Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Poem


Two days ago was the coming of the great light

The coming of herders

The coming of angels

The coming of the Child

In ratcheting pain,

In water and blood,

In relief and peace.

Above, the star still blasts the stable roof

A white hot light

That has bleached out all the others

She stirs in the shadows cast

By starlight through ceiling slits

Everyone snores, even the cattle

Exhausted with exulting

All is still

All is bright

This, then

Is the fullness of time:

An unwitting world does not know it has waited,

A baby moves tiny lips and does not know He hungers.

This, then

Is the fullness of breasts:

A young girl wonders,

And aches with milk that has not yet let down..

Latayne C. Scott © 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Novel Matters. We've enjoyed 2010 more than we can express. We wish for you and your families peace, joy, health, and wisdom this Christmas.
We also want to wish you all a Happy New Year! We will be back January 3rd, 2011 to kick off a new year of blogging, contests, surprises, gifts, and literary fun. We're so looking forward to what 2011 holds for this blog. It'll be an exciting year! See you back here January 3.

Oh, and don't forget, you can download our FREE e-cookbook Novel Tips on Rice any time. Point your friends and family to the blog so they can get their own copy too! It's available for free 24/7. Click to get your copy!

Novel Matters

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Wonderful World of Writing - A Roundtable Discussion

It's hard to believe we've been doing this blog for two years now. We were brought together by our agents with the idea of doing a group blog, but the Lord was certainly in the details. We couldn't be more compatible, yet we each bring something different to Novel Matters.
Over the past two years you've gotten to know us. You've learned something about our writing styles, our methods, preferences, and quirks. But it's been a delight for us to get to know you too. Many of your names and faces are familiar to us, and we look forward to your comments. Your contributions to the dialogue here are invaluable. But we'd like to know you even better. Those who are writers, we have some questions for you.
  1. What are your writing habits? Morning, mid-day, night? Do you set a word goal when you sit down to write, or just do what you can for that session?

  2. What do you write? Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, articles, devotions, etc?

  3. Do you have a critique partner? A writers' group?

  4. Have you been to a writers' conference? If so, what was your experience?

  5. If you're published, share a little how you got there.

  6. If you're not yet published, what most encourages you to keep going?

  7. Where do you hope to be in your writing journey a year from now?

And those who are readers, we'd like to know more about you too.

  1. As a reader of fiction, what's your favorite genre(s)?

  2. How do you select the books you read?

  3. Are you in a book club?

  4. Have you ever thought about writing? If so, what keeps you from starting?

  5. Do you purchase books, borrow them, share them with others?

  6. What brings you to NovelMatters?
  7. What kind of book do you think that is written from a Christian point of view is most likely to have an impact on a nonbeliever?

We look forward to another year of talking about the world of writing -- and really, it is another world. An amazing, exhilarating, angst-filled, rewarding world. If there are topics you'd like us to delve into next year, please share. And thank you for being a part of this community we call Novel Matters.

And if you missed our Novel Tips on Rice recipe book on Friday, scroll down to Friday's post and download it as our gift to you. You'll love it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Novel Tips on Rice!

At last! And it has been worth the wait! Our book of recipes we writers use when we're under deadline. And our heartfelt advice to other writers.

We are thrilled to offer to our loyal readers this free Christmas gift-- a downloadable copy of the incredibly gorgeous work of our own Katy Popa and Cotton Bond Studios.

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll see us in our bathrobes. However, you must sign the permission to download button below to begin the experience.

Disclaimer: The NovelMatters authors cannot be held responsible for any untoward factors related to the development and use of this cookbook, including but not limited to: errors in printing and/or errors in judgment; food poisoning, gagging children; small kitchen fires, large kitchen fires, house fires of any description; appliance malfunctions, ingredient malfunctions, logic malfunctions; wrong measurements, unauthorized condiments, failure to rise; rejection slips, slips of the tongue, slip and fall cases; the spoiled or out of date condition of your ingredients or query hooks; marital disputes, editorial disagreements, writing-related depression; accidental insertions of chapters from WIPs due to rogue cut and paste computer functions; hurt feelings, moral outrages, menopausal symptoms; forgetfulness, hearing loss, oblivion; ringing in the ears, phantom tastes, missing-limb syndrome; weight gain, weight loss, intolerance to all waiting; list-obsession, list-phobia, listlessness; tics or other involuntary actions; allergies, lip chewing or any other causes of swelling of the mouth; technophobia, claustrophobia, cibophobia (look it up), bibliophobia, gynephobia, chronophobia; dropsy, palsy, leprosy or any other King James malady. Or from any other Bible version.

This book was processed in facilities which produce other literary works involving nuts.

Click on the giant button below to begin your download and indicate that you have read and agree with the above conditions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Secrets Can't Be Kept

Our first Christmas as man and wife was especially tight financially. No problem. We were in love, and we brought with us a tradition of making gifts for one another. I chose to make Dennis a corduroy jacket with a pocket on the sleeve. (Stupid, stupid pocket.)

Our apartment was about the size of a walk-in closet, so I sequestered Dennis in the "living room" while I sewed at the "kitchen" counter. He read while I snipped, pressed, basted, and stitched. Then I ripped that darn pocket off more than once. Finally, the stitching was perfect. I shouted, "The
pocket looks great!"

I clamped my hand over my mouth and sobbed. I'd ruined the surprise. Dennis knew better than to come into the kitchen. He soothed me from the doorway. "I don't know what kind of pocket or what it's on. You could be making me just about anything--pajamas, a pool table, a pair of overalls. I'll be surprised, I promise."

A few days later he kept his promise. But the jacket was too small. Sigh.

That was years ago, but here's another Christmas, and the Novel Matters gals are just as eager to surprise you for Christmas with something worthy of your friendship and support over the last two years. And we know it will fit!

Soon after 2010 dawned, we started talking about creating a Christmas gift for our readers. We tossed around a few ideas--eReaders all around or perhaps all-expenses-paid vacations to the Tahitian Islands. We settled on a collaborative eDocument. You've become so dear to us, so each of us did our modest magic and tardily sent off the results to Katy for compilation.

Oh my.

We expected something wonderful from Katy. She's an artist, after all. But she has taken our offerings and created a masterpiece--all for you.

What is it?

Know this: It's free. It's beautiful. It's full of Novel Matters wisdom and inspiration--and something else, something exceptionally clever and useful. And it's for you and anyone you care to share it with--and you won't be re-gifting! Just in time for Christmas. Every Christian writer and reader will want one.


No lines. No shipping. No hassles.

Coming this Friday (drum roll, please!), Novel Tips on Rice: What to Cook When You'd Rather Be Writing or Vice Versa. The link to the .pdf document will be included in Friday's post. I'm blurting out the surprise again. I'm too excited to keep the secret that long. Also, we don't want anyone to miss out.

We think we've come up with the best way to say we love you at Christmas and always. See you on Friday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Find the Hum - A She Reads Guest Post by Ariel Lawhon

Five years ago I stumbled across an article in The New York Post and I knew, after reading nothing but the title, that I had a novel on my hands. Sort of like I knew my husband was the one. Not just a, “Hey, you’re kinda cute,” feeling but rather “This is going to be a long-term relationship” certainty.

But. There were issues.

The story didn’t love me back.

As a matter of fact it has a mind of its own. And the main character? Well, she’s a real piece of work. I don’t technically
like her. Sure she’s a fascinating literary specimen, but I won’t invite her over for tea any time soon. Mostly she sits in her corner booth, leering at me. Smoking like damp wood and daring me to tell her story. Her name is Stella. She makes me itch.

And that’s where I’ve been, on and off, for the last five years. Poking this novel with a stick. Starting to write and then abandoning the draft, instinctively knowing that I’m off target.

So last month, after eulogizing my third attempt (read NaNoWriMo fail), I went back to my premise – that seed of an idea that keeps me committed to this novel – and I started asking, “What if?”

(Had I read John Truby’s book,
The Anatomy of Story, years ago I would have started with that step.)

I filled up four notebook pages, front and back, with “What if” questions. And then, about the time my hand started to cramp, something fell onto the page.Almost as if my pen spit the idea out by itself. I stood back and blinked at it for a moment.

What if this is more than a murder mystery? What if this is a novel about the secrets women keep?

My synapses began to fire. Two additional characters that have lingered around the periphery stepped into the light, shook my hand, and took their places at that corner booth (Stella was none too pleased but I don’t care. She made room). And I understood how these three women are connected, to each other and to the story itself.

And there it was. That hum I’ve been chasing around the page for years. A sort of mental purr.

I say all of this for two reasons:
First, a good story can’t be forced. I am convinced, now more than ever, that a novel-in-progress is like a great marriage or a fine wine: it gets better with time.

Second, when you find The One – that story that makes your heart pound – don’t start writing immediately. Give yourself a chance to find the hum. And if your novel doesn't love you back, perhaps begin by asking, "What if?"

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fact About Fiction

We’ve been talking non-fiction/fiction this week. I’ve learned much from Katy and Debbie – and my TBR list has grown because of all the excellent recommendations from our readers. I read loads of non-fiction, quirky stuff from YA books explaining environmentalism, to books on writing, to biography (currently reading the biography of C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman Gresham), to info/reference volumes. I read very little Christian non-fiction. There are reasons for that, but I won’t go into it here. I do have a Christian non-fiction recommendation, though. When I was going through a disastrous time in my life (one of many), I found a slim book by M. Craig Barns called When God Interrupts. There’s a long story that goes with this book, but suffice it to say, it was sustaining. Now, on to today’s fiction/non-fiction topic.

I have a theory. Goes like this: All fiction is fact that never happened (except it did). I realize this reads muddy, but allow me to explain.

On Monday, Katy opened our eyes to the notion that fiction is empathy. That it helps us to lean into the human condition, not to judge, but to understand and identify. I agree wholeheartedly. And I’d like to build on that thought. If empathy may be created through reading the made up stories of invented characters, then this implies that the stories do in fact contain truth that can be construed, and then applied to our lives.

Let’s break my theory down:

“All fiction is fact--” One of the reasons we must create rich, layered characters of depth who possess both good and negative qualities is because to do otherwise is a form of self-delusion. We would be lying to ourselves. When we, as writers, insist our character reacts to the troubles around her with only pure motive, altruism, and honest action, we are attempting to turn a blind eye to the totality of truth about ourselves. And in our efforts to write a bright story of human hope, we end up with a fiction that contains no truth.

“Fact that never happened”. Fiction is an account of true emotion. Story reflects and explores the essence of humanity. Fiction is a map of us. An emotional biography. It is the opportunity to explore the truth about how we feel about ourselves, our neighbors, our place in the world. We explore this through stories that have happened to no one, to someone, to everyone. This is the mathematics of story – No one (invented character) + someone (reader interacting with richly textured characters inside story structure) = everyone (novels that allow many readers to identify with various and unlikely situations and people)

“(except it did)”. Once the reader begins reading, the story plays out inside the mind, heart, and imagination of the reader. It lives. It happens. The reader and the writer communicate this fact, tracing each other’s common experience of being through the connecting power of story.
Fiction is the breathing part of us. It’s a way for each of us to explore how to live out our humanity – and a way for us to glimpse at the ways other people live it out.

Writers, how does your writing crack open the experience of being human? Readers, what fiction have your read that has been an emotional biography for you? (and yes, you can answer as both a reader and a writer). We love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

When Katy asked in her excellent post on Monday what non-fiction books had moved us, I began to think about those which fool us into forgetting they are non-fiction at all. So I made a short-list, hoping you would add to it. I have not read all books on the list - and they aren't all in my TBR pile - but I have relied on reviews and recommendations also. Among them are award winners, required reading for school students, or have been made into movies, so the story elements are strong .

  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. I found it to be a seamlessly woven tale with properly fleshed out characters which had me cheering for the underdog at the end. I would read more non-fiction books if they were guaranteed to convince like this one.
  • The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
  • Calico Captive by Elizabeth Speare (while technically historical fiction, it is based on an actual narrative diary written in 1807)
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeane Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. This one was listed as an 'autobiographical novel'.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Catch Me if You Can by Frank Abagnale
  • Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, John/Elizabeth Sherrill
Again, we see the impact that can be made combining important issues with well developed characters, whether true or fictionalized. Can you add to the list? Or what issues do you think deserve to be set in story? We'd love to hear!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Novels Matter

Recently I had occasion to change into my flannel jammies at bedtime, pour my cup of chamomile, and listen, breathless, as Meryl Streep read me a story - specifically The Velveteen Rabbit, the classic children's novel by Margery Williams.

I'd gotten a new iPhone, and, fascinated by all the amazing apps I could find for the thing, I ran across a free offer of a Meryl Streep/Velveteen Rabbit app - with music by George Winston, no less. (The app is no longer free, but you can still get it for $1.99. And if that's too much or you don't have an iPhone or iPad or other compatible devise, I've supplied the video at the end of this post.)

I remembered, nestling into my covers and pushing "play," that I had loved this book since I first discovered it at the age of fifteen. I'd forgotten, however, that the story always made me cry, and that it always made me want to be kind, to not have to be carefully kept.

Hmmm... I pondered. Wasn't fiction meant to entertain and not to teach a lesson? Well, the story did entertain. It swept me into its spell and by turns it charmed, troubled, angered, frightened and finally enchanted me... and at the same time made me a bit more willing to sacrifice my button eyes and whiskers if I could only be real one day.

I bring this up because I've noted a discrepancy between the non-fiction books and the novels that Christian readers seem to favor. Have you checked the titles out there? I'll name some in the comments if you like, but just mentioning them will stir controversy, because the publishers were brave, God bless them. These books call us to hard questions, harder answers, and at the end of them (in my opinion) new hope. And readers are buying the books, engaging the questions.

But would I get in too much trouble if I suggested that in the fiction these same readers buy, the questions tend to be... simpler? I've heard people say, more than once, "When I read a novel, I just want to escape."

Me too. When I read a story, I want to escape my own thoughts, my own ways of thinking, and try on someone else's for a change.

I once had a conversation with a friend about the reason fiction was good for the young teens in her class. "Fiction is all about empathy," I told her. "It helps us see things from other people's eyes."

And The Velveteen Rabbit fosters empathy in a way that Everyone Poops could never do. Okay, I know, the analogy is hardly fair, but... well, this is my blog post. The truth is that there are many non-fiction books that foster empathy, and my guess is that they do it, every time, by straying into the novelist's camp and telling a story.

Remember (if you can) any history book from your school days about World War II and Nazi Germany. Did that book come close to teaching you the truths you found in Anne Frank's Diary?

Let's try this exercise: Name a non-fiction book that has stirred you recently. What questions did that book ask you? Can you name a novel that explores the same questions? If not, say so, and maybe someone else can suggest a title.

I'll join in too. But you first. We love to read what you have to say.

Oh - and here's the promised video:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dream Job--Musings on Christmas at a Bookstore

I've been working at a LARGE book retailer for a month now. This is definitely the other side of the craft, so I thought I would share some random musings about the biz from this side of the cash register.

There is an entire aisle of shelves devoted to "Teen Paranormal Romance." (Is there any other kind?) Anyway, to be a teen fantasy romance, you must have a black cover with ethereal girls drooling blood. Just an observation.

The only people who browse the "Religious Fiction" aisle are there deliberately. Readers skirt that aisle, preferring craft books or biographies for their trip to the cookbooks or bathrooms. Very depressing.

There are millions of books written by celebrities. I think they should move over and give the rest of us a chance. They're taking up valuable bookshelf real estate. And honestly, just because they're celebrities, doesn't mean they have something worth saying or that they can say it well. Keith Richards' autobiography (riiight) is 564 pages long. And he should have waited until his migraine passed before having his photo taken for the cover. The pain! And, honestly, the picture books written by celebs are awful. If you know of an exception, I would love a title.

The gardening books are by the door to the restrooms, and each and every one of them has a green spine. People, can we show a little creativity here? Thanks.

I'm pleased to say that many people pay attention during book talks on television and radio. They usually wait a few days or a month before toddling into the bookstore. By then, they can't find the piece of paper where they've scribbled the author's name or the book title. No matter. I love helping these people find their books. It's the best kind of treasure hunt. Once found, the book usually gets a hug to the heart. You have to love people on a quest for a good book.

At the cash register, the books I scan most are about girls with dragon tattoos kicking hornet's nests. You were right, Latayne.

Don't bother writing a cookbook unless you have a cooking show on a major network. The cookbook section is the toughest section to zone (neaten). First, cookbooks tend to come in odd sizes. Second, there are a gazillion of them! There's the butter section with Paula Deen and the grillin' section with Bobby Flay. If you don't have a television show, write a gluten-free cookbook or a diet book with promises of quick weight loss. These sell well too.

Here's a myth debunked: I've been told by people in the publishing biz that face-out books have been financed by the publishers for that privilege. Not so. Here's the rule: If there are four or more titles on the shelf, face them out, OR if putting them face-out (they're fat) will provide more space on the shelf for other books, face them out. There are promotional tables in the store where, perhaps, publishers have paid for the placement. No one admits to this. It is true that product placement is 100% the dictate of headquarters in New York City (where else?).

Our book-search software tells us exactly where each book SHOULD be. My personal experience? I believe the books come to life at midnight and dance around the information desk before settling into a new place. Just saying. The computer doesn't know everything.

If you have to work retail, a bookstore is a great place to be. Not only is the ink intoxicating, but the coffee drinks waif over the books all day long. More importantly, the people who shop in bookstores are good folks--sensible, passionate, literate. Oh, there are a few who act inappropriately. Some forget the bookstore is not at library. They come to read. They crease a page or use a bookmark to return to their reading the next day. Some are brutal on the spines, and the books must be returned. And there are others who have questionable taste in "books" who leave them in corners of the store. Ick!!!

eBooks are very, very exciting to people who love to read. We have a new model at $249, and people aren't blinking at the price. The digital format is here to stay.

And yes, I get an employee discount. And no, I haven't brought home a paycheck yet. For me, working in a bookstore is a bit like being an alcoholic in a liquor store, intoxicating to be sure. You might want to pray for me.

Here's a bright spot: I answered the phone in my chipper bookseller voice, and the person on the other end of the line said, "Do you carry The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill?" (And it wasn't my mother.) Sadly, we didn't.

What makes a bookstore great? What titles are you buying for Christmas presents this year? So far, I've purchased Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. Do shop for books online or at a brick and mortar store? MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Is there a street shoe that wears like an athletic shoe? My. Feet. Hurt.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What are the Current Trends in Best Sellers?

I enjoy looking at Amazon's best-seller lists. Of course on any given day the list may include a few non-fiction books, but usually fiction dominates the list.

Lately I've seen some books that sell well. Are they setting trends?

--a book with an expletive in the title, replaced by asterisks

--three books of edgy fiction by a deceased author

--some literary fiction, such as The Help, but mainly works more in the "thriller" category

If these indicate trends, do you think Christian fiction will follow?

What changes have you seen in the types of Christian fiction published this year? Do you see trends there? Have your reading preferences changed during this last year?

Please tell, we're listening!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Reader in Me

Throughout the year we devote most of the space on our blog to discussions about writing. But like most writers, I'm also an avid reader. Occasionally, I hear a novelist or editor say they don't have time to read fiction, and honestly, I don't get it. I know time is precious, but I'd give up an hour (or more) of sleep a night before I'd give up reading fiction. It's the nightcap I look forward to. In 2009, I began keeping a log of the novels I read throughout the year. So far in 2010 I've read 52 novels. The total will probably be close to 60 before the year is through. Plus I read all the entries for our Audience with an Agent Contest, and judged 21 entries for the ACFW Genesis Contest. That doesn't count the non-fiction books I read, or the books on the craft of writing, which I place in a division all their own.
This year I added a grade score to each of the novels I read. Of the 52 novels on my list, 15 received an A, which includes plus and minus; 18 received a B; 9 received a C; 3 received a D; and 7 received "no grade," because, in my mind, anyone who has the tenacity to write a novel and get it published deserves not to get an F, even if I don't care for the book.
So today I'm going to put on my reader's hat and share with you my favorite novels from 2010, those that received an A in my book. I have to start with Where the River Ends by Charles Martin, because it received an A++ from me, as do almost all of his books. Charles is one of my favorite authors, and this is an excellent novel. He's interviewed this month on She Reads, our sister blog. You can read the interviews here, but be sure to scroll all the way down to get all the installments, including a great interview with Charles' wife, Christy.
I'll also add A Conspiracy of Breath by our own Latayne Scott, which also received an A++ from me. Sorry, it's not yet published. (Don't mean to tease.) The others I'll list alphabetically by author:
Try Darkness by James Scott Bell
What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (read 2 x in 2010; gave it an A both times ; )
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Lost Mission by Athol Dickson
The Sea Wolf by Jack London (I've read at least 5 x over the years)
To Dance in the Desert by Kathleen Popa (3rd time)
The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (3rd time)
They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti (2nd time; 1st time I had the privilege to read an endorser's copy)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2nd time)
Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner
On my wish list for 2011: (believe me, this list is only in its infant stages)
Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer
Life in Defiance by Mary DeMuth
Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs (loved his Bug Man series)
Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry
The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella Giorello
Listen by Rene Gutteridge
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson
Anything by the amazing women I blog with
The last page of my WIP
So what about you? What were your favorite novels in 2010? And what title/author would you add to your wish list?
As a thank you for your invaluable contribution to the discussions here, I'd like to offer Every Good & Perfect Gift, Lying on Sunday, and/or A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown for $8 each between now and December 15. Email me through my website if you'd like to place an order.
And just for fun, for any Bill Cosby fans, you might enjoy watching these videos. They take a few minutes to load, but they're worth the wait. Here's part 1 and part 2.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Roundtable

We love spending the bulk of the year exploring different aspects of the writing process and publishing industry, and today we want to take time to recognize what we are most thankful for.

Okay, so I'll start, and I'll begin at an unlikely spot: rejection. No one wants it - that feeling of failure and disappointment when someone calls your baby 'ugly.' You get defensive and you take it personally.But rejection can also be thought of as re-direction. The experience is more about what isn't right than what is wrong. It can determine the direction your book will take through a process of elimination until it finds the right place to land. I am grateful for the rejections that channeled my books to the homes they found and that God's intention for my story will be accomplished, even if the writing of it was for my own benefit alone.

I am especially grateful for fellow writers who challenged me to begin the writing process and to persevere over the years. For those who were brave enough to be honest and straightforward. For those generous with praise and encouragement, perhaps even in the midst of their own discouragement. For fellowship along the way, I am thankful.

Thanksgiving was last month for us eager Canadians, but I'm happy to add my cheer to the U.S. Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for change. I've gone through many changes in my adult life (bet you have too), which I found difficult, uncomfortable, tragic, sometimes terrifying, and always too frequent. But those changes brought me here. If I

hadn't changed my life I wouldn't be risking it all as a writer. I wouldn't be part of this community of writers on Novel Matters. If my life hadn't changed I would have missed out on so much today. So via la change!

I once had folders brimming with hundreds and hundreds of rejection slips. You know the old writers' threats about papering their offices with rejection slips? Well, I literally could have done it. I kept them from the time I was in high school until my mid-forties. I had a card catalogue too, with the names of magazine articles, poems, and books and kept meticulous track of to whom I submitted, what dates, and when they rejected me.

I had this fantasy that there would be a future date in which I would be so famous that people would pore over my rejection slips in some museum and be amazed at my persistence. Maybe some beginning writers would be inspired, I mused.

Where are those cards and rejection slips now? I don't know whether to be proud or ashamed to share this.

I reached a point about ten years ago when that dream of being so famous seemed idolatrous to me. It seemed self-focused to imagine anyone would care about my path to publication. So one hot August day I threw away all those rejection slips. I even threw away the hand-written first drafts (about 15 spiral-bound notebooks, as I recall) of The Mormon Mirage. To be honest, to this day I don't know if I was getting rid of an idol or depriving someone in the future from an insight into some legitimate history. I don't know if it was humility or depression that fueled that decision.

In some landfill in New Mexico, those papers from my past are gone, but for me, not forgotten.

They are a memorial in my mind, of what God has brought me through to this day.

I am grateful for my failures and what they have taught me. I am grateful for my hard-bought redemption by Jesus, for my family and faithful friends, for a church that has put up with me for 38 years, for incredible material blessings, for readers and last of all for Bonnie, Debbie, Katy, Patti and Sharon.

Somehow my part of this post disappeared overnight, so I'll try again. I'm extremely grateful this Thanksgiving season for my husband, our family, and a loving God who has taken good care of us through a very difficult year. But in regards to my writing life, I'm so very thankful for you: my NovelMatters sisters, who strengthen and encourage me, who keep me going when discouragement would easily set in. And you: who visit our blog and add to our discussions through your thoughtful and stirring comments. I pray your dreams come through as you continue to use the gifts and talents God has given you. I pray you all have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Redeeming the Time

The morning after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, my husband, George broke an orange pitcher.

I came unhinged. I screamed things and threw things better left unsaid and unthrown. I tore at my hair. I wailed. I collapsed to the floor.

I over-reacted in grand style.

In my defense, I'll add that this was a vintage Bauer Pottery piece of a type I've seen listed for seventy-five to a hundred dollars. More than that, it was the pitcher I'd dropped ladybugs into for safekeeping when I was four. This pitcher was special.

Still, I'll bet you've already guessed that my meltdown had less to do with broken pieces of pottery and more to do with broken towers, broken lives, and a broken sense of security.

Weeks later, George walked in from the garage and presented me with the orange pitcher, now mended with an industrial epoxy resin he uses for auto body repair. Sound far-fetched? Take a look. I think you'll agree it's more beautiful and more meaningful than it ever was before, and for the first time ever, it's a one-of-a-kind, fresh and unique new creation. It now sits in my office as a reminder that my husband is a wonderful man, and that redemption happens, all the time.

Have you noticed? We are told, in Ephesians 5:16 to redeem the time. This time we're living in now. We're supposed to redeem it. To mend and re-name it, just as Jesus re-named Abraham and Sarah, and Peter and Paul, and you and me.

"For the days are evil," it says, and it does seem so. No matter where you live, you see and feel the uncertainty, the diminished hopes brought on by a global economic crisis.

If you're a writer, you've spent years struggling with the tension between a perceived pressure to write to the market, and a desire to write something fresh and unique. The truth is that the market loves fresh and unique things if they strike the right chord (you and your publisher get to guess what will do that), but if nothing strikes that chord, the market will settle for the familiar. Fewer and fewer publishers still in business are in a mood to guess, so more and more seem to settle for familiar names, familiar styles, familiar themes.

"Ha!" I hear you say. "Redeem that, if you can."

A few months ago, there was a big fire in a nearby town that destroyed several homes. Many homeowners were devastated, but one woman, I am told, felt an unexpected sense of freedom. It seemed that someone had dumped her entire box of blocks, and now she had an opportunity to put them back, but better, more thoughtfully this time.

Is it possible we have the same opportunity?

I was recently inspired by the article on the Harlem Renaissance, in The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim:

"Much of the foundation of the Harlem Renaissance was set by the African-American historian and social theorist W.E.B. DuBois (who) asserted a new sense of black cultural consciousness and pride, inspiring a generation of young writers and artists to create a distinctive African-American voice."

A distinctive voice, woven by many, among them Langston Hughes, who wrote his poems to the beat of jazz music.

Might it be time for a Christian Renaissance? I mean, don't those two words just fit together?

Do we have (can we find) a culture distinct from the wider society, something we can take pride in and nourish into something new? A distinctive Christian voice that we can cultivate, infuse with a music all our own?

Now that our blocks are dumped, can we take a few risks, experiment and play? Could we start a movement?

The impressionists did in the 1870's. They rejected the photo-realism of previous artists and painted reality with movement and light mixed in. Their paintings, they believed, were more realistic representations of what the eye actually sees.

The post-impressionists agreed, and they didn't like it. Where was the spirit? The emotion? These artists, my beloved Van Gogh among them, filled their paintings with meaning, with realities the eye can't see. (Can you imagine a world without Starry Night?)

The modernist authors of the early part of the last century explored ways of depicting objective reality when recent thought had called into question the existence of objective reality.

The Inklings, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien among them, sought ways of writing stories so infused with spiritual realities that readers might feel that they'd been touched through the veil by something - or someone - holy and transcendent.

Throughout history movements have been propelled by artists and authors in bad times with little to no hope of recognition, but with an insistence on new ways of creating that allowed them to say things that screamed to be said.

So much screams to be said right now. Of course, we may have to sort out what it is, in order to write it (or while we write it) but what higher calling?

And what better place to redeem than the desert? Didn't God say so himself?

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Is. 43:19

If we started a new Christian Renaissance, how might it sound on the page? What might be different? If it were an art movement, what colors and what strokes?

What is our culture, anyway?

Do join in. We love to read what you have to say.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Universal Grammar

One of the things I do when I’m not writing or scaring people at shooting ranges is my studies on Representational Research.

Basically, it involves the triadic structure of the Godhead, of reality (the part you see, the part you don’t see, and the links between the two), and even of language.

We communicate information through three methods – the iconic (through the senses such as sight), by indexing or pointing, and linguistically.

Quit yawning, I’m about to get to the relevant part, the part about writing.

You see, the Bible depicts all kinds of communication, and not all of it is through words. Some of it is iconic. You learn from seeing something: The Israelites were told to pile up rocks from Jordan’s depths to commemorate the crossing of that river. And that would provoke questions, the linguistic part where the parents would explain the rocks. The same thing took place every Passover: The bitter herbs and salt water and unleavened bread teach.

I’m always amazed at the passage in Psalm 19 that says:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

Look at the language words: declare, proclaim, pour forth speech, voice, words.

Here’s what I’m thinking. This psalm shows that the inanimate skies communicate. What do they communicate? About God, who He is and what He does. (Romans 1:20). And they do it in a way that supercedes English or Chinese or even the Hebrew or Greek in which the Bible was originally written.

There must be a universal grammar, we might say, for communicating the things of God. Something that can carry the message even without words, across cultures, into hearts.

How much more precisely do words carry that message!

I hear people talking all the time about trying to catch market trends in writing. Nothing wrong with that.

But the novels that end up communicating to people at a level like the resplendent night sky, in the universal language of God, with deep eternal truths that feed the souls of readers – that’s what I want to write, don’t you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Life Comes Fiction

Thanks to Sharon, Monday started a little brighter. If you missed her post about her close encounters of the spider kind, scroll on down to read her hilarious story. But you better empty your bladder first.

At the end of Sharon's post, she suggested her experiences may become part of a story. I believe all fiction is at least part autobiographical. According to John Truby (Anatomy of Fiction), the theme is how the author believes the world should work. Right there you have deep personal involvement of the author in her story. But that's a topic for another day.

Our lives do seep into our stories--in language, what our characters value, and the details of life that allow our readers to suspend disbelief. My youngest son once said, "Mom, it's a little weird to see parts of my life in someone else's story." True but family life is too rich to not use.

While I don't use personal experiences verbatim, I certainly draw on my life experiences--but only when it's more interesting than usual, like Sharon's beasts. Almost always, anything from life has to be cranked up a notch to make it story worthy. (Before I forget, here's my pitch to keep a journal handy at all times. You never know when Spider Wars will commence.)

Here's an example of how a piece of my life made it into one of my books. In my Garden Gate series, Mibby is left a widow with a young son and an unfinished remodeling project. I know remodeling well. We've lived in our house for 24 years, and, well, I watch too much HGTV. This was a natural cross-over.

A few years back, we added on a master bathroom. I made sure I was showered and dressed each day of the project before 8 AM when the contractor and his minions arrived. I was running late one morning, but it was only 7:45, so I jumped in the shower. I had just worked up a lather of shampoo when I heard male voices outside the bathroom door.


My primal brain reacted quickly. I stepped out of the shower without rinsing or drying and stepped into my clothes, naked no more! I stood like a post, praying HARD the men would finish their business and go away. God, oh so graciously, answered my prayer within minutes. The contractor left with the subcontractor moments later.

Take note: I did not have to write this situation down. It was burned into my wee little brain, and I showered, from then on, by seven.

Back to Like a Watered Garden--when Droop (protag's contractor named for his low-slung jeans) needed to talk to Mibby (I know, another weird name), here's how my experience morphed into in Mibby's world:

I had just worked the shampoo into a lather when I heard the heavy rapping of knuckles on the bathroom door and a male voice calling my name. I turned off the water to listen.

"Is that you, Mibby? I'm back."

Suds flowed down my forehead. With my eyes closed, I stepped out of the shower and pulled on my shorts and T‑shirt before I felt decent enough to answer him. "Uh, Droop, I'll be out in a minute."

"I don't need nothing," he said. "I just didn't want to scare you again."

The shampoo stung my eyes. "Thanks, Droop. Thanks very much."

"No problem." His heavy boots moved away from the door and then returned. "Mibby?"


"We got a problem with the flooring."

A bubble of worry tingled along my spine. Whenever Droop had a problem, he fixed it and continued working. If we had a problem, it meant I would be spending a lot of money. Either way, I wasn't dressed to kill, or to think.

"I'll be right down."

People I know and love--or watch in restaurants--also make it into my stories. My sweet friend, Nancy, is the basis for Louise in the Garden Gate series. I gave Louise a Louisiana drawl and shaped her like an orange, but her heart is all Nancy.

I taught with Nancy. She made it her mission to slow me down and love me like crazy. One day, she stopped me in the hall (no kids around) and turned her back to me. With a twinkle in her eye, she looked over her shoulder and nodded to her bum. She asked, "Do these pants make my butt seem too small?" You can see how someone like Nancy needed to be fictionalized.

These are pretty "light" examples. Most of my books address some burning question or fear I'm wrestling in real life, yet another topic for another day. How has your life made it into your stories? Tell us how you've drawn from the people you know to develop characters?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A week in the life of ...

Where is a man when you need one? It's a question I often ask myself. Out loud. The answer this time? Cuba. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
My husband Rick is a commercial builder. We have banked at the same bank in our small town for many years. We know the tellers, the managers, the president, and they know us. Well, most of them anyway. I was at the bank last week, being helped by one of the tellers, when another of the tellers stepped over to chat after she finished with her customer. "How's Rick?" she asked. "Is he home or away?" For 25 years Rick has traveled the world for missions, building churches, Bible schools, orphanages, etc., and everywhere I go people ask about him. He's been in Siberia in December, and has had a lot of wild adventures. I have the luxury to pick and choose which trips I tag along on (I opted out of Siberia), but mostly I stay home, write, and enjoy a time of solitude.
So in answer to Joyce's question, I replied, "Rick's in Cuba this time." She got a funny look on her face, then she began to laugh. "Did he come in to get cash before he left?" "Yeah," I said. (He always does. The cash is from whatever team he takes with him, for whatever project they plan to work on, and it's usually a fairly large amount.) "That explains it," Joyce said. "Yeah? Explains what?" I asked.
A new teller waited on Rick--one who's not familiar with him or his ministry--and just to be conversational as she was helping him with this large amount of cash, he mentioned he was leaving for Cuba that night. When he left the bank she turned to Joyce and said, "Someone taking that much money to Cuba? It's gotta be drug money!" Joyce had been tied up with her own work and had no idea who the new teller was talking about, but after talking with me Joyce put 2 and 2 together, and we had a good laugh. "Please," I said, as I prepared to leave, "tell her it's A: drug money or B: a missionary going in to build a church." I know, Cuba/church building? Drug money is more believable. But it's the truth. I swear.
But back to my original question. Where is a man when you need one? Mine could be anywhere in the world, but I can pretty much guarantee if something's going to go wrong, it will go wrong when he's out of the country. Like the time the phone rang at 6 o'clock one morning when he was in the Philippines. We were living in the country on 5 acres and I wasn't one bit happy about it. Though I loved the house he'd built us, I didn't like how far out in the country it was (I'd write 'Back Side of the Moon' as my return address on all correspondence), and certainly didn't like being left alone out there. I answered the phone that morning and a rude woman who did not identify herself said, "Your cows are in my yard." Not being a country girl or a morning person, this took a minute to compute. Your cows are in my yard ... your cows are in my yard ... your cows ... MY COWS!!!! Yes, we (spelled R-i-c-k) had two longhorn cows--named after our granddaughters, so fat chance they'd ever become steaks--and they'd gotten out of our pasture. I leapt out of bed, threw on some clothes, stuck my contacts in my eyes, and jumped in my car. But where was I going? I had no idea who'd called. So I drove around the "neighborhood" looking for Rick's cows. I felt like Little Bo Peep. Not having any luck finding them I went back home, wondering what on earth I was going to do, when my phone rang again. This time--I swear I'm not making this up--it was a friend who lived on the 5 acres behind us, and she says, "Sharon, are you looking for your cows?" Am I looking for my cows?!? How did she know that?!? "Yes, as a matter of fact ...!" And she told me where to find them. Amazingly--and I'm not making this up either--a used-to-be-cowboy-turned-carpenter worked for our company, and he came and rustled up the herd and mended the fence. When Rick (who'd made the mistake of laughing about it when I told him over the phone) got home, there was a For Sale sign in the yard. Not making that up either.
But back to this time, and Cuba. A week ago Sunday night I was in my bedroom watching TV and addressing Christmas cards when a racket shattered the relative quiet--and it came from right above my head. Startled, I jumped up and tried to assess the what and the where as I speed dialed my daughter, because, as we all know, misery loves company. I had no idea what was going on, I just knew it was LOUD. It sounded like a whole family of something had moved into our attic space. With my daughter on the phone, I went outside, hoping against hope that whatever it was was on the roof, and not somewhere INSIDE my house. Alas, it was not to be. I declined my daughter's invitation to spend the night/week on her sofa, and listened in fear and trembling as this thing moved around upstairs above my head till after 3:00 a.m. At one point it sounded like it was dragging something across the floor up there. I kid you not.
I called Clark Exterminators first thing Monday morning. A young man--who was my new favorite hero even though he wasn't a cowboy--came within the hour, but alas yet again, he could open the access to the attic space, but he couldn't actually go in and do anything about what might be up there. It seems they have rules, and that, in my opinion, was the stupidest. What he could do was set a mega-mouse trap just inside the attic space, which he could reach while standing on the very top of my 6-foot ladder, without actually being in the space. Well fine. But let me tell you, A: this was no mouse, mega or otherwise! And B: out of 3,100 square feet of living space, the 16 x 20 inch opening in the ceiling that goes into the attic space happens to be right above the chair I sit in at my computer. So now not only was I afraid of whatever had moved in, I was terrified I'd hear a SNAP! while sitting here trying to write.
So this...whatever it is...had me on edge all week. I'd hear its nocturnal wanderings after the sun went down, and was jerked awake at 2:00 in the morning Wednesday, while it carried on above my head till after 4:00. Elizabeth Berg, bless her heart, kept me company.
As if that weren't enough, I walked into my kitchen one evening to find a spider scurrying along the edge of my island. By now you must be thinking I live with the Addams family, but no. I grabbed my broom and swiped at the spider...and knocked it right into my purse. A brown spider in a brown purse. @*##+##@. So, using the handle of the broom, I upended the purse and shook out all the contents--checkbook, lipstick, cough drops--and sifted through everything, with the broom handle. But no spider. Then, using the sweeping end of the broom, I pummelled the snot out of that bag...but never found the spider or its remains.
You don't even want to know the one-sided conversation I carried on with my absentee husband all week, who was blissfully without cell phone or email access. Trust me, that bliss lasted only until he landed back in the USA, at which time he had the sense not to laugh. And I'm very glad, because I love where we currently live.
You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with writing. Maybe nothing. Then again, if you come across a mad woman in a cowboy hat with a broom in one of my novels you'll know exactly where the inspiration came from.

Friday, November 12, 2010

In Search of a Gimmick A She Reads Guest Post by Ariel Allison

On Monday Bonnie described how she knows an idea is book worthy. And on Wednesday, Debbie helped us see that breaking the rules can sometimes work to our advantage. And they got me thinking…about my mother.

Let me explain.

July 2010: my children sat on our dining room table watching my mother sort scrap metal. Mostly cut up cookie tins, random pieces of wire, nuts and bolts, that sort of thing. I was in the living room, timing how long before they got bored and wandered off in search of mayhem. (My children typically have the attention span of gnats) Three hours later they were still helping their grandmother arrange bits and pieces of discarded “junk” on a painted wooden structure. They asked questions:

“Tootsie,” (her choice of grandma name) my oldest said, holding up the innards to what I suspect was once a blender. “What about this thing-a-mah-jiggy?”

And she’d take it. Set it against the emerging picture. Stand back. Pull at her earlobe. “Maybe. But don’t you think it would frighten someone if we used that for her eyeball?”

“I think it would be fun.”

“Right you are.” As a mother of six, she has learned not to second-guess the creative instincts of children.

Back and forth like this for hours, until a woman’s face emerged from the flotsam and jetsam of discarded objects. Once satisfied with the results, she nailed the pieces in place and christened it with a name. (“Wink” in case you’re wondering)

Viola! Art on my dining room table.

I took mental pictures the entire time. My boys with their grandmother. Learning. Being creative. Playing with dangerous metal-cutting tools. Fun times.

Fast forward to October 2010: I’m working on a new novel and I’m struggling to put the pieces together. It feels like a disjointed heap of mental junk. There might be a picture in there, somewhere, but I can’t find it. So I call my mother.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She laughs. “You must be on the right track. I almost never know what I’m doing. I just know what I like.”

“But how did you know you were supposed to do this. Of all the art you could have made, why tin collage?”

“I found my gimmick.”


“People stop and look at my work because I have deviated from the expected boundaries. A Jazz Quartet made from clipped metal. A man proposes through the medium of cookie tins. Essentially, the same story told in a different way.”

Even though my mother didn’t give concrete advice on the specifics of my novel, she gifted me with something far more important: she helped me understand my gimmick. Some refer to it as a brand, but in reality the semantics don’t matter. We’re all trying to tell the same stories in a fresh way. And, thanks to her, I understand my method a little better.

What about you? Are your stories oil on canvas? Stained glass? Perhaps paper mache meets steam punk? Do tell!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Tinker on Mars

Last week, just before boarding a plane for a six hour flight, I picked up a paperback at Hudson Booksellers in the Nashville airport. My thirty-second choice was based on four things: the intriguing cover, the size (191 small pages), the endorsement by Marilynne Robinson and the Pulitzer Medallion on the front. It had all the earmarks of a winner and I wasn't disappointed.

The book is tinkers by Paul Harding. (His debut novel, BTW and, no, the title was not capitalized) The story drew me in from the start and the prose kept me reading. Like this description of a dismantled clock: "Such a crooked and flimsy device could only keep the fantastic hours of unruly ghosts." At times his style reminded me of Ray Bradbury's, the kind of short, crisp sentences that leave a minty-fresh taste in your mouth: "Lightning crawled down the mountain and drank at the water, lapped the shallows with electric tongues..." So creative. I read with a pen poised to bracket particularly inspiring passages.

I admit that I was both puzzled and encouraged by the success of this book because it bent and broke a lot of rules that we all learned in Writing 101 at the School of Hard Literary Knocks. Here are some observations that wouldn't normally get past the editor's desk or would otherwise work against its success:

  1. Multiple POV & tense changes. The kind that have you backtracking to figure out whose head you are in at the moment.
  2. Long sentences. I mean long. Stream-of-consciousness long. One sentence had 386 words and 30 commas. And two question marks, which did little to impede the sentence, since it did not actually come to a stop at either one.
  3. Lack of punctuation. I finally realized that the capitalized word in the sentence meant someone was speaking at that point, sans those helpful quotation marks.
  4. Sentence structure. Some had so many clauses that I forgot the point before the end.
  5. Small publisher: Bellevue Literary Press, a small 3-year-old, non-profit affiliated with New York University's School of Medicine. What are the odds they would produce a Pulitzer winner? The last small publisher to do so was in 1981.
  6. Time travel. Not really - it just felt that way, with the main character's hallucinations transporting him back to his childhood and further, and back again.
  7. Long passages from a manual on clock repair. I understand that these were important to the story and paralleled his father's writings, but they began without warning. Just a slight indent of the paragraph, and me momentarily scratching my head.
  8. Slight overuse of a few favorite words. The words 'sibilant' and 'boreal' and 'arboreal' were used several times. I didn't have a problem with them (they are ethereal and slightly sensual) but it registered that my editor would have pointed it out and asked for a word change because they were very distinctive.
Basically, I'm tickled pink that an author who was allowed to defy so many rules was awarded the Pulitzer, but I'll admit that I see the wisdom in those rules. More than once, I had to step back from the story to orient myself. That's precisely what we don't want as writers. Our stories should be seamless so that our readers look up at the end in wonder that they are still sitting on a familiar couch in their own home or a window seat on a crowded plane making its approach. But I guess it's a good thing I'm not a judge for the Pulitzer Award!

All in all, it's a remarkable, ground-breaking book. I will read it again and force myself not to highlight or mark sections, but to absorb it all together as a solid entity. Do you have a book that has made you wonder how the author got away with major rule breakage?