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!