Monday, December 28, 2009

Pick the next Marcher Lord Press novel!

By now you may have heard of Marcher Lord Press. Founded by industry veteran Jeff Gerke, the press specializes in speculative fiction from a Christian perspective. So far they've published 9 novels, including their best-selling By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson.

For their Spring 2010 season of titles, they're doing something a little different. Jeff is allowing us, the readers, to choose one of the novels in the next set of books. The contest started several weeks ago as the competition was narrowed down in synopsis contests, and then first chapter contests. Now three contestants remain, and we have until New Year's Eve to vote! The winner is set to be announced at midnight.

Your vote really does matter. Some of the finalists were chosen by one or two votes.

Here are the three titles currently in the running:

This Side of Eden

Premise: What would the world be like today if no one had ever sinned? Carter Friese is about to find out.

The Sending

Premise: The Garden of Eden holds a 4,000 year old secret. One believer must risk his faith to find it.

The Last Apostle

Premise: Imagine that John, the last Apostle, never died, because nineteen centuries ago Christ sent him on a special mission.

Click here to download the full synopses and sample chapters of the finalists.

And then head here to cast your vote! You do have to become a member of the message board, but it's really quick and easy. Click on "Marcher Lord Select" and then "Phase 4 Poll for Main Contest".

I voted for "The Sending". The author, Matt Koceich, is a friend of mine. His wife, Cindi, even took all my author photos at the Writing for the Soul conference last year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

22 Authors Share Their Most Memorable Christmas Gifts

What was the most memorable Christmas gift you ever received and why was it special?

One of mine came when I was eight years old and had just discovered the Chronicles of Narnia at my local library. I was working through the books one at a time, but that Christmas morning my sister and I opened up a gift that contained the whole set! I remember peeking in the top of the box and just seeing the words "Narnia" and getting all excited.

I asked 22 popular Christian novelists what their most memorable gifts have been, and their answers are now posted on Read them here. Included are Jerry B. Jenkins, Francine Rivers, Beverly Lewis, Erin Healy, and many more.

Your turn. What was your most memorable Christmas gift?

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thicker than Blood book trailer unveiled!

Created by The Perrodin Bros., the book trailer for Thicker than Blood is here! Brothers Jace and Patch did a fantastic job capturing the themes and story of the novel while including some really cool special effects. Jace is a homeschool graduate, and Patch is currently a homeschooler. Thanks, guys!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Neta Jackson (Advice for Novelists, Part 109)

Here's another post in my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Don’t wait for inspiration. Sit down and apply perspiration. Discipline yourself to write. It’s a job (as well as a joy).

--Neta Jackson, author of the Yada Yada Prayer group series, and many more. Visit her website.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Survey: What Christmas Question Would You Most Like To Ask Your Favorite Author?

I'm putting together a Christmas feature for, and I need your feedback. If you could ask your favorite author only one of these four questions, which would you pick? Whichever one receives the most votes is what I'm going to ask the authors in the feature! Unless one of you suggests a better question in the comments, of course. :)

Writing From The Gut

I shared this post recently over at the Scribble Chicks blog, and I thought you all might like to read it too:

Most writers think about their stories and characters at all hours of the day. We'll be in the shower and a scene idea will pop into our head (and we'll scramble to write it down on the wall with a bar of soap). We'll be making dinner and a snappy line of dialogue will appear out of nowhere. This is especially true if you're brainstorming for ideas of what to write.

After I wrote my first novel Thicker than Blood, I really struggled with what to write next. Should I write a sequel or something new? I bought a little notebook at Barnes and Noble, called it my Novel Notebook, and started jotting down ideas. Early on in the book I made myself answer the question, "What I really want to write about is ____". I got the idea from James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure, and I figured if it worked for him, then I could give it a try.

Weeks passed. I kept writing in that idea book. I asked myself the question, "What I really want to write about is ____" again. I had an answer, but I still didn't know if it should be a book. I had so many different snippets of ideas, but I kept shooting them down. I was floundering and miserable.

But that's not really the point of this post. :) Fast forward several months, even a year. I eventually decided on an idea and started writing my second novel. Then one day I finished it and happened to go back to that original idea notebook just for fun. I discovered something that shocked me. Every one of those responses to the "What I really want to write about" question I had incorporated into the novel . . . unconsciously.

Or maybe not.

There often comes a point in our writing when we have enough information (even if it doesn't feel like it), and the breakthrough will come when we sit down and write. You know more than you think you know about your story. Why not try the unfettered approach today? Just write. Trust your instincts. I bet what you really want to write about will come through.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Win a signed copy of Thicker than Blood before you can buy it!

I'm giving away 3 signed copies of my debut novel Thicker than Blood ... before you can buy it! Find out how you could win over at my website.

In other news, has just posted an in depth interview with me about how I got started in writing, where the idea for Thicker than Blood came from, my writing style, and much more. Check it out here if you're interested.

Today I'm blogging over at the Scribble Chicks blog about "Going with Your Gut" in your writing. That can be read here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christina Berry (Advice for Novelists, Part 108)

Did you think I forgot this series? :) Never fear. Here's another post in my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

If you've been writing for years and have yet to get published, this is especially for you: Start a new novel.

I'm a stubborn girl—just ask my parents. My mother and I reworked and reworked a co-authored story for eight years, each time putting our newly acquired writing knowledge/skills to use. We were determined that it woudn't end up in a box in the closet or shoved under the bed. I still love that manuscript, and it's actually very close to selling as I write this, but it wasn't until I took the advice of others far wiser and more experienced to start a new novel that I finally made my first sale.

--Christina Berry, author of The Familiar Stranger. Visit her website.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

3 Tips For Beginning Writers

Over the past fifteen years I've heard so much great advice on writing and becoming a writer. Here are three tips I'm finding from my own experience to be true:

1. The best way to learn how to write fiction is to read great novels. It’s learning by osmosis---you’ll pick up concepts like how to structure a story, craft dialogue, and master point of view, without even realizing it. Which isn't to say that how-to book don't have they're place, of course. I'm currently reading James Scott Bell's latest, The Art of War for Writers, and most certainly recommend it and others. But if we only read the books on technique without actually reading other fiction, it's possible we'll get stuck.

2. Start writing about what you love. You will write best if it’s something you’re interested in. Do you love horses? Write a story about a woman struggling to keep her horse farm afloat. Do you love airplanes? How about writing a story featuring a hot shot pilot? My sister Tracy started out writing articles about Christian musicians for youth publications because she loved Christian music. We will automatically have a drive if we write about something that excites us, or something that we're curious about.

3. Writing is an apprenticeship. It can take at least ten years to master the craft enough to think about publishing. If we go into it knowing that, it’ll help us on those days when the words just aren’t coming. I started writing as a teenager (if you don't count the silly animal stories I wrote as a kid). It took fifteen years before my first book was accepted for publication. Granted, I knew nothing when I started, but that gives you an idea of the commitment you need to have. Maybe it won't take you that long. But be prepared for it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Watch out for this book

Okay, so first of all, I like this book purely based on the title. ;) But then I had the chance to read it. Let me tell you, it's one supernatural thriller you won't soon forget. My author colleague Mike Dellosso has penned another winner in this one, coming from Realms in May 2010.

My endorsement is as follows:

"Dellosso skillfully blends suspense, symbolism, and the supernatural into a compelling thriller in the vein of Dekker and Peretti. Gray isn’t a color in Dellosso’s moral palette, and Darlington Woods makes that clear. This is a powerful story you’ll be thinking about long after closing the book."

Keep your eye out for Darlington Woods! And while you're waiting, check out Mike's website and blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This and That and a Writing Update

As you can imagine, I'm getting really excited. My debut novel Thicker than Blood is due to hit stories officially in about a month and a half (January 1, 2010). However, I suspect it'll be available online at places like and mid December. If you pre-order (hint hint) you'll be the first in line. :) But even though the official release date is in the future, there's still a lot going on.

I'm excited that Publisher's Weekly chose to review Thicker than Blood in yesterday's issue. They did a great job summarizing the plot, said some nice things about the rare books angle, but they had their criticism too. That's okay. I'm just honored to be featured.
has recently posted a writing how-to article I wrote for them. If you're an aspiring author, you might like to read Are You Called to Be A Writer? I share some of what I've learned (and am still learning) about how God often calls us very early in life to our specific calling, but sometimes we don't realize it until later in life.

If you're looking for a good suspense read, check out Terri Blackstock's Intervention. I recently reviewed it for, and that can be read here.

In case you didn't know, I have a free e-newsletter that will keep you up-to-date on all the writing stuff. Usually my newsletter subscribers are the first to know about new projects, reviews, features, etc. You can subscribe by going here and entering your info (sign up for the newsletter too!). I plan to unveil the summary of my next novel to newsletter subscribers sometime in the coming month or two, so don't miss out.

Thanks for all your wonderful support!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guest Post: The Myth of Being in the Zone by K.M. Weiland

Today I bring you a terrific guest post from up and coming author K.M. Weiland. Enjoy! And be sure to visit K.M.'s website to find out more about her latest release, Behold the Dawn.

Special contest!
K.M. is giving away a copy of Behold the Dawn to the readers of this post. Everyone who leaves a comment today will be entered in a drawing to win.

The Myth of Being in the Zone

At one point or another, all authors have found that delicious groove called “being in the zone.” The Zone is that enchanted land, in which we can do no wrong. Our words flow from our fingertips onto our keyboards with lightning speed, every one of them singing with the perfect expression of our intent, every one of them beautiful and powerful and vibrant. We write for hours, our energy level so high it’s practically bouncing out of the top of our skulls. When we finally tear ourselves away from our story, we’re so pumped that we alternate between wanting to run around the block and resisting the urge to shove our newly minted words under the nose of anybody we can talk into reading them. Without doubt, The Zone is one awesome place.

Too bad we can’t stay there all the time.

The sad fact of the matter is that The Zone isn’t exactly the easiest place to find. It would be wonderful if there were a map, a list of surefire steps, that could lead us there every time we sit down to write. But most of us are lucky just to find our accidental way there once every couple months. Instead, we spend most of our time slogging along, disciplining ourselves to poke out a paltry page or two, groaning at the end of the day with the knowledge that we’re probably just going to have to rewrite it tomorrow.

Joni B. Cole describes it:

…the creative process has two components. There is the fun part, when we are captivated by our own genius and prolificacy. And there is the Are we having fun yet? part, when we feel anything but creative, yet must still fulfill our commitment to write 300 words a day.

Undoubtedly, we always leave our desks after a day of being in The Zone, feeling a hundred times better about our writing than we do on the non-Zone days. But does that mean that our non-Zone writing is worthless in comparison? Very, very happily for us—no, it does not.

My recently released medieval novel Behold the Dawn was one of those special stories that just flowed. I still look back on it with a sense of wonder, reading some of the passages and thinking, I couldn’t really have written this, could I? I had some of the best Zone moments I’ve ever had while writing this story. But I’ll tell you secret: those moments were few and far between.

Zone writing—those high points of inspiration and motivation—is one of the biggest rewards of the creative life. But, surprisingly, its presence is not a determining factor in the worth of our writing. Writing isn’t always about channeling creativity and inspiration; most of the time, it’s about approaching our craft like disciplined workmen who have to get the job done whether they feel like it or not. Because we can’t always ride the high wave of our right-brain creativity, we have to realize that the hard-working, logical left side of our brains is just as important—even more so.

Just because you’re not in The Zone, just because you’re struggling, just because you finish a day of writing feeling like every word you wrote was worthless—doesn’t necessarily make it so. The Zone is far too elusive to depend upon it for our creative worth. Learn to accept the reality of the non-Zone moments and realize that they can be just as effective as the heights of inspiration.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland ( writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.

About Behold the Dawn: Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.

Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.

The sins of a bishop.
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.

Watch the book trailer:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What I'm Learning From Joan of Arcadia

I'm a little late in discovering this tv series, but so far (after watching five episodes) I'm really enjoying it. Sure, some of the theology's a little off, but it's still refreshing to find a show that values family and God.

The story revolves around teenage Joan whom God begins appearing to in various human forms. He gives her simple assignments which she at first eschews. It's a little hard to wrap her mind around God appearing as a trash truck driver or a hot guy at school. God just shrugs. She has a free will, and he can't make her do the things he asks. Of course, she's a good kid and does eventually obey. For the most part.

But this isn't a commercial for Joan of Arcadia. What struck me after watching one episode in particular (I believe it was "The Fire and the Wood"), was something God said to Joan. She didn't understand how her getting a job at the local bookstore or joining the AP Chem class had anything at all do do with, well, anything. What difference did it make?

God then explained reality strands. Joan did something that affected somebody who then did something that affected Joan who then did something to help somebody else, and on and on and on. What God was saying to Joan was you do what God asks because He asks, not because you can see how it'll all pan out. Later, you might see it, but even if you don't, God does. He knows how something that seems inconsequential to us can vastly affect a life.

I thought that was a really cool explanation. It reminded me how I need to listen to the still small voice of God (since that's how he most often speaks to us) and obey it ... even when I can't see what difference it could make.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Introducing Renee Riva

I've discovered a wonderful new author in Renee Riva, and I'd love to share her books with you. Her first novel, Saving Sailor, features main character A.J., a ten-year-old, quirky girl who's kinda like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. She's an animal lover to a fault (her parents won't let her visit the pound ever again), has an animal cemetery where she gives proper burial to the various creatures she finds on her Idaho island home.

Her Italian family is also really quirky, but that's what makes us like them. They're eccentric yet love each other deeply.

In my official book review of Taking Tuscany, the sequel to Saving Sailor, I say:

"Proficiently mixing deeper themes and spiritual truths alongside the humor, Riva has crafted
a lovely tale of longing and belonging readers of all ages will savor." Read my full review here.

In an interview I did with Renee for, I asked her about Saving Sailor and its sequel:

Me: I hear both Saving Sailor and Taking Tuscany are based loosely on some of your own experiences growing up. How much is fiction and how much is real life?

Renee: I would say that the majority of SAVING SAILOR was based on real life—either from my own experience, or those around me. TAKING TUSCANY included similar emotional experiences I’d encountered in my teens, but I changed the setting and scenarios to fit the story. In other words, I went through the majority of what A.J. went through emotionally in moving, changing schools, and the social pressures of school—just not in Italy. In the back of TAKING TUSCANY in the “After Words” I share some of those experiences.

Me: Was it always your intent to write a sequel to Saving Sailor or did you find yourself struggling to come up with another book?

Renee: I always hoped to write a sequel, but my idea was to have A.J. return to Indian Island at age 18, when Danny is 21. I thought it would be neat to build on the great friendship they’d had as children and add a little amore`. My publisher liked that idea too, but they also wanted to know what happened in Italy during those years apart. That was a bit of a challenge, so I immediately booked a trip to Mexico and pretended to be on the Italian Riviera to help inspire some ideas. That’s where I wrote about The Grand Old Sea Palace; the parasailing scene and the pirate ship in the pool. We really did have a pirate ship in our pool. I had already been to Tuscany eight years earlier so I hung my photos of Tuscany all over my walls while writing and was able to put myself back in that setting.

Me: An interesting part about these novels is that you chose to age your character A.J.. How did you approach writing her slightly older voice in Taking Tuscany? Was that difficult in any way?

Renee: I was a little bit leery of turning A.J. into a typical teenager because I wasn’t the most pleasant teen myself at age fourteen. But I knew she had to get older to be able to write that third book where she returns as an 18 year old, so I decided that if I was going to spend my winter with a teenager in my head, it was going to have to be someone I could enjoy being around that long. I had to pull up a lot of attitude from my past, but also made A.J. the fun quirky girl she was before, only older. I tried to project what that same kid would be like 4 years older. I wanted to keep some of her charm and humor too so I could bear writing about her and my readers could enjoy reading about her.

Luckily for us, there's a third novel coming. Heading Home (April 2010, David C. Cook) finds A.J. eighteen-years-old and returning to her beloved Idaho home ... and of course, Sailor.

Check out the rest of my interview with Renee over at!

Thanks again to Renee Riva for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the Renee Riva blog tour please check

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What Novelists Do When They Can't Write

I found this video over at Angela Hunt's blog. This is what novelists do when they can't figure out how to write. Since this is National Novel Writing Month, Angie put it together in honor of those banging away at their 50,000 word rough drafts. I went away chuckling and encouraged! I hope you do too.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Writers Are Like Painters

When I was a teen, I took up oil painting. One of my favorite shows was The Joy of Painting on PBS, and I figured if Bob Ross could make happy little trees, maybe I could too. For awhile I actually thought I was going to be a painter rather than a writer, but that was before the writing bug bit me really hard. But here's the thing, and probably why I was confused for a little while---writing really is like painting.

These days I occasionally take up my oil painting between projects. Even though they're different (one changes a canvas, the other a computer screen) writing and painting have many similarities. One of the paintings I hope to finish someday features a rough looking cowboy (he's pictured above). He's been a work in progress for longer than I care to admit, but as I work on this painting, here's what I'm noticing:

Underpainting/rough draft

For this project I started with an acrylic underpainting, made up mostly of grays. It's like a rough draft. I can see the outline of what I want to accomplish, and the hints of where I want to be, but in no way is it complete.

Laying down the color/second draft
Then it's onto the color. I applied it generally with little thought to detail. The important thing was to get the darker colors where the shadows would be, and the brighter colors where the light would hit this character's face. Second drafts are like this for me. Since I tend to underwrite, often I'll be going back and adding layers of dialogue, character thoughts, etc. It's at this point I'll probably doubt my ability to see this project through. What was I thinking?

Getting the likeness/third draft
This is where things get tricky. This portrait must look like a human being. All the nuances of my character's face must be just right. It's the same with writing. The story needs to make sense. The character's motivations need to ring true. I'll need to sculpt away the excess, keeping only the important.

The fine details/final draft
I enjoy this step the most in both painting and writing. I can finally see I'm going to make it! I'm going to complete this project. The image in my head has finally (if I've done everything right) materialized. It's now I really step back and examine to make sure I'm satisfied. There might be some fine tuning still. I might decide I have to make the nose or chapter longer. That's okay. The hard part is done. The hardest part now is knowing when to sign the picture or type "The End".

[This is an edited version of an older blog post I wrote that's now being featured at the Scribble Chicks blog.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thicker than Blood back cover and spine unveiled!

I'm very excited to share with you the final cover, spine and back cover of my January 2010 Tyndale House novel Thicker than Blood. Click on the image to enlarge it and see how the designer Jennifer Ghionzoli managed to make the most beautiful cover ever! (I'm not biased at all, am I?) I LOVE the way this book looks like a rare, leatherbound book. So perfect as a used and rare bookstore plays a big role in this story. If you like what you see, and care to pre-order, the book is available to do just that at these fine online retailers:,,,, and

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Janet Kobobel Grant (Advice for Novelists, Part 107)

Here's another post in my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

This time around, agent Janet Kobobel Grant gives us a poignant piece entitled "Begin at the Beginning".

I love that the Bible begins in just the right spot: “In the beginning God created.” Chaos succumbs to order. It’s the ultimate conflict! Genesis’s beginning makes so much sense to us; I can’t imagine a better opening.

Unfortunately, the choices aren’t so obvious when it comes to our own writing. I remember hosting a dinner table at the Writing for the Soul Conference a couple of years ago and asking each person what he or she was working on.

One woman recounted her novel’s storyline and then asked me if I thought she should cut the first couple of pages, which some of her critique partners had suggested. She was having trouble murdering those darling paragraphs that she had labored over for months.

I do believe a hush fell over the table as I said, “I think you should start the story in the middle of the manuscript. Everything before that point is backstory.”

Everyone at the table, including me, wondered how the writer would respond to such a radical concept. She chewed on the idea, and as she did, her expression lightened, and she exclaimed,
“That’s perfect! Why didn’t I see it before?” Then she rattled off how that would open up new vistas in the novel.

Now, I wish I could proclaim myself some sort of genius for having made the suggestion, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve read enough manuscripts that I know starting in the wrong place is a common malady.

I’ve been pondering why that’s the case, and I’ve come up with this premise: The writer is so immersed in the story, has done so much research, and knows the characters so well, that she is tempted to do a brain dump in the book’s opening. So much detail is clogging the writer’s mind that she wants to bring the reader up to speed right off.

What the novelist forgets is that the reader isn’t ready to discover the complex underlying motivations for the protagonist’s first actions. Rather than introducing the character to us, the author in essence pulls out the character’s entire psychological profile. I’m so not ready for that! Why, I’m not even on a first-name basis with the character yet. Ease me into the relationship with a gentle introduction.

I also don’t need the complete physical description. Don’t provide me with any until it naturally fits in the story.

In addition to wanting to provide too many details about the character (or characters), writers are tempted to start with the backstory. I just finished reading a manuscript in which the story began with a woman calling a restaurant to make a reservation. The next thing I knew, I was being told the restaurant owner’s life history. Totally backstory stuff. I didn’t care yet. I hadn’t even met that character; I’d only been introduced to the woman phoning the restaurant, which made the backstory material all the more confusing for me. I wasn’t sure who the novel’s key character was.

The more complex the story, the more tempting to provide too much information too soon. The political atmosphere, the setting, and the main characters all demand to be front and center on the first pages, which quickly turn into a traffic jam, with the poor reader overwhelmed by all the detail.

As a reader, what I look for are “anchors” that settle me into the story and keep me from being carried off by strong winds. I want to care about the protagonist; give me reason to do so. I want to know the elemental details about the story’s setting. And I want to know what conflict the character is facing right now. Drop the anchors in the middle of a pensive moment. Fill in details later.

How do you know where to start your novel? Often it’s in the middle of the story as you’ve outlined it. Go ahead, be daring, give it a try.

I’m currently reading Leif Enger’s
So Brave, Young and Handsome. The story had me from the get-go. The protagonist is sitting on the porch of his home, trying to write a novel. He hates his character. Then a man, standing up in his boat, rows past on the foggy river, and the author hears the Siren call of doing something besides write his novel. Two straightforward conflicts are introduced: the writing isn’t going well; the man in the boat refuses to stop and talk.

Every author’s challenge is to begin at the beginning, if he only can figure out where that is! The point to remember is that often the beginning isn’t where the writer wants to start. Therein lies the challenge.

--Janet Kobobel Grant understands the inside scoop on publishing both as an author, publishing insider, and literary agent. She has written numerous books, helped to launch Here's Life Publisher, managed her own imprint with Zondervan, and served as managing editor of books for Focus on the Family. She established Books & Such Literary Agency in 1996 after working in the book publishing industry for more than twenty years.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Author Melanie Wells's ambitious campaign

I've been a fan of author Melanie Wells ever since I read her first novel When the Day of Evil Comes (Multnomah). So when she announced the I Told Two Friends campaign, I knew I wanted to help spread the word.

Here's a special message from Melanie about the ambitious I Told Two Friends campaign:

Hi. It’s me, Melanie.

Someone asked me recently – why literacy? Why would anyone give away $100,000 (100% of my profits from sales of My Soul to Keep) to teach illiterate adults how to read? (Okay – fair question. I admit it sounds a little crazy. It’s not like I’m dripping with cash).

Two words: compassion fatigue

Here’s the deal. I support several causes vigorously and regularly (and so should you!) In fact, if you’ll notice, each of my books centers around a cause. When the Day of Evil Comes concerns family violence and suicide. The Soul Hunter references violence against women and lost teens. And My Soul to Keep is about child abduction. I don’t write about these things because they’re morbid. I write about them because they’re IMPORTANT.

But the truth is, I sometimes feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the number of problems out there. Don’t you?

Illiteracy, it turns out, is linked to just about every evil under the sun. Child abuse, poverty, disease, hunger, violent crime, violence against women, HIV/AIDS… . You name it. In fact, illiteracy is one of the FEW things in this world you can actually do something about! A little money goes a LOOOOONG way. And the ripple effects are exponential.

Did you know 33 million adults in the United States can’t read at an 8th grade level? Do the math, folks. That’s 10% of our population. Wow.

17 million American adults can’t read well enough to earn a living wage.

62% of prison inmates are illiterate. Imagine getting out of jail and trying to make a new life for yourself when you can’t even fill out a job application. Do you want that guy back on the street with no job and no skills? Or do you want him to have every opportunity to become a productive member of society?

774 million adults worldwide are illiterate. 2/3 of them are women.

If a mother can’t read, chances are her children won’t be readers either.

It all adds up to one simple thing. A literate population is a healthier, safer, and more productive population.

If you’re reading this, I guarantee you that you take the ability to read this sentence for granted. Millions of other Americans can’t read it. They can’t read the aspirin bottle either. Or the street signs. Or a note from their kid’s teacher.

Most of us are completely unaware of this shadow population. How is it possible that millions of adults in the richest country in the world can’t read? (Click on Rosetta’s story. She’ll tell you all about it.)

The I Told Two Friends campaign was designed to give you a simple, painless, fun way to share the gift of literacy with millions of Americans. All you have to do is buy a couple of books, give them to two friends, and ask them to do the same (and so on, and so on, and so on…).

25 bucks and two friends can change the world. YOU can change the world.

Join us and be part of the solution!


Visit the I Told Two Friends website to learn more!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What would you like to see at this blog?

Hi, friends! I need your help. I want to make this blog a fun and inspiring place to hang out. But I sometimes don't know the type of posts everyone would most like to see. So, if you have a moment, please respond to this poll. And you can feel free to leave comments too. Thanks so much!

Friday, October 09, 2009

How can you know you're called to write? (Scribble Chicks)

How can you know God’s calling you to be a writer? It's a question all of us have asked ourselves. If you knew you were called, then you'd stick through the tough times a lot easier, right? You'd press on and pursue your dreams knowing you were on the right track.

Read the rest of my post on this subject over at the Scribble Chicks blog this week!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Andrew Peterson (Advice for Novelists, Part 106)

Welcome to another edition of my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Here's musician and author Andrew Peterson's response:

“Don’t write bad books.” Which is to say, don’t settle. Aspire to be an excellent writer, or don’t write at all.

--Andrew Peterson, author of the YA fantasy series The Wingfeather Saga. Visit his website to learn more about his books and music.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Intervention by Terri Blackstock

As a fan of the tv show Intervention, I was immediately drawn to this title by the talented Terri Blackstock. I plan to have a full review up at soon, but suffice it to say this was a suspenseful read! It kept me turning the pages for sure. Bravo, Terri!


Barbara Covington has one more chance to save her daughter from a devastating addiction, by staging an intervention. But when eighteen-year-old Emily disappears on the way to drug treatment—and her interventionist is found dead at the airport—Barbara enters her darkest nightmare of all.

Barbara and her son set out to find Emily before Detective Kent Harlan arrests her for a crime he is sure she committed. Fearing for Emily’s life, Barbara maintains her daughter’s innocence. But does she really know her anymore? Meanwhile, Kent has questions of his own. His gut tells him that this is a case of an addict killing for drugs, but as he gets to know Barbara, he begins to hope he’s wrong about Emily.

The panic level rises as the mysteries intensify: Did Emily’s obsession with drugs lead her to commit murder—or is she another victim of a cold-blooded killer?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Intervention, go HERE

Watch the book Trailer:

Friday, October 02, 2009

Writing Helps that Won't Break the Bank (Scribble Chicks)

Let's face it. If you go into this writing profession expecting to become rich and famous you'll probably be sorely disappointed. Most writers keep their day jobs.

We usually can't go out and by the latest MacBook or expensive writing desk. But don't let this discourage you! There are so many cheap (or free) writing helps that can make the journey a little easier. Here are a few I've found:

1. Google Maps

I can't tell you how excited I was when editing my novel to realize I could actually see the street view of where I wanted to set my scenes. Not every street is available, but in major cities they are. In one scene, I had a character who traveled to the Albuquerque Greyhound bus stop. I looked it up on Google Maps and was actually able to see the Alvarado Transportation Center. This prompted me to research the place a little more and add some description I wouldn't have known to include otherwise. We're no longer limited if we can't travel to where our stories take place!

Read the rest of my post over at the Scribble Chicks blog to learn 3 more of my favorite writing helps!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kevin Kaiser (Advice for Novelists, Part 105)

Welcome to another edition of my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Finish things. The notebook you have on your desk that's crammed with story ideas, the meticulously plotted Dramatica Pro storyboard, the color coded index cards--none of it matters if you can't finish. Like most things worth doing, writing is an act of the will that's initially set in motion by the nudge of inspiration. The rest is hard work.

--Kevin Kaiser, writer and literary brand manager for Ted Dekker. Visit his website ( for more info.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Fave Novels (Scribble Chicks)

I'm talking about my favorite novels today over at the Scribble Chicks blog. Wanna know what they are? I'll give you the first one here, and they head on over to read about the other three.

Piercing the Darkness
by Frank Peretti

I first read this novel when I was twelve or thirteen, and I was blown away. I'd never read anything like it. I credit Piercing the Darkness for inspiring me to write Christian fiction. I loved how Peretti created a compelling, suspenseful story ... and yet wasn't afraid to shine the light of truth. He wasn't ashamed to share the gospel in his novels either. I really admire that.

The main character in Piercing is Sally Beth Roe, an imperfect woman who's running for her life. Oh, and did I mention that angels and demons spend the book fighting over her (and others)?

I have read Piercing the Darkness at least five times, maybe more. It's probably time for me to pick it up again! If you haven't read it, you might consider reading the first book in the series This Present Darkness first. They can be read separately (I read Piercing first not knowing there was a book before it), but it's best to read them in order.

Read the rest of my post here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Writing Puzzle

For me, writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle. I've written about this before in my post The Puzzle of Writing, but it was especially true for me yesterday. I'm now working on my third novel, and it's been the hardest one to figure out so far. It's been ages since I first started thinking about the topics, characters and plots I wanted to cover. Now I have a huge pile of puzzle pieces staring at me waiting for me to begin putting them together. I keep waiting for an aha! moment to slap me upside the head letting me know it's time to put the pedal to the metal and get this show on the road (how's that for some cliches!). But I don't think that's going to happen. Here's why---I think I have all I need right now. But it looks a like a jumbled heap of pieces.

I'm trying to tell myself that's okay. It's normal. But how do you go from a jumble to a cohesive whole? Um ... one piece at a time? Yeah, that's exactly it. If I start looking at the whole picture it overwhelms me. How am I going to write another 80,000 word novel? What if it's not as good as the last one? What if I hate it? When I start thinking like that, I know I'm thinking too "big picture". I need to scale back and pick up one piece, examine it, and guess where it fits into the puzzle.

See, I've started this novel at least five times and written new material in each version. I thought I was wasting my time. But yesterday things started coming together as I took pieces of each version and put them into this next rendition.

So are you feeling overwhelmed by the big picture in your life? Why not try taking it a day at a time? Maybe that's why the Lord told us to pray for our daily bread. Not our yearly bread. :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kaci Hill (Advice for Novelists, Part 104)

Next up in our Advice for Novelists series is new author Kaci Hill. Here's her short but sweet response to my question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

I’d say, one, keep your head down. Two, people are your friends. Three, be steadfast.

--Kaci Hill, co-author of Elyon and Lunatic with Ted Dekker. Visit her website.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Be a Meany (Scribble Chicks) your characters, of course! I'm talking about conflict in fiction today at the Scribble Chicks blog. It begins:

One of the things my dad likes to kid me about is how mean I am to my characters. I have no problem throwing rock after rock at them. After all, aren't the great stories all about conflict?

Read the whole post here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Unexpected Reading Delight

I'm no sci-fi buff, but I've always had hints of interest in the genre. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much of it in the CBA market. That's soon to change thanks to Marcher Lord Press and Splashdown Books.

Kathy Tyers is one of the founding mothers of it in the CBA. I didn't know this when I picked up Shivering World, one of her stand-alone novels. I started reading the novel in a hotel room about a year ago but never got past the first few chapters. It wasn't because the story wasn't good, but I was trying to read a sci-fi novel with the same speed I read a thriller. I ended up glossing over much-needed information.

So after meeting Kathy Tyers at the Christian Writers Guild's Writing for the Soul conference this past February, I picked the novel up again. This time I read it differently. I made myself slow down and read every single word carefully. And suddenly I found myself on Goddard, a planet far far away. I had no trouble immersing myself in Tyers' world this time around. True, some of the scientific aspects still went over my head (as they would in real life too), but it didn't diminish my enjoyment. There's suspense, romance (not overdone), and humor. I loved how this isn't just a clean sci-fi novel. It's also refreshingly honest about God and faith. Even on another planet, we need a Savior.

Unfortunately, Shivering World is out of print, but it's still available used. I highly recommend you pick up a copy if you have any inclination for sci-fi. I've been told Kathy's Firebird Trilogy is fantastic too, so I'm planning to pick up those soon!

Here's a summary I found of Shivering World on Kathy's website:

When Gaea Consortium offers Graysha Brady-Phillips a tour of hazard duty on a raw pioneer planet she leaps at the chance, even though her predecessor died -- a victim of either the savage weather outside the domes or the fanatic population within. But Graysha isn't on Goddard just to collect triple pay. She’s trying to save her life. The colonists' radical -- and illegal -- science just might offer Graysha a cure for the genetic disease that's slowly starving her at the cellular level. But Goddard's terraforming pioneers, pursued by the Eugenics Board for gene tampering and battling Gaea Consortium for their very survival, are naturally suspicious of outsiders -- especially someone connected to the two organizations that are trying hardest to destroy them. The settlers think Graysha's a spy. Graysha thinks the settlers are trying to kill her. They're both right. And the fate of their planet hangs in the balance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Win a copy of Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins!

I've just launched my very first website contest! You could win a hardcover copy of Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins (which is a fantastic book, btw).

So head on over to my website and play a book cover guessing game. That's all I'm saying...

If you'd like to read more about Riven, you can read my review of the novel or my interview with Jerry.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Michael Snyder (Advice for Novelists, Part 103)

Welcome to another edition of my Advice for Novelists series in which editors, authors, agents and publicists answer the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Michael Snyder shares with us today:

Remember the second half of the two great commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself.

This obviously applies to your readers, but more importantly to your characters. I believe God has endowed writers with a tremendous capacity to love the characters we create. If we don’t love our characters, our readers won’t either. I tell any writer who will listen to stop writing for markets or to please anyone but themselves. Write to amuse yourself first. Trust your instincts. Love your characters. If you do, the truth and beauty parts will take care of themselves.

--Michael Snyder, author of Return Policy and My Name is Russell Fink. Visit his website for more info.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Kicking Out the Doubt (Scribble Chicks)

My latest Scribble Chicks blog post (coming at ya every Friday) is up. This week I'm talking about a writer's doubts and insecurities.

Click here to read my post Kicking Out the Doubt.

And be sure to leave a comment if you're so inclined!

Friday, September 04, 2009

What I Learned From My Shedding Cat

The other night my dad and I were looking at our cat, Cubby, and my dad commented on how gnarly he was looking. He is 12, so I figured it was just age. But then when I looked at him closer I realized he was shedding up a storm. As in clumps of hair sticking out at all angles.

So when I should've been heading to bed, I dug out the ol' brush and started in on him. I ended up with enough hair to weave a sweater! Cubby loved this extra attention, and the brushing part probably felt like the best scratch he'd had in awhile.

I got to thinking ... how can I put this experience into a blog post? Ha ha. No, seriously ... :)

Then I thought of Eustace Scrubb. Remember him from C.S. Lewis' Narnia series? In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (read no more if you don't want plot spoilers) he was really a rotten chap for most of the story. Greed finally got the better of him, and he turned into a dragon. That was fun for awhile, but eventually he just wanted to be a boy again. Only he couldn't turn himself back anymore than he'd purposely turned himself into the dragon. He cried and wailed, but he couldn't shed the dragon skin.

He finally called out for help, and Aslan, the kind yet not-a-tame-lion to help him peel away the dragon skin, his old nature, and become a new creature.

It was the same way with my cat. He couldn't brush away that old, dead hair anymore than Eustace could peel away his dragon skin. And I can't remove my old nature---those bad habits, wrong thoughts and things I wish I wouldn't do but do anyway. By myself that is. I can't do it on my own. That's actually a relief to realize. It doesn't have to happen in my strength. All I need to do is cry out for help, and my Aslan, Jesus, will help me. It's that simple but I forget it so often.

Who would've thought my shedding cat would teach me that? :)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Rare Book in Thicker than Blood

When I was seventeen my sister and I started book scouting for local used and rare bookstores. It started out as a hobby. I loved books, and scouting was a great way to get my hands on a lot of them. My writing and day job of selling used books have dovetailed for years now, and it only made sense I'd incorporate rare books into my fiction.

Christy Williams, the main character of my first novel Thicker than Blood, works at a fictional store called Dawson's Book Barn. It's her area's largest used and rare bookstore. She's a clerk, and has been for several years, but she dreams of being more involved in the actual book buying. It was so much fun to incorporate many of the interesting (and sometimes bizarre) book collecting facts I've learned over the years into this novel.

Taking center stage in Thicker than Blood is a signed first edition of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (pictured above - click to enlarge). This was one of the very first rare books I learned about from the manager of Baldwin's Book Barn, the first store I scouted for back in the day. What's especially interesting about first editions is a mistake made in the printing of the dust jacket. So while first editions of the actual book all look alike, the first state of the dust jacket differs in later editions. If you click on the picture, you'll notice the photographer is not credited beneath Hemingway's photo. That was a mistake that was later corrected.

It's this key point that plays a big role in the outcome of the novel. Learn more about the story behind the story of Thicker than Blood at my website. And you can now pre-order the book at Amazon and!

(For Whom the Bell Tolls photo courtesy of The University of South Carolina)

Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm A Scribble Chick!

Erynn Mangum recently invited me to join her and three other writing gals at their new blog Scribble Chicks. Each of us will post once a week about our writing and publishing journeys, and things we've learned (and are still learning). The blog's tagline is: "A bunch of us pecking our way through the publishing world".

The other ladies posting are: Erynn Mangum (of course!), BJ Hamrick, Betsy St. Amant, and Christa Banister. I'm really honored to be a part of this great group.

My posts will appear on Fridays, and my first is up today! It's called Mastering Your Doubts. I'd love it if all of you could take a look and leave a comment.

Don't worry... I'll still be posting here. Probably more often in fact. Having a deadline for your work does wonders. :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thicker than Blood available for pre-order!

It's hard to believe release day is only four months away! But even though my first novel Thicker than Blood releases in January, 2010, it's available for pre-order now at these online retailers:

It's surreal to see the book up there like that, let me tell you! Tyndale showed me the back cover and spine of the book recently, and I was blown away---they did such a fantastic job! The design makes the novel look like an old book, complete with a book spine for its spine.

Advance copies of the book are being sent out to magazines and reviewers soon, and I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of the story.

Here's the new little summary we're going to be using on the back cover:

Christy Williams never imagined that a stolen Hemingway first edition would lead her back to the sister she left fifteen years ago. But when things begin to unravel, she finds herself on May's doorstep, fearing for her life.

After a bittersweet reunion, will the two discover that some hurts can't be healed, or is there a tie that's thicker than blood?

Read the first chapter on my website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome Home Woodhouse Family!

I'm a recent watcher of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I'd heard so many great things about the show but hadn't checked it out for myself. Well, I have now, and I must say that show is doing some beautiful things. The Woodhouse Family no doubt agrees! They have been the recipients of one of those amazing houses, and after reading their story in mom Kim's new book, you'll understand why.

When Welcome Home first appeared in my mailbox I picked it up that day expecting to read just a page or two. I didn't expect to be pulled into the story so quickly. Kim has a wonderful way with words, and this book reads like a novel.

But in this case, truth is definitely stranger than fiction. If Kim were to have written a novel featuring the twists and turns her family has experienced in real life, no one would've believed her.

This family has been through a lot, but the amazing thing is, this book isn't a downer. Yes, you grieve with the Woodhouse family as they learn their daughter Kayla has a rare disorder that doesn't allow her to feel pain and doesn't allow her body to cool properly. Yet even through the trials, one thing the Woodhouse family doesn't lose is their joy. Sure, it's tested. Yes, they have their days of doubt and incredible discouragement. But through it all God never lets them forget that He is there with them. He is holding them. He is.

Welcome Home is a story about joy and hope. In fact, hope permeates its pages. Thank you, Kim, for so honestly telling the world your story while somehow managing to weave the thread of hope through it all.

Publisher's summary:

Thanks to being featured on the hit TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the Woodhouse family of Colorado Springs is known across the country. Their poignant, heart-touching story of having a child with a rare medical disorder, which led to a mountain of hospital bills and the loss of their home—and their need for a home that would be safe for daughter Kayla—has put them in the public spotlight and kept them there. The theme that carries through Welcome Home is James 1:2-4. We’re all a work in progress, and it can be “Pure Joy” to be a parent. But, how does joy evolve out of a potentially devastating reality? Kimberley’s candid stories of both failures and successes, and the ultimate resource—the Bible, will point readers in the right direction for establishing JOY in their homes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's You, Not the Guitar

Last weekend found me standing in the middle of a crowd, pressed in on each side by complete strangers. All of us were waiting for the next band to start at the Purple Door Arts and Music Festival. I was minding my own business trying not to think about how much my feet were hurting (I'd been standing for hours by now).

Two guys stood behind me and started talking with each other, introducing themselves and seeing if they had common interests. One guy was a gangly, fourteen or fifteen-year-old who looked like he was much older. The other probably was college-aged. Conversation quickly turned to music, and Mr. 15 couldn't help but point out he played guitar, bass guitar and drums. I smiled to myself.

I couldn't see either of their faces, but I have a feeling Mr. College was smiling inwardly too. But he took it all in stride and kindly humored Mr. 15. Then talk turned to equipment, i.e. amps and types of guitars. Mr. 15 was desperately trying to sound like he knew everything there was to know about these sort of things. Then he said something that almost caused me to chuckle out loud.

"My guitar makes me sound bad," he said.


"Yeah, if I had a really good one, I'd sound great."

Um, okay. Your guitar makes you sound bad. Hmm. I wonder if it would've made Jimmy Hendrix sound bad.

I got to thinking about this little exchange later, and it reminded me of how often we all choose to blame our equipment rather than acknowledge our own weaknesses. If I only had that iMac I could write so much better. If only I didn't write in my kitchen but had my own office. If only I had a better this or that ...

The way I see it, if we can sound good (or, excuse the grammar, write good), or do anything well on what we have, then that's the sign of true talent. If we can develop our skills on what we've been given to use today, then maybe God'll give us something better tomorrow. It's sorta like that parable which talks about being faithful in the small things.

We don't have to have the latest gadgets or the most expensive equipment to become good at whatever we've been called to do. What really matters is our attitude. Will we make the most of what we've been given today?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Funny Cat Picture

This cracked me up. If you've ever had a cat you know this is exactly how they act!

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing The Opening Scene of a Novel

With the release of my first novel just around the corner (January 2010), and my second novel finished for now, it's time to start a third book. I've been mulling ideas for months but none were exactly the story I wanted to tell.

The time has come. I had some characters itching to tell their stories, and they wouldn't leave me alone. Only one problem. I didn't know where to begin. I needed a dynamic opening scene. Which isn't to say that scene won't be changed in the future, but for me as the author to feel ready, I needed a good opening.

Well, I came up with something. It was dynamic and thrust the main character into serious trouble right from the get go. I was ready to begin it. But then I started thinking about the novels I've read that didn't allow me time to connect with the characters before they threw them into a tailspin. Those novels were easy to put down.

This made me re-think. In order to care about a character, you need to get to know him/her if you're going to read about their predicaments. Which isn't to say you begin a novel with a slow scene, but I realized I was thinking about starting this novel too far into the story. I needed to back up, just a little bit, and create some empathy for my character.

I envisioned another scene which took place before the scene I'd originally planned. It too had some action, but I hope it allows the reader time to care about the main character.

I'm going to do something I don't normally do---share with you the rough draft opening paragraph of this novel. Keep in mind that it will probably change, and most certainly be tightened, but here it is:

The car door slamming startled Brynn Taylor awake. She crawled on her elbows up to the zippered door of her two-man tent, swallowing hard against a wave of nausea. She unzipped the flap and peeked out. Parked at the edge of her camp was a white police car, and walking toward her tent was the cop.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Power of Music - Flame by The Echoing Green music video

I know this blog is about writing and books, but sometimes we gotta sit back and chill to a good song, don't you think? To me, this is a good song. The Echoing Green has been spinning in my CD player for years now, but they're still a somewhat unknown band in Christian music. The electronic genre hasn't made a big splash in the Christian market yet, I guess. These guys could be called synthpop in some ways (at least in their early days). They've branched into a little bit darker sound (not in a bad way) with their new tunes of late. I'll listen to anything they come up with.

This video is for their song called "Flame". The song's been around for a couple years, but they're just now making a video for it. I suspect it'll appear on the album they've been working on for about the same amount of time now. I'm intrigued with the concept behind this. It tells a story. I'd love to know what you think about the lyrics and the video. What story do you think it's telling?

That's one of the great things about music. It pulls on your emotions, takes you to a place. Think about movie soundtracks. Without a single word uttered a scene is set. Songs can inspire just like a magnificent painting. It's all art. Whether we paint with brush, pen or keyboard, we're all artists tugging on the emotions of humanity.

Maybe this post is about writing after all. :)

P.S. If you like what you hear, visit The Echoing Green's myspace page.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Rene Gutteridge (Advice for Novelists, Part 102)

Next up in our Advice for Novelists series is multi-published author Rene Gutteridge. Here's her response to my question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Write when inspiration is nowhere to be found. That’s the fastest way to becoming a professional, because inspiration is fleeting, and also cleverly disguised at times within discouragement and trials. You’ll be amazed, looking back, how much you accomplish writing in times that you feel the least inspired.

--Rene Gutteridge, co-author of Never the Bride (with Cheryl McKay), the Boo series, the Occupational Hazards series, and more. Visit her website to catch the latest.