt with my work. I don’t a know a writer who doesn’t. Like many other writers, I often feel like a fake, as though I’m going to be found out any minute, and that any success I’ve had has been a fluke. It helps me to identify those thoughts as untrue, and to recognize that they are not from God’s Spirit. They come from darkness and fear. The best antidote for fear and self doubt is to write, even when the thought of writing is what elicits the doubt and fear. I’ve learned that writing is a job, like laying tile. I don’t wait for inspiration; I get to work. Sometimes it helps to reward myself, or time myself (“I’ll just work for an hour, then I can take the dog to the park”). It also helps to read about how other writers deal with it. The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes has been very encouraging.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

Readers have asked me whether I become emotional when writing sad parts of my novels. I don’t. In fact, it’s sort of a high when I feel that I’ve successfully written a poignant scene.

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

The lack of control concerning reviews is really hard for me. You do your best work, and then it gets published, and then it goes out into the world, and you have no control over whether or not it will be reviewed, or how. I have had to learn and relearn to let go of the outcome. It’s about the work, the work, the work.

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

The writing is both the challenge and the reward. When I feel that I’ve done a good day’s work, whether that’s a paragraph or a few pages, I feel satisfied and fulfilled and really happy, deep down. Writing is the reward; the work is the payoff.

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

Having children has been good for my writing. They’re grown now – 25 and 27 – and I only realized in the last few years that I didn’t start publishing stories (though I’d been writing for years) until after they were born. Motherhood taught me about discipline and priorities, both very important lessons for a writer. Being a mother has also deepened me as a person, which is of course good for writing.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

I work on a MacBook, and I alternate between writing in bed (because it’s comfortable) and my study, which I love. It’s small, about seven feet by nine feet, and I sit in an armchair. I’m surrounded by photographs of family and friends and lots of books that, like old friends, are near and dear to my heart.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Discipline – the idea I mentioned earlier that writing is a job and that you don’t have to be inspired to get to work. That myth is the enemy for me. Discipline doesn’t come naturally to me – I always have to work at it. I also have a tendency to procrastinate, but I’ve learned that that’s partly because I’m afraid of failing – writing badly. I’ve learned that anything worth doing is worth doing badly, and that perfectionism leads to procrastination, which leads to paralysis – doing nothing. So I get to work, even if that means some mediocre pages.

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

In a documentary on the musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim, he said that sometimes he has a shot of vodka to get himself going. I don’t drink, but I liked the idea, so my latest strategy has been “writing chocolate” – I bought some really good chocolate at Whole Foods and put it in my study. I have some of it like a shot of something before I write. I only get it before I write, and then I have to work. So far, so good. We’ll see.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination. Plot is difficult for me because it involves logical, analytical thinking, which is not my first (or second or third, for that matter) mode of thinking. So I don’t plot out novels, but I do need to have a general idea of where I’m headed. Both of my novels have been based on the lives of family members, and that’s been enough to get me going – the arc of their lives, sort of a line to follow through the book.

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

I just keep going. Some days it’s about forging ahead, and others it’s about improving what I have. The important thing it to be working. It’s like building a house – even if I work on a corner in the kitchen, that counts. Every little bit helps.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

A woman who’d read my first book told me that it had changed her family relationships – it had helped her with forgiveness – and that meant a great deal to me. More recently, a woman told me that City of Tranquil Light had helped her get through her mother’s death. Those kinds of comments mean more than any review. To touch an individual’s life is a great honor.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Why do you write? I write because I feel that that’s the best use of my time, that it’s my calling. Because this book tells the story of missionaries, a couple of interviewers have asked me if I have the desire to be a missionary. I don’t, because I feel that writing is my calling. It’s what fulfills me, on a deep level, and it feels like the best use of my time and talents.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Speaking encouragement: Investing in writers' lives

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5: 9-11 [The Message]).

Writing fiction is a solitary pursuit. Much of the time we authors are alone (if you don’t count the cast of characters mouthing off in our heads) and it can be easy to lose heart—to wonder if what we’re doing matters to anyone but us.

That’s why opportunities like the American Christian Fiction Writer’s
Genesis Contest and the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest can be seen as balms to a writer’s tired soul—a much needed validation. Certainly, when I finaled in the Genesis two years running, I took that as confirmation.

But, I didn’t win. Either year.

So I started to question my ability—my calling—and I set aside my keyboard for a time and turned my focus to editing. I became discouraged.

I’m concerned too many others place the focus on the wrong thing in entering contests—validation—and do the same.

No wasted time

One writer who takes a different approach is Jennifer Slattery, one of the five finalists in the 2010 Operation First Novel (OFN) contest with her entry, Impossible Choices.

“I used to struggle with discouragement and would spend days moping,” Jennifer says. “God always drew me back to His will. Only in the meantime, I’d lost countless hours of productivity.

“I finally decided, either I believe God has a plan for my life or I don’t. Either I believe He’s in control or I don’t. If He’s in control, what is there to be discouraged about? A rejection letter or a harsh critique is not going to divert His plan. In fact, it could be part of His plan.”

Discouraging discouragement

This year the Guild received 139 full manuscript entries in our contest. In 2010, ACFW received almost 500 entries (15 pages each) for the Genesis, according to contest coordinator Camy Tang.

Surprise! Not everyone is going to win. But everyone who enters any contest wins a more important battle. You’ve beaten back the voice of discouragement and put your words out there—the words God gave you. That’s no small accomplishment.

As Diana Prusik, an OFN finalist this year (with Delivery) and in 2008 and a semifinalist in 2009 says, “I am most thankful to those who have met with success in the writing and publishing worlds and who still take the time to encourage aspiring novelists like me!”

Encouragement from others in the business is helpful as we pursue our solitary ministry. Another OFN finalist, Kimberley Gardner Graham (The Rockinghorse of Tuscumbia), admits to feeling “relief” at learning she finaled. “It was as if someone handed me a huge plaque that read, ‘You’re Not Crazy.’”

So I do want to “speak encouraging words” into other writer’s lives. To “build up hope” that, regardless of contest placement, what you are doing matters. But I also want to encourage writers that while the accolades are nice and you should enjoy them, they don’t validate God’s call on your life.

To paraphrase Jennifer, God already knows what you’re going to accomplish, has gifted you to fulfill His plan, and is at work training you.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

More on Operation First Novel

See the five finalists for The Guild’s 2010 Operation First Novel contest. On Feb. 10, 2011, at the Writing for the Soul conference in Denver CO, one will win $20,000 and a publishing contract from Tyndale House.

To attend the Writing for the Soul conference,
visit our website to register or call 866.495.5177.

Learn about the rules and submission requirements for the 2011 Operation First Novel contest

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Equipped or Called?

An aspiring writer emailed me for help in getting her novel published. I asked if she had a critique group. She told me, "No. God called me to write this story, so it doesn't need any critiquing."

Why do we do that to ourselves? Jesus called the disciples, too, but He didn't tell them to go out and preach right away. For three long years, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, He taught them. They were clumsy at first but learned how to do what they'd been called to do.

I believe talent is a gift from God. But it comes with some assembly required. I may have been called to write, but I had to learn the craft and how to do it well.

The day my husband told me to quit trying to find a new job and write a book, I thought the man had lost his marbles. Me? Write a whole book? Sure, I'd written and published a bunch of plays, but those were all dialogue. I knew nothing about writing a novel. But he insisted I could. So,
I sat down and listed my skills—what I did know:

• I took a creative writing class in high school.
• I acted in community theatre (that just made me an amateur actor)
• I'm a whiz at making props (give me a glue gun and some duct tape and I can make anything!)
• I'd been a lobbyist (that only meant I could talk, and that was no surprise)
• I'd been a hairdresser (did John the Baptist ever use one?)

I looked at my pitiful credentials and asked God, "Whatever are you thinking?" The only thing on that list that I could see as useful was the creative writing class. Too bad I didn't remember anything about it. However, I'd always heard that God equipped the called. I just wish someone had told me sooner how to find the equipment room.

After some anguished and angst filled prayers, I sat my behind in a chair at the computer and started writing. I joined an online critique group and took advantage of every conference and workshop I could. I learned, I wrote and edited and rewrote. I progressed from those first desperate prayers to honing my craft into something readable. Whodda thunk it?

My talent is the gift of storytelling. It's a talent I was born with. Of course, back in my childhood, the principal of my elementary school called it lying. I called it creative embellishment. But my love of telling stories never died. And once I began to write, I found what I'd been created to do.

A church drama-director friend of mine, the late Betty Hamm, said, "Drama brings life to our stories. Drama brings Christ's stories to our eyes. Drama uses our senses and draws us in, and when we least expect it, touches, teaches and transforms us."

It's true. People let down their guard when they think they're being entertained. A well-written novel is pure entertainment just like drama, and within its pages, we can weave life-changing truths.

It's our job to constantly strive to improve our craft. Just because that young writer was called doesn't mean her work is ready. It takes most authors an average of four novels in their computer before they publish.

So, join a critique group, go to conferences, get a mentor, and hone your craft. After all, God deserves our best, right? So write on!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Publishing Prophecies & Predictions for 2011

Okay, I do NOT have the gift of prophecy. But as I look ahead at the year 2011, there are a handful of things I think are clear about the world of publishing…

First, 2011 will be the year of the publishing start-up. I think we’re going to see an explosion of new companies. Technology changes (in the way books are written, edited, acquired, produced, marketed and sold) have slowly re-shaped the large publishing houses. But those houses have tried to keep the same basic model in place for how they run their businesses. Now we’re going to see a bunch of small, print and e-book publishers arise who are faster, more nimble, and conduct business in an entirely new way.

Second, publishers will begin to re-organize around smaller business units. That means a small team of people (editor, marketer, sales guy, accountant) will have one sharp focus and will produce fewer books, but will try to have a better plan for each title. We’ve already seen this happen with nonfiction, but now we’re starting to see it happen in fiction. This has huge implications – think if a house had a small team producing one great thriller each month, another creating one big Amish book each month, and another team producing two strong historical romances each month. They’ll compete with each other for acquisition and marketing dollars. That means fewer titles, stronger books, and better support for each title.

Third, everyone will finally recognize that e-books are not only re-shaping the way we read books, but the way we manage the business of publishing. E-book sales rose roughly 400% last year. How we manage the growth, and how we react to the unique challenges of e-books will reveal which companies thrive in the future. The big questions for those of us working in the industry? (A) What is a fair royalty, and isn’t 25% a bit low, since publishers are making more money off e-books than print books? (B) How do we manage English language e-rights in foreign countries? (C) How can retail stores benefit from the sale of e-books in a tangible way? (D) Will consumers view the iPad, the Kindle, and the Nook as unique devices, or simply as brand names on a utility device?

Fourth, Borders is going to go bankrupt. The company is struggling with huge debt, much of it due to real estate leases. They owe hundreds of millions to publishers for books. The solution, of course, is to declare bankruptcy and reorganize, therefore cancelling many of those bad contracts and giving them debt relief. But the owners recognize that bankruptcy means they lose their investment in the company, so they’re fighting it. A shame, since Borders is still most publishers’ third biggest account after Barnes & Noble and Amazon. And B&N needs the competition -- history has proved that a monopoly is never a good thing for consumers. So eventually the owners will face facts and go through a bankruptcy. Let’s hope they survive.

Fifth, the Google Book Settlement will finally be decided… and then it will meander its way through the court system for a bunch of challenges. What started as a huge power-grab by Google has become recognized as a good (even perhaps a necessary) step. A couple million out-of-print books suddenly becoming available in a digital format? That’s a boon for researchers, readers, and writers.

Sixth, the Espresso Book Machine will be embraced by local bookstores. Print on demand will continue to grow, and that means indies will adopt the technology for you to walk in and print ANY BOOK YOU WANT. Consumers like immediacy – so no more waiting for shipping from Amazon. Come in, print it, and take it home.

Seventh, brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue their move toward gift centers, curriculum centers, game centers, toy centers, and snack centers. CBA bookstores have long done this with religious jewelry and t-shirts and Christian crap (“I always stop into a CBA bookstore – whenever I need a Precious Moments statuette!”), and now B&N is focusing on games, Borders on educational toys, Books-a-Million on yogurt. There will be fewer book titles on shelves, and they’re all still trying to figure out how to get people using e-readers to regularly visit the store.

Eighth, your platform and participation in marketing will be more important to publishers than ever before. Book marketing has shifted from “business-to-business” (e.g., an ad in a trade magazine) to “business-to-consumer.” That means the future of marketing your book is going to be focused on social media. It also means you, as the author, will be expected to take an even bigger role in promoting your title. And not just via Facebook and Twitter -- you’ll want to know about Wattpad, Copia, Figment, Flickr, Tumblr, Cursor… the list goes on.

Ninth, the self-publishing craze will remain hot, but it still won’t make people any money. Sure, somebody with a huge online platform like Seth Godin can do it successfully, but for most everyone else, self-publishing continues to be largely an exercise in vanity. Without the ability to stand in front of thousands of potential readers, you’re probably just doing this to make yourself feel important. I don’t know how to tell you this, but if every publisher has looked at your manuscript and told you it isn’t salable… well, they could be right. Sorry.

Tenth, there’s going to be this great unknown writer who breaks out and sells a ton of books, thus giving hope to novelists everywhere. Why do I think this will happen? Because it happens nearly every year. I don’t know who it’s going to be, of course (though I’m hoping you’ll pick up a copy of Kimberly Stuart’s fabulous OPERATION BONNET). But it will happen. And we’ll all be excited that, once again, genuine talent has been discovered.

Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets.

Monday, January 24, 2011

If you can stand the language, this is pretty funny...

You don’t want to be a writer.
No, no, I know. You think it’s all kittens and rainbows. It’s one big wordgasm, an ejaculation of unbridled creativity. It’s nougat-filled. It’s pillows, marshmallows, parades. It’s a unicorn in a jaunty hat.
Oh, how sweet the illusion. My job, though, is to put my foot through your dreams with a high karate kick.

Consider this your reality check. You’ll note that I do this periodically: I’m here, standing at the edge of the broken bridge in the pouring rain, waving you off — it’s too late for me. My car’s already gone over the edge. I’ve already bought the magic beans. I’ve already bought into the fairy’s lie. I tried to pet the unicorn in its jaunty hat and it ran me through with its corkscrew horn, and now I am impaled.

See my hands? They’re shaking. They won’t stop. I’m like Tom Hanks in Shaving Ryan’s Privates.

I am too far gone.

You, on the other hand, may yet be saved. I see a lot of you out there. An army of writers. Glistening eyes. Lips dewy with the froth of hope. You’re all so fresh. So innocent. Unmolested by the truth.

Read the rest HERE.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Author of My Life

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011Visit her website at

It was in a small cabin outside Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, while surviving - 60 degree temperatures, that I sat by my wood stove and began to write my first novel. As I worked on it I realized writing was of supreme importance to me.

I had run to the Yukon to escape the loneliness and pain in my life. The only familiar thing I took with me was the writing. It had always been my way of escape when I needed one, my way of dealing with the world. When I was lonely, I wrote. When someone hurt me, I wrote. When I believed my life had no purpose, I wrote. I never showed any of my writing to anyone else because I didn’t believe anything I wrote could be of value. I believed I had no value. Though I would not have acknowledged it, the writing was only a band-aid, not a solution to that inner pain.

Then, one day on a lookout point high above the Stewart River I challenged God to prove that He existed. He answered that prayer and gave me the desire of my heart, a beautiful baby girl. Over the next weeks and months the change in my life and even in the physical ‘me’ was so obvious people began to comment on it.

As I grew as a Christian I realized that God is the author of my life – the One who knows my story from beginning to end, because He wrote it himself. The prophet Jeremiah said God told him that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew me in that same way. He knew me when I walked away from Him and when I cried out to him. That day on the road to Mayo when I turned my face to Him and asked Him to forgive me, He responded even though I didn’t know Him. There’s a wonderful verse in the Bible that says while we were yet sinners, he died for us. I believe that at that very moment on that Yukon road, Jesus embraced me as a parent would embrace a lost child.

And suddenly the story made sense, the writing had purpose. Though I can’t see the end, I know He can, and that’s enough. Jesus is enough. Another of my favourite scriptures, Hebrews 12:2, says – “I desire to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith ...”

In his gracious mercy He has guided my life and my writing and used it to bless others. As my husband once said, it now comes from a place of strength, not weakness, because it flows from a heart that has been changed, a soul that is the home of His Holy Spirit.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Please Welcome Literary Agent, Chip MacGregor, to the Novel Journey Team

Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets. He enjoys knitting, alligator disembowelment, and long walks along sandy shores. His real name is Jerry, but he was given the nickname Chip in the summer of '72 because (A) he always had one on his shoulder & (B) his front teeth weren't always what they are today.

He will be posting the last Tuesday of each month.Please take a minute to welcome him aboard.

Note: The bio Mr. MacGregor supplied was a bit threadbare, therefore a few liberties were taken to beef it up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Saturday Poll

In 2008 Novel Journey took a poll to see what percentage of our readership owned an eReader.

5% --owned a Sony Reader
0% --owned a Kindle
(The Nook hadn't arrived on the scene yet.)
10 % --said they'd never own a reader
62.5% --they'd own one if they were cheaper
22.5% --said 'never say never' about owning one

It's 2011 and I'm curious to see how things have changed.

Author Rick Mofina ~ Interviewed


Rick Mofina grew up east of Toronto, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. He began writing fiction in grade school. At age 15, he sold his first short story to a U.S. magazine. In his teens he hitchhiked to California and wrote a novel about the experience. He has held jobs ranging from working at a horseracing track to delivering cars to Florida, before he attended Carleton University where he studied Journalism, English Literature, and American Detective Fiction.

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

Always stick to the emotions shared universally,: Love, Hate and Fear.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

The PANIC ZONE, follows the first in the series, VENGEANCE ROAD, which the International Thriller Writers selected as a finalist for Best Paperback Original. And this is what Dean Koontz says: "The Panic Zone is a headlong rush toward Armageddon. It's brisk pace and tight focus remind me of early Michael Crichton."

The Panic Zone concerns the story of Emma Lane, an anguished mother from Wyoming who refuses to believe her baby died in a tragic car crash. Jack Gannon, a relentless wire service reporter from New York, joins her in the hunt for a perfect killer whose trail leads around the world in a race against time. The Panic Zone is the second book in the Jack Gannon series. Thriller fans met Gannon in the first book in the series, Vengeance Road when it was released in 2009. The prestigious International Thriller Writers (ITW) named Vengeance Road a finalist for a 2010 Thriller Award in the category of Best Paperback Original.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Always. I bear in mind two quotes, the first from Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors and makes us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” The second is from Churchill: “Never quit, never, never, never.”

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I draw on my times as a reporter, my experiences as a human being, I observe the world around me, always thinking, wondering, "What if?" When I'm stuck, make things up.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

No. As a former crime reporter, having interviewed murderers face-to-face on death row, having interviewed grieving family members of homicide victims, having interviewed detectives on the case and then try to make sense of it all, I think I’m good on knowing how to take care of myself on the fiction front.

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

Just an overall message or two: The only guarantee that you will fail, is if you give up. The only thing impeding you stares back at you in the mirror. Don't make excuses for not writing, create sentences. Don’t trouble other people looking for the magic beans, because you have them in your hand. Get to work. You have to earn the right to be on a book shelf next to all the other authors who have all paid their dues. Do your homework, read, study the industry, be realistic and ask yourself the following: Are you a writer? Or, do you want “to be” a writer? Real writers reading this will understand the difference immediately. Those who don’t get the meaning of that, never will. And, as Stephen King, said, "Do not come to this lightly."

Oh yes, don’t quit your day job.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Sister Mary Avita, my grumpy Grade 7 grammar teacher who drilled composition into me with such intensity she scared the class. She always called us by our last names. One day after giving me a thorough public grilling on sentence syntax, she said: “Mofina, one day you will thank me for this.” I now have over 1 million books in print in 15 countries. Yes, I thank her.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Reader reaction. I've had a lot of nice comments, like ‘you kept me up all night,’ and ‘you need to write more books faster’. But one that stands out came from a lovely handwritten letter from a woman in Indiana. Seems she was on vacation in the west and bought my first book, If Angels Fall, in a used book bin for 25 cents. After reading it, she liked it so much, she cut me a personal check for the full cover price, $7.00, which she’d attached to her letter. She told me I’d earned it. I was blown away. I thanked her. And yes, I cashed the check, but I’ve kept a photocopy that I intend to frame some day.

Yeah, its the feedback from new readers who have just discovered you is very rewarding when someone takes the time to write you a kind note telling you how much they enjoyed your book, that never gets old. Hanging out with other writer friends at conferences is fun, too.

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

Turn on my computer.

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

For me, the most challenging part of the writing process is writing the first draft. It's like drilling through rock. It's hard work but I get through it and usually enjoy it when progress is evident.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

Twice nominated for the International Thriller Writers Thriller Award. Two-time winner of Canada’s top prize for Crime Fiction, the Arthur Ellis Award.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Method Madness

Working novelists are often asked about their method. Why this is of such interest to so many, I don’t know. During my years as a practicing architect, few people ever asked about my method. I suspect few people ask accountants or attorneys about their methods, either, but novelists really do get the question often. In fact, we even get the question from other novelists, perhaps as a sedative.

If you are an aspiring novelist, at least this question makes some sense. One is wise to consider carefully the path ahead, in case it requires waders. However, you should know that mine is not the best method, nor something to be emulated, nor even a useful source of inspiration. It only works for me (so to speak) because of the way my brain works. It will only work for you if your brain works like mine, and if that is the case, then you already know my method because it's the only method that comes naturally to brains like yours and mine. So if you have a normal brain, I suggest you move on. Go get your own method. You’ll have better results.

But if you insist on ignoring my advice, here’s how I write a novel:

1. Think of a good story. Takes one to three months. Skip this step if possible, as so many NTY Bestselling Authors do, since that seems to work for them. It’s certainly the hardest part, which probably explains why it's unpopular.

Every day during Step One I spend as many hours as I can stomach pacing the house and back yard, talking to myself, trying to fit ideas together into a plot that sounds original. I leave a pen and notepad in a strategic location about halfway through my pacing circuit, where I can stop and jot things down as they come. I get about one good plot point per day. Plus heartburn.

The effort required to brainstorm by myself makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. I ponder that feeling a lot during Step One, and often wonder if an exploding author's head would make a good inciting incident.

At some point around the middle of Step One I become convinced that I am out of stories and need to find another profession. I get depressed and cranky. My wife hides.

In order to generate enough enthusiasm to begin writing, I must keep at this until mental exhaustion leads to the delusion that I have conceived an idea for the finest novel ever written in the English language. On to Step Two!

2. Synopsis and outline. One to two weeks. Timeframe not carved in stone, but I am determined not to start the first draft until I have verified my plot is a W.O.G. (Work Of Genius). Eventually I give up on that pipedream, abandon the outline and move to Step Three.

3. First draft. Five to six months. The word count is close to final when I’m done with this step. Usually around 100,000 words. I write each scene as if it was a short story, trying to make it perfect and self-contained before I move on. I look for the exact word and proper rhythm then and there. I have a theory: if I can’t write a decent novel, at least I can write one good scene, given an infinite amount of time, plus the random combination of a good thesaurus and an endless supply of coffee. (This is similar to the current scientific theory that life occurred by accident, basically for the same reasons.)

Reality sets in about halfway through Step Three, and I decide to settle for the finest novel ever written in the English language by me.

About three-quarters through, I decide to just honor my contract and finish the thing so I can change professions. I reconsider architecture.

4. Second draft. About two weeks. Mostly looking for dead weight and duplication. Also a plot. I usually cut 5-10,000 words, but add them back in at other places.

At this point I am cautiously optimistic that the novel will not be completely awful.

I begin describing scenes to my wife over dinner, while watching her facial expressions carefully for signs that she would rather I just passed the butter. She is an excellent poker player.

5. Developmental edits. My favorite step, if the editor is also cautiously optimistic. If not, think hell on earth.

The editor points out minor flaws such as boring beginnings, sagging middles and unintelligible endings. It usually takes one to two months to fix everything. Entire chapters are deleted or relocated. New characters are added. Men become women and women become men. Major characters are given children, dogs, warts, or impending divorces, & etc.

Ego utterly destroyed before moving to Step Six.

6. The usual editorial process after that. Line edits (for continuity and logic), copy edits (for grammar and punctuation), and galleys (a last check of the “typeset” pages, which long ago was replaced by something called "film", and more recently became mere ones and zeros on a computer, which seems like a more fitting end for the material I provide).

Step Six is the necessary aftereffect of actually writing a novel. At this step I also start dreaming of writing just one more novel, much as an alcoholic dreams of one more drink to cure a hangover.

And that’s it. An inside look at the glamorous and fascinating working life of a novelist.

You've been warned.

In spite of his appalling method, Athol Dickson’s novels have been favorably compared to the work of Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner. All five of his most recent novels have been finalists for the Christy Award and three have won, including his most recent novel, Lost Mission. His next novel, The Opposite of Art, should be on the shelves somewhere for a week or so this summer. Athol lives with his longsuffering wife in southern California.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taming Time by guest blogger Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin lives in northern California with her husband and three children. When she isn’t ferrying kids to soccer and tennis, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school. She belongs to American Christian Fiction Writers and Christian Authors Network. She is the author of the Wings of Glory series—A Distant Melody (Revell, March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011).

Taming Time—Practical Tips to Increase Writing Productivity

“How on earth did you find time to write a book?” a friend asked.

Perhaps it was my ability to type at the speed of light or my complete lack of a personal life.

Um, no. Snails type faster than I do, and they don’t have fingers. I’m a mother of three, teach Sunday school, and have a part-time job. But I make time to write. This year I’ve made the transition to published author, and time management has become vital.

Four tools for increasing productivity are herding up goals, corralling blocks of time, lassoing the on-line beast, and harnessing snippets of “wasted” time. Honestly, I don’t write Westerns.

Herd up Goals

We’ve all been there—you finish a busy week and have nothing to show for it. Setting goals is the best way to prevent this. Even if you aren’t published yet, make deadlines—it’s good practice for when you have a contracted deadline. Set yearly goals, then break those goals down by month. At the beginning of each week, I look at the month’s goals, and set daily goals to keep myself on target. My goal sheet hangs over my desk. Staring at me. Prodding me.

If you hate charts and organization, make it fun with color coding or cute logos or stickers. Why should kids have all the fun?

Corral Blocks of Time

“I am a professional. I am a professional.” Repeat this until you believe it.

Now, act like it. Keep office hours. Even if you only have one hour a day to write, use it well. During your office hours, act like a professional. Review the day’s goals and get to work. No excuses, no distractions, no phone calls—use Caller ID or (gasp!) unplug the line. Very few calls are emergencies. Also remember, professionals take breaks—walk the dog, play with the kids, chat with a friend—then back to work.

Having children at home complicates things, but even a toddler can learn to respect office hours. I started writing when my youngest was a year and a half. I did most of my work during naptime, but he learned that when Mommy was in her writing place, he could play by himself for a while. Despite what parenting magazines say, a child does not need constant entertainment by an adult—in fact, when a child learns to entertain himself, his imagination grows.

I strongly recommend Making Work at Home Work by Mary M. Byers (Revell, 2009) for fantastic, practical advice.

Lasso the Internet

All right, I’m still working on this. Many days I’ve logged on to check my e-mails—and then it’s noon. E-mail loops, blogs, Twitter, Facebook—they’re necessary for platform and publicity, but they can drain away that time you corralled.

Set strict limits. Some people avoid the internet entirely until their work is done. Since I’m in California and my publisher is back east, I can’t do that.

My plan…should I choose to follow it…is to check e-mails and Facebook and Twitter notifications first thing in the morning. I deal with anything urgent immediately—or schedule a time to do so—then save the rest for later. After my lunch break, I do another check. In the afternoon, when my children are doing homework and need my availability, I answer non-urgent e-mails, read blogs and loop digests, and scan Facebook and Twitter feeds.

If necessary, use a good old-fashioned kitchen timer.

Harness Time Snippets

One of my favorite ways to boost productivity is by using snippets of time while waiting at the baseball field, doctor’s office, ballet studio, or department of motor vehicles. Why not use that “wasted” time to your advantage? You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish in ten-minute spurts.

Be prepared. Have your laptop case ready to go or a clipboard box stocked with paper, pens, and sticky tabs.

Here are ten things you can do in ten minutes:

Study: Read a book on the craft of writing, peruse an online writing course, or listen to a conference CD.

Story Research: As a writer of historical fiction, I always have a pile of books to read for research. A book and note paper, and I’m set.

Market Research: Thumb through a book catalog or read a book in your genre.

Pre-write: Scribble down an outline for a novel or chapter, fill out character or plot charts, or work on a synopsis or query letter.

Edit: Editing is my favorite on-the-go activity, well suited to interruptions. Clip a chapter together with a binder ring, and mark it up with highlighters and a red pen. And God bless laptops and the track-changes feature. I did a significant part of my publisher’s content edit for my first novel while my daughter practiced soccer.

Critique: If you belong to a critique group, time snippets are great for reviewing your partners’ work.

Communications: With a smart phone, you can take care of phone calls and e-mails on the run—and free up time at home to write.

Publicity: Public writing means free publicity. People will ask what you’re doing. So tell them. Make sure you always bring business cards or bookmarks. Maybe your dental hygienist doesn’t read in your genre, but maybe her daughter does. Use those serendipitous encounters to build word of mouth publicity.

Observe: Stuck someplace without a laptop or writing materials? Don’t hyperventilate—release your observation skills. Watch people, listen to dialogue, observe the weather or landscape, and let your mind roam. And always have a notebook with you.

Write: Use a time snippet to write. Really. Try it. This is easiest when you’re in the flow and have to leave for an appointment. Take it with you. Finish it.

So, my dear writer friend, how do you plan to improve your time management this year?

Major Jack Novak has never failed to meet a challenge—until he meets army nurse Lieutenant Ruth Doherty. When Jack lands in the army hospital after a plane crash, he makes winning Ruth's heart a top-priority mission. But he has his work cut out for him. Not only is Ruth focused on her work in order to support her orphaned siblings back home, she also is determined not to give her heart to any man.

As the danger and tension of World War II rise to a fever pitch, Jack and Ruth will need each other more than ever. Can Jack break down her defenses? Or are they destined to go their separate ways?

From the English countryside to the perilous skies over France, A Memory Between Us takes you on a journey through love, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

A Memory Between Us is the second book in the Wings of Glory series, which follows the three Novak brothers, B-17 bomber pilots with the US Eighth Air Force stationed in England during World War II. Each book stands alone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Writing Literary Fiction a Death Knell?

I'd asked one of my favorite authors if he minded people calling what he wrote literary fiction. He laughed and said,"It's a compliment in a sense. They're saying I write pretty, I guess, but my mentor told me never to call it that. It's a death knell."

I never forgot that even back when I wrote supernatural suspense. As I evolved as a writer, some of my critique partners began to point out that I was getting a little literary. Like the author I'd interviewed, I took it as a compliment because it meant I was writing pretty. Who doesn't want to do that?

I recently won the blogger's choice INSPY award in the general/literary category for my debut, Crossing Oceans. This pleased me of course but it also got me thinking again about the subject of literary fiction.

There's a documentary on John Steinbeck's life that is fascinating. Even though he wrote what are considered masterpieces now, the critics hated him. Why? Because, in my opinion, he wrote literary fiction. By writing beautifully, I believe writers are opening themselves up for closer scrutiny.

When Nicholas Sparks puts out a book we're not admiring his prose. We're just reading the story for the story's sake. When we read someone like Lisa Samson, Khalid Hassan, or Arthur Golden, we expect the language to be unusually beautiful.

But there's a problem--sometimes the story doesn't call for that. Sometimes literary writing in certain chapters or even in certain books would be out of place. Literary fiction, is a genre, in many ways like any other, and a writer can get pigeon-holed there and criticized if they don't live up to the literary genre expectation that demands gorgeous language and imagery.

That's not the reason people say that literary fiction is "the death knell" however. They say it because it often doesn't sell well.

Some does of course, usually if it has an unusual premise--like Memoirs of a Geisha, or the The Kite Runner, but often the most beautifully written books will end up on the midlist--winning prizes and criticism, but not fat paychecks.

So, if literary fiction seems to be nothing but trouble, drawing sharper criticisms and making the author little money, why do they continue to write it?

I do not consider myself to be a literary writer. I just want to tell a story. If the words are pretty from time to time, hooray, but my ultimate goal is to get others to look at the world and fellow man in a new light.

Others, however, were born to write gorgeous prose. They are story tellers like the rest of us, but more than that, they are madly in love with words--death knell or not.

Golds and Dolls

I was five years old--finally old enough to receive the gift of my dreams: an American Girl doll. Back then, the Pleasant Company was an infant corporation, its merchandise limited to three dolls, Molly, Kirsten and Samantha. Granted, three dolls meant a dearth of options, but it also meant that each dress, each hat, each story collection was synonymous with quality. My parents may have spent an exorbitant amount on my birthday, but they got something for their money.

Fast- forward twenty years. In 2011, American Girl (now a division of Mattel) introduced yet another forgettable face, a girl who "loves to help others and share the aloha spirit of Hawaii." No less expensive than the original dolls, every stitch of Kanani's ensemble is hand-crafted in China. Her stories blast American Girl’s favorite mantra: girls can do great things if they believe in themselves.

Which brings me to the American Library Association and their annual Youth Media Awards. Back in 1922, the world's first children's book award--the Newbery medal--was established with this basic intent: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children.... To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

Like the classic American Girl dolls, the Newbery's early years saw a dedication to quality. Despite the award's narrow focus, recipients strengthened the medal's credibility and increased the prestige of meriting such a prize: The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, Caddie Woodlawn, A Wrinkle in Time.

However, years passed, and, no doubt motivated by good intentions, the American Library Association began broadening their horizons. They created the Caldecott award for distinguished picture books, and the Printz for distinguished young adult literature. The Pura Belpré, celebrating the Latino cultural experience, the Coretta Scott King, to honor African-American authors and illustrators, the Schneider Family Book Award to honor the artistic expression of the disability experience, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, and most recently, the Stonewall Award, for stories of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.

With this deluge of honor came an inevitable dilution of prestige. As committees broke do
wn "the field of books for children" into a dozen niche markets, children's books were segregated, by color and by content, instead of working side by side with one basic objective--distinguished literature. In their attempt to leave no "experience" behind, the ALA’s Youth Media Awards are rapidly becoming the literary equivalent of Mattel.

This does not mean that ALA award recipients never represent distinguished literature--last year's Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, or 2009's Jellicoe Road are truly well-crafted stories. Nor does it mean that compartmentalizing is evil; personally, I'm glad to see GLBT-themed stories funneled into their own corner. But the inaugural children's book award of 1922 focused on one attribute, an attribute capable of uniting the work of all authors, young, old, black, or white: good writing.

"This is the best novel (for a debut author)." "This is the best story (for a book about a disabled girl)." In a way, multiplying awards into classes and categories leads to praise with faint damnation. Would these books merit such high recognition in the broader field of “books for children”?

Great Britain also established an award for outstanding contributions to children's literature. Since 1936, the Carnegie Medal has honored fiction from authors such as Arthur Ransome, Mary Norton, C.S. Lewis, and Lucy M. Boston. Their Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals recognizes excellence in illustration, as well, with the Kate Greenaway Medal. But that's all. There are no other awards.

That's too narrow! you say. Think of all the good books that are passed over! True. Good books are passed over—but that does not keep them from being read. Librarians still recommend them to patrons, friends still lend them to friends. Meanwhile, stiff competition strengthens the prestige and respect earned by a Carnegie medalist.

Just as quantity* bogged down the quality of American Girl products, quantity** is draining the ALA’s Youth Media Awards of their long-established value. There are so many talented writers and illustrators who
"make it their life work to serve children's reading." They deserve recognition. But they also deserve to know that the sky above them is high, and the field before them is deep, teeming with fellow artists who continually press further up, and further in.

(and other questionable sentiments)
**(and other questionable sentiments)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Small Patch of Blue

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011. Visit her website at

The day had been grey and dreary from beginning to end, a fine drizzle of rain falling continually, creating a thickening mist that shifted and swallowed all in its path. We were to drive to the high point on The Dome behind Dawson City, Yukon, the next morning and I prayed the morning sun would banish the fog and let us see the stunning view of the Klondike Valley. I hadn’t seen it for many years and I longed for the exhilaration it had always given me.

But the next morning was not sunny. The fog lingered.

“Let’s go up anyway,” my husband said, “at least as far as the cemetery.” I knew what he intended. The cemetery held the graves of two good friends, men in their twenties who had taken their own lives in a suicide pact many years before. Their deaths had been the catalyst to the beginning of the journey that led us to faith in Jesus.

We parked the car at the gate and wandered among the graves, noting some names we recognized from years gone by, noting how young some of them had been when death claimed their mortal bodies.

We found the graves we were looking for – one marked by the idler wheel of a D6 Cat, the other by the front frame of another piece of heavy machinery. I watched quietly as my husband pushed scrub brush away so we could see their names welded on the unusual headstones. Memories of that time brought a quietness to the place.

Neither of us wanted to head back to town so we continued up the dirt road as it wound its way to the top. The peak of the Dome was above the clouds so we looked down on the grey shifting mist, watching as it slowly began to dissipate. A small patch of blue appeared. Part of the Yukon River. I was puzzled at first when I saw it emerge. At this point in the river’s course, the Yukon is not blue. It’s a milky grey, filled with the silt from a river upstream. Then I looked up and realized the river was reflecting the blue sky above it, slowly being revealed as the clouds moved away.

I thought of all the people who had come into our lives at that time of death and tragedy, people who prayed with us and guided us toward the truth about life, death and eternity. And I smiled. They themselves were just ordinary people, living ordinary lives in an isolated place, but they were reflecting something from beyond themselves. Something that glowed with the colour of vibrancy and life – the face of God.

I pray that will be the case with everything I write. Though it may have little that is called extraordinary in its pages, though it may exist in a world filled with shifting fog, may it be a reflection of truth, flowing with the colour of true life, able to translate into healing, able to reflect the love of a holy God. May it draw my readers along, as that small patch of blue river below us did, to a place where they will meet Him and know Him, just a little bit more than they did before.

And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (1Cor.15:49).