Feeds:
Posts
Comments

My Little Reader

Even before Reid was born and I saw that precious little face, I wanted desperately for him to share my love of books. My nightly ritual was to go in his room, sit in his rocking chair, and read out loud to him from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Soon after he was born, we started branching out, trying out all the books on our shelves. If he patted them or smiled (or tried to eat them, truth be told), they went into the “he likes these books” pile. If he wasn’t so interested, we put them in the “save for a few months and try again” pile.

It wasn’t long before he would sit in the floor with a book, turning the pages. And now, at 14 months old, books are second only to playing outside. Sometimes he comes with one book in hand and we read it . . . over . . . and over . . . and over. Other times, he brings one after another from his shelf and holds each one out with a big grin and points to his chest as if to say “Now this one, please.”

One of his favorites is Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. We’ve read it so many times I don’t even need to look at the pages anymore. (Hand, hand, fingers, thumb, one thumb, one thumb drumming on a drum. One hand, two hands drumming on a drum. Dum ditty, dum ditty, dum dum dum.) You can tell how much he loves it because he holds one finger in the air and shakes it in time with the dum ditty, dum ditty, dum dum dums and dances in a circle. And then there’s his You’re My Little Love Bug book. My mom found it for him, and not only does it include a place for his picture on the last page, but it lights up and plays music when you open it up to read it. He likes to points to himself as you read You’re my lovey dovey, my stinker winker bear.

My hope is that books will always hold such interest for him and that in a few years we’ll move to chapter books and then in a few more years I’ll start sharing young adult novels from some authors I know personally. But whether he likes Mommy’s books best or really prefers nonfiction like Daddy does, Reid confirms for me that reading is not a declining pastime and that printed books themselves are not dead. There will always be a place for great stories and for great storytellers. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, after all, was first published in 1969.

*What books stand the test of time for you?

*What gives those books their longevity and appeal? What can we as a publishing team learn from them? 

Warmly,

Amanda

This week I had one of those delicious publisher/editor/agent/author check-in phone calls with the inevitable scary question, “OK, now that this series is coming to an end, do you have any thoughts about What’s Next?” Inevitable because I have two more books to fulfill on my contract (believe me, I’m grateful to have work a while longer!), scary because I’ve come to the END of two series … and I have no idea What’s Next!

But I’ve been praying. Oh, how I’ve been praying. God! I need a story idea! And I’ve been so aware of the God-process in the two series I’ve been writing (more about that later), I know that without a Spirit-inspired idea, I’m dead. Or, to be precise, the book will be dead.

So in this phone call we talked about What Readers Want and tossed around a few ideas … and something clicked. An Idea. An Idea that might work. An Idea I could get excited about.

I went to bed that night still thinking about that Idea—and dreamed all night about it. Dreamed a strange scene that stayed with me when I woke up and trucked to the bathroom, then back to bed and fell asleep again. Same scene, wrestling with it. I finally woke up enough to grab the pen and paper I keep by the bed and wrote something down in the dark. Finally fell asleep.

In the morning I told my husband and laughed about it. “Listen to this!” and I read what I’d written in the middle of the night (barely legible). “Guess that sounds kind of silly now.”

My husband looked at me soberly. “Doesn’t sound silly to me. I think the Holy Spirit was talking to you.”

Well …

But if so, why should I be surprised? I’ve been praying, right? And to tell the truth, I’ve actually been mulling a lot lately about prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit and how it has impacted my writing journey. Early on, when I began to get reader letters that said, “Your novel helped me through a difficult bout with cancer” … or, “Your stories have revolutionized my prayer life” … or “After reading how your characters learned to pray, we’ve started our own prayer group.” These responses knocked my socks off! Only the Holy Spirit knew what those readers needed and brought my novels to their hands. Scared me, too. I began to realize how important it was to pray my way through each book I wrote, how critical it was to be listening to the Holy Spirit for the ideas and story, to be conscious that God was bringing His work to my work.

The whole thing felt bigger than me. So I asked some sister prayer warriors if they’d be my prayer team. (Bless these women who have prayed me through writer’s blocks, through sickness and surgery and family crises, who pray for readers who write me asking for prayer! That I ever even finish a book I’m sure is due to the prayers of these prayer warriors, bless them all!)

So what does it mean to be listening to the Holy Spirit while I write? Secular writers get “Ah-ha!” ideas too. Maybe for me—and you—it’s something as simple as acknowledging on a daily basis that our creativity, our ideas, that perfect concept to drop into the story, that sermon in church or something someone said on the radio just articulated the very thought you needed in your next chapter … that it all comes from the Spirit of God. To say, “Thank you, Lord!” Or even before that, “Help me, Lord!”

After all, the Spirit inspired the Word of God—why not our writing? No, no, no, I’m not suggesting my novels, or yours, have the weight or authority of Holy Writ! Please don’t misunderstand! I only mean that the Spirit of God is obviously in the business of using the written word (among other things) to reach and teach and comfort and convict readers. What you and I do as novelists reaches thousands of readers. Therefore we better be praying! And we better be listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit—which sometimes comes as a swift kick in the pants, too.

And then, we need to be thankful when God answers. Thankful for every idea that God knits together from “Once upon a time …” to “The End.” Thankful when we hear from a reader who, unknown to us, needed what God gave us to say.

Don’t know about you, but it leaves me breathless. Drives me to my knees. Gives me the courage to sit down at the computer one more time and write, “Chapter One.”

By,

Neta Jackson

Too many novels have prologues that don’t belong. Prologues should be used sparingly and only if they meet particular criteria. I can only think of two scenarios where prologues are permissible.

  1. Necessary POV. If the information is needed from a person who doesn’t have a POV in the story. Another way to handle this is to bookend the novel in the same person’s POV who doesn’t have a POV in the other chapters (i.e. a sage character or a town observer).
  2. Jump in time period. If the reader needs to know something from a time period that doesn’t fit within the timeline of the story. I’m thinking of a novel that shares a scene of two ancestors performing a ritual. It makes no sense until the end of the novel when the protagonist and hero realize this was done for them.

Consider NOT including your prologue if it only accomplishes the following:

  1. Previews a scene that the reader will encounter later in the novel.  If you need to give the reader a sneak peek of a critical scene in a prologue, I suspect your first chapter may lack the hook and vibrancy it needs.
  2. Fills the reader in on information that occurred in the previous book in the series. If the series is serial (vs. episodic) then you can fill the reader in on critical details they need to know to understand something by adding a sentence here or there. Sometimes what you think is critical info may only seem so because it’s the order that you came to know the story, but the reader is fine. And when they read the other book, they’ll feel “smart” to have picked up on the crossover threads.
  3. Sets the story up so chapter 1 makes sense. This is similar to number 1. I would challenge the author to make chapter 1 work on its own and perhaps move the original chapter 1 to chapter 2.

What’s the big deal? One problem is that prologues can be mistaken for front-matter material (introductions, forewords, author notes) and readers may just skip them not realizing it’s the beginning of the story. Typesetters and editors should be careful that the page numbers on epilogues don’t have roman numerals, a clear indicator that it’s front-matter material. The other problem is that many prologues are shortcuts. They are trying to achieve something quickly instead of threading it throughout the story. I contend that it’s more rewarding for the reader to reveal the information they need as they need it or else it suspends their satisfaction.

Take this test: Pick up a couple of novels that you’ve already read that have prologues. Now imagine that prologue was deleted. Would the story hold firm or would it all fall apart? If prologues were banned, could you get that information to the reader another way? With some distance and perspective, which option works better? Does one demand more skill from the author?

No rule in writing is iron-clad so if you know of another scenario where a prologue is helpful, please share it with us.  We want to hear from you!

Natalie

Got Fear?

That terrible secret carried since childhood.
The time you didn’t get busted for something bad, because nobody witnessed the crime.
How you feel about that person — that person everybody else adores.
Painful, personal things. We want to avoid thinking about them.
And writers need to do the exact opposite.
Writing books — novels in particular — is a perennially weird journey. With every book, the writer begins with a flat field of good intentions, but by the time the manuscript goes to editors, everything has been tilled, furrowed, seeded until it finally produces some unexpected harvest, the kind of odd fruit that causes the writer utter defensive statements such as: “Well, I know you said a book about quilting, but that was before I realized the quilters were serial killers.”
Writers sympathize with bad guys, because an author who doesn’t creates cardboard villains. We show the worst things happening to the nicest people, because conflict turns pages. We dig down to the messiest parts of the soul because –you are digging down to the messiest parts, aren’t you?
Because that’s where the reader needs us, and wants us.
More importantly, it’s where God wants us.
Consider the disciples in the boat:
“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Mark 4:35-40 (NRSV)

If I could invent one tool for writers it would be a Fear-o-Meter. Looks like a hand-held compass but emits an ear-piercing screech when pointed at the writer’s biggest fear. Not just a humiliating device for a humiliating profession, the Fear-o-Meter’s real purpose would be for pausing, and considering. Perhaps what’s needed is confession and repentance. Maybe more trust in Jesus Christ.
But usually for a writer, fear is the signal to start writing about swirling emotions.
Of course, that means hard work. Really hard work.  And writers have thousands of ideas. Hundreds of stories. Dozens of great characters.
Unfortunately, most of them are worthless.
Nobody can guarantee that writing about what scares you will automatically bring a best-seller. But it does mean your book is much more likely to have that passion, that life, that undefinable quality that draws in a reader who later says, “Gee, I thought I was the only one who felt that way . . . .”
Last September, two highly esteemed theologians, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, sat down for an interview before a live audience at the Apollo Theatre. Springsteen offered some insights into writing songs, and since his songs always sound like short stories to me, I sat up to listen.
Well, no wonder those songs hit so many nerves — Springsteen’s got a Fear-O-Meter!
And he doesn’t leave home without it:

“I’ve always believed the greatest rock and roll musicians are desperate men. You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time. My songs are good because … it’s like in art and love, hey, one and one makes three. In music, if it makes two, you’ve failed, my friends. You know, if you’re painting, if all you’ve got is your paint and your canvas, you’ve failed. If all you got is your notes, you’ve failed. You’ve got to find that third thing that you don’t completely understand, but that is truly coming up from inside of you. And you can set it any place, you can     choose any type of character, but if you don’t reach down and touch that thing, then you’re just not gonna have anything to say, and it’s not gonna feel like it has life and breath in it, you’re not gonna create something real, and it’s not gonna feel authentic. So I worked hard on those things.”

Fearfully and wonderfully made,

Sibella

One of my friends in the wedding industry says that her job is 10% event professional and 90% counselor—providing wisdom, perspective, and mediation as needed.  This is often true of work in literary publicity, too, and one of the reasons my job’s both challenging and rewarding.  I love to seek and observe context and help counsel authors on what should (and shouldn’t!) consume their focus.

As of late I’m fielding a lot more questions on reviews and their value in influencing potential buyers, especially as we’re actively pursuing opportunities to place that control in hands of readers.  Reader reviews—both on retail sites or personal blogs—are here to stay, and research is proving that peer feedback is at the top of consumers’ trusted lists for helping to make purchase decisions.

So here’s the number one question: how do you respond to a negative review?  In addition to some thoughts of my own here, I conducted an informal survey weave in advice from authors and other industry pros:

  1. DO sleep on it. There’s no denying the sting, but just like a first draft of a novel, you need time to process what’s been said before you decide if it’s worth reading.
  2. DON’T melt down in social media settings. It’s tempting to call out an ill-informed reader or someone who’s downright nasty, but think of yourself and your brand as professional and above that groveling.  As much as that review hurts, it’s probably nothing like what might have been said about an entity like the @%*$ cable company that can’t seem to keep my internet connection stable…and you don’t see them cursing the unsatisfied customer.
  3. DO share with your publicist. Give me a call or drop me an email and tell me what you’re thinking.  Our marketing team can be one protective little coop of mother hens, but we’re also used to examining feedback for an entire roster of authors and can provide some needed perspective, in addition to an ear to sound off in if you need.
  4. DON’T forget that a reader’s review is just that: one reader’s review, even if that reader reviews under a publication’s title. When we round up feedback to highlight in our continued promotional efforts, we get to choose what’s featured and what’s forgotten.  Few potential readers follow and remember ALL of your reviews as closely as you do.
  5. DO examine for truth. Rachel Hauck says, “After the initial hit, go back and reread the review and see if there is any tidbit of truth. Learn from it and move on.” Is there an expressed reader need there that if addressed, could change your writing for the better and perhaps help you to grow your tribe?  We know better than to try to please everyone, but if enough would-be readers come up with the same request, it’s worth considering.
  6. DON’T question your career. Our team celebrated a real milestone this year with our being named the #1 Christian Fiction supplier.  We’d like to think we’ve done a few things right as an internal team, but the bottom line is the quality of our roster and stories is the reason for this success.
  7. DO treasure the good reviews, especially the ones that come in the form of personal notes.  I have a file in my email archives called Character Builders.  I used to shove in the snarky notes, too, but now it’s mostly the kudos that I save.  A reminder from Phil 4:8 (NKJV, of course, Nelson friends): “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Respond to those readers and thank them for the encouragement—personal connection is the best way to develop loyal fans and never has it been easier for an author to reach his readers.

Cheering you on,

KB

A post in honor of National Poetry Month

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know THAT is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know THAT is poetry. Is there any other way?” — Emily Dickinson

For much of my life, I didn’t “get” poetry. It was short but then sometimes long. It usually didn’t make sense, and it usually included a bunch of names of gods and goddesses whom I couldn’t keep straight. When I decided to be an English major, I had a feeling the day would come when poetry would stare me in the face and force me to like it, understand it, or at least appreciate it.

I managed my first three years of college with little to no such confrontation. Finally, my senior year I was forced to take the oh-so-dreaded “Poetry Workshop,” instructed by the notoriously evil writer-in-residence Al Haley. It had been said that he would crumple pages of a student’s 20-page short story, chew on it, and then spit it onto the floor to symbolize how terrible he thought the writing to be. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

After three months of Al chewing on and spitting out the poems he forced me to write for his class, I began to appreciate the complexity of the art a little more. And then a little more. Until I actually began to enjoy poems. And during our final class meeting I officially declared myself a “lover of poetry.” I had to wrestle the form and suffer though pages of good poetry from good books before this love could materialize, but man am I glad it did.

I now see poetry in all forms of writing. It does not have to rhyme or be limited to one page length as I had previously thought. Poetry can be one sentence on one page in the midst of a great novel.

I’m dying to know: What role does poetry play in your writing fiction? Is it a type of subconscious effort that flows as you write? Is it an intentional wording with key phrases or paragraphs? Are you, like me, a “lover of poetry”?

Happy poetry month to all!

From one poet’s heart to the next (that’s poetic, right?),

Andrea Lucado

Friends,

I don’t know about you, but these are some trying times—financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Here are a few recent personal events, some almost laughable…my cat got bitten by a snake and his arm swelled to twice the size. My dog’s hind legs are going lame. The microwave broke. A man in a truck hit the back of my car. I had an acute case of pancreatitis and endured a two day hospital stay…just after we’d switched to THE WRONG health insurance.

But you know what’s right? So much more. My family. Our health. Our love. Our faith. God doesn’t forsake us.

It’s in times like these that I look to the ground in the grocery store and see a handwritten note with this on it:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-7

Or I turn on the car radio and hear Casting Crowns singing this:
”… once again, I say amen
and it’s still raining
as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
“I’m with you”
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away. “

”And I’ll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”

Now, this doesn’t make me forget about the good friend who passed away before Christmas or the uncle who is dying now of cancer, the family members who are losing their homes, the people in Haiti who are suffering from the quake…but I tell you what. We, as committed followers of Christ are not guaranteed to have NO troubles. After all, we live in this world. We do, however, have a faith this is not of this world. Not at all. We have access to an amazing PEACE even in the storms. I don’t know about you, but in these trying times, my faith allows me to remember all the things the Lord has delivered me from. He will deliver me, too, from these storms, and oh, when he does, how much more can I testify! What a blessing to be able to write and share hope and faith with those who have none. Aren’t we blessed?? Here’s a little story I wrote that says just that. Enjoy.

THE BOY IN THE BOX
By Nicole Seitz

There once was a boy who lived in a box. All he saw was black. All he heard was the grumble of his belly. Loneliness was crisp and cool like frost in his bones.

One day, he awoke to find a small hole in the side of his box. A thin stripe of light fell across his knee. He moved closer to the hole. He pressed his eye up to it and couldn’t believe what he could see.

There were colors—red, pink, yellow, white, blue, green, purple—his mind sparkled. He saw chairs in a room and suddenly felt uncomfortable on the hard ground. He saw food on a table, and the grumbling in his belly grew louder. His mind whirled with all he saw, and suddenly he longed to be out there. Outside of his box.

But he didn’t know how.

So he sat, and sat. Another two days he sat. He studied the room outside his box, the floor, the chairs, the table with food. Then he watched a boy walk in a door. Later, he watched him walk out again. In and out. The boy in the box studied how the door worked. It was just a large hole in a very large wall.

The next morning, the boy in the box knew what he had to do. He started at the small hole and used his finger to tear, slowly at first, then faster until light spilled all over him, and he smiled with warm delight.

The boy crawled out of his box and for the first time, stood tall. His legs and back were sore and stiff, but he was free from his box, free from the darkness. At the table, he sat in a real chair and filled his belly until it didn’t grumble anymore. He moved about, stretched his legs, and learned everything he could about his colorful new room.

After a few days, the boy stood in front of a door. Something stirred inside him. He wanted to open it, but he was afraid. What would he find out there? Didn’t he have everything he needed here in this room? It was certainly more comfortable than his box had been.

The boy looked at it now, the box, squat in the corner, and couldn’t believe he’d ever fit inside. He knew he could never return—he’d grown too much, seen too much, learned too much. So he turned, gathered his courage, and opened the door.

The smell of green grass and the song of birds beckoned. He set one foot out and held his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. The glorious light! And white puffy clouds in a lavender sky, and houses with people in them, and streets, and cars, and trees, and flowers, and squirrels, and cats, and barking dogs. The boy wondered why he hadn’t stepped outside sooner.

He walked along the sidewalk, passing house after house, until he came to one with the door cracked open. He knocked, but no one answered. He walked inside and saw a very nice room with colors and chairs and a table with food.

And in the corner, he saw a box.

The boy crept closer and knocked on the cardboard.

“Hello?” said a voice from inside the box.

“You okay in there?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“But you’re in a box.”

“I am? Well, I live here.”

“There’s more to life than the black of your box.”

“There is? I didn’t know.”

“Here.” And the boy poked a stick in the side of the cardboard. He heard the box-dweller rustle inside.

“Wow. There’s a stripe of light across my knee.”

“I know. It’s wonderful. And that’s just the beginning.”

The boy who had once lived in a box was smiling now, and holding his stick, he walked out of the house and down the sidewalk to find other children living in houses, living in rooms, living in boxes, in darkness. He knew they were out there. Just as he had been.

They were all over the world.

Suddenly, the boy had a new longing.

www.nicoleseitz.com