Friday, April 29, 2005
Well, got a fair amount of comments yesterday. I appreciate those who said “appreciate your post—it’s timely.” Guess that’s confirmation that I should tell this story, even though I was dragging my heels about it.
Megan—you asked how extensively I plot. I’d say I’m in the middle ground in this area. I know the premise, basic twists and definitely the ending twist of a book. I just don’t know all the details. These become clear as the characters are fleshed out and their motivations lead them to action. Although I have tried it, I simply can’t plot every chapter and scene of a book ahead of time. Just doesn’t work for me.
Okay, we return to our NES. We left off with a rather decent cliffhanger, if I do say so myself. Rats. Shoulda wrote that post today and left y’all hangin’ over the weekend.
One serious thing I want to say up front. This story is not typical. As a result of this experience, I don’t equate every bad thing that happens to me as the direct work of some demonic force. I try to keep a level view on such things. On the other hand . . . I’m a lot wiser about spiritual warfare than I used to be.
Final action in yesterday’s post—I prayed for God to show me whether the sense of oppression hanging over me and my inability to write was a direct spiritual attack. I can remember this prayer so well. I was jogging on the country road by our house at the lake in Idaho. I was up there by myself for a few days—trying to write some pages of Capture the Wind for Me.
The next day early in the afternoon I received a call from a writer friend (WF). I hadn’t talked to her in some time. She’d had to track me down, starting with calling our California home. She had no idea of what I was going through, including my hard time with writing. And she had no details of the current book I was working on.
“You’ll probably think I’m crazy,” she said. “But I felt so strongly that I needed to call you. I fought the feeling all morning, but—no, I’m meant to talk to you.”
Talk about a hook of an opener. She sure had me. “Okay. Shoot.”
“Well, I had a dream about you last night. And I’m supposed to tell you about it.”
Whoa. Those are prayin’ words. There had been numerous times in the past when God had led me to interpret a dream for someone. So when anyone says to me, “I had this dream . . .” I immediately begin praying for an interpretation if there happens to be one. I assured WF that the thought of God’s sending someone a dream with a message for me was not crazy to me at all. She didn’t know this about me (it’s not something I talked about), and was relieved to hear I wouldn’t want to send her to the loony bin.
“Okay, so here’s the dream. You and I were standing in a circle with a bunch of other people. I couldn’t see any of their faces. We were all praying in front of this building. I don’t know what the building is, but somehow I do know that it’s very important. It was made of brick and had a large front door with aluminum around it. Some of the bricks around the door were lighter in color than the rest of the bricks.
“Suddenly while we were praying, a black cloud of pure Evil came out of the sky. It swooped down, and I could see it was an evil spirit. And it wrapped itself around your neck and lifted you off the ground.” She drew a breath. “Brandilyn, I saw your eyes, and you were terrified. I immediately started praying for you. And that thing left you and came to me. I woke up in a terror I can’t even explain. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before. All I could do was pray and say the name Jesus, Jesus, Jesus over and over again. And I recited scripture. And the fear passed.”
Oooookay. Myriad thoughts went through my head. The first of which was—WF may think twice before ever praying for me again.
There was no subtlety about the evil spirit part of her dream. I had been in the presence of spirits myself before. I know that feeling of pure evil. If you’ve ever felt it, there’s no denying it. I also knew that God had led WF to do exactly what should be done—call on the all-powerful name of Jesus.
But I wasn’t getting the building part. And I had to believe, if WF sensed it, that this aspect of the dream was very important.
“Describe that building to me again,” I said.
“Yeah, I feel really frustrated because I don’t know what it’s supposed to be.” WF said the same things she had before. The bricks. Some lighter in color around the door. And that large door with aluminum around it. “You know,” she added, “like the door on a grocery store.”
The knowledge hit me in the chest. How had I not recognized this? For a minute I could hardly speak.
In chapter one of Capture the Wind for Me, a tornado hits the town of Bradleyville. The old grocery store, made of brick, sustains some damage. Some of the bricks around the door are loosened and blown away. When the building is repaired, the new bricks are lighter in color than the old ones.
WF’s building was straight out of the book I was trying so desperately to write.
Well, God, guess I have my answer.
Yes, I was under spiritual attack. And I was going to have to pray, along with the help of some trusted friends, against this attack.
One thing I know about evil. Just like what happened in WF’s dream, it doesn’t like to be prayed against. And it’s likely to fight back.
Read Part 45
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Yippee for Thursday. Almost to the weekend . . .
Lots of comments from yesterday. A few things to take note of. First, y’all help me remember in the future the suggestions to discuss agents and marketing. We will return to those topics after our NES.
Methinks this shall be when we are old and gray.
Second, Tracey, you wrote with a question about Lyme Disease. Please email me, and I can send you information.
Darcie—remind me to never take you on vacation.
Ron, Jen, Rich and others--thanks for the kind words. So glad to know this blog is helping folks.
Okay dokey. Let’s get back to our NES.
I have decided to bite the bullet and tell you some serious stuff. Not that I haven’t been doing this already, but this is . . . well, different. I don’t really want to—I think mostly out of some vague fear. But I also sense that someone out there needs to hear the story.
If I’m going to tell you completely, I have to backtrack a bit.
I have mentioned the spiritual warfare I came under as soon as I began writing Christian fiction. I mentioned it would last for 4 years. I would be hit with it every time I wrote (or rewrote) a novel. The only time it seemed to quiet down was when I was writing Getting Into Character. These were outside circumstances mostly, which sapped my energy. But when I started to write Dread Champion in 2001, something new came along.
I couldn’t write.
Ever turn on a faucet and find the water pressure’s dropped almost to zero? No matter how hard you turn the knob, the water only drips. That’s what it felt like as I wrote Dread Champion. And I don’t mean only when I started. I mean every day. Through the entire book.
Yes, I managed to build my story, and I knew the twist I was building toward. But the pages came so slowly, day after day. I couldn’t seem to concentrate, couldn’t think through plot points. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Some might call it burnout, but good grief, I was just beginning in my career. I couldn’t be burned out yet! I prayed and prayed, and really began to learn what it was all about to trust God daily for that day’s writing. Because it simply wasn’t in me.
And because the writing came so hard, I became more and more convinced that I was doing a terrible job. That Dread Champion was simply, horribly awful. That when I turned it in, Zondervan would never want to see anything from me ever again.
I thought that book would never come to an end. And when I finally finished it, I did so not with joy, but a relief so overwhelming that it almost sickened me. Dread Champion was my first book to write from scratch for a contract. And I began to wonder—would they all be like that? If so, I’d never be able to handle this career God had given me.
Then came the rewrite. More difficult days. Finally the book was completed, only the lighter editing stuff remaining.
God gave me the rejoicing time of seeing that Eyes of Elisha was doing well. I needed that. I also needed rest from writing, but I had little time for that. I needed to start Capture the Wind for Me, book 3 in the Bradleyville series. I had the general outline for that story, so I thought the writing would come easier. Whatever IT was that had happened to me during Dread Champion was now behind me.
And so I started Capture the Wind. And once again, I could hardly write. And once again, I just knew my work was terrible.
The beginning months of 2002 passed in this way. My writing had become a horrible drudgery, and I began to wallow in my misery. I did not know what to do. I didn’t know how to walk in God’s victory. And so I began to bend under the insidious lies of Satan—that voice that said, “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good.”
I knew I was under attack spiritually, but I never thought these inner feelings were part of the attack. I thought they were due to my lack of writing ability. Somehow I’d just . . . lost it. And every day, I felt this more and more—I was simply getting worse as a writer. After this book was done, I’d never be able to write another.
Every week I had a prayer time with my two prayer partners (we still do this today). They would help me pray through the week, seeking God’s strength. Meanwhile a wonderful friend in another state felt called to fast for me once a week every week until the book was done. Wow. That’s some prayer support.
Still, I got up every day with a deep sense of oppression over me. A heaviness that just wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard I tried to work, or how much I prayed. Slowly I began to realize (I had a thick head) that maybe all this wasn’t normal. That maybe the inability to write in itself was an attack. But I wasn’t sure. And I didn’t want to be one of those people who attributed everything wrong to some sort of demonic attack. But matters were only getting worse. At the same time, the outside circumstances surrounding me were also getting worse. There were serious problems with our son, and our daughter was inexplicably sick--until she’d missed two straight months of school. I’ve never felt closer to going under than at that time.
Finally one day I asked God to show me if my extreme difficulty in writing was, indeed, a direct spiritual attack. I needed to know, because if it was, my friends and I needed to pray in a different way—invoking and claiming God’s power against the attack. I didn’t know what kind of answer I’d get—or if I’d get one at all.
I got one, all right. The very next day.
And it wasn’t subtle.
Read Part 44
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Howdy on Wednesday.
We had some interesting comments/questions from yesterday—enough to warrant taking another break from our NES to talk about ’em.
First, as to the pretending-to-be-a-corpse-in-hot-water thing, I am left with little to say. Except that, yes, novelists are indeed strange creatures. Not quite sure why Darcie had to try out being the dead body. Also wondering very much what others around her had to say. Did they ask you, Darcie, what you were doing? Did it even occur to you to tell them the truth? And what is this "Roundtable" thing? Are you chatting at some Camelot place and blaming this all on me?
I will admit that I had some trouble writing on the plane yesterday. I’m a visual writer, and I gotta see everything in my head so I can explain exactly how the action plays out. The scene I was writing had to do with HTC (hot tub corpse) being wrapped in a thick chain, and I really needed to at least do some hand motions to figure out the sequence of movements. You know, where the chain would go, what the body would do. However, I wasn’t sure the prim woman sitting next to me with glimmer sandals and perfectly painted toe nails would understand. Especially if I explained what I was doing.
So I squinched my eyes shut and tried to play it all out in my head.
HTC has been thoroughly wrapped and dispatched, by the way. Opening sequence now completed. (Applause would be appropriate here.)
Okay. Questions. One had to do with agents. That’s a big enough topic that I shall defer it until after NES. Although I suppose that’s rather an oxymoron of a promise.
Question two. Is the Internet better or worse for authors? Especially novelists who shouldeth be workingeth on their novels instead of bloggingeth and e-mailingeth. Well, I’ve seen both sides—having and have-not-ing the Internet, and I’ll take the having. I do think if I’d had such contact with other writers and ability for instruction, I would have learned some of the basic techniques of fiction faster. For example, like most new authors, when I first starting writing a novel, I had no idea of POV. I head-hopped all over the place because that’s the easier way to write. I literally learned about POV from reading fine authors who stuck with one per scene. I learned how to portray another character’s thoughts without jumping into his head. I marked up scenes in books as I learned this. Looking back, that seems so silly. All I needed was someone to explain the concept to me, or give me the name of a good book on writing that dealt with POV. But I had no one to tell me, so I floundered around until I figured it out myself.
I do understand the con side of the Internet—too many distractions with blogs and e-mails and Web sites. Man. These are some of the greatest procrastination tools ever created. I know how to use ’em to the nth degree. But in the end it comes down to discipline—doing what you gotta do, which is writing. I give myself a limit of time in the morning. By a certain hour I must have all my e-mails, marketing stuff, whatever-else-somebody-needs-from-me stuff out of the way. Then I must write.
Question three. What’s the deal with marketing your own books versus the publisher doing it? Pretty big topic, but here are some basics.
One of the biggest things that sells books is pull-out placement in stores. Ever go into Barnes & Noble and see the huge display right as you enter? Those books aren’t there because the staff loves ’em. They’re there because the publisher paid big money to put 'em in your face.
Magazine ads are great to see, but they may not end up doing that much for sales. Brochures and bookmarks and other mailing/leave-behind kinds of doodads all have their place. But again, the best thing a publisher can do for a book is to place it where a customer has to look at it. In CBA the major chains all have newspaper- or magazine-like flyers that are sent to local customers. When a publisher buys an ad in one of these flyers, part of the package is pull-out placement in the store. For example, I think in the month of May (or maybe June) my new novel, Dead of Night, will have ads in flyers of the four largest chains of Christian bookstores, such as Family Christian and Lifeway. That means that, in addition to all the readers of that flyer seeing the ad, the book will have special placement in every Lifeway, etc. store across the country. These ads are expensive, but they really do affect sales
In addition Zondervan features me in their Premier Fiction magazine, on the fiction page of their Web site, gives me a two-page spread in their catalogue—that sort of thing. Still the store placement is at the top as far as effectiveness.
Many times a book is simply published with a very small marketing budget. No ads in store flyers, no special placement in stores, no nothing really. It’s just placed on shelves in hopes that readers will find it. If it’s written by a new author, or even a fairly new author, who’s going to know to look for it? The author can do marketing of his/her own, which I do. I have a newsletter, a blog, I send out mailings to some targeted folks, etc. But that kind of thing isn’t going to make up for a publisher who does nothing.
Bottom line, marketing is a partnership. The publisher has its role, and the author has his/her role. I know quite a few authors who just can’t handle marketing. They hate it. I, on the other hand, have a background in it, and am very comfortable with it. As a result I end up doing more of it than many authors might. Other authors I know are absolutely whizzes at marketing—at their sales show it.
So. Questions, comments? See y’all tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Happy Tuesday. I’m back in good ol’ California.
Question from yesterday as to favorite book cover of mine. Yes, probably Eyes of Elisha. It was just really innovative.As for Paige—want a report? I wrote on the plane flying out to Kentucky and on the way back. And managed to write a couple pages while on my visit. Protagonist Paige has moved from her frightening hot tub to a dark place to the dark night to dark, cold water. And that’s where I left her. Girl’s really moved around for an opening sequence. And it ain’t quite done yet.
I’m on page 43. Proud of me?
Oh. I should tell y’all beautiful BGs that I will soon be traveling again. On Friday I’m going to our house in Coeur d’Alene to film a segment for The 700 Club. Their crew is flying to Cd’A and will be at our house there next Monday for the filming. The segment will be about my miraculous healing from Lyme disease, and about my writing. Don’t know yet when it will air, but I shall certainly keep y’all informed.
So. Back to our NES. Back to December 2001, when I was waiting on pins and needles in hopes that Eyes of Elisha would sell well.
But I was also doing something else that I haven’t mentioned. I was rewriting Dread Champion. It was a hard rewrite. Sheesh. Eyes of Elisha and Color the Sidewalk for Me had been fairly easy, despite the number of pages in my “Dave letter.” But this one—I thought it would kill me. Problems in the middle, and the ending was weak. I had to totally restructure it. Oh, same twist and all, but how everything came down had to change. I worked two to three nonstop weeks on it. I mean all day every day. When it was done, I was thoroughly exhausted. It would take my mind over a week just to empty itself of all the character chatter.
But the book was way better.
Gotta love a great editor.
Next up—immediately. I had to start writing the third Bradleyville book. By this time I knew which character in the town of Bradleyville would become my protagonist. And I knew the general outline of the story.
That always helps.
I would have to find Jackie’s voice, however. Jackie was only 16—far different from Celia, the protagonist in Sidewalk, who was 35. That search for the voice of a new character is a story in itself.
But I am getting ahead of the tale at hand.
Around the 10th of each month, CBA posts the bestseller list for the previous month online. I know this now. I wasn’t much aware of it then. But around that date in December 2001 somebody emailed me with congratulations for Eyes of Elisha.
The email mentioned the bestseller list. Gave the Web site address. I clicked on it, thinking surely the person was wrong, that this was all a dream. That even though I’d finally managed to sell to publishers, I’d never actually sell well on the shelves.
Up came the list on my computer. Eyes of Elisha was at number 12.
I sat and stared at it in shock. Certain that any moment now the mirage would blitz away.
Slowly reality sank in.
Joy hit. Pure, dance-around, polish-the-cabinets joy. For a while I couldn’t even think. When my brain cells returned, I printed out the list, hopping around while the printer hummed. I called my husband. I called my mother. I called my sisters. I hopped around some more.
It was a fine way to end 2001.
2002 would bring new challenges.
And a call that would change my life.
Read Part 43
Monday, April 25, 2005
Happy Monday, BGs.
I am traveling back to California today from Kentucky. The Ichthus festival was over Saturday night. Man. The Kentucky weather didn't exactly cooperate. A tornado warning Friday night shut down the performance. And Saturday night we rocked out in the snow for the closing performances. Of course on Sunday--after the festival was over--it was warming up, and the sun managed to come out. But hey, think of the memories. I'm already looking forward to going back next year.
Before we return to our Never-Ending Saga--thank y'all for the comments left Friday. Glad to hear about some of your own experiences with Christian rock festivals. Ron--you don't need to wait for your daughter to grow up as an excuse to go to Ichthus. Pull a Nike and just do it. My daughter's 15 now, and do you think she would go with me? Not on your life. To be seen with a rockin'-out mom would be waaaay too embarrassing.
Kathy K--so glad to hear this blog helped prepare you for a manuscript rewrite. That makes me very happy. Cindy and Tina--thanks for the kind words about Eyes of Elisha.
Okay. We ended our NES last week with September 2001 approaching and my awaiting the release of Eyes of Elisha. With much trepidation. Then on the 11th tragedy struck our nation, and for some time all other worries were put aside. I did not know anyone personally who worked in the Twin Towers. I consider myself one of the fortunates.
At the end of that month, Eyes of Elisha began releasing from the warehouse. It was showing up in most bookstores by mid October. Oh, what it felt like to hold that first copy in my hand! It was just as exciting as it had been to see Cast a Road Before Me for the first time. And the cover was way more cool in person than seeing its picture on a computer. The thing was glossy, see, and you could run your hand over the knife blade and feel its edge. Wow! My heart just went thumpety-thump. The first novel I ever wrote--now published!
I proudly placed a copy of the book on its stand on the top of my office partition. Stood back and looked at it, all glowy-hearted. Four stands now full.
As copies began to hit shelves, I emailed my writers loops and sent out copies of the cover flats. Lots of my friends promised to read it. Great. I'd sell--maybe 100 copies.
The Publisher's Weekly review came in. Favorably! "Collins, a general market crime author turned CBA novelist, pens a chilling tale of suspense that makes a worthy contribution to the sparse genre of Christian mystery fiction...a confusing, twisting trail that keeps pages turning." Library Journal's review called it: "A thriller that keeps the reader guessing until the end." RT BOOKclub (Romantic Times) said: "Don't forget to BREATHE. Unique and intriguing...filled with more turns than a winding mountain highway—and just as dangerous. Will Brandilyn Collins become the Mary Higgins Clark of Christian fiction? No doubt about it."
"Aha," y'all are saying about that RT review. Yup. You are right. My tagline that I still use today, "Don't forget to b r e a t h e . . .", came from that review. Amazon reader reviews were also very favorable. Well. Except one that . . . wasn't. Here it is in all its glory:
"This book typifies what is wrong with most 'Christian' fiction. I am a Christian--but I also like to read books with intelligence and depth--this book doesn't have much of either. The plot is see-through, the characters are shallow, and as is typical of this genre, every problem is a 'spiritual' one. Most characters are 'good' or 'bad', and the ones that aren't are wishy washy 'spiritually lost' people whom we are to pity for their lack of 'knowledge' about God. The only reason I kept reading after about the 4th chapter was that I was sure the book would get better--I was wrong."
Ah, me. I consoled myself with the belief that this person (who of course didn't sign a name) never read the book. Actually, I still believe this. Note the very general statements. Nothing specific about the book mentioned. Comments like "see through plot" and "every problem is a spiritual one" really did it for me. I find the latter comment particularly odd, since there's a murder on about, oh, page 3.
Whether the writer of this review read the book or not, there's a lesson to be learned. If he/she did: ya can't please everybody. (Where have you heard that before?) And if he/she didn't: there are those who simply don't like even the idea of Christian fiction because of what it stands for, and if they spot a chance to cut it down, they will. Be prepared.
By the end of October, Eyes of Elisha was on shelves everywhere. In the last week of that month I got great news.
It had gone into its second printing.
Yowsa! Time to Snoopy dance and polish cabinets! I was sooo excited, I could hardly stand it. My second novel to be published was actually selling. What a concept!
And it was gonna keep selling. It was gonna do well. I just knew it. It had to, after all the years I'd worked on it.
Oh, boy. Wouldn't be long before I learned the truth about that question.
Read Part 42
Friday, April 22, 2005
Oh, my. We are up to the big 4-O. Who'd a thought?
I am traveling at the moment. Flew back to KY to visit my mom and family and to attend Ichthus, the annual Christian rock festival. Ichthus has been going since I was 14 years old--I attended the very first one. At ages 16 and 17 I volunteered at the festival, finding housing for the performers, picking them up at the airport, etc. I can still remember picking up Andre Crouch, and him remarking that it was "great to be inPennsylvania." Guy was traveling so much, he didn't know where he was.
Today about 18,000 or so attend Ichthus each year. Amazing for the tiny town of Wilmore, KY. Lots of bands are here, but the bigger names are Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Toby Mac and Michael W. Smith.
I'm 48 years old and proud of it. Which means I grew up on good ol' rock 'n' roll. I still love listening to rock--loud, of course. (That's the only way it can be played.) Last night the Newsboys performed. I worked my way little by little down into the vast crowd (standing, of course) until I was not too far from front and center. Then up came the Newsboys, and I rocked my little heart out. Christian rock music is the best--I can cut loose, and the words are all about Christ's salvation. Wonderful spirit in the crowd.
I pictured Jesus up there smiling and rockin' out Himself. You know He loves praise of all kinds.
Anyhoo, I want major kudos for loyally posting my blog while traveling. Yesterday's blog was written at 3 a.m. This one was written at midnight.
So. Back to NES. In case you haven't noticed, by 2001 I was really on a roll. Well, sort of. I managed to write Dread Champion and turn it in on time in the fall. Then in September my second novel, Eyes of Elisha, was set to be published.
The sort of had to do with the sales of Cast a Road Before Me. Remember--my first novel? The one that was gonna earn me millions and make me famous? The one that I first laid eyes on as violins played and cymbals crashed in the background?
It didn't sell all that well.
Why should it? Novels are sold through name recognition, and I was an unknown. And the house did little to market it. Basically just stuck it on the shelves and hoped for the best. Might be a good story, but who's gonna know to pick it up?
Disappointing after 11 years? Oh, yeah. Terribly, terribly disappointing. I worked 11 years--for this? And here's the kicker. If you finally sell your work to a publisher, then have a book or two sell poorly, you can end up in worse shape than if you'd never been published. Because now you have a bad track record.
So there I was, waiting to see the first copy of Eyes of Elisha. The book I'd learned to write fiction on. I'd started writing that book in January 1990--almost 12 years before. Such a long time to wait for that book to come to fruition. Such a very long time.
Now I had to establish good sales more than ever. But what kind of reaction was I going to get with this "vision stuff?" Would readers denounce me as writing about "psychics" and never read me again?
And--what would the reviews say? Especially that Big, Bad one--PW ( Publisher's Weekly)?
Here's the thing. When you start being published in fiction, you leave behind the editor rejections, that's true. But now you're open target to be criticized in reviews. And guess what--reviews aren't private. They're not a letter or e-mail opened in the sanctity of your own office, where you can wail and kick cabinets. Oh, no. They're published in national magazines. They're posted on amazon.com, front and center, for everyone to read before they buy your book. And after they read it, they just might not buy your book. On top of all this, you got your reader reviews.
Add to all this a fact of reality--you're not gonna please everybody.
Eyes of Elisha. Over 11 years from a kernel of an idea in my brain to the bookshelves. Rejected again and again in the secular market. Put in a drawer when I began to write Christian fiction because then it was a story about a psychic. Rescued out of that drawer by God--and rewritten with His leading. Rejected again and again in the Christian market. A book that scared pub boards who didn't wanna "go there." A book that finally passed a pub board only to have the CEO of the house step in at the least moment and nix it. A book that Zondervan had decided to take a chance on. Eyes of Elisha would be my first publication with Zondervan. I was contracted for three more with that house at the time, and I sure didn't want those contracts jeopardized. Bottom line, the book had to sell well. But look at all I had going against me.
One thing I thought I had. I believed Eyes of Elisha was a great story. I still think it is. Second thing it had. A way cool cover (which went on to win 2 awards). The kind of cover that you just couldn't pass in a bookstore without picking up the book.
Well. That's how I saw things anyway.
We all know I wasn't kicked out of the Christian fiction market. After all, I am writin' this here blog today. But I'd gone through a lot to get published, and now that I was being published, something told me things wouldn't necessarily be all violets and roses.
And so, in the context of all this, I waited for the approach of September 2001.
Read Part 41
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Well, now that we've talked POV for a day. Didn't come to any consensus, did we. But that's the interesting thing--readers are so different. Just know when you write, no way you can please 'em all.
You will lose some readership when you write in first person, no matter the genre. Just as some of you said, some folks just don't like to read it. Which I totally can't understand, 'cause I love the POV. Sometimes I wonder if readers who don't like first person have basically just read it lousily done. (Like that word, lousily?) As for suspense, I do think it's harder to do in first person because you have to put the main character amid all the action all the time. It's interesting now moving back to third person for my new series.
By the way, Paige is now out of hot water and into a dark and spooky place. Poor thing. Trouble just follows her wherever she goes.
Okay, BGs, back to our NES. Last we left off, I'd just signed my second two-book contract with Zondervan--for Color the Sidewalk for Me and a sequel "blind book." I was in the midst of rewriting Getting Into Character. After that I had to write book 2 in the Chelsea Adams series. Then I'd have to write book 3 in the Bradleyville series to follow Color the Sidewalk for Me. (Remember, Cast a Road Before Me, book 1, had been published by a house other than Zondervan.) Had no clue about either one of 'em, but hey, as agent Jane said, I'd think of something.
I finished the Getting Into Character rewrite and sent it off. Yippee! Celebration time, now that it was done. And I was quickly learning a book wasn't really done until after the rewrite. Sure, there were still copyedits and proofing stuff to come, but they would be easy. The rewrite was the last major hurdle.
So I went shopping. Naturally.
Time to write Chelsea Adams book 2.
This was the first time I had to come up with a book--on deadline--without having an idea. The thought of having to come up with something under such pressure (and believe me, already having been paid--and spent--the first half of the advance is serious pressure) just froze my brain. Nothing would come. I had no inspiration, no bursts of creativity, no story I was driven to write. And I had to write one anyway.
So I went to the basics and approached the problem through sheer technique. I knew that the story needed to be another complex plot featuring Chelsea Adams. I knew that, in order to be a good follow-up to Eyes of Elisha, it had to have a strong twist at the end, with lesser twists leading up to it. I knew also that the story would have to be about Chelsea getting herself into trouble because of another vision she had about a murder. But that loomed as a problem for me, because I saw how quickly a second book could become formulaic. Chelsea has a vision, things go wrong, she has another vision, everything is straightened out. And if there's one thing that bores me, it's formulaic writing. So the story had to include Chelsea's visions, but I didn't want the action to be driven by them. Hm. How to do that? And how to come up with a twist?
I have a copy of an old book published in the early 1900s called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, by Georges Polti. Had to hunt for a used copy on the Internet, and ended paying close to $40 for it. This book rests on the premise that there are only 36 basic stories. It goes through each one, describing its conventions. During my 10-year period of writing and studying the craft before being published, I had intently studied this book. I'd made notes on each "situation" and given myself homework--thinking up 2-3 modern day examples of each one. These notes I had kept and stuck in the book for quick reference. Well, now I needed a story and didn't have one. I pulled out the Polti book and looked at my notes. (For a quick run-down of the situations and possible plot points for each, go to http://harris-donahue.tripod.com/harrisdonahue/id15.html)
Since I wanted a strong twist for this book, I figured I'd start by discovering this twisty ending. I knew from my studies that some of the strongest twists come from leading the reader to think he's reading a story in one of the "situations," then leading him to see that the story is actually the exact opposite "situation." However, only a few of the "situations" have an exact opposite. That narrowed the field considerably. So I chose two exact opposites as my bases. Now I knew the general kind of story I would present on the surface, and the "situation" it would really turn out to be at the end. From this general concept I began filling in details of my story and ended up with a premise that would not be formulaic back-to-back with Eyes of Elisha. I thought--what if Chelsea is on the jury of a murder trial--and has a vision then? She can't use anything other than what's presented in the courtroom in making her decision or even in deliberating . . .
Slowly the story developed.
Had I not studied so much about story structure and all its various concepts (as covered in numerous books), I'd never have known about the 36 dramatic situations and how to use them. This process of creating book 2 showed me how important it is to really know the craft. This knowledge can save the day when inspiration is nonexistant. This is why I tell my fiction students, "Write, write, write, and study, study, study. You'll learn 50% from writing, 50% from reading/studying."
One more interesting thing about this Chelsea Adams book 2. I knew the title before I knew anything about the story. When I was reading in Jeremiah some time before, verse 20:11 jumped out at me. "But the Lord is with me like a Dread Champion." (New American Standard Version.) Dread Champion. Wow! What an awesome-sounding title for God. It encompassed so many meanings at once. And what an awesome book title it would make . . .
The summer of 2001 was spent writing Dread Champion. It was due in the fall. Also scheduled for the fall--something major for me. Something I could hardly wait for. Eyes of Elisha--the first novel I ever wrote, the one I'd worked so many years to sell--would hit the shelves. Before Zondervan bought it, other houses had slammed their doors to this "controversial" story about visions. How would the readers react?
Oh, sheesh. What if I got tossed out of the CBA market before I'd barely begun?
Read Part 40
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Happy mid-week, BGs.
It was great reading the comments from y’all yesterday. Emily, Bret and Scott—thank you for posting. Great to see that you’re with us. Tina—sheesh, ya make me nervous. Five books, eh? I’d better come through for you, or you’ll never read my blog again. ’Course you didn’t say which five you bought. I could do some quick back-pedaling, claim I had a ghost writer . . .
Becky asked an interesting question. I thought we’d take a one day break from our Never-Ending Saga and talk about it. Her question: “Since you found it difficult to sustain a first person POV for 4 books, are you back to third person with Paige? And, if so, how will you maintain the level of intimacy, especially revealing internal conflict, as you did for Annie?”
I know the background to Becky’s question. Hope she doesn’t mind my filling y’all in. Becky does not typically read suspense. However, she had read my Dread Champion. (Remember that naggingly as yet unknown Chelsea Adams book 2 in our NES?) Becky also recently read Dead of Night. She loved Dead of Night. Liked it better than Dread Champion because she felt closer to the main character. Here’s the thing—Dread Champion was in third person multiple point of view (POV). The Hidden Faces series, including Dead of Night, is in first person (Annie Kingston’s POV).
When Becky told me her reaction, I thought about it for some time. Now she asks the question that her reaction immediately brought to my own mind. Can a third person multiple story present the characters with as much intimacy as a first person story? Especially the main character?
I’m not quite sure of the bottom line answer here, and I’d love to hear your opinions. If we’re talking about Dread Champion versus Dead of Night specifically, the answer begins with the fact that they’re in very different series with very different objectives. Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion not only are in third person, but they both feature ensemble casts. And they are bigger, more complex stories. Yes, Chelsea Adams is the main protagonist. But there are quite a few other major characters, and a slew of minor characters. Both of these books run at least a dozen POVs (some of course appear far more than others). Dread Champion is particularly convoluted, with one main plot and three large subplots, all of which finally converge. On the other hand, the Hidden Faces stories are much shorter, more linear, and in Annie’s first person POV. (Except for the short third person “bad guy POV” chapters.) Page for page, the reader therefore spends far more time in Annie’s POV than in Chelsea’s. More time spent in a character’s POV = greater intimacy with the character (if he/she is written well).
So. I look at these two different set-ups, and my first thought is: how could a reader possibly feel as close to Chelsea as he/she does to Annie, just given the difference in sheer number of pages spent with each one? Then I think: Dread Champion was my fourth published novel. Dead of Night was my eighth. Maybe I’m just better at characterization now?
Well, I hope I’m better. Hope to be learning with each book. Maybe now I could write Dread Champion with better characterization than I did at the time. Still, I’m left with the fact that these are two very different kinds of stories.
A reader who likes a big cast, plenty of subplots, and intrigue in each major character’s life may enjoy the Chelsea Adams books better. A reader who loves the fast-paced, high intensity novel that also features strong characterization may like the Hidden Faces stories better.
Of course the whole point of the question is how this effects the series I’m now beginning to write. It will be in third person. However, the cast will be much smaller. Maybe the protagonist’s (Paige) and about three to four others (including the bad guy.) This will give me more pages spent with each character, especially Paige. Still, besides this set-up, I do think my growth as a writer will also play a part.
Does this mean I don’t like Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion? Not at all. I still really like both stories. I just think their strength lies in the more complex plot and large cast, while the Hidden Faces strength lies partly in the intimacy with the protagonist.
Bottom line question remains. Can the major character within a large cast, written in third person, ever be as intimately presented as a protagonist in first person? What say you all? And second, how much does this matter to you when weighed against the difference in complexity of plot?
Comment away. And—don’t think for a moment our NES is over. Tomorrow, it'll be baaaaaaack.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Ah, yes. On this happy Tuesday morning, you other BGs, do not forget that I, too, read the comments. Of course, you knew that, didn’t you. Which is exactly why you are bugging me with this Paige business. “Where is Paige,” thou asketh. “Whateth is Paige doingeth?”
You want the scoop? I’ll give it to ya. She’s in serious hot water. Literally.
Good news is, I’m writing. I’m not quite through with the opening sequence, which takes about 5 chapters. Bad news is, my protagonists are never treated real terrifically in the openings to my suspense novels. In fact, they’re put in rather dire straits. I will divulge nothing at this time. I will say only that as Web of Lies changed my view of spiders, this current book has changed my view of our hot tub. I’ll never climb into it again without thinking of . . .
Okay, so. Speaking of hooks. Where were we in NES? Ah, yes. Not one, but two pub boards responding at once about Color the Sidewalk for Me. Agent Jane on the phone—about to break the news.
Are y’all BGs sitting down?
First, Sidewalk passed House A’s PB. They wanted it.
Actually, they didn’t want just Sidewalk. As with my Eyes of Elisha contract, this house wanted me to “write them another one.” A sequel “blind book.”
Wow. Head is now spinning.
Second, Sidewalk passed House B’s PB. They wanted it.
Actually, they didn’t want just Sidewalk. As with my Eyes of Elisha contract, this house wanted me to “write them another one.” A sequel “blind book.”
Whoa. Head . . . now . . . seriously . . . spinning . . .
“Um.” Somehow I managed to find my tongue. “Okay. What do we do now?”
A fiendish agent chuckle. “We let ’em fight over it.”
Really? My mind went off, somewhere far, far away. To a vast valley under threatening skies. Two PBs, eight members each, hulking on either side, snarling at each other as they don their armor. They mount their steeds. Lower their spears.
The thrum of hoof beats, the clash of metal. We shaaalll overrcoommmme! Weee waannt Bbrrannndilllyyyn Colllllinnnns!! . . .
“You there?” Jane’s voice tumbled me back into my office chair.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m here.”
“Good. I’m going to see what each side wants to offer. Then I’ll call you back. But besides the money, there’s another point to consider. With House A, you’ll be in an established fiction line in a strong house. With House B, it’s a new fiction line, which gives you the unique opportunity of getting in on the bottom floor. Helping establish the line as one of their first authors. But before we discuss those pros and cons, let’s see what each house offers.”
“Sure. Whatever.” I hung up the phone, dazed. That Jane. Always sounded so matter of fact. Like this sort of thing happened every day. Well, maybe it did. To her.
I had a hard time writing that day. All I could think of was selling Sidewalk. This book that I’d worked so hard on, rewrote so many times. I just couldn’t believe it. I tended to look out the window and stare a lot. In the distance, I could just barely make out the beleaguered and battling PBs . . .
The follow-up call did not take long to come. Here’s the thing with PBs. They try to find every reason in the world not to publish your book. If they dish out all the reasons they can think of and the sum total doesn’t pile higher than the reasons to publish it—they’ll say OK. As you know by now, their decision to publish can take a loooong time. Except when they hear another PB wants the book too. “What? A rival PB? No!” Suddenly they are moving like gangbusters, trying to come up with the best offer possible—fast.
So Jane soon called back. By that point I was so discombobulated, I could hardly answer the phone. Chalk it up to too many years of rejections. I still had to get used to this “we want you” business.
House B offered X amount of money per book for the two-book contract.
Wow. That’s good. Really good.
House A offered almost three times as much per book. For the two-book contract.
My mind flitted away once again. Back to the feuding valley. One PB left standing. The other PB littering the dust . . .
“Oooo-kay,” I squeaked. Talking in terms of money was so crass. “Um. I like the thing about being in an established fiction line. Less gamble that way. I pick door number House A.”
“Great choice. Besides, you’ve had such a good experience with the editing for Eyes of Elisha, and you like the house. Wonderful to know they’re working so hard to keep you. Of course, now you’ll have to write them another book to follow Sidewalk. Any ideas?”
“Oh, yeah. Um . . . no.”
“That’s all right. You’ll think of something.”
“Uh-huh.” Oh, man, now I gotta write two blind books in a row . . .
And that’s how I ended up signing my second two-book contract with Zondervan.
Read Part 39
Monday, April 18, 2005
Happy Monday, BGs. Hope your weekend was spider free. Actually—mine was. Amazing.
Well, we ended Friday with clashing cymbals and swelling violins. In other words, I had just slit open the package to withdraw a copy of my first printed novel. Couldn’t wait for hubby to get home to celebrate the moment with me, or the kids. Nope. I had to see it—now.
I slid my hand in the package and pulled out the novel.
Oh. Wow. Oh! Oh, oh, oh.
The publisher had sent me an email attachment of the cover, but the real thing looked so much better! It had gold foil around the outside, all shiny. I ran the palm of my hand over the front, the back. Over my name. Opened up the book, saw the dedication (to my husband, of course). And my name again! Read the opening chapter. Read it again. Flipped through the pages, reading bits of this chapter and that. Oh, remember when I wrote that sentence? And this one—how I struggled with that metaphor.
Oh, oh, oh.
I couldn’t see the book enough, feel it enough. After ten years, you just don’t throw the thing down after a cursory glance. Even as the day wore on, I kept coming back to it, picking it up again. Rifling the pages once more.
I got an idea. I needed one of those little book stands to display my novel, plus the two versions of my true crime, A Question of Innocence—one in English, plus the German translation. I ran out and started to buy three stands, then decided on four. That way, I wouldn’t have to go back to the store when Eyes of Elisha was published in the fall. Back in my office, I looked around, figuring out where to put my display. Ah, of course. Mark had built a five-foot-high wooden partition around the corner area I’d so grandly said he could use. (Hey, after all, he’s got an executive office in a building somewhere.) The top of that partition is about 5 inches wide. I set up the three stands in the center and placed my three books upon them. Stood back and gazed at the splendiferous sight.
Wow. Way cool.
Promise to myself: Some day I’m gonna line this whole doggone thing with books.
Speaking of which, I was still trying to sell another novel—the sequel to Cast a Road Before Me. Color the Sidewalk for Me was still out at those two publishers. About time we heard from them . . .
Dear BGs, more good news. Well, haven’t you and I waited long enough for this? Remember all the pain we’ve suffered . . .
House A wanted the manuscript.
But wait--the editor would take it to pub board.
Uh-oh, PB—that disastrous, demented, diabolical faction of fiends. Sitting around a table, rubbing their hands and cackling over how miserable they could make my life . . .
And--House B wanted the manuscript.
The editor would take it to pub board.
Oh, boy. Dual PBs. I wasn’t sure my heart could take this.
Back to waiting.
Sort of. Thing is, in the meantime I had lots of work to do. I’d already turned in Getting Into Character, remember? Now the editorial letter came back. Time for the rewrite. Oh, joy.
Cast a Road Before Me started appearing on shelves. The Romantic Times review chose it as a TOP Pick and gave it a very rare 4 1/5 star + gold rating. (It’s the added gold that’s rare—I’ve found in general that Romantic Times, now often called RT BOOKclub, is pretty easy on books, so you’ll find plenty of 4 ½ stars.)
Wow. They liked me! They really liked me!
No doubt books sales would now take off, and the thing would make me a fortune.
But in the meantime—I had to start rewriting Getting Into Character. And when that was done I had to write book 2 in the Chelsea Adams series. Whose plot I still had no clue about. With this much work, the days passed a lot quicker as I waited for news from the PBs about Sidewalk. Still, those ten years of rejections weren’t so distant. No way, not at all. Every time my business line rang, I’d jump.
Then—oh, boy, what a heart rattler. I got The Call from Jane. With the news she'd heard . . . from not one, but both PBs.
Read Part 38
Friday, April 15, 2005
Well. As you eagle-eyed BGs have been noticing, I ain’t been tellin’ ya a doggone thing about how my new book’s coming. Kelly even had the nerve in her comments yesterday to say, “Oh, hey, shouldn’t you have about 60 pages done by now?”
Kelly, it’s a good thing we’re talking through cyber space, or I’d a punched you in the nose.
No, I don’t have 60 pages, okay? I have maybe 20. Fact is, over the weekend, I nearly chucked the whole book idea. It wasn’t going anywhere, I couldn’t figure out the story, and I figured I’d better just start over. Trouble was, nothing new came to mind.
Truth is, my pea brain is weary. The Web of Lies rewrite took way too long, and I dragged myself over the finish line one day before I was supposed to start writing the next book. Which I had no clue about. Ye ol’ brain cells simply needed a rest. So although I tried to force an opening (including that first line), it just wasn’t coming. So I gave myself a few days to think and pull back from all writing. Monday I hardly spent in my office. What’s a girl to do when she needs a break? GO SHOPPING! Oh, yeah, baby. Why else do you think I ended up in Nordstrom’s—where the spider crawled out of the sandal I wanted to try on.
See how my writing haunts me wherever I go?
I have now thought of a few more ideas for this here Paige whatever-her-last-name-is book. Actually, I’ve decided—her last name is Williams. Now I really do have to start writing. I hope as I write what I do know that I can start to fill in the rest of the story.
Quick answers to questions from yesterday. (1). Proposals. Yes, generally for a new author, a nonfiction book is far more likely to be sold on a proposal than a novel. Fiction is just plain harder to write, and the house will want to know that the new novelist can pull off the entire book, not just the first few chapters. (2). Line editing vs. copy editing. As I see it, the former is still editing the actual writing, but on a line by line, picky basis. Do you really want to use this word? Or—these two lines are not needed; I suggest you delete. Copy editing is checking facts, consistencies, spelling and grammar. Line edits are typically done by the same editor who does the “macro” or overall biggy edit. Copy editors are different animals altogether. They’re the detail-oriented freaks. A good copy editor is an incredible talent. Anybody that can spot a white blouse changing to beige 200 pages later is a keeper in my book. Pun intended. Plus they have to know the Chicago Manual of Style backwards and forwards. Try that on for some late night reading. (3). My editing at Zondervan. Both Dave Lambert and Karen Ball do my macro edit. See why my life’s so tough? These two keep my feet to the fire. From there, Karen does the track changes (or line edits). A copy editor then takes over for copy editing. And then a proofer—yet another person—proofs the final typeset version.
All right, bodacious BGs. Back to our Never Ending Saga.
We’re up to the spring of 2001. Two things happened by that year’s Mount Hermon conference. One, I finished Getting Into Character and sent it off to the publisher. Two—drum roll . . . My first novel, Cast a Road Before Me, was published.
There are few words worthy to describe what it feels like to hold your first novel in your hands. The fruition of a journey that had taken ten years. Actually by March 2001 I was into my twelfth year of writing fiction. The publisher had told me they’d send one book hot off the press. The rest of my free copies would come later. That was fine by me—one copy was all I needed. So I started looking for the UPS truck—every day. Driver must have thought I had a serious crush on him. I could hear the truck from my office. So I’d trot outside, watch him go up the street, and wait and wait, hoping against hope that he’d stop at our house on the way back down.
And one day he did.
I hopped around like some cut loose Jack-in-the-box as he rattled around the truck, looking for my package. “Hm. Can’t find it. Maybe it got left behind. If so, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.”
What, was he kidding? He’d left my package back at some loading dock? I couldn’t believe it. Who’d trained him in such leave-me-hanging techniques—some house’s pub board?
“Oh, wait. Here it is.”
He handed it to me with total nonchalance. Like it was some book I’d ordered, or some pair of pants. Didn’t he know that package contained my world?
I grabbed the thing in my chubby little hands and sailed up the steps to our porch. Into the house. Banged shut the door with a foot. Hurried into the kitchen. Plopped the package onto the counter.
Stood back and looked at it.
Suddenly, I couldn’t open the thing.
It’s just that, well, I’d waited so long. Worked for so many years. And here my first book sat, bundled up on my counter. I wanted a crew filming this scene. I wanted swelling music, crowds applauding. Instead—nobody. Sheesh, even my husband was at work.
Maybe I should wait until he got home. After all, he’d been through the heartaches of this journey with me. He could take a movie of me flourishing a knife, slitting the top of the package. Pulling out my book. We’d have the film forever. I could show it to my kids, my grandkids. You know, when I was a world-renowned author, and they’d climb on my lap and ask, “How did it all begin, Grandma?”
I looked at the package.
It was only ten in the morning.
Stared at the package again.
My heart performed this odd little leap. Are you crazy? Forget this. No way was I waiting for my husband to get home. I couldn’t stand this one more minute.
In my head the violins soared and cymbals crashed. I imagined eager fans staying up all night to read this masterpiece, my first novel. On tiptoe with anticipation, I theatrically pulled a knife out of its wooden butcher block. Placed the blade against the top of the package. Held my breath.
And slit it open.
Read Part 37
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Kelly, thank you for catching the fact that yesterday’s post was labeled #33 instead of 34. I saw your comment in the morning and fixed the error pronto. So for the rest of the day, you looked like an idiot for pointing out a mistake that didn’t exist. :)
Darcie, thanks for coming out of lurking. And Ron—your “Andy” comment sure made me laugh. Don’t I remember that you’re an engineer? So much for you types having no sense of humor.
Becky, as for your question about the “Dave letter.” This is the first editorial response to a book, so it deals only with the large content issues. Story structure, character motivation, that type of thing. That’s why one paragraph on the letter can make for a whole lotta rewriting. Houses will differ, but Zondervan’s editorial process is as follows. (1) The editorial letter of “big stuff,” sometimes call the macro edit. (2) Track changes to the rewritten manuscript. This is more line by line editing. (3) Copy edits, done by a different editor—one who only does copy edits. This type of editor looks at little details—everything from typos to grammatical errors to hey, that white blouse changed to blue in the same scene. (4) Proofs. At this stage, all edits are supposed to be done, and the manuscript is typeset as it will appear in print. This is a final read to catch typos. This occurs about 3 months before the book comes out. Reviewers often have to receive their manuscripts early, so they are sent copies after the copy edit stage. This is why the manuscript for a reviewer will say that it’s unproofed.
All right. So. Where were we at the end of yesterday’s NES? Buckle your seat belts . . .
Oh, yes, I was on the phone, waiting for agent Jane’s pronouncement from Editor B about Getting Into Character.
Are you ready for this?
The house wanted it.
They were going to publish it.
Whoa. I crushed the phone to my ear, stunned. I wasn’t used to this much good news in a row. Wasn’t even sure I could handle it. Plus—when you think about it—selling Getting Into Character at that point was just plain crazy. I mean, who would listen to anything I had to say in the book? I didn’t even have a novel on the shelves yet—and I was telling other people how to write fiction?
Then there was this other slight problem. Getting Into Character was only in proposal form.
Which meant I had to write the book.
Agh! How was I gonna write this thing? I mean, the theories sounded great in nutshell form, and I used ’em in my head. But to actually set down on paper all those concepts . . . Oh, sheesh. I’d really done it now. Worked ten years to be published, and now people would know I was an absolute fraud.
Plus, don’t forget I already had agreed to write book 2 of the Chelsea Adams series, for which I had no ideas . . .
Okay, Brandilyn, breathe. You wanted this, remember? You worked hard for this.
“Hey,” Jane asked. “You there? You got pretty quiet.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here. I’m just . . . happy as a clam. This is . . . great! Thank you!”
Oh, God, help me, help me, help me.
Well, no time to be scared outta my gourd. The contract with John Wiley & Sons was signed with no glitches—and I had to start writing the book. Pronto.
Once I got to it, I found the book easier to write than fiction. Well, naturally. Anything’s easier to write than fiction. Still, there were challenges galore. I had to figure out how to present all these concepts swishing around in my head. How do you explain the concept of Inner Rhythm to someone who’s never even heard of it, much less knows how to use it for building character actions? Or Emotion Memory. What novelist had heard of that, unless he/she happened to also study Method acting? Or Subtexting. Well, novelists could understand subtexting on a subconscious basis, but, well, uh, my writing had to be on the conscious level. How to teach the concept to someone who’d never purposely used it, when to me it was all done by feel? It was just a part of me. What exactly were the steps to figuring out when to subtext a conversation—and then presenting the underlying meaning of the dialog in places other than the words themselves?
Okay, Brandilyn, hang on, you can do this.
2000 turned into 2001 as I worked on this book.
Meanwhile, spring 2001 was approaching. When my first novel, Cast a Road Before Me, would hit shelves. I couldn’t wait for that. I still couldn’t even imagine holding the thing in my hand.
And on other fronts—Jane was still working on selling Color the Sidewalk for Me. One house we hadn’t sent it to now rose to the forefront. Did they want to see the manuscript?
Sure, send it on over.
The manuscript went to House A.
Then there was House B. A brand new one doing fiction. Wanted “serious” fiction—that is, deeply written stuff. House B only had a few slots to fill, and would be extremely picky about what manuscripts they took. But wonderful Jane talked me up—and Sidewalk was sent to House B.
Yay! Two more chances for this novel I loved! This one that I written and rewritten, and rewritten, and rewritten. Till doom’s day.
I never stopped to think that if I sold the thing, I might have to rewrite it—again. And when would I have time for that, with the other stuff already on my plate? But hey, wouldn’t that be a great problem to have. I was getting’ into this sell, sell, sell mode. After ten years of frustration, far be it from me to ever complain.
Eat, drink, and sell today, and who cares about the writing tasks tomorrow?
Read Part 36
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Hey, BGs, I read all the comments from yesterday, as usual. What’s this about trying to shut down my story? Sheesh, you mean 33 parts is enough for you? I’ve only gotten y’all up to the end of 2000, for heaven’s sake.
Clearly, I have trained you well as suspense readers. Methinks since I didn’t leave you with ye ol’ huge hook, y’all thought the saga was over. My, my, don’t you know—just when the protagonist is thinking she’s conquered all . . .
But before I get back to NES, a thought. Now I’m all worried. I’m thinkin’ once this here NES is over, what’s to keep y’all comin’ back? Maybe you’ll leave me forever, and I’ll be stuck solo—just me and my spiders. BGr says to BGs—when this saga is really over, let’s see what y’all want to talk about. No doubt we can come up with some very interesting subjects. And if all else fails, I can always find a scathing letter I’ve received from some reader and post it.
Heh-heh.Okay, back to NES.
Yes, I had sold Eyes of Elisha. And blind "book 2." But as you’ll recall, I still really wanted to sell Color the Sidewalk for Me. Currently that book was doing nothing but sitting on my agent’s desk. All doors had been closed to it. Meanwhile, I did have one copy of my proposal for Getting Into Character sitting on the desk of a general market publishing house. Not that I expected that one to go very far.
Next big event--the contract for Eyes of Elisha was signed. A done deal! Totally, completely! A two-book contract with Zondervan! Okay, so what if I didn’t have a clue what the second book would be about . . .
Then, boom. Something else hit. Unexpected, outta nowhere.
General market Editor B liked my Getting Into Character proposal.
Really? Whoa. Yay!
Editor B would take it to pub board.
Déjà vu. Oh. Right.
Next, the editorial letter came in for Eyes of Elisha. Remember how my first sold novel, Cast a Road Before Me, had no changes? And I thought it was due to my magnificent brilliance as an author? Well, suddenly I wasn’t so magnificent anymore. My editorial review letter for EOE was, oh, about 12 pages.
At the time, Dave Lambert was the editor for Zondervan. Dave is known in the business as one of the best—and the hardest. He has wonderful insights. And his letters go on for pages as he explains the weaknesses he sees in a story. We novelists at Zondervan call these our “Dave letters.” They are infamous. One best-selling author who shall remain nameless has the current record for the longest Dave letter. Twenty-two pages.
One thing I have learned from Dave. Even a highly polished, well crafted novel needs editing. And by this point, Eyes of Elisha was highly polished. After all, I had spent ten years and countless rewrites on the thing. It should be in good shape. Still, he found some weak spots, and took the time to thoroughly explain what he saw. Like a good editor, he didn’t tell me how to fix these weaknesses. He just pointed them out to me, then let me figure out how best to deal with them.
I should add that today, Dave Lambert has left Zondervan to be a freelance editor. Karen Ball is now my wonderful Zondervan editor. However Dave still does a lot of freelance work for Z, so my books now receive edits from—you guessed it, both of them. Sheesh. Talk about making me want to kick cabinets. These two keep me on my toes. But it's all worth it. My books are way better than they’d be without the keen eyes of both Dave and Karen.
So at any rate, I got my first Dave letter. Twelve pages. Man, when I opened up that email attachment, I nearly had a heart attack. But I dug in—deep. The rewrite took a couple of weeks. I turned it in with bated breath, not really sure what happened next. But voila! Next thing I knew, I’d received the formal “your manuscript has been accepted” letter that meant everything was okay. It also meant I could be paid the second half of the advance for the book.
Whee! Now this is what you call the fun part of writing.
Then, back to reality. The phone rings. It’s Jane. She’s heard back from Editor B, who’s taken Getting Into Character to pub board.
Drat. I really am not ready for this conversation. It’s just that everything has been going so great. After ten years of Nos, I’ve gotten some real good Yeses, and I’m not hankering to go back to hearing rejections again. The year 2000 began horribly. Finally got good. Doggone it all, do I have to end it on other bad note?
I sit down, already feeling my heart tighten, preparing itself.
“Okay, Jane. Shoot.”
Read Part 35
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
First up, an announcement. This evening I'm doing a live chat at www.dancingword.com. It's at 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT. go to dancingword's home page, click on directory, then click on "Chat Room" and follow the directions in. This is a great opportunity for a little BG heckling.
Second--I tell you, life is getting strange. I swear Arachnidland is out to get me.
A few days ago I think I mentioned taking my husband’s shirts to the cleaners, all wadded up to my chest. Plunked them down on the counter, and out of the pile crawled a spider. So yesterday what happens? I look down—and there’s a spider crawling on my sleeve. Where on earth did it come from? Then today—no kidding. I am in Nordstroms, looking at shoes. Go to pick one up—there’s a good-size black spider on the thing. I draw my hand back in a hurry. Stand there and watch it, thinking, okay, this is really getting weird. Mr. Shoe Speciman here is one of those jumping spiders. I see the thing hop from one shoe to another.
At this point a salesman approached and asked if he could help me.
Mind you, many answers went through my brain. However most of them would have sent the guy in a sloooow back-up, sort of like easing away from a rabid dog. I decided to stick with the safest answer: "I don't need help, no. But you want might to get rid of your little friend here." I pointed to the spider. "By the way, it jumps."
His hand froze mid-air. "It--jumps?"
I repressed a mad "Bwa-ha-ha-ha-hahhhhh" and merely nodded.Hear ye, hear ye Brandilyn's mantra news flash! "I will never write about snakes. I will never write about snakes . . ."
Okay. Moving on. (Perhaps I should say crawling on.)
Great to hear that those of you on my influencer list for Dead of Night have received your copies. I’m already getting e-mails and calls. Sheesh, people are reading this one in a hurry. Can’t quite find a good place to stop reading, they keep saying. Don’t get me wrong—I love this kind of reaction. But it’s sorta like taking all day to cook a gourmet meal, and then everybody gobbles it up in ten minutes. Know what I mean? Sigh. If only I could write as fast as people read.
All right. Back to NES. (Never-Ending Saga, for anyone brave enough to join us today.)
Now. Dear BGs—have I warped you or something? I ended yesterday with this grand finale—one I’d been waiting ten years for, and one you’d been waiting over seven weeks to hear. I sold Eyes of Elisha—and the publisher now wanted me to write a second book. Hello! You should be dancing on the ceiling for me. Instead y’all are whining, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe the rug’ll be pulled out from under us tomorrow . . .”
Poor things. See what reading too much suspense will do to you? Next thing you know, you’re looking around every corner, wondering what’s going to hit you next.
For those of you still chewing your fingernails—here’s what happened when I heard my agent ask me if I’d like to write this publisher another book. I took about 1/100th of a nanosecond to say, “Sure!”
See how easy selling a book is?
And this is how I ended up with a two-book contract for Zondervan.
There. I said the name. Y’all scardy-cats can rest easy now.
Before much time passed, ye ol’ contract pages spat out of my fax machine. For two books. One—Eyes of Elisha (with protagonist Chelsea Adams). Two—Chelsea Adams series, book 2. This is what you call a “blind” sell. Lemme tell ya, that “blind” cuts both ways. Yeah, the house buys a book blind. And the author sells it blind. It’s all celebration and polishing cabinets at that point. Eye-opening time comes when you sit down to write a book—and you have no clue what you’re going to write. All you know is that the publisher already paid you half of the advance $$ for it, so you’d better come up with something half decent.
But hey, that was down the road. At the time—no worries, guys 'n' gals. Just shout the news to the world and boogie til the sun comes up!
Timeline: Eyes of Elisha would release fall of 2001. That was way cool, because Cast a Road Before Me would be releasing spring of 2001. Two novels coming out in one year!! I had surely died and gone to heaven. And then in the fall of 2002, blind book #2—whatever the heck it turned out to be—would be published.
Ten years. A whole decade, and I’d finally done it. Sold three books. I was on my way. And I still had more books to sell. Color the Sidewalk for Me—if I could ever find a place for it. And Getting Into Character (in proposal form), which was still out at one publishing house in the general market.
Ten years. The daughter who was a newborn when I first sat down to read Eyes of Elisha had now finished fifth grade.
It sure took long enough, but thank You, God, for this wide open door. Thank You, thank You, thank You . . .
Read Part 34
Monday, April 11, 2005
Welcome back, BGs.
Well, my goodness, and didn’t y’all let loose while I was away. Turn my back, and look what happens. Sheesh, see if I ever ask y’all again what you think about a line I’ve written. J
Actually, I thought the discussion was fascinating. Ain’t it fun to talk about writing? Especially when you’re supposed to be writing. I mean, it’s a whole lot easier to talk about it than do it. At least for me.
For those of you who’ve just joined us (and are by now thoroughly confused), we’re talking about a first line of a new book I threw out last week: She harbored a kinship with the living dead. Which was a tweak from the initial: Paige Manders harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.
Only now after the discussion, I’m thinkin’ “restless” maybe should go back in before “kinship.” Oh, and I really had a good laugh about the name Paige Manders. Sally said it made her think of meandering through pages. Never thought of that. I did, however, think a whole nanosecond about naming her Paige Turner. All right, Sally—tag, you’re it. You don’t like Manders for a last name, you think me up a new one. The rest of y’all can help. (Although I am cringing, just imagining what sort of beast I’m lettin’ loose, asking for your opinions once again.)
The interesting thing about the comments is all the various thoughts about writing the discussion touched on, merely by starting with opinions about that first line. Here’s what I think about the whole thing. Randy, you are right about the line-it is telling. And it’s in an omniscient POV. You are also right that one should start a book, especially suspense, right in the action. However, after agreeing with you on all that, what do I say? (You are now about to see my rebellious side kick up.)
I don’t care.
A first line is a great place to break a rule.
1. If you’ve read my suspense, especially the Hidden Faces series, you know that the suspense starts on page one. Bam, and you’re into some deadly situation. Given that, I don’t think it matters that the first line is telling. Now if I went on line after line that like, not good. But . . .
2. A first line of this type is simply to jar people, as I’ve said before. It’s not to say the whole book should be written this way. The second line will put you right into the action. I think this works because . . .
3. I’m a very visual person, and I write visually. Sometimes I imagine a book starting the way a movie would, with the camera kind of far back and moving in closer to the main person. Once the “camera” reaches the character, then we’re in that POV character’s head to stay (for the scene, anyway.)
I used a similar line in one other suspense—Dread Champion. That first line was: After twenty years of midnights among the dead, Victor Mendoza didn’t spook easily. Then the scene moves in to what’s going on in the cemetery that’s spooking Victor.
At any rate, we won’t all agree—and that’s the fun part of the discussion. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts very much. Y’all keep being so chatty, and I’ll have to get you a tagboard attached to this here blog.
Okay, moving on.
Dear BGs, you have stuck with me through thick and thin. Well, up to this point, mostly thin. You’ve felt frustrated along with me, mentally kicked your share of cabinets, had great empathy for me as I went up and down the roller coaster ride of the entire 1990s, trying to get published in fiction. Some of you have wailed, “Oh, my goodness, is it gonna be this bad for me?”
I don’t think so. Doesn’t have to be. One major difference today is how we can connect with other writers. Blogs, Web sites, e-mail, writer’s loops—I had none of this when I was learning to write fiction. All this stuff is so helpful if you take advantage of it. There’s plenty of mentoring and teaching available for free these days. Second, don’t forget I went my own way for eight years before I thought to ask God what He would like me to write. If you’re making that mistake—don’t.
So all of you on your way to being published—keep at it. Write, write, write, and read, read, read. Study, study, study. Work on the craft and don’t give up.
As y’all know all too well, I worked and worked for nine years. Finally sold one novel. Then, just as I thought my career was taking off, doors got slammed in my face left and right. Man. I thought this here writer rocket had done lost its juice before it left the launching pad.
But you faithful BGs have hung with me long enough. Now it’s time for a turn-around, don’t you think? Something that says, “Hey, all this work has been worth it. It’s finally gonna start paying off.”
Well, that’s a great thought. Maybe in another 32 parts, I’ll get to something akin to that . . .
Okay, it won’t be quite that long.
I left you Friday (fiend that I am) with myself hanging on the phone. Agent Jane saying she heard from Editor E about that contract for the purchase of Eyes of Elisha. The very first novel I’d ever written—ten years ago now. And, of course, I am dying a thousand deaths, so sure am I that she’s going to tell me this sale, too, has been cancelled. Even as she is speaking, I’m sinking into my office chair, preparing myself. Hey, Brandilyn, you don’t need this sale anyway. Who cares? So what if it’s been ten years?
Then Jane says. “Yes, we talked about your contract. They’re looking at making a change.””
Oh, no, here it comes.
“Editor E says, since they like Eyes of Elisha so much—would you like to enlarge the contract, and write them a second book?”
Read Part 33
Friday, April 08, 2005
Happy Friday, BGs. Y’all are awesome! I so appreciated the comments from yesterday. Cheryl, thanks for posting for the first time. And I loved the feedback about my opening line. An edit from numerous “fresh eyes” always jazzes me.
As you’ll recall, the drafted first line was: Paige Manders harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.
BGs who wondered, of course you don’t know what “living dead” means. Zombies? Tired moms? The Sixth Sense? That’s the whole point. It’s simply to shake you up, throw questions into your head, get you to read further . . .
Randy, good catch about the word “restless.” Besides not needing it, the word did an overkill on the sentence rhythm. I have now deleted it. And I have to agree with you and Becky about not using the character’s name in the first line. I’ve only done that one other time. I think it’s more mysterious to start with a pronoun. Interesting thing here, however. I purposely used the name for two reasons. One, it makes the rhythm of the sentence work. The “beat” of the subject balances the “beat” of the final two words—“living dead.” If I just use “She” as a subject, that screws up the rhythm.
Second reason is foreshadow.
That said, once I wrote more pages today (yes, I did write!), I saw a better way to do the foreshadowing. So for now the sentence reads: She harbored a kinship with the living dead.
Still don’t like this rhythm, however. The sentence may well change. But for now I’m pressing on. I wrote 6 1/2 pages yesterday. And it took all day. Sheesh, the writing never comes easily at the beginning of a manuscript. So now I’m only 11 pages behind. Proud of me?
BTW, perhaps I owe a slight explanation here. I’m not usually so totally in the dark about a series that’s already contracted, and that I have to start writing—now. See, it’s like this. In January, when I had ye ol’ big marketing meeting with my publishing house, and we all decided I needed to focus on writing suspense only, I was working on the final book in my Hidden Faces series. Which meant I would soon be starting on my new contemporary (women’s fiction) series. I knew the general outlay of that series, and had the first book basically planned. Sort of. But then the whole thing got pulled. “Replace it with a suspense series,” Zondervan said. “Just let us know what it will be when you figure it out.”
Have I told you all this before?
Anyway, when is the operative word. Meanwhile I had to start writing this week. At some point (better be soon), I’ll email my editor and tell her what the series is about.
Oop, ding-aling goes the bell. Time to get back to NES (that’s Never-Ending Saga, for you newbies.)
So—we left off with new hope a’bubblin’ in my shriveled author’s heart. Two houses in the general market had my nonfiction, Getting Into Character. And one house in the Christian market had Eyes of Elisha.
We waited. (You know, I’ve written those two words so many times, I should just start using WW.)
First call finally came to my agent—from one of the general market houses. Regarding Getting Into Character? Nix. Nyet. No.
Hey, well. I didn’t really expect a yes. In fact, my other books were taking so long to sell, I figured this proposal might get off the ground in about, oh, five years. What really counted for me was selling Eyes of Elisha. When were we going to hear from Editor E?
E finally contacted Jane. She called me. I held my breath.
E liked Eyes of Elisha very much.
E was taking it to pub board.
“Hang in there,” Jane told me. “This house is a good fit. Really. I know these things are totally unpredictable, but this would be a great place for you to be. Very strong house."
Yeah, yeah, keep that hope bubbling.
How many rejections in a row had I gotten at this point? Most of ’em at the last minute. I’m tired, God. Sure, I keep praying and all that, but I don’t know that I can take much more of this.
Days passed. Weeks. An eternity. Dratted pub boards.
Editor E finally contacted Jane. She called me. “It’s a yes! They’re making an offer on Eyes of Elisha.”
Oh. Wow. Oh, oh, oh! I cried, I Snoopy danced, I forgot to b r e a t h e . . . The sting of past rejections fell away. This was it! God had finally opened the right door for this first novel I ever wrote—after ten years! God, thank You, thank You, thank You. I called my husband at work, my mom, my sisters, the world.
Somewhere amidst all the elation, a little voice whispered. “Remember Editor C? The house that changed its mind—after pub board?”
Oh, no, huh-uh. Not this time. It simply would not happen again. I mean, really, who got struck by lightning twice?
All the same, I began to pray now that Jane wouldn’t call. That unique tone of my business line—didn’t want to hear it. Nope, nope, nope. If it sounded, I would cover my hears, hum real loud. Deny, deny.
Every day that passed in silence was a victory. Editor E’s house was working on the contract—what advance they would offer, what the royalties would be. It’s okay, Brandilyn, chill out. Everything will come together.
Another day. A few more. A week. Two weeks. This is a good thing, right? Still no call. Just waiting for ye ol’ fax machine to heat up, spit out those contract pages . . .
More days passed.
Then one afternoon—the phone rang.
My business line.
Don't stress, it’s just some writing pal calling to chat . . . But by the time I picked up the receiver, my heart rattled in my throat.
Oh, no, oh, no. God, I’m telling You, I will not make it this time.
“Well.” She sounded matter-of-fact, as always. “I just heard from Editor E. About that contract we've been waiting for.”
Read Part 32
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Sheesh, we’ve reached the Big 3-O. Happy over-the-hill days, y’all.
I received a great e-mail from a BG yesterday. She told me how my determination through publishing perils had encouraged her to take out an old manuscript and dust it off. Now she’s rewriting and seeing its improvement. I told her, “Go, girl!” So glad this recounting encouraged her. That’s the whole point of the story—to let you writers out there know you’re not alone. Rejection happens to everyone. And you can make your way through it.
Comments, comments: Ron, you’re right about that cop and the murder scene. How awful. But what an opener for a story. As for your wife seeking help for you—my family gave up on me long ago. C.J., you asked if there’s something I do spiritually to help prepare for a new book. Pretty simple, just keep praying a lot. Asking God to show me this book that’s already formed in His head. Reveal to me the spiritual theme as I write the story. And I claim joy in the process, because it’s so easy for me to feel overwhelmed.
Speaking of a new book . . .
Sheesh, says this BGr to y’all BGs, what was I thinking when I agreed to tell you my daily process of writing? Now when I don’t make my page count, when I procrastinate, when I fall on my fanny, everyone’s gonna know. Okay, so here’s the report for what I did yesterday. But if I see any rulers coming out for my knuckles, I’m clamming up.
I wrote half a page.
Well. So. It’s better than nothing. Besides, I worked on that half-page for a number of hours.
So now, as of end of yesterday, day three of the new book, I am 11 ½ pages behind. Of course, that’s with counting the first nearly blank six pages, because I know they’ll be a piece of cake later.
Of course, half a page means I wrote the first line. Wanna hear it?
Paige Manders harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.
Whatdya think, huh? Weigh in, BGs. Be honest—I can take it. (Hey, haven’t I had a little practice over the years?)
Before we get to NES (that’s my new term for our Never-Ending Saga): News flash! News flash! Becky’s note that she’d finished Dead of Night gave me an idea. Any of y’all out there reading it—if you’ll post a review about it at amazon.com and/or christianbook.com, I’ll send you a free autographed copy to pass on to a friend. Or, I suppose, an enemy, if you hate the book. (Just please, please don’t give away any surprises in your reviews.) If you’re on my influencer list—hey, you’re already getting a free copy. For the rest of you, e-mail me when your review is posted, and my assistant will send you the free book. It’ll be a free birthday present for your pal. Or a gift for Mother’s or Father’s Day. Whatever.
Okay, back to NES. Where were we?
Oh, yes, Editor C calling with her news about Color the Sidewalk for Me. The last editor who had the manuscript. All hopes pinned on this one. The answer?
Yes, C still loved it. Would have bought it, too. But at the last minute—major problems. Unfortunately, the house was undergoing some reorganization of staff, and C had decided to leave the company . . .
Bam, another door slammed in my face at the last minute. Sidewalk had been officially orphaned—before it was ever born.
Those were difficult days, I’ll tell you. Yes, Cast a Road Before Me was set for release the following spring. But both my other books—the one I’d spent so many years writing—were dead in the water. There were other houses out there who hadn’t seen either Eyes of Elisha or Sidewalk. But there were reasons why my agent hadn’t sent to them. And remember, five years ago there weren’t nearly as many Christian publishers doing fiction as there are now. Still, my agent said she’d keep knocking down doors. The right houses would be found.
I kept praying. I had to believe God had closed these doors for good reason. I only hoped the reason wasn’t to teach me patience—for the next 25 years.
Agent Jane took a good hard look at all the remaining houses. There was one major house that she’d had little dealings with. And unfortunately, with a solid string of known novelists, it had very little room for a newbie. Still, it looked like it might be a fit for Eyes of Elisha. We’d certainly learned by now that this book was apparently “controversial.” Last thing I’d ever want to be, but that was the truth of it. So Jane made certain that this house understood what it was getting. Were they interested in taking a look at it?
Well. By this time, how could I let myself get excited? I didn’t want to be crushed again.
At least, this is what I told myself.
In reality, for us dogged, determined, cabinet-kicking writers, hope springs eternal. So don’t you know--it welled up in me once more.
Jane sent this editor—Editor E—the manuscript.
Around this time, a certain understanding was becoming clear to me. When I’d mention to my writer friends about using techniques I’d learned from Method acting for building characters—guess what? I got blank looks. May sound silly now, but this was a real surprise at the time. I’d studied drama in high school and college, read all the Stanislavsky books (the so-called “father” of Method acting), so the techniques rolling off my tongue sounded natural to me. But apparently they were Greek to my pals. Hm. Could there possibly be a book in this?
I started doing some research. How many books were there about adapting Method acting techniques for novelists? Answer: none. Whoa. You mean to tell me I got some kinda bright new idea? Way cool!
I started writing a proposal for a nonfiction book on the subject. Hey, what did I have to lose except being rejected again—and I was getting real used to that. Somewhere along the way I realized I’d better ask my agent about this. “Um, Jane, I know I’m already writing in two fiction genres, but could I write another nonfiction? Here’s what it’s about . . .” She said go for it.
I wrote the proposal. Sent it to Jane. She sent it back—with needed changes. Surprise, surprise. I wrote it again. This time she okayed it. And sent it out to two houses in the general market that were perfect for publishing it.
Yippee yay! Ye ol’ hope started bubblin' for sure. Now I had two manuscripts out, in both the Christian and the general markets—to a total of three great houses.
Where could we go wrong?
Read Part 31