We are a trusting lot …

[Originally published on Australasian Christian Writers blog – March 2, 2017]

The world is currently experiencing a great shift in an element of basic humanity. Something that has underpinned hundreds of generations is eroding. As we see more and more people do this less and less, it’s now becoming a media issue that holds the flitting attention of breathless journalists and seriously-browed newsreaders.

This is something writers naturally do every day. In fact, we spend most our of our waking writing hours doing it. It’s integral to our writing process. We can’t afford to let it go.

Trust.

As I’ve embraced my emerging identity as a writer, I’ve talked to hundreds of authors and found there is a common thread between us all, regardless of whether we’re writing a thrilling whodunit with a clever twist or the story of a waylaid tourist falling in love with an Amish farmer.

Trust.

There are so many ways writers cling to trust as a way to stave off the waves of self-doubt that lap at the shoreline of our confidence.

Trust in the idea.

Our story sounds great in our head, doesn’t it? If I could find a way to download the story as it resides in my mind, it would be perfect. But who’s to say that it’s a good idea out there in the rough-and-tumble world? I’m sure you’ve felt the fingers of doubt drumming on your thinking as you spruik your story idea to someone and watch them be less impressed than you thought they’d be. I know I have.

Trust in the process.

Writing is a process as much as it is a creative pursuit. We trust in the way we’ve established our writing regimes – that they deliver the writing in the best way possible. We trust that the twelve months we’ve invested in the story will produce the best story we can.

Trust in the feedback.

Apart from being trusting souls, writers can also be quite fragile. When our writing goes to others for their input (whether that’s a critique group or friends who want to read your work), we trust that what we get back will be useful, representative of wider readers and give us the feedback we need to improve, deepen or fix our stories. This is such a critical step of trust I wrote about the feedback that I value the most in another post on my blog.

Trust that someone will publish it.

To me this was painfully obvious in the waiting room for editor/agent appointments at the ACFW Conference in Nashville. I sat with dozens of writers who all looked like an angry Principal had called them into his office. Talking to them, I heard some great stories, read some amazing turns of phrase and saw the potential in their writing.

But we all sat there as if one knockback after a fifteen-minute speed date with an agent would blow over our writing careers.

This is one of the biggest trust exercises a writer can undertake. There is no guarantee it will be published – even for experienced, contracted authors. Imagine if other vocations started work on a massive project with no guarantees. “Yeah, we built the $3 billion highway but it turns out the road’s not needed.” But that’s what writing can sometimes be.

Trust that someone will buy it.

If you are contracted or do get published, there is a trust that your hunch (and your publisher’s hunch) is correct. Even if you ARE on print, you are trusting that people will buy it.

Trust that someone will like it.

As reviews are the lifeblood of an author’s cashflow, we trust that after buying it the reader will like it. If they don’t, one negative review can be enough to knock your self-esteem flat.

But there is one last area of trust that puts these others into perspective and, in a way, removes them from our thinking. As Christian writers, we need to cling to this trust more than anything else.

Trust in the God who gave you a story to tell.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who overcame enormous odds (and impossible situations) because they trusted God. This is one part of the writing journey that challenges me; around which I need to wrap my rational, logical head. God has given me the idea, the ability, the time, the framework, the network around me and the opportunity to tell a story that will honour Him. Once I deal with this, suddenly the questions that can keep you up at night – “who will publish this?” or “who will buy this?” – are answered. Not directly, but in a “you really don’t need to worry about this” kind of way.

I’ve often heard Christian writing can be more difficult because it’s more niche or less marketable. But I’ve discovered that in one area of writing, being a Christian and a writer is invaluable. I have the ability to trust in God and leave the rest of those trust elements in His hands while I just go about my job of writing.

Do you?

The feedback I value the most …

[Published on Christian Writers Downunder blog, February 2017]

I sat back from the laptop with a satisfied sigh. Zipping dialogue that revealed a dishonest character’s unexpected intentions and tight action that left the reader hanging from the cliff with my main character.

The chapter I’d just finished was golden. Or was it?

Writers live in a bubble.  We disappear into a world of our own creation all times of the day or night at our characters’ beck-and-call. We pull the strings in that world, making characters’ lives easier or harder with a keystroke or wish scenery into existence with the stroke of a pen.

We live it. We breathe it.

Allowing someone else into that world can sometimes be difficult, but it’s very, very necessary. It can be hard to disassociate yourself from the work you’ve put together – particularly if you’ve poured your heart into it – and it can be very hard to be objective about it.  In fact, it’s impossible.

Getting feedback on what we write is important. It helps us to bask in reflected glory of the soaring highs and points out those flat spots or plot points that need work.

But getting the right feedback is even more important.  I’ve spoken to writers for whom this is the struggle – to find the right person who can provide feedback to improve the work, not just stroke the ego of the writer or destroy their fragile confidence.

I have a number of people who I have drafted into my writing process to ensure that my writing gets the best feedback it can. While they are chosen because they reflect the reader I’m ultimately trying to reach, there is one key thing I ask of them so that the feedback they provide gives me the one thing I value the most.

Honesty.

Honest feedback is a gift. As I tell my reading group, if the writing doesn’t work, I’d much prefer to hear it from you than a publisher or an agent.

But honesty can be hard – for both giver and receiver.

I’ve been on the other side of the fence, providing feedback to other writers and hoping not to crush their hopes and dreams when I tell them their work didn’t grip me or lost me at times. But at this point I’ve realised that if I’m not up front with the writer, then the feedback isn’t that valuable. (I’m quite sensitive in how I deliver my thoughts.  It’s not feedback all guns blazing off the hip …)

It can be harder to hear that what you’ve just poured onto the page needs some work. But, with the right feedback, it can fill holes, bring out underplayed story elements and take the writing to the next level.

And dealing with honesty also can drive a temptation to change everything to suit everyone. I’m still learning the fine art of balancing feedback, and to recognise that gnawing feeling in your gut that the reader might be right. And to follow up all honest feedback with a ‘why?’ to ensure I can see why something may not work.

There is one story about taking honest feedback that truly inspires me. When James Rubart received his Carol Award at this year’s ACFW Conference for The Five Times I Met Myself, his acceptance speech covered the fact that when he completed his first draft, the publisher told him it wasn’t working and he needed to start again. An author with a host of novels under his belt needed to start again. So he did. And his improved version was voted as novel of the year.

So honesty is what I value.

Oh, and was my chapter golden? Partially. It was less of the huge gold nugget I imagined it was and more of a prospector’s pan with gold flecks at the bottom. But at least now I know which parts are valuable as I polish up the rest.

Even an elephant’s hide can be thin in places …

I know the wording of the email didn’t actually say what I felt it said, but that didn’t stop me feeling what I did anyway.

Recently I got a rejection on a manuscript I’ve just completed. The rejection was encouraging but still  politely declined the offer to work together on my novel. The email was more than a standard rejection letter, but the familiar waves of doubt started to lap at the shoreline of my confidence.

I’d gone into this submission thinking what I’d developed was more than solid. I liked the story – not in a “of course I like it, I wrote it” – but more in a “I can see the potential in others liking it as well.” But now I was starting to doubt my abilities to string two words together.

My guess is if you’re a writer then you’ve felt that too – from an agent or publisher, or even from readers who’ve felt your writing was not for them. Every writer would have at some stage.

I know part of a writer’s armour is to be able to handle rejection. I even thought I was close to mastering it after working for 25 years in a creative field. I’ve had a career full of clients who’ve told me they don’t like what I’ve written for them (even though they can’t articulate why). I thought I was a copywriter with an elephant’s hide that I’d developed over a working lifetime, where any rejection just bounced off me because I was used to it.

Then I got the email, and realized my hide was thin in places.

Perhaps that’s because when it’s your own story or your own world, you’re more invested in it than writing the Department of Whatever’s web site that you know, deep down, will only be visited by the Government Minister and his dog. Or the social media content you’ve written for your banking client will be washed away in the raging stream of a Facebook feed. When the words of your novel or poem have poured from your heart as well as your head, it’s different. Any knocks find their way to the chinks in your armour.

So how do you pick yourself up after getting a knockback on something you’ve written? There were a couple of things that helped me:

  1. People who understand the tough task of writing and share in the downs as much as the upside. I got a commiserating message from Ian Acheson with some very encouraging words. I got some encouraging texts from my offline critique group which helped me put the disappointment in perspective.
  2. Taking a deep breath and realizing this is such a subjective pursuit. I knew this already based on my career, where people love or hate your copy, design, video or advertisement based on their opinion, flawed as it may be. I’m now translating that to my fiction writing and realizing one rejection does not a bad fiction writer make. For example, I got feedback from two judges in the ACFW First Impression competition. One gave me a 93 and wanted to read the novel immediately. The other gave me 63 and said the story wouldn’t work. And they both read the same six pages.
  3. Lastly, but importantly, realizing God is in control. It was timely for me to read Jebraun Clifford’s Facebook post (see below) which she published as the sting of my rejection was still fresh. It was a reminder that God is faithful and, if I’m going to live up to this calling, I need to get a grip on that.  Her post, in part, stated: “Don’t lose heart. God is faithful. Whatever you are facing, He will intervene in your behalf. He will free you from your oppression. He has a strong arm and will rescue you.”

 

So it’s these things that have seen me brushing myself off and putting my head back down over the work that I believe I’m led to do. How about you? What do you do to handle the knocks you get as a writer?

ACFW – February 2017 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Biblical:redeeming-graceRedeeming Grace by Jill Eileen Smith — When famine visits Bethlehem, Boaz holds out hope for rain while his relative Elimelech moves his wife Naomi and their sons to Moab. For a while, it appears the Lord is blessing Elimelech’s family, and his sons marry two lovely Moabite women. But calamities strike, one after another, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land with only her childless daughters-in-law for comfort. When news reaches Naomi that the famine in Bethlehem has lifted, only Ruth will hazard the journey to her mother-in-law’s homeland. Destitute and downhearted, Naomi resigns herself to a life of bitter poverty, but Ruth holds out hope for a better future. And Boaz may be the one God has chosen to provide it. (Biblical from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Biblical Romance:building-benjaminBuilding Benjamin by Barbara M. Britton — Naomi desires to dance well enough to catch the eye of a wealthy landowner. Her father needs a substantial bride price due to the deaths of her brothers at the hands of the tribe of Benjamin. But when Benjamites raid the Ephraimite feast and capture young girls, Naomi is bound and carried from her home by Eliab, a troubled shepherd who needs a wife. As Naomi awaits rescue, she finds Eliab has a strong faith in God and a just reason for abducting her. A reason that affects all the tribes of Israel. The future of the tribe of Benjamin hangs in the balance, but if Naomi follows her heart and stays with Eliab to rebuild his lineage, she must forfeit her family and become a traitor to her own tribe. (Biblical Romance from Harbourlight Books [Pelican])

Contemporary Romance:grace-and-the-rancherGrace and the Rancher by Mary Alford — Can a runaway singer and a makeshift rancher, thrust together by circumstance and held together by the common thread of loss and a love of music, find hope and a happily-ever-after under the stars of Delaney Mountain? (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

capturing-beauty Capturing Beauty by Brenda S. Anderson — Photographer Haven Carlysle is a changed man. He returns to Duluth to capture the North Shore’s beauty … and to recapture the love of his son. But that means making amends with his ex-girlfriend too. Enter Callie Beaumont. All her life, Callie has longed to work outdoors soaking up God-breathed beauty, and the opportunity is finally on the horizon. But being the liaison between the handsome photographer and his son has thrown her dreams, and her heart, into chaos. Can Haven capture her heart when she won’t let him capture her image? And will his poor choices cost Callie her dream job and him the love of his son? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

the-lawman's -secret-sonThe Lawman’s Secret Son by Lorraine Beatty — Suddenly a Father Police officer Seth Montgomery knows all about order—but his world is thrown into chaos when he learns he has a five-year-old son. With little Jack suddenly in his care, Seth turns to neighbor Carrie Fletcher for help. Given her checkered past, Carrie prefers to keep to herself, but there’s no denying she cares for the boy—and her feelings for charming Seth are rapidly developing, too. When someone from Carrie’s past shows up threatening to jeopardize the life she’s worked so hard to build, Carrie will have to fight for her future with the new family she’s found…or risk losing everything. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

maybe-it's-youMaybe It’s You by Candace Calvert — Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive ER nurse, Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders . . . and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis? (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)

a-second-chanceA Second Chance by Alexis Goring — Newly single food critic and newspaper reporter Traci Hightower is done with dating. After the man of her dreams left her at the altar on their wedding day and ran off with her “best friend,” Traci resigned herself to being a bachelorette for life. Marc Roberts is a political reporter who is known as Mr. Nice Guy, the one who always finishes last. But his widowed sister Gina Braxton appreciates his compassion and kindness, since she’s raising her two kids alone. With God’s guidance and the help of Gina’s matchmaking skills honed by her career as a bestselling romance novelist, Traci and Marc find hope for their broken hearts. (Contemporary Romance from Forget Me Not Romances)

the-amish-wandererThe Amish Wanderer by Laura V. Hilton — After her daed, the bishop, is admitted to a mental hospital after hurting their small Amish community, Bethany Weiss is ready to get away from Jamesport, MO—and away from God. Silas Beiler, dogged by a rough childhood and a family who blames him for each new disaster, is hitchhiking toward Pennsylvania in hopes of stability. He sleeps in barns where he can and works for food when possible. When Bethany spies a man asleep in the hayloft, she first fears the return of an unwelcome suitor. But when it is Silas who turns and speaks, the memories flood back: a happy summer six years ago, full of lemonade, long walks, and budding courtship. Can their old love overcome both this new pain and the hurt and rejection of their past? (Contemporary Romance from Whitaker House)

avalancheAvalanche by Gayla K. Hiss — Set in the North Cascades National Park of Washington State, Avalanche is the inspirational story of one man set on revenge and the woman who risks everything to help him find the fugitive who killed his partner. (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

the-doctor's-texas-babyThe Doctor’s Texas Baby by Deb Kastner — When Carolina Mason shows up in Haven, Texas, after a three-year absence, no one is more surprised than town veterinarian Wyatt Harrow. Especially when he sees Carolina’s two-year-old son, Matty. Their son. How could she have kept his child a secret? Carolina doesn’t deny the boy is his. She thought she was doing what was best for everyone when she left, but she realizes she was wrong. Though Wyatt is eager to make up for lost time with Matty, Carolina’s not so sure that extends to her. Can these former sweethearts navigate their complicated past to make a family for their son? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

spring-raineSpring Raine by Delia Latham — A last-minute decision sends a young woman to a seaside community and lodging at Paradise Pines…where life takes a whole new path. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

finding-joyFinding Joy by Melanie D. Snitker — A horrific accident changed everything for Parker Wilson. He returns to his family’s ranch, the scars on his face a daily reminder of all he’s lost, yet his mom still insists he needs to stop hiding and live his life again. The beautiful new employee she hires is the last thing he needs, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make the girl quit and regain the peace and quiet he prefers. Only deep desperation could force Chelsea Blake to work on a cattle ranch. But if she’s going to avoid her parents’ judgment when they arrive in three weeks, she must turn the temporary job into a permanent one. Between dodging mud, feeding longhorn cattle, and dealing with a handsome boss who keeps giving her the cold shoulder, staying gainfully employed is proving to be a challenge. Chelsea may not be cut out for ranch life, but her determination to succeed is stronger than Parker’s efforts at forcing her to leave. Surprisingly alike, will the two set aside their disapproval to find immeasurable joy? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

General Fiction:the-secret-heartThe Secret Heart by Marie Wells Coutu — After a whirlwind romance, beautiful Shawna Moore marries Hunter Wilson, the governor of Tennessee. Now, she wonders if the governor ever loved her or only hoped to avoid a scandal. In this modern re-imagining of the biblical story of Bathsheba and King David, an investigative reporter is asking questions–the wedding took place only six weeks following the death of Shawna’s first husband in Iraq. If he discovers the truth about Shawna’s baby, Hunter’s chances for reelection, as well as Shawna’s reputation, will be ruined. But keeping their secret is destroying their marriage. Will Hunter’s choice mean the end of his political career or his family? (General Fiction from Write Integrity Press)

home-at-lastHome at Last by Deborah Raney — All her life, Shayla Michaels, owner of the Coffee’s On bakery, has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother’s white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn’t repeat in polite–well, in any company. Her father’s family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry’s incarceration, life has left Shayla’s father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn’t people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts? Everything changes one icy morning when Portia runs into the street and Link Whitman nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with Shayla. Can they overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? (General Fiction from Abingdon Press)

baggage-claimBaggage Claim by Cathe Swanson — When Ben Taylor, widower and single dad, gets caught up in a dangerous insurance fraud network, he has to learn to take a stand for right – and make a leap of faith: can he trust his nanny – who isn’t quite what she appears to be – and his newly-discovered biological father to hide and protect his four young children? (General Fiction, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:the-matchmaker-brides-collectionThe Matchmaker Brides Collection by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, Amanda Cabot, Lisa Carter, Ramona K. Cecil, Lynn A. Coleman, Susanne Dietze, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Connie Stevens and Liz Tolsma — Meet nine women of the late 1800s who have found themselves in the role of matchmaker. They think they have mastered the art of recognizing romantic potential in others, but when it comes to their own lives they have been unlucky in love. In small communities from Tennessee to Colorado, Wyoming to Indiana, love unexpectedly enters the women’s lives with men they never imagined marrying. But what will it take to get these ladies to say “I do”? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

the-reluctant-guardianThe Viscount’s Proposal by Melanie Dickerson — Leorah Langdon has no patience for Regency society’s shallow hypocrisy and unnecessary rules, especially for women. She’s determined to defy convention by marrying for grand passion instead of settling for a loveless union like her parents–or wedding a stuffy, pompous gentleman like Edward, the Viscount Withinghall. But when a chance meeting in the countryside leads to Leorah and Withinghall being discovered in his overturned carriage–alone and after dark–the ensuing gossip may force them together.Withinghall has his reasons for clinging to propriety and he certainly has no time for a reckless hoyden like Miss Langdon. But soon the two discover that Withinghall’s coach “accident” was no such thing: the vehicle was sabotaged. Strong-willed Leorah and duty-driven Withinghall will have to work together if they have any hope of saving her reputation, his political career–and his life. (Historical Romance from Waterfall Press)

the-reluctant-guardianThe Reluctant Guardian by Susanne Dietze — When Gemma Lyfeld inadvertently interrupts a dangerous smuggling operation in her English village, she’s rescued by a mysterious Scottish spy. Now with criminals after her and her hopes for an expected marriage proposal recently dashed, she will make her society debut in London. But not without the man tasked with protecting her… Covert government agent Tavin Knox must keep Gemma safe from the criminals who think she can identify them—a mission he never wanted. But as he escorts her and her rascally nephews around London, the lovely English lass proves braver than he ever imagined. Suddenly, the spy who works alone has one Season to become the family man he never dreamed he’d be. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

shine-like-the-dawnShine like the Dawn by Carrie Turansky — In a quiet corner of northern Edwardian England, Margaret Lounsbury diligently works in her grandmother’s millinery shop, making hats and caring for her young sister. Several years earlier, a terrible event reshaped their family, shattering an idyllic life and their future prospects. An even which…might not have been an accident. When Nathaniel Harcourt returns from his time in the Royal Navy and inherits his father’s vast estate, Morningside Manor, he also assumes partial control of his father’s engineering company and the duty of repaying an old debt to the Lounsbury family. But years of separation between Nate and Maggie have taken a toll and Maggie struggles to trust her old friend. Will the search for the truth about her parents’ death draw the two friends closer or leave them both with broken hearts? (Historical Romance from Waterbrook Multnomah)

the-bounty-hunter's-babyThe Bounty Hunter’s Baby by Erica Vetsch — Bounty hunter Thomas Beaufort has no problem handling outlaws, but when he’s left with a criminal’s baby to care for, he’s in over his head. And the only person he can think of to ask for help is Esther Jensen, the woman whose heart he broke when he left town. But can he convince her to put aside the past until he tracks down the baby’s outlaw father? Esther is ready to run Thomas off her Texas ranch–until she spies the abandoned newborn in his arms. Soon, working together to care for the precious babe stirs old hopes of a family. With trouble heading to their door, they could overcome it together–if she’ll entrust her wary heart to this sweet, second-chance family… (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Thriller/Suspense:raging-stormRaging Storm by Vannetta Chapman — When a massive solar flare wiped out all modern technology across the globe, the small town of Abney, Texas, was thrown into chaos. Shelby Sparks and her diabetic teenage son, Carter, have found refuge, but Shelby knows Carter can’t survive without insulin–and Shelby will risk her life traveling to Austin to make sure he gets it. Shelby’s best friend and high school sweetheart, Max Berkman, won’t let her make the journey alone. Together, they reach the capital–only to discover that Austin has turned into an urban nightmare on the brink of anarchy. Now the only thing more uncertain than finding what they need is the hope of making it out of the city alive. (Thriller/Suspense from Harvest House Publishers)

Speculative:long-time-goneTime Search by Danele J. Rotharmel — While the TEMCO staff searches for clues to unravel the mystery of his real name, their enemy is lurking in the shadows searching for his targets–it’s anyone’s guess whose search will be completed first! (Speculative/Time Travel Fiction from Prism Book Group)

Western Romance:long-time-goneLong Time Gone by Mary Connealy — Rancher Justin Boden is normally an unshakable and rugged man, but with his brother, Cole, shot and in mortal danger, even a tough man faces doubts. And it doesn’t help that Angie DuPree, the assistant to the doctor trying to save Cole, is as distracting a woman as Justin ever laid eyes on. With her and the doc’s timely skills, Cole looks to be on the mend, and Justin and the rest of the Bodens can turn their attention back to the dangers facing them. It’s clear now that everything that’s occurred is part of a much bigger plot that could date back to a decades-old secret. Can they uncover all the pieces before danger closes in on them, or is the threat to the ranch even bigger than any of the Bodens could imagine? (Western Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

Those who inspire me … Christian storytelling

As writers, we are inspired by what we read.  We are inspired by those who write those stories.

I am inspired in many ways by my favourite authors, and this is the first post in a series about who inspires me and why.

First up, I am inspired by the Christian storytelling of … Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti and James L Rubart.

I get where Christian bookstores are coming from.  I’ve visited enough of them to know that their product range is going to be 1/3 devotional books, 1/3 inspirational books and 1/4 worship music CDs.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for fiction. Over the years, as I have searched for and read Christian fiction, there have been a few authors who have drawn me to their material in terms of how they tell a Christian story. It’s not just the story they tell – which is amazing in itself – it’s also how they tell it.

First, I am inspired by Ted Dekker.

I love his versatility as a writer.  One of my favourite Christian novels is Skin, which is vastly different from his Red, White and Black Circle Trinity.  The thing I love about the story is the fact that it’s a story in a modern setting, which draws from a values system and belief system that I hold.

I have to be honest here – it frustrates me greatly that a significant chunk of Christian fiction would appear to be romantic fiction.  That’s great for those authors – and driven by a large readership, obviously – but when I find a story that has the ability to weave a Christian message throughout a modern setting such as gaming or technology like Ted did in Skin, I genuinely appreciate it.

At the ACFW Conference in Nashville last year, I was privileged to hear Ted’s keynote, where he alluded to the fact that sometimes people think he should be more Christian as an author.  I, for one, am glad he’s not.  I’m glad he’s a Christian AND an author.

Secondly, Frank Peretti.

One of my favourite Christian novels is The Visitation.  I love the way that the supernatural and the modern are woven together, which in a way is symbolic of life.  I don’t subscribe to the populist theory that God and modern society don’t mix; that church and state should always be separate. That’s not the case in my life, or others I know.  What I find in this story is that God and modern society DO mix.

Prophet was great because I’ve worked with the media and it really did throw you into that world. It was real. Monster was good because it brought together legend and beliefs and raised a series of questions buried in the story, confronting and yet somehow also not.

Lastly, James L Rubart.

Jim’s stories reflect his belief system, but the thing I appreciate most is his ability to tell stories about characters who are real.  They face issues and challenges. They have inconsistencies and make the wrong calls. They are struggling to make sense of the world around them.  And they’re people of faith.

In The Five Times I Met Myself, protagonist Brock is a man who walked away from faith some years ago.  When you get into the story, you find that he’s made that decision based on life closing in on him and the way he’s found his place in his world.  His marriage isn’t great and his relationships aren’t that flash and that’s okay.  I can relate to him – not because I can see myself in him (my marriage is okay for a start), but because I can see him in so many people I deal with every day.  It’s real, and it reveals something about our world because of it.

And in Rooms, I loved being taken on a journey of viewing parts of the protagonist’s life through the imagery of rooms in a house. It was powerful, and told in a way that broke through the usual defences we put up when forced to examine ourselves.  It was accessible AND creative.

So how do these authors inspire me?  Well, it shows me that, as a Christian storyteller, you don’t have to preach.  There are two parts of my writing that I enjoy: the message and how it’s delivered.  These authors have inspired me to blend the two in a way that makes an effort of pointing out the things in our world without necessarily beating people over the head with it. They have inspired to be a person with faith and values, and to tell a story that reflects them.

I really enjoy reading these stories, by authors who are Christian, but aren’t aiming to preach at their reader in the style of Left Behind.  And it’s my aim to replicate their ability to be as real an author – and as Christian a man – as they are.

Our writing leaves a legacy

We sat in the school’s music suite, a collection of proud and patient parents as a parade of emerging musical ability inched its way onto the stage before running off in relief. The last of the shrieking violins had been silenced – thankfully – and the last squeaking echo of the clarinets had dissipated. To the delight of some parents who checked their phones, anxious to move on with what was left of their day, there was only one remaining performer.

A senior student, punctuated by his acne and red hair refusing to co-operate, shuffled to his place behind the grand piano. He placed a well-thumbed folder of music on the stand and placed his fingers on the keys.

Then he stopped. Swallowing rising emotion, he blinked out into the glare and gave a hesitant introduction to his piece: in light of the passing of Leonard Cohen he wanted to play a tribute. With a deep breath, his fingers moved and the suite was filled with the opening chords of the haunting Hallelujah.

What happened next was truly magical.

The young man at the piano closed his eyes and broke into the first verse. His voice cracked, not from puberty but from emotion, as he paid – and played – his tribute.

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord

The quips from the back rows fell silent as the senior students stopped critiquing their colleagues’ performances. The toddlers complaining about an hour-long concert without one Wiggles or Elmo song were quiet and sipped at their juice boxes as they peered over their seats at the young man spotlighted in the dim light.

The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

The young man sang on, his eyes closed and his fingers feeling their way through the emotive bridge of Cohen’s classic. He paused as he arrived at the first line of the chorus and the fifty or so parents in the music suite joined him, their gusto picking up with each repetition.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelu-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-jah

Creativity from thirty years ago came alive. The author had just died, but his song powered on in the chorused voices in that music suite. The song had outlived its author and his creation was again brought to life in the shadow of his death.

I thought back to the authors I’ve enjoyed over the years. Robert Ludlum. Charles Dickens. Mark Twain. George Orwell. Arthur C Clarke. Douglas Adams. Harper Lee. St. Paul. All gone, but I still enjoy their creativity today.

This is more than writing. When we finish our manuscript, we are leaving a legacy that will outlive us and be enjoyed by people who may not yet part of the human race.

That has blown my mind.

I’m not suggesting at all that any of us will write the bestsellers of Ludlum, the classics of Dickens, the satire of Adams or the perception of Orwell.  But when we’re long gone, someone will pick up our creativity and bring it to life. Even if it’s just a family member doing some research on your branch of the family tree and stumbling on your self-published work, your story will outlive you. It’s storytelling as it has been for generations, it’s just that today it appears on screen, in Microsoft Word or Scrivener.

That’s a special thing about what we do, and it’s important to remember, particularly in an age of fleeting tweets, half-thought-out posts and a tsunami of online information that sweeps away all the statements that came before it.

Talk is cheap, but your stories are invaluable. So write on.

ACFW new releases – January 2017

January 2017 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Romance Grows in Arcadia Valley by Valerie Comer, Mary Jane Hathaway, Elizabeth Maddrey, Danica Favorite, Lee Tobin McClain and Annalisa Daughety — Is love possible for a makeshift mom and a handsome widower? What about a bed and breakfast owner and the farmer next door? A curvy jilted bride and a mysterious, handsome chef? Then there’s the real estate consultant and the grandson of her elderly client; a high-powered lawyer and a woman farmer, and a formerly engaged couple. Can love make a difference in their lives? Exploring food, friends, and family in Arcadia Valley, each of these novellas kicks off a three-book series, intertwined with the works of the other authors. This collection is only the beginning of your adventure! (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Restoring Love by Jennifer Slattery — Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. As Mitch struggles to keep his business afloat, and Angela works to correct the mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends discover they have something unexpected in common–a young mom fighting to give her children a better life after her husband’s incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back from redemption and true love? (Contemporary Romance from New Hope Publishers)

Historical Mystery:

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering — Drew and Madeline Farthering visit the Yorkshire moor to catch a killer and solve a mystery that involves an old feud, a new rivalry and a huge, spectral hound that may or may not be a harbinger of death. (Historical Mystery from Bethany House [Baker])

Historical Romance:

A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander — A master violinist trained in Vienna, Rebekah Carrington manages to get an audition at the newly-formed Nashville Philharmonic. But the conductor–determined to leave his mark on the world of classical music–bows to public opinion. Women are “far too fragile and frail” for the rigors of an orchestra, he says, and Rebekah’s hopes are swiftly dashed. Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb is Nashville’s new orchestra leader. And despite a reluctant muse–and a strange buzzing and recurring pain in his head–he must finish composing his symphony before the new opera hall opens. But far more pressing, he must finish it for his dying father, who inspired his love of music. Then Tate’s ailment worsens. Rebekah can help him finish his symphony. But how do you win back a woman’s trust when you’ve robbed her of her dream? (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

The American Heiress Brides Collection by Lisa Carter, Mary Eileen Davis, Susanne Dietze, Anita Mae Draper, Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Hickey, Lisa Karon Richardson, Lynette Sowell and Kimberley Woodhouse — Meet nine young women in America between 1880 and 1911 who have been blessed by fortunes made in gold, silver, industry, ranching, and banking. But when it comes to love, each woman struggles to find true love within a society where “first comes money, second comes marriage.” What kind of man can they trust with their greatest treasure—their hearts? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Two Suitors for Anna by Molly Jebber — In 1903 Ohio, a young Amish woman must choose between the life she has long planned for with her beloved Noah Schwartz, and a new, very different future… But Noah has a surprise for Anna: once they’re married, he wants them to travel and live in other communities. Anna, who loves her home and her job at the quilt shop, is distraught when he takes her hesitation as rejection—and leaves. Daniel Bontrager’s arrival adds to Anna’s confusion. Since taking over his late brother’s farm, the handsome roofer has offered friendship and gentle attentions. Yet the pull of first love is strong and deep, especially when Noah returns. Through each revelation, Anna must search her faith for guidance, knowing she is choosing not just a husband, but a life to nurture and to share… (Historical Romance from Kensington)

My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, Texas by Erica Vetsch — Journey to Fort Bliss, Texas, where a battle of emotions versus ideals is about to be waged. When a high-steppin’ eastern fashion artist, Priscilla Hutchens, swoops down on the fort to gain custody of her twin niece and nephew she is met with resistance by their uncle, post surgeon Major Elliot Ryder, who thinks he knows what is best for them. Who will win the battle? Or will a truce be called for the sake of love and family? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

Dead Run by Jodie Bailey — Kristin James’s morning run turns deadly when she’s attacked by a stranger who’s after something her deceased soldier brother stole overseas. Her neighbor Sergeant First Class Lucas Murphy steps in to help her and won’t let her brush the attack under the rug. He’ll do everything he can to keep Kristin alive, but he can’t tell her that he’s under orders to investigate her link to her brother’s misdeeds. Kristin has no idea what the bad guy is after and doesn’t want to believe that her brother wasn’t on the straight and narrow. But as evidence against him piles up, can they catch the criminals without becoming the next casualties? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Justice Delayed by Patricia Bradley — It’s been eighteen years since TV crime reporter Andi Hollister’s sister was murdered. The confessed killer is behind bars, and the execution date is looming. But when a letter surfaces stating that the condemned killer didn’t actually do it, Detective Will Kincaide of the Memphis Cold Case Unit will stop at nothing to help Andi get to the bottom of it. After all, the person who confessed to the crime is Will’s cousin. They have less than a week to find the real killer before the wrong person is executed. But much can be accomplished in one week–including uncovering police corruption, running for your life, and falling in love. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [Baker])

Undercover Protector by Elizabeth Goddard — Undercover at a tiger sanctuary, Special Agent Grayson Wilde is convinced the owner’s involved in a wildlife trafficking ring–until someone tries to kill her. Gemma’s determined to rebuild the tiger oasis she lost when her family died, but someone wants her out of the way, and she’s starting to wonder if her parents’ and uncle’s deaths were really accidental. Grayson says he’ll do anything to protect Gemma, but she can’t shake the feeling that her alluring new volunteer might not be all that he seems. With a vicious criminal closing in, though, she has to trust Grayson…because she won’t survive without him. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Buried Memories by Carol J. Post — A soldier hero suffering from PTSD and a young woman struggling to overcome a traumatic childhood fight for their lives and find healing together. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Still Life by Dani Pettrey — Blacklisted in the photography business over a controversial shot, Avery Tate answered an ad for a crime scene photographer. She expected to be laughed at, but crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell hired her outright–and changed her life. But six months ago, when her feelings for Parker became too strong, she left his employ to sort out her heart. Now, for the first time, Avery is facing the world that rejected her to attend the gallery opening of a photography exhibit and support her best friend, who modeled for the show. But the only image of her friend is a chilling photo of her posing as if dead–and the photographer insists he didn’t take the shot. Worse, her friend can’t be found. She immediately calls Parker for help. As Avery, Parker, and his friends in law enforcement dig into the mystery, they find themselves face-to-face with a relentless and deadly threat. (Romantic Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])

Supernatural Thriller:

Fatal Accusation by Rachel Dylan — Attorney Olivia Murray hopes her life in Windy Ridge will get back to normal after a hard-fought trial. But she soon finds out that the forces of evil have not given up. An embezzling scandal rocks the community church to its core. The New Age groups are ready to declare victory when a high-profile prosecutor files criminal charges against the local pastor. However, Olivia is not willing to give up on the community she’s come to love. She takes on the defense pro bono knowing it could destroy her career, but it’s a case she is called to defend. The battle will be fierce, but she’s not fighting it alone. Her friend and fellow attorney Grant Baxter is by her side. Olivia must use all the tools in her arsenal to combat those who seek to destroy the believers in the community. If Olivia can’t prove the pastor’s innocence, more than her career is on the line. The entire community of Windy Ridge could fall to the forces of darkness. (Supernatural Thriller, Independently Published)

Writing hack #2: jump in my car

I’ve previously blogged about a hack I’ve employed to keep the momentum going in my writing while I’m balancing it with my business.  That writing hack focussed on getting back the time I lose every time I have to travel to the city for meetings – and how I write on the train.

It’s worked so well for me that I’ve been scouring my calendar for other opportunities to reclaim my time.

And I’ve found one.

Writing hack #2: using my time while driving

Now before you start firing off comments talking about safety while behind the wheel, let me clarify a few things first to assuage your concerns:

  • I’m not balancing my laptop on my knees while I write, or jotting notes on paper. Both hands are on the wheel at all times.
  • The majority of the value I get from my reclaimed time is from sitting in traffic or at traffic lights.

Sometimes I can’t take the train – my clients or workshops are in places that require a car.  Most of the time those trips run smoothly, and I’m at that meeting or workshop in no time. But at other times the traffic conspires against me, is difficult or unexpected hazards get in the way.  So when I’m driving to these appointments I can sometimes lose a lot of time on the road, but I’ve found a way to make the most of this time, rather than have my blood pressure percolate or stare blankly out the window waiting for the cars around me to move.

This is what I do, depending on the difficulty of the drive.:

  • I dictate. With my iPhone voice recorder running, I dictate my current WIP.  I talk through character notes or dialogue signatures.  I investigate plot holes out loud.  And I dictate chapter after chapter of my WIP. This works for me, especially on longer trips on the open road or the freeway. I am a “talk-out-loud” kind of guy, so I’m able to hear my ideas out loud and run with them.  This also has a huge added bonus. When I’m transcribing my recordings (not when I’m driving, mind you), I’m actually not writing first draft any more. I’m writing first-and-a-half draft because I’m editing as I listen back. It takes a few listens to get used to the sound of your own voice – and I do sometimes cringe at what sounded like gold in my head was more fake jewellery in the real world.  But I have something to work with; some raw clay I can mould.
  • I learn. Rather than listening to the inane blather from the radio, I settle in for a couple of episodes of my favourite writing podcasts.  At the moment I’m listening to Novel Marketing with James L Rubart.
  • I read (well, I listen). Again, rather than getting my 3,000th airing of The Eagles’ The Long Run, I listen to eBooks.  I always vary the authors I listen to in the car, to give myself a spread of inspiration, but I do find it fascinating to hear rather than read stories.  You get a different insight into the spoken word, and it sometimes gives you a window into characterisation or tension.

So that’s me in the car.  Safe, but productive, and I’ve found a way to reclaim another part of my day that would otherwise be sucked away.

Does it work? I had a client meeting the next town over and my ninety-minute drive was now a creative session. I finished the storyboard for a whole novel.

It works for me. What about you?

The slow march of time …

The slow march of time is felt no more keenly than when you’re waiting to hear back from a publisher… or an agent… or your beta group.

In 2016, we don’t like dead time. Our society drives us to move and achieve. Standing still is what losers do. It’s gotten to the point where we feel we need to take classes or employ coaches to help us to stop and breathe.

None of this helps when you’re waiting to hear back on your manuscript.

Back in August/September, I was privileged to get to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Nashville. It was an amazing experience – talking to other authors, sharing in their creativity and soaking in an environment with “my tribe”.

At this conference, my first manuscript was a finalist in the Genesis Awards. But the main reason for going was to pitch the manuscript “The god of reality TV” to the industry.

I got two bites: a publisher in London and an agent in the US. The pitches went as well as they could, and the novel has worked its way through the processes of that UK publisher. My novel is still alive.

The agent was polite in turning down my manuscript, but was keen to see what else I could do. So in that time since Nashville, I’ve written a second novel (a fresh story, not a Book 2 or anything) and it’s sitting in front of him.

And I haven’t heard back from either of them in weeks. Time marches on. Agonizing step after agonizing step.

If you’ve ever submitted anything you’ve written to a publisher or agent, you’ll know what happens next. The assault of doubt that no-one will be interested in your story. That silence is effectively a no. That the email didn’t make it through and was swallowed by a black hole on the internet. That you can’t write and the non-response is somehow trying to soften the blow on telling you about your complete lack of talent.

None of which may be true. I hope.

So, instead of succumbing to the doubt, I’ve been convicted to be positive about the situation. So what do you do in the meantime?

  1. Don’t obsess about it. You’ve done your best and it’s now in someone else’s hands. This is a challenge; hitting the “get email” button around the clock just in case the agent, editor or publisher’s email is bursting to jump into your inbox. I spent a day doing that before realizing they aren’t.
  2. Trust in your story. You’ve spent months – or even years – writing this story. You’ve poured your heart, background, life lessons and experience into this story and it’s the best you can do. Believe in it.
  3. Trust in the God that gave you the story. This is an extension of the previous point. God has a timing for your story and you sitting there worrying about it isn’t going to speed Him up. After writing that, it feels trite, because I struggle with this one. Big time.
  4. Work on something else. I’ve just headed into a first draft of my third novel (again, a fresh story), just to focus on something else for a while but knowing that it strengthens my argument that I’m a writer if I’ve got a body of work behind me.
  5. Don’t presume the best or the worst. It is what it is. It’s a process that is longer than most in business.
  6. Set a timeframe in mind when a follow-up will hit that perfect sweet spot between cyberharrassment and leaving it too long.
  7. Prepare for the best answer, prepare for the worst answer. Not to prepare for one and ignore the other, but to have a Plan B. What happens next?  If you’re accepted, you’ve now got a mountain of work to do – are you ready for it?  If you’re turned away – what’s your next step? Sometimes great stories are turned down because of timing or other publishing machinations.

So that’s how I fill this gap in time. What do you do?

ACFW December 2016 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Bella Natale! by Marianne Evans — An aspiring American artist and the widowed, Italian owner of a premier art gallery meet and fall in love in Florence when he champions her work, but there are her American family’s expectations and his five-year-old son to consider. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

With this Kiss by Marianne Evans — A kiss stolen in a midnight snow. A jealous colleague at Jonathan’s firm is bent on revenge…revenge that puts Isabella’s store into legal peril. Will love be enough to see them through? (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

Mistletoe Daddy by Deb Kastner — Bubbly Vivian Grainger bids on gruff Nick McKenna at Serendipity Texas’s annual Bachelors and Baskets for one reason–to help her build her hair salon; but once Nick finds out she’s pregnant, he does his best to build a path to Vivian’s heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

A Hero for Heather by Marion Ueckermann — When a “homeless” man she’s been helping rescues social worker Heather Blume from a vicious attack, she’s so grateful she violates one of the most important rules in her profession–she takes him home to tend his wounds. But the mysterious Paxton Rathbone is no homeless man…he’s a gentleman. When feelings grow, and Paxton’s past beckons, both he and Heather discover there’s a fine line between gratitude and love. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

A Husband for Holly by Marion Ueckermann — Holly Blume loves decorating people’s homes, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to play house. Believing a house is not a home without a woman’s touch, Reverend Christopher Stewart is in the market for a wife. What woman would consider him marriage material, though, with an aging widowed father to look after, especially one who suffers from Alzheimer’s? Despite their differences, Holly resolves to finish her job of redesigning the Stewart home, while Christopher determines to re-form Holly’s heart. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Rocky Mountain Cowboy by Tina Radcliffe — Twelve years after she married another man, Rebecca Anshaw Simpson is back at Joe Gallagher’s ranch as his physical therapist. But healing his body is nothing compared to guarding his heart from the woman he never forgot. Becca won’t let regret and a surly rancher get in the way of her job and the chance to start over with her little girl. But Becca never expected she’d fall all over again for her first love. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Cozy Mystery:

Christmas Cookie Mystery by Naomi Miller — With Christmas right around the corner, Katie Chupp and The Sweet Shop get involved in a mystery when a certain dear family finds an unexpected package at their door. (Cozy Mystery from S&G Publishing)

Historical:

Michel: The Fourth Wise Man by Katheryn Maddox Haddad — This descendant of Daniel, also a wise man, sacrifices everything – his wife, his father, his home – to do what he is convinced God needs him to do, then finds out he was wrong. (Historical from Northern Lights Publishing House)
Five Nights with Pharaoh by Kristen Reed — Shortly after entering Egypt with her husband, Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s harem as his newest, most favored concubine. The breathtaking, ageless beauty is forced to cling to her faith in God as she prays for the strength to accept her new position and endures a series of mysterious plagues that can only be indicative of a wrathful deity’s divine judgment. Discover a remarkable reimagining of Sarai’s plight in Egypt, where she humbly set aside her own honor to protect the man through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. (Historical – Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

Seven Brides for Seven Texans Romance Collection by Amanda Barratt, Susan Page Davis, Keli Gwyn, Vickie McDonough, Gabrielle Meyer, Lorna Leslie Seilstad, Erica Vetsch — Meet the seven Hart brothers of the 7-Heart ranch in central Texas. Each man is content in his independent life, without the responsibilities of a wife and children–until their father decides 1874 will be the year his grown sons finally marry, or they will be cut from his will. How will each man who values his freedom respond to the ultimatum? Can love develop on a timeline, or will it be sacrificed for the sake of an inheritance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Pony Express Romance by Misty M. Beller — Pony Express rider Josiah English and the station master’s sister, Mara Reid, fall in love, but when the Express shuts down and Mara’s family home is in peril, the danger looming over Mara’s life may not be half as destructive as that threatening her heart. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Military Suspense:

Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig — A former Green Beret is confronted by past mistakes as he and his team battle a centuries-old plague and the terrorists bent on rewriting history. (Military Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])

Romantic Suspense:

Hazardous Holiday by Liz Johnson — Just in time for the holidays, navy SEAL Zach McCloud returns home from deployment–and discovers someone wants his family dead. When he married his cousin’s struggling widow, he vowed to help her and her seriously ill son, and now he’ll risk everything to protect them. Even if their arrangement is only temporary. Kristi’s certain an unhappy client from the law firm where she works is determined to hunt her down. But when a sniper bullet wildly misses its target, they begin to question whether it’s really her someone wants dead. Working together, can they figure out why they’ve been attacked…and keep little Cody from the nefarious forces dead set on making this Christmas their last? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Christmas Conspiracy by Susan Sleeman — When Commander Jake Marsh loses control of a hostage situation and Tessa Long is injured, guilt eats at him. He blurs the line between the professional and personal, and visits Tessa at the hospital. But when a man tries to kill her in her hospital room, Jake disregards all of the rules and regulations that have allowed him to control his world and vows to keep her safe no matter what. Trouble is, the situation brings back memories from his childhood of the loss of his entire family, and for the first time in twenty years, he fears he’s no longer in charge of his life, and knows when he’s out of control bad things happen. Very bad things. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])