Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WIP Wednesday: Sarah's Wild Ride

My youngest daughter just exited the operating room for a liver biopsy a little more than an hour ago. Her liver "numbers" spiked unexpectedly and after a few close calls and grace from our transplant team, Sarah headed to Seattle Children's Hospital this afternoon. She's a real trooper and her patience & strength amaze me on a regular basis.

When I discovered she'd be needing this latest biopsy a couple of days ago, I began revisiting the project I need to write but have been avoiding, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. There's a lot of painful memories embedded within the story I've tentatively entitled, "Sarah's Wild Ride."

It's the most compelling book I've attempted to write and the most daunting. At this point it's a half memoir/half parenting book. I've queried the proposal numerous times and have received a lot of positive feedback but it's perceived as too much of a niche market (parents of seriously ill children, or parents of kids with a liver disease) for any one to take it on.

Understandable in today's market. Still, I believe there is a bigger market for this book than people believe. This story goes well beyond the trials of a family working its way through the diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening ailment and subsequent liver transplant. It goes to the very heart of being a parent and what lengths you'll go to fight for your child's life; the sacrifices you make; and the hard lessons you learn through the process.

It may seem strange that the other book I'm focusing on right now is a somewhat humorous middle-grade novel. I have a lot of stories within me waiting to get out but none more than "Sarah's Wild Ride."

Hopefully, you'll join me for the ride from completing the 1st draft through publication. It's time to stop avoiding the story and getting down to the nitty gritty. Looking forward to sharing the experience with you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

WIP Wednesday:

It's that time of the week where I share my writing update. My entire focus so far this year has been to complete the first draft of my humorous middle-grade novel. It's been awhile since I've finished a novel and I want to get off on the right foot to begin 2015.

The key is to see how different it feels to write a 25-30k word middle-grade novel as opposed to the 80,000+ word YA fantasy novels I've written in the past.

Current word count: 15,850
Word count goal: 25,000
Self-imposed deadline to complete: February 15

I'd love to hear what progress your making in your current WIP. Feel free to share in the comments and happy writing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Failure of the Most Epic Kind

So I watched the home team complete the most epic choke in Super Bowl history by failing to do the obvious - hand the ball to their running back, Marshawn Lynch. A no-brainer to just about 100% of the football watching world, yet the brilliant coaching minds of the Seahawks decided to run a pass play that seemed doom from conception. Poor decision that cost the team back-to-back championships and their place in the annals of football history. Instead, they'll be remembered for the play they didn't run. The Seahawks aren't the first ones to fail in an epic way.

We've all been there. Done something we regret. Made a choice we've thought better well after the fact. We may have even ruined a friendship, a marriage or a relationship with a child. Perhaps you've burned a bridge with a former employer that haunts you (and your career) to this day. What can we learn from these mental lapses in judgment, both about how we make choices and about ourselves?

As writers we strive to improve with each and every word. If you've felt the pain of rejection, you may have thought of lashing back at an agent or editor who shredded your work. Even in cases where they rejected you with no explanation, you might have felt anger or resentment. It's times like these we need to step back, take a deep breath and really consider our response, if any.

Our stories and characters are like our children. We've created and nurtured them. They're a part of us and we've put our heart and soul within them. It's natural to feel disappointment and I don't advise stuffing your pain in your pocket. The response is everything.

Just like the Seahawks will surely feel the sting of a lost opportunity until training camp begins next summer, they'll have to move beyond that to reach the pinnacle of the football world again. When we decide to consciously hurt someone else or make a financial decision that can prove lethal to our career or family, we learn that the decision itself is only one step in the process. The bigger step may be learning how to move on and restore faith, trust or a broken relationship.

Epic failures don't need to define WHO we are. They paint only one side of our face. The challenge is to use the other colors on the palate of our live to determine what the outcome of that decision will be and, in turn, what our future will look like.

Have you experienced an epic failure in your personal or writing life? How did you overcome it?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Free-For-All: Conference Season

Conference season is in full swing throughout the U.S. While I'll be refocusing my own efforts towards completing projects and revising others, there are some noteworthy conferences and workshops coming up that I'd like to share with you.

April 17-19 - SCBWI Western Washington Spring Conference 
It's the 24th Annual event and as always well worth the time. Held at the Marriott in Redmond Town Center and boasting roundtable critiques and in-depth sessions, it's a great place to meet some of the best people in the world - children's writers!

May 15-16 - NCWA Writers Renewal
This year's keynote speaker is Angela Hunt. If you're a writer interested in the Christian market this is a great place to network and meet other writers on a similar path. Always quality breakout sessions.

May 3-10 - Highlights Foundation: Writing the Unreal
This one's been on my bucket list for a few years and some day I'll get there!
Anne Ursu and Laura Ruby lead this popular Whole Novel workshop for Speculative fiction writers. I've heard nothing but great things about it.

July 13-17 - Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers Workshop
Labeled an "intensive workshop" by the facilitator/host David Greenburg, this workshop is set along the beautiful Oregon coast. Five full days of writing, onsite critique and feedback and in-depth workshop sessions. Two editors and one agent on hand to guide you through the publishing jungle.

July 16-19 - PNWA Conference
This popular conference hosted by the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association celebrates its 60th year. This year's speakers include Andre Dubus III, J.A. Jance and Nancy Kress.

Hope to see you at one of these events! What's on your list for events this year?

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Long Time Coming, or Shaking Off the Blog Cobwebs

A belated welcome to 2015. I don't know about you but I'm ready for big things this year. I've made some lofty goals (mixed in with the attainable ones) and believe this can be a breakthrough writing year.

For regular readers of the blog, thanks for your faithfulness over the past 18+ months where it's lied dormant. It was never my intention to abandon the blog completely but as many of you know life does invade on our writing lives. I made a conscious effort to focus my efforts elsewhere all the time seeking to return here one day.

I'll share some of my 2015 writing goals in a future post. For the time being, let's take a look at what I'll be tackling this year with the blog:

- Dreaming big
I'm ready to dream ENORMOUS dreams this year, how about you? It takes more than dreaming to make for a successful reality. Let's delve into what hard work it involves and challenge each other to be better...and to reach those dreams.

- Commitment to your craft, your characters and yourself
Like most writers, I'm looking to get better with each word I write and every story I complete. As I look to 2015 as a banner year, I also realize how challenging it will be to up my game. At the same time, commitment occurs on many levels within our lives. I'll be focusing on several of those I believe are essential to success.

- Where the Money is in writing (and why I'm looking in that direction myself). Becoming a published writer can mean more than selling a book. Writing is a broad field with many options, some of which I'm exploring this year to supplement my day job income.

- Fostering community. Not only do I look to do that through local groups and other social media, but I really hope to engage readers on this very blog in 2015. It's something I've desired for a long time and am going to do my best to facilitate worthwhile discussions by writing engaging content.

- WIP Wednesdays return. This is simply a brief blog where I detail how well I'm hitting my personal goals and ask you to share as well. It's one way to keep myself accountable.

- Interviews. This will run the gambit from writers of all genres and backgrounds, to editors, agents and other experts in the writing business.

Looking forward to this journey and sharing it with you. So hop back on board. I'm ready to roll.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick is internationally recognized for her 20 published books, 17 of which are historical and often set in the American West. Several of those books have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. Jane is the Keynote Speaker for this year's Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal conference.

1.     Where do you find inspiration?

A cartoon I have posted in my office says: "Inspiration couldn't make it today. She sent me instead. I'm a dry scratchy cough."  So I can't wait for inspiration to appear, I have to invite her. Music inspires me as does the landscape. I read poetry. The words of others inspire me - prayers and scripture. Since most of my work is drawn from actual historical characters, I read old journals and diaries, books about early settlement, visit small city and county museums, historical sites, listen to story-tellers speaking of their families and  always alert to something strange that I can thoroughly explore.

2.      Practicing and perfecting craft is key to becoming a great writer. What tips or practices have you incorporated into your daily writing to improve it over the course of your career?

A huge help for me was suggested by my first editor Rod Morris (now at Harvest House). He suggested I read Structuring Your Novel by Meredith and Fitzgerald. They have a practice that I call "the work before the work." They suggest answering three questions: what is my intention? What is my attitude (what do I feel deeply about) and what is my purpose in writing this story/essay/poem etc. (or how do I hope a reader will be changed)? I may write three or four pages responding to each question but then get it down to once sentence each. I post those three sentences on the top of my computer so when I struggle I can look at them and find a way to move forward. I also usually end my writing for the day in the middle of a sentence so I know right where to pick up the next day. I also get into the "zone" by reminding myself to" enter and live the story" and thus silence the harpies who would tell me that the work I do isn't worthy.

3.      Could you offer one nugget of writing truth you’ve discovered that might apply to all writers, whether novelist, children’s writers or freelancers?

Feel deeply about whatever you write and risk the pain of that depth trusting that you're not alone.

4.      Many writers find it hard to “sell” family and friends on their writing career. Could you share a bit of your experience? Did you ever face this dilemma? What would you suggest to a writer facing pressure to pursue a “practical” career?

Ah, that's a big one. When I first began writing I had another career that brought an income in so my family didn't give me a hard time about writing...besides, I chastised myself so much better than they might have. I'd say things like "who told you you could write?" or "You're spending all this time and surely it could be better spent on something that made money." Or "Angie Hunt has published over 200 books in her career. What's wrong with you?"  I discovered that to do away with the guilt of spending time that might otherwise be "better" spent, that I became a morning person, setting my alarm for 4:00am and committing to being writer-ready by 5:00am. I gave myself two hours. No one else was up then, I would only have been sleeping otherwise so I had less guilt about using the time that way. Others have told me they dealt with the time challenge (and lack of support therefore) by keeping a similar commitment to write three days a week for 30 minutes or write after the kids were in bed or during lunch hours. In my writing classes people are amazed at the powerful things they can write in thirty minutes. To respond to the "Who told you you could write?" I'd remind myself that it wasn't my job to write the great American novel nor to win awards nor even to get published. My job was to show up, to assume the position of a writer and to tell the stories I'd been given the best way I knew how and to trust that I wasn't alone in the telling. As for that Angie Hunt rant, I'd remind myself that like Angie I worked to tell stories that touched the human heart and that each of us has a gift expressed differently.  I think if we give worth to our work that in time others will come to see it has value as well. Sometimes family discounts are work when what they are really experiencing is a feeling of separation, as though they are less important to us than the story. So I do make a special commitment when I "re-enter" as I call it, to be present with my husband and family and not give the impression that I'd rather be writing.

5.      Is there anything currently published that you wish you had written?

Interesting question! I wish I'd written Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy or Sandra Byrd's To Die For or Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Marilyn Robinson's Gilead or anything by Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, or Madeleine L'Engle. I can reread those works many times and still find new insights and inspiration. I know I'm not them as a writer but I so admire their work and yes, I have to silence the harpies who suggest that I not bother to write if I can't write as they do. It's that "gifts differing" again.

6.      What is that one project you would love to write but haven’t yet?  

There's a ranch in Central Oregon, the Imperial Stock Ranch, the oldest still working ranch in the region. Three women played a major part in that ranch but each had tragic trials. I'd love to explore their stories but I'm still looking for the hopeful ending. I'll call it The Imperial Women and I think it would be much like a female Legends of the Fall. Of course, I'm also working on a project now that is my current favorite, the story of the first black woman to bring a law suit in Oregon in 1851 -- and win. It's working title is The Peace of Encircling Hills. As I said when I heard about it...."now there's a story."  I just hope I can tell it well. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with Terry Whalin

Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor and his magazine work has appeared in more than 50 publications. A former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books through traditional publishers in a wide range of topics from children’s books to biographies to co-authored books. Several of Terry’s books have sold over 100,000 copies.

1.     As an acquisitions editor, what do you look for in manuscripts? How important is  a unique sense of voice?

Great question. For any manuscript, I'm looking for solid writing. From my years in this business, in a short time, I can tell if something is pulling me into their work or not--whether nonfiction, fiction or even children's books. The next factor that I'm looking for is passion about their topic and a connection to their reading audience.

Every writer has a unique way of telling their story and that "should" show up in their writing.

2.     Could you tell us a little about the progression of your publishing career and your current role?
I was trained as a newspaper journalist at one of the top j schools in the country, Indiana University. I planned to work for a newspaper but I made a personal commitment to Jesus halfway through my sophomore year. You can read the story of that life change at: When I graduated from college, I made a left hand turn out of college into linguistics. I'm certain my journalism colleagues thought I was nuts to leave writing. I spent 17 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and 10 years in linguistics.

Over 20 years ago, I returned to my writing in the magazine area and began writing for magazines. I still write for magazines and have written for over 50 publications. My first book was published in 1992 and I've written more than 60 books for traditional publishers--children's books, youth books, biographies, how-to, co-authored books, Bible studies, devotionals, etc.

About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to work inside a publisher as the acquisitions editor at David C. Cook. then I spent three years acquiring fiction at Howard Books and now I work as an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing.

Since 2003, Morgan James has published over 1500 books. 30% of our books are Christian and about 30% of our authors have literary agents. Our books have been on the New York Times list 19 times (which means we sell many books inside the brick and mortar bookstores).  As an acquisitions editor, I'm charged to find nonfiction, fiction and children's books to present to our publication board. We receive about 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books--so it is a major deal if you receive a contract from our pub board.

3.     What would you say the greatest need is right now at Morgan James?

The continual search at Morgan James is for high quality nonfiction, fiction and children's books. We are known as the entrepreneurial publisher and our stance in the marketplace is considerably different from any other publisher. One of the best ways to understand our distinctions is to study the comparison chart on our website at: This chart clearly shows the difference between Morgan James, traditional publishing and self-publishing in a variety of basic categories.

4.     What is the biggest mistake you see writers make in their submissions today?

The biggest mistake that I see on a consistent basis is where authors have submitted something which is incomplete. By incomplete, it does not include their mailing address, email or best phone number. We need all of that information in the submission for two reasons:
1) we acknowledge every submission with a letter that we send to the author in the mail. Yes, it is old fashion but it shows that we cared enough to respond and 2) we need your mailing address if our publication board ultimately decides that your book idea is one of the 150 books a year (out of 5,000 submission) where they want to issue an acceptance letter and a book contract. You can't issue a contract without a mailing address.

The old saying is true: the devil is in the details and unfortunately many authors leave out some critical details in their submission.

5.     What would you say are the biggest myths in publishing?

There are many myths in publishing but here's a couple which come to mind:

1. Every author needs a literary agent. Not true since only 30% of our authors have literary agents and it is very hard for beginning writers to get a literary agent to represent them. Also I know a number of bestselling authors (you would instantly recognize their names) who do not have literary agents. It's a myth that you have to have an agent. In fact, for many authors, they aren't ready for a literary agent.

2. Writers only write. Most beginning writers dream of writing day in and day out. Yet the business of publishing demands that writers spend part of their time on other areas such as building their own presence with their target audience or marketing or social media or public speaking or ????. The work of being a writer is much more than simply excellent storytelling (which is a critical part of the process).

6.      E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

Yes, Ebooks have changed the landscape but not as radically as many people believe. People consume books in many different ways and you want to be in as many of those different formats as possible. Ebooks are still only 25 to 30% of the overall market. That leaves 70% to 75% of the market to printed books. There is all this fear that the printed book is going to disappear but that is a myth. 

Authors have an exciting number of choices and ways to get their words into print. The challenge is for them to make good decisions and not get sucked into some scam. By scam I mean fall prey for these ads that say "Get your book published for $500." Yes that is possible but how are they defining "publish?" Don't tell me your book will be on 19,000 online bookstores. Look at the production numbers of self-published books for 2011: Also understand that "Author Solutions" which published over 47,000 titles appears with names like CrossBooks or WestBow or Voices of Guideposts or ???. Authors need to be educated about what they are doing before they jump into such waters.

Also at the end of the day, good writing is going to rise to the top and be what will excel and be published. Writers need to work at their craft and learn to tell good stories. That will be true five or ten years from now as much as it is true today.

7.     What’s been the most rewarding experience in your publishing career?

It's how God uses my writing and my teaching in ways that I never know. Occasionally I get a glimpse at the results. For example, recently I heard that a first time author used the contents of my Book Proposals That Sell, to write a book proposal and a publisher gave them a $50,000 book advance.

Or someone will contact me years after I've taught a conference or a workshop about the profound way my teaching changed their life. That is the most rewarding of experiences. Rare but rewarding.