Friday, March 31, 2006

Full Tilt--Part II

Creston Mapes continues telling you about himself and his new release, Full Tilt:

Brandilyn asked what type of person would enjoy Dark Star and Full Tilt. We’re hearing from readers of all ages—including many young people—who are digging the characters and the gritty, unsanitized storylines. Let’s face it, in Jesus’ day and in ours, sin is real, it’s dark, and it isn’t pretty. The lure of Satan, the temptations to do evil, they’re real. I look at my books, Full Tilt and Dark Star, almost like modern day parables. The Gospel is clearly presented, but it rises up from the grassroots of a thrilling, believable, modern day story.

My goal is to write thrilling books that are entertaining, and that draw readers—Christians and non-Christians—closer to Christ. And that is happening. I’ve heard from people who’ve bought the books not knowing they had a Christian message, and they have been touched by them. Many readers have said the books have caused them to pray for people in the rock and entertainment industries. We’ve heard from readers across the US, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, and Scotland.

I like to cover real, contemporary issues in my books. While Dark Star dealt with rock stardom and personal psychics, Full Tilt delves deep into the world of methamphetamines. I did a ton of research on meth. It’s America’s fastest growing drug. US drug officials are calling it a scourge and a monster. That’s because it’s inexpensive, and it can be cooked at home from ordinary household goods. It’s being used by all age groups. And it’s incredibly dangerous, not only to those using it, but to those around them. Meth is highly addictive. It robs users of sleep and appetite. It’s a stimulant that overwhelms the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. Users feel euphoric and invincible, doing things they would never do sober, including incredibly brutal, senseless, alarming acts of negligence and violence.

I also did a great deal of research on organized crime for Full Tilt. One of the main characters in the book, Eddie (Everett’s brother), is hooked on gambling, gets involved with the Mob, gets into big debt, and pulls Everett into that dangerous world with him. I read a lot of books by and about mobsters in order to make Full Tilt realistic.

There will be a third book in The Rock Star Chronicles. But before I write the next one, my publisher has sent me to Las Vegas for a research trip, and I’m writing another totally different Christian suspense thriller with a Vegas backdrop. Vegas is the fastest-growing city in America. There are TV shows popping up about it all over the place. We want to set a modern day story there that’s going to reveal the power of Christ’s love in Sin City.

A little about my background….I’ve been writing professionally for 20 years, first as a newspaper reporter, which I loved, then as a corporate marketing copywriter. For the past 15 years I’ve been freelancing from my home in Atlanta, where I write the novels we’ve discussed, and also magazine stories and marketing copy for companies such as Coke, BellSouth, Oracle, and also for ministries led by some well-known Bible teachers: Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, and Chip Ingram. Some of the magazine stories I’ve written have been about popular recording artists: Casting Crowns, David Crowder Band, Third Day, Joy Williams. You can check all this out at my web site:

Thank you all for listening.


Thanks, Creston! Here are some reviews and endorsements for Full Tilt:

“Creston Mapes has scored another knockout with this tale of addiction, darkness, and redemption. Full Tilt is an emotional, psychological thrill ride that will leave you breathless.” — INFUZE MAGAZINE, Brian Palmer

“My son dove into Creston’s first novel, Dark Star, and devoured it. This, from a young man who doesn’t read much! I know what book I’m getting for him next—Full Tilt!

— ROBIN JONES GUNN, bestselling author of the Sisterchick series

“A gritty, realistic look at the dangers of meth, Full Tilt takes readers on one serious rollercoaster ride. Hang on.” — BILL MYERS, bestselling author of the The Presence

“Full Tilt rocks! With compelling characters and intriguing plot, Creston Mapes delivers a compulsive novel that will leave you in eager anticipation for the next Rock Star Chronicles installment.” — VENNESSA NG, Assistant Editor, Focus on Fiction

Creston Mapes keeps this Dark Star sequel going Full Tilt to the very last page. Another real page turner, Creston weaves a story as compelling as it is powerful. I’ve been waiting impatiently for this follow-up to Dark Star and it truly delivers! Well worth the wait…and well worth the read. I plan on reading anything this author writes.

— WANDA DYSON, author of Intimidation

"FULL TILT is good old fashioned evangelism wrapped in a modern, street-smart novel. For those about to rock, Mapes salutes you...with fast-paced stories full of memorable characters." — ERIC WILSON, author of Expiration Date and Dark to Mortal Eyes

“Fast-paced, intriguing, and compelling…and yet this page-turner pauses to display grace too. I appreciate the author’s willingness to tackle a subject that many shy from—the devastating consequences of this country’s growing methamphetamine problem. Well, done, Creston! My husband and I both enjoyed it.”

— MELODY CARLSON, award winning author of Crystal Lies and Diary of a Teenage Girl series

“With a cast of captivating characters and a plotline as taut as one of Everett Lester’s guitar strings, Creston Mapes has delivered a riveting tale of intrigue, the rock and roll subculture—and divine destiny. Full Tilt is a superb story from a gifted storyteller.”

— MARK MYNHEIR, author of From the Belly of the Dragon

"Creston Mapes draws a compelling portrait of an uncertain Christian trying to escape his sordid past — and demonstrates a gift of building an almost unbearable level of suspense in every situation." — CHRIS WELL, author of Deliver Us From Evelyn

“A fine blend of character and plot. Creston Mapes reconciles apparent contradictions of life with integrity and imagination.” — AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, Barbara McIntyre

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Full Tilt--Part I

Black night. Familiar backstreets. Windows down. Cold air. Cruisin' free.

Top of the world.

This was what it was about, baby. Lit on meth and movin' at what seemed like the speed of light.

Lords of the night.

Over to Fender's Body Shop on auto pilot. Hands drumming on the dash and seats to the beat of the night and the pulse of the blood pounding through their veins.

Down the slope.


Past the dimly lit customer entrance and around back of the shop they swing and jerk to a stop, exit the Yukon, and glide through the gate that's cracked open. One, two, three of them.
So begins Full Tilt, Creston Mapes’ second novel and sequel to Dark Star. A brand new release.

I just got my copy and eagerly await to read it (after meeting my own BIG DEADLINE tomorrow). I was glad to see Dark Star published last year. I liked the fact that it covered a topic and kind of character we hadn’t seen much in Christian fiction. I liked the past/present telling of the story. And I really liked the protagonist’s spiritual arc. It felt authentic. His conversion was . . . messy. As they often are in real life.

Today and tomorrow, I’ve asked Creston to tell you about himself. Once you know more about the man behind the story, I’m sure you will appreciate his books even more. Take it away, Creston.
Hey everyone,

Great to be here with you on Brandilyn’s blog! In case you don’t already know, Brandilyn is incredibly supportive of new authors like me and has personally reached out, taken an interest in my books, and given me some invaluable guidance, for which I’m indebted. When my second novel, Full Tilt, arrived on her doorstep recently, she emailed me to ask if I’d like a little time to talk about it on her blog. I can only hope to be as generous and unselfish with my time and success in the future!

While some people grow up in the church and develop a relationship with Christ at an early age, never having experienced much of a dark side to their lives, I was different. I came to Jesus Christ because I had nowhere else to turn. I needed someone to carry me. I couldn’t go on by myself.

Up to 1986, my life had been one that could be summed up in the words that appeared on a T-shirt I owned a teenager. There was a skull and crossbones on that shirt. It read: “Sworn To Fun, Loyal To None.” Although I attended church while growing up, my family did not acknowledge the Lord during the week. We did not read the Bible. We did not pray. I began drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes at the age of 13 or 14. Shortly later, I began experimenting with marijuana, hash, and speed. Growing up, I loved the rock group KISS and plastered my room with their pictures. Songs like Hotter Than Hell and Cold Gin were my anthems. By the time I got to college, I lived for the weekends, which began Wednesday and didn’t end until Monday morning. I became involved in a fraternity that closely resembled National Lampoon’s Animal House.

The invisible hand of God kept me, somehow, up until 1986. He blessed me with a lovely wife, Patty, who is still my wife today and the mother of our four children. There came a point in 1986 when I had a new job in Atlanta, which was also a new city for us. I felt the weight of the world of my shoulders. Even though I was an adult, the drinking and drug usage had not stopped. Weekends were a combination of alcohol, drugs, and rock n roll. What bothered me more than the massive hangovers was the deep, empty void I felt inside. During a high-pressure business trip to Ft. Lauderdale, I had what I call an “out of body experience.” I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel in control. I guess it may have been a minor breakdown. Somehow, God got me home to Atlanta. The daze continued over the weekend. I felt like I was in another body looking down on myself.

Monday morning, Patty made me go to the doctor. I had a complete physical, EKG, the works. The doctor summed up the condition as “stress.” He said he had a prescription that would help. I said, “No thank you. I’d rather not try the medication just yet. I think I know what I need; I need God in my life.” That Sunday my wife and I attended a church here in Atlanta and I began to experience the love and power of God. Soon, my wife and I were baptized. By His grace, we’ve been walking with Him ever since.

I dream and pray that my novels will show, through riveting story, the life-changing power of God and the radical, unconditional love He has for each one of us. My first book, Dark Star: Confessions of A Rock Idol (Multnomah, June 2005), takes a first-person, memoir-style look at the life of drug-addicted, millionaire rocker, Everett Lester. Here was a man who had it all—money, fame, women, and material wealth—but he couldn’t find peace or joy. So he put a personal psychic, Madam Endora Crystal, on his payroll to travel with the band; she became his solace. However, when Endora turned up murdered in Everett’s Miami high-rise, he was charged with first-degree murder. All the while, he received letters from a teenage girl in Kansas who was praying for Everett’s salvation, and that he would lead his millions of followers to Jesus Christ.

Book two in the series, Full Tilt (Multnomah, March 2006) is Everett’s continuing story in The Rock Star Chronicles. Here, we see a man who’s chosen to share God’s love with the world through his music. The only problem is, Satan isn’t ready to let go of his grip on Everett, and he is inflamed that Everett is beginning to reach thousands of his heavy metal fans with Gospel. To stop him, Everett is lured by his own brother and nephew into a dark world of psychotic methamphetamine freaks and modern day NY mobsters. It’s a suspense novel and psychological thriller rolled into one.

Although these first two novels are the beginning The Rock Star Chronicles series, they are written to stand alone.


Part II of Creston Mapes and Full Tilt tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Day Two on Charis

Can a Writers' Conference Kill You? Oh, yeah. Check out the ending to my story on the Charis blog.

Meet y'all back here tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Two-Day Hop

For today and tomorrow I'm over on the Charis Connection blog. Please hop over with me. If you read the Never Ending Saga last year, you'll recognize this story. You had a mighty good laugh at my expense then. I expect you'll enjoy a second one now. (I get so little respect around here.) Please leave your comments at Charis.

Then do come back here Thursday for a special two-day post. I'm going to introduce you to a book you won't want to miss.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Story Behind the Dedication

Happy Monday, BGs.

First, a very big "thank you" to the buyers of Web of Lies out there. It has debuted on the April bestseller list (representing sales in the month of February) at #17. Released in mid-January, Web of Lies was just beginning to sell off shelves in February. With store promotions starting in March, I'm hoping sales will continue to rise, and WOL will move up in placement for the next list. But you never know about these things.

As for that secret dedication at the beginning of WOL:

For my pals Deb Raney and Robin Lee Hatcher.
Now you have to read it.

Amazingly, I was able to keep that dedication a secret, even when it was included in the ARCs. You early readers of the book were indeed good secret-holders. Robin Lee and Deb had great, long laughs when they received a copy of the book and saw the dedication.

So what's the story behind this tribute?

It began with a certain Deb Raney, during the very first ACFW conference (the organization was then called ACRW) in Houston. She and I, and some other authors were on a published author panel, see. (Note to Deb--when you're on a panel, speaking publicly, you're not supposed to diss fellow novelist's book.) So somebody asked a question, which I can't even remember now. What was important was Deb's answer, in which she managed to insert--quite emphatically, I might add--that she "doesn't read Brandilyn's books."

Well, now. She kept right on talking, as if she hadn't just cut me to the quick. But do you think I was gonna let her get away with that? Especially when I'd sent her a copy of Eyes of Elisha--free.

I reared my head back and ogled her, then faced the audience, wide-eyed. "Did you hear that?! She just told everybody at this conference she does not and will not read my books!"

Ol' Missy Deb did some fancy back pedaling, I can tell you. What she meant, she stuttered, is that she couldn't read my suspense novels because they were too scary. But she'd read my women's fiction and just loved them. (Oh, yeah, honey, back pedal away.)

Well, boy howdy, I had me some friends at that conference. One of 'em, a clever gal by the name of Tammy Alexander, sent Deb a gift box after the conference--chocolates and all kinda other soothing things to take the edge off while Deb read Eyes of Elisha. (Including a tin of Altoids for those moments when Deb forgot to b r e a t h e . . .) If I remember right (Deb, are you reading?--please do correct if it's not true), as a result of Tammy's persistence, Deb did read Eyes of Elisha. Queen Wimp apparently shivered all the way through it--and finished vowing she'd never read another suspense written by yours truly. True to her word, she has not touched another of my suspenses since--even though she has received a free copy or two. (I have since stopped sending them. I mean, really, I'm not in to self-flagellation.)

To this day I have no doubt Deb still runs around conferences telling people she won't read my books.

Then there's Robin Lee, who's wimp as extraordinaire as Deb. Only thing is, Robin is much more diplomatic about the whole thing. She certainly doesn't announce her refusal to read my books in public. In fact, out of the kindness of her heart and because she's a friend of mine, Robin took a huge gulp--and forced herself to read Eyes of Elisha.

"I'm very proud of myself," she told me later. "I only had two nightmares."

She, too, has not read another of my suspenses since.

Man. With friends like these . . .

So. Two much-loved pals, both sitting ducks, thanks to their wacky wimpiness. I do kill people for a living, you know. Do you really think I could let the opportunity pass to at least poke 'em a little?

Oh, yeah, yuck, yuck they went at the dedication. But let's be clear here. I haven't heard word one from either of these two wimpettes that they've actually read Web of Lies. Can you imagine that? A book dedicated to you--and you refuse to read it?

Especially when it was dedicated with such unselfish, loving, warm intent.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Back Home Again

Happy Friday from my office in California.

I signed 200 books yesterday at the convention. They went in a little less than an hour. We easily could have used more. It seems we got copies of Web of Lies mostly into the hands of people who weren’t familiar with my books—which is the way it should be. It’s all about spreadin’ the word. Zondervan was part of the HarperCollins booth, a large one that stretched across the aisle—making folks who wanted to come up the aisle have to come right through the booth. The people were wonderfully friendly. It’s always great to see real book lovers. My kinda people.

I walked the floor of one exhibit hall after I was done signing. Saw the booths for Moody, Nav Press, Tyndale, Multnomah, and Baker/Bethany, stopping at each to talk to the staff. Multnomah was displaying Full Tilt, second novel about rock star Everett Lester by Creston Mapes, which just released. And also the second suspense for Melanie Wells. When these books are available I’ll want to tell you more about them. Bethany was displaying Waking Lazarus, debut novel by T.L. Hines that comes out in a few months. Great book. (I had the privilege of an early read.) I’ll be telling you more about that one, too, when it releases.

Then it was back to the hotel and checkout. On to the airport to catch a looong flight to San Francisco, by way of one stop in Pittsburgh. (I got off during the hour layover and grabbed a mocha.)

Now it’s back in good ol’ California, feeling like I’ve been in enough states in the past few days. I’ll be working this weekend, and hard next week.

See ya Monday.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Day In Boston

Happy Thursday.

I had a nice break day today, running about the various shopping malls all connected to the hotel, having lunch with the marketing director of Zondervan—and later in the day, working on Coral Moon.

And yes, I watched to see who got kicked off American Idol.

Today it’s up and out of here to sign copies of Web of Lies at the convention. Tomorrow I’ll tell y’all about the sights and sounds there. I will have about an hour and a half to walk the floor before having to leave to catch my plane.

A little more about my presentation of Violet Dawn on Tuesday at Zondervan. I began by having the lights turned off and placing each listener in the scene that occurs in the first chapter of Violet Dawn. I lead them through this scene, using a few photos and graphics through Powerpoint. The end of that first chapter is—well, those of you who have a copy of Web of Lies have probably read the chapter in the back of that book. Let’s just say it carries a certain message—which, of course, I told my listeners:

Don’t go in the hot tub!

At that point I passed out custom candy bars I’d ordered. Hersheys milk chocolate bars with custom wrappers—the cover of Violet Dawn on the top, and on the back, my Seatbelt Suspense logo and those warning words: Don’t go in the hot tub!

Remember what Jaws did for keeping people out of the ocean? I am now on a mission to take your hot tubs away from you. (Insert evil laugh here.)

I then talked about the Kanner Lake series, its setting, various characters in Violet Dawn, and the main premise of this first book in the series. Then on to my suspense novels in general, and what my readers expect when they pick up one of my books.

Zondervan puts out three catalogues a year, which in turn means they have three sales rep meetings like this per year. This catalogue is for books published in Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec., representing around 80-90 new products. These include Inspirio gift books, kids' books, nonfiction, fiction--both adult and YA, Nooma videos and Bibles. No way can all these books be presented at the conference--there just isn't enough time. The books that are covered are usually presented by someone in the marketing or perhaps editorial department in fairly quick succession. Then there are a few books which are specially presented by the authors. For this catalogue there were three—Violet Dawn, the upcoming release by Phillip Yancey (Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?), and the project I mentioned yesterday that I can’t yet tell you about. So as you can see, this opportunity, indeed, was a wonderful privilege for me, and I have been very grateful for it.

However, for tomorrow I must change my mind gears—from hot tubs to spiders…

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Traveling Post

Well, here I am, posting late on this Wednesday. I'm currently in Boston. Yesterday my day began at 4 a.m., after about 3 hours sleep (my body is still on west coast time when it comes to going to bed). Flew through Chicago to Zondervan and presented Violet Dawn before about 60 reps and sales/marketing folks there. It was so wonderful and a real privilege to be able to do that. I made sure to kiss the feet of my marketing advocate who got me on the schedule. Everyone at Zondervan is terrific toward me, and it's always great to be at their headquarters.

Then back through Chicago and on to Boston. Got into the room about 10 p.m. Had a full night's sleep. Yay! I'm in a fine junior suite overlooking the downtown area. At the moment life is good and pampered. However, on Friday I will be back in my office facing the reality of a book due in a week. Agh.

I heard about a really cool project Zondervan is doing. I can't tell you until next week, after the initial announcement article is written in USA Today. But then I'll make sure to let you know about it.

This is kind of a down day (thank goodness). Tomorrow I sign copies of Web of Lies at the library convention (evidently a huge event that takes place every other year), then hop a plane to return home. I will have time to write a regular post for tomorrow. Thanks for your patience with me today, BGs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Traveling Today

By the time you read this I'll be traveling. My schedule involves getting up around 4 a.m. to leave Kentucky (my mom's house) to first travel through Chicago and on to Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of Zondervan. I have the wonderful opportunity to have thirty minutes before the sales reps of Zondervan as they've gathered for their meetings to be introduced to all the books they will be selling in the next catalog. It's not every day that an author gets to present a book personally to the sales staff, as they have lots of books to cover in their meetings, so I feel very grateful for the opportunity. I will be presenting Violet Dawn to them.

After that presentation at 1:00, it's back to the airport to fly again through Chicago and on to Boston. I'll be at the National Public Library convention, signing books, then it's back home on Thursday to California. Where I will finish Coral Moon and e-mail it in the following week.

I hope to post tomorrow. I just hope that after all the traveling, and the very long day today I'll have half a brain in my head.

I'd appreciate your prayers for me today, BGs.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Forever Treasure

"Girls, let me tell you something," my mom said tonight at dinner at my sister Sylvia’s house. I’m on a quick trip to Kentucky to visit my mom, who is 89, and all four of us sisters have gathered–Sheila and Sylvia, who live in the area, and Sandy, who drove down from Michigan. Mom looked at each of us in turn. "I need to start cleaning out some of the books that were your daddy’s. I don’t want to get sick or have something happen to me, and then I don’t have the energy to do it. So while you’re all together, I want you to look at the book cabinet in his study and take whatever books you want–both those he wrote and others he collected."

My father, J.T. Seamands, died at 87 in August of 2004. He was a preacher, an evangelist, a missionary to India with Mom for 20 years. A seminary professor of missions. An author of 13 books, translated in I don’t know how many languages. A speaker of numerous languages himself–three Indian dialects, German, Spanish–all of which he preached in. A world traveler many times over. A singer, trombonist, and tennis player (he played until he was 80).

Upon returning to Mom’s house after dinner, I headed for the bookshelf. The first book I spotted was Daddy’s Bible. Red leather bound, gold-edged pages. The Revised Standard Version. I pulled it from the shelf.

You can see a lot about a person from looking through his Bible. I started flipping through pages, noting what he had underlined. Daddy had various papers stuck inside. The first, a three-page outline of his sermon about the creation and Abraham and redemption:
1. Genesis 1 and 2. God created the universe and human kind. He said "it is good." All that God does is good.

2. Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned, and sin entered the world. God’s plan of redemption begins immediately. See Gen. 3:15.
Two chapters are given to the fall of humankind; the rest of Scripture is the record of God’s redemptive acts in history . . .

I flipped further, into the Psalms, and pulled out a half-sheet of yellow notebook paper, faded and worn thin. Upon it, green ink in a difficult-to-read script:

Dear Darling J.T., this is goodbye. I am going up to live with Jesus. Be a good boy. Your little Sylvia is so sweet. Always stick to the Old Book and meet me. Love from Grandma.

A note written by Mom underneath: Grandma Shields wrote this after a severe heart attack just two weeks before she passed away–Nov. 14, 1943.

In 1943 World War II was raging. Mom had come home from India in June 1942 with her first baby, Sylvia, because of the danger overseas. Daddy had decided to stay and finish some missions work, thinking he could get on a boat for the U.S. before long. He and Mom would never have dreamed that the war would separate them for two and a half years, until December of 1944. During that time, Mom and baby Sylvia lived with Daddy’s Grandma Shields.

In Isaiah I found more sermon notes. One outline covers the front and back of a bank deposit slip, written in red ink, small cursive letters. Another outline is typed on half a sheet of paper–The Hands of Jesus. John 20:24-29:
1. Saving hands: Matthew 14:29-31. Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me." Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

2. Cleansing hands: Matthew 3:11-12. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

3. Protecting hands: John 10:28. My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

4. Healing hands: Mark 1:40-42. A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said, "Be clean." Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

5. Wounded hands: John 20:27. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. See my hands!

6. Knocking hands: Revelation 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
In the back of the Bible Daddy wrote many other sermon outlines–just the quick note and sometimes the text. He used alliteration and rhythm frequently as a way to make his sermons easy to remember. Just a few of them:
Verbalize, vocalize, visualize, vitalize=holiness. Ephesians 5:18-20.

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Without the Way there is no going.
Without the Truth there is no knowing.
Without the Life there is no growing.
Christ, who art the Way, lead us.
Christ, who art the Truth, teach us.
Christ who art the Life, continue to live in us.

No reservation, reversal, regrets=consecration, surrender. The Eternal Word for the Entire World.
Loss of faith is usually not a blow-out, but a slow leak.
I have found a forever treasure. My Daddy’s Bible.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Psalm 90

Many of you know it’s my habit to pray using the Psalms. This goes back to my illness three years ago, when God taught me to praise Him through pain and diversity—and the Psalms were such a wonderful way to do it. I have a long list of people to pray for. Folks write and ask me to do so, some whom I know and some whom I don’t (readers or folks who saw the segment on The 700 Club about my healing). Some of the Psalms are particularly great for covering sickness and emotional/spiritual needs. Other petitioning Psalms are great to use in praying for God’s mercy on our country, and for protection against our enemies (e.g., terrorists).

Psalm 90 is particularly wonderful for praying God’s mercy upon His believers in this difficult and fallen world. It contains glorious passages, covering both our physical and spiritual needs, and asking God to bless us in what we do. For as his believers, we are still only human, and oh, so susceptible and frail. As with many of the Psalms, it starts with praise and moves to supplication. Here is the psalm in BPV translation (Brandilyn’s Prayer Version), which is based on the New American Standard Version. I hope you will find comfort in this psalm and begin praying it. I have found two of its thoughts particularly meaningful. These, I have italicized. God knows we need His mercy as we struggle to live in this fallen world while waiting on His return.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born,
Before You gave birth to the earth and world,
From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

You turn man back into dust,
Saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or like a watch in the night.
You sweep man away like a flood, and we die.
In the morning we are like grass that sprouts anew.
In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew,
Toward evening it fades and withers away.

We are consumed by Your anger,
And by Your wrath we are dismayed.
You have placed our sins before you,
Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
All our days are declining in Your fury;
We finish our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if we’re strong, maybe eighty,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow,
For soon it is gone, and we fly away.
Who understands the power of Your anger,
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
Be sorry for Your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your majesty to our children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.
And do confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

BG Letter

Yesterday I received this letter from a BG (used with permission):

Thank you so much for your Monday "Fickle Emotions" blog entry! It was just for me!

I've been battling those "my first book was a fluke..." thoughts and delaying in sending my book proposal to my too-patient agent. After I read your blog I settled down, finished my sample chapters, proofed everything and sent it to my agent.

Within a few hours I heard back from her. She raved about the proposal and sample chapters and immediately sent everything to the publishers who have expressed interest in the proposal.

Thank you for being vulnerable and ministering to a nervous author.

I rejoiced at this news. Wrote the BG back and said as much. And meant it. Then it hit me. Drat. No wonder I’m a beleaguered, cabinet-kicking, angsting novelist. God uses it to help others.

It gets worse. Knowing His wry and ever efficient sense of humor, He no doubt wants to continue in this vein.

Does this mean I’ll never get to be an oh-writing’s-such-a-breeze, 10-book-a-year, don’t-you-wish-you-were-me novelist?

And I was so close.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Publishing News

Thanks for the comments yesterday regarding the photo shoot. You all are too much. Some great ideas. Gotta make sure agent and publisher reads 'em all. Heh-heh. (By the way, I know for part of yesterday blogspot was plugged up and the comments weren't working real well. If you tried to post a comment and couldn't, please do go back and leave your thoughts.)

In case you hadn’t noticed, I stopped counting down until my deadling. Last Friday I got a call out of the blue from my editor. “Want a few extra weeks?” Apparently, she’s so backed up, she can’t get to the manuscript on Friday anyway.

“Yo, mama, yes!” I accepted it, not expecting to take the full two extra weeks, as that will only back up what I have to do after that. Yeah, well, we’ll see. I’m traveling Saturday through next Thursday, and I won’t be writing much during that time. (Which is why I was originally trying so hard to get the thing done on Friday.) Thank you, editor! You are definitely #1 on my list right now.

Now for today—some interesting bits of news about the industry, in no particular order.

1. Christian Retailing reports that the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) is replacing its current sales tracking systems, STATS, with a new critter called Pubtrack, which will debut in May. No info on how Pubtrak will differ from STATS.

This only confuses the issue all the more. The Christian bestseller lists are based on STATS—have been for a long time. But a few months ago, the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) came up with its own tracking program, CROSS:SCAN. As a result some of the stores, such as the entire chain of about 350 Family Christian stores, have switched over to CBA’s program and pulled out of STATS. So Family Christian sales no longer count toward the bestseller list. Now with STATS changing to something else—who knows what’ll happen to the lists?

Meanwhile, the fiction bestseller list still remains difficult to make these days. That's 'cause there's only one list for all of fiction, including hardback and paperback books. Maybe with more hardbacks coming along, they'll eventually break out the list into two, as you see in the general market. Next list--the April list--will post next week (around March 20), reflecting sales for the month of February. (See, told you it was confusing.)

2. Many of you may know by now that Simon & Schuster (S&S) acquired Howard Publishing last month. Wanna know the thought behind that? Christian Retailing paraphrases S&S Adult Division President Carolyn Reidy as saying “her division contemplated [entering the Christian market] after the 2004 presidential election exit polls demonstrated the public’s interest in spiritual matters. Reidy noted, “We were conscious we were lacking in this area.”

3. And this from Publishers Weekly, written by columnist Sara Nelson regarding the recent “privatizing” sale of Thomas Nelson. Previously a public company, Nelson has now taken its stocks private by selling to InterMedia Partners, an equity firm that has previously invested in small to medium-sized media companies. As a result, Nelson won’t have to deal with the stress of reporting quarterly earnings. Sara Nelson says insiders “predict that InterMedia will likely hold the company for only a few years and then 'flip' it for major profit.” Hm. Then what?

Sara Nelson continues: “[the sale proves] that there is a huge and powerful religious community in this country (no duh) and that many smaller houses have mastered the First Publishing Commandment: know thy audience.

"On a recent trip to Nashville—at which I met with the stunningly organized, knowledgeable and, well, yes, zealous Nelson people, among others—I was struck by the number of titles they mentioned (titles of which I—and I bet many of you—had never heard) that had shipped and/or sold 200,000, 300,000 and 400,000 copies. I was further amazed at the number of focus groups the company conducted and how they arrived at the idea of publishing, say, Biblezines—the complete text of the New Testament, gussied up with sidebars and photos and pull quotes—aimed at teenage girls who'd told them they never read books, only magazines.

"You can enthuse about what Nelson is selling or not—it's a free country—but there's no arguing with the fact that they're selling it extraordinarily well.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Egad- I'm Going to be Shot!

So they want me to take a new photo.

Seems the ol’ mug shot is a bit too . . . dated. It was taken back when I was writing women’s fiction as well as suspense. Too sweet, too nice. This is what the agent tells me. (My paraphrase; I can’t remember his exact words.)

Publisher and agent agree on the look. (I’m just supposed to figure out whatever the heck it means.) It is to be: (A) Mysterious. That suspense writer ooh-I-know-more-about-poisons-than-you-could-ever-guess look. But . . . (B) With a touch of warmth. That yes-I-could-kill-you-a-million-ways-to-Sunday-but-really-you-can-trust-me-because-I’m-at-heart-a-great-gal look.

Wanna help me figure out just what I’m supposed to wear for this thing? Make sure you follow the--

Rules (Per agent and publisher):

1. Keep most the colors on the darker side. Probably black in there somewhere.

But I’m a bright color person . . .

2. Clothes should not be too dressy and not too casual.

Hm . . .

3. No glitz, no glimmer. No rhinestones on the jeans.

I’m doomed.

4. Water in the background—after all, this is for the Kanner Lake series.

This one I can handle. I’m zipping up to Coeur d’Alene, where we’ll do the shoot lakeside. I’ll take any excuse I can get to go to Idaho.

5. We gotta come away with at least one good full-length shot and one head shot.

Yikes. Twice the chance to mess this thing up.

So. Thursday before Easter’s the big day. Scheduled at the lake in Coeur d’Alene at 4:00 p.m. Great time, says the photographer, as the sun will start to go down and we’ll get some good shadows. (If you’re a suspense author, you’re supposed to love shadows. Part of that mysterious thing, you know.)

One great part to this—the photographer’s all digital. You know what that means, don’t you?

The fabulous A-word.

Air brush.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Those Fickle Emotions

The weather has been absolutely insane here in California as I’ve been working to finish Coral Moon. One minute it’s sunny. Blue sky, pretty, puffy clouds. The stuff of kids’ books. Next thing I know it’s dark and raining. Then it’s sunny again. Then it’s hailing. Then sun. Then sleet. This has been going on for days. I’ve learned the hard way I’d better get out and run whenever the sky beckons. One sunny afternoon I kept putting off my running time, finally thinking I’d go at the end of the day—around 5:00. Only problem was, at 4:45 the world began to dim. By 5:00—sleet. Now, I am a dedicated runner, but sleet I will not do. Years ago I got caught in hail. Learned my lesson. That stuff hurts.

The fickleness of the weather equals the mercurialness, volatility, and overall downright frustrating capriciousness of my emotions as I write.

One minute—hey, this book is finally coming together. Next minute—this thing is horrid; I am doomed. Two hours later—well, okay, maybe it’s not so bad. Next hour—yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is!

Same book, wildly different feelings. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in writing, it’s not to trust my emotions.

However, it is not quite so simple. If it were a matter of total nontrust, that would be one thing. Problem is, which of those emotions arise from the writer sense within me, the gut knowledge that there are, indeed, problems with the structure of this book? For example, often when I write, I’m bored to death with the story. I’m terrified all my readers will be as well. Is this an emotion to ignore? Sometimes. Or is it that writer’s gut sense that some scenes are in truth lacking conflict? Maybe. Maybe not. With every book, I’ve had the “it’s boring” fear. I was afraid Dead of Night was boring. By the time it hit shelves, I was convinced—that is not a boring story. Same with Web of Lies. So maybe the boring emotion is just that untrustworthy emotion. But . . . what if it’s not?

There is one and only one thing that moves me forward. The deadline. Or, as we’re now calling it in BGdom, the deadling. I have no choice but to push through the emotions and finish the book.

But what about those of you who don’t have a deadling? Who are struggling through your manuscripts, dealing with that writer’s angst? (Perhaps you don’t deal with it quite as much as I do. Before I was published, I thought all my work was brilliant.) My suggestion to you is to push through as if a deadling awaits. Otherwise you could end up spinning your wheels for months . . . which become years. Always trying to improve what you have, never quite getting it right. Listen. You never will get it perfect. Ever. And one day when you’re published, the deadlings are gonna be a very real thing. Train for them now. This doesn’t mean stop working on your craft. It means finish the book, then let it sit as you go into study mode for a while. Read lots of novels, study books on writing fiction. Then go back to your novel with fresh eyes. You’ll know more. You’ll see errors you couldn’t have seen while wallowing in it day to day.

Whatever you do, don’t trust your emotions. Even if they’re telling you the book is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Responses to Yesterday's Comments/Questions

I have a question about good, affordable ways to market your very first book. How effective are things like creating postcards and bookmarks? I've heard of offering free books to people who will mail your postcard to readers they know. Are things like that effective? Basically, how do I, the brand-new and unknown author with possibly no marketing money from the publisher, build my own readership?

I have to reiterate that these days, a Web site is essential. And that will cost you some money unless you’re a site designer. Beyond that, I’d say this. Invest in two books: Pyromarketing and The Tipping Point. Read those books with pen in hand, taking notes. Pyromarketing is 90% fill, but the other 10%, its essential message, is gold. Pay attention. Let your thinking move from the typical mass-marketing mentality. The Tipping Point will also lead you to look at marketing in new ways. As a new novelist, you shouldn’t get your sights set on “tipping” anytime soon. But these concepts will help guide you to some different strategies for getting the word out about your books. Stielstra, author of Pyromarketing, also has a blog you should follow (he doesn’t post every day):

About Character arcs - do you create an outline/profile of each character? I'm finding in my manuscript, that I'm getting character traits confused.

Confuse character traits? That concerns me. Forgetting eye color—that I can understand, because appearance can be decided by an author pretty quickly. But your characters’ traits shouldn’t be just assigned. They should arise from the characters’ core truths, which take time to discover. If you’ve gone through this process, you should know the characters well enough that you won’t forget their traits. Read the Personalizing chapter in Getting Into Character for this process. Take the general ideas and make them work for you however you can—I’m not saying my approach is the only one. But I do say that character traits should take time to develop naturally from the inner character, and therefore shouldn’t be so easily forgotten.

How large is a print run? Is there a standard within each house or does that change from book to book?

It depends on the sales history of the author, and on the house. If you sell 100,000 copies out the door, the first print run is going to be at least that high. If you’re a brand new author, the first print run may be only 15,000 copies. Or if you’re in a smaller house, those numbers can go way down for a new author—even to 5,000 or less. It really is all over the map.

However, subsequent print runs are much smaller than the first. A publishing house just doesn’t like to have a lot of books sitting around for a long time, plus the highest sales of a book usually lie in its initial push. So a first print run of 15,000 may have subsequent runs of, say, 2,500 or so.

And now, roll the drum for our new words.

As for spitzy, I didn't find it in the dictionary. However, it should be because it's delightful. Here's my recommended definition: spitzy (adj.) combination of spiffy and spritz (as in spritzed up); bright, attractive

Nope, not in the dictionary. However, when all else fails—google. Spitzy produced plenty of hits—mostly formal names. There is no adjective as I used it. However there’s a general kind of dog called spitz (incorporating numerous breeds). I saw a few Web sites in which spitzy was used, as in "Fido’s coat was more spitzy than Rover’s."

Good grief. Dogs are taking over the universe.

I say heck with 'em. Lynetta had the right definition. Therefore I doth hereby declare spitzy a new spitzy word for BGdom.

Bless you as you get down to the wire on your deadling.

My deadline is 23 days away and I'm deadling as well, wondering WHAT in the world I'm doing here.

Hm. Seems our other new word is expanding a bit. First a noun, now also a . . . what? Is that second usage an adjective or verb? Or both? Could we possibly have coined a word that can be used all three ways? What creative genius!

Let me see if I can incorporate all three uses in one sentence.

As you deadling toward a deadling, may you survive your deadling world.

Remember, folks, ya heard the word here first. Use as you will, but do credit Dineen Miller and BGdom in general.

Finally, kudos to you out there who are slogging away on your own series. It ain’t easy, but you’re definitely in good company.

See ya Monday, BGs.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Various Things

Nine days from deadling for Coral Moon and counting.

We’ve been on the topic of character arcs within series for a while. Feel like I'm running out of things to say. Do any of you have specific questions about series you’re working on? Or anything I’ve missed? Please post them if you do, and we’ll take a look at them tomorrow.

I had a good day yesterday. Writing, of course. But also had a conference call with my agent and the marketing and publicity gals at Zondervan regarding Violet Dawn. They are giving that book a good launching, I’ll tell you. With what they’re doing and what I’ll be doing (and what you can be involved in, if you choose), if should be a fun launch. More on that to come.

Other various pieces of good news, in no particular order:

Received a new copy of Dead of Night today—third printing.

Web of Lies is selling the best of any of my books so far. Yippe-yay. And the sales figures don’t yet reflect the flyers campaigns in stores such as Lifeway and Family and Parable, etc, which are just getting underway.

Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion are both getting spitzy new covers and will be reissued this spring. That is terrific news.

Wait, is spitzy a word? Somebody do tell. It just sounds so right.

Brink of Death will be in Zondervan’s summer sale around June. That means you can pick it up in bookstores for a cool $4.97. Hey, I can’t even get it that cheap at my author discount. Methinks I should buy a few copies meself. (This is an example of what I was mentioning a few days ago—market, market, market the first in a backlisted series.)

I heard numerous other cool things but can’t tell it all here. In short, I’m feeling very humbled at God’s mercy after so much good news in one day. He knows us poor humans so well! He knows when we’re struggling and really need a pick-me-up. As I’m working the countdown for this deadling, these myriad pieces of good news have gone a long way to help keep me going.

I’ve also received some very nice letters of late. Here are two that meant a lot to me. Again, as I struggle to finish another book, they are wonderful encouragement.

What a wonderful ministry you sentence from Web of Lies made such an impact to me: 'God's power is released through prayer, whether I feel anything or not.' I've already told two of my closest friends about this sentence. My friend just found out that her 10-year-old daughter [has an incurable illness], and I told her to tell her church to pray. Every Christian she knows should be praying for her precious little girl.

I live in a suburb of New Orleans. My family was very fortunate to not receive much damage from Hurricane Katrina, but we have many dear friends who lost everything. One friend called me in tears, the day I finished reading Dread Champion. She'd just found out that not only her original filing with FEMA had been rejected, her appeal had too. She was at the end of her rope and begged me to pray because she didn't know how to deal with it. I remembered the "Dread Champion" verse and pulled out the book. We looked up the reference and we (along with a few other people) are now claiming Jeremiah 20:11-13 for this situation. My friend says she's signing every letter she sends to FEMA with these verses! Thank you so much for this blessing from God that we received from your writing.

What’s most impressive about these letters is how the themes of the book were passed from reader to friends in difficult situations. Two readers, and yet—who knows?—6 or 8 or maybe more people have now been heartened by God’s message as they face struggles in their own lives. That's the efficiency of our God.

I pretty much let it all hang out here, BGs. You know writing’s hard for me. You know I struggle with it and always angst that the books are horrible when I write. God always pulls me through. No wonder I get on my knees every time when I finish a book. I just couldn't do it without Him. And He sends good pieces of news just when I need them. Thank You, God, for the positives of this day.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Character Arc in a Series--Part 6

Ten days from deadling for Coral Moon and counting.

And guess what—I finally figured out today how I’m gonna make the end work. !! This is so typical a problem with me. I know how the book needs to end; I’m just not quite sure how I’m going to pull it off. At the moment I’m thinkin’ maybe this book won’t be so horrid after all.

Second good piece of news today is that I heard my books (three of the four Hidden Faces series) are in Costco now. Apparently, however, they get put on the table as room allows. In the Costco nearest me, mine weren’t on the table, but I saw boxes of books underneath, waiting their turn.

Back to our current topic regarding character arcs for protagonists within a series. Today, five questions to ask yourself (in no particular order) when you’re wondering which subplots in the protagonist’s life to wrap up within one book, and which ones to continue to the next book(s) in the series.

1. Can I make this problem worse before it gets better? If so, maybe you should continue it for a while.

2. How long has it been going on in the character’s life? If it’s been a long-standing problem, it needs proper time to fix. This could include such issues as emotional healing from the past or from a recent trauma, an illness or injury, a problematic relationship with family member or friend, and others. And a “fix” to problems such as long term emotional ones may not mean everything in this area is suddenly is peachy keen. It may well just mean a turning point has been reached—one hefty enough to satisfy the reader.

3. Romantic subplot? I say use it as long as you can, preferably to the last book. Most readers enjoy the romantic subplot. Keep ’em wondering who your protagonist is going to end up with. Give him/her a number of choices—then play ’em up good.

4. Is this problem getting draggy to my plot? Been going on too long? Might the reader be tiring of it? If your protagonist begins to sound like she’s whining or angsting (verbing those nouns again) about the same thing over and over, better do something about that.

5. Has this been a big enough subplot in this book that the reader will feel unsatisfied if it’s not brought to at least some closure? Again, closure doesn’t need to mean the problem’s totally fixed. Depending upon how bad it’s been, just getting a handle on it, or really determining to overcome it can feel like enough closure for that particular book.

I’m sure there are other guideline questions, but these came the most quickly to my mind. Perhaps some of you can add to this list. But at least these five need to be asked--because answers to some of them might counterweight answers to the others. Then you have the challenge of deciding which answer takes priority.

Even in the end of the series, I wouldn’t want to completely solve every problem of the character. If you’ve just got the character going in the right direction regarding some issue, the reader should feel satisfied that things are going to improve. I think overall this is the right way to go, in that it best reflects life, but I will admit that the resolution in the final book may prove your most controversial among readers. I’ve found it interesting to read some fan letters from folks who’ve loved the Hidden Faces series, but include something like, “Oh, no, is the series ending? I really want to know what happens with [the romantic subplot].” And I’m thinking, huh? To me it’s very clear where the characters are headed. But it just depends on what the reader’s used to. If someone reads my stuff and also reads romance novels (now that would be an eclectic person), she might expect more of a trip-down-the-aisle ending for the romantic subplot. I don’t know; I don’t have final answers on this. But I do remind you that you’re never going to please everybody with every aspect of your book(s).

And I know I’m repeating myself from yesterday, but please don’t bring every last character to salvation just because the series is ending! It ain’t reality.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Character Arc In a Series--Part 5

Eleven days from deadling for Coral Moon. And counting. (Hm, I'm going to have to add that new word to my spellchecker.)

Here’s a fun article on writers and editors. Someone posted the link to it on one of my writers’ loops today. Read it and chuckle.

Okay, today’s topic. Guideline #2 for establishing a character arc within a series: Give the protagonist challenges in his/her personal life that will not be solved in the first book.

Not exactly rocket science, I know. Even in books that end well—and by far the majority of stories end at least fairly happily—we want to avoid fixing everything. Life just isn’t that way. So our stories shouldn’t be either.

Nor is it any new idea to create personal problems in the protagonist’s life. We’d better do that if we want a well-rounded character. Sure, my poor protagonists get mixed up in murder and mayhem, but they happen to have a life, too. Who were they before the murder and mayhem struck?

These personal challenges provide us with subplots for the story. It’s one thing to create them for a single book. But how to handle them in a series? Our job is to understand which personal problems need to be (at least fairly) brought to closure within a book in order to satisfy the reader, and which can be left hanging in order to pull the reader toward the next book.

In my opinion the best subplots somehow end up affecting the main plot. Not just by, say, overall wearing your character down so she’s got less energy to fix her main problem, but by specifically causing something to happen that makes the issues in the main plot grow worse.

For example, in my Hidden Faces series I’ve had a number of subplots running. One is a romantic subplot, although I purposely started this one very slowly. Really didn’t begin until book 2. A second is the subplot with Annie’s son, who is into drugs. He has issues with this running through books 1, 2 and 3, and is still feeling some of the fallout in book 4. This is a major source of heartache and chaos in Annie’s life. But it’s more than that. In each of these three books, something Stephen chooses to do, or the friends he’s running with, etc. ends up becoming a factor in the main murder plot. Now, of course I wanted to vary the occurrences so they don’t all seem the same book to book. Some occurrences may provide only indirect links between this subplot and the main plot. The trick is to make it all flow logically and coherently, and not seem contrived.

There are other issues in Annie’s life. There’s her guilt and feelings of self-doubt due to her own childhood and the break-up of her marriage. Meanwhile she’s raising two kids on her own. There’s her opinionated sister, who always bosses her around, and who isn’t a Christian and has no desire to become one. In fact, Annie isn’t a Christian either, at the beginning of the series. This, too, is a subplot that doesn’t see closure in the first book.

So Annie’s got plenty going on in her life—even if, in the prologue of book 1, her neighbor across the street wasn’t strangled in front of her own 12-year-old daughter. With all this stuff happening in Annie's life, I’ve got plenty of fodder to work with over the course of 4 books. And guess what—even at the fourth, some of these subplots/issues are not going to be “fixed.”

Of all the personal challenges to bring to closure in Christian fiction, the one that seems to plague us authors most is the “unsaved loved one.” Or even the unsaved protagonist. You don’t have to fix this issue in every character’s life, really you don’t. In fact, you shouldn’t. How often in life do you see all the folks within a family, plus all that family’s close friends, become Christians in a fairly short period of time? Even if your series spans many years, be careful of the temptation to save everyone. (Now there’s an oxymoron you’ll only find in Christian fiction.) Story rules. If a character’s going to become a Christian, this choice has to seem the only one he would make under the circumstances, given his inherent prejudices and hurts and worldview, etc. Or sometimes the nth degree of actual salvation isn’t the right choice. Sometimes it’s a mere turning of the character 50 degrees—enough to say, hm, yeah, there may be something to that God stuff; maybe I’ll take a look at it.

We’ll look at this in more specifics tomorrow. For now, if you’re planning a series, you might write down all the personal issues in your protagonist’s life. See which ones you can carry through more than one book. Make sure that the mix is such that the majority of them can be carried through. And if you've got questions about subplot issues in your series, or whatever, you know where to leave 'em.

Read Part 6

Monday, March 06, 2006

Character Arc In a Series--Part 4

Happy Monday. I am 12 days away from deadline on Coral Moon and counting.

Speaking of which, thanks to Dineen Miller for (unwittingly) coining a new word for BGdom in her comment on Friday. Said she was praying for me as I meet my “deadling.” Now I don’t know about you, but I think this is brilliant. And quite Freudian. Blends earthling (mere one that I am) with deadline. The two should not mix, but alas, in the writing world, they do. Or perhaps it mixes deadline with counting (as in pages and words, and too few days left). Or perhaps both. At any rate, from now on I shall never work on a deadline again.

I am 12 days away from deadling.

Does have a nice ring, don’t you think? (Unless you’re in the midst of it.)

A few other comments from Friday:

Sally: I wonder how far we should go as writers. For example, if my story takes place in 2002 in Chicago suburbs, should I be researching the weather and daily events, too? Seems like this could become a huge obsession!

Agreed, and I don’t think you have to go so far as to match weather to day. But you do need to match believable weather. If your story takes places in February in Chicago, you don’t want 60 degree weather unless you note that’s a doggone heat wave. For Violet Dawn, I had to be careful about sunrise time because the opening of the story is based on that issue. I didn’t want North Idahoans reading my book and thinking, “Good grief, doesn’t she know the sun doesn’t rise at 6 a.m. here in July?” (Sunrise and sunset in Northern Idaho are very interesting. They change way faster than in California, for example, because they go to further extremes. At winter solstice, daylight starts to fade at 3:30 in the afternoon. At summer solstice, the first lightening of the sky will begin at 3:30 in the morning.) For Dread Champion (some books ago), I needed to research the tides in the Salinas, California area, where my crime scene was set. Someone reading the book might happen to known when tides go in and out, and since that was an important detail to investigation of the scene, I wanted it to be correct. Past this, I say don’t obsess too much. Of course, if you use a real event that occurred in that Chicago suburb, you sure do want to place it, and your story, on the right day.

If you didn’t see the comments between Bonnie and Vennessa from Friday, I suggest you read them. They both made good points. To Bonnie’s final question about the necessity of making years work (when you don’t name the year in the story), I’d add a final thought.

Even if you don’t delineate the year, you as author need to know what year it is and make your timeline work, especially if you’re going to write a series that spans a certain number of years. There are so many hidden issues in your story that can end up dating it, even when you don’t realize it. For example, before 9/11/01 a character could meet another at the gate in the airport without a special pass. Now, no way. We’ve grown so used to the new security rules that we might automatically show someone picking up a passenger having to stop before security. But what if that’s book one of your series, and the four-book series encompasses six years in the characters’ lives? And you write one book a year? Readers who don’t obsess about year dates are going to assume the current book they’re reading is present year. That may be fine until book 4 comes out in 2006, and the kids in the series have aged six years, making it clear to the reader that book one (which came out in 2002) had to have taken place in 2000—before the new security rules. Someone who finds your series late and reads the books all at once to catch up will particularly be apt to notice this. Trust me, they will. So I don’t call for obsession. I do call, however, for awareness of how books may be dated when we don’t realize it.

Katie also made a very good point about a book in a series taking place ahead of real time. She mentioned one (in a great series, by the way) in which the date 9/11/01 passes like any other day. This is one of the reasons I don't like to get ahead of real time in my series timelines. You just don't know what's going to happen in the real world.

Tomorrow, we’ll go on to guideline #2 for writing a character arc within a series.

Read Part 5

Friday, March 03, 2006

Character Arc in a Series--Part 3

Happy Friday! At least for y’all, I hope. With two weeks to go until deadline, no off days for me until Coral Moon is done.

Yesterday I got the coolest gift in the mail from my agent, Don Pape (Alive Communications). This guy’s got definite class. A box arrived on my door, labeled “My M&Ms.” Inside, a large white thermo-Styrofoam-whatza to keep the chocolate from melting. And in the box? Four bags of light and dark violet-colored M&Ms. With the words “Violet Dawn” on some and “Kanner Lake” on the others.

Is this a sweet gift, or what? My agent rocks.

You can check out sending your pals personalized M&Ms on

Okay. On to the topic. Before I continue, I want to respond to some comments from yesterday.

Lynette: Is this a personal choice of yours, or do you find this is an industry practice, or do you think for some readers it won't matter? (it reminds me of how soaps 'magically' grow children from the age of 12 to 18 overnight LOL) But it's something I never thought of when reading a series. As long as the author keeps the time line straight, it doesn't matter to me.

I have to admit this is a personal obsession for me. Again, because I deal in so many tiny details in my suspenses. I’ve not had conversations with other pubbed authors about this. Those of you out there who’ve written series, what say you?

Domino: How closely related do stand alone novels have to be for them to be considered a series? I have a three book series that has three different heroines. It is generally the same group of people, but not all are family members . . .

Definitely a series. You don’t have to have the same protagonist in a series. I did this with my Bradleyville women’s fiction series—three generations of women, with a different main character each time, starting in the 1960’s and coming up to present day. The continuity was the fictional town and extended cast of characters, who appear from book to book. I am now doing this with my Kanner Lake series (although all stories are present day).

Domino: I've already researched date and weather details on the internet calendars , noting when the moon is full or new and setting my Sundays and Saturdays on the correct day of the month.

I use two Web sites consistently for these issues. will give you the correct weekday for a date in any year. Holidays too. For moon phases, plus sunrise and sunset times in specific locations, see:

The moon phase and sunset times were very important in writing Violet Dawn, as the main character is racing the dawn. Just a few days ago I looked up the sunset time in northern Idaho on the day Coral Moon takes place. When night falls is important. Of course, I couldn’t look this up if I didn’t know the exact day the story begins, so—heck, we're back to that date thing again.

Becky: Do all suspense writers for Christian publishers have to do 2 books a year? I know writers in other genres who write one book a year . . . It just seems hard to develop a real buzz if a book is a has-been so quickly.

Well, first, authors have to write as they can write. Some can do one book a year, some four or even more. I’m in the middle. Having said that, it also depends on the genre. As my editor puts it, in the suspense genre, you need to “feed the beast.” There’s a momentum that gets going among the kind of readership that loves the fast-paced stories. Sheesh, my readers make me tired. I just get a book on the shelves, and they’re already wanting the next one. So for my genre’s sake, and because two books a year is all I can handle—that’s what I do.

Becky: Some of us never start a series because by the time we hear of it we are already behind by a book or two.

Yeah. I see this as the pro-con argument for series. The pro is, you get a reader hooked, you’ll sell that reader future books in the series. Con is, reader sees book #2 in the store and won’t buy it because he’s missed book 1. For this reason, Zondervan has stopped putting book numbers on series books. That seemed to be a CBA thing, and the ABA stores didn’t like it. (ABA authors tend not to have numbers on their series books.)

Also, this goes to show that when you are writing a series, you need to continue promoting the backlist, focusing on book #1 in the series. Even if that was 4 books ago, if you keep selling book 1, you’ll keep selling the rest.

C.J.: I always try to write my books in a timeless sort of way. I attempt to keep from dating the stories at all, except for naming the month or season. I find myself less likely to re-read a novel that took place in say, 2001, because there's less immediacy.

I have to agree with that last thought. Which is why, when I’ve named days and dates in my suspense novels, I’ve not put the year on there, even though I’m very aware of what year it is. Which leads me to Bonnie’s question:
Do a lot of people obsess with novel timelines to that miniscule degree (figuring out what year goes with the date?) Tell you the truth, I don’t think most readers do. But somebody out there’s gonna do it. So if you have a day and date mentioned, or even a holiday falling on a certain day of the week, you’d better get it right. If you don’t, you’ll hear about it from your obsessive readers.

We’ll pick this up on Monday. Think of me as I write this weekend—and eat my Kanner Lake Violet Dawn M&Ms.

Read Part 4

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Character Arcs in a Series--Part 2

Today we embark on studying some guidelines for planning a character arc for a book series.

Guideline #1: Watch dates and years.

This won’t apply to all series. Not all books make it clear what day(s) the events are occurring. My Hidden Faces books, which take place in present day, actually state the day of the week and date (which determines the year), so I really had to be careful about this issue. But there are hidden ways your books might contain dates that define the year. Does your story include a holiday that changes weekdays year to year? Or one like Easter, that changes dates? If your story is present day, and Christmas falls on a Sunday, your story is taking place in 2005.

Believe me, even if you don’t specify 2005, you’ll have readers out there who will check this sort of thing. As for me, if my readers don’t, my copyeditor sure will.

Real news events included in your story can also tend to date it, although not necessarily to the day or year. But if you mention the presidential election took place a month ago—obviously your story’s in December. And presidential elections only take place every four years.

If I’m writing a present-day story that occurs in December, I’ll consider that it takes place in the year previous to its publication—unless the book happens to be published in December.

Why? Because I find it awkward for “present day” books to be ahead of the real calendar. I can write a story that will be published in May 2006 and have it take place the year before, or up to the current month of May. But to have it take place in November 2006 doesn’t feel right to me. (This is far different than stories that are purposely set in the future.) I want my readers to have a sense of real time, and if they’re reading about a month that hasn’t occurred yet, I feel that sense is broken.

(No doubt this attention to detail comes from my writing suspense, which requires that a million and one details be worked out regarding the crime and twists. The genre's simply made me obsess about everything.)

So here’s the rub. Let’s say you’re writing a four-book series under contract. Kids are involved in your stories. They’ll be growing. Your protagonist will be aging too. How long a time do you expect between the events of the first and the last book? Four years? Maybe you don’t want the kids to age any more than that. Okay, let’s say you write two books a year. And you probably know it takes approximately one year from handing in the manuscript until it hits shelves. So do the math.

You write the first book from Feb. to July of 2006. It will be published in July 2007. The story ends around the Fourth of July holiday. Well, ya just made it under the wire. Your story can take place in 2007. So the holiday better fall on a Wednesday.

But wait a minute. You want a four-year spread between the first and last book. And if you write two books a year, that means you’re turning in book 4 in Feb. 2008. It will be published in Feb. 2009. That’s only 1 ½ years in real time between the books. But in your storyworld, you’d be setting the last novel four years from the first—somewhere around summer 2011. I just won’t allow myself to do that. It bugs me too much.

Now if you’re the ultimate planner, you can work out this conundrum from the beginning. Redefine when book one takes place (it’ll have to be a few years before publication), then build from there so by book four the story’s taking place just about the time the book is published. Yup, that’s one way you could do it. Wish I could. Unfortunately I’m way too much of a pea brain to figure out four plots at once. I simply can’t plan that far ahead.

So what’s a gal like me to do?

Read Part 3

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Character Arc Within a Series

Good grief, how did we get one-sixth of the way through 2006 already?

Those of you who checked for a post yesterday and didn’t find it—it’s there now. Just got posted late.

Also, great to see (through the comments on Monday) what some of you are working on. And that a number of you will be at Mount Hermon. Wonderful! We’ll rock! Also, Cara, I really appreciate your prayer for me as I finish Coral Moon. I really need those prayers right now.

Today I want to talk about character arcs within a book series. Thanks to Lynette for the topic idea. She asked me how I handle planning and carrying out the arc for a protagonist when I know that character is going to be in three or four books in a row. I have no answers as to what’s “right”—not sure there is one “right” answer. I can only tell you what I’ve done.

Let’s back up a minute. There are two commendable components within a series that battle each other, as I see it. The first is a strong overall arc for the protagonist. The second is that in most cases publishers and readers want each book within a series to stand alone. With stand-alone stories a reader can pick up book #2 in the series and completely understand what’s going on, and see the end to the main plot. It’s a story within itself. However, if you’ve got a strong character arc going, that reader of book #2 is definitely going to miss out on some stuff. The character isn’t in the same place in which she started. (Or he, whatever the case may be.) She’s grown, and some aspect of her life has changed since book one. This is why I tell readers—sure, my books in a series stand alone. But to best enjoy the series, they should be read in order.

So—want the absolutest (if that's not a word, it should be) kind of stand-alone book in a series? Then don’t include an arc for your character. These series can certainly work. James Bond comes immediately to mind. Guy’s the same in each story. Always the clever hero. Always wins. Always gets the girl. We don’t see him change or learn much of anything (other than the change of face as different actors played him in the movies).

But this is not the kind of story I write. So, using the Hidden Faces series as an example, how did I plan the overall character arc for Annie, starting with the first page in book one and ending with the last page in book 4?

Honestly? I didn’t. Because I didn’t know the plots for all the books when I started out. I only knew the plot for book one. Still, I knew a character arc would naturally grow for Annie. There are some guidelines I followed in that first book that helped set me up for the future books. More about these tomorrow.

Read Part 2