Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Down & Dirty

This week is all about rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty with revisions for "Big Joe". It's been quite the task just getting the story organized. While I did not write this novel in scenes (versus chapters) like the last novel, there are a number of scenes that will need to be dropped in to maintain the cohesiveness of the story.

I always used to write chronologically from chapter 1 to THE END in days past. Boring, I know. These two novels have been experiments and I've been challenged to write scenes instead of chronologically. I've enjoyed the exercise and I'm sure I'll continue to write stories in this fashion in the future.

I always used to consider myself a plot first type of writer but these two novels have been evidence of my ability to be a pantster as well. I guess I'll consider that a positive and chalk it up to my "flexibility" as a writer. It will be easier to judge the success once I have a finished product.

This week it's all about getting organized: putting the story in order; cutting out non-essential parts and beginning a quick read-through edit-as-I-go revision. I'll let you know the level of success next week.

What are you working on this week? Have you ventured outside your comfort zone with your style?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interview with...Deb Lund

This week I'm proud to present picture book author extraordinaire, Deb Lund! I've had the good fortune to meet Deb at several local writing conferences. She's an encouraging and delightful woman and I hope you'll enjoy getting to know her just a bit. Deb is best known for her celebrated dinoseries, including All Aboard the Dinotrain and Dinosailors. She's also written Monsters on Machines and Tell Me My Story, Mama. You can find out more about Deb at Without further ado, here's Deb!

1. First of all, thanks so much for visiting the blog today. Can you tell us where your love for picture books originated? 

Deb: My grandmother was a first grade teacher, and she kept us in books when I was young. In one of my past lives, I was an elementary librarian, mostly because I loved finding just the right books for just the right kids. It was an honor to grow readers. Now I get to do the same thing from a different perspective.

2. You mentioned during the SCBWI conference how you received a rejection and stopped writing for 15 years. How did you satisfy your obvious creative nature during that period?

Deb: I taught music during much of that time, writing plays and musicals with my students, dancing, improvising, playing instruments, integrating art activities, and singing. When I became a classroom teacher, the integration and creativity just took other forms. It was also during that time that I completed my master’s project on teaching writing. Thank you for the reminder that those were not fallow years!

3. Picture books are difficult to write since every word must be absolutely necessary. How much time does it typically take you to go from first draft to a polished manuscript?

Deb: Kids ask me that question all the time during my school author visits, and I’m never quite sure how to answer it. If I’m lucky, an idea will come to me and I can crank out a very rough first draft in less than an hour. But then I might work on it for weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, many years. And most of those will never be published. It’s all practice. 

4, Where do you get your ideas?

Deb: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. My kids inspire me, and so do my memories. MONSTERS ON MACHINES came from growing up around construction machinery. I got to sit on my dad’s lap and operate a backhoe when I was little—while other kids played in their sandboxes. The dinobooks got started after I sailed from Seattle to Olympia with the Shifty Sailors, a maritime singing group started by my brother-in-law. We took the train on the way home. DINOSOARING, the airplane book, had to come next. It’s dedicated to my nephew who is an engineer at Boeing. TELL ME MY STORY, MAMA was the story of my son’s birth. After you write for a while, you become an idea hunter, and pretty soon you rarely need to look for them.

5. The more the publishing industry contracts it’s becoming more difficult to break into picture books. What do you suggest for aspiring writers?

Deb: Take your time, learn your craft. Everyone always wants to know about publication, but with so much competition, it’s important to really hone your skills. Take risks as you write. Follow the voice that leads you. Don’t think about publication or it can destroy your creativity. Read the kind of books you want to write. Go to conferences. Join SCBWI. Be a sponge and learn all you can, but write!

6. Are agents necessary in the picture book world? Could you elaborate if necessary?

Deb: Agents are nice to have in any genre, but for picture books, it’s often easier to get published than it is to get an agent. It’s easy to understand why. An agent usually makes 15% of your 5% share as an author (10% if you’re an author/illustrator). If you don’t have a track record yet, an agent may not want to take a chance on you. And of course, we all have our own tastes, and if theirs doesn’t match with yours, it’s not going to happen. It doesn’t mean the writing isn’t good. I’ve had two agents, but I don’t have one right now.

7. Could you list a few of your favorite picture books? Why do they resonate with you?  

Deb: Besides mine?  ; )  I love Bonny Becker’s A VISITOR FOR BEAR because of the voice. I adore DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and FANCY NANCY because they capture kids’ personalities and temperaments. When I read I AIN’T GONNA PAINT NO MORE, the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and borrowed features from music make me wonder why I didn’t think of writing it. There are so many picture books that are just perfect. I have a big basket of books I take with me when I teach writing classes, and we dissect them to see what elements we can borrow to make our own stories. I call those Piggyback Picture Books.

8. If you could be one character from any picture book you’ve ever read, who or what would it be and why?

Deb: One possibility would be Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge in the book by the same name. He didn’t bother with shallow experiences. He replaced judgment with curiosity and looked to the wisest people around him for what he needed to learn. He made a difference by helping a friend access what she already knew. That’s who I want to be, and that’s what I hope to do.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Memorial Day Tribute

I will be attending the annual American Legion Memorial Day service later this morning come rain or shine. It's become a family tradition and I enjoy it more each year. I'm a Legion member and prior service veteran but I don't intend to toot my own horn. I was honored to serve.

I want to remember those faithful, courageous, honorable souls who sacrificed their lives for a belief in something greater than themselves. Their sacrifice preserved something precious, something the world had never before witnessed. They believed the people of their country were worth it.

From the American Revolution where patriots shed the chains of an oppressive monarchy; to World War II where the free world united against a common and diabolical evil; to the present day. We've lost many a good man and woman, often very young where the only significant part of life they've experienced is the face of war and death.

This Memorial Day take the time to remember those who paid the ultimate price for what they believed in. They believed that sacrifice to be necessary to sustain a nation and those very beliefs. Remember.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

WIP Wednesday: What Was I Working On Again?

One of the priorities I came away from last weekend’s conference with was to focus my writing. I don’t want to particularly limit the areas I’m exploring but I need to devise a time management plan. Currently, my writing is headed in several different directions:

- Revising my second novel
- Writing articles about my dad growing up & Sarah’s journey through liver disease
- Writing the book for families battling pediatric liver disease and transplant
- Revising picture book texts and finishing current work
- Considering my next novel

I don’t remember ever having this many writing projects at the same time and I’m not sure where I lost control! I realized I can’t be this scatter-brained without some type of plan in place to insure I actual make progress in each of these areas.

Have you had multiple projects going at once? How did you cope with it? How are you coping with it now? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Interview with...Chila Woychik

Chila Woychik is the Publisher and Managing Editor of Port Yonder Press ( She recently started a quarterly Ezine called Beyondaries. Chila is the author of On Being A Rat and the editor of  Christmas Campfire Companion and  The Curse of Captain LaFoote

Please welcome Chila to the blog!

1. As the publisher of Port Yonder Press, you must read a variety of manuscripts. What type of story grab’s your attention the most?

Authors should stick closely to our posted needs.  I place them on our main page in the upper right hand corner.  If an author has a manuscript that deviates from those, I lose interest immediately because I feel they haven't spent time perusing our site.  We're a small, diverse press, and I must keep my focus.  I can't accept too many "well, this manuscript isn't covered in your list, but it's a really really good book and I think you need to see it" type of submissions.  I simply don't have the time. 

Since an author initially only sends an equery, then a few chapters, if we request them, the writing has to be exemplary right off the bat, the flow smooth, the text engaging.  The characters and how they interact must be true to life and appealing to me as a reader.  In short, the top two considerations at least initially are 1) a very well written manuscript, and 2) a story or genre that we're currently seeking.  

2. What triggered your desire to enter the POD publishing industry? 

The empty nest syndrome combined with a long-lasting love of writing and editing.  From there, I met Grace Bridges (Splashdown Books) through an online writing group and she coached me in a number of initial steps.  Jeff Gerke (Marcher Lord Press) was also a big help.  

3. How many manuscripts does PYP receive monthly? What is your primary reason for rejecting a submission? 

We receive anywhere from a couple dozen to many more than that, depending on the time of the year possibly, I'm not sure.  My latest attempt to keep the submissions manageable is a refusal to accept anything that's currently out to another publisher, that is, we now only accept exclusive equeries and submissions. 

My primary reason(s) for rejecting a submission are: 1) it doesn't read well (too much work would have to be invested to make it a truly good book, 2) it's in a genre we don't currently need, 3) it's a simultaneous submission / equery. 

4. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen writers make when submitting to PYP? 

I'm an author myself so I'm not very hard on *how* an author submits to us.  What I'm interested in is *what* they submit to us.  Frankly, I could care less if they use a proper book proposal, if they have a fancy list of credits, if they're on hand-shaking terms with an ex-president.  If it doesn't fit our needs and my vision for PYP, it simply won't work.  I've turned down Pushcart winners and NYT bestsellers.  I have no agenda other than to publish great books that fit within our paradigm - "family-friendly-mature."

5Do you have one or two key pieces of advice for aspiring novelists?

Read more than you write, as in 10 to 1 in time spent, but only read the very best of the best books you can get your hands on:  Newbery winners, NYT's top of the heap, Hugo winners, Pulitzer Prize winners.  Go out and get the book, "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King, if you're writing a novel.  Don't just read it, study it, take notes, do the exercises, refer to it constantly when writing.  If you love creative nonfiction, read and absorb the works of Annie Dillard.  When it comes to submitting your work for publication, shoot for the largest and most prestigious presses you can find.  If that means trying to acquire an agent, do so.  Never sacrifice your dreams for wishful thinking or compromise.  Reach for the stars and you're sure to end up with at least a handful of stardust.  Its warmth and luminescence will make it all worthwhile.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Brief Thoughts on the 2012 NCWA Writers' Renewal

I'm still downloading my brain from a fabulous conference weekend in Redmond. So many wonderful people attended and I'm grateful to the spectacular faculty, including editors Carolyn McCready, Terry Glaspey and Jim Watkins, and agents Rachel Kent and Sandra Bishop. Such phenomenal sessions all the way around. Marshal Younger's two keynotes were fantastic and I'll remember them for a long time. Plus, there's nothing like spending time with other writers.

As I evaluate what action to pursue following the conference, here are a few that impacted me:

- The need to regularly evaluate (or re-evaluate) the reasons I write.

- Realizing if you have a story to sell, self-publishing can be a viable option. Don't let rejection from the traditional markets stop you. If you're message is one that must be shared, pursue it.

- Use subtlety in your writing, not a 10-ton elephant

- Remember that good writing trumps everything else.

- Don't try to be everything to everyone when on social media. Choose Facebook, Twitter, or blogging but don't burn yourself out trying to do all of them. Do one thing well.

- Write, write, write

- Read, read, read!

If you attended the conference, what is one thing that spoke to you and demands action on your part right now?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interview with...Jeffrey Overstreet (Part 2)

Thanks for joining me for part two of my interview with Jeffrey Overstreet. He has a lot to share so let's get started.

4. What advice can you offer beginning writers to improve their chances of

That’s a difficult question to answer. Frankly, I would rather offer advice about how to become a better writer, not advice on how to get published.

See, here’s the problem: The industry publishes what will make money. And what makes money is, most of the time, the literary equivalent of junk food. Great writers rarely sell a lot of books. So, the questions about “How do I become a better writer?” are very different than questions about “How do I improve my chances of publication?”

My life is much richer because I decided fairly early in my writing life not to spend too much time and effort on trying to get published. It has been more rewarding to focus on the writing, and to focus on developing relationships with other writers, than to focus on finding a publisher. While I was busy working, revising, editing, and posting my work online, the work attracted readers, and eventually one of those readers introduced me to a publisher.

I also highly recommend that writers learn to love rigorous criticism. Share your work with people who will tear it to pieces. I’m serious. It will help you make the writing better. It’s best if the people who tear it to pieces are also people who love you. But get used to hearing the hard stuff. And get used to revising and rewriting. I was on my tenth version of Auralia’s Colors — ten years of writing — when a publisher first looked at it. And there were a few more drafts to come. If we aren’t willing to let people who are smarter than us expose our weaknesses, we’ll never grow.

Don’t worry much about getting paid for your work. Pay your bills some other way. Very few people pay bills with money made from creative writing. Focus on achieving excellence and getting your work in front of as many readers as possible. If your work is good, somebody will like it and share it with others, and opportunities may arise.

I don’t write to get published. I never have. I write because there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Most people who tell me they want to be writers are doomed, because they’re not writing yet. When they find out that writers spend most of their time writing — on lunch breaks, in the evenings, and all weekend long — they’re miserable. The writers who make a life of it are usually writers who write constantly, irrepressibly, and compulsively.

5. How important is prior publication (of some kind) or relationship with an
editor/agent to landing a book deal?

Almost all of the writers I know who have won book deals found them through personal relationships. Very, very few of them got book deals by packaging up their writing and mailing it off to a publisher.

But those relationships develop because the writer is writing. I was writing movie reviews and posting them online when Christianity Today called and said they wanted to hire me as a film columnist. They wouldn’t have called if I hadn’t spent several hours on each film review, and if I hadn’t shown that I could do this regularly for years and years.

Relationships with editors and agents often come through community. I have been blessed through relationships with a lot of writers. So I tell aspiring writers to join writers’ groups — committed, disciplined, rigorous writer’s groups. Get into a good MFA in Creative Writing program, like the one at Seattle Pacific University. (I’ve seen several friends go through that program and find life-changing opportunities.) Spend a lot of time meeting people at conferences and workshops, like The Glen Workshop, which is hosted twice a year by IMAGE.

The industry is changing all the time, but I’ve seen very few writers earn good book contracts without the help of a good agent.

6. For writers attending the conference, what preparation would you
recommend? What expectations should they bring with them?

In my presentation, I’ll be focusing more on the elements of great storytelling than the secrets to getting published. I hope they’re interested in exploring the idea of inspiration — where it comes from, what it produces. I hope they’re interested in the mysterious process of discovering truth through exploration, through writing ourselves into unfamiliar places. In order to revitalize our imaginations, and recapture an openness to great ideas, we may have to help each other forget about publishers and audiences for a while.

7. Who is your favorite fictional character and why?

The one I’m writing about right now. Two years ago, I was writing about villains and monsters, and I found them all wonderful; I couldn’t stop writing about them. Today, I’m writing about an awkward 17-year-old librarian with a speech impediment who has never been off of the island where he was born. If I don’t love the character I’m writing about — hero or villain, expert or fool — if I don’t find him or her to be the most fascinating character I’ve ever met, than my readers will probably lose interest.

Oh, I’m also a big fan of Kermit the Frog.

Thanks, Jeffrey, for such an insightful and thorough interview!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Prepping to Pitch

I hope you're enjoying all the interviews these past two weeks. It's been my pleasure to host some of the wonderful faculty and speakers of this year's Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal conference this coming Friday and Saturday.

This week I've been working on my pitch for the conference. It's a little different for me pitching a nonfiction book idea instead of a novel. The pitch sessions are a little different at this conference, as well. You meet with an agent or editor with a group of 4-5 other people. You each have three minutes to pitch your idea, ask questions and get a response. The past two years I really haven't had anything to pitch so this will be a good test if the idea is plausible in the eyes of certain faculty.

I don't have a full book proposal ready but I've been very encouraged by the progress I've made nailing down the specifics about the book. I feel very confident moving forward and will report back this weekend or early next week about how things panned out. I don't have any set expectations but a positive response would be encouraging.

What are you working on this week? Are there any conferences in your near future? I'd love to hear about it.

BONUS Interview with...Carolyn McCready

Today, I welcome Carolyn McCready, Executive Editor with Zondervan Publishing. She originally gained her start in the publishing industry as bookstore manager. Carolyn has worked with authors such as Kay Arthur, Lysa TerKeurst and Stormie Omartian.

Welcome to the blog, Carolyn!

1     1. Could you tell us a little about the progression of your publishing career and your current role? 

      My degree is in education and English and I expected to be a teacher.  Along the way, though, life took one of those turns that can change everything.  I took a summer job at a Christian Bookstore, working for a wonderful store owner.  I planned to be there for the summer and find a full-time teaching job the next year, but I learned that my love of books and the joy I found in connecting people with the perfect book or Bible made this a great job for me.  I worked there for 10 years and became the store manager and book and Bible buyer. During that time I developed relationships with most of the major publishers and worked for Zondervan as a dealer advisor. 
      I was offered the job of editorial director at Harvest House Publishers, as they were looking for someone who understood the retail marketplace and was familiar with the full breadth of books available.  I was also, of course, an avid reader and loved the prospect of working with writers and seeing their ideas become wonderful books.     I eventually became the VP of Editorial and was with Harvest House for 15 years. It is a wonderful, focused, family-owned Christian publisher and I learned so much during that time about what publishing is all about and what it takes to make a book.  It does take a village!   I took the job of Executive Editor with Zondervan 18 months ago and am thoroughly enjoying my role of acquiring non-fiction Trade books.  I still live in Eugene, Oregon but I travel regularly to Grand Rapids to work with my colleagues at Zondervan and around the country to meet with authors.

      2. How do you know a story is a “winner” when you read it?
      I love reading fiction although I don’t acquire much in that arena. But with fiction it is usually a combo of a great “voice”, engaging characters, and a story that makes me want to turn the page.  I’m looking for something fresh, as so much of the fiction we see – and even publish – feels the same.  It’s like watching the  pilot of a new television show or the beginning of new movie – sometimes it just hits and you feel it.  It grabs your attention and you want to spend time in this world.  It can even be in a very typical genre but still stand out.  You know it when you read it.  

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

      I think the biggest mistake may be not understanding what editors need to help their publishing team decide to publish a new book.  We need to see that you have a great idea, a significant – or at least growing – platform, and strong writing skills.  The platform issue is very important but it doesn’t have to mean that you are the pastor of a large church or a speaker for major women’s conferences.  You do have to show that you are working hard to gain a following and that you have made progress in that arena.  Speaking, blogging, writing for magazines and newspapers, leading workshops on your topic – all can be really important to a publisher.  Then give us a marketable topic (and the reasons that it is – do  your research!) , and finally, and very importantly, hone your writing so it’s as strong as it can be.    

      4. What would you say are the biggest myths in publishing?
       That you must have a large platform to get published.  It certainly helps – and you will hear that from every publisher – but there are certainly exceptions.  Sometimes it’s all about a great story and good storytelling. Look at  Heaven Is For Real!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Interview with...Jeffrey Overstreet (Part 1)

Jeffrey Overstreet is today's blog guest. A bio from the NW Christian Writers website states: “Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a "memoir of dangerous moviegoing" called Through a Screen Darkly, and four fantasy novels: Auralia's Colors, Cyndere's Midnight, Raven's Ladder, and The Ale Boy's Feast. He is a contributing editor for SPU’s Response, and also writes for Image and"

Jeffrey will be teaching two sessions at the conference: "A Box of 64 Crayons: How Storytellers Can Play Without Ceasing" and "Beast and the Beauty: What Fairy Tales and Jesus’ Parables Have in Common."

Please, help me welcome Jeffrey to the blog.

1. Thanks for visiting the blog this week. Could you tell us a little about
your background and what led you to write Auralias's Colors?

I grew up in two homes: My family home in Portland, Oregon, and the local public library. My parents — both teachers — would take me to the library often. It was my candy store, my Disney world. That’s where I fell in love with stories. I couldn’t bring home enough good books to read.

And I read them aloud, either to myself or my parents or my younger brother.  I loved the whole experience — not just the story, but the music of language, and the materials that made books possible.

I loved them so much, I copied them — the full text, sometimes. I drew my own illustrations, and I stapled the results together or bound their pages with yarn. Eventually, about age 6, I started embellishing the stories, trying to improve them. By age 7, I was writing short novels from scratch. My favorite words and phrases were “once upon a time,” and “what if?” and “suddenly.” I still have dozens of books I wrote between the ages of 6 and 26.

In elementary school, I wrote a Lord of the Rings-scale adventure series set in the tiny world of talking insects long before Pixar’s A Bug’s Life had been imagined. In another story, rats stormed the White House and took over the American government, until a brave mouse overthrew them and gave us our country back. In another, nightmares learned how to break the barrier the dream-world and the waking world. I wrote nine or ten stories about an intergalactic crime-fighting team… sort of The A-Team meets Firefly.

When I was 26, I was hiking near Flathead Lake in Montana with my girlfriend. We were talking about the imagination. I suddenly had a “What if?” moment. What if an entire society folded up their colorful and creative work and put it away? I saw a colorless city set in the middle of this beautiful forest. And then I saw a person — a young boy or a young girl — looking out over the city from a high place. Eventually, I decided it was a young girl, and she was weeping. The more I thought about who she might be, the more I became convinced that she was an artist. She would try to help that colorless city by bringing them a gift of art.

The story of Auralia’s Colors flowered out of that idea.

2. Why did you choose the fantasy genre? Who were your most admired writers growing up? Who are your current favorites?

I grew up immersed in Grimm fairy tales, and those long-playing records based on animated Walt Disney movies. By age 7 I was reading The Hobbit, and by age 8 I was reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read over and over again. When I was 10, my father invited a high school English teacher over to the house to talk with me about my writing. He gave me a copy of Watership Down, which remains my favorite novel to this day.

I’ve always cared about a sense of “place” in storytelling. I always preferred The Lord of the Rings to so other fantasy series because Tolkien had taken the time to craft a vivid, detailed world. I swear that I have been to Middle Earth, enjoyed a pint in a Hobbit pub, and survived a journey through the Mines of Moria. It’s as real a place to me as the neighborhood where I grew up. Likewise, I loved Watership Down because I never doubted for a moment the existence of that beautiful world. If I don’t become interested in the context of a story, I probably won’t care much for the story.

Also, I became fascinated by the way that, no matter how wild and crazy a fantasy world may be, if the story works, that is because there is something true, something beautiful, at the heart of it. If a story doesn’t lead us into something mysterious and true, something beautiful, it will evaporate. Good stories can lead us to lessons. Great stories lead us to something much better than a lesson; they lead us to something we cannot sum up. Great stories show us some new aspect of truth every time we return to them. They may bell us the truth about goodness, and inspire us, or they may expose the the truth about evil, and horrify us. We need both kinds.

I became addicted to the process of following a story to discover what truth it wanted to reveal. And fantasy remains my favorite way to do so. In some ways, fantasy can reveal more truth than realism—it allows us to find words and pictures for things beyond mere facts. It allows the trees to speak and the heavens to declare. It gives us a language for mystery.

That’s why children love the Harry Potter stories and The Chronicles of Narnia so much. Those books are telling them a fuller truth about their world and their lives than other stories. They speak to our intuition that there are more things in heaven and earth than we’ve ever dreamt. And they help us see our own outrageous world more clearly.

These days, I’m in love with the stories of Kate DiCamillo, like The Tale of Despereaux and The Tiger Rising. Mark Helprin’s novel Winter’s Tale, a magical story about a make-believe version of New York, is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I’m awestruck by the world George R. R. Martin has created in A Game of Thrones, although I’m taking a break from that series because the events in it are relentlessly heartbreaking. Patricia McKillip, on the other hand, writes fantasy stories that are mysterious, beautiful, and full of glorious surprises.

But most of the time, I read poetry and theology. I prefer language that is musical, and meant to be read slowly and studied. That’s where the ideas for my own stories come from. I love the minds of Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton, Eugene Peterson, David Dark, Madeleine L’Engle, and I love the poetry of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, and William Stafford.

My wife Anne writes mysterious and intriguing poetry too. I often ask her to read to me at the end of the day, so I can fall asleep with beautiful language ringing in my ears. Her first book, Delicate Machinery Suspended, was published last August.

3. Can you give us a sense of your journey to publication?

One day, about eight years ago, Anne and I walked around our neighborhood saying quiet prayers about our writing. I wanted God to give me a sign. I wanted to know if I should work hard to find a publisher or not. I remember saying, “Lord, if you want this story to be published, you may have to drop somebody out of the sky with a golden ticket.

A few days later, I received an email from a flight attendant — yes, a flight attendant — in Atlanta. She had enjoyed one of my movie reviews, which had been published by Christianity Today. She had noticed that my bio mentioned some “novels-in-progress.” Being a flight attendant, she could fly all over the country for free. She was coming to Seattle for, of all things, a dentist’s appointment. Would I be willing to meet her for lunch? Would I tell her about my novels? I thought this was highly unusual. But I agreed, and we met for lunch. She read a bit of my work, then made a few phone calls to friends — right there, while I ate my lunch. And she informed me that I would receive an important phone call the next morning. I wasn’t sure what to believe.

The next morning, I got a phone call from the head of WaterBrook Press at Random House.  He and I had a great conversation. He asked to see some chapters from Auralia’s Colors. I sent in proposals for both. One thing led to another. And then, during a two-week period, I was offered contracts for three books: Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, and Through a Screen Darkly.

I am still in a state of shock about all of this. I keep waiting for somebody to say “Joke!” Somebody had dropped out of the sky and given me a golden ticket. And whenever I tell this story, I feel a little shaky. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

Please come back Thursday for part two of my interview with Jeffrey! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview with...Marshal Younger

Marshal Younger is the keynote speaker for this year's NCWA Writer's Renewal. He is a writer/director and producer for TV, film and radio, including Adventures is Odyssey. Marshal attended Baylor University and graduate school at Regent University. Please welcome Marshal to the blog!

1. Was it love at first sight or did your career in writing & producing gradually evolve? When did you know writing was in your blood?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in the third grade. My teacher would sometimes read my stories to the whole class in lieu of reading actual books by actual authors. And I loved it when the class laughed at what I wrote. Entertaining my friends was what led me to want to be a writer. And I never gave it up from that moment on. I never wanted to be anything else. Of course, I constantly doubted that I would be able to make a living writing (and, in fact, I still have my doubts sometimes), but God was good to me and allowed me to make a career out of the thing that I loved.

2. How have you been able to blend your art & faith into an encouraging medium for your readers/listeners?

At this point, my art and my faith are so interconnected that if they were separated, something would feel wrong.  I think artists of faith have a distinct advantage over artists who only want to entertain because we know what we believe.  We have a purpose in everything we do, and we have a beautiful story to draw from every time we sit down at a computer.  The message of Christ is ultimately one of hope, love, and joy.   And those messages are getting increasingly rare in our culture.  The negative stuff is emphasized because “it makes better drama”.  But as far as I’m concerned, the Christian life is a rollercoaster drama that makes it easy to mine stories.

3. Where do you find inspiration?

My children are a constant source of inspiration.  I have four—one in college, one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary, so lately I’ve been able to get material that matches children’s experiences at pretty much every stage of life.  It’s still fun to be driving with the kids in the car, listening to an Odyssey show, and one of them shouts, “Wait a minute!  That’s me!”

Good books and good movies inspire me.  And, strangely enough, poorly-made movies inspire me too.  It makes me think I can make it in this business if I see awful stuff actually getting funded and produced.

I like C.S. Lewis. Garrison Keillor, and Aaron Sorkin.  Bible stories where God does the impossible always makes me want to craft stories that show the same thing.

4. Could you offer one nugget of writing truth you’ve discovered that applies to novelists and freelance writers?

The first draft is always, always, always horrible.  Don’t ever send anything to a publisher that’s a first draft.  The movie “Finding Forrester” has this quote: “The first draft you write with your heart.  The second draft you write with your head.”  Overwriting is fine in the first draft.  But cut your stuff down by at least 20% in the second draft—because you’ll never miss it.  Your novel is not perfect.  Get someone who knows what they’re talking about and would be willing to crush your spirit, if they have to, with a critique.  An honest critic is an ally, not an enemy.

5. Many writers find it hard to “sell” family and friends on their writing career. Could you share a bit of your experience?

I’m still trying to convince my wife that I’m a writer.  I understand where people are coming from.  It doesn’t look like a real job. 

You work in your pajamas? 
You start your day at what time? 
This is what you spent your entire day doing?  Writing 300 words? 
So you’re telling me there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid for this?

Writing as a career doesn’t work like most careers.  It takes a long time to prove yourself.  The process is frustrating, as it has been for my wife at times.  Either you really have to believe that God put you here, or you get a second job as a waiter.  Don’t lose hope too quickly.  It took Noah about 100 years to build the ark.  And he got laughed at too.

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

My dream is to write for television.  I would like to write a comedy drama where the church is integral to the framework of the show.  The church members don’t have to be the main characters, they just have to have a positive effect on the community around them.  The church is so misunderstood in popular television and film.  I grew up in the church, and love the church.  I have rarely had anything but positive experiences when dealing with Christians, and I would love for that to be represented somewhere.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview with...Jim Watkins

Jim is the author of 15 books and a multitude of articles. He is the editor for Wesleyan Publishing House, frequent speaker throughout the country and overseas and editorial advisor for ACW Press. He's also an instructor at Taylor University. Please welcome Jim to the blog!

1.       First of all, thanks for visiting my blog, Jim. What has been the most rewarding part of your writing career?

Letters from readers. My favorite regarding an article on suicide: "Your article saved my life tonight." Knowing that I'm making an eternal difference in the lives of readers keeps me starting at a computer screen all day long.

2.       In your role as an editor, is there something you specifically look for in the writing that is often overlooked by beginning writers?

A great article needs a great lead (opening paragraph). The author is not simply competing with other articles and books, but the thousands of other things a potential reader could be doing: another game of "Angry Birds," TV, watching the new neighbors move in . . . 

Then, once they have my attention, the message and writing style has to be fresh and creative. 

As far as books, most proposed books would make a better article than a book: not enough original content, the author isn't famous or infamous enough for their life story to be a book, author doesn't have a platform. And articles reach a thousand times more readers.

3.       How do you balance your writing career with your editing career? What aspects do you find helpful to both endeavors? What challenges do you face bouncing between the two?

There's a great line in the film Finding Forrester. The author, played by Sean Connery, advises his student, "Write the first draft with your heart. The second with your head." Good writing comes from the heart, good editing from the head, so you have to turn off the inner "editor" while you're writing, but then be absolutely heartless in editing.

I don't find it difficult, but maybe being a bit schizophrenic is helpful. I do find it's most helpful to separate writing and editing by a few days so I come back to the piece more objectively.

4.       What advice do you have for conference attendees who are curious about writing devotionals but feel they don’t have what it takes, or perhaps don’t believe it will add to their writing resume?

Devos are a great way to break into writing. A publisher needs 365 devos a year! And you learn to write tight with a very clear focus. Also, remember that devos should illuminate rather than educate. That's the biggest problem I find with submissions. 

5.       What are you currently looking for that you’re not seeing in your inbox?

Vista tracks with Wesleyan Publishing House's curriculum, so the best (only) way to break in is request to be put on the theme list. Writers receive thirteen topics for inspirational, practical (500-550 words) and humorous articles (250-300). Just email a request to jim (at) jameswatkins (dot) com. Then writers submit original and reprint articles that fit that theme.

What I'm not seeing--and would love to see--are short short stories (500-550 words) that tie into the weekly themes.

6.       What one or two pieces of advice would you give to nonfiction writers interested in pursuing publication with VISTA or Wesleyan Publishing House? Thanks for your time, Jim!

Read the writers' guidelines and online sample copies at  It amazes me that I receive submissions from people who have no idea what we publish. They submit like they're picking lottery numbers!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Interview Insanity!

Happy Monday! Just a brief entry for today…

If you’re interested in the Christian publishing industry, the next two weeks will be right up your alley. I’ll be featuring no less than four interviews with writers, an agent and an editor leading up to the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal, May 18-19.

Picking up where I left off last week with Terry Glaspey, the interviews begin Tuesday morning with James Watkins of VISTA and Wesleyan Publishing, followed by writer Marshal Younger on Thursday.

 I’ll be posting a special two-part interview with Jeffrey Overstreet, author of Auralia’s Colors, next week. Agent Sandra Bishop, of Macgregor Literary, will also be stopping by for a visit.

I hope you find the interviews, past, present and future, helpful to your writing career. Please let me know if you have suggestions for future interview subjects.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Obscure Word of the Week, #10

icteritious – yellow; having the color of the skin when it is affected by the jaundice.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WIP Wednesday

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and the insanity will continue for a few more. Even so, I’m moving ahead with some key works in progress.

Book proposal update: It will be a struggle to complete an entire book proposal package before my next conference on May 19-20. I’m hoping to create at least a one-sheet and one or two sample chapters for my pitch sessions but I don’t want to be haphazard about it.

Picture books: I have several completed or close to completion. I’m fairly confident about querying one, while working on revising/rewriting the others, including one brand new idea I started at the SCBWI conference. Seeking a fresh way to re-imagine a pretty overdone concept. Stay tuned.

Novels:  I will be revisiting “Big Joe” in the coming weeks to re-evaluate the opening and begin some deep revision. Right now I’m hyper-focused on other PB’s following the SCBWI conference.

What are you working on this week? Have you queried or submitted a contest entry?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Interview with...Terry Glaspey

This week's interview is with Terry Glaspey, Director of Acquisitions for Harvest House Publishers. Terry was named Editor of the Year for 2011 by the Advanced Writers and Speakers organization and is the author of more than 10 books, including Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis, who also one of his favorite speaking topics.

Please help me welcome Terry to the blog.

1. As an acquisitions editor, what do you look for in manuscripts? Is a unique sense of voice the key to consideration?

Terry: I am looking for two key things: quality and marketability. Both are important. In terms of quality, I am always looking for good writing, fresh new perspectives, theological orthodoxy, creativity, energy, and style. Personally, I can enjoy reading about any topic of it has these qualities. But, and this is the second thing I have to look for, the book needs to be marketable. We can’t ignore that publishing is a business and that publishers need to sell books. So any book that is going to receive serious consideration needs a topic that has a wide level of interest among readers, and it usually needs to have an author with a strong platform who can steer people toward it. The day has long vanished when an author can count on the publishers to do extensive promotion on their books, unless they are already a bestselling name. Sad, but true. In these economic times the marketing budgets have shrunk. It is critical for authors to use every means at their disposal to get the word out. And the topic needs to be one that is of general interest—not overly specialized.

2. What would you say the greatest need is right now at Harvest House?

Terry: We need good books that are marketable. There isn’t necessarily a formula, but anything that falls within that category is a possibility for us.

3. What’s been the most rewarding experience in your editing career?

Terry: I love working with authors who are willing to work hard to improve their books. The best writers are those willing to go through numerous drafts in order to deliver something that is polished and powerful. I have had the honor of working with some exceptional writers—people whose talent far outstrips my own—but have been able to help them make a good book even better. Few things are more satisfying than that!

4. How do you think faith and the arts interact?

Terry: Do you have a couple of hours to talk about this? J This is one of my favorite topics, and one I am currently working on for a new book I am writing. We are created in the image of God, and one of the obvious characteristics of God is that He is a creator. We have the privilege and enjoyment of also being what Tolkien referred to as “sub-creators,” those who re-arrange God’s creation in fresh and beautiful ways. And I believe that God speaks to us very powerfully in beauty. I am often moved more deeply by a song or a painting or a film than I am by most sermons. To be an artist, with words or paints or film or clay or a quilt or whatever, is a high and important calling. But Christian art should not be propaganda for the Christian cause. It should be about truth. Art is all about truth-telling, including uncomfortable truths, and we all need to be challenged and inspired in ways that the arts best accomplish.

5. You’re an avid C.S Lewis fan and have written books and spoken often about him. When did you fall in love with his writing?

Terry: I discovered Lewis while in college. At first his biggest impact upon me was through his intellectual arguments for the reasonableness of faith. And while I still enjoy that aspect of Lewis, there is also an aspect of his writing that is more mythic and intuitive that moves me at an even deeper level. He was unquestionably one of the greatest creative communicators in the history of the church. And I never tire of his work. I’m always discovering new insights that I missed before when I re-read his books.

6. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from Lewis that you can encourage writers with today?

Terry: I think that one of his talents was in finding fresh metaphors for traditional ideas. It is far too easy for Christians to use phrases and words and ideas that have become clichés. This makes for lazy writing and these clichés have little power to actually move anyone. We might nod in agreement, but they usually fail to move us. We need to find fresh ways to speak, fresh metaphors and world pictures that surprise and sneak past the defenses of our readers. It is often in surprising our reader with a “new way of saying it” that we create an openness in the heart and mind which allows the truth to slip past all the defenses and make the reader vulnerable to hearing the Word afresh. Lewis, in both fiction and non-fiction, was so good at doing just that. That should be the goal of every Christian writer—take the timeless, and make it new. 

Thanks for your time, Terry. I greatly appreciate it.