Friday, January 29, 2010

Three Steps To Writing a Stunning First Line

A novelist (or nonfiction writer) has about 30 seconds with the typical book browser to land a sale. First the browser reads the back cover copy. Then she opens to the first page. If she likes the first line, she'll read on. First paragraph ... first page. You've got a sale. If she doesn't like the opening, you can kiss the sale goodbye. So do you really want that first line of yours to be a ho-hum sentence?

Here are three steps to reeling in the browser with your opening line:

1. Create a hook.

A hook imparts just enough information to raise questions. It makes the reader wonder, "Why, what, how?" What nugget can you tease the reader with? Something that will immediately raise far more questions than it answers.

2. Choose the best style.

Once you've decided on the hook, find its most intriguing form, or style, for your scene. Your hook can come in many forms: narrative statement, action, dialogue, self-perception, description, etc.

Narrative statement: Any man going on this mission wasn't coming back. (Amber Morn)

Action: They shoot the white girl first. (Paradise, Toni Morrison)

Dialogue: "Ever hear the dead knocking?" (Dark Pursuit)

Self-perception: Before the accident, I never had to seduce a man in the dark. (The Crossroads Cafe, Deborah Smith)

A note on action--if you go this route, make sure the action is different or shocking enough to demand attention. Toni Morrison's line certainly is. So is Jerry Jenkin's opening of Riven: With the man's first step, the others on the Row began a slow tapping on their cell doors. The more common action of a car skidding on a road, someone falling, even running from a pursuer just isn't compelling enough on its own, unless the sentence is worded in a very unusual way. Further in the book such action can be compelling because the reader knows the character involved and has built some empathy for him. But the reader doesn't know the character at all in the first line. Therefore the action on its own face has to be a hook.

3. Set the tone.

Your first line should carry the same tone--lightness or heaviness--that runs throughout your novel. The first two opening hooks above above carry a somber tone. They tell you the novels will deal with serious issues and are not likely to end with the world in perfect order. The third line has an eerie feel to it. The fourth grabs your heart. Here's one with a lighter tone:

Usually the dwarfs kept bringing him back--back to the circus and back to India. (A Son of the Circus, John Irving)

Yet even in that lighter tone, don't you sense a certain hopelessness about whatever's going on? The word back is used three times.

Tone, when used effectively, adds to the hook. Makes it even more intriguing.

Hook, style, and tone. That's how easy--and hard--the first line is. If you don't come up with a smashing first line as you write your opening scene, skip it and go on. You may not find it until the entire rest of the manuscript is written. That's okay. The right first line is worth sweating for.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The New Apple iPad

In case you were hibernating yesterday and missed it--meet the new Apple iPad. For weeks now rumors have been circulating about the cool new gizmo. In San Francisco yesterday Apple's Steve Jobs unveiled the product. On this one device you can handle your photos, listen to music, read e-books, do e-mail, browse the Internet, read newspapers and much more. The iPad brings up a keyboard on the screen when you need to type in e-mails, etc. The sensitive multi-touch screen also makes it easy to move from one application to another. You can choose at any time to turn the iPad horizontal or vertical, and the screen images will change with orientation. The iPad will run close to 140,000 apps from the App store. Accessories include a keyboard dock, a stand-alone dock, and a piece that allows you to download photos from your camera.

I'd heard rumors that Apple was partnering with B&N to supply e-books for the iPad. Not so. Jobs said Apple has created its own store: iBooks. Looks very good on the iPad. You view your purchased titles on a bookshelf. Turn the bookshelf around--like walking into a hidden passage in a house--and you enter the iBooks store.

The Bookshelf

On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was in negotiations with publishers to set two basic prices for hardcover bestsellers--$12.99 and $14.99--with fewer titles offered at $9.99. Apple will take a 30% cut of the book price, with the remaining 70% going to the publisher. By the time of the iPad unveiling yesterday, five of the six major publishing conglomerates (missing: Random House) were already on board with Apple. More publishers will be added. (In an apparent counter move to Apple's pending unveiling of the iPad, Amazon recently announced a similar 30/70 split with publishers--although publishers must price the books at $9.99 or below to get the deal.) Price wars, anyone?

Basic iPad stats:

9.7 inch, LED-backlit display
0.5 inches thick
1.5 lbs.

Costs start at $499 for the basic 16 GB version. $599 for 32GB, $699 for 64GB. (Ship dates: late March 2010.) Add $130 to any version to add 3G. (3G ship date: April 2010.)

Watch the demonstration video.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Kind of Letter I Love to Receive

A few weeks ago I posted "Most Hurtful Reader Letter I've Received" on F&F. A lot of comments, both here and on Facebook, came in for that post. I also received private messages and e-mails. I'm glad I ran the letter. From the response, I can see God used the post in numerous peoples' lives.

Now here's a good letter, just to balance things out. This is the kind of feedback that keeps us authors slogging away at our computers.

Just a note to let you know. I started passing all of your books to my mother-in-law who lost my father-in-law last fall. She was so despondent and for a lady who was always so active, didn't feel like she had much to do anymore. Well, Exposure just thrilled her. She's an avid reader and when I said I had some inspirational suspense, she was, "Oh, okay, I'll give it a try." Welllll, she loved it and I have passed a bunch of your books to her.

Just thought I'd send you a note and let you know this has been really uplifting to her. She called today to say another book had arrived and she was so excited to get started. You're more than a writer--you have breathed a bit of excitement back into someone who thought she wouldn't have anymore thrills in this life.



Isn't that terrific?

Have you read a book lately that you really enjoyed? Perhaps it taught you something or opened your eyes regarding some issue. Or maybe a friend or family member read it, and it made a difference in his/her life. Do the author a favor and take the time to write and say so. This is easier than you might think. Most of the time you can find a way to contact the author through his/her Web site.

We novelists live in our caves much of the time. A positive response from a reader can mean a lot. Who knows--that author may recently have received a very negative letter and need to hear from someone like you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Get Comfortable. It's a long story." Part 2

We're picking up with storyteller Bobby R. Woodall for a second day of his real-life tales. If you missed the first part--including a firecracker of a barroom brawl--read it here.

Bobby, when we left off yesterday I'd asked you about this passage from Mercer's Manor: Mercer … could judge people by their handshakes. Some shook your hand so weakly it felt like they had a dead fish attached to the end of the arm, a limp wrist. Others shook so violently that one would have thought that you were a well gone dry. Can you tell a lot about a person from his/her handshake? Is there a time you misjudged someone?

It calls to mind when I first met my mother-in-law. She approached me and held out a limp wrist. Now this redneck farm boy from the wilds of Oklahoma did not fall off the turnip truck this morning and had some manners. I doffed my cowboy hat, clicked my heels, bent over and kissed her proffered hand. I had seen enough of Errol Flynn stories to know how to act the gentleman. Now here I was this poor hillbilly talking to my wife's parents, who were well off enough--my wife's father was a Nuclear Scientist with the Naval Lab in Washington, D.C. I can certainly thank God for them putting up with me all these years!

How about this bit of dialogue from Mercer's Manor: “What do you suppose he does around here?” “Anything he wants to.” Ever known a person like that?
Used to have a friend when I was younger, built like Pharaoh's monuments, but as gentle as it comes. People would make a wide berth when they approached him. My son-in-law is the same dimensions that make people wonder. He's 6'7" and my daughter is 5'2". Sort of like Mutt and Jeff. That's the long and short of the matter for them! My Paw used to tell me, "Boy, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Just make sure you're not under them!"

I liked these lines of your protagonist, Dan Mercer: “If you remember nothing else, do not fight a coward. The coward is like a cornered rat—he can kill you simply trying to escape.” Does this line also come from your life experience?

We had a boy in high school that was an outright sissy, but when a group of other boys cornered him, he like to beat one to death just escaping. Common sense will tell you that. There have been many a bully that was almost killed when his victim turned on him. The victim has no way to go, but will do anything he can to escape.

Bobby, what is your inspiration for writing?

Always wanted to be a writer, but I had an English teacher in high school tell me, "Woodall, you could not put 10 words together to make a proper sentence!" Well, Madame, I put over 187,000 words together to make two novels. I find that I can make sense though others may not like it, but I tell them, "Eat your heart out!" I like reading. One day I told my wife, "I think I can write as good as these guys." She told me to do it and see. She is my inspiration, for without her I would be lost! If I am successful, my wife is the reason. So I wrote one novel and it got published. I wrote another to prove I was not a flash in the pan and it got published. "Hey," I thought to myself, "I’m on a roll." Therefore I’m busy writing more--a murder mystery, another western, a children’s book, a horror story and a scary story.

What’s the difference between a horror story and a scary story? In a horror story there’s a lot of fantasy. In a scary story, it is a case of what might or might not happen. I’ve been compared to Louis Lamour, but there are two important things about that. First and the most obvious, I’m alive and he isn’t. (God rest his soul!) Secondly, he takes three chapters to describe a blade of grass. To me, a blade of grass is a blade of grass. I describe people. I want readers to walk a mile in my boots or at least look at my characters through my one eye.

My novels are from my imagination plus real life experiences. (I ask my friends if I can use their name in a story and they say yes. They even go so far as to tell me what character they want to be.) Writing is a form of therapy. One can vent his anger, relive a fantasy or get rid of frustrations. It's wonderful to be alive at this time and in this very moment! My wife says, "Bobby, you’re full of it as a Christmas turkey." Maybe so, but I’m writing it all down and getting paid for it!

That you are. Final question: got another story for us?

Let me tell you a funny on ol' Bobby. The incident happened right after we were married.

I was a bad alcoholic, got to drinking and staying out all night. My mother called, and my wife tearfully said I was not there. Now my Mom put two and two together. She knew I was out drinking. So she told my wife to hide behind the door and when I came staggering in to hit me with the cast iron skillet Mom had given us. About three hours later I came stumbling through the front door, reached for the switch--and suddenly the lights went out. My wife had cold-cocked me! I fell heavily to the floor. My wife, alarmed at what she'd done, called my mother.

"He's dead, " she cried. "What do I do now!"

"First check to see if he's breathing. Just place your finger under his nose and feel for warm air."

"I did. He's alive!"

"Good. Now you go to bed, and in the morning when he comes around, look him in the face and say, 'It's bad enough for a man to go drinking, but when he comes home and can't even get in bed with his wife, it's a crying shame!'"

In the morning, my wife told me just that. Sheepishly, I promised her no more drinking. I figured I had gotten into a barroom brawl and somone had really smacked me upside the head. I did not find out the truth for five years. To hear Babe tell it, she hid behind the door, and when I came in and was reaching for the light switch, she hit me right behind the ear on my left side! To this day we still got the old cast iron skillet. "Your mother's weapon," I joke to the kids, but just the mere mention of it and I wince from the place where I was hit!

Bobby, thanks for two days of great entertainment.

F&F readers: would you like to hear more of Bobby Robert's stories? Leave a question for him in the comments. He just might return to answer them sometime. Meanwhile you can connect with Bobby on Facebook and Twitter. To read more about his books, visit his Web site.

Mercer's Manor on Amazon ($13.99)
Mercer's Manor on Kindle ($5.98)
Clearwater on Amazon ($16.95)
Clearwater on Kindle ($5.98)
Photo Friday winner: William G., with this caption: It was a sad day for pastry lovers everywhere when the Pillsbury Dough Boy's parachute didn't open.

Congrats, William. E-mail me at brandilyn (at) brandilyncollins (dot) com with your address and choice of one of my novels.

Monday, January 25, 2010

“Get comfortable. It’s a long story.”

So says Dan Mercer, cowboy protagonist in Bobby R. Woodall's western, Mercer's Manor. I met Bobby Robert on Facebook and knew right away I'd linked up with a real storyteller. He's a cowboy from way back, wearing a patch over one eye, boots and the ubiquitous hat. He's in his mid-sixties, a Christian ("worshipping with the saints" every Sunday), and is happily married with two kids and four grandchildren. Bobby calls his wife "Babe" and every other woman "Doll." He was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps on January 9, 1964. And now--he writes. To date he's published two westerns, Clearwater and Mercer's Manor. Of his novels, Bobby says, they "have neither profanity nor graphic sex scenes. The English language is too full of proper words to have to resort to profanity. Also I am not the world’s mommy and daddy. People should learn about sex from their parents."

Bobby agreed to stop by F&F today to answer some questions. Which means--tell a few stories.

Bobby, you have more than one down-and-dirty barroom brawl scene in Mercer’s Manor. I suppose that’s about required for all rip-roarin’ westerns? I hear you have a story from your own life about a barroom fight.

I’m from Oklahoma originally but have lived in Indiana for the last 39 years. I used to be a cowboy. In fact when I met my wife I was shoeing horses and mules at a dude ranch (Stupid Charley’s). The name of the ranch is funny, as my wife and her college roommate had a lab mouse from college named “Stupid Charley." This mouse was all the time running backwards, so they just named him Stupid Charley. Anyway, the two girls wanted to have an adventure and summer was coming up at college, so they decided to look in magazines for dude ranches. In the meantime, a buddy of mine and I decided to go to California to become gigolos. We figured we were good looking dudes, and women would be falling over each other to get at us. As luck would have it, we two Romeos were in a bar, got in a brawl and finally deposited at the gutter in front of the establishment.

The brawl started with my friend, Robert, who had a firecracker called a screamer in his back pocket (it was around the 4th of July). One of the patrons at the bar was a drunken Indian who decided to walk around us. In the process, he spied the firecracker sticking out of Roberts butt pocket. Grinning to himself, the drunk applied the lit end of his cigar to the fuse of the screamer. I was at the far end of the bar, trying to put the make on a lovely Indian maiden. I say lovely because she had at least three teeth in her mouth--two stained with berry juice and one yellowed and broken. Plus her hair looked as if it was due an oil change any minute.

All of a sudden, Robert let out a whoop and holler. Seems as the firecracker was burning its fuse, he was being burnt in the butt. He quickly reached behind him to remove the offending screamer, but got burnt; therefore he threw his hand up in the air and hollered. I thought he was making fun of the Indians by doing an impromptu war dance. The battle was on. I looked around and hit the first person I saw (a big Indian). My Paw had told me to always get in the first punch. He in return hit me back (it was only right as I had hit him first). After having my facial features rearranged by Hiawatha and moving my nose to where my right ear was, I backed up to a juke box that was blaring out "Honky-tonk Angels." Raising my fists to ward off more blows, I looked out of the corner of my eye that was not already closed and saw Robert take on two more of the noble breed. To make a long story even longer, we were thrashed royally, or to put it in plain English, beaten almost to a pulp and thrown in the gutter.

We crawled to our car, and the next morning there was a tap on the side window. Bleary-eyed, I looked out the window and could have sworn it was Wyatt Earp or maybe Wild Bill Hitchcock. This apparition staring back at me was dressed up in full cowboy regalia; chaps, boots, Levis, etc. He even had a handlebar moustache stained with tobacco juice. His dishwater hair peeked out from under the biggest Stetson I'd ever seen. Rolling down my window a smidge, I asked what he wanted. "You boys shoe horses?" I was raised on a farm so I stated that we did, although I knew Robert was scared of horses. That meant that yours truly would be doing all the work.

We worked at the dude ranch, and there I met my wife. I knew her 30 minutes and asked her to marry me. I'll be the first to admit I was a tad slow, but I had to know her name first. One has to set his priorities right. We eloped and then started the long saga of the adventures of BobbyRobert. We just had our 40th anniversary last August 1st.

That's quite a story, Bobby. I'd bet a lot more of your life may have ended up in your novels in some form. In Mercer's Manor
Dan Mercer recalls his mother saying: “Son, you always be prepared. Never know when the good Lord has a surprise waiting for you, be it good or be it evil.” Has this saying played out in your own life?

Sure it has, very often. My Granny used to tell me that when I was growing up. The lesson I learned was be prepared. I don't cotton to surprises. That way when they come, be they good or evil, I accept them. But I try to make the bad experiences be good. For instance, I had a horrible auto accident 35 years ago that left me with brain damage. (No, I’m not a babbling idiot, although my wife would disagree with me sometimes.) My car hit two mail boxes and one telephone pole, and rolled end over end five times. I was declared legally “dead” three times. I was in a coma for 47 days. Funny thing though. I did not break one bone in the accident, but after two weeks in the hospital's neurological unit, I was dropped out of bed and broke my hip socket. Let me tell you the hospital wasn’t safe at all! The doctors told my wife if I survived I would be a vegetable. This carrot not only survived but authored and got two novels published.

I'm beginning to think your life has been anything but serene. Makes me think of another of Mercer's lines. He says, “All I want is some peace and quiet. I don’t want to bother anyone, and I don’t want anyone to bother me. I’ve seen enough violence and bloodshed to last me a lifetime.” Is this true of your life today?

Yes, it is, ma'am. Red Foley had a song called "Satisfied Mind." I have a satisfied mind. I don't bother people, but at the same time don't want to be bothered. When I first met my in-laws, they were shocked at my appearance. I had on Levis, pearl button cowboy shirt, Justin boots and a Stetson cowboy hat. The Midnight Cowboy didn't have anything on me! Concerning violence and bloodshed, I've been in enough fist fights to see all the blood I want, especially my own. But life is too short to wallow in self-pity. Of course I did my fair share of holding pity parties for ol' Bobby, but then I remembered. Back home in Oklahoma there was a sign that said, "I felt sorry because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet." Sure, I wear a patch, but I’m not blind. I limp somewhat especially when I’m tired, but I'm not confined to a wheel-chair. I talk in a slurred tone, but at least I’m not mute, although there have been times when my kids and wife wished it to be so. I am considered by Social Security to have Cerebral Palsy and am classified as totally disabled, not handicapped. Any time your cerebrum is damaged, the Social Security people put a large umbrella over it and call the condition Cerebral Palsy.

You sound like you're doing anything but wallowing in self pity. The mention of these physical issues reminds me of another passage from Mercer's Manor. The passage reads: Mercer … could judge people by their handshakes. Some shook your hand so weakly it felt like they had a dead fish attached to the end of the arm, a limp wrist. Others shook so violently that one would have thought that you were a well gone dry.
Bobby, can you tell a lot about a person from his/her handshake? Is there a time you misjudged someone?

It calls to mind when I first met my mother-in-law. She approached me and held out a limp wrist...


Come back tomorrow for the rest of Bobby Robert's stories. Meanwhile you can connect with Bobby on Facebook and Twitter. To read more about his books, visit his Web site.

Mercer's Manor on Amazon ($13.99)
Mercer's Manor on Kindle ($5.98)
Clearwater on Amazon ($16.95)
Clearwater on Kindle ($5.98)

Don't forget to vote for your favorite caption for Photo Friday. (There's still time to leave captions throughout today.) Winner announced tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's Photo Friday!

Here we are with the first Photo Friday of 2010. PF runs monthly on Forensics and Faith. For you new readers, here's the scoop: Write the best caption, win your choice of one of my novels. Enter as many captions as you like. Come back over the weekend to read all the captions and vote on your favorite. Winner will be announced next Tuesday. Facebook friends--make sure to leave your captions here, even if you put them on Facebook.

This photo was submitted by Sheila Gerke. Since her picture was chosen for Photo Friday, she also receives a free book. Sheila calls herself a “glutton-reader. She "loves to read fast and can’t stop until there’s nothing left." Married for 29 years, she's been a church administrative assistant, but is currently unemployed after several moves. Join Sheila on Facebook here.

If you've submitted a picture for Photo Friday, I may still use it for another month. If you'd like to submit a picture, please send it as an attachment in an e-mail to: brandilyn (at) brandilyncollins (dot) com.

All right, we're off with our crazy photo. Bring on your captions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

E-book Wars X 3

Being a writer ain't ever easy. Sometimes it's downright chaotic.

1. just announced it will change how it pays publishers for its e-books. Beginning June 30 of this year Amazon will pay publishing houses (or self-pubbed authors) 70% of the Kindle list price for books sold in the U.S., minus electronic delivery costs (which purportedly equal a mere six cents). As an example, Amazon said, a Kindle edition selling for $8.99 will begin paying publishers/authors $6.25 per book instead of the current rate, which would equal $3.15.

Not surprisingly, there are quid pro quos: (1) The Kindle edition must cost between $2.99 and $9.99. (2) This list price must be at least 20 percent less than the printed version.

Bottom line for publishers: More cut of each sale. Now, what percentage of that 70% the house will give its authors--aye, there's the rub.

Bottom line for readers: Keeps Kindle version costs down.

2. There's out-and-out war going on over the recently released political nonfiction Game Change. At the writing of this post the book had garnered 163 one-star reviews (out of 243 reviews in total), many of them merely to expression dissatisfaction over the lack of it being available on Kindle. Highly unfair for the book, of course--that people who haven't even read it would skew the review ratings just to express their anger at the publisher. And many reviewers are fighting back. There are quite a few discussions going on (linked from the book page), urging Amazon to delete the no-Kindle reviews.

This battle shows the disconnect between how avid Kindle users and publishers view Kindle versions. The former (Kinavidles, if you will) have moved totally to e-book format. Ergo, if it isn't available on Kindle, it doesn't exist. Meanwhile publishers are viewing the e-books as an alternate--and cheaper--form of the original hardback, much as they view paperbacks. It's long been standard that the hardback version of a title is released, then the paperback months later. This gives publishers a chance to first reap the revenues from the more expensive version. Readers who want cheaper books have been trained to wait for the paperbacks. But this is a new age. The Kinavidles won't wait, they say. By the time the Kindle version of Game Change comes out, they'll have moved on.

Bottom line: Who knows how this one will shake out. I would have suggested a compromise: publishers issue an immediate Kindle version but at a higher price than the standard $9.99, so they can recoup at least some of the money skimmed off from hardbacks. But--reference #1. After June 30 the pubs can't charge any more than $9.99 on Amazon if they want that 70% cut.

3. Meanwhile Apple is stepping into the e-book industry. Rumor is that their planned January 27th announcement will be about their new Tablet, a multi-media gizmo that can contain e-books, video, and all manner of way cool things. Word also abounds that Apple will be offering publishers a 70% cut of their e-book sales. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

Bottom line for readers: Another, even snazzier way to devour books.

Bottom line for authors: Heck, we're still trying to figure out how our royalties work in all this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

If You Could Ask God One Question...

Some years ago I read about a survey in which people were prompted, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” The majority’s response, far outnumbering even the “Why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people?” question, was: “What is my purpose on this earth?”

That question haunted me.

Not because I was surprised by it. It seems that all of us, even the most successful or proud, have in some quiet moment wondered why we were created. Cast aside whatever things define our hustle-bustle lives – the station wagon with child car seat, the designer clothes, the electronic calendar, the architect’s drafting board, the dancing shoes – and we tend to find ourselves reduced to basic humanity. Imagine, if you will, God’s omniscient vision barreling through vast galaxies to seek tiny planet Earth, then swirling through countries and cities and millions of people to focus on you at your breakfast table. When we picture ourselves in such a way – like mere grains of sand on an ocean floor – the problems of our own little worlds suddenly seem insignificant. No wonder that at some point in our lives we tip our faces heavenward and wonder, “God, in all this, in a creation more immense than I can imagine, why did you make me? What part do I play?”

No, the survey response did not surprise me. However, it saddened me a great deal. For by the very nature of the prompt – “If you could ask God . . .” – respondents posed the question wistfully, as if they knew in reality they could never expect God to answer. But in fact, we can ask God what our purposes are on earth, and He will answer. For He, indeed, has a plan for each of us and wants more than anything for us to follow that plan.

Do you believe, as do most Americans, that God exists? If so, what kind of God do you believe in? One who flung the sun, moon and earth into their intricate orbs, then backed away from His creation – a God who lit it, then quit it? Or do you believe in a loving God who purposely fashioned the earth and every person ever born? If you’re not sure of your answer, ponder this: when you’re in trouble, what kind of God do you pray to?

God’s words to Jeremiah in calling the young man to be His prophet depict a loving God who is intimately connected to His creation: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5). The same theme is echoed in Isaiah 44:2: “Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you.” And again in Isaiah 44:24: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone.’”

The Bible is full of stories about God’s specific plans for people. He called Abram (later renamed Abraham) to be the father of Israel, saying, “Go forth from your country . . . to the land which I will show you, and I will make you a great nation.” (Genesis 12:1.) Later, God called Moses to lead the oppressed Israelites out of Egypt. In addition to Jeremiah, He called Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and many others as prophets. He called Mary to become the mother of Christ. When Jesus was on earth He called twelve specific men to be his disciples. As the early church was growing, God called Saul, hater and killer of Christians, to become a Christian himself and to write letters encouraging believers that later would become part of the New Testament. The list goes on and on.

“Ah,” you might say, “but these people were famous, special.” Famous, in that their callings were magnanimous and far-reaching? Yes. More special to God than you? No, for God has made it clear through the Bible that He spent equal time designing each person and his or her specific tasks. “For we are His workmanship,” the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What a wonderful thing, to think that God created each of us just the way He wanted in order that we might best fulfill the plans He has set for us! Furthermore, God has assured us that when we ask Him to guide us, He will reveal those plans. “Call to Me, and I will answer you,” He says in Jeremiah 33:3, “and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Such a God sounds neither hard of hearing nor remote. Quite the opposite. Such a God sounds as though He’s virtually leaning out of Heaven, waiting for us to seek Him.

The message of the Bible is clear and full of hope. We need not flounder in our own weakness, merely wishing we could ask God to give His direction to our lives. The question should not be, “If you could ask God,” but rather, “When will you?”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Writing Fiction, American Idol Style

What can novelists learn from watching American Idol? Character empathy.

As the show started its new season last week, my daughter watched with a friend who's never seen it (can you imagine?). Amberly told me her friend said, "I thought this was a singing competition. Why do they run all these vignettes about contestants?" To which Amberly replied, "That's what makes you care about the people!"

I had the same thought as I watched the show. On the second night we saw Jermain Sellers, a 17-year-old "church boy" who takes care of his mom who has spina bifida. And Vanessa Wolfe with her heavy southern accent, from a tiny town in Tennessee : "I don't really have a life. I'm stuck in Vonore ... I feel trapped here ... I know these judges are high profile people. I don't want 'em lookin' down on me or nuttin' like that." When Vanessa was put through to Hollywood she cried, "I'm gonna ride on an ay-ro-plane!" My heart couldn't help but go out to Vanessa. I find myself thrilled for her--and terrified. She's never been anywhere. Hollywood could chew her up and spit her out. What will happen to her there?"

These vignettes of chosen contestants are only a minute or so long. But they (1) capture the contestant. They show something that immediately makes you want to root for him or her. (2) They raise the question: How will this person do in Hollywood? You have to stick with the show to find out about this particular contestant.

But AI is about singing.

Yes, and a novel is about plot. But neither AI nor a novel works if the viewer/reader doesn't care about the people involved.

What novel have you read recently that made you care about the character right away? What happened to make you care? What question was raised in your mind to keep turning the pages?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Anne Rice on 700 Club--"I Went Home"

I've moved Photo Friday to next week in order to tell you about the interview that ran yesterday of Anne Rice on The 700 Club. It's a wonderful look at this very talented writer--an author I have admired and read for many years, all the way back to her novel Feast of All Saints. Anne talks about being raised a Catholic, turning to atheism after she entered college ("I convinced myself that it was realistic to be an atheist"), then eventually finding her Christian faith again.

Anne depicts The Vampire Chronicles as stories about "the search for God and the misery in darkness when they [the characters] have no God or promise of salvation." In Interview with the Vampire, she says, the vampire goes through the entire novel asking, "Does anyone know about God?" Anne remarks, "Those were my questions."

"A vampire is the perfect metaphor for the outcast," she said. "I felt like an outcast. I was grieving for my lost faith." She sees The Vampire Chronicles as "very much about guilt, alienation, and sorrow."

Anne did turn back to God ("I went home."), and then in 2002 committed her writing to be only for Him. She's since written about the life of Jesus. And she's written of her return to faith in Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. Now in recent months she's launched her Songs of the Seraphim series with the novel Angel Time.

Do watch the interview. It runs about 18 minutes and is well worth your time. Then feel free to leave a comment for Anne here. (She's likely to stop by and read them).

Buy Angel Time in hardback on Amazon ($12.98)
Buy the Kindle edition ($9.99)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bestseller Lists for December '09

For those of you who haven't been in on our previous discussions of the bestseller lists for the Christian market (check under the archives for "Craft and Industry" posts)--a quick reminder of how these lists are formed. They are built on (a) reported sales at (b) participating (c) Christian bookstores.

(a) A "sale" is sometimes referred to as a "point of sale," meaning when a customer buys the book off the shelf. (If all copies of the book aren't bought by customers, the bookstore will eventually return those copies to the publisher for a full refund.)

(b) "Participating" means only those bookstores that choose to share their data in this way. Many bookstores don't share their data. So no matter how many copies of a certain title might sell at those nonparticipating stores, those sales won't help the book make the bestseller list.

(c) Christian bookstores are the only ones who report. A sale at a Barnes and Noble or any other general store doesn't count toward the CBA or ECPA list, nor do sales at WalMart, Amazon, Sam's Club, etc. (On the flip side, sales at Christian bookstores don't count toward secular bestseller lists like the New York Times, etc. That's why you can know a Christian book making the NYT is selling a lot of copies--because so many sales don't even count.)

Here is the CBA "February" list and the ECPA "January" list, both reflecting sales in the month of December. Books appearing only on one list are highlighted in blue.

CBA (Numbers in parentheses reflect the book's standing on the CBA Top Fifty list, which includes fiction and nonfiction.)

1. (7) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media
2. (9) Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
3. (17) Green, Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson
4. (31) A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
5. (40) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, MultnomahWaterBrook
6. (48) The Missing, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
7. An Amish Christmas, Beth Wiseman & Kathleen Fuller, Thomas Nelson
8. Intervention, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
9. Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
10. The Secret, Beverly Lewis, BethanyBaker
11. The Sound of Sleigh Bells, Cindy Woodsmall, WaterBrook
12. Burn, Ted Dekker & Erin Healy, Thomas Nelson
13. White Christmas Pie, Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour

14. Kelly’s Chance, Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour
15. Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
16. Kiss, Ted Dekker & Erin Healy, Thomas Nelson
17. The Silent Gift, Michael Landon & Cindy Kelley, BethanyBaker
18. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, Zondervan
19. Plain Pursuit, Beth Wiseman, Thomas Nelson
20. The Inheritance, Tamera Alexander, Thomas Nelson

ECPA (Numbers in parentheses reflect the book's standing on the ECPA Top Fifty list, which includes fiction and nonfiction.)

1. (5) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media

2. (6) Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
3. (15) Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
4. (23) Green, Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson Publishers
5. (27) The Missing, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
6. (30) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, Waterbrook/Multnomah
7. (40) Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
8. (47) Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
9. (49) Intervention, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
10. The Silent Gift, Michael Landon, Jr./Cindy Kelley, Bethany/Baker
11. The Inheritance, Tamera Alexander, Thomas Nelson
12. The Secret, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
13. Kelly's Chance, Wanda E. Brunstetter, Barbour
14. Plain Pursuit, Beth Wiseman, Thomas Nelson

15. Down Where My Love Lives, Charles Martin, Thomas Nelson
16. Plain Promise, Beth Wiseman, Thomas Nelson
17. Though Waters Roar, Lynn Austin, Bethany/Baker
18. A Cousin's Prayer, Wanda E. Brunstetter, Barbour
19. The Last Jihad, Joel C. Rosenberg, Tyndale

20. The Complete Circle Series, Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Book Giveaways

Here's more free book info for you. These promos won't last long, so get 'em while they're hot.

1. In the Christian Fiction Online Magazine I'm giving away the entire four-book Kanner Lake series to one winner. Go
here to enter your name. This giveaway closes on January 31.

2. I've just learned today that Dark Pursuit and Exposure are available for free downloads from Barnes and Noble on their Nook reader. This is an expansion of the current Kindle giveaway of these titles. Go here to download Dark Pursuit. And here for Exposure. Like the Kindle, you can download free apps for B&N ebooks for your Blackberry, iPhone/iPod Touch, or PC/MAC. Check out free app downloads on this page.

3. The Kindle free promo for Dark Pursuit and Exposure continues for only one or two more days. Exposure is still at #1 on the Kindle list, with Dark Pursuit at #2. Go here to the main Kindle books page for links to download. (Look to the right and down a little for bestseller list.)

I give books away on a regular basis through a few venues:

1. My newsletter, Sneak Pique, which is e-mailed every other month. (The next issue releases around February 1.) Each issue carries a chance for three people to win a book of their choice. Sign up for Sneak Pique here.

2. Through my Fan Group on Facebook.

3. Once a month here on Photo Friday. Winner of the best caption wins a book of their choice. And if you send me a crazy picture I use for Photo Friday, you win a book also. (Next Photo Friday is this Friday.)

If you hang around me long enough, you're bound to win a free book one way or another.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Novelist's Success Story

I'm very glad to have C.J. Darlington guest post today on Forensics and Faith. C.J. has been a member of this community for a long time--a very active member, as you'll soon see. Take it away, C.J.
As some of you may know, last year at the Christian Writers Guild Writing for the Soul Conference I found out my first novel, Thicker than Blood, won the CWG Operation First Novel contest. The prize included publication with Tyndale House, and as you read this post my “little novel that could” is just hitting shelves across the country.

What you might not know is that back in 2005 Brandilyn edited an early version of a pivotal scene in Thicker than Blood on this very blog (see the Action Scene edit posts). [Brandilyn's note: This public edit, which C.J. volunteered for, lasted over two weeks. She was very brave!] Several of Brandilyn's suggestions wound up in the published version, so it was apropos that I met her in person for the first time at that same Writing for the Soul Conference. In fact, she was one of the first to break my good news on Twitter and Facebook. Before I share my story, let me say thank you, Brandilyn, for your keen insights!

I had almost given up on Thicker than Blood. I started writing the story when I was fifteen, and over the years as I learned more about writing I applied it to my manuscript. By the time I was twenty-four I’d finally finished it (I thought!). I entered an early draft in the CWG’s very first Operation First Novel in 2004. It placed as one of 20 semi-finalists but didn’t make it into the top 10. So I started submitting the book directly to editors. At that time it was only a 67,000 word manuscript---a lot shorter than the market standard of 75-100K. Time went on, and I amassed nothing but rejections. Eventually I added another 10K and tightened up some scenes. Still no bites. A few editors offered me feedback on why they were rejecting the book, but mostly it was Form Rejection City.

The years passed. A few times I got close to a contract. One publishing house held onto the book for over a year before they took the manuscript to Editorial Committee, only to send me a kind rejection. Another editor read the full manuscript and liked the rare books aspect of the story, but felt the characters weren’t distinct.

Luckily I wasn’t just sitting around at this point. I did start and finish a sequel to Thicker than Blood during this time. But discouragement was always hiding in the corner, waiting to jump out at me with each rejection. I’d read the writing how-to books. I knew being rejected was par for the course, but it still wasn’t easy. I kept reminding myself (read: my mom kept reminding me!) God had just the right publisher for me.

I began to doubt the merit of my first novel. I knew of many, many successful authors whose first books were never published. Maybe Thicker than Blood would be like that for me. I was a week or two away from putting it in a drawer for good and starting the submission process for my second novel. I even had an editor picked out and the cover letter drafted and waiting.

Something stopped me. I was lying in bed one night about to drift off to sleep when a thought came. I believe now it was the Lord prompting me, but at the time it just came as a thought. “What if I re-entered the new and improved Thicker than Blood in this year’s Operation First Novel contest?” I checked my calendar. I had about two weeks before it would’ve been too late to become a member of the Christian Writers Guild. Almost fifteen years after I first put pen to paper writing Thicker than Blood, I found out it was an Operation First Novel finalist, and then in February I waited with bated breath as Jerry B. Jenkins announced Thicker than Blood as that year’s winning book. I’m still totally amazed.

I’ve learned, and am still learning, several things from my writing journey:

Never give up. If God doesn’t release you, keep submitting and honing your work. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right editor or agent to believe in your book. Almost all of the major Christian publishers rejected Thicker than Blood. One publisher said my main character was too edgy for them. Later Tyndale told me they appreciated that my characters were imperfect.

Don’t always trust yourself to be the best judge of your work. As the rejections came, so did the doubts. If I would’ve listened to myself, I would never have been published. Is there a trusted writer or family member in your life to whom you could show your work? Everyone always says never show your work to your mother, but my mom is my first and best editor!

You don’t have to do everything by the book. I had never been to a writers' conference, did not have an agent, and had never belonged to a critique group when Thicker than Blood was accepted. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do or have these things, but don’t be discouraged if money’s tight and some of these options aren’t available to you. You can still succeed.

Start writing your next book. It will be so much easier when you do get a contract if you have another book ready. This is one reason I’m so thankful I did not get published until now. Which just goes to show that the Lord’s ways are much, much higher than ours. If it would’ve happened the way I wanted, things would’ve been a lot harder. Hmm… it’s almost as if God knew what He was doing.

I hope my writing journey encourages you in some small way. Thanks for having me here, Brandilyn!


C.J., thanks. I hope you all will leave your congratulations for her here--then check out her book through the links below.

Buy Thicker Than Blood from Amazon ($9.35)
Kindle edition ($8.79)
Buy from ($10.99)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are Your Memories of the Columbine Shooting True?

When you hear "Columbine school shooting" what memories about the event come immediately to mind? I think these two things: (1) Cassie's declaration that she believed in God--just before being shot. (2) Two picked-on, unpopular boys who finally snapped and went on a rampage in revenge.

Did we not hear about these two elements of the horrible shooting over and over? We did. Both are false.

Over Christmas vacation I read Columbine, a book ten years in the making by Dave Cullen. Fascinating, chilling, well-done book. Cullen, in straightforward reporting fashion, tells us what happened--and even more importantly, why. Along the way he dispels the media-driven myths about the shooting--myths that became so prevalent that even the declared truth couldn't dispel them.

At the heart of these myths lie two facts that stood out to me. The first is that, contrary to popular belief, eyewitness accounts of tragedies are not reliable. Too much emotion is raging, with horrific events happening too fast. A vision of something true can be set in the brain inaccurately--wrong time, wrong person, wrong color. But that inaccuracy becomes truth to that person, who just knows he's remembering right. In my own research for writing suspense novels, I've seen this phenomenon over and over again. Even those sure fingers pointing to a defendant in the courtroom--"That's the man who attacked me!"--aren't always accurate.

Second is the sound-bite-hungry, get-the-story-first mentality of the media. It's understandable but unfortunate. Reporters need to file that story--and it better be good. And on TV everything's reduced to soundbites, as there's not much time to cover a story. But often the result is a report highly skewed.

My first published book (1994) was A Question of Innocence, the only true crime I've written. Originally I attended the trial in the Bay Area of California as research for my novel Eyes of Elisha. I ended up writing a book on the nation-watched "Diary Girl" case, obtaining the exclusive story of the defendant and her family, and having access to attorneys on both sides. What I learned of the media was fascinating--and again, chilling. I'd be in court each day, learning the background information on the defense and prosecution. I'd watch the testimony, be in the halls during break. Then I'd come home and watch the coverage on the nightly news. Those sound bites were often night and day from what I knew to be the truth of the case. (A Question of Innocence is my only book that's out of print. You can buy it from used book sellers here.)

For those who like to know the story behind the story--and are willing to revisit a terrible event in our country--I recommend Columbine. It is a tale of tragedy but also one of hope, as symbolized by the cover: the site of the tragedy is small; the open sky large.

What do you remember most about Columbine?

Friday, January 08, 2010

When Your Books Show Up On eBay

Just before I started to put up the post I'd intended to run today, Google Alerts sent me an e-mail. One of the titles sure caught my attention: BRANDILYN-COLLINS-CRAPPY-BOOK-LOT.

Oh, man. I started to laugh. Now who's talking down my books? I had to go check it out.

Turns out it's an eBay page. And it looks like the "crappy" refers to the condition of the books, not the content. What a riot. Go see the page for yourself.

While you're at it, you might want to bid on the "crappy 4." It's the two books in my Chelsea Adams series, Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion, plus the first two in the Hidden Faces series, Brink of Death and Stain of Guilt. The buyer says nary on the word on whether the stories themselves are any good.

By the way, all four of these books are in their original (and better) covers. Now that they've been re-released, you can't buy them in these covers anymore.

If ya don't mind messed-up spines and books that smell like smoke, bid away.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

December '09 List of Today's Word

I have now been doing Today's Word on Twitter/Facebook for over a year. The monthly lists here provide an easy way to find a unique word when you need it. Archives of Today's Word are under "Craft and Industry" on the right. One monthly list links to the next.

Join the Today's Word gang on my Facebook wall every day for some fun in using Today's Word in a sentence. Some sentences are just plain fabulous, some are funny. Some start interesting discussions. Today's Word goes out on Twitter/Facebook at 7 a.m. Pacific time.

And no--I don't use these words in my books. Most are far too esoteric. I just think it's fun to learn new words. I choose words that are unusual but have meanings that could easily fit into an everyday conversation.

While you're here, I challenge you to write a sentence using at least six of the words below.

JUNOESQUE (JU-no-ESK) adj.--marked by stately or voluptuous beauty and generous proportions; plump.

APPOSITE (AP-uh-zit) adj.--highly pertinent or appropriate; relevant.

RELIQUIAE (ruh-LIK-wuh-ee) plural noun--remains of the dead; organic remains.

DEMIT (duh-MIT) intrans. verb--to relinquish office or membership, to resign or withdraw.

ECTYPE (EK-tipe) noun--a copy from an original; something real, as opposed to its ideal prototype.

AD REM (AD REM) adv.--in a way marked by strict attention to essential points; without digression.

RENASCENCE (ruh-NAYS-unts) noun--a new birth or life/rebirth; a cultural revival/renaissance.
CONSANQUINEOUS (con-san-GWIN-ee-us) adj.--of the same ancestry; of the same origin.

REDINTEGRATE (ruh-DIN-tuh-grate) trans. verb--to put back together; restore to integrity/soundness.

NIMIETY (ni-MIH-uh-tee) noun--excess; redundancy.

LATERITIOUS (lad-uh-RISH-us) adj.--resembling brick; the color of red brick.

EIRENICON (eye-REN-uh-kan) noun--a statement to harmonize conflicting doctrines; a reconciliation.

SOLATIUM (so-LAY-shee-um) noun--something that alleviates or compensates for suffering or loss.

ANAMNESIS (AN-um-NEE-sus) noun--a recalling; information on a patient used to analyze his condition.

ANCHORITE (AHN-ko-RITE) noun--one who renounces the world to live in seclusion, often for religion.

DIABLERIE (dee-AHB-luh-ree) noun--actions of devils; a scene of devils in art; mischievous conduct.

CONTUMACY (KON-too-muh-see) noun--obstinate or contemptuous resistance to authority.

RATIOCINATE (RAD-ee-OHS-uh-nate) verb--to reason discursively or according to a logical process.

CREPITATE (KREP-uh-TATE) verb--to make small, sharp, rapidly repeated explosions or sounds; crackle.

TEMERARIOUS (tem-uh-RARE-ee-us) adj.--marked by temerity; rashly or presumptuously daring; reckless.

STOCHASTIC (sto-KAS-tik) adj.--characterized by conjecture.

HYETAL (HI-uh-dul) adj.--of or relating to rain, rainfall or rainy regions.

REIVER (REEV-er) noun--a raider.

INTEMERATE (in-TEM-uh-rut) adj.--pure, undefiled.

PARONOMASIA (PARE-uh-no-MAY-zhee-uh) noun--a play upon words, a pun.

EXOGENOUS (ek-SOJ-uh-nus) adj.--produced from without; originating from or due to external causes.

TERMAGANT (TER-muh-gunt) noun--an overbearing, quarrelsome, scolding, or nagging woman.

ARCADIAN (ar-KAY-dee-un) adj.--idyllically pastoral; simple/peaceful. noun--one leading a simple rural life.

MARITORIOUS (ma-ri-TOR-ee-uhs) adj.--excessively fond of one's husband.

PROSOPAGNOSIA (pros-uh-pag-NO-see-uh) noun--inability to recognize familiar faces.

PASSE-PARTOUT (PAHS-pur-too) noun--something, such as a master key, that enables one to pass everywhere.

Read January 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Most Hurtful Reader Letter I've Received

Yesterday in my New Year's Revolution post I mentioned receiving a very hurtful reader letter over the holidays. In fact it came the day after Christmas. I read it just before turning off my computer for the night. Oh, boy. I did nothing immediately--just slept on it. At first I thought I wouldn't answer, but I awoke the following day with different ideas.

Here's the letter. It's about Always Watching, book #1 in the young adult Rayne Tour series, co-written with my daughter, Amberly. The healing mentioned in the first paragraph is on my Web site.

Dear Mrs. Collins;

I was very encouraged and impressed by God's goodness to you as I read your account of your miraculous healing.

After reading of your healing, I am even more disappointed than at first by your book "always watching". Yes, it was suspenseful. My thirteen year old purchased it for me and her sisters to share as a Christmas gift, spending her hard earned babysitting money. As I read the back, it sounded interesting and godly. We expected it to be about a teen relying on the power of God to get her through unusually tough times. Unfortunately, it seems that God was mentioned to lure Christian teens to purchase and read a book that is not about Him or His power.The main character has no relationship with God at all, and He is barely mentioned. There certainly was no godly moral. I understand that the characters may in the following books, become closer to God. However, this book was sold as a single book, not a set, and so we see it on it's own merits, which, I am sorry to say, are few. I'm sure my daughter was attracted to the fact that it was a mother/daughter writing team. How can you defile your own daughter with this terribly ugly story? Please realize that when your book speaks of the most high God on its cover, it is expected that He will have more than a scant few mentions throughout the entire book. I am quite disappointed in Zondervan for publishing this book, and in you for writing it. May God help you see the power you wield through your pen, and purify it.

____ ______

Whew. I've had people not like my books before. But no one has ever accused me of "defiling" my daughter. Can you think of a worse personal attack against a mother? Nor has anyone else told me my writing needs to be "purified."

The writer of this letter is responding to an issue we've discussed before here on F&F: the level of spiritual content in Christian fiction. (Check out this post, written just a few weeks previously.) To her, the content was too little. But instead of just feeling the story wasn't right for her, she chose to attack the entire book, and me as well. Her tone was judgmental enough that I didn't think she'd listen to a thing I said if I answered her. But then I got to worrying about the 13-year-old who bought the book. No doubt her mother was letting her know the book is no good and probably not allowing any of the kids to read it. I felt bad that the girl would be disappointed. I thought the least I could do was offer to personally refund her money. I wanted to be gracious. At the same time I didn't think it was a bad thing to tell this woman she really hurt me. She'd read the story of my healing--could she not see my heart?

My answer:

Dear ____:

I was very sad to read your letter of disappointment in my book Always Watching. Sad mostly because it apparently disappointed your 13-year-old, who spent her money on it. First, please send me your daughter’s name and address. I will personally send her a check to refund her money.

The Rayne Tour series is about a rock star’s daughter—someone not in Christian circles at all and with no thought of God at first. It’s the story of how such a teen in the secular world comes to understand, through the help of a Christian friend, that there’s a God who’s “Always Watching.” (As the back cover says, “Where is God at times like this?”) In the jam-packed two days of trauma that Shaley faces, she begins to turn toward God, at the end vowing to find the truth about her heavenly father.

Please understand that while the spiritual content may not be what you expected, this series is written for Christians and nonChristians alike. This is the kind of book your daughter could give to a nonChristian who has no thought of God, and through reading Shaley’s experiences, can come to see God is also watching over her as well. Yours is the only letter of this kind I’ve received. The others from mothers and daughters have been very favorable.

Perhaps you lashed out at me so strongly because of your disappointment for your own daughter. I can understand that. We all want the best for our daughters. You should know how very hurtful your letter was. I pray over every book. “God, whom is this book written for? What person do you want to reach through it?” You’re right, I do know God’s power intimately. I’ve seen it in my own life. God’s power shines particularly strongly through the evil in this world—and that’s what I write about. I’ve received many letters from people who’ve come closer to God—or become a Christian in the first place—because of my books. They’ve seen evil. Perhaps they’ve lived it. Through my books they see how God shines through in such times. The level of spiritual content in each of my books is right for that character and that story.

The most hurtful thing you accused me of is “defiling” my own daughter—the last thing I’d ever want to do. I prayed daily as I wrote Always Watching. Did you pray before sending me your letter? I’m a mother, just like you. Perhaps suspense is simply not for you and your family. That’s fine. At the same time, thousands of other readers who enjoy suspense are uplifted by the message of God’s love woven through my stories.

Again, I’m very sorry you were so disappointed. Please send me your address so I can refund your daughter’s money.

Blessings to you and your family this Christmas season.

I did not receive a reply.

Two things I'm reminded of by this experience: (1) As a writer, I'll never please everyone. And sometimes people will outright attack me. (2) As a reader, I need to resist being judgmental of what another Christian author chooses to put in his/her book. That author's audience simply may not include me.

What do you think of my answer? Note: please don't lash out against the writer of this letter. I want to direct the comments toward ourselves. Would you have responded at all? What can you learn from this as a writer and/or reader?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A New Year's Revolution

I sure have seen a lot of runners in the neighborhood since January 1. In fact at 6:00 a.m. on New Year's Day my husband awoke to the sound of runner's feet passing by our house. Now that's someone taking his "I shall begin running for exercise" New Year's Resolution seriously.

Later that day I glanced out our TV room window and saw a gal jogging up our street--backwards. How do you suppose her New Year's Resolution was worded? Next day I went around the corner to get my hair cut. More runners. You can tell they're new joggers. They don't have that easy body flow of an experienced runner.

Wonder how long I'll be seeing them? I'm thinking the crowds are sure to thin by mid-January.

As for me--I have no New Year's Resolution. I have a New Year's Revolution. It came in the form of a Bible verse as I was reading the Psalms a few days before Christmas. Many of you know I read and pray the Psalms daily--so I've seen this particular psalm hundreds of times. In fact it happens to be in the middle of a passage I particularly love. (Psalm 138:7-8.) But this time the beginning of verse 8 leapt out at me: The Lord will accomplish what concerns me. This is from the New American Standard. The NIV reads: The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.

In 2009, particularly toward the end of the year, I found myself caught up in all kinds of fears. The world is shaky today, politically and economically, and personally amongst many families. The publishing industry has been hard hit. 2010 could prove to be another difficult year in many respects. Then, boom, God hit me over the head with that verse. Seven little words that can make a world of difference in how I handle 2010. The bottom line of that verse is trust. What a revolutionary thought. Imagine what would happen if we all could truly trust that God will accomplish what concerns us--and let the rest go.

Right away I made a sign of the verse in huge letters and hung it to the left of my computer on one of my cabinet doors. The minute I enter my office that white rectangle catches my eye.

Man, did God time this verse just right. A few days after I made my sign, I received the most hurtful reader letter I've ever gotten. Talk about a way to kick off the new year with optimism for my writing--not. (More on this letter tomorrow.)

No New Year's jogging resolution for me. I've been running for 29 years. I'm praying my 2010 New Year's revolution will last that long. Well, longer. For the rest of my life.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two of My Novels--For FREE

Happy new year, all. Forensics & Faith kicks off 2010 with one of the things I love to do best--give away books. If you believe in your product, as I do, one of the best ways to build word of mouth is to simply allow people to sample the product. So when my editor asked if I'd be willing to offer a couple of my suspense novels for free in their Kindle versions, I said, "You bet!"

Right now you can download my two latest adult novels, Exposure, and Dark Pursuit, for free on the Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for PC for free on Amazon, or download the free app for iPhone/iPod Touch. Last month Amazon announced that Kindle software for the Mac is coming soon. I hear you can also get an app for your Blackberry.

Get Exposure for free now.
Get Dark Pursuit for free now.

On the Amazon page for each book, look to the right for links to download Kindle software for the PC and iPhone.

Offering these two books for free has pushed them to the Top Ten in the bestseller list for Kindle. Exposure is currently at #3 and Dark Pursuit is #6. This is good exposure (pun intended) for my novels, and a great deal for readers.

If you're not yet aware of the Kindle bestseller list, check it out here on the main page for Kindle books. (Look to the right and down a little.) Since many of the free books push toward the top of the list, this is a good way to find what is currently available at no cost.

If you download one or both of my free novels, I'd love to hear from you when you've read the books.

Blessings and happy reading to you all in 2010.