Friday, June 30, 2006

Industry News Tidbits

After today the year is officially half over. Where’d it go?

First, some news updates for me.

1. Starting next Friday the first twelve chapters of Violet Dawn will be serialized on the Kanner Lab Web site. This will run for seven weeks, with one to two chapters posted each week. You can sign up
here to receive email notification each week when the new chapters are up. For every 20 people who sign up, one will win a free copy of Violet Dawn. So send all your pals on over.

2. The Scenes and Beans blog goes live less than a week from today! Wednesday, July 5, to be exact. Hope you all will join in reading. Most of you know at least one person writing for the blog.

Now, some tidbits from the latest Christian Retailing magazine:

1. Fewer New Religion Titles in 2005. Bowker, the agency that assigns ISBNs, projects about 18,000 titles less for 2005 than in 2004. (Final numbers will be released in December.) Remember that religion titles include all “religious” books. Overall this is seen as a market correction after a high growth rate. Zondervan reduced its frontlist by 5% from 2004 to 2005, and will trim another 5% in 2006. Categories in CBA appearing to take a downturn are biography/autobiography and contemporary issues. Tyndale forecasts a 10% reduction in titles for 2007, with its biggest drop in juvenile fiction. Whereas other publishers are also cutting some, Thomas Nelson has increased its output by 3% in its latest fiscal year, which ended March 31.

2. Christian Living, Fiction Lead The Way in CBA Growth. Christian Living continues to be the largest category in nonfiction. Its sales tend to be driven by well-known authors such as Max Lucado and Beth Moore. The Purpose Driven Life also has a lot to do with enlarging this category even further in the last few years. Within fiction, suspense stands out as the growing genre. As one example, Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line, which launched in July 2005 with two books a month, is already expanding to four a month, beginning next February.

3. New 13-digit ISBNs Coming. Starting January 1, 2007, each ISBN (International Standard Book Number) will expand to 13 digits in order to get in step with worldwide publishing. The three extra digits will signify the country in which the book is published.

All the numbers in a bar code mean something, by the way. Example: bar code for Violet Dawn: 0-310-25223-7. 0=English language. 310=Publisher. 25223=Title. 7=Check digit. The new bar codes will place the three country digits at the very beginning, before the language digit. 978=USA.

And now if you’re wondering what the check digit’s all about—it’s a mathematically obtained number to check if the bar code was keyed in or scanned correctly. For ISBNs the check digit is computed by multiplying each digit by its place in the line. (For Violet Dawn, 0x1, 3x2, 1x3, 0x4, etc.), then adding these answers (=173), then dividing that sum by 11 (=15, remainder 7). The remainder is the check digit. If the remainder happens to be 10, an X is used instead.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about ISBNs . . .

Have a great fourth of July weekend. Well, sort of. With a Monday in the middle. I’ll be posting Monday, then take the 4th off. Then Wednesday it’ll be Forensics and Faith—and Scenes and Beans.

Tomorrow we take off to spend the 4th in Coeur d’Alene. Naturally. No one does fireworks like Cd’A—set off from barges in the water just off the resort. We have a perfect view from our backyard. (Although we usually get up as close as we can in the boat. Preferably blasting Creedence or the like.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blour for Waking Lazarus

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

It happened after a day of ice fishing with his father William. Mid-January. Duck Lake. Twenty degrees above zero on the thermometer, and something far below that on the wind chill scale. Jude sat on an overturned pickle bucket most of the day, occasionally threading a hook through fresh corn or salmon eggs before dropping his line into the inky hole. A few times, when he was impatient for a bite, he put his face over the hole and cupped his hands to peer at the watery world beneath. He saw a few sunfish, but no perch--none of the perch his father considered such “good eatin.”

“Should be headin’ back,” William finally said. The comment startled Jude, partly because he himself had been ready to leave for hours, partly because it was only his father’s third sentence of the day. (The first two, respectively, had been “Ready to get goin’?” and “Hungry?”) Jude slid off the bucket and reeled in his line the last time. His hook had no salmon egg. Maybe an unseen good eatin perch had nibbled it, or maybe the egg had shriveled and slid into the chilly water, resigning itself to fate.

They gathered their gear and started toward the pickup. Jude counted each footfall: from memory, he knew it would be 327 steps.

For a long time, all Jude could hear was the steady crunch of their boots, amplified into a hollow echo by the ice. Every so often, a forced cough from his dad, one of those quick huffs to clear his lungs. Jude stared down at his boots, watching as he continued to count. Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight. He lifted his gaze again to stare at William’s broad back, wishing he could match his father’s long, loping strides. It was 327 steps for him; how many would that be for his father? Seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four. He pictured his mother, waiting at home with a steaming cup of hot chocolate, maybe a cookie or two. Chocolate chip. Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty--

For a moment, he felt like he was on the roller coaster at the county fair, gravity’s pull licking at his stomach.

Instantly, he knew what was happening. The lake was swallowing him, pulling him in, whispering his name.

He opened his mouth to call for his dad, to scream, to do anything, but the water was alive as it raced down his throat, and the bitter cold was a red starburst as he closed his eyes, and the world was a dark, fading memory as he felt himself sinking.


So begins
T.L. Hines debut novel, Waking Lazarus, a suspense novel I highly recommend. (Published by Bethany.) A few reviews:

"Hines handles the numerous flashbacks and switches in point of view well, and has a deft touch in knowing just how much information to give and how much to withhold...not for the faint of heart. Readers who consider most faith thrillers too tame should find this satisfactorily chilling." --Publisher's Weekly

(STARRED REVIEW) "This taut inspirational thriller will keep readers guessing as to the identity of the perpetrator. Some disturbing scenes of children in peril may upset sensitive readers, but those who stick with this first-rate work populated with intriguing characters will be well rewarded with an exciting read. Highly recommended for CF and suspense collections." –Library Journal

And my own endorsement: "Provocative from the first line, intriguing to the last. WAKING LAZARUS is a thriller of strategic pacing, colored in tones of mystery and wonder. DON'T miss this exceptional debut."

You can read many more reviews at
Tony’s Web site.

T.L. Hines is a wonderful addition to the suspense genre within CBA. This is a great novel to read—now on shelves—and an author to watch for the future.

By the way, you might recognize T.L. Hines's name as the guy who started the Christian Fiction Alliance blour. Tony will be signing copies of Waking Lazarus at ICRS in Denver, 1:30 Tuesday afternoon in the Bethany booth. (Robert Liparulo will be signing his book Along Comes a Horseman at the same time.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

News Tidbits

Howdy again, BGs, it’s me, back from the family reunion. ’Twas nice to lie back and let sister #3 write a couple of posts for me. Sandy (Perfect Sister) is staying an extra day in Kentucky and driving back to Michigan tomorrow. I woke up this morning at Mom’s, where PS and I shared a room, and said, “Tonight ya won’t have me to kick around anymore.”

Lots of things happening here that I want to keep you updated on. ICRS is coming, and there will be news from that. Also, I came back to find a new Christian Retailing with some information I want to tell you about. And Tony Hines is going on a blour (blog tour) for his debut novel Waking Lazarus (published by Bethany). I’ll be telling you about that tomorrow.

Quick note for today. Have you heard the new name for Warner Faith? It’s now called FaithWords.

As you probably know, Warner is now part of the Hachette Book group, the third largest book publisher in the world. Hence the need to change the name for its Christian imprint, Warner Faith. The other, sort of religiously-minded imprint called Center Street will continue under that name. In a two-spread ad in Christian Retailing, the Hachette imprints of FaithWords and Center Street promise to continue delivering the same kinds of books and authors it has in the past. FaithWords best-selling authors include T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Karen Kingsbury and others.

Here’s another snippet I found interesting. According to Christian Retailing, Thomas Nelson is launching a “pop-culture and entertainment-oriented imprint” for 18- to 35-year-olds called Naked Ink. The name was chosen, according to Acquisitions Editor Rebekah Whitlock, because “naked [is] a word that [is] synonymous with things like authenticity and transparency and vulnerability.”

The first book in this imprint is The Hot Mom’s Handbook, by Jessica Denay, which released April 11. Contributors to the book range from entertainer Kathi Lee Gifford to Diana Lang, “a spiritual counselor who teaches yoga and meditation and does astrological readings.” The article adds that “The Hot Moms’ Club—which Denay founded with two others in 2005—also promotes the use of astrology through its online magazine.” Nelson is “promoting the book as appealing to mothers of all ages and from all walks of life who believe motherhood is first and foremost about rediscovering who you are as a woman.”

According to Thomas Nelson’s Web site, the company’s goal from its beginning has been “to honor God and serve people.”

Your thoughts, BGs?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sister #3 Tells All--Part 2

I left off yesterday with three of us playing Scrabble.

Last year during a late-night game with our mother, Brandilyn asked what time it was. "Midnight," I said.

"Midnight at the oasis; send your camels to bed," Brandilyn began singing in a quavering imitation of Maria Muldaur. When we went to bed we were both going crazy because we couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics. Not content to leave well enough alone, at about one a.m. Brandilyn got up and Googled the title and printed off the lyrics. Then she came back to bed and sang them to me as loudly as she could. ("Midnight at the oasis. Send your camels to bed. Shadows painting our faces, traces of romance in our head . . .") From that silly old song we went on to "There he saw Fatima, sitting on a zebra-skin rug, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes..." (Forgive me if you don’t follow our crazy line of thought, but that’s an old Ray Stevens song.)

During the same family reunion my cousin Linda and I discussed BE’s sick mind, which can conjure up new and interesting ways to kill off characters in her suspense novels. "I think she needs a new nickname," I said. "I am Perfect Sister. What should Brandilyn be?" The same idea struck both of us at about the same time. "Twisted Sister," we said. "If I am PS and she is TS, we need to rename Sylvia and Sheila," I thought. That night around the dinner table we came up with Big Sister for Sylvia, the oldest–BS–and Erudite Sister for Sheila–ES. Any trivia questions we have, we ask Sheila, and she always has the answer. The four of us sisters are now, in order, BS, ES, PS, and TS. [I shall refrain from making a joke about the BS--Brandilyn.]

During other family reunions Brandilyn has kept me awake by telling terrible jokes like "What do you say to a two-legged dog?" Answer: "Wanna drag?" To which I responded with an old cannibal joke. "Two cannibals were having dinner together. One said, ‘I love your mother-in-law’ and the other said, ‘Me too, pass the noodles.’" We got quiet and tried to sleep, but every few minutes one of us would start giggling again about the two-legged dog. It took us a long time to fall sleep that night.

This year she came into the bedroom at 2 a.m. on the first night of the reunion. I was trying to sleep and had warned her in advance about singing dumb songs all night long. After spending about 18 hours trying to get to Kentucky, she was punchy and didn’t care what I thought. "Midnight at the oasis," she started. "Shut up," I said. "Go to bed."

Two years in a row I’ve had freak accidents before the family reunion. Last year I got my fingers slammed in a car door. This year I stuck my eye into a lilac bush while weeding around it, and ended up in the emergency room with a serious corneal abrasion. Brandilyn told me with a record like that she was going to have to rethink my nickname of Perfect Sister. I guess I can’t really argue with that. [How 'bout CS–Clumsy Sister.]

Since Brandilyn is now a much-published author, our family members have become not only her staunchest supporters but also her harshest critics. We’re quick to point out things like, "That word showed up five times in your last book." Her new series which launches in August with Violet Dawn is dedicated, each one in turn, to the three sisters. When she finished book two she made the mistake of asking for help in naming book three. Since this is to be "my" book, I hauled out my synonym finder and went to work on titles. I can’t understand why she didn’t like Ecru Eve. Who cares if it doesn’t fit in with her desired syllabic count? It’s MY book! But after she rejected that suggestion, I came up with a much better one. Perfect-–one word a color, the other a time of day. Cerulean Crepuscule. Yes? No. Rejected again. I just can’t imagine why.

I could tell numerous other stories about Brandilyn, but I might give you the wrong idea regarding how I feel about her. Nearly five years ago my husband, Rick, died suddenly. Brandilyn was the first member of the family I called. She immediately said, "Sandy, I’m coming to you," and twelve hours later she was on a plane to Michigan. What can I say about a sister like that?

I think I know. She may be Bad Egg, or Twisted Sister, but to me she’s the Perfect Sister.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sister #3 Tells All--Part 1

Okay, it’s my turn.

Brandilyn made the mistake of saying to me as we were falling asleep last night, "Why don’t you write Monday’s blog for me?" I mulled it over all night and first thing in the morning I gave my answer, "OK, I’ll do it, but only if I get to say anything I want."

I’d better explain. I am Brandilyn’s older sister Sandy, and we are all currently at the annual family reunion in Wilmore, Kentucky. Brandilyn and I always share the guest room at our mom’s place. Two of our sisters now live close by in Kentucky, so we are the only two sisters who have to come long distances to the reunion.

Those of you who keep up with kiddy lit know The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf. This is going to be the true story of the famous Brandilyn Collins by S. Sheppard.

We are a family of four girls. Our dad used to call us his "harem." I am the next older sister to Brandilyn, who is the youngest. Like in the (Cinderella spoof) story of Rindercella and the Pransome Hince, we used to call ourselves the four sad bisters with the mugly other. Although, honestly, the four of us bisters are not sad and our "other" is definitely not "mugly". In fact, she is beautiful and our dad used to say she looked like Loretta Young. But I digress.

About eight years ago when we all became email literate, we needed nicknames for ourselves. Brandilyn came in handy at this time, naming us all. Sylvia, the oldest sister and an MD, became Doc Benz because she is the cream of the crop. Sheila, next, became TWO which stands for The Wise One. She is full of sage advice. As for myself, Brandilyn had to grow up in my shadow and every time she went into a new classroom where I’d been six years before, the teacher would say, "Are you as smart as your sister Sandy?" My identity was determined by my reputation which preceded her. I am Perfect Sister, or PS. [This and the fact that Miss Perfect had to have her picture taken at age six in full angel get-up, complete with halo and wings. Show-off.--Brandilyn] Brandilyn’s email nickname came from the comment Sylvia made when our Mom announced that she was pregnant at the age of nearly 40. Sylvia, then 15 and an aspiring doctor, declared, "Mom, by this time most of your eggs are bad." Brandilyn, therefore, became Bad Egg or BE.

When I was five I began praying for a baby sister. After all, Sylvia had one and Sheila had one, but I had none. I find it hard to admit that because it makes the rest of this story my fault. BE was born shortly after my sixth birthday. BE and I, being the youngest, usually shared a bedroom. As a kid she could get pretty annoying, doing things like cutting up a letter I had written (a little voice said to her, "Cut that" and she said, "OK." That’s her story and she’s sticking to it). On Saturday mornings we would bake a can of Pillsbury sweet rolls and eat the whole thing while watching Fireball XL5 and other great cartoons. When Brandilyn was 12, I was in the throes of my first serious love. She had the gall to critique my heart-rending poetry, written out of my teenage angst. In fact, when I told her I would write this blog, she said, "This is how you should start it." I told her to stay out of it and not tell me how to write. "Don’t pull that again," I said. "It’s my post, I’ll write it however I want." But again I digress.

Growing up with her really wasn’t so bad except for the time she fell into an open sewer ditch and came home stinking to high heaven. [She neglects to tell you I was only three.--Brandilyn] When she was fourteen I got married, and our relationship changed. She and I both eventually moved out of Kentucky. But over the last 20 years or so, family reunions have brought us back together, and frequent long-distance phone calls have strengthened our relationship, making us closer than ever.

We come from a literary family. Parents, one uncle, a couple of cousins and three of us sisters are involved in writing in some form or another. My thing is nonfiction. I often tell people, "I tell the truth; Brandilyn makes up stories." Our family reunions are made up of endless games of cutthroat Scrabble. But there was one game that led me to places I was not prepared to go . . .

Friday, June 23, 2006

Traveling Tale of Woe

Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments over the last two days. I feel fortified. And not quite so dull.

Yesterday was . . . not fun. The daughter and I were traveling to my family’s annual family reunion in Kentucky. I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. in order to leave on time to make our flight. Ever noticed when you have to get up really early and really need what sleep you can get, you can’t sleep at all? My mind wouldn’t turn of. I checked the clock every ten minutes, thinking the alarm was going to go off. (Checking the clock’s easy—all I have to do is stare at the ceiling. We have one of those handy-dandy clocks that project the time and outside temperature up there in large red numbers.)

I get a total of two hours’ sleep.

So. We’re on time to the airport. Long security line. Flight’s late. Which doesn’t matter, because we’re on a ridiculous schedule anyway. Instead of the typical flight to Chicago, then to Lexington, we’re have to go to Phoenix first. Don’t ask me why. And we have a long wait there. So we get to Phoenix. Whoa, feel that heat through the jetway. Then the airport’s freezing from air conditioning.

We have breakfast. We have time, you see. A two-hour layover. Yes, this is after being late.

Our plane leaving for Chicago is also late.

Oh, we board on time. Then we sit there. Don’t ask me why.

Finally, after a three-hour flight, we arrive in Chicago. Late. But no worries. We have plenty of time to kill. You see, we have a two and a half hour layover. Yes, even after being late.

We pass the time in a restaurant, eating. Figured, okay, we’ve survived this. Almost there. Next flight’s only an hour. We’d forgotten that we were in Chicago, only the most late airport in the universe. And, of course, we have to walk from terminal B to F. So we get to F. Have another hour to wait. The gate’s hopping. I mean people everywhere, waiting for four different flights at the same gate. Time passes. Nobody calls our plane. The take-off hour slips by. Still no announcement. Meanwhile other planes are announced—how late they are. One flight’s cancelled. Another is two hours late. Still no word on ours.

Then we hear it’ll be an hour late. Then another. After sitting there for three hours—still no word. I’m calling my Mom with updates. Basically saying I don’t know anything. I am very tired. I’ve been working on the computer—rewrite of Coral Moon—and I’m really drooping.

Next up—they start asking for volunteers on our flight to wait until tomorrow. This is without even announcing when our flight is leaving.

A Chicago hotel room is starting to sound real good.

Finally, finally, our flight is announced. Only it doesn't show up. It's announced an hour later. Same thing.

We finally boardat 10:15, three and a half hours late.

We can't take off. Why? Well, I've never heard this one before. Because there's a tour of high school kids on the plane, and all their luggage has been lost somewhere between here and Europe. So the plane doesn't have enough luggage in the back to equalize the weight of passengers in the front.

We sit at the gate until 600 pounds of sandbags can be located in the O'Hare Airport.

That takes a half hour. Do we leave then? No. We sit on the tarmac another half hour. I don't know why.

We land in Lexington after 1 a.m. The bags take a long time coming. No doubt due to ALL the MANY flights landing at 1 a.m. at the little Lexington airport.

We reach my mother's house at 1:40. Exactly 18 hours after we left our California house.

Isn’t flying fun?

All I can say is--this better be a great family reunion.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

About That Personality Thing . . .

After my tongue-in-cheek post yesterday, I wanted to talk more seriously about my opinion on the whole “Personality” issue of authors in CBA.

I’ve heard a lot of talk against the whole personality thing. How we shouldn’t elevate people to stardom, how that gets us off track, isn’t Christian, etc. Some of you may feel that way, and I’d really like to hear your opinions in the comments. As for me? I disagree.

Yeah, yeah, I make fun of it. How can I resist? It’s the fact that the word “Personality” is actually used. I think many of us tend to cringe at the word, yet ICRS uses it with such blithe flagrancy. Well, at least they’re honest. Might as well call it what it is. But really, all it means is that the author is a recognizable name—like a TV personality. Is that so bad?

Okay, still sounds like a target for teasing to me, but I can live with the term.

So—what does this issue mean to use as Christians? Look, publishing’s a business. We have to remember that ICRS, with all its glitz and in-your-face banners, etc. is for the bookseller. It’s their convention. And what authors are booksellers going to be most interested in? The ones whose books move off their shelves. The ones who make them money. After all, Christian bookselling is a rough business these days, and every dollar counts.

Enter the publishers at the show, who want to attract said booksellers to their booths. What’s the best way to attract them? By putting up banners of a brand new, unknown author? Of course not. By publicizing the names the booksellers best recognize. By throwing a party where those “Personalities” can meet the booksellers. Once the booksellers are in the booth, or at the party, the publishing staff can perhaps talk to them about other, newer authors whom they should be watching.

When I’m at ICRS and see the big banners and names of certain authors splashed everywhere—I don’t think, “bad, bad.” I rejoice for those folks. God has granted them a large audience for their work. A large audience, and all the publicity that goes with it, isn’t immoral or unchristian. In fact, I say it can be very Christian. Think of the readers these authors can reach.

Now, with that kind of success comes great responsibility. And therein lies the rub. A “personality” author can become too focused on stardom and start to push God aside. But so can a completely unknown author. Whether you have the stardom or not, you can be far too occupied with it. Bigheaded if you have it, jealous if you don’t. So it’s not the stardom in itself. It’s how it’s handled.

From the publication of my first Christian book, I have prayed this prayer: “God, don’t let me be more successful than I can handle.” (Meaning spiritually.) God’s given me a certain amount of success, but not huge stardom. And guess what. That prayer has proved as dangerous as I expected it would be. As my success grows, God has jolly well seen that my ego’s been pushed down a peg or two. And no doubt I have a lot more pegs to go. I’ve made some very humbling mistakes—some quite public. It’s no fun to be humbled. But I’ll tell you, God is merciful. Humbling is a good thing, a God thing. I pray I will always embrace it.

So I can rejoice for the “Personality” authors. I can be happy for them and content with myself at the same time. Meanwhile, I continue working hard and marketing myself hard, trying to build my own success. But the results are in God’s hands, and I’ll accept whatever He chooses to give me. If I’m a “Personality” too someday, that’s cool. I’ll just pray all the harder to keep my focus on God.

I’ll also do some shopping for a mighty fine outfit for the party.

And I’ll forever make fun of the P word.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ah, Me

Happy summer solstice, BGs.

Got my electronic copy of the latest Aspiring Retail today. The magazine’s full of information on ICRS—the International Christian Retail Show—in Denver. (The performance formerly known as CBA.) I’ll be there, along with most of the other folks in Christian publishing. I’ll be meeting with folks and signing copies of Violet Dawn galleys at the Zondervan booth on Monday.

One thing I won’t be doing—going to a special party Monday night.

I’m not invited.

It’s a “Personality Party,” see. For personality-laden authors, and the booksellers dying to meet them.

Apparently I am quite dull.

It was bad enough before. ICRS used to have “personality booths.” Certain authors with the “P” distinction would sign their books in these special roped off areas, for which the publisher paid extra money. I’d just sign at the Z booth.

But now—oh, man, rub it in. It’s a party. For two whole hours. They’ll probably have streamers and everything.

In the P booth days, I'd bemoan my fate to my friends. Relegated to Dull-dom, I declared that some bright, shining day I would grow a Personality. Now, staring at the P party in bold font on the magazine’s schedule, I have given up. This is my fifth ICRS. I’ve loitered in Dullsville, while the P authors have graduated to a night’s event.

I must admit, I saw a full-page ad for three authors who’ll be showcased at the P party—and felt a twinge of vindication. I hadn’t heard of one of them. Then I remembered it didn’t matter. Well-known or not, they possessed a personality. Give them a few years, they'll take over the world.

But I'm not bitter.

Tell me, what do I have left to do? To try? For five interminable years, I’ve parked myself before a mirror, practicing expressions. Accents. Certain suave tilts of the head. Coy looks through my lashes. Nothing has worked.

I am doomed.

But not to worry. Ever the fighter am I. Somehow I shall keep my chin up at the convention. Maybe I’ll find other dull authors to hang with on Monday night. What a time we should have. Think the waiters will notice us?

Or perhaps I shall plant myself in front of my hotel room mirror. Practicing yet again. Hoping against hoping that in 2007, that bright and shining year . . .

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

And Another

Letters beget letters. This one shows God’s amazing mercy and love toward us, especially when we're struggling. If you're struggling as well, read this and take heart. God does see your hurts.

I can’t possibly take credit for the way He used my marketing project in this person's life. He’s just very efficient, that’s all--using one thing in different ways for different people. And He's so creatively surprising. After all, He did invent Surprise.

As always, letter used by permission.
After reading Monday’s blog, I have to confess. I thought to comment on the blog, but there are some things I find too personal to share publicly.

These past few weeks have been a real struggle for me. For years I have fought to get time to write. Not because I am simply undisciplined, but because I have a spouse who does not support my writing dream, especially if it involves fiction. There’s a lot more to this, which I won’t go into, but it’s been a constant battle for years.

I’d made a commitment to send a few chapters to a freelance editor a few months back, hoping I would have the time to polish them before the scheduled date. I also made a new commitment to God a month back to make the time I needed to write, and right on cue, another obstacle was raised up before me. This time it almost crushed me. I said enough is enough. Writing is never going to happen, forget it. I'm not fighting any more. I even cancelled my booking with the editor.

But there was one problem.

Violet Dawn.

As you know, I had requested a copy, and after all the hassle of it arriving on time, then getting an electronic copy, plus a second copy in the mail, I finally read it. Since I had requested it, I felt I was committed to sending in an auditioning post. Even that, of course, was a struggle. I ended up writing the post on D-day—the closing day for the auditions.

Since I felt I didn't have any hope at all of securing a part, it was going to be my final jaunt into the world of writing. Being turned down by Brandilyn Collins would be the icing on the cake—my confirmation. Writing was not for me.

When Gayle sent out the e-mail saying the parts would be announced on your blog Monday, June 12th, I figured
okay, didn’t make the cut. Surely they would have e-mailed the successful people beforehand. Monday came; time to get the misery over and done with. I booted up the computer.

Imagine my surprise when you announced on your blog that I was one of the chosen.

Okay, maybe I’m not supposed to give up writing. At least I am now committed to a post every once in a while for Scenes and Beans.

Instead of saying Brandilyn Collins deemed me a failure :), I can now say Brandilyn Collins kept me writing.

So, thank you. You have encouraged me to keep going. To keep fighting for the dream God has placed in my heart.

God is wonderful in His faithfulness. It seems just when I’m about to quit, when the fight becomes too much, He places another little grain of encouragement to keep me on this path.

Blessings, Brandilyn, and thank you once again.

May God grant each of you His encouragement tailored just for you--just when you need it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Encouragement for the Day

Happy Monday, BGs. I have to say, this new blog look is great. Finally I don’t have to explain what BGs means anymore.

Did the men in your life—or you—have a good Father’s Day? We had a good day celebrating my husband at dinner on Saturday in our Coeur d’Alene home (the day our son and daughter could both be with us). Coeur d’Alene—a wonderful family town—always holds it Car d’Alene show on Father’s Day weekend. It’s a big show of old cars and spitzy cars and red cars and blue cars. (How easily I fall into Go, Car, Go.) There’s a driving parade Friday night, with hundreds of them parked on the downtown streets all day Saturday for viewing (the streets are portioned off). Perfect weekend for such a show.

Now we’re back in California (sigh). Although not for long. My daughter (going to be a senior next year in high school!) and I are going to Kentucky on Thursday for our annual family reunion. (Hubby can’t go this year—too much going on at work.) Then it’s back to Coeur d’Alene for July 4th weekend (extended, because it has the nerve to fall on a Tuesday). Fly back to California on the fifth, then on the sixth it’s off to Denver for the ChiLibris retreat and annual International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS, formerly CBA). Somewhere in here I’m supposed to be rewriting Kanner Lake book #2, starting book #3—and the marketing for Violet Dawn (book #1) is really gearing up. I swear I could be doing that full time right now. The Scenes and Beans blog goes live in just a couple weeks. And the book launch party’s at the end of August (in Coeur d’Alene). You’ll be hearing updates on all these things.

Enough rambling. Suffice it to say—welcome back after the weekend, BGs.

And a big thank you to Bonnie Calhoun, who sent me a code for posting photos when blogger doesn’t feel like blotoing. (Hey, we got ourselves another new word.) I’m saving the code for the future.

For today—a couple weeks ago, when we were in the middle of our series on character empathy, I received a very nice e-mail from a new BG. Totally made my day. I was very grateful (still am) that the person took the time to write and encourage me. I’m running the letter anonymously with the person’s permission.
I've been reading your blog and catching up on your "How I Got Here" tale. That's right. All 65 segments. As such, I feel like I know you even though you have no idea who I am. That's the danger of blogs, isn't it? (And it occurs to me that I'm one of those SLs -- Silent Lurkers -- that you see in the shadows. It's because I'm painfully introverted, but I'm not dangerous. I promise.)

I'm so thankful for you and for your gift and for how you share it with the world. It gives me hope and encouragement. I would say I'm sorry for your trials and suffering, but I know you don't feel that way and God does work all things together for good for those who love him, right? :)

For years I've asked myself, "Is it this hard for everyone? Do other writers -- especially those called to write for the Lord -- struggle with EVERY SINGLE line? Do they doubt themselves? Doubt God? Doubt others who tell them a piece is good?" I thought if my desire to write full time was truly from the Lord, He'd make it... well, easier. Silly me. There are things I know in my head and things I feel in my heart. My head says the enemy is going to use every trick he can to stop a blessing from God. To stop a person from serving Him. My heart says, "I've had enough, Lord! I can't do it anymore!"

But I can do it. Like you wrote, I have willed myself to believe in God's strength and power. To believe in His everlasting goodness. To believe in the gift He gave me to use for Him. I'm learning a great deal from you, Brandilyn, in character as well as craft. Thank you for your faithfulness to God. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with readers. Thank you for encouraging scads of people without even knowing you do it. :)
Nice, huh. I read a letter like that, and I’m very humbled, because taking the time to write it—out of the blue—is such a giving thing to do. This person is thanking me for being encouraging, but goodness, that’s just what this letter itself is doing. It makes me think—who should I be encouraging in his or her ministry/career/life/whatever with an uplifting letter or e-mail? A bit of encouragement can go such a long way.

How about you? Who should you be encouraging?

And by the way, if you want to respond to something in the letter, I’m sure the new BG will appreciate it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blogging Chicks Carnival

A special Sunday post to say: Jump over to the main Blogging Chicks site to get a taste of what other BCs out there are blogging about.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Interview with Travis Thrasher--Part 2

Just a note: I have tried for two days now to load the cover of Admission (after saving it to my computer), and it simply will not post. I've loaded covers before, and it's worked just fine. But I have had some trouble in the past, too. If anyond has an inkling why blogger is so testy, and what to do about, please let me know. Meanwhile, do visit this link at to check out the cover of Travis's latest novel. Also, Travis has a really cool Web site. Visit it just to see the way it's laid out and what it does.

Travis, I know you recently moved to Moody Publishing. Andy McGuire, acquisitions editor, has talked about his philosophy of Christian fiction--how it needs new, wider boundaries; how it doesn't have to have an overt message. Sounds like that philosophy would fit well with your own.

I love working with Andy McGuire. I was already at Moody when he came on board, and I was a little nervous to see whether my view of fiction and his meshed. But we really work well together and share similar thoughts and feelings about Christian fiction. He believes in the power of telling a good story and feels that it doesn't have to always have an overt Christian message. I love that he is allowing me to tell some of the stories I'm telling in the style I'm telling them. I believe that Andy has a good eye and also brings a lot of good ideas to each project. He's a writer and an artist himself, so he understands what it's like to create a work of art. He's building a great fiction program that I'm very excited to be a part of.

As part of that line, are you going to put out books more often? Your previous novels have been spaced at least a year apart, if not two. I always seem to have to wait so long for them. But now I see your next one, Blinded, comes out this fall.

I'd love to have a couple novels published each year, but I'd also like to live to see my next birthday. :) Honestly, this past year has been the busiest year of my life, both from a writing standpoint and also from a work standpoint (as Author Relations Manager). The reality is that I've written close to thirty novels. Some of them were written before my first ever got published, so they're in my closet and probably should stay there. Some of the others, however, are waiting for a home. I'm the sort of writer that has so many ideas floating around in my head that I just have to write them and get them out. Some are better than others, of course. Some require a lot more time before getting published. But when I finish a project, I don't take time off. I dive into another project, regardless of whether it's contracted for or not.

To answer your question, I might start doing a couple a year. It depends. I'm working on a deadline for a novel that will probably come out in January, 2007. But the novel I often tell people is my best one yet is already finished, having worked with my agent on it for the last two and a half years. It might come out in fall of 2007. The sooner, the better. I want people to read that book.

You mentioned your job. Tell us about that.

My role is Senior Author Relations Manager at Tyndale House Publishers. I've been working in author relations for over 12 years (I like to say I started when I was fourteen). My job is to serve as a liason between the publisher and our authors. I've probably worked with over 1,000 authors in that time. I've learned a lot, working with many bestselling Christian authors. My first two books were published by Tyndale, and I was delighted to have my dreams of publication come true. It can be awkward at times having your books published by the same company you work for. It makes more sense having another house publish my novels. Tyndale publishes so many big-name fiction authors, so I get to work alongside them and learn tricks of the trade while having another publisher work on my books. I've enjoyed it so far.

How’d you get the Tyndale job? And while we’re at it, how did you break into being published?

I started writing fiction when I went away to prison on a count of fifty years . . . oh, wait. Sorry, wrong person. Seriously, my third grade teacher encouraged me in my writing, and that was when I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I wrote my first novel in ninth grade, finishing it all the way through. I always tell aspiring writers to JUST DO IT. Nobody says you have to do it well. But you can write. Anybody can write.

I knew when I graduated college that I wanted to write, but wasn't sure what else I wanted to do. Publishing was something I looked into. I was fortunate when the position of Author Relations Coordinator came up at Tyndale twelve years ago. (I always say they hired me because I looked so desperate!) It was a perfect fit for me and my personality and a perfect stepping stone for my dreams of wanting to be a writer. How awesome is it for a young writer to suddenly befriend and work alongside people like Jerry Jenkins and Francine Rivers? My job at Tyndale was an answer to prayer--God was good enough to put me in a job that has been more than I ever thought it could be. Having published six novels with more coming were further answers to prayer. I'm very fortunate--sometimes I have author angst, wishing Oprah would interview me or wondering when my big homerun might ever happen. Then I get reminded that I've been very blessed to have come this far. I love my day job and want to do both the writing thing and the author relations thing.

My prayer now is to have a thirty-six hour day. Then I'd have more time to do both things I love so much.

One last question. You mentioned your next novel, Blinded. The beginning of that novel is excerpted in the back of Admission. I read it. Um. Wow. How . . . interesting.

I read it again.

Travis, man, you know I love your work, but have you gone totally insane? The excerpt’s in second person.
Second person! Tell me the entire novel isn’t going to be in that POV.

I'm smiling, because I'm not surprised to hear your reaction regarding the second person technique. First off, let me say that yes, the ENTIRE novel is going to be second person. Let me share some of my thought process in this.

Okay, keep talking. I'm speechless anyway.

I've been working on a novel for about three years now (that might be published in the CBA market--it's the best thing I've written, I think) that occasionally veered off in second person. I did this a tiny bit in Gun Lake, if you remember. My agent and I decided to get away from doing that in that novel, but I liked the style and what it does. It does take you away from the character in a unique way. I wanted to write it as though it could be any business man, that this is literally putting YOU the reader in the shoes of what a man thinks and feels. I'll be honest--I just reread the pages of this and I feel it really truly works. Most of the time I'll read something of mine and be like--yuck! But I liked this. The editors and the other people who have read it really liked it. BUT . . . I also know (and I told Andy from Moody this) that there will be people who absolutely hate it. I just told Andy that I didn't do it just for the sake of doing a second person novel. I wanted to show why a man makes the choices he does and to put the reader literally in his shoes for a moment.

No book is perfect, and there will be some books that readers will enjoy more than others. At the very least, I expect Blinded to create a reaction more than my other books--people will either love it or hate it. But hopefully a lot of people will read it.

I will read it. Don’t know if I’ll like it, but I will read it. Thing is, if anyone could pull this off, you can. And trust me—once I’ve read it, we’ll be talking about it here on Forensics and Faith. I will urge all the BGs to read it just to see what you do with the POV. It’ll be an interesting book and a very interesting discussion.

But I gotta say--you’re one brave man, Travis Thrasher.

Final note: Blinded comes out in August of this year, and Isolation (Travis hopes) will be published in January, 2007.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Interview with Travis Thrasher--Part 1

OK, Travis, I gotta ask. How much of Jake's character in Admission is autobiographical? I'm talking about the college age, party drunk, I-can't-remember-what-I-just-did Jake?

The character of Jake in Admission is very much me when I was in college. I became a Christian at a young age but drifted away from God, especially during college. I did attend a small, Christian college. The pivotal event that takes place in Admission--Jake getting beaten up at his apartment by two other college students--happened to me in pretty much the exact way it took place in the novel. I just slipped on my author cap and asked the question "What if?". Some of Jake's friends were based on my friends, especially the character of Alec who plays a pivotal part in the book.

The reason I write is to try and make sense of the world around me and the experiences I've gone through or seen others gone through. Sure, I love to tell an entertaining story. But I also love to take incidents and expand them or relive them in order to gain some sort of understanding about them. Admission was a book I wanted to write five years after college, but I was too close to my college experience. So I am glad I was able to write it a decade after I graduated. It was both an emotional and spiritual journey writing about my past and looking back on it through the eyes of someone older and (hopefully!) wiser.

That’s interesting, because you’ve used the same two periods of your life in the book. There’s the story of Jake in college, and the current story eleven years later. Telling those two stories, you used two different POVs, which I found fascinating. Jake's current story is in first person, while his past story is in third. How did you decide to do that, and why?

I never randomly choose a point of view. I like to try different things, but there is always a reason why I choose to do what I do. I wanted Admission to be told from Jake's viewpoint, but I wanted to separate the past story from the present story. I decided to make the past story third person to create more of a distance between that story and the reader (and Jake). I wanted to show the difference between Jake in college and Jake in the present day, but I wanted this change to be subtle. I wanted Jake to feel like his college story was almost another person, another life. In a way, it was, since he was a nonbeliever in college and didn't have hope, and he's found this years later.

I wrote the past story for Admission all the way through, then I wrote the present day story. Weaving the two stories together was easier than I thought it would be. There were times when one chapter flowed into the next in a way I didn't intend but that worked well. Sometimes those things happen when you're working on a novel.

What was the hardest part about writing Admission? Why?

The hardest part was simply distancing myself from the story it's based on and my own college experiences and telling the story that ended up being the novel. I started writing it five years after college, but only got halfway through it. It just didn't feel right for some reason. Now I know I was too close to the story and couldn't tell what I wanted to write about. I've done that with other stories. One story I've been working on for years is a story about my family living in South Carolina. I've done multiple drafts for that, but have never been able to nail it because I've been too close to the story. For Admission, the time was right for me to look back on my college days and tell this story. I enjoyed doing so even though it was sometimes a bittersweet experience. I have both great memories of college and also painful ones. But I knew I needed to write this before too much time passed and my college days would be distant memories.

Your characterization in Admission (and all your novels) is particularly good. Where did you learn this aspect of writing? What process do you use for discovering your characters?

Thanks for the nice compliment. I appreciate you saying that. To be honest, I'm not sure where I learned any of my writing from. I never really paid attention in English classes and was always goofing off in college. I think I learned from reading a lot and from writing a lot. I think I love getting into the hearts, minds and souls of people. I actually like writing a scene where a character is struggling internally but doing nothing verses a scene where a character is holding another up by gunpoint. I like characters full of angst (something I have a lot of too). Of course, you need action and suspense to move a story along. But I like characters with flaws and seeing them through a journey. Hopefully, some of them find hope.

As far as a process goes, it really depends. I'm not a big fan of writing long, detailed character sketches when working on a book. At the same time, I have to write out character sketches because I can't keep everything in my head. I make notes and discovers characters as I go along. For Gun Lake, which had many characters in it, I really had to have every character detailed in an organized way. Sometimes, for a book like Admission, the characters are easy because they're people who have been in my life (or I'm writing a main character who is very much me). Sometimes I have to work at one or two characters. I might write something and the editor makes me work on one or two characters who need more fleshing out.

Another of the strengths in Admission is the dialogue. Very fresh. Unpredictable. It pops. It just feels right. How did you learn the art of good dialogue?

I talk a lot. :) Again, I'm not sure exactly where I picked up the skill to write dialogue. I do know some of the skills I need to work on--things like description, for instance. I'm far better writing dialogue.

When I was young, I used to imagine scenes in my mind. Sometimes I imagined myself in these scenes. (Okay, many times these involved girls I had a crush on but was too shy to talk to!). I always acted out the scenes using dialogue. Most people know me as an extrovert (which I am now), but growing up I was a shy kid with a speech impediment. Writing was a form of being able say the things I wanted to say in just the right way I wanted to say them.

I like listening to people talk and engaging in conversations with people. Some people notice details of life--the textures and colors and the smells and all that. But I listen and I pay attention to people. Maybe that's why things like characterization and dialogue come easier to me than description and setting. I love people and relationships--that's what makes life tick, right?

Yes, especially for us novelists. So tell me, how’d you get here anyway? Why are you writing fiction for the Christian market?

Wait, I'm writing for the Christian market? So THAT'S why they keep taking out the profanity and sex scenes from my books! :) Okay, just kidding. The honest answer is that I work for a Christian publisher that also published my first two novels. That doesn't mean I haven't tried getting published in the general market. My first seven novels were dark, heavy, ambitious novels written for the general market. So far, those doors haven't opened up yet. I still long to write in both markets.

I don't view myself as a Christian novelist. I always say that I'm a novelist that happens to be a Christian. If Oprah or Katie Couric ever interviewed me, that's what I would say. I'd tell them that every single author has a worldview, and mine happens to be a Christian worldview. I don't view my writing as a ministry, either. I have always written, and have always dreamed of having books published. I try to make sense of the world around me, so of course my novels are going to have issues of faith intertwined in them. But when I'm doing a booksigning, I don't introduce myself as having written Christian fiction. I'm not ashamed of it. It's just a tag that brings a lot of connotations, and I want my writing to be judged on whether or not I can tell a good story (something I'm still growing at).

How does the spiritual arc within your stories develop?

It really depends on the story. For my novel The Second Thief, this was about one man's journey toward faith. So, of course, its all about the spiritual arc. But for a book like Admission, I deliberately made it more subtle. I tried to show the difference between Jake in college and the older Jake. But the older Jake is a new Christian, so he still doesn't have things figured out (and who does anyway?). I wanted it to be more subtle because I wrote it with some of my college friends in mind. I try to show hope and redemption in the best way possible depending on the story. But it always depends on the story. In Blinded, the novel coming out this August, the spiritual element comes in more at the end when the character is crying out to God for both forgiveness and for hope. In the end, there is only one source of hope in this world. I really try to work on both sharing my worldview but also not preaching. But for some people, it will always be too much or too little. So I do the best job I know I'm capable of doing and accept criticism if it comes (and ultimately, this is the fate of every writer putting their babies out there for the world to look at).

Tomorrow, Part 2, in which I razz Travis about his next book, Blinded (of which I've read an excerpt): "Travis, man, have you gone INSANE?"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Travis Thrasher's Admission

Something deep and terrifying jerked him awake. Even before he opened his eyes, Jake knew he was confined, his head lodged against something unmovable. He couldn’t feel his arm tangled underneath him. His dry tongue rolled against cracked lips as he tried to clear his ragged throat. The first thing he saw was the tan faux-leather back of the car seat. Then, looking down on the floor, he saw a handgun wrapped in a muddy towel.

He sat up in the big backseat, the scent of reefer undeniable . . . Moving brought a wave of nausea and pain. His back was drenched in sweat. Rolling down the window, Jake breathed in and felt a throbbing in his left side . . . It felt like the time he’d been beaten to a pulp . . . just a month ago. But judging by . . . his total ignorance of where he was or what had happened . . . he realized this time could be worse.

He opened the car door and stumbled out, falling over and feeling the sting of blood rushing back into his legs . . . Something nagged at him. Something awful . . .

He stood up and looked around. Then he stared down at his shirt, his jeans, his shoes.

All were covered in blood . . .

So begins Travis Thrasher’s novel,
Admission. (Published by Moody.)

Jake Rivers is in his last semester of college. He’s got a close-knit group of pals. If only he could win Alyssa Roberts’ heart. But he’s too “bad boy” for her, apparently. With his friends he drinks—a lot. Parties and can’t remember half of what he does. He doesn’t care about much. Certainly not the reputation of the college, or what’s expected of him by its administration. He just wants to get out of college and launch his life.

Then tragedy strikes.

That’s the past Jake, eleven years ago. Current Jake has mellowed. He no longer goes on wild drunks. He’s achieved a bit of spiritual understanding. But Jake is pulled back into his past when the old mysteries arise. What happened on that night he awoke in the car, all bloody? Which of his friends holds the key to the truth? Jake is forced to seek each of them out, hoping to fill the black hole of voided memory within him.

I really enjoyed this novel. Travis is an author I trust. I pick up a book by him knowing he’s going to handle the material well. I know his characters will be well drawn. And that he will surprise me in some writing aspect.

Admission interweaves Jake’s past and present stories, slowly unfolding what happened in college even as Jake pursues the answers. This is difficult to pull off well. I faced this same issue in writing Color the Sidewalk for Me (before I came over to the dark side of suspense for good). It’s a real challenge to base a current story on a traumatic past event, and unfold that current story without giving away the crisis scenes of the past. Both threads have to build in tension themselves, even as they interweave and increase each other’s tension. Where to place what scene, and how to build one upon another to the story’s height—that can take some serious shuffling. Travis makes this work, resulting in good pace.

Travis does something I haven’t seen before. He mixes POV for the same character. Jake’s present story is told in first person. His past story is told in third person. This creates an interesting dichotomy between the two Jakes. Told in third person, the Jake of the past feels further removed from the reader, recreating the inner sense the current Jake has about his past. He almost looks back at himself as someone else. He feels removed from that person. He’s wanted to forget—the little he could remember in the first place.

This effect worked. It wasn’t a broken writing “rule” just for sake of doing something different. It worked because it was driven by the story. I can imagine Travis sitting down to write this book and feeling in his gut the two very different ways that the present and past stories wanted to be told.

The other aspects that stood out in this novel were its characterization—Jake and his group of pals—and the dialogue. The latter does much to enrich the former. The dialogue is fresh, unpredictable, laced with non sequiturs. In short, the way highly partying college pals—and the men they would grow to be—would talk to each other.

This book is a good example of creating immediate character empathy—when the character may not be so easy to like. I found myself caring about what happened to the past Jake (who opens the book), even though in real life I have no tolerance for a partying drunk. In fact, you can’t turn me off much quicker. At times I wanted to throttle the guy. Make that many times. But I still cared. Referring to our character series, Jake was thrust into danger in the opening scene (#5). Second, he really loved Alyssa, who always seemed just beyond his reach. (#4—Wishing for something universally understood.) A part of him realized why he couldn’t have her—it was his own doggone fault. Yet he seemed powerless to change that. (#10—facing an inner struggle.)

I asked Travis about his approach to this book, and his writing in general. He gave some very thoughtful and enlightening answers. Over the next couple days I’m going to run his interview. He also talks about his "other job"--the full time one at Tyndale, where he works in Author Care.

Of course, you know what my first burning question was. Couldn’t help myself. “Travis, so just how much of that partying, drunken college Jake was you?” . . .

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jesus Loves Porn Stars

Title snag your attention? That’s the intent.

Before I get into that topic, a few bits of housekeeping. As you all have seen, this blog is under a major reconstruction. Cool-looking new header logo, a look to go with my Web site, etc. However, the glitches are taking time to work out. They’re a bit distracting, but at least the posts are readable. Thanks for hangin’ with me through this transition.

I’m putting off my discussion of Travis Trasher’s novel, Admission, and his interview until the work on this new blog look is complete. I’m hoping it’ll be tomorrow.

For today—where will you find the phrase Jesus Loves Porn Stars? On the cover of a new Bible being published by NavPress.

According to an article in the latest issue of Christian Retailing, the publisher is joining with the XXX Church, a ministry aimed at spreading the Gospel to those involved in adult entertainment. The Bible will be passed out to these folks at events within their industry.

Kent Wilson, NavPress executive publisher, said, “If people caught up in . . . pornography can only be reached by a bold but compassionate message of the love of God, we’re willing to do that for the sake of reaching them . . .”

These bibles—using The Message translation—will be passed out during the Erotica LA show this month and an Expo for adult entertainment in Las Vegas next January. This is the XXX Church’s fourth year with a booth at these shows.

When XXX first approached NavPress with the idea for the bibles, the publisher was excited. Then they heard the title. Their smiles faded. “No one has ever put that on a Bible before,” Wilson said. “But our minds flashed back to the words of Jesus Himself, and we quickly realized that Jesus probably would have loved that phrase. After all, He acted ‘cozy with crooks and riff-raff’ (Matthew 9:11, The Message), and He was accused by the best religious people: ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends’ (Luke 15:2).

“Jesus does love porn stars and sinners and crooks, and Christian guys who look good on Sunday but pollute themselves on a diet of porn during the week,” Wilson added.

Both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson also offered to print the bibles, but logistics and pricing could not be worked out with those companies. NavPress ended up the best fit for the project.

“People love good news, and people take Bibles like crazy,” Craig Gross, pastor and one of the founders of XXX Church, said. “It’s free and it’s a Bible—two things they don’t think they would hear at a porn show.”

Reactions, BGs?

Monday, June 12, 2006

The SBGs (Scenes and Beans Bloggers)!

Man, was choosing this list a task. As you know, there were about 50 auditioners going out for an original 10 parts—at first. Two of the auditioners wanted to go after other characters in Violet Dawn that I hadn’t originally intended to post. And some auditioners passed their Violet Dawn ARCs on to others, adding to the list of auditioners. Then everybody got going, and many auditioned for more than one part. I mean, anywhere from 2-6 parts per auditioner. I had a lot of reading to do.

The posts were judged on creativity and entertainment factor. After all, it’s that factor that will bring people to Scenes & Beans to read every day. I wasn’t worried about character details that might need fixing—I intend to edit the posts to best fit the books anyway. It was all about who entertained me most.

I ended up with more than one poster per character, many times up to three. Those who share a character will just have to be sure to play off each other. You’ll have less times you need to post, but still will receive the same level of recognition. The way it stands, few of you will need to write a post more than once a month.

For those who did not make this list—I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of Scenes & Beans from the beginning. Remember that once Violet Dawn is released, any reader of the book can send in a post for possible use starting next January, so you still have ample opportunity to write for the blog.

Without further ado—The SBGs

Bailey Truitt: Sandra Moore, Dineen Miller, Tracy Fowler, and Pamela James

Leslie Brymes: Jennifer Tiszai/Michael Snyder (team effort), Rebecca Carter, and Vennessa Ng

S-Man: Stuart Stockton (This was an assigned role since S-Man’s science fiction manuscript, Starfire, is based on Stuart’s real wip set in Sauria)

Janet Detcher: Kim Thomas (Janet is Pastor Hank’s wife. Adding her character to the blog was Kim’s idea.)

Pastor Hank: Bob Edwards and Jason Joyner

Jared Moore: Stephanie Fowler and Janet Rubin

Carla Radling: Lynette Sowell and Sabrina Butcher

Jake Tremaine: Michelle Pendergrass, Sherry Ramsey, and Cara Putman

Wilbur Hucks: Chris Mikesell, David Meigs, Wayne Scott, and Kjersten Nickleby

Angie Brendt: Karen Wevick, Lynetta Smith, and Gina Homes

Bev Trexel: Beth Goddard, Chawna Schroeder, and Bev Huston

Sarah Wray: Laura Domino, Bonnie Calhoun, and Marjorie Vawter

Congratulations, SBGs! I’ll be in contact with you about your future posts. For now, please e-mail
my assistant with your Web site or blog URL (choose one) to be placed on the Kanner Lake Web site.

Here’s a “Sneak Pique” at some of the characters’ posts:

“This blog is my attempt to reach out to all you internet savvy people looking for a great vacation spot. Somewhere that really has it all. Kanner Lake is that place!” Bailey Truitt, owner of Java Joint—and starter of the Scenes and Beans blog

“Shnakvorum rikoyoch. [Greetings, friends in Saurian.] . . . My first brush with Sauria can be traced back to a hospital . . .” S-Man

“My fist landed square in his big ol’ snoot.” Pastor Hanks

“When I was eight years old I made a comic strip about my dog, Elmer, in which he stole a hot dog off the grill. The thought-bubble above his head said, ‘It really IS a dog-eat-dog world.’” Newspaperman Jared Moore

“I’d just been hit in the face with a twelve-inch ceiling fan blade . . . This was not going to be a typical house showing. Funny the reaction you get with you open a door with blood smeared on your face.” Realtor Carla Radling

Blog. What illiterate coined that term?” Retired English teacher Bev Trexel

“Yesterday I walked to Java Joint and almost got ran over by a bull moose.” Retired logger Jake Tremaine

“We come from sturdy stock, so it surprised me when my mother became ill. I’m sure my mom had plans that never happened. Most of us do.” Sarah Wray, owner of Simple Pleasures

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this blogging thing. There are a lot of slimy predators on the Internet. I’d like to see one try something on me.” Retired teacher Angie Brendt

“Kanner Lake ain’t that Stepford town from the movies. For every saint like Bailey you’ve got one of me. Come if you like. Take us as we are. We were here first.” Curmudgeon Wilbur Hucks
Check out the Kanner
Lake Web site, now up. (Pages for books 2 and 3 still to come.) Take a look at the Scenes & Beans page on the site to see where the SBGs' names will be listed. Then hop on over to the Scenes & Beans blog to see how it’s coming along. It’s still under construction (template’s going to be narrowed, etc.), but you’ll get the general idea.

The blog goes live July 5th!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Special Saturday Post . . .

To tell you I’ve joined Blog Chicks, a blog roll of women doin’ their thing in blogging. (Although content of member blogs is screened to guard against anything offensive, I do not necessarily endorse all of the views on these various blogs.) Tomorrow the sponsor of Blog Chicks is hosting a Carnival on her site, in which members of the Blog Chicks submit a summary of an entertaining post with a link to that post. I submitted my recent nose surgery tale of woe, of course. Check out the Carnival as you’re able.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sundry Items

Well, now, wasn’t blogspot a pain in the neck yesterday. It wasn’t just this site; it was the whole system. If you gave up trying to bring up yesterday’s post—yes, we finished the series. You can go back and read the last post now.

Shelley, I couldn’t post an answer to you in the comments yesterday because of the site problems. So, basically, yes, you’re on the right track. Just keep studying--as we’re all doing. It’s the way of life for novelists.

Okay, now for a little of this and that, in no particular order.

1. First—the news here on Monday—those who have landed roles for the Scenes & Beans blog will be announced, along with the latest info on what’s happening with that blog. Those of you who didn’t audition, you can sit back and watch this very public experiment unfold. And you’ll have an opportunity later in the year to send in auditioning posts if you want to. Scenes & Beans is gonna rock the country, by gum!

2. On Tuesday I’m going to tell you about Travis Thrasher’s latest suspense, Admission. The book intrigued me because of the different techniques he used. Then, running Wednesday and probably Thursday, will be an interview with him—including his answers to my questions about why he wrote the book the way he did. This will be an interesting follow-up to the topics we’ve discussed here lately. And I’ll give you a “Sneak Pique” at Travis’s next book. You won’t believe what he’s gonna do in that one. I had to ask him myself--“Are you really going to do that?”

3. Marketing plans are really swingin’ for Violet Dawn now that we’re less than two months from release. On the last Saturday in August the launch party for the book will take place in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I’ll be telling you more about that and other marketing plans in the future.

4. This here blog will soon be sporting its new look. Should be ready sometime next week.

5. By the way, something I should have mentioned a few weeks ago: the entire Hidden Faces series (4 books) is being purchased by a big print publisher. All that murder and mayhem will now be easier on weak eyes.

Weak hearts are another matter. But there’s always the BHCC (Big Honkin’ Chickens’ Club).

6. So what’s the latest on my schnozzola, you ask? The stitching tie-offs were snipped off by the doc on Monday. (The stitches actually in the skin dissolved.) And as of that day, I could stop wearing Band Aids. Yay. I was tired of looking like a war-torn boxer. The ol’ schnoz looks surprisingly good. The corset-like stitches on top? Totally gone. Really amazing. There’s a little ridge going over toward one side, but that’s going to disappear. With make-up over the area, it’s hardly noticeable. That’s awesome considering how many stitches it took, inside and outside, to close that hole.

7. Here’s the funniest part about the schnoz. Through Site Meter, which tracks folks who visit this blog, I can see where people are being referred from. And if they’re finding Forensics and Faith due to a search, the words or phrases they searched show up. So who’s been finding us lately? People searching about MOHs surgery. (The kind I had.) People searching about cauterizing the nose (remember that part about burning skin?) These poor wretches. Terrified souls that they are, searching for serious information about their scheduled surgery—and they stumble onto my story. Ah, the agony and defeat of the Internet. My “tale of woe” is likely doing for MOHs surgeons what Violet Dawn will do for the hot tub industry. My name shall be toast.

Oh, wait. That was my nose.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Creating Character Empathy--Part 11

This is our final post on this topic, unless you have wrap-up questions, which I’ll address tomorrow. If not—I have lots of other news to tell you. The writing biz world is going by as we’ve been working on this series. Lots to keep you informed about.

First a question from Shelley, a new BG (welcome Shelley!). She writes: Can an external goal BE one of these approaches to creating empathy? For example, my character's external goal is to maintain a relationship (#4 wishing for something universally understood) . . . I'd love your feedback as GMC is so hard for me.

Yes, the character’s overall Desire is certainly one factor for helping to create empathy. But to totally understand what Desire for a character means, I refer you back to our series on that topic, starting on July 25th of last year. That should be a big help regarding Goal/Motivation/Conflict issues.

All right, for today, #10: Facing an Inner Struggle.

This one’s rather fuzzed at the edges, as it easily overlaps with some of the other approaches. It certainly overlaps with #9, which we looked at yesterday. But I delineated this from #9 (attempting to overcome a fear or make a change in life) because this doesn’t necessarily deal with trying to make a change. It deals more with being burdened and not knowing how to handle that burden. The character can be burdened all sorts of different ways—by guilt, depression, bitterness, ambivalence over an important issue, jealousy, hate, etc.

An interesting side point of this approach: the character doesn’t necessarily have to know he/she is burdened. For example, a character in the clutches of bitterness may be in real bondage as a result, but may not realize it. The bitterness may have become such a part of him that he just accepts it. This gets tricky, as the reader, even while in the character’s unrealizing POV, needs to be given just enough to know more about the character than the character knows himself. And if you manage to do that, it gets even trickier, because remember, we want the reader to like the guy, not think he’s an idiot. How to create the empathy in this scenario? Same answer as every other day. Bring in another one or two or three of the approaches.

The other, easier way to deal with #10 is for the character to know doggone well he’s burdened but simply feel unable to get out from under it.

I used both of these methods for #10 in the opening pages for two characters in Violet Dawn. Although it’s going to make this post a long one, I’d like to run both of them here to show you the difference.

A. Paige—mid twenties. Paige is burdened by her past, and she knows it. She’s downright haunted by it. This burden is shown from the very first line of Violet Dawn. Here are excerpts from the opening scene. Notice the blending in of approaches #4 (wishing for something universally understood) and #6 (thrust into grief). And, of course, after this excerpt, she faces #5—thrust into danger. (Oh, yes, the hot tub awaits.)
Paige Williams harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.

Sleep, that nurturing, blessed state of sub consciousness, eluded her again this night. Almost two a.m., and rather than slumbering bliss, old memories nibbled at her like ragged-toothed wraiths.

With a defeated sigh she rose from bed.

Wrapped in a large towel, she moved through the darkened house, bare feet faintly scuffing across worn wood floors. Out of her room and down a short hall, passing the second bedroom—barren and needing to be filled—and the one bathroom, into the small kitchen.

She unlocked the sliding glass door. Stepped outside onto the back deck. The grating rhythm of cicadas rose to greet her. Scents from the woods—an almost sweet earthiness—wafted on a slight breeze.

The dry Idaho air was still warm.

A large hot tub sunk into the left corner of the deck was her destination—a soothing womb of heat to coddle and comfort. There, looking out over the forested hills and Kanner Lake, Paige could feel sheltered from the world. The closest neighbor on either side was a good quarter mile away.

But first, captivated by the night, she padded to the edge of the deck’s top step and gazed up at the heavens.

A slivered moon hung askew, feeble and worn. Ice chip stars flung themselves in all directions. The Big Dipper tipped backward, pouring into Kanner Lake, which seemed to brood under the spangled sky. Across the sullen waters a few downtown lights resolutely twinkled.

Intense yearning welled so suddenly within Paige that she nearly staggered in its presence. She clutched the towel tighter around her body, swaddling herself. The universe was so vast, the world so small. A mere speck of dust, Earth churned and groaned in the spheres of infinity. Upon that speck, mothers and fathers, children and friends laughed and cried and celebrated one another. No bigger than dust mites they were, compared with the vastness of space. Their lives, their loves—insignificant.

So why did she long to be one of them?

Paige stared at the downtown lights across the water. In eight hours she would return there, among the families and the lovers. Surrounded by people who belonged. Separated from them by a mere two feet of counter space … and a chasm. Behind the Simple Pleasures counter on Main Street, she would sell gift items and pretty home accessories to tourists and local residents. Parents with tagging children, couples, and friends. Sometimes from the corner of her eye she would watch them shopping, especially the young women. Pointing out an oil lamp candle to a girlfriend, exclaiming together over a glitz-studded handbag. And something inside her would swell and ache like bruised skin. God knew she wanted a friend like that more than anything else in the world, someone as close as a sister—

Stop it, Paige.

She lowered her chin and gazed at her feet. Slowly she turned away from the lake and town.

B. Rachel, age 6. This is the reader’s introduction to Rachel. Now some of Rachel’s problems are obvious to Rachel. She’s abused (#3--treated unjustly) and thrust into danger (#5). But because of the abuse, Rachel wraps herself in a protective cocoon by pretending she doesn’t care. In the short term this helps her survive, and that survival is all she focuses on in this scene. But in the long term, this can be very destructive because it’s thrusting her anger and sense of injustice deep down inside her—and it’s bound to come out sooner or later. Plus even in the short term it doesn’t completely work. I wanted the reader to see all of this, even as Rachel does not. (After all, she’s only six.) And—although approach #3 is strong here—I wanted to end the scene with #10 being prominent.
She has spilled sugar on the floor.

Seven-year-old Rachel Brandt stares at the white mess. What’s she going to do? Her mommy’s down the hall asleep on her bed. It’s the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. She stayed up with those people all Friday night, laughing and drinking and sniffing white powder stuff up her nose. The noise kept Rachel awake. She cleaned up the messes from the party this morning, but she’s just hit the bag of sugar when she went to put way a plate and now the bag is on the floor, and sugar’s everywhere, and her mommy will be mad. Mommy will hit her for sure. And in three days, on February 24, it’s Rachel’s birthday. What if Mommy won’t buy her a present like she promised?

Well. So what?

Rachel shakes her head, making her long bangs bounce against her eyes. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. So what if Mommy hits her? It’s nothing new.

Rachel puts a hand on her hip, fingers sticking into her flesh. Maybe if she pushes them deep enough, she’ll make a little hole through her skin, right to her bones. And maybe that will hurt enough so if Mommy beats her, she can think about her hip and won’t feel the slaps as much.

She pushes her fingers in harder. Her hip begins to hurt. Too much. Rachel pulls her fingers away.

She stares at the spilled sugar. After a minute she puts the look on her face that her mommy calls “defiant.” She’s not sure what defiant means, but it must have something to do with her mouth feeling tight and her eyes getting slitty. Her muscles go hard, like to protect her body and her heart. Then suddenly all the hardness goes away, and she feels empty and cold and caring again. Caring that Mommy’s blue eyes will look at Rachel with hate, and her cheekbones will stick out even more, and she’ll hiss like a cat. Then she’ll raise her arm and start slapping …

Rachel bites her lip and looks at the sugar mess. She needs to fix this—quick.

Bending over, she yanks up the pink sugar bag. Plops it on the counter, far back from the edge. Then turns toward the sink and grabs the sponge. She wets it and gets down on her hands and knees, picking up sugar. When the sponge is full, she rinses it and pulls it across the floor again. She does this two more times.

She hears a sound from down the hall. A squeak from Mommy’s bed.

Rachel’s heart beats harder. There’s a lot of sugar to clean, and she better get it all. Stay asleep, Mommy, stay asleep. She works faster, her mouth open so she can breathe all the air she needs, because suddenly she’s feeling like she needs a lot.

More squeaks.

Rachel hears a bad word. Feet hitting bare floor.


Maybe her mommy will lie down again. Fall over on the bed like she does after she takes the drugs. Then Rachel will have time to clean up the mess, and Mommy will never know. Maybe she’ll even have time to do something else for Mommy, like throw away old food in the refrigerator and clean the stove …

A moan.

Uh-oh. Mommy has one of her “after party” headaches.

And the headaches make her mean.

Go, Rachel, go! She tries to work faster. But her eyes burn and the world goes blurry and she can’t see. The floor feels hard on her knees, and the smell of dirty sponge makes her feel kind of sick. Her breath comes in little puffs as she wipes the floor, shoves to her feet and rinses the sponge. Back down again. Clean more sugar … back on her feet to rinse … down again.

The feet are walking. Down the hall, toward the kitchen.

No, no, no.

Rachel starts to make noises in her throat—noises she doesn’t want to make but can’t help. Hearing them only makes her more scared. Because now she knows what’s going to happen, and she’s caring so very much that she can’t even find her defiant face. Her hand shakes, and she shoves the sponge back and forth, trying to find every little piece of sugar, knowing she’ll never get it all.

What are you doing?” Mommy spits the words.

Rachel’s skin goes burning cold, like when you put a wet finger on ice and can’t let go. She opens her mouth but can’t make a sound.

“Rachel! I’m talking to you!”

Rachel’s chest gets tight. She wants to keep her back toward Mommy to hide what she’s doing, but then she won’t know if a hand’s coming down …

She moves around on her knees, her fingers tight on the icky, smelly sponge. Mommy’s hands are at the sides of her head. Her T-shirt has a purple stain on it. Her white-blonde hair sticks out like straw, and her cheeks look gray. She makes a bad face at Rachel.

Rachel wishes she were small like an ant so she could run away. “I’m just cleaning the floor.”

Her mommy makes a noise like that dog did last year when it bit Rachel, and Mommy’s boyfriend with the ponytail laughed because Rachel cried so hard, and she vowed she’d never cry again. “Why’d you pour sugar on it?”

Rachel pulls back, her heart going real hard. “I–I didn’t pour it. It just spilled.”

“All by itself?”

“No, it—”

“Don’t lie to me, girl. Ever. You know what I have to do when you lie to me.”


“Nobody in this world loves you but your mommy.” She points a finger at Rachel, the red nail polish chipped mostly off. Her voice gets louder. “I won’t let you be a bad kid. I have to teach you right in this world.”

“I already—”

Mommy moves so fast, Rachel doesn’t have time to run. Her arm is yanked up—hard. Her head jerks back and her teeth hit together. Mommy pulls Rachel to her feet, the nails biting into her skin. Mommy’s arm goes back, her fingers spread.

The slaps come. They hurt. Rachel wants to cry but she won’t. She looks down inside herself, real deep, and pulls up her defiant face. The hard mouth and the slitty eyes. She will not cry.

Mommy hits again. And again. Pain rips at Rachel. But she doesn’t care. She doesn’t.

Not caring takes the hurt away.

Just a little.

See the difference between the two uses of #10? I should add that the age difference between these characters isn’t the only thing that makes for these variations. An adult can be just as clueless about an inner struggle as a kid.

Well, we did it! This wraps up our series, BGs. Hope it's helped. If you have follow-up questions, please leave them today.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Creating Character Empathy--Part 10

Today we’re looking at #9 on our list: the character is attempting to overcome some fear or make a change in life.

These are two challenges that just about any reader can identify with. We don’t like change, as a rule. And we certainly don’t like overcoming our fears. Overcoming them means facing them first. Yikes.

I can think of two immediate challenges with this approach.

First, we need to present the problem well enough so the reader understands what’s to be overcome and why it’s a negative issue for the character—without loading in a bunch of backstory. That’s not easy.

Second, sometimes this approach is more of an internal battle, rather than an action-based one. If a guy’s in an airplane, parachute on, forcing himself to jump in order to prove he can overcome his fear of heights—okay, that’s action enough. But more likely the character is making a decision on whether to walk out on a relationship, or being pulled in two directions due to conflicting desires. So how to make that kind of struggle compelling in the opening pages of our story?

Long Train Passing by Steven Wise manages to do this quite nicely. It’s a quiet scene—nothing more than a woman looking in the mirror at her own deformity. Yet it lets us know who she is, the fears she faces. Notice how the backstory is handled. The scene gives only hints of it, not stopping the current story, but using these hints to raise further questions in our minds--the best kind of backstory. (Reference previous postings on that subject in the topic archives.) See if this draws you into her character:
Annabelle Allen studied her mirror image carefully under the unforgiving seventy-five watt bulb in the ceiling fixture. “How true it is that a mirror never lies.” The words were a whisper in the room, and she listened to them as if someone else had spoken. In less than an hour, she would be a teacher. Four interminable years of squeezing the value out of every penny, four years of working two menial jobs while making good grades, four years of being more than she thought she could be. And now it had come to this. The twenty-seven sixth-grade pupils of her first class would stare at the image before her.

So Annabelle Allen stared at herself with all the intensity she could muster. She made her eyes dart furtively at every part of her body, the same way that the fifty-four all-seeing eyes would, the eyes that would miss nothing. Even in the two-inch heels of her new shoes, she stood only four feet, five inches tall; she would look most of her sixth-graders directly in the eye—a small rainbow in an otherwise dismal cloud, Annabelle judged. Her well-brushed brown hair was puffed over her brow in an effort to add to her height, but she had to be very careful; it was easily overdone.

The green of her eyes met the points of green in her mirror. If only they would concentrate on her eyes . . . then all would be well with her image. For Annabelle Allen’s eyes were emeralds of inner beauty, ever dancing with delight or curiosity, ever probing gently for little signs of love in others. No . . . oh no, God had not taken her eyes on that fateful night.

Her other features were plain . . . a face a bit too broad for the nose . . . cheekbones somehow too high . . . She had no visible neck . . . Her head appeared to rest squarely on her shoulders, some would even say in her shoulders. With arms and legs originally intended for a woman a foot taller, her compressed torso commanded the attention of every onlooker. Her neck was basically immobile; simple sideways glances required a proportionate movement of her shoulders.

And all of this from The Fall—an event so far removed in time that Annabelle often imagined that it had never happened. There were days when nothing mattered, save for the power of her mind . . . days with no onlookers or mirrors. Days of grace. Days, hours, even minutes, stolen from the reality of The Fall . . .

She reached up and smoothed the flat, white collar of her light green dress. Like all her clothing, it was a dress of her own handiwork . . . The stitching was a thing of beauty in itself, but Annabelle realized that only someone with her skill could appreciate its perfection. Certainly it would not impress any of her students, but this did not matter; she had not stitched the dress perfectly to impress anyone. It was simply the way that the task should have been performed. It was Annabelle's way, and had been for as long as she could remember.

Enough of this now, she thought to herself. Stand here long enough and the little four-letter horror called "pity" would creep in and take part of her. She huffed a short laugh at the silly thought . . . She turned from the mirror and straightened her shoudlers as she scanned the orderly space that enveloped her . . .

The tiny woman walked quietly, almost reverently, from the room and into another . . . she reached to the corner of the desk and found her Bible, resting it in her lap. The worn leather cover was soothing under her fingertips; back and forth they went, like a mother stroking the head of her child.

Annabelle Allen hoped to teach her students many things, some of which were much greater than the three Rs.

As with the other examples, this one mixes in more than one approach. Along with #9, I see bits of #2--particularly good at something, #3—hurt, and #8—unusual, due to her deformity. She also displays courage (#1) in facing her new students, knowing they’ll think she looks strange—because she does. And in the last line she shows caring (#7)for the students whom she hasn’t yet met. That's quite a lot of approaches mixed in there. Altogether, this opening scene makes me wonder how that first meeting with the school kids will go.

Read Part 11