Wednesday, February 28, 2007

First Contract Announcement

Before we get to today's topic, a quick addendum to the Coral Moon influencers’ list post. It's come to my attention there's a bit of confusion. If you were on the list for Violet Dawn, you aren’t automatically moved to the Coral Moon list. I don’t want to be presumptuous in assuming anyone wants to stay on as an influencer. So you “old influencer” folks need to email my assistant to sign up again. (I know quite a few of you are on the blog alliance list, so you’re getting a book anyway.)

Now, today’s fun announcement. It’s a real privilege for me to be in contact with so many aspiring novelists. I know how hard y’all are working, and I remember those frustrating days all too well. My heart is with you all. So it’s especially satisfying to be able to announce new contracts.

This one is for long-time BG Lynette Eason, a wife and homeschooling mom of two in South Carolina. Her book, Lethal Deception, will be released February 2008 in Steeple Hill’s suspense line:

When socialite, Cassidy McKnight, is kidnapped in the Amazon Jungle, haunted ex-Navy Seal, Gabriel Sinclair, must rescue her. As they race to outwit a killer, they find themselves growing closer to each other and to God. But Gabe has an explosive secret and when Cassidy finds out, her world crashes down...

This is a one-book contract for Lynette, but the book is part of a three-part series, so she’ll be on a “wait and see” mode regarding the other two.

I asked Lynette to tell us what she’s done to work on her craft, and what best helped to push her toward publication:

I've been writing fiction for 8 years. Dee Henderson actually edited my entire first book as a way to help teach me the ins and outs of writing. Unfortunately, I didn't realize what she did for me until a couple of years later...groan...and I don't even have a copy of her edits, just the final product. Yup, still kicking myself on that one. So, that was the main thing that REALLY helped me out. In fact, some of my initial questions during the two years of her "mentoring" are up on her webpage. To this day, I'm not sure what prompted her to help out such a newbie. I just chalk it up to a God thing.

Of course, I've been a faithful fan of Brandilyn Collins' F&F blog and that has helped me TREMENDOUSLY over the past year +. Seriously, you've been awesome. Finding your blog was better than Christmas morning and my birthday all rolled into one. (And they usually are - rolled into one, that is as my b'day is the 28th of Dec.)

Also, I've been to the Blue Ridge Christian Writer's Conference in Black Mountain, NC. I've been three years all total over the past 5 years. Gayle Roper held a fiction mentoring clinic for the week and that was a huge help to sit around the table with 9 other author wannabes and have them go through the first 20 pages or so of my manuscript and give me feedback. And, of course, Gayle's feedback was priceless.

And then there were the contests. Some were helpful, others not. The TBL (Touched By Love) contest sponsored by FHL (Faith Hope and Love) through RWA was great. I got very helpful feedback there. ACFW has been awesome. Every time I've had a writing question, someone has been ready and willing to answer it.

So, I guess you could say it's not the things that helped teach me the craft, it was the published authors who were so generous with their time and knowledge that really taught me the craft of writing...and taught me that I have a lot more to learn!

Lynette’s clearly brighter than I am. Took her eight years to reach publication in fiction; took me ten.

Three cheers for Lynette! Three cheers for a newbie breaking in, and for the pay-off after eight years of hard work!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Well, had one of those days yesterday. Ye ol' computer crash. Happened just after I'd opened my book file to start writing for the day. Oh, yay. Ain't we got fun.

'Twas a different error message than I've ever seen before. "Insurmountable boot amount." Huh? They telling me my foot's too big?

I called Gateway--maker of my computer. Got put on hold for a loooong time. Finally got through to a tech support guy. Who had no clue about insurmountable boots. This did not make any points with me, but I managed to be nice. He put me on hold again. For a loooong time. I paced my office. The only good part was their cool "hold" music. The tech had the nerve to come back on the line in the middle of Aerosmith's Sweet Surrender. I liked him even less after that. Tech guy informed me he'd "done some research" on my problem. I got to hear his technical explanation for the bottom line:

It done broke.

So I bundled up said sad computer and ran it into Best Buy. Of course it was pouring rain. Could it possibly be sunny on such a day? Good news--they can restore everything. Bad news--it'll take four to five days. And they don't know whether they can recoup all my data files first. But for $99 they'll give it a go.

I could just kick myself.

I back up my manuscripts--let me say that immediately in my own defense. If I didn't do that, I'd be in serious trouble right now. Every day after I'm done writing, I faithfully back up--twice. First on a flash drive. Second, in case said flash drive drives off into the sunset, or my house blows up or something, I email the manuscript to my assistant, where it can sit in her "saved" file on the Internet. However, there's still that back-up-all-your-word-files-and-pictures-and-Outlook thing. I'm not so good at that.'

I tried. Really. Bought a back-up drive and everything after my last computer crash. One of those fancy thingies that you're supposed to be able to set up so it auto-backs whenever you want it to. Except that I could never get the dang thing to work. (Are you figuring out yet that I'm not the most computer-savvy person on the planet?) I planned to study up on the problem. Really. It's just that every day I have this page count, and before I know it, days go by, then weeks, then months ...

Forget kicking myself. Too painful. I'm taking that insurmountable boot to the nearest cabinet.

Worst case scenario is--I lose all my email stuff. Again. All my pictures and logos and word files, except for my manuscript. Again.

This time when I go back to Best Buy to pick up my computer, I'm taking that back-up drive with me. They're gonna show me how to do everything--more like set the thing up for me. Or I ain't leavin' the store.


Needless to say, I lost hours of work time, trying to sort all this out. I did manage to finish the alloted page count by 9:30 p.m. But I had no handy-dandy blog post ready, and wasn't exactly in the mood to go hunting for one. So here's what ya get. In all its glory.

So tell me, oh brilliant BGs. How do you back up data? Anybody use an online service? Anybody got their handy-dandy back-up disk to do its auto thing? Anybody lost lotsa data and kicked lotsa cabinets? Anybody else got an insurmountable boot?

Dagnabbit all. I need to pull out my Best of Aerosmith CD. Maybe a listen or two to Sweet Surrender--the whole song--will lessen the pain.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Da Photo Revealed

My, didn't a lot of you guess on Friday. Some of you got pretty doggone close too.

Peg Phifer's answer really made me laugh. She said the photo was of the cabinets I've kicked. :)

Real answer--Top, you were right about "poor workmanship." That's because everything was stripped down and torn apart in this photo. It's the inside of a private airplane--a Cessna Turbo 210, to be exact. The interior was completely torn apart so it could be redone--from header to floor. The photo was taken from the cargo area. That high part is the separation between the cargo area and the back row of seats. The right door should be at the top left of the photo, but it's been taken off.

Here are some photos of the finished product.

Taken from left pilot seat.

The one below is looking into the cargo area. To take the stripped photo shown Friday, the photographer stuck the camera through this door and shot from a low angle. The silver hump from Friday is now covered in the dark blue carpet (at left side of door). (The other dark lump is baggage.)

So there ya have it. We'll do this again sometime--on a Friday when we've all been working too hard and need a break from industry news. You got a crazy photo you want me to post, send it on over.

Happy Monday, all.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Whazza Photo Friday

In light of the last day of the work week (yay!), I give you this photo. What is it? First right guess gets a free book.

While you're at it, if you've got an interesting photo of your own to link to, go right ahead. Last time we did this, y'all had some great ones.
Happy weekend, BGs!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dark Fiction—What Is It?

The original question and answer from my interview with Sue Brower:

Is there any room in CBA (or more specifically at Zondervan) for Christian writers whose tone is somewhat dark?

You know, this is very subjective. There are several very successful authors in CBA that write what I would call “dark” fiction. However, for a first time author, it is not likely that we will pick it up.

When I wrote Sue and asked for her definition of this term, she replied:

“Dark” fiction is anything that leaves the reader feeling disturbed by what he/she is reading or that creates a negative emotional response in the reader. Sometimes it is graphically violent content, sometimes it is themes of mental illness or abuse. This in no way is an indication of how poorly a novel is written. In fact it demonstrates that the book was so well written it affects the reader’s subconscious and lingers for days after. Dark fiction leaves the reader disturbed rather than entertained or enlightened.

My own take:

Sue’s definition is interesting. I’d pretty much agree, with two expansions. First, every novel that covers difficult material is not necessarily dark. It’s how that material is handled. Second, I think dark fiction can disturb and still enlighten. Not all dark fiction does, but it can—in fact, dark fiction in the Christian category should enlighten. Otherwise, what’s the point? Knowing that Zondervan purchases only fiction that fits with its mission statement to “glorify Jesus Christ and promotes biblical principles,” I think Sue would agree with this. Although she used the word enlightened, I’d be willing to bet she meant something more like the word lightened. In other words, these books don’t leave you all warm and fuzzy.

Remember a few years ago when American Beauty won the Oscar for best picture? That movie to me is an example of dark fiction. The story stuck for days. It haunted me. For the first twenty-four hours after seeing it, I merely hated the movie. How could such a thing be voted best picture? I hated that dark story. And I could hardly agree with the ending—which shows a dead character rather blissfully floating through clouds, as I remember. Certainly not a Christian message of truth about what happens after death. But then I began to realize something. The movie was brilliantly done. The pacing, the twists, the characterization. On multiple levels that movie defined the dysfunction of so many American families today. It had to be brilliantly done to disturb me that much—to stick with me for that long and speak to me so deepy.

Still—did I find it enlightening? Not really. It spoke of the human condition, true. But I already knew those things. And it left no hope, nor gave any solutions to the misery. To me, mere dark truth is not enlightening. It’s just depressing.

Now picture this—that same story, with the Christian message infused. Not overdone (!), not tacked on, but through some natural event in the story, the viewer would get the message that Christ introduced to these families would make a difference.

That to me is an intriguing thought. And that example is precisely why I believe dark fiction can play a wonderful, significant role in the Christian fiction world. Granted, it’s not for everybody. Many people won’t find it “
safe.” Those who don’t, who are so disturbed by content that they can’t hear the message won’t like it at all. But there are others who will respond to this type of fiction.

The challenge is doing dark fiction well. That’s mighty hard because the writer faces all sorts of balances. How dark is too dark? What’s the message? How many difficult subjects and characters can be included before the story is just too weighted altogether, and that message is muddied? The worst thing to end up with is dark fiction done poorly.

Here’s the reality check. Remember Sue’s line: "…for a first time author, it’s not likely that we will pick [dark fiction] up.” That doesn’t mean Zondervan—and other houses in CBA—won’t publish such stories. It does mean they have to proceed carefully. As we’ve seen by definition, many times the darker the fiction, the narrower the target audience. Which means a smaller projection of sales. A brand new author also has a smaller projection of sales, because novels are sold on name recognition, and a new author has none. So when these two things are combined, you can get even smaller sales projections. There’s got to be something so stellar about the book that (1) the publisher believes they can edge up sales because it’s so well written and people will talk about it, and/or (2) the publisher wants to invest in this great new author, knowing that over time and with future books, his/her sales numbers will grow. Either way, it’s a gamble for the publisher. And a house can’t afford such a gamble without having other authors who are already proven and successfully selling to offset the cost.

Feedback, differing opinions?

TODAY: Angie Brendt--Angie Gets Cornered

Kanner Lake is growing, you know. Last fall, a good friend of mine, Dimples Wright, opened up a new ladies gym in the old hardware store just off Main Street. Her husband owns the building, and when the hardware store closed, she thought it would be fun to open a little gym for the Kanner Lake ladies. Dimples is a retired history and gym teacher, and is in amazing shape for a lady of our era. Of course, not everyone has the same idea of fun...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sundry Items

Happy Wednesday, all. Today I have various updates and pieces of information for you.

Blog comments: I’ve set this blog up so that every comment is automatically emailed to me. This way I can keep up with your feedback without always checking the blog, which I don’t have time to do. It’s also helpful because when you leave comments to an old post—no matter how old—I’ll know about it. Some of you have wondered about this. You can rest easy that I do see any comment you leave.

Monday’s post—Sue Brower’s interview, part two: There was some interesting discussion in the comments. Some of you had points to add about the so-called ETPs—easy to place books. Some of these comments were added a day later. You might want to go back and check to see what you missed.

Feedback on anything I’ve gotten wrong: Forensics and Faith is here to inform, not misinform. So please, any time anyone sees some fact here that I’ve gotten wrong, or if you know a point on any subject that I’ve missed, please do leave a comment or email me. I’m really grateful whenever someone take the time to do this. And I’ll be sure to correct my mistake as soon as possible.

Coral Moon Influencer’s List: My assistant has heard from quite a few of you but tells me we still have room on the list, so don’t hesitate to
email her if you’re interested.

Update on
GG: He’s still on the porch. In the cane chair. Same clothes. Every once in awhile he changes position. Yesterday was most disturbing. In the front yard I saw a soccer ball, a goal net, and a silver scooter lying in the grass. I’ve never seen evidence of kids at that house before. Are these playthings GG’s? Is he planning to try out for a national soccer team? Is he two-wheeling around the neighborhood at night on some nefarious business? The plot thickens…

“Dark fiction” follow-up to Sue B’s interview: In Monday comment's Mark Bertrand wondered if I could find out how Sue defines dark fiction. Frankly, I wondered about her definition, too. It’s such a difficult term to define—and a dozen people are likely to have a dozen different explanations. I wrote Sue and received her answer. We will cover this topic tomorrow. Meanwhile, in preparation for what should be a lively discussion: Tell me--what is your definition for dark fiction? Do you read it? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Influencers' List for Coral Moon

Well, it ain’t that far away now. Coral Moon, second in the Kanner Lake series, releases March 23. Which means the book starts shipping from the Zondervan warehouse on that day. It will start showing up on bookshelves by the beginning of April.

I am excited to see this book release. It was a bear to write. Really hard. But I’m convinced that’s because God took me into unexpected territory. Well, that, and I just find writing hard in the first place. But now that Coral Moon is all set to release, I must say I do like this story. I wouldn’t be surprised if those who liked Violet Dawn like this one better.

Back cover copy:
The figure remained still as stone. Leslie couldn’t even detect a breath.

Spider-fingers teased the back of her neck.

Leslie’s feet rooted to the pavement. She dropped her gaze to the driveway, seeking . . . what? Spatters of blood? Footprints? She saw nothing. Honed through her recent coverage of crime scene evidence, the testimonies at last month’s trial, the reporter in Leslie spewed warnings: Notice everything, touch nothing...

Leslie Williams hurries out to her car on a typical work day morning—and discovers a dead body inside.

Why was the corpse left for her to find? And what is the meaning of the message pinned to its chest?

In Coral Moon, the senseless murder of a beloved Kanner Lake citizen spirals the small Idaho town into a terrifying glimpse of spiritual forces beyond our world. What appears true seems impossible.

Or is it?

Are you interested in receiving a free copy of Coral Moon? Those who are put on the book’s “influencer list” can do just that. Zondervan and I ask just a few things of you in return. The kind of influencers we’re seeking will tell folks within their circle of friends and family about the book. Perhaps feature it in a blog post. Perhaps suggest it to a book club for discussion. (Because of the theological questions this book raises, plus the plot, this book would make for an especially lively discussion.) Also, I urge influencers to write a review for the book on and other online sites. In this way, influencers help get the word out about the book.

One caveat: You don’t have to do a thing if you don’t like the book. You can write a negative review if you want, but don’t ever feel compelled to write a positive one just because the book was free. Honest kudos only.

I have quite a few open slots available on this list, but they’re not infinite. So if you’re interested, please write my assistant asap: Make sure you include your full name and address. And please list the kinds of things you would do to help tell others about the book (again—honesty only). I ask for the list because if I see something on there I can help you with—send support materials, for example—I will do so.

BHCC members: Sigh. How to rate this book for you when I just can’t think like you do? Let me put it this way. Those of you who couldn’t read Violet Dawn, forget even trying to read this one. Those of you Big Honkin’ Chickens who actually made it through Violet Dawn and were amazed to survive—Violet Dawn wasn’t all that scary, I don’t think. Tense, yes. Suspenseful, yes. Scary—well, not in my opinion. Due to its subject matter, however, Coral Moon is scarier, I think. But hey, it’s also a way cool story. So it’s your loss, Chickies. :]

Once my assistant and I put the list together, we send it to Zondervan. When the book starts shipping, your copy will be mailed to you with a cover letter. My thanks in advance to all of you who participate.

TODAY: Janet Detcher--A Dinner Alone

Recently I received this forwarded e-mail from a friend. I don't even know if the story's true or not. Could be just made up. But it doesn't matter. The sentiment is true enough--and one I agree with. So I wanted to share it with you. You can read it as truth, or read it as fiction--either way, it has a strong point to make...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sue Brower Indepth Follow-up--Part 2

5. You spoke of a "category strategy" in your interview. What does that mean exactly, and how do authors fit into that?

First, the category strategy determines how many books we want to publish in a year. If you look at the entire Fiction category, it is composed of 7-8 subgenres. The category strategy also determines how many books we will try to publish in each subgenre. The team looks at trends and the saturation level of each subgenre to determine where our strengths and opportunities are. We also balance the category by determining how many new vs. established authors we can publish. As we look at new proposals, we need to see how that proposal fits in with our goals and objectives based on the overall strategy.

Here’s a hypothetical example. I receive a proposal in the Contemporary category that I think has potential. I will look at our list for the appropriate year of release and see that our goal is to do three Contemporary novels per year. I have already signed contracts for three novels. I can: 1) tell the agent that I like the work, but don’t have room on my list, 2) go to the team and make the case that this is “fresh” and innovative and that we really need to publish it instead of another Western, 3) or I can try to move it to another year.

A category strategy sets our goals and objectives, but is flexible and malleable.

6. What advice would you give to a writer of ETP (easy to place ) books who'd like to publish a breakout novel?

First, I would not assume that an ETP cannot be a breakout novel. Every book you write, should be approached as the one that will launch your career.

One of the most obvious differences is that the ETP tends to be a shorter novel. I also think they tend to follow more closely to an established writing formula. I would advise that you expand your novel through characterization rather than adding a lot of subplots or additional characters. Enhance your ETP writing by spending more time on character motivation and “getting into the scene.” I am NOT advocating that you fill the text with flowery phrases and in-depth self analysis. Your plot still needs to move and the reader needs to be motivated to keep turning the pages. I AM advocating that a book that changes lives or is memorable has an emotional tug or a real connection with the character.

7. What does Z use when looking at previous sales figures before acquiring authors?

We use a variety of resources to evaluate established authors. We look for market share, first-year-sales, and fluctuations in performance.

8. You said in a recent interview that aspiring writers should go down the to easy-to-place (ETP) road but cautioned "THE ONE THING TO KEEP IN MIND! Don’t expect that your fans will automatically follow you to that big epic. These are two different consumers and the fan of shorter, sweet romances may not have the time, interest, or patience for an epic. They may follow, but you can’t expect all of them to."

My concern and QUESTION: In an industry where first impressions are so important and where writers are quickly labeled and threw into a genre bin, couldn't this path hurt a writer's "street cred" for the genre their heart is really in? People tend to see writers and entertainers as what they first present themselves. Do you have any hard facts or clear examples of where an author made a successful transition from writing ETPs to their desired genre or style? If so, does the bigger picture of the literary field concur with this mode to success?

First I want to clarify; I think that aspiring writers can (not should) go down the ETP road without it hurting their ability to later be published in other formats.

Most of my examples would be in the ABA market. Writers like Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Krentz, and many other romance and women’s writers started out with ETP publishing. Now those same books are being re-released!

In the CBA, there are several former ABA mass market authors that are now successful CBA authors—Francine Rivers, Terri Blackstock, Lori Copeland, and Robin Lee Hatcher among them.

All I can say is that I don’t hold with the idea that ETP books are a detriment to an author’s moving into more substantial writing. The difficulty I have is that sometimes the sales numbers generated in ETP are higher than we can project for a non-ETP book (what IS the opposite of an ETP?). The author just needs to manage their expectations and understand that they may still be treated like a new author—even when they have several ETP’s under their belt.

9. Is there any room in CBA (or more specifically at Zondervan) for Christian writers whose tone is somewhat dark?

You know, this is very subjective. There are several very successful authors in CBA that write what I would call “dark” fiction. However, for a first time author, it is not likely that we will pick it up.

10. Along the lines of "easy to place" work--what type of theological statements makes a contemporary fiction piece easy to place in today's market? Does one's work need to be overtly spiritual in order to be considered ETP? Does a lack of spirituality make a book harder to place within CBA?

I don’t have a good feel for what is required in ETP books. I do believe that if you want to write in CBA, you should have an identifiable spiritual theme. No matter where you publish, the spirituality shouldn’t be overt, but rather woven naturally into the story. I do think the author needs to earn a certain amount of spiritual credibility with the retailers and readers. After he/she has reached a certain level of success, the author is a little more flexible in the content of his/her books. Keep in mind, though, that your loyal readers develop certain expectations of your work. You risk losing their loyalty when you deviate from your “brand.”

It continues to surprise me that there are some authors who want their books to be published by a Christian publisher, but want the spirituality toned down or not identifiable at all. I don’t want the spiritual content just plopped in willy-nilly, but Christian characters should reflect their values in the way they act and talk.

11. If an NYT bestselling mainstream author along the lines of John Grisham were to approach you and express a desire to write the same kind of stories that have populated the NYT bestsellers list but without any profanity or any otherwise objectionable content, would you be interested? If so, how would the development track of that author go? Would Zondervan maintain his/her presence in the general fiction isle of secular bookstores or would their work become Christian fiction by default? Is that choice even in Zondervan's hands or is it up to the individual booksellers and/or the buyers for those booksellers?

This is a tough one, I don’t have very many bestselling mainstream authors knocking on my door. :) Seriously, the first question I would have to ask is if the book fits our mission. Just because it doesn’t have profanity or objectionable content, doesn’t mean it “glorifies Jesus Christ and promotes biblical principles.”

It is hard to know where the book will be placed. It will depend on what our Sales and Marketing teams see as the optimal positioning. Our partnership with HarperCollins can help us with a strategy for selling to the appropriate buyers.

Many, many thanks to Sue for taking the time to answer these questions for us!

TODAY: Bailey Truitt--Back to Normal (We Hope)

Well, by now you've all heard the news. The trial is over. We are so very happy for the outcome. God has answered our prayers...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sue Brower Indepth Follow-up--Part 1

A number of weeks ago some of you sent in follow-up questions for Sue Brower, fiction acquisitions editor for Zondervan, after her interview at Novel Journey. You sent some in-depth questions, and she needed some time to respond. Running today and Monday are her very interesting answers.

1. You said, "(Zondervan is going to be) a company that takes advantage of new opportunities, trends, and fresh voices in fiction." Do you have any idea what those new opportunities, trends, and fresh voices are? Or will you simply know them when you see them? Any insight into this?

It’s a little bit of both. Zondervan has a research department that helps us identify new opportunities and trends. If there is a topic that is ideal for a specific author, we might ask him/her to work on it with us. If it’s totally new, we just keep it in mind as we receive proposals from agents and at conferences. Sometimes, though, you read something that is so unique and fresh that you just have to have it for your product line. These are rare, and the whole team has to have a passion for it before we will acquire it.

2. "Zondervan fiction...will appeal to the core Christian market." Although I have an idea, can you clarify "core Christian market?"

Since we use our mission statement as the filter with which we sift all of our projects, we will always appeal to those seeking “resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.” Core Christians are those that not only attend church, but also look for resources and products that support their values and help them in their walk of faith.

3. Karen Ball just stated in an interview that most authors' ideas of how to market their work are usually not successful and/or generally don't work, yet that question is repeatedly asked of new authors at every application. How should a new author know what will work for his/her book since marketing techniques seem to be in flux right now with internet exposure and "gimmicks"/ideas?

It’s important that a new author work closely with the marketing department of his/her publisher to determine what tactics will be the most effective. It is probably going to be different for every author. I still believe that an author must have a website and that it is beneficial to network with other writers and writers groups. I also think it is to their benefit to become best friends with their local booksellers and librarians. Beyond that, it really does depend on the author. The most important thing, though, is to partner with your publisher. It’s very easy to duplicate efforts and waste money if you both aren’t working from the same plan.

Now, if you have a publisher that does not partner as well as you would like, here are the things I personally think are most effective for an author to do:

-- Write the best book you can possibly write.

-- Develop a simple website presence that allows you to promote your books and allows the reader to obtain sample chapters.

-- Make sure your website has some way for readers to sign up for updates on your next book. Some publishers have “author tracker” programs that will do this for you and all you need is a link. Otherwise, it is very important that you generate a mailing list. I don’t think you need to do a newsletter unless you have something to communicate to your fans—a new release, a book signing (more on this later) or an upcoming title. It would be nice to also have a place for all your reviews and feedback from readers.

-- DO go out to your local bookstores and introduce yourself as a local author. It’s never a waste of time when the staff knows you by name and is willing to put your book face out instead of John Grisham’s. It is also helpful to introduce yourself to your local librarians. If they have book groups, offer to come in and chat. Doing this may not make you a bestseller, but book groups are easy to do, and they can become a great word-of-mouth campaign.

-- The hardest thing for a fiction author to get is broadcast publicity. Unless you have a great personal story, it doesn’t take long to talk about your book. Do make sure your book is in stores before you do any publicity. It is a wasted effort if the readers cannot go right out and buy the book as soon as they hear about it.

-- I would find out from your publisher where they are sending your book for review and supplement that list with on-line reviewers. The best way to spread word-of-mouth is to encourage people to read your book—what reader doesn’t like to get a free book! If you're going to spend money on something, this is it.

-- If you are in a smaller community, you might also approach the local newspaper about doing an article. I would suggest that you connect with the religion writer and help them do an article on Christian fiction. “And, oh by the way, I just happen to have a new book in bookstores now.” If nothing else, you can write the article yourself and put your new book in the byline.

These are just a few things that the author can do. The bottom line is that you have a strategy and that it aligns with your publisher’s strategy.

4. It seems that publishers, like movie producers, keep repeating what appears to work until it's worn out. Is there a genuine interest by publishers today to stretch the "formula" for "successful" novels? And by that I refer to length and material in that "fresh" Christian voice?

Yes, there is a genuine interest by acquisition editors to stretch the “formula” and publish outside the box. We just have to be very deliberate in our approach. We have to balance the tried-and-true with the “fresh.” This means that there are not as many openings in our lists as we would like for experiments. So to the new author or the author trying to be innovative, it appears that we really aren’t interested.

[Brandilyn here. This is a key issue. The new author already has the harder challenge of “breaking in.” This is because there are fewer slots in any given house for a new author. The house needs numerous established authors’ sales to carry one new author. If you add to that mix content that has a narrower audience or is a further gamble, you narrow your chances for scoring a slot even more. This is why it’s so hard for a brand new author who is “pushing the envelope” to land a sale. With so much going against that author, the writing has to be absolutely stellar.]

Monday, questions 5-11, beginning with: You spoke of a "category strategy" in your interview. What does that mean exactly, and how do authors fit into that?...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Letter From the ECPA

Recently I received this letter from Michael Covington, Information and Education Director for ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association). Michael very kindly took the time to point out some erroneous statements in my previous posts about data reporting for bestseller lists. (Links to these posts in the sidebar.) He gave me permission to run his letter publicly to clear up these misconceptions. I thanked him privately, but here’s another, public thanks from me for his time and energy. It’s hard researching these issues from the outside and getting everything right, so I’m very happy to have an “insider” tell me—and now all of you—what’s really up.
Dear Mrs. Collins:

… Through reading your blog, I can sense that you are an influencer in the world of Christian content, specifically in the fiction genre. I have also noticed that you have a keen awareness of and interest in book sales data and bestseller lists. In my current role I am involved in the development of Pubtrack and all data initiatives for ECPA members. Because of my roles in Christian retail and the world of book sales data I thought it might be helpful for you to have some insider information that would further educate your blogging endeavors.

In a couple of your blog posts you commented that STATS was the industry’s first data collection service, then CROSS:SCAN was launched by CBA and then Pubtrack was a “back atcha” to CROSS:SCAN. I was actually on the CBA B.O.D. when CROSS:SCAN was launched and can tell you that while it may have appeared that Pubtrack was an answer to CROSS:SCAN, it actually had been in the works for quite some time.

STATS was developed in 1999 to aggregate book and Bible sales data from Christian retailers in order to help Christian publishers and retailers more fully understand how books were performing out the front door of Christian stores vs. simply into the back door (as is reported by AAP). In 2004 STATS Plus was launched with increased search and analysis functionality and then Pubtrack was first announced in January of 2006.

As you have rightly noted, STATS at one time did have over 900 rooftops reporting, which included Family Christian Stores. As a practice, we have never announced who is “in” or “out” of STATS data, however in this case the retailer made the announcement that they were withdrawing. In your post dated
May 4, 2006 you wrote:

“Remember that the sales above were only reported from about 1000+ Christian bookstores. For a rough estimate of total sales of the book in a given month, the formula I’ve heard is to multiply the STATS number by 3. Of course, from current lists this formula would be a higher multiple, since the number of stores reporting to STATS has fallen from 1000+ down to around 650.”

The actual multiplier we have used has been 2.45 for books and 1.45 for Bibles, however contrary to what you wrote; the multiplier never changes for STATS (or for Pubtrack), regardless of the actual number of stores reporting. This is because a normalization factor is included in the output data in order to provide comparative sales analysis.

So, when you look at STATS data you are looking at a virtual 1000 Christian retail stores. This method has been proven accurate +/- 4% and it helps those evaluating the data to look at numbers week over week or month over month to compare apples to apples. Otherwise if you have 532 stores send in data one week and then 674 the next week, you cannot compare aggregate numbers to one another for trends analysis. Therefore, we insert a normalization factor into the tables that averages out the numbers so that you are always looking at “1000 stores,” therefore the multiplier to figure total channel volume never changes. As I understand it, Bookscan uses a similar normalizing number in their data for the general trade.

Going forward, our data collection tool as you have noted, is called Pubtrack. Last week marked the official rollout of the Pubtrack user interface and publishers and retailers will begin using the tool as early as next week. Since this is similar to a beta-phase, we will keep STATS up and running through the end of this year. You commented multiple times that it appeared Pubtrack never materialized. I can understand how you came to that conclusion; however Pubtrack has been around in a tangible manner for more than eight months and has undergone much iteration to bring it to where it is today.

A logical question might be “Why has it taken so long to come to some form of arrangement between CBA and ECPA?” As you have pointed out in some of your more recent posts, the two associations have continued to work together in this area of data since the announcement of CROSS:SCAN. In one post, you mentioned a letter from CBA that referenced, “more news to report in January during Advance 2007!” While we were hopeful that something definitive could have been announced last week, I am not sure that Mr. Johnson was making a direct reference to the CBA/ECPA talks as CBA has made another
announcement about an agreement between CROSS:SCAN and industry newcomer Above the Treeline.

Finally (I bet you hoped I would get there), with regards to your comments on bestseller lists, ECPA is keenly interested in tracking books wherever books may be sold and have as one of our strategic goals to implement a multi-channel bestseller list by compiling sales data from all channels. However, as you can see navigating the relational waters with all of the different entities involved is a Herculean task and one that we anticipate could take years to complete.

Ms. Collins, thank you for your ministry and gifting, we appreciate the voice you have in this industry and pray that we can be a source of information for you in the future.

Warmest regards,

Michael Covington

Now wasn't this guy tactful and kind, even while pointing out my mistakes? I sure thought so. Very impressive. Again, I send Michael Covington many thanks for this information.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Safe Christian Fiction--My Take: Part 2

Please click over to Charis Connection again today for the second half of this post. I'd love to see your comments there.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Safe Christian Fiction--My Take: Part 1

I am posting about this convoluted topic today and tomorrow on Charis Connection. Please click over and read my thoughts. I hope you'll leave comments there. Anything you disagree with? Some point I failed to make? I'd love to hear your take on the discussion.

TODAY: Bev Trexel--Gone to the Bird

Cosmos was a good gift for Angie. Just what she needed—practical, companionable, and at the very least, soft enough to cuddle. But what does she go and get me? A bird! A noisy, bothersome cockatoo, not good for either companionship or cuddling. What was I ever going to do with such a gift?...

Monday, February 12, 2007

He's Baaaaack!

So I was jogging today, minding my own business (as usual)--and there he was. G.G., the life-sized gray gorilla. Just appeared again like that, after weeks of nowhere to be found.

Now he's sitting outside. On the porch. And he's changed clothes. He's wearing a red Stanford shirt and slick green jogging pants (the kind you wear in the rain).

I don't know, I think he's looking a little peaked. Kinda slumped in the chair, arms hanging limply at his side. Teeth gleam all nice and white, though. All in all, he's not looking like the slick G.G. I first saw in December.

Well. I did the only thing a self-respecting suspense author would do in such a situation. I finished my run, then the minute I got home I hopped in the car, camera in hand, and raced back to take a clandestine photo. I was sweating bullets, I can tell you. The people in that house are murderers or sadists or something. I mean you don't keep a G.G. around just for nothing. So I parked my rig cautiously, camera on and all ready to shoot. Jumped out, aimed the thing, snapped a photo--and was back in my car before anybody inside that house could grab a shotgun.

I drove like a madwoman all the way home. Then made double sure all my doors were locked.

What do you think G.G's reappearance means? Why has be been kicked out on the porch? Why did he change his clothes? Why is he slumping? Is he not eating right? Does he now house two bodies instead of one?

I just can't figure this out. It's driving me crazy.

TODAY: Wilbur Hucks--I'm On a Rant

I'm doggone riled up, and when Wilbur Hucks is riled, the folks I'm riled at had best watch it. What am I so mad about, you ask?

Stupid people cuttin' down our military...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sta Akra--Part 2

Creston Mapes: Creston’s background has also been in marketing and journalism. He graduated with a degree in magazine journalism and later went on to serve as creative director for Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Prayer of Jabez) and Walk Thru the Bible Ministries in Atlanta. Creston and his group created, wrote, edited, and produced monthly, color magazines for clients such as Ligonier Ministries, Biola University, and Coral Ridge Ministries. After that he picked up freelancing, which he’s been doing ever since. He’s written marketing copy for Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, Focus on the Family, Johnson Controls, Haggai Institute, The Southern Company, Oracle Corporation, In Touch Ministries, BellSouth, Stein Communications, Mission to the World, and many others.

Creston’s first novel, Dark Star: Confessions of a Rock Idol, was published by Multnomah in 2005, followed by Full Tilt in 2006. His next novel, Nobody, will hit shelves this fall.

Opening of Dark Star:

It was a glorious blaze, the fire we set. A wicked, glorious blaze.

Its flames leapt as tall as we were at fifteen years of age, however tall that was. Dibbs was short, so the flames even went above his head.

We stood like some kind of untouchable demons with our backs to the fire, legs locked apart, and forearms crossed above our heads with fists clenched. Our white, black, and red painted faces were lowered, our eyes staring at the wet, almost freezing Ohio street beneath our booted feet.

As cars approached our black, soldier-like silhouettes and the burning wall of fire behind and turned around to find another way to their part of the neighborhood.

Ah, the power. Adrenaline pumping. Hearts pounding. Fear mixed with fascination.

We felt like gods.

Chris Well: Chris is yet another Sta Akra member with a journalism background. His day job is Web Content Manager for Salem Publishing, and he’s a contributing editor for CCM Magazine. He’s also contributed to Thriller Readers Newsletter, 7ball magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Infuze Magazine. Chris is a comic book lover (he and his wife write comic strips), and it shows in his novels. His dialogue is snappy and fresh, the description sometimes sounding like a comic book. He’s known also for his quirky characters and a pop-culture kind of feel to his work. His novels include Forgiving Solomon Long, Deliver Us From Evelyn, with his latest, Tribulation House, releasing in May. Forgiving Solomon Long was chosen by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Christian Novels of 2005.

Chris has been interviewed on Forensics and Faith.
Part 1. Part 2.

Opening of Deliver Us From Evelyn:

On his last day of this life, the Right Fair ReverendMissionary Bob Mullins checked the party dip. Just stuckhis finger right in there, pulled some glop free, stuck it in his mouth and sucked.

Hmm, good dip.

He wiped his saliva’d finger on his jacket, popped the topoff a can of Pringles, shuffled a neat row of curved chipsonto a Dixie brand paper platter.


Setting the can down, he stepped back from the second-hand coffee table in the middle of the shag-carpeted office, looked at what his party planning skills had wrought. And he saw that it was good...

Melanie Wells: Melanie graduated with degrees in counseling psychology and Biblical studies from Our Lady of the Lake University and Dallas Theological Seminary. She has taught at the graduate level at both places, and has been in private practice as a counselor since 1992. She is the founder and director of LifeWorks counseling associates in Dallas, Texas, a collaborative community of creative therapists.

Melanie’s a cool chick with a great sense of humor. From her web site:

Writers are made, not born. There's a formula. You have to start with a certain amount of family dysfunction. It doesn't have to be quite of the Sylvia Plath variety, but if you have an alcoholic or two in the group, or possibly a catastrophic loss of some kind, or at least a chronic inability to function in the face of conflict, you're off to a good start…

Melanie’s psychological/spiritual warfare thriller trilogy has started off with When the Day of Evil Comes and Soul Hunter. (In which the bad guy’s a demon—for real.) She’s published by Multnomah.

Opening of When the Day of Evil Comes:

Someone said to me that day, “It’s hotter than the eyes of hell out here.” I can’t remember who. Looking back, I wonder if it meant something, that phrase. Something more than a weather report. But as it was, I let the remark pass without giving it a thought. It was hot. Hotter than the eyes of hell. That was true enough.

If I’d known enough to be afraid, I would have been. But I was a thousand years younger then, it seems, and I didn’t know what was out there. To me, it seemed like an ordinary day...

Eric Wilson: Eric is published by Waterbrook. His first two novels were Dark to Mortal Eyes and Expiration Date, followed by the Aramis Black series novels The Best of Evil and A Shred of Truth (released this July).
On his website:

From an early age, I wanted to be a writer. Although I was born in California and raised in Oregon, my more enduring memories start in Europe where my parents took Bibles into eastern Europe during the time of the Iron Curtain. Life was a grand adventure for me, full of sights and smells, exotic cultures and peoples...

After high school, my best friend and I traveled in eastern Europe and China. While we were away, things crumbled on the home front, and I returned to my parents’ eventual breakup. I moved to LA and began college. During my junior year, my childhood friend from down the block showed up as a freshman. Within months, she and I were married, and we’re now in our sixteenth year… We now live in Nashville, TN, where my wife is pursuing her dream of singing/songwriting.

Along the way, I’ve been a youth pastor, warehouse manager, cabinet maker, espresso shop owner--and now, at last, a novelist. My heart’s desire. From childhood.

Excerpt from The Best of Evil:

"Well, if it ain't Aramis Black."

"Hey, Striker." I reached out a hand, but he ignored it.

"You got some nerve, wanderin' into our zip code." Striker pushed away from a telephone poll, a short man, a compact slab of muscle. Shaved head. Tattoos coiling around his neck and down into his puffy Blazers jacket. He's never been the brightest bulb in the pack, but he's more than capable of delivering pain in high-wattage.

"One favor,” I said. “That's all I need. For old time sakes."
"A favor, says you. A fa-vor.”

"Ain't nothin' free around here," said his companion.

Striker shook his head. "You cut yourself loose, left us high 'n dry. Funny thing happened right afterwards. The cops came down on us, hard and fast. Who you think you are, some am-bass-ador, come and go as you please?"

I started backing up. It’d been a mistake to come here...

And there you have 'em. Eight wonderful writers, eight terrific and downright nice folk. I'm proud to say I'm a part of the Sta Akra group.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sta Akra--Part 1

Sta Akra was formed a little over a year ago as a way for a small, informal group of suspense authors within our industry to keep in touch and discuss career issues. Sta Akra is Greek for “on the edge.” It’s pronounced StahAHkruh—run together with the emphasis on the second “short” A.

There are nine of us. This is a group that’s not looking to grow or become some formal organization. In fact, weeks can go by without us contacting each other, since we’re all so busy writing. But then some issue will arise that one of us wants opinions/guidance on, and the e-mails start flowing.

For some time now the Sta Akra members have been listed on this blog’s sidebar, with links to their web sites. If you like suspense, you should check these authors out. Each of us is a little bit different in what we write. If you’re a suspense lover and haven’t read all these authors have to offer, you’re in for a treat. As the group name indicates, these authors write “on the edge” suspense with a Christian worldview.

I’ve collected background information on the eight other Sta Akra authors from their web sites, and have included excerpts from their work. You’ll notice that most of these authors, although some are fairly new to fiction, have been writing in other venues for years. Their backgrounds in advertising, marketing, journalism, etc. have helped make them the successful novelists they are today.

Tim Downs: In 1976 Tim created a comic strip, Downstown, which was syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate until 1986. His cartooning has appeared in more than a hundred major newspapers worldwide. His first book, a work of non-fiction, was awarded the Gold Medallion Award in 2000.
Tim is the acclaimed author of the “Bug Man” novels Shoo Fly Pie and Chop Shop, plus the stand-alone novel Plague Maker. His latest, Head Game, is now available. Tim is published by Nelson (formerly WestBow). His stories are high concept and action-packed. Great reads for men and women alike.

Head Game: Someone wants you dead. But he doesn't want to kill you. He wants you to do it for him …

Excerpt from first page of Head Game:

… Nodding with satisfaction, he gathered the drawings into a stack. It was a nice piece of work all in all, one of his best--and it only seemed fitting. His editors would have been proud of the drawings; too bad he'd never have a chance to show them. He found himself wishing that the NYPD detective who found them might turn out to be a comics buff, someone who could appreciate them. But then, that wasn't really important either. There was only one thing that mattered; there was only one person on earth who had to see the drawings, and even he didn't have to appreciate them--he only had to understand them, because his life depended on it.

The only thing left to do was to find a place in the apartment to leave the drawings where they were sure to be discovered. Then everything would be ready; then it would be finished.

He looked around the room for the last time.

T. L. Hines: Tony L. Hines is an advertising guy. He’s been a professional writer for more than 15 years, with articles appearing in publications such as Log Homes, Food & Wine, and Travel & Leisure. In 2001, Tony authored the nonfiction book Billings: A Shining Star in Big Sky Country (CCI Publishing), a historical portrait of Montana’s largest city. In 1995, Tony founded H2O Advertising with his wife Nancy. In 2003, after eight years of growth, they merged their company with Wendt Advertising to create the largest advertising agency in the Northern Rockies. From 1995 to 2002, Tony was also the Managing Editor and a contributing writer for Locations magazine, a publication published by the Association of Film Commissioners International ( to promote on-location film production around the world. Locations is distributed to the feature film and commercial production industries.

Tony, bless his marketing brain, started the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, now directed by Bonnie Calhoun.

Tony’s debut novel, Waking Lazarus (Bethany), garnered some great reviews, including a starred review in Library Journal. Waking Lazarus, called “crime fiction with a supernatural twist,” went on to be named “One of the top 25 genre novels” of 2006 by Library Journal. His second novel, The Dead Whisper On, releases this summer.

Opening line from Waking Lazarus:

The first time Jude Allman died, he was eight years old.

Robert Liparulo: Bob is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Just last week I ran a review of Bob’s latest, Germ. I refer you to that post to learn more about his fiction. This is another Nelson novelist you don’t want to miss.

Opening of his latest novel, Germ:

Hardly resembling a man anymore, the thing on the bed jerked and thrashed like a nocturnal creature dragged into the light of day. His eyes had filled with blood and rolled back into his head, so only crimson orbs glared out from between swollen, bleeding lids. Black flecks stained his lips, curled back from canted teeth and blistered gums. Blood poured from nostrils, ears, fingernails. Flung from the convulsing body, it streaked up curtains and walls and streamed into dark pools on the tile floor.

Despesorio Vero, clad in a white lab coat, leaned over the body, pushing an intratracheal tube down the patient's throat, his fingers slick on the instrument. He snapped his head away from the crimson mist that marked each gasp and cough. His nostrils burned from the acidic tang of the sludge. He caught sight of greasy black mucus streaking the blood and tightened his lips. Having immersed his hands in innumerable body cavities—of the living and the dead—few things the human body could do or produce repulsed him. But this . . . He found himself at once steeling his stomach against the urge to expel his lunch and narrowing his attention to the mechanics of saving this man's life ...

Kathryn Mackel: Author of the “Christian chiller.” If you like horror novels, Kathy’s first two books provide a Christian slant to the genre. Kathy comes from the screenwriting world (Disney, Fox, and Showtime), and it shows in her crisp, lean writing. She was on the screenwriting team for Left Behind: The Movie, and Frank Peretti’s Hangman’s Curse. Her “chiller” novels include The Departed and The Surrogate. Her other novels are Outriders (Birthright series #1), and The Hidden, and she’s at work on more. Her next to be released is The Trackers (Birthright series #2).

From Kathy’s "Christian Chiller" web site:

Don’t be scared. Come on in.

I’m not here to frighten you—I’m here to inspire you. Sure, there’s some creepy stuff in my Chillers. But let’s be honest. This is a dark world. Read the newspaper, look at the news. Look inside yourself. Believers battle the “powers of this dark world and the forces of evil in the heavenly realms” every day.

In my books, I take you through the darkness by shining the true Light. For we know that the only resolution for fear and dread is the true Light that brings Life. Despite my scary plots and creepy characters, Christian Chillers are about light, life, and the glory of Jesus Christ.

As John tells us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…

I pray the Light shines for you as you enjoy my books.

Tomorrow--the other four members of Sta Akra

Read Part 2

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We're Two!!

Happy second birthday, Forensics and Faith!

And to you, Karen Ball, my editor at the time, who said I should start a blog and then had to listen to me whine and groan ... guess I did it after all.

That was then and this is now. I couldn't do without you, BGs! You make my world brighter.

Drat that know-it-all editor.

The floor is now officially open for your Happy Birthday wishes. Creativity is much appreciated. The most interesting will win ... a piece of cake. (You have to eat it, though.)

TODAY: Bailey Truitt--The Trial

The reason for the latest hubbub here (this is putting it very mildly) is--the trial's now underway. No doubt you've been reading about it in the papers. We've had over six months in Kanner Lake to try to settle after last summer's trauma, and we've managed to do that pretty well. But now everything's all stirred up again, with the trial and news people here from all over the country. I've been very busy at Java Joint, I can tell you. Lots of people coming in and out. It's been very interesting to meet the country's top reporters that I've seen on TV for so many years--from all major news stations. I just wish our meeting could be under different circumstances...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Hole--Part 2

... We dug for days and our hole got deeper and bigger around. Mama said, "You kids scoop out some steps in the side to climb up and down so you can carry the dirt out in a scrub bucket. I don't like all that dirt on my clean pillow cases." (We'd tried to throw the dirt out after a few days, but most of it fell back and landed in our hair.) Then, of course, we hollowed out some niches in the other side to keep some cold biscuits with butter and jelly. We needed refreshment often.

News of the big hole at 618 South 18th Street swept our neighborhood. Some of our bored friends peered over the sides. "Hey, Ruth, whatcha doin' down there?"

"Just diggin'."

"We ain't got nothin' to do. Can we help you dig?"

"Well--go home and get your shovels and your own biscuits and jelly."

"Our Mama don't make no biscuits."

"Then get your own store-bought bread."

"Okay. We'll be back soon."

Since our friends got so interested, Art and I began to get plenty of free labor. We could sit on the grass sometimes beside the ever-widening hole, line friends up and direct them all to take turns digging. We even got bighearted and brought out some cold water for them to drink. We also said, "You can use our privy, but don't waste too many pages in the catalog." Art and I were BOSSES OF THE HOLE.

When rain poured down, our platoon had more fun. The Hole was so deep we waded knee-high in the water and thought we might be close enough to Hell to put out some of the fire. On several occasions, I ordered, "Now everybody be QUIET! Listen for the sizzle!"

Then we'd have to become a bucket brigade to get rid of the water, and the path to the privy got slicker. We could slide to it.

The Big Hole took up most of our time that summer. We never did find Hell or China, but we had a lot of fun. The Hole got so big we could sit down there and have a bread and jelly party. Sometimes we even had peanut butter. But when it was nearly time for school to start again, Daddy told us, "Okay, kids. That's a pretty nice lookin' Hole and it's kept you kids out of trouble all summer, but now it's time to fill'er up."

Daddy even planted the grass.

-- Mama Ruth

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Hole--Part 1

To ring in the first full week of February--here's this month's guest post by Mama Ruth. This story is from her childhood, and every word of it's true.
School was out for the summer. My brother, Art, and I sat on the back steps hunched over thinking. The year was 1924. I was eight and he was six.

"What can we do, Art?"

"I donno."

I thought and thought. A light flashed in my brain. "Let's dig a big hole."

"What for?"

"Well, I've heard China is down there. But if we miss China, maybe we could find Hell."

"What will Daddy say?"

"I don't know. Anyway, he's at work, Irene is asleep, and Mama has gone to the library. We can get a lot done before they get back. Com'on, Art. We gotta do something." I jumped up and started for the tool shed where Daddy kept his different sizes of shovels. They all looked big to us, but we each chose the smallest we could find. "I think we'd better put our hole in the corner of the garden. Then nobody will fall into it on the way to the privy."

Art giggled. "Yeah, guess we better."

Though the day was hot and our shovels heavy, we had a small mound of dirt piled up by the time Mama got home. "What in the world are you kids doing?"

"Just diggin' a hole, Mama."

"What for?"

"We heard that China or Hell is down there."

Mama smiled. "I don"t really think you'll find either one, and when Daddy comes home, he'll probably make you fill it all up. It's good that we have nice and soft dirt for you to dig in. Some places have rocky soil." She went into the house with a load of books under her arm, but soon brought us a few crackers and a bottle of water. We knew she'd be on our side. She always was.

We swigged some water, kept digging, and before long Daddy came home. He worked in the mines, and rounded the back corner of the house every afternoon about five o'clock. He wore his miner's cap with the carbide lamp hooked over the front bill, and carried his round, double-decker dinner bucket. He stopped beside us and stood tall. "What're you kids doin'?" He didn't sound too happy.

I straightened my back so I could be tall, too. "Don't be mad, Daddy. We just want to dig a hole."

"Looks like you already did. Don't you know you're messin' up my yard?"

"Please, Daddy, don't make us fill it up. When we finish playing in it, we promise to fill it all up. We want to find China now, and it might take us a long time." I was afraid to tell him we were also looking for Hell. He might not be as sympathetic to our diabolic desires as Mama was.

He watched us dig a bit more with his heavy shovels and finally decided. "Them shovels look pretty big for you. But all right, you can dig all you want to. But you have to put all that dirt back just like it was when you're finished. And if it's a big hole, you'll have to plant some more grass on top for me."

"Yoweee!" Our visas to foreign realms were guaranteed ...

TODAY: Carla Radling--Super Bowl 41

Hi, Carla here. Did I watch the Superbowl? Of course. Didn't everybody? Given the crazy bunch I was with, I didn't just watch it, I lived it. I was at some friends' house, and they threw a true Superbowl party. Lots of people, lots of food and drink. Plus one couple had gone to school in Chicago, and another couple was raised in Indiana, so we had people yelling for both teams. It was a fun afternoon, even for someone like me who doesn't get into football all that much.

No doubt the men at that party could give you a blow-by-blow account of the plays. Who did what, who ran so far, who kicked so great, whatever. I couldn't tell you any of that stuff. Here's what stood out to me:...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Zondervan Breakfast Club

Happy Friday! Here’s info on an interesting offer from Zondervan you might like to sign up for.

Want a free read of the first 2-3 chapters of the latest Zondervan books? For you fiction lovers, think of authors such as Karen Kingsbury, James Scott Bell, Bill Myers, Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, Robin Lee Hatcher, Lori Copeland, Gilbert Morris, and many others. And let’s not forget that Mike Snyder guy. For nonfiction lovers, think authors such as Phillip Yancey, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Joni Eareckson Tada, Ace Collins, Ann Spangler … You get the picture.

Begun in March 2005, the
Zondervan Breakfast Club features one Zondervan book a week, including fiction and nonfiction. Every Monday through Friday, a five-minute excerpt from a book is e-mailed to subscribers. By the end of the week, subscribers have sampled two to three chapters, exposing themselves to new authors or genres they might never have sought out on their own.

Zondervan started the Breakfast Club as a way to fulfill its company mission statement (meet the needs of people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles), while providing targeted marketing to people who said they wanted to hear from Zondervan more regularly.

ZBC is a popular club. While the company keeps its subscriber numbers confidential, I can tell you that Z has seen a 209% increase in current subscribers since November 2005.

ZBC subscribers include business professionals, housewives, pastors, church librarians, bookstore personnel, teachers, students, and many others. Many have written Zondervan to say they've gone to their local bookstore and purchased the books after sampling them in the Zondervan Breakfast Club. Zondervan has also heard from CBA bookstore employees who subscribe so they can stay current on new books to recommend to their customers. Here’s a sampling of the comments Z receives:


"After reading a few of last week's Breakfast Club book snippets, I just HAD to go buy the book (Monday Morning Faith). I finished it over the weekend, staying up until 1:00 a.m. this morning to finish it! It was hilarious, but so convicting too. I'll admit it; I have a problem with possessions also, and Lori Copeland's book helped me to see how foolish I must look to our Father when I throw my little pity parties and whine about my 'possessions.' Thanks!"

"You asked for feedback.............I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!!!! (Night Light). I can not wait to get to the store this weekend to get it. My sister and I read the first one together at the same time and we have been anxiously waiting for this one to come out. I was so happy that it was a "Breakfast Club" book, it only whetted my appetite for more. I was sad each morning when I came to the end of the e-mail. I think Terry Blackstock is an awesome writer!! Her books capture you and hold you till the end, and then you are sad to put it down and leave your friends. Thank you so much. I love the Breakfast Club."

"I loved last week's book (Violet Dawn). I am going out to buy it so I can finish reading it. Thanks and have a blessed day."


"Just went out and purchased the book (S.H.A.P.E.)--it was very interesting. Thanks for picking it as a book club selection."

"This is the first time in a long time that I have looked forward to reading a non-fiction book (The Deity Formerly Known as God). Thanks again for what you are doing."

"I am loving this book club and have been a member for about a month now. The variety of books is Fantabulous. Thank you."

"As the librarian of my church I am always on the lookout for books that are of help to members of the congregation and/or our ministers. You have helped me to choose books that will expand my congregation's understanding about God and that he has made all of us for a Divine Purpose."

"I really enjoy the breakfast club. Because of the club I have bought two new books and I love them!"

"I just signed up for the Breakfast Club and recommended it to a friend. I am a Store Manager for a Christian bookstore and will be recommending that my staff sign up in order to increase product knowledge."

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TODAY: Jake Tremaine--Duke Takes the House
In December I told the story of how the wife, Mable, got all upset when our pup, Duke, got a Christmas ornament hook stuck in his mouth. But I left out the first part. Before that, last you heard from me on the Duke subject was--Mable refused to let him in the house. So how did he get from the garage to the room where we keep our Christmas tree?...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This week the CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) is featuring Germ, by Robert Liparulo. Bob is part of Sta Akra, an informal, small group of suspense authors to which I belong. (More about this group in a future post.)

Bob, a successful journalist for twenty years, has been going great guns since he began publishing his novels with
Westbow, the fiction division of Thomas Nelson. (According to an announcement last October, the Westbow imprint is being dropped, and all future TN fiction will be published under the Nelson name.) His first novel, Comes a Horseman, was nominated for a Christy last year, and film rights to the story have been sold. Now Red Eagle Entertainment has purchased the movie and video game rights to Germ, and Bob will be writing that screenplay. Bob also wrote one of the short stories for the anthology Thrillers: Stories To Keep You Up All Night, edited by James Patterson. This book received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. And this is just the beginning. Trust me when I tell you that Bob has lots of exciting things planned for his career, and you will continue seeing his name—in print and on the screen.

Germ has a fast pace that only lets up here and there to allow the reader some breathe time. It has both male and female protagonists, so although I’d consider the story rather “male-oriented” (think Tom Clancy with a Van Diesel ending), female suspense readers can certainly enjoy the story as well.

Here’s the blurb about Germ:

If you breathe, it will find you...

The list of 10,000 names was created for maximum devastation. On it are business leaders, housewives, politicians, celebrities, janitors, children. None know what is about to happen...but all will be part of the most frightening brand of warfare the world has ever known.

The GERM...a more advanced form of the Ebola virus...has been genetically engineered to infect only those people whose DNA matches the codes embedded within it. If your DNA is not a match, you simply catch a cold. But if your DNA is a match, within days your internal organs liquefy and you die a most painful death. There is no cure.

The release of the virus would usher in a new era of in which countries are left without any form of defense, where one person or millions could be killed with 100% accuracy yet result in no collateral damage to property or those not targeted.

That time isn't coming...It is now!

Fiction from Thomas Nelson often does not contain an overt Christian message. As I understand it, the “Christian worldview” writing is more the kind of story TN publishes, rather than the stories with strong Christian content. For our industry’s sake, I’m glad for this focus from TN. We have plenty of publishers who do want more of an overt message, so a publisher with TN’s focus allows our industry as a whole to target a wider audience. Bob Liparulo’s books are right for this focus. Germ has a Christian character but little of his faith is explored on the surface of the story. You have to look beneath the surface to see how his faith ultimately leads him.

My bottom line: Bob Liparulo’s prose is rhythmic and smooth. He’s a fine writer as well as an inventive storyteller. Recommend Germ to anyone who loves well-written high-concept suspense.