Monday, April 27, 2009

The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass

The other month I saw an ad in Writer's Digest magazine for The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass. Having read Maass's previous (and stellar) writing how-to book Writing the Break-Out Novel, I was immediately intrigued.
Hot off the press, The Fire In Fiction is now available! I wish I had a copy of this book in hand right now as I write my third novel, but I hopefully will soon.

Here's some info I found to whet your whistle at the Writer's Digest website:

About the Book

We’ve all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?

Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They are unoriginal. They don’t grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors. It’s almost as if the author is afraid to truly commit to the story.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In The Fire in the Fiction, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again. The book features:

• Techniques for capturing a special time and place, creating characters whose lives matter, nailing multiple-impact plot turns, making the supernatural real, infusing issues into fiction, and more.
• Story-enriching exercises at the end of every chapter to show you how apply the practical tools just covered to your own work.
• Rich examples drawn from contemporary novels as diverse as The Lake House, Water for Elephants, and Jennifer Government to illustrate how various techniques work in actual stories.

Plus, Maass introduces an original technique that any novelist can use any time, in any scene, in any novel, even on the most uninspired day … to take the most powerful experiences from your personal life and turn those experiences directly into powerful fiction.

Want to read an excerpt? Click here to learn:

• Why strong secondary characters are so important
• Tips for making sure that a character’s special-ness stems from his or her impact on the protagonist
• How to figure out which secondary characters deserve an elevated status

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Puzzle of Writing

I recently spent a weekend doing a puzzle with my dad and sister. We thought it would be a fun activity. We'd spend a couple hours putzing away on it, and before long we'd have it completed.

Um, we were wrong. Maybe it was the word "Master" in the title of the puzzle that should've clued us in. Or the fact that it was 700 pieces. But we spent the ENTIRE weekend pulling our hair out trying to finish. It was crazy! So many times we wanted to throw in the towel (or at least throw the puzzle out the window). But we didn't. We persevered. And finally finished.

This got me thinking about how writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle. You start with a box of pieces. Those are the ideas, snippets of dialogue, and new characters you want to write about. They're all jumbled together in the box of your mind screaming to be put together into a cohesive whole. This is especially true if you're the type of writer who doesn't do extensive plotting ahead of time, like me. Some people call that "seat of the pants" writing. A more than apt description.

There are times I wish I were a plotter (usually when I'm staring at all the puzzle pieces in the box!). I wish I could have a blueprint to follow as I'm writing my novel. But there's something amazing about the joy of discovery, too. When the pieces slowly fall into place, and a picture forms. Aha! THAT's where that character goes. See? I knew she fit somehow.

When I cross the finish line and slip the last puzzle piece in place and type "The End", boy does it feel good! Almost as good as completing a mind-boggling, 700 piece puzzle. Sure, I had days when I wanted to quit. I felt like banging my head against my keyboard when it would've been easier to pull out my front teeth than type another sentence. But if I'd given up, on the puzzle or my book, I wouldn't have enjoyed the pleasure of seeing the finished product.

So let me encourage you not to give up. Whether you're writing your first novel or putting together your first puzzle. It'll all be worth it in the end.

And yes, above is the the finished puzzled from our weekend of hair pulling. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

I'm very pleased to introduce you to a great novel by Jenny B. Jones. So Not Happening (Thomas Nelson) is the first book in The Charmed Life series for youth. But don't think that means adults won't enjoy it! Jenny's humor shines in all of her books, and this one's no exception. Jenny B. Jones has quickly become one of my favorite authors.

So Not Happening is the story of Bella Kirkwood, a teen New York socialite who suddenly finds herself living in Oklahoma.

Can Bella survive her crazy new family? Will the school survive Bella? How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God gives her the total smackdown?

Visit Jenny's website.
Read an interview with Jenny.


One year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.

And that’s when my life fell apart.

“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”

Standing by my mother’s side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only

positive thing about this frock is that I’ll never have to wear it again.

“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”

Ralph? My new stepdad’s middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn’t even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of “Hey, what am I thinking? I don’t want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter’s new stepdad.”

I see none of these things twinkling in my mom’s crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.

“Does anyone have an objection?” The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. “Let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this “blessed” event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we’ve mutually agreed to be enemies.

I stare him down.

His eyes laser into mine.

Do we dare?

He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.

“Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—”


The church gasps.

I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.

I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother’s wedding.

And I have no idea where to go from here. It’s not like I do this every day, okay? Can’t say I’ve stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.

My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.

“What,” she hisses near my ear, “are you doing?”

I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.

“Um . . . um . . . Mom, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you at all this week . . .” My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.

“Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up.”

My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it’s not because they’re anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.

“Mom, the dude’s middle name is Ralph.”

She leans in, and we’re nose to nose. “You just stopped my wedding and that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

Faint—that’s what I’ll do next time I need to halt a wedding.

“How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago.”

Some of the heat leaves her expression. “I’ve known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I rush on, “I mean, I’ve only been around him a few times, and I’m not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know.” I can count on one hand the times I’ve been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad’s.

Her voice is low and hurried. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. But our lives have changed. It’s going to be an adventure, Bel.”

Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad’s credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!

“You know I’ve prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God’s will for us. I need you to trust me, because I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”

A single tear glides down Mom’s cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?

Slowly I nod. “Okay, Mom.” It’s kind of hard to argue with “God says this is right.” (Though I happen to think He’s wrong.)

The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.

“You can continue,” I say, knowing I’ve lost the battle. “She had something in her teeth.” Yes, that’s the best I've got.

I. Am. An. Idiot.

“And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride.”

Nope. Can’t watch.

I turn my head as the “Wedding March” starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we’re both going to be juniors, he’s a head taller than me. It’s like we’re steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go

in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.

“Good job stopping the wedding.” Logan smirks. “Very successful.”

I jab my elbow into his side. “At least I tried! You did nothing!”

“I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don’t.”

I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.

Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy’s and Bloomie’s. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard

and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.

Then my mom got married.

And I got a new life.

I should’ve paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

William Carmichael (Advice for Novelists, Part 96)

Here's 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?"

Don’t give up. Write something everyday. Keep at it, even if it is only for your own joy. If you have set a goal to publish a book, do it, even if it is a self-published work. So was The Shack self-published after being turned down by several publishers, which has now been number one on the New York Times bestseller list for 46 straight weeks!

--William "Bill" Carmichael, co-author with Dave Lambert of The Missionary, as well as several nonfiction titles. Visit him online at The Missionary website.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Music Video That Inspired Me

I was a teenager when the group Sierra released their self-titled debut CD. One of the songs from the album was "No Stone to Throw". Even as a teenager its message and the story within the song of a hurting woman named Maggie inspired me. The music video they made for the song isn't a big-budget production, but its message is powerful. The theme of Christians not judging is one I hope to deal with in my novels. Someday I may even write a story about a character like Maggie.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Deonne Beron (Advice for Novelists, Part 95)

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?"

Today a publicist chimes in with some great advice:

Know that you are your book's own best publicist. Approach your book like that from the very beginning and invite your publishing team to join you. It begins with a proposal that shows you've been thinking about how you can promote your book. But it doesn't end there. In terms of publicity once your book is published, there are three key things to keep in mind:

1) Audience- Start early by cultivating an audience of readers interested in books like yours and ways to communicate them--facebook, twitter, blogs--all those things are free or available to you at a very low cost.

2) Hook- Promoting a fiction novel is much more than just delivering a book report. Whether talking to a member of the media or an interested reader, they want to know what makes this book interesting and worth their time to read. If your book has a strong tie to current news or trends, it widens the number of media who will be interested in that hook. A good hook also provides multiple ways to enter into the content of the book. I've seen a number of fiction novels with great hooks for media interviews that help draw readers in. For example, one author's spent 25 years researching the biblical and historical world of a Bible character before writing her first novel, while another author had a character who used advances in a specific field of science to solve crimes, so in both cases, having these hooks added to the story of the
novel and made good material for an interview.

3) Timing- Beginning to understand the timeline of a book's life will be critical. For PR, we begin working with your book at some level around 6 months before the book's release. Some blog tour reservations and media opportunities need to have a book in their pipeline that far in advance. But having buzz or media too far out can also hurt the book. For example, if someone you know offers to do an interview or review of the book earlier than the month of release, this can backfire, something many authors I've talked with don't understand. If the book is not out
in stores when people are alerted to it and go looking for it, they will often forget about it and the impulse purchase you worked so hard for is lost. It's far better to try and cluster as much media as possible in first month or at most two after release.

--Deonne Beron, publicity manager, Baker Publishing Group. Visit Baker online at their website.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Winner of The Real Enemy

And the winner of The Real Enemy by Kathy Herman is...


Thanks for commenting everyone. I hope we can do another giveaway soon. If you're interested in purchasing The Real Enemy for yourself click here to find out more.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Writing Update

A couple updates:
  • The release date for Thicker Than Blood is January 2010!
  • I should begin the official editing process with Tyndale for Thicker soon.
  • I am almost finished with my final edit (I think!) of the sequel, tentatively titled Innocent Blood. This novel has not yet been contracted, but we can hope, right? :)
  • Still in the beginning stages of my third novel, tentatively titled Flesh & Blood. It's been challenging discovering the story I want to tell, but I'm honing in on it!
  • My sister, Tracy Darlington, has done a series of interviews with me over at her new blog. It's in four parts. Start at Part 1 and there are links to the others. She asked fun, and hard!, questions about my writing and Thicker Than Blood!

In other news, has just posted an interview I did with one of my favorite authors, Sibella Giorello. Click here to read it. Sibella is the author of the Christy Award winning novel The Stones Cry Out, and now its sequel The Rivers Run Dry. She had so many great insights to share, but here's one question and answer to wet your whistle:

Me: How was the process of writing The Rivers Run Dry different from writing your first novel The Stones Cry Out?

Sibella: Picture a Volvo station wagon. Now picture a Maseratti. The first book, like many first novels, was written in safe secrecy. Very few people knew I was writing a novel, and those that did would still love me if I quit. To keep the car analogy going, whenever I felt like a nap, I'd just pull that Volvo over to the side of the road and close my eyes. It was a luxury of time and it made the journey longer, but it felt safe. The second book was like somebody tossed me the keys to a Maseratti, then said I was competing in a road race, beginning right now. Although I was thrilled to get a contract with Thomas Nelson, I was terrified when they said, "And we'd like four books in four years." Pedal to metal, people! I wrote "Rivers" so quickly that when I sat down to work on the second draft of the manuscript, I didn't remember writing some of the scenes. No joke -- it was a literal blur. But now that I've crossed the finish line twice (the third book in the series is finished), I can say that it's possible to write novels fast. Even more importantly, it's possible to write something enjoyable. Read the full interview here.

Also, my latest book review for Deceived by James Scott Bell is online! Click here to read it. Bell has been another of my favorite authors for years. He writes the snappiest dialogue and comes up with such amazing twists in his novels. It's always fun to see what comes out of his keyboard next!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Randy Alcorn (Advice for Novelists, Part 94)

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?"

To those who ask me about the challenges of writing, I learned long ago
that I should never wait for inspiration or a good beginning. I just jump right in. I'll either cut it out or clean it up later. Years ago I heard someone say "Never edit at the point of conception." The best writing comes in revision, not creation-but you must have something to revise. I think a lot of writer's block happens when people wait for the right words. I just write. Later, I labor over the right words, and there's no block because I'm already looking at something on the screen.

--Randy Alcorn, author of the novels Deception, Deadline, Dominion and many nonfiction works. Visit him online at his website.