Wednesday, March 23, 2005

How I Got Here, Part 19

I saw the comments from yesterday about Mount Hermon. I’m now back home after the conference. It went terrifically, as usual. Liz Curtis Higgs was the keynote speaker. She’s warm, wise and wonderful. If you ever get a chance to hear her—take it. I was on critique staff—that is, one of the people critiquing manuscripts—and I also taught two workshops. One on “Bustin’ the Backstory,” since backstory constantly trips authors up, and the second on “Coloring Character Passions,” dealing with creating multi-level emotions rather than just the stereotypical, surface stuff. “Coloring Passions” was adapated from my book Getting Into Character. “Bustin’ the Backstory” is not really from GIC, but more effective use of backstory is a natural product of following the character motivation techniques found in the “Actions and Objectives” chapter of that book.

You can go to the conference Web site at and find the writers’ conference area to buy CDs of any workshop and Liz’s keynote addresses. CDs are only $7 each, and go down in price if you order something like 5 or more at a time. You might want to browse the topics and teachers, and see if there’s something that interests you.

It is true that each Mount Hermon conference in the past seven years has marked another year of my career in fiction.

When I attended my first in 1999, I was expecting to talk to the three editors who’d asked to see Cast a Road Before Me about that book. I need to back up here and remind y’all of something. Remember how I ended up signing with agent Jane Jordan Browne through my Color the Sidewalk for Me story? Then I wrote Cast a Road Before Me? She’d kept me so busy rewriting those stories that I’d never even told her about my suspense, Eyes of Elisha. (Which wasn’t titled that at the time. I went through enough titles that I now can’t remember what had been the last.) Then when I experienced such a change in my spiritual life and realized I was being called to write Christian fiction, I’d put this story in a drawer, sadly, but convinced that it could never be “redeemed” because it was a story about a psychic. I loved the story. And I felt I’d rewritten it enough to get it in pretty good shape. Plus, it was my first novel, so I’d always have this special love for it. But—when I turned to Christian fiction, that was the end of this suspense. It would never see the light of day. It did not honor biblical principles, never could--so that was that.

Now, a little further background. In Christian fiction over the past 6-7 years, we’ve come a long way, baby. In 1999, suspense was just starting in the Christian market. Publishers and booksellers were kinda scared by the whole idea. What? Christian suspense? We’re gonna have books with violence and blood? Agh! But slowly, interest in the genre had been building, until, that spring of 1999, suspense was the hot new thing. Every editor was looking to acquire it. I say this because I know it now. I didn’t know it then.

So I went to Mount Hermon. All prayed up. God, You’re wonderful and awesome. You’ve brought a purpose to my writing. May Your will be done at this conference, and in the selling of Cast a Road . . .

Okay. Herein begins the part of my (evidently very lengthy) tale that involves individual editors and houses. The road ain’t all downhill, folks. I’m not going to say any editor’s or house’s name unless it’s one I end up selling to. I’m not here to talk up or down any houses. Each has its particular feel for fiction, and its particular target audiences. None is wrong. They’re just different.

And as I would begin to see, I couldn’t write for all of ’em.

So at the conference I sit down with Editor A. She is so gracious and warm. She tells me that Jane said she had to meet me. That I would be the next So & So (famous author’s name withheld) in the Christian scene. I was floored. What a comparison! And I felt very humbled by this editor’s taking the time to encourage me. Then Editor A, who was meeting with me to talk about my women’s fiction, said the most unexpected thing. Totally non sequitur. Out of her mouth popped, “Do you happen to have any suspense?”

Read Part 20


Anonymous said...

Wow! I guess she could "smell" the suspense dripping off of you!
Does she read your blog and check every 1/2 hour or so to see if you've posted yet, like the rest of us (or just me) who have gotten sucked into your very suspenseful life of writing?
What about Friday's birth? Did Mt Hermon buzz with it? Can't wait to read it. Hopefully I was in time to be included on your influencer list...don't have anything pressing to read over the weekend, penciled you in....

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I'll do a commercial for "Bustin' the Backstory." If you've ever had a critique partner tell you that you have information dumps or too much history or even too much description, Brandilyn's workshop has helpful information, and you should consider getting the CD.

The most important thing I learned: Good backstory, while it answers a question for the reader, raises another question. Thus it keeps the story moving forward.

Thanks, Brandilyn. Good stuff.

C.J. Darlington said...

With backstory, as well as descriptive passages, the old adage remains true, doesn't it? Keep it brief and blend it in. I try to remember that with my writing too.