Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Few Photos

Thanks, all, for your comments on the Care and Feeding of Editors posts. As for E1 and E2--they are the absolute best. It's a terrific blessing to have such a relationship with editors. We really did have a wonderful weekend together.

Jason asked yesterday in his comments how E1 and E2 were taking all the ribbing about being fed. Yeah, well, they know the truth. Every time they ate, so did I. They could no doubt write pretty similar posts about the Care and Feeding of Authors. Hm. That's a great idea. Maybe I can get one of them to guest blog some time . . .

Left to right: E1, Agent, me, E2. The side yard past my head is where we saw Little Black Bear.

Coeur d'Alene realtor Nancy Johnson and her husband, Randy, on their boat. We caught Nancy reading Violet Dawn.

Dratted Blogger. I wanted to have one more photo, and it won't let me load it. I never have figured out why some pictures will load and some won't, when they're all about the same size and kind of file. We had a photo of the whole gang outside Simple Pleasures at the launch party. Two of the SBGs (Scenes and Beans bloggers) were able to attend--Sherry Ramsey (plays Jakes) from Priest River, ID, and Kjersten Nickleby from the Seattle area (plays Wilbur).

Simple Pleasures is such a beautiful store. Visit their Web site to see a photo, although it can hardly do the real store justice. They feature only a mere fraction of their items for sale on the web, but some of those items are the candles featured in Violet Dawn.

Tomorrow--announcement of the F and F new project. It'll be a learning experience. We'll see which of you BGs will want to play.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Care and Feeding of Editors (and Agent) -- Part 3


Editors were obviously tired. They didn’t emerge from their bedrooms until past nine or so. We all sat on the deck lounge chairs, staring rather blankly at the lake. Drinking coffee. Well, E2 drank coffee. E1 drinks no coffee, ever. She does do Diet Coke in the morning. Such a strange habit. I thought only southerners were that crazy. Of course I didn’t let on. I just kept fetching the Diet Cokes.

16. Hide all surprise at the quirkiness of Editors’ habits. (They’re sure to have a few real doozies.)

Hubby started breakfast—bacon and eggs. Editors suddenly looked more alive.

17. Repeat #s 5, 8, 10, and 14.

We ate outside again, not getting up from the table until nearly 12:00. Meanwhile Agent was in town, meeting with another author. We awaited his call to tell us he was done and ready for a boat ride. When he phoned, I said we were ready to head for the boat. We’d be at the Resort docks to pick him up in about 15 minutes. First I insisted Editors cover themselves in sunscreen, especially since both of them said they burned easily. I also leant them a visor and a hat. And one needed a pair of running socks. Finally we were ready.

18. Protect Editors from the elements at all costs. They’ll be easier to live with.

Editors settled into the open bow of our Cobalt, ready to catch all the wind they could get. Turned out they’d wait awhile. We hadn’t even made it out of the bay when we noticed another boat full of people—paddling. Hubby turned our boat in their direction. “Do you need help?” I called. Only then did I recognize them as neighbors we’d just met—and who had come to the launch party.

“Yes, please!” They needed a tow across the bay to their dock. Their engine had flooded.

We threw them a line and latched their boat to ours. Began a slow tug across the bay.

That’s when I noticed Editors up front in the bow becoming very animated. I eased toward them to find out what was going on. They were talking a mile a minute. They’d decided the people we were towing were really killers, and this was all a set-up. “As soon as we get to the dock they’re going to draw guns on us.” E1's voice pulsed with drama.

“No, no!” E2 waved her hands. “What they really want is a way to get into the house. They’ll steal a key from us, and come in tonight when we’re all asleep…”

I listened awhile longer, then nodded. “Hey, sounds good, keep it up. I’ll get myself a story out of this yet.”

19. Allow Editors to exercise their full creativity in book plotting. It makes them feel resourceful.

I walked to the back of the boat and called across the water to our tuggees, telling them what Editors were plotting. “They say this is a set-up, and you’re gonna kill us all! Now they’re figuring out how you’re gonna do it!”

Once they were safely on a dock, the tuggees shook her heads at us all. “You people are strange.”

E2 got a gleam in her eye. “Imagine the things we think up when we’re with romance authors.”

We finally made it to the Resort docks, where Agent patiently waited. Had to explain our rescue of neighbors-turned-murderers. But all was well. As planned, we tied up at the dock to give Editors some time to peek into the shops on Sherman Ave. Hubby and Agent chose to stay on the boat.

E1 wanted local charms for her bracelet. E2 wanted flipflops and a visor. Both wanted—food. We stopped into a coffee shop and bought some sandwiches.

20. Repeat #s 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17.

Purchases made, we were back on the boat in an hour. Off to tootle around the river and lake. After an hour or so of boating, we headed to a shadowy bay. Numerous boats were tied up there. We saw a cruiser in the distance, with a woman sitting on a chair up on the bow, reading. Another round of animation for Editors--and Agent. “Hey, bet she’s reading your book, Brandilyn!” Hubby pulled close, thinking he recognized them as some other neighbors, who had also been at the launch party. (Notice how everyone in town went to this party?) Hubby called out, “Hey, whatcha reading?” The woman's head jerked up, and she grinned. Held up the book. “What else?”

In her hand, a copy of Violet Dawn.

Editors and Agent squealed with delight.

21. Make sure Editors have “random spots” of people reading your novel. It makes them feel like maybe the publishing house really will make money off the thing.

By the time we were done boating, we had about an hour before meeting for dinner. Editors were paying, on Zondervan’s dime. Let me just say that dinner was the most delicious thing we'd eaten all weekend.

Which leads to the most important rule of all:

22. Never turn down a free meal from your Editor.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Care and Feeding of Editors (and an Agent)--Part 2


Agent, who had flown in late the previous night and stayed in a Spokane hotel, was scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m., when meetings were supposed to start for the day. Keep in mind the Editors created this meeting schedule, complete with topics to cover and how much time spent on each.

9 a.m. Agent had arrived. (Note—no problem following the detailed directions to the house—without a navigator. I chose not to point this out to Editors.) Agent was sitting on back deck with Editors, chatting and gazing at the lake. Editors had experienced a slow rev-up that morning and had not yet eaten. Therefore, meetings could not possibly begin. Agent, self-contained that he is, said he was not a breakfast eater.

8. Repeat #5—Always feed your editors well. A full editor is a happy editor.

10 a.m. We ate breakfast at the outside table. (Agent couldn’t resist the fresh blueberries, and indulged.) No more bear sightings.

11 a.m. We were finally done eating, with computers and writing materials gathered, and ready to start our "9 a.m." meeting.

9. Allow editors to plan detailed meeting agendas. This makes them feel organized. Just don’t expect said agendas to be followed in any form.

We discussed issues for an hour or two. Agent still looked alert at this point. Editors were getting a little slumpy. Hubby brought out guacamole dip and chips. Editors perked right up.

10. Repeat #s 5 and 8.

We were supposed to be done with meetings around 1:00, having covered four to five agenda items. We finally finished at 4:00—only because we had to get ready for the launch party. We’d covered two major agenda items.

11. Repeat #9.

We dressed for the party and drove into town. The Simple Pleasures store looked great, with a huge display (including a three-by-four-foot poster of the book cover in its window), balloons in various colors of violet and purple, a beautifully decorated table for signing, etc. Marilyn Cooper, owner of the store, is a terrific decorator.

We had a good crowd, some people who knew me, many who didn’t. The Spirit Lake Chief of Police came—he’s been my wonderful helper for law enforcement issues in the Kanner Lake books. A town mayor showed up, as well as a newspaper reporter, a man who took many photos, and all manner of denizens and assorted folk.

Before the signing, I gave a short presentation. Introduced the VIPs in the crowd. Went to intro the Editors—and froze on E2’s last name. Totally gone from the ol’ pea brain. All I could think was—“Is that a dog?” Nothing to do but introduce E2 by first name only. Feeling like a real hack. Miss Manners would have my head.

Then--on to intro E1, whose last name I well knew. But how could I use it, when I hadn’t used E2’s? What inequity that would be. And let’s not forget E1 already had the lake view room. Imagine the enormous imbalance I was about to create.

I introduced E1 by first name only.

12. Always, always remember your editors’ names. Especially when they’ve flown across the country to attend your launch party.

After my presentation, the signing began. Numerous attendees bought multiple copies of Violet Dawn. And we got good photos and fodder for follow-up press releases. All in all, the party was successful and beautifully done (thanks to Marilyn). Well, beautifully done except for my intro faux pas. Editors—who were gracious enough to overlook my intro idiocy—and agent were highly pleased.

13. Make sure your launch party is successful enough to avoid embarrassment for Editors and Agent. Especially when they’ve flown across the country to attend.

By the way, the catered refreshments were great. E1 and E2 agreed that the thin, crisp-chewy chocolate chip cookies were to die for.

14. Repeat #s 5, 8, and 10.

Next up—Sunday. Our play day. Yeehaw!

15. Take Editors and Agent on an Adventure.

Read Part 3

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Care and Feeding of Editors--Part 1

I interrupt the “Why we stop reading” discussion to tell you about the weekend. ’Twas the Violet Dawn launch party on Saturday. And, due to that fact, ’twas also The Weekend The Editors and Agent Came To Visit. In light of this, I hereby offer you my humble advice on the care and feeding of editors.

1. Invite your editors for a weekend at your house on the lake. They’ll jump at the chance, seeing as how they don’t get out much.

Friday afternoon. Two Z editors drove up in their rental. To protect the innocent (or guilty--you decide), I shall call them E1 and E2. They were a bit late in arriving. Okay, make that more than a bit late. I gave absolutely explicit directions to the house (we’re talking down to tenth of a mile in where to make the next turn). They still got lost. Seems they “got to talking.” On the “turn right and go 6.3 miles, then turn left” leg of the journey from the airport, E2 (navigator) didn’t inform E1 (driver) of said mileage until they were already waaay down the road—well over the 6.3 miles. It’s a good thing they stopped yakking long enough to check, or they’d have ended up in Boise.

2. Send detailed instructions on how to find your house—but don’t expect the editors to follow them.

Anyway, they finally made it here. E1 had a suitcase as big as a U-Haul. Gave some lame excuse like her small one broke. I grabbed a bag in each hand and toted them inside.

3. Always carry editors’ suitcases.

Both of them exclaimed over the house and the view out across the lake, and how tough it was to leave their cubbyhole offices to come here, but somebody had to do it. E1 then “let it slip” that they’d flown Northwest, which was about to go on strike any minute, and drat it all, but they just might be stuck here for a while.

The whole suitcase thing was suddenly becoming clear.

4. Invite them for two nights, but be prepared for a week.

A good hostess first settles guests into their quarters. I put them in the second floor guest rooms. E1 begged E2 for the lake view vs. the forest view room. E2 graciously acquiesced. Okay, it was more like half graciously. The other half said, “But you owe me big time, and you’re gonna pay.”

After the settling in, they needed to be fed.

5. Always feed your editors well. A full editor is a happy editor.

Time to start our meetings. We had much to cover. We’d talk some that Friday, then do more meeting stuff all day Saturday when Agent joined us--until the evening launch party. We settled at the outside table on the big octagonal gazebo part of our deck. Started our discussion. Hadn’t been going at it very long when E2 blurted, “Is that a black dog?” I followed her gaze over to the edge of the grass, not very far away.

E1’s jaw dropped. “Nuh-uh. That’s a bear.”

Our neighborhood little black bear cub had chosen that moment to show himself. It was only the second time we’ve seen him. I’m convinced the local wildlife held a consortium and staged this event just for our guests. It worked. E2 had never seen a bear in her life. She could hardly believe she was seeing one stroll across the lawn.

E1 grabbed her camera, but Little Black Bear disappeared back into the forest. E1 was ready to chase it down for a photo shoot, but thought better of it. This had more than a little something to do with the crashing about of Mama Bear in the woods. She never came out on the lawn, but she certainly made her presence known. I suggested to E1 that chasing after Baby might not be the smartest move.

6. Do not allow your editors to endanger themselves or others.

E1 stayed put. Which means no photo of Little Black Bear. But E2 will swear on her grave that’s what we saw. It had better be, because she got ribbed all weekend. At anything that moved—“Hey, E2, is that a dog?”

7. Tease your editors often. It keeps them humble.

E1 and 2 hadn’t been here even two hours—and already they had a rare bear sighting. I figured it was the precursor to an interesting weekend.

I was right.

Read Part 2

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Poll--Results

Thanks to those of you who responded to yesterday’s poll. At the time of writing this post, we had 26 respondents. Here are the results, with a couple explanations:

1. Some gave more than one answer to a question, so answers won’t always tally to 26. (For example, numerous respondents said they quit reading both because of poor characters and boring plot.)

2. I’ll just give major results here rather than list every answer that received at least one vote.

What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel?

Poor characters—can’t connect with them, don’t care about them: 17

Lack of plot—boring/formulaic: 10

Poor writing—head hopping, bad dialogue, etc.: 4

About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading?

2-3 chapters: 7

30-50 pages: 3

50-80 pages: 4

half-way: 3

What percentage of novels do you choose not to finish?

0-5%: 13
5-10%: 3
33%: 3

What’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

Characters—like them, have to see what happens to them: 15

Good plot—hooks: 13

One interesting result to me—in question #1, poor characters outnumbered poor plot pretty significantly (17 to 10). Yet in question #4, caring about the characters and plot received almost equal answers (15 and 13, respectively), with numerous people noting that the two are hard to separate. When you think about it, this makes sense. As the book goes on, good plot and characterization do become harder to separate. But at the beginning, connecting with the characters clearly rules.

Thoughts on these results? Do they make you examine the beginning chapters of your work in progress any differently than before? We’ll pick this up next week.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why We Stop Reading--The Poll

Recently I’ve started to read a number of novels, then put them down after 80 pages or so—and didn’t pick them up again. A couple were secular authors whom I really like, but for whatever reason, these particular stories didn’t grab me.

So I got to thinkin’ . . . Why exactly did I put these books down? And what can I learn as an author from this?

All you writers our there, you’re readers, too. (At least, you’d better be.) So let’s see what we can learn together as writers from our reading habits. Please take a moment to answer these poll questions—the more who answer, the better. Answers can be short. If you want to elaborate, that’s fine too. I’ll tabulate the results, and we’ll take the discussion from there. (By the way, if you answer through “anonymous” or initials only, please note if you’re male or female.)

1. What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel? Be as specific as possible.

2. About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading?

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Camping in Glacier National Park

Keep in mind I do NOT camp.

The scenery was simply spectacular. It only takes 4-5 hours to reach Glacier from Coeur d’Alene, depending on whether you take the scenic route or not. Actually, Freeway 90 going east is beautiful itself, but we went north, then took Highway 2 out of Sandpoint.

We were gone two nights. First night—spent at the Lake McDonald Lodge, on the west end of the park. Second night—Many Glacier Hotel on the east end. So why did I mention camping in the header? Let’s take the Lake McDonald Lodge…

1. The beds were old, hard and most uncomfortable (gimme my Select Comfort!)
2. A little bottle of detergent shampoo was provided, but no conditioner.
3. A sink the size of a postage stamp. I’m not kidding. You wash your face, your feet get wet.
4. A shower not much bigger than the sink.
5. No cell phone service.
6. No Internet service.
7. No hair dryer.

Yes, the setting is gorgeous. Beautiful lake, mountains, trees. And yes, I know it’s a historical place. Built around 1930.

I think the mattresses were bought that year, too.

Did I mention no hair dryer?

Traversing the park (the part that’s road traversable anyway) is the Road to the Sun, stretching 50 miles. We did the west-to-east trek on Monday, headed away from Lake McDonald Lodge (and sore backs) and toward the Many Glacier Hotel. You have to leave the park, drive north a little ways and head back into the park to reach Many Glacier. What a beautiful setting! Lovely lake. We took a walk around it through the woods on a beautiful path—2.6 miles. Oh, and in the morning, near Lake McDonald (as we got the kinks out of our backs) we ran the Avalanche Lake trail. It was just four miles round trip, but climbed quite a bit. At the top is a pretty little lake with waterfalls in the distance.

At any rate, back to the camping part. Actually, Many Glacier Hotel was better. Well, the beds were as bad. No conditioner, no hair dryer, no cell phone service, no Internet. However, the sink and shower were both bigger.

(Guess what--I discovered I could ask for a hair dryer at the front desk at both hotels--and they gave me one to use! Hot diggedy. Man, that was a close call.)

Coming back on Tuesday, we took the Road to the Sun doing the east-to-west trek. This way was a little easier on the ol’ ticker. I don’t like heights, see. And part of that road you’re hanging off a cliff. Going west to east, you’re on the cliff side far more of the time. I oohed and aahed at the glacier mountains and all the scenery while hugging the car console. Could actually sit up straight on the east-to-west trek.

The scenery brought to mind the beginning of Psalm 19 many a time:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God,
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
Night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are their words,
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out to all the world,
And their utterance to the ends of the earth.

Yup. Who needs words when all creation shouts God’s glory?

I loved the scenery. Loved the hiking and jogging through forest. The lakes, trees, mountains, wildlife. We got some dynamite pictures. Yes, we had a splendid time.

I just don’t do camping very well.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Melanie Blogs

While I am traveling today, we have guest blogger Melanie Wells, author of When the Day of Evil Comes and Soul Hunter. Take it away, Melanie . . .

Alright – the heat. Let’s talk about the heat. Let’s talk about heat and writing. Many great writers have written while it’s hot. Hemingway had a thing for tropical weather. Eudora Welty lived in Jackson, Mississippi. I don’t need to add anything to that, do I? In fact, all the great southern writers, at least the ones who were writing before about 1960, probably did it without air conditioning. (I will refrain from discussing typewriters vs. computers – that’s for another day. But Eudora Welty used to cut her stories into strips and tape them all over her house to restructure the manuscript. Let’s all bow our heads and thank Jesus for computers.)

* Pause here for a moment of silence *

Okay - I live in the south, and may I just say, it’s hot here? It was 104 degrees today. So I got in my car today, and this little plastic thingy had actually melted off the dashboard. That’s how hot it was in Dallas today. Will somebody please tell me what this is about? Is Al Gore right? (He is, I think – have you seen his charts?)

Whether he is or isn’t, I’ve been thinking that heat should produce great writing. Great writers – or at least writers who aspire to be great – use the heat to bake an idea. Adversity breeds creativity. There’s something moving about sitting at the keyboard, t-shirt a little damp, hair up off your neck, glasses on, pounding away. It’s like boxing. Those guys are always sweating. You look at them and you KNOW they’re working hard.

Heat should be in great writing. Raise your hand if you sweated through every page of Heart of Darkness. My characters sweat. I like to make them sweat. If you don’t let them sweat, you’re protecting them too much and no one will care what happens to them.

It’s sort of a Zen thing, really. BE the heat. Be one with the heat and maybe you can use it to bake you. Or bake your story. Or bake your characters. Or melt that little thingy off your dashboard. When I walk out into the oven that is my parking lot at work and smell the pollution and feel my ozone headache begin to throb behind my eyes, I try to think about translating that feeling, that horrid, sweltering moment, into fiction. Slapping it down on the page and helping my readers smell the pollution too.

If nothing else, writers should be great observers. To feel the heat is to measure its effect on you and on the world around you. And then to share the sweat. It’s one thing we all have in common.

God likes to turn up the heat on us, too. He uses the heat to make us sweat. And then He wipes the sweat from our brows and hands us a fan and says “get used to it.”

At any rate, I’m tired of the heat. I’ve gotten everything out of it I care to.

I’m ready to smell the rain.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Follow up to Friday's Post and Other Stuff

Lots of continued discussion last Friday on the endorsement issue. I wanted to make sure everyone saw Sue Brower's response to part one of the discussion on Thursday. Sue is acquiring editor for fiction at Zondervan. She said:

1) I don't require endorsements in the proposal.

2) I think the only good endorsement is one from an author who is one of the top five in the sub-genre you are publishing in.

3) I do want to know if you have any contacts with said top five authors.

4) Endorsements are highly overrated. Author name, cover, [back cover] copy, and "friend and family" recommendation come up more often as motivators for purchasing a new book.

In other news:

I am traveling for a few days, so to help out, tomorrow we will have a guest blogger--Melanie Wells. She shall write whatever she pleases.

Melanie is a suspense author published by Multnomah. Her first two novels are When the Day of Evil Comes and Soul Hunter. Freaky demon stuff.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Endorsements--Part 2 (In which I tell it like it is)

Good discussion yesterday. Thanks, commenters. It was interesting to see the different viewpoints.

There’s a big issue with endorsing that I saved for part 2, because it deserves a post all its own. Cindy T. brought it up yesterday, echoed by Randy M. This is the subject of publishers (and sometimes agents) requiring authors to submit names of potential endorsers with their proposals. Yes, proposals.

To use my favorite mixed metaphor, this is putting the cart before the egg.

I don’t know how this got started. Any editor/agent out there want to enlighten me? I do know that according to the word on the street, leaving this section blank on the submission form is a big mark against the author. Supposedly it’s a major help to get your book published if you can list a bunch of recognized potential endorsers. Agents who require this refer the issue to the publishers—“they’re insisting on endorsements right up front, so before I take on an author/book to try to sell, I need to get those endorsements in place!”

This policy drives me crazy. And I know for a fact I’m in good company with other pubbed authors.

Publishers—it’s up to you to stop this madness!

Let me put this in perspective for anyone who might not fully get the picture. Authors with recognized names are being asked to endorse not just by other authors whose books have been contracted by a publishing house. We’re being asked to endorse by every new author who is requested to submit a proposal to a publishing house or agency who passes on this policy.

Do you see why I get a lot of endorsement requests?

If I may state my case here—I don’t see this system working very well.

1. The sheer volume of requests for endorsements is forcing authors with recognizable names to put “just say no” policies in place.

2. The poor new authors who are turning in these proposals do not want to ask pubbed authors for these endorsements. I feel very sorry for them to be put in such a position. The emails I receive are always apologetic, realizing I’m busy, etc., etc., but the person must fill out this form that requires endorsers, so would I be willing to read the book for possible endorsement if it’s bought? I can hear the fear and trembling in their voices as they ask. They really feel put in a bind. I think this is unfair. I have to ask . . .

3. Between a new author and a publishing house, who has more ties to published authors with recognizable names? So why has the task of landing endorsers been placed on the newbie’s shoulders? It’s far better placed on the shoulders of the house’s marketing department.

Yesterday I mentioned that when Zondervan bought Eyes of Elisha, we had two endorsers. Z bought my novel because they liked it, not because I furnished any would-be endorsers’ names. Once Z bought it, the house set about finding endorsers. The two that endorsed it were in Z’s own stable of authors, and in my genre. James Scott Bell and Terri Blackstock were respected suspense names, and therefore were right for the marketing of Eyes of Elisha. Which leads me to my next point . . .

4. When a new author is forced to come up with names, he/she doesn’t always think in terms of what names would be best for the genre of story. Said “freaked out” author (as Randy put it yesterday) turns to whatever pubbed author he/she has the most ties to and is the least likely to bite his/her head off for asking. Therefore (to answer my own question from yesterday) you end up with new authors asking for endorsements from just about anybody, regardless of the potential endorser’s genre. In addition . . .

5. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a recognized author is going to say no to such a request. Even if I had all the time in the world to endorse and would do so for any genre, I’d still say no to these requests. Reason—I don’t know the author’s work. I have nothing to go on to tell me I’m going to like the book so well that I’ll be willing to put my name on it. And, given my encouraging nature, if I said “yes” to reading the book for “possible” endorsement, I’d be committed to endorse. Because there’s no way I’m going to read a book and then tell that author the story’s not good enough. That’s a devastating thing for a new author to hear. I know all new novelists are in for some hard knocks (watch out for those reviews!), but danged if I’m going to add to ’em. I know I’m not alone in this. There are just a lot of tender hearts in our industry. (Which is why we don’t see many hard reviews, either, but that’s a topic for another day.) Also, let’s not forget . . .

6. A manuscript will gain a lot of credibility after it’s bought by a publishing house. Scores of new authors, thanks to meeting editors and agents at writers conferences, etc., are asked to submit proposals. But few of those are actually contracted by a house. So doesn’t it make sense that a manuscript is more likely to hear a “yes” to endorsing after the manuscript is bought?

As a result of all this mess . . .

7. The new author is going to hear “no” from the authors whose names might really make a difference on the book, and will hear “yes” from those pubbed authors who are new themselves. Who may have one or two books published and may not have established a large readership yet, and may think (wrongly, in my opinion) that endorsing someone else’s book is a good way of marketing his/her own name.

So, where does this leave us? (A) New author submits proposal with less than stellar names for possible endorsers. (B) Which the publishing house may or may not use. (C) Meanwhile those authors whose names are more recognized are enervated by the whole state of affairs and are vowing to stop endorsing all together just to keep their sanity. (D) Nobody wins.

No doubt there are exceptions. X author just happens to come up with a magnificent endorser name who’s ready to sign on the dotted line—before the book’s even sold. But I do think this is the anomaly, and meanwhile the industry in general is being hurt by this whole backwards process.

Here’s what suggest, publishers, as I do believe the buck stops with you. On your forms, instead of saying “List possible endorsers . . .” how about saying something along these lines: “If your novel is bought, our marketing department will use its resources to find the best endorsers for your book. However, if you happen to know someone who’s already agreed to endorse your work, please include that name here.” And then, publishers, belly up to the bar and find the endorsers for your contracted novels.

Okay, I’ve had my rant. I'm now putting up my shield to duck the publishers’ tomatoes. As for you authors, pubbed and unpubbed, if you agree with me (and I know you’re out there), here’s your chance to add your voice to the fray.

Read Part 3

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Take On Endorsements

I’ve never really gotten this endorsement thing.

I’m not convinced how useful they are. My first book with Zondervan, Eyes of Elisha, had two endorsements by suspense authors who had “gone before me.” James Scott Bell and Terri Blackstock. After that, we’ve never bothered with endorsements again. Am I hurting sales because of this lack? Don’t think so.

Here’s why.

1. The CBA novelist world isn’t all that big. Especially when you’re talking about novelists who’ve been around long enough to be “recognized.” So I notice that the same endorsement names keep popping up again and again. I think this is not good. I think an endorser loses credibility by over-endorsing.

Now, I don’t mean credibility in terms of not being believed as honest. I mean simply that the endorser’s name loses that “oomph” power. How much weight can an author’s name carry if he/she endorses three, four, five, or more novels a year?

2. Authors evidently don’t think it’s important that endorsers stick to their own genres. I disagree. I can’t understand why new authors of historicals, cozy mysteries, romance and the like ask me to endorse their books. Why should my name have any weight in genres in which I do not work and have not built a reputation? By the same token, I can’t understand why, for example, a known historical author would agree to put her/his name on a suspense.

Bottom line, I think our industry treats endorsements too lightly. The result is that they’ve become less than meaningful.

No doubt I’m coming at this issue from my eyes-always-on-marketing viewpoint. And believe me, I’ve come to my opinions through learning from my mistakes. But to my way of thinking, my name as an author is all I have. My name stands for my brand, my reputation. I have to protect my name with my readers at all costs. After all, I've worked years to build what name I have. So I am not going to put my name on another’s book lightly. To me, my name on someone’s book means, “Readers who know my name and what I write—if you like my kind of story, I suggest you read this book also, because I believe you will like it as well.”

I am asked to endorse books a lot. Truth is, I can rarely endorse any these days due to my own writing schedule. This reality in itself keeps my name from being overused. And if I do make that rare exception, it is only for books in my genre.

For my own novels, the only endorsements I’d seek would be from suspense novelists with readerships much larger than mine, and who rarely endorse. Again, this is the kind of name that pulls weight with me. I’d be crazy not to be giddy over an endorsement from Koontz or King or Patterson or Clark.

So how about you, BGs? Am I the only one of these opinions? When you see those long lists of endorsers in the front of a book, does that prompt you to buy the novel? When you see a name used again and again, does that name lose the oomph factor with you?

Read Part 2

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Keep Me in Suspense

Happy Wednesday, BGs.

Today I'm informed I'm over at the Keep Me in Suspense blog. Some time ago Wanda Dyson, contributor to that blog, sent me some questions, and I sent her back some answers. No doubt said answers are stunningly entertaining. Problem is, I have absolutely no recollection of a single question that was asked, much less how I responded. So if you're looking for a hook here . . . you'll have to go fishing.

Click on over to Keep Me in Suspense with me, and we'll find out together just what the heck I said.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Grammar Shock

Pardon me while I rant.

This subject-turned-direct-object thing is really getting old. A good 90% of the population now spouts such nonsense as “That’s for he and I.”

I have no idea who started this idiocy, but I do have distinct memories of beginning to hear it. Somehow it caught on more and more until today people do things for subjects regardless of their level of education or socio-economic status. People with college degrees, masters and even doctorates have fallen prey to the For Subject Syndrome. Professionals as well as blue collar workers have been hit. The For Subject Syndrome has so permeated our society that even writers, professional speakers, and preachers are among the victims.

You tell a teenager, “No, say ‘it’s for him and me’”—and the kid will look at you like you’re crazy. That’s because this highly contagious Syndrome has been around since these kids started talking. They don’t know life without its affliction.

The funny thing is, the For Subject Syndrome is selective. You don’t hear people say, “That one’s for I.” As long as the direct object is single, you’ll hear the proper “me” or “her,” etc. But when the direct object doubles, watch out. The Syndrome kicks in.

How can we stop the madness? Is there no inoculation for this insidious disease?

I hereby proclaim a new national organization to fight this monstrous plague—KUDOS. Keep Utilizing Direct Objects Society. Members have but one decree—to wipe the For Subject Syndrome off the planet. Every time you spot an FSS in writing—point it out, and earn KUDOS. Every time you hear an FSS spoken—shake your finger at the speaker and earn KUDOS.

Who will join me in this worthy organization? KUDOS members, unite!

State your intent to join, then document
a recent occurrence of FSS—and start earning your KUDOS today. Together we can restore our world.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cast a Long Shadow

Wireless is down at our house (agh!), so I’ve had to run to town to post this quickly. Hope it’s back up tomorrow for a regular post.

As a conclusion to my mother’s story on Friday, I want to tell you about her book, Cast a Long Shadow. (Kristy mentioned it in her comment last Friday.) Cast a Long Shadow follows three generations in my mother’s family—her grandmother, her mother and Mom. These aren’t just sweet little stories. These women had some real drama in their lives.

Julia (grandmother), raped repeatedly as a young teenager and pregnant by her attacker (her employer).

Pearl (mother), widowed at an early age with a small child.

Ruth (my mom), born into a poor coal miner’s family in southern Illinois—and ending up halfway around the world fighting cobras and jungle cats in India.

Copies of the book can be bought from Ruth Seamands at $10, plus postage. Please
email her directly.

Mom’s other books, Missionary Mama and House by the Bo Tree, about her life in India, are now out of print. Some great stories in those books. Mom has put some of them in her section of Cast a Long Shadow. Mom has a wonderful sense of humor, and through all the difficulties in India, it surfaces and pulls her through.

Many of you have met Mom at the ACFW conference. She remains the doyenne of the organization. (She turns 90 this year!) She will be at the conference again. If you’re going for the first time, make sure you meet Mom. She’s one who never saw a stranger, and absolutely is wonderful to talk to.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Seeds of Faith--Part 2

. . . "I know where you can find Gunboat Jack!"

In excitement, J.T.’s eyes widened so much that his eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. "WHERE?"

"He sits in a big old leather rocking chair on a street in downtown Bangalore! He keeps a big Bible in his lap. Everybody who stops to talk to him gets to hear a Bible verse and his testimony. He’s there every day except in the monsoons."

J.T. heaved a great sigh. "This, I’ve got to see."

"Me, too," I said.

We loaded ourselves into our jeep, followed directions, and there he was. Gunboat Jack! Fifteen years after J.T. had met him on the train. Now he was big, old and grizzled, creases from a hard life lined his face. His once black curly hair glistened white. His back hunched under not-very-clean clothes. A large and well-used Bible lay open in his lap.

We climbed out of the car and stood beside him—he had not seen us approach. J.T. leaned down close to his ear and said, "Mighty tough opponent you got there, Brothah!"

Something must have clicked in Gunboat’s mind. He jerked around in his chair, peered up at J.T. and his black face shown. "YOU! You’re that red-headed American I said that to on a train one day."

They grabbed each others’ hands then hugged shoulders. I don’t know which man was the most elated. J.T. asked, "What happened after that train ride, Gunboat? How’d you end up sitting here on the sidewalk?"

"I ended up here because this is where I can talk about Jesus the best. I got a room nearby, but everyday when I can, I come here. Lots of people pass by and talk to me. I tell ’em about Jesus, my great Manager." He pulled a dingy handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his eyes. His hands shook. "But that didn’t happen for quite a while."

J.T. and I perched on a big wooden box sitting beside Gunboat’s chair. I assumed it was where his visitors always sat.

"After I met you, Brothah, I got so I couldn’t get any good fights, and the devil had me on the ropes. One day I was lying on a bed in a hovel and I suddenly remembered what you said, ‘Make Jesus your Manager!’ I had no money and no food. The New Testament you gave me was ’bout the only thing I had left. So I sat up on that dirty bed and started to read it. Then I prayed, 'Lord Jesus, I ain’t got nothin’ left, but I’m askin’ you to help me. Forgive me and come in and be my Manager. Help me to fight the devil, ’cause he has me out for the count all the time.' Then I felt warm all over and went to sleep. When I woke up I was happy. I went out and told my story to some man and he bought me a plate of curry and chapatties. Sometimes I got work, but I always told people about Jesus.

"I been doin’ that sittin’ in this chair for a long time now. I don’t walk good any more. But I praise God all the time and people pray and make God their Manager."

When he finished, I said, "Next Thursday is Thanksgiving day. We have invited all the Americans we know around here for dinner at our house, and we are going to celebrate Christmas, too. We can’t get together on Christmas. Now, I am also inviting you since you are American. Would you come? I’ve even got turkey. We will have Christmas right along with our Thanksgiving."

Tears rolled down through the furrows in his face. "Misses J.T., I shore would like to come and eat American Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner again ’fore I die and leave my big chair all empty. Thank you."

Thanksgiving day, J.T. brought Gunboat Jack in the jeep to our house. He had cleaned himself up and graciously met all the other Americans crowded there. J.T. introduced him by saying, "Folks, I’d like you to hear Gunboat Jack’s story. It will make your heart sing."

Gunboat insisted on standing and leaned against a chair. "Friends, I was born in America, but when I was young and winning boxing bouts, I decided to come to India. Because I was Black, it was hard to get fights in U.S.A., and thought it might be easier in India. When Mista J.T. was a boy here in Baldwin’s, I was getting my name in the papers because I was winning fights. Course, I didn’t know him then. All the years he went back home to get his schooling, I won lots of fights. But in the ring of life, the devil had me licked. I got to drinking, had too many women, and good times. At least I thought they were good times. But my fighting got poorly, and I lost my manager.

"In 1943 I was traveling to Madras, and got into the same compartment that Mista J.T. was in. Just the two of us. I know God put me in that compartment—I could’ve been in any other place in the train. Well, Mista J.T.’s got red hair and spunk. We got to talking, and he could see I was a lost and desperate soul. He told me I needed to make Jesus my Manager and read God’s Rule Book and follow it. Before we got to Madras, he gave me a New Testament. I put it in my bag and didn’t pay attention to it." Gunboat tugged a clean handkerchief from his coat pocket, blew his nose and wiped his eyes. Then he looked over the room full of faces, his own face stern.. "Any of you ever been altogether down and out? No money, no food, no hope? Lying on a filthy bed and wanting to die?

"I was there. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Read my Rule Book!’

"I’m so glad I didn’t lose it. I sat on that stinky bed and read a long time. Then I prayed and told God I had nothing at all–which He already knew about. Then I asked Him to forgive me for my meanness and to come in and be my Manager. He filled my heart with peace.

"Managers tell you what to do. And my new Manager told me to read some Scripture and tell my story to anybody who’d listen, I got me a big old wooden box and sat on the sidewalk and started minding God. I talked to everybody. Some listened—some didn’t. One day a man come along and said, ‘Gunboat, I been watching you. You’re getting old and you need a good chair. I’m gonna bring you one tomorrow.’

"Next day he brought me that big expensive chair I been sitting in for several years now. He told the policemen to let me alone and don’t make me leave because I was good for Bangalore. I don’t know who he is, and didn’t ask, but policemen listen to him. Every night some boys help me move my chair into my room, and then help me move it out again the next morning. Only a monsoon rain keeps me inside. And that chair’ll be empty only when God takes me home to Heaven.

"Now folks, if you haven’t made Jesus your Manager, this is the time to do it. Thank you for listening to me. Now Lord, . . ."

That’s what happened in India. Our 1958 Thanksgiving and Christmas prayer ascended to Heaven from a sinner-turned-saint. Glory-bound Gunboat Jack.

A happy, old, wizened, American Black Boxer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Seeds of Faith--Part 1

A true story, written by my mother, Ruth Childers Seamands. She and my dad, J.T. Seamands, were missionaries to India for 20 years.

Soot, smoke, and cinders floated down on the heads of passengers as they boarded the Madras Express. The long, roaring engine hissed and puffed as if to say, "Time’s wasting. Let’s go!"

J.T. climbed into the second-class coach and heaved his luggage up into the top bunk. The train shuddered and jerked, wheels began to slowly turn, and one other passenger practically fell into the coach beside J.T. A muscular black man. He pulled a towel out of his shoulder bag, wiped his hair, his face, and flipped the towel around his legs. "Didn’t think I’d ever make this train. The poor old horse pulling my carriage was half dead on his feet." He plopped into his seat and heaved a great sigh.

"I just got in, too. I came in a jutka which swayed all over the road." J.T. opened his bag, took out a water bottle and offered his traveling companion a drink. Everybody carries their own water and tin cups on trains in India. The man held his cup while J.T. filled it, and they both drank.

Settling down, they watched Bangalore pass by their windows. J.T. looked at him. "Do I know you? Seems like I’ve seen you before. We don’t often see American black men in India. You ARE American, aren’t you??

"I shore am, and proud of it, too. You’re a red-headed American?"

"Yes, I am. My name is J.T. Seamands. What’s your name?"

"My name is Gunboat Jack and I’m a fighter. A boxer. I’m a middle-weight, but I fight good."

"Oh yes! Now I know. I’ve heard about all your bouts and your wins for a long time." J.T. reached over and shook hands with him. So happy to meet you, Gunboat Jack."

"Mistah J.T. , what are you doin’ out here in India?"

J.T. grinned. "Oh, I’m a fighter, too!"

Gunboat looked skinny J.T. up and down. "Well, now, it don’t seem to me like you’re much of a fighter. Who do you fight?"

"I’ll tell you, Gunboat. I’m a missionary and I fight the devil."

Gunboat considered that answer for a time, then nodded. "Mighty tough opponent you got there, Brothah."

J.T. laughed, his deep bass voice filling the small compartment. "Yes, he’s tough all right. But God is on my side and I’m on His side, so we give the devil a run for his money."

Bangalore was left behind and now glimpses of villages with low mud huts, bullock carts, and sometimes tea stalls flashed by. Smoke floated out from inside the houses. J.T. knew village people well, and at this time of day the smoke was from charcoal fires on the floor with women baking chappaties (bread) on flat tin pans. The savor of chappaties made J.T.’s stomach growl. He loved them. "Gunboat Jack, how’re you doing these days? You haven’t been fighting much lately, have you?" J.T. studied the heavy profile as Gunboat stared out the window.

"Naaaw—I been slowin’ down."

" I know you win bouts in the ring, but how’re you doing in the ring of life" Are you winning there, too?"

Gunboat’s jaw clinched and his lips moved, but he was quiet for a while . "I’ll tell you, Mista J.T., I’m not doin’ too well in the ring of life. I get knocked out a lot. Oh, I know my trouble—I like three things too much. I like drinkin,’ I like women, and I like music. I go fightin’ and win, and get paid good money. Then I want to play, and ’fore long my money’s gone and I’m sleepin’ it off in a place I don’t know. Then for a while I can’t get a fight and need money. Sometimes I don’t eat."

He peered at J.T. with tears in his eyes. "You’re a preacher?"

J.T. nodded.

"Maybe you’re fightin’ the devil and winnin’ but I’m not. The devil kicks me around all the time and I don’t know what to do."

J.T. prayed a swift prayer in his heart. Lord, help me to say the right thing right now. Then it came. "Gunboat Jack, you got a manager?"

"I did have a good manager, but he got mad at me and left. I don’t blame him none, either."

J.T. took another gulp of water. "What you have to do if you ever want to win in this battle of life, IS: you have to make God your Manager! You have to follow His rules. You used to follow your manager’s rules and you won fights. Now, you ought to read God’s Rule Book, the Bible. I have an extra New Testament I want to give you. Read it, pray and ask God to be your Manager." He put the Book into two mighty hands. "We’re nearly to Madras. I promise I will pray for you, Gunboat Jack, and I hope we meet again sometime."

Gunboat stuffed the New Testament into his bag, they parted at the Madras station, and each went his way.

Fifteen years later, J.T. was preaching in our church in Bangalore one Sunday morning. His sermon that day was to encourage the congregation to witness for Christ in ordinary conversation. And the best way to do it was to talk about things that the other person was interested in and understood.

As an illustration, J.T. told about his meeting with Gunboat Jack long ago. He said, "When I was a boy in Baldwin School here in Bangalore, I took boxing lessons. And I used to read about Gunboat Jack in the newspaper. Then I went to America for college and seminary and came back to India in 1941. I had not heard anything about Gunboat for many years. One day in 1943, We happened to ride in the same compartment on a train to Madras. I had always wanted to meet him, and that day when I did meet him, I realized he needed God in his life. The Lord helped me to remember the lingo of boxing that day—about the ring, the knockouts, the manager. I never saw Gunboat Jack again but I have often prayed for him and wished I could know how he is getting along."

After the service, I was standing with J.T. at the door, when one of our parishioners on his way out, said, "I know where you can find Gunboat Jack!"

Read Part 2

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Comment From Yesterday

In yesterday’s comments, Becky (who often manages to say the most provocative things) noted this:

I guess I'm destined to be the fly in the ointment. I thought he said wonderful things about your writing, Brandilyn, but I would have had a disappointing reaction to his ability to look past the God references. So I want to know, how did you react to those lines in the review?

I was intrigued by the question because it had never entered my mind in the slightest to be bothered by those lines. For two reasons.

1. Violet Dawn is not heavy with Christian content. It’s probably my “lightest” novel regarding a spiritual thread. The story just didn’t drive a heavier spiritual thread—and I don’t ever want to force such a thing. The protagonist is not a Christian and knows little of God. And the whole main action takes place in only about 14 hours. Not long enough for the protagonist to have a believable heavy character arc (especially given all that’s going on) toward Christ. In this type of story all I can do is lead the character from point A to point B. To make her realize that maybe there’s something to this God that she needs to look into.

So when I read those “look past God references” lines, I just figured it’s because there aren’t as many of them to begin with. Contrast this novel with, say, Dead of Night—probably the heaviest of my novels regarding Christian content. I don’t know that this Violet Dawn reviewer could have gotten through Dead of Night. That story drove a strong Christian thread about how God uses the prayers of His people to fight evil. Someone who really chooses to believe God doesn’t work in that way, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all, would find it difficult to enjoy that book, I think.

I heard an interesting remark from someone who’s read Violet Dawn and my other novels. She said she liked Violet Dawn better because it had less spiritual content—a content that seemed normal--while in all my other novels, that content was “forced.” I was fascinated with that viewpoint, since I so completely disagree with it. But that reader was coming at my books from her own experiences (all readers bring their unique set of experiences to a book, which is why reading is so subjective). She’s outside of the church and hasn’t been in a long day-to-day walk with Christ. So to her, to read a book like Dead of Night, in which God urges a Christian to drop everything and pray against evil—she just couldn’t get that. It’s out of her experience, so to her, such a scene is “forced.”

Admittedly my insistence on allowing the amount of Christian content to grow from the story makes for a wide variance as to amount of spiritual thread from one novel to the next. But I really think that natural growth from plot is the way to go. The second book in the Kanner Lake series, Coral Moon, has much more Christian content in it. It has to, given the strange bent that story ended up taking. So maybe some readers such as this reviewer who liked Violet Dawn may not like Coral Moon at all. May even get ticked off at it. May figure it’s too much “God stuff” to wade through.

Which leads me to reason #2—the stronger of the two reasons, in my mind.

2. People overlook what they want to overlook all the time. We humans can stare truth in the face and deny it. So in the end, whether a novel has lots of Christian content or little, if a person insists on reading past the “God references” because he/she absolutely has decided not to believe, I’m not going to be able to change that.

Bottom line, what I found most impressive about this review of Violet Dawn--regardless of whether the guy liked the novel or not--is that he took the time to read my Web site, including my story of healing, clearly saw from all that’s written there that I would approach this novel with a Christian worldview that he does not share, and yet still read the book with an open mind as to the suspense story itself.

How about you, BGs? If you had such an “overlook” line in a review of your novel, would it bother you?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Review of Violet Dawn

I really don't like reviews much. They're such downers in general. A reviewer can say basically good things about my book and point out one bad thing--and it's the bad line that'll stick with me most. I know I'm not alone in this; I think it's a universal author thing.

Truth is--reviews are so subjective. They reflect one person's opinion, that's all. Some will agree with that person; some won't. Or they may agree with certain points but not others. Bottom line, I think in every novel there's going to be strengths and weaknesses. I just don't want to have any weaknesses in mine. They're all supposed to be perfect, dontcha know.

In my next life.

Anyway, my publicist alerted me to this review. I pass it on to you because I found it interesting, coming from the perspective of a nonChristian. [Besides, it's positive, and that ain't a bad thing either.] It came from, and was written by Alan Paul Curtis. I thank Mr. Curtis for taking the time to read and review Violet Dawn, particularly since he doesn't usually chose to read Christian novels.

Violet Dawn is the first book of the Kanner Lake series by Brandilyn Collins. Ms. Collins has also written at least three other series – Hidden Faces, Bradleyville, and Chelsea Adams books. Brandilyn Collins has chosen to write for Zondervan - the Christian division of Harper Collins - due to a sudden release from a debilitating case of Lyme disease. She attributes disappearance of the symptoms to prayer and God's power. Whatever beliefs you have in any power stronger than human, and if you are spiritual rather than Christian, you may ignore her references to Christianity. Ms. Collins still writes a scary, beautiful book, with characters and plot twists to enthrall – and you can pass over the minor references to God if you prefer. Ms. Collins is a very talented lady.

At the beginning of Violet Dawn, we're introduced to Paige Williams, who has moved to Kanner Lake in Idaho from a mysterious past – a past she wishes to remain undiscovered. Unable to sleep, she goes out to her deck in the wee hours to her hot tub, and after climbing in, discovers she has company – the dead body of a famous woman.

Then we meet Bailey Truitt, owner of the Java Joint and an incapacitated husband. Bailey is struggling to meet her bills with the increased responsibility of additional medication for her husband. And we're also introduced to Vince Edwards, chief of police for the area who lost a son just a year ago in Iraq. Leslie Brymes is a young journalist – a reporter for the Kanner Lake Times, eager to find a story that will give her a break. Then there's a man called Black Mamba – evidently out to blame Paige for the murder of the actress he himself has killed – among others. Finally we're taken back in time to Rachel Brandt – who lives with an abusive mother constantly high on drugs with a series of unspeakable live-in boyfriends.

All these people are important to the story, and come together in the most surprising twist near the end. Each has a definite personality, which Ms. Collins aptly defines.

As I've already mentioned, I don't normally care to write reviews for Christian publications. Having once been Christian myself, and gone on to what I believe is something better, I do not want to encourage anyone to change their beliefs regardless of what they happen to be. Brandilyn Collins is an outstanding author who has chosen to believe in a personal God, and I applaud her for her choice – some individuals are meant for certain beliefs and others not. But whatever your chosen spiritual line, this is an author you shouldn't ignore. Disregard Ms. Collins references to the God power if that turns you off, but do read Violet Dawn. It's a fine murder mystery.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ah, the Wonderful Smell of . . .

Oh, the joys of living in the forest. Tonight as the sun went down, spilling orange-pink over the western hill and into the lake, I watched a mommy deer and her speckled fawn cavort on the back lawn. Such a great time they were having. Baby would kick up her heels and race to one end of the lawn, mom giving chase. Then they’d race back the other way. (This was obviously a young, energetic mom.) An hour before these two showed up, I was sitting on the front porch, looking at the trees (and talking to myself as I plotted my next book) and watching two male deer—a daddy with double prongs on each side, and a new young male with his first sprout of antlers.

Apparently, segregation is all the rage in deerdom.

Yes, the deer are fun to watch. The turkeys are a kick. And the occasional bear is cool. However, there are certain species of wildlife I could live without.

Three weeks ago, I arrived here at our Idaho home—after ICRS—two days before my writer pals were set to descend upon me for the elongated weekend of book planning and play. First night here I saw a critter scoot across the walk on the side of the house, kicking off the automatic lighting system on the garage. Cat? Nope. Skunk.

The air conditioning guy came the next day. (You remember him—the guy who arrived a decent sort and left a killer?) He informed me he’d seen the skunk disappear under our deck. Thing had the nerve to have taken up residence underneath my house! Oh, joy. I pictured 11 women—and one skunk. Thinking how loud the house and yard would soon be. Wondering how much it would take to set off said stinky-pie.

Guests arrived Thursday. Hubby arrived Friday. (He’s a brave man.) I informed him of the skunk—quickly adding that this was not the weekend to take care of the problem. I didn’t want a trapped skunk letting loose with guests in the house. Besides, I wasn’t too fond of the idea of his trapping a skunk at all. At our California house, hubby once did just that. Guess whose car he chose to haul the caged thing away?

Okay, his was the sports car and mine the hatchback, but I’ve always thought this was just a little too convenient a reason.

At any rate—we faced a weekend with trying not to tick off Mr. Skunk.

Hubby is a very industrious man. He decided (it was a good reason to leave the house full of women) to drive to town and ask some helpful hardware man what to do about skunks. He heard the most inventive answer.

The 11 of us yakky writers had moved from our outside table under the gazebo part of the deck into the air conditioned dining room for our afternoon session. (This was the week of the killer heat across America.) We looked out the windows—and there was hubby. Hat shoved on his head. Smirking grin on his face. Carrying a bucket of…something. Tossing said something underneath the deck. Brainstorming stopped as we all gawked. “What’s he doing?” someone asked.

“No telling.” And that was the truth. With my husband, you just never know.

A bit of explanation is in order at this point.

1. The deck/porch runs around this entire house and includes a large gazebo area at one back corner. Total square footage of its wooden flooring is over 1800 square feet.

2. We had no idea where, under this entire decking system, the skunk actually lived.

3. Air conditioner guy had said to get rid of Mr. Skunk soon, as they tend to breed rather quickly. Which meant we could have an entire brood spreading out underneath the entire deck, for all we knew.

With all of the above in mind, my industrious husband figured he needed to “treat” underneath the whooooole deck. Yup, dawgonit, not one corner would be left for those skunks. And what was the handy-dandy homegrown (hardware-grown) answer to our dilemma?

Mothballs. Skunks hate the smell.

Dear hubby threw handfuls of mothballs everywhere under our deck. And I do mean everywhere.

Hah! Take that, you skunks! We’ll be rid of you—without a single stink!

It worked, too. We have not seen a black-and-white critter since.

We did start smelling the mothballs within a few hours.

Have you ever smelled a couple hundred mothballs, heated by 100-degree temperatures?

Think your grandmother’s closet times a thousand.

Let me put it this way. Those moths you get at night when you turn on a porch light? Ain't none around here. I think we lost the gnats and bees along with 'em. I'd swear the birds are even keeping their distance.

I've begun to marvel there are still boats out on the bay.

Ah, yes, living in the forest. I used to drive onto our property, get out of the car and inhale the wonderful smell of the woods and pine. Crisp. Clean. Invigorating. Now, two weeks after our skunks skedaddled, I’m still smelling mothballs. Oh, it’s fainter. And it certainly doesn’t drive me off the deck. (Not that this would help—the smell’s in the house, too). But I am beginning to wonder how long mothballs last. I mean, their distinctive aroma has to run out sometime, doesn’t it?

Well, doesn’t it?

This morning out on the road, I jogged past a dead skunk. Doggone if that thing didn't have any odor at all.

Friday, August 04, 2006

ACFW Conference Reigns

First—my newest baby is being born today. Violet Dawn, 8.5 inches, 15 ounces, is making her first appearance at the Zondervan warehouse, shipping from there to stores across the country and beyond. Look for this lovely child to show up on shelves soon.

Today I am officially blogging about the
ACFW conference, held at the Dallas Marriott Sept. 21-24. This is the best Christian conference for fiction, period. Why? Because fiction is all ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) does. Are you a novelist? Imagine—being at a conference with none of those boring nonfiction writer types. None. No normals around. Only novelists. Crazy people just like you. You wanna argue with your character in the middle of the hall? Go right ahead—nobody’ll even notice. (Well, maybe the hotel staff, but they’re paid to be polite.) You wanna tell people about the voices in your head? They’ll tell you about their voices.

You don’t know what a good time is like until you’re surrounded by 400+ other novelists. Surely heaven shall be such as this.

Besides, there’s a whole lotta great teaching going on, by a dynamite
faculty. When all you do is fiction, you can do it up mighty big. One measly fiction track to choose in the morning? No way! Try four. Beginner, intermediate, advanced and professional. As for the afternoon tracks—same thing. They’re coordinated to level of craft. At night—more good stuff in the way of late night chats. Can't make every class you want? No sweat; buy the CDs. They're cheap.

And then there’s the people. ACFW conference folk aren’t just attendees; they’re family. You want to go but don’t know anybody? That’ll last about, oh, three minutes. Soon you’ll be drawn into the ACFW brood. And next year it’ll be you getting all excited about returning to the conference to reunite with your pals.

And let’s not forget the
keynote speaker this year. Wonderful, everybody-loves-her, voice-like-smooth-chocolate Liz Higgs. If you’ve heard Lizzie speak before, you know the treat you’re in for. If you haven’t—man, what a new experience awaits you. Bring your laugh box and your tissues—both shall go home heavily used.

And there’s the great worship times. And the prayer room. Coming with a need regarding your health? Your emotions? Your spiritual life? Grab one of our pray-ers for a session in the prayer room, which is always open. In the last three years the conference has seen some real healings take place. Some known publicly. Some known only privately. But trust me—they’ve happened.

Wanna rub shoulders with the best
agents and editors in the business? They’ll be there. Most of them come year after year, knowing from experience that they’ll be seeing some great writing. ACFW has established a reputation for teaching its members in the craft of fiction—and it shows. Many, many unpublished members have gone on to sell their books.

Not ready to show a manuscript to an editor/agent yet? ACFW’s still for you. Come to learn, to grow in the craft. To network with published authors who’ve paved the way before you. Networking is worth a lot in this business.

Want to pay a little extra for a
paid critique? Want to be part of the mentor program? ACFW has these available too.

Oh, yeah. Don’t forget the
book signing. You’ll go home with some great Christmas presents. (And you get to read ’em first.) Not to mention the Saturday banquet, when the winners of our first Genesis contest will be announced. Top winners (those lucky dogs) will have their manuscripts submitted to committee at . . . that great publisher that keeps changing its name. Warner Faith . . . Hachette . . . FaithWords. You know, headed by that Chip MacGregor guy.

(BTW—if you wanna wear sequins to the banquet—go for it. And tell 'em I sent ya.)

Finally--got some extra tomatoes you wanna throw at the emcee? Bring ’em on. I’m into tomatoes these days.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Kauai and Tomatoes

It’s lousy getting stuck in Hawaii. Nobody feels a bit sorry for you.

It was raining Monday morning. Pouring, actually. You haven’t seen rain until you’ve seen a tropical outburst. Driving, pounding, seizing rain. The world goes white. Then the clouds blow over and the skies clear. Then—boom—the bucket’s loosed again.

We’d jogged about a mile and a half away from our room when the bucket tipped again.

Hey, no sweat—literally. It was nice to jog without getting so hot. And the rain is warm. Nothing like the bone-chilling rain of northern California.

We got to our room utterly soaked. I wrung out my jogging clothes over the sink. Thank goodness we’d saved a bunch of plastic bags from various stores. We stuffed our shoes and sodden clothes into those bags—packing them in the suitcase at the very last, just before leaving for the airport.

Let the fun begin.

The rain starts up again as we load the car. My husband puts a plastic bag on his head—half just to make me laugh.

The monitor at the airport says our plane’s on time. Good show. We’ll leave at 1:20—4:20 California time. Arrive in San Francisco around 9:20 p.m. We watch our bags go off to loading and make our way to the gate. The plane loads and all is well. We call our daughter, telling her to be on time at the airport.

Plane’s aren’t quiet as you sit in them at the gate. The air conditioner’s running from the auxiliary power, and it causes quite a whoosh. You don’t notice this—until it stops.

Oops. The pilots get it going again.

It goes out again.

This is not looking good. The plane isn’t allowed to take off if anything is wrong on it—including auxiliary power for air conditioning at the gate. Never mind that the jet engines work just fine.

Well, we can’t sit in the plane while they see what’s wrong, because that hunk of metal is sitting in the summer tropics, and it’s heating up right quick. Everybody’s told to get off—and take your stuff.

We cool our heels at the gate. No big deal, it’ll be fixed soon, we’re told. And if you want to leave the gate area and go to the restaurant for food, do make it quick.

Hubby stays while I go to fetch us a hamburger and salad.

At the cafeteria line, the Hawaiian gal (the first I’ve seen without a smile) asks what I want on the hamburger. She asks me if I’m flying to the mainland, and if I want the food to go. Yes and yes. Well then—no. No tomato on the hamburger, that is. Tomatoes can’t be taken to the mainland.

I’m not planning on taking it; I’m planning on eating it. At the gate. While the plane gets fixed. No can do, she says.

Fine, whatever. Leave off the tomato. I ask also for a salad. Gals says fetch one already made up from the fridge. I do. It has tomato wedges in it. She doesn’t seem to care. So neither do I. I pay for the food and hotfoot it to the other end of the terminal.

Back into the gate—where you have to send your purse through another security thingy. The gal at said security thingy asks me what I’ve ordered. She takes one look at the salad and says I have to take off the tomatoes.

Okay, maybe it’s me, but by now this is getting funny. The plane’s broke, right? I’m not going anywhere for awhile. We’re planning on eating—right now—because we’ve already been told there’s no food on the plane. (Whatever there was has probably spoiled in the oven-like heat that’s spreading through the un-airconditioned plane.)

The gal says she can’t let me through with a tomato in the salad. I look around, both hands full, and see the trash can on the other—exit—side. What am I supposed to do? The gal lays down a napkin. Put your tomatoes here. Very serious. Like being told to lay down your weapon. Okay, fine. I put down one wedge—real slow and easy like—and before she can react, I stuff the other one in my mouth. Hah, take that! Good thing we weren’t in a duel to the death.

Besides, what can I say—suddenly that tomato was looking like the most flavorable bite in the world.

My purse goes through the security thingy unblemished. Apparently the gal saw no tomatoes hidden in there. The guy behind me has bought a fresh fruit plate. No way is fresh fruit getting in the gate area. It CANNOT go to the mainland. He’s on my flight. The plane’s broke. He’s just taking it to his family to eat. Sorry. No way. Put down your fruit—NOW. (I’m waiting for the “put your hands on your head” line next.) The man has to leave the whole thing behind. And he’s—how shall I say this? The gentleman doth not command my sense of humor.

I approach hubby and hold out the salad. He peers at it and looks up at me, questions on his face. I hold up a hand, palm out. “Don’t ask.”

We eat. Throw our trash away. And wait. And wait. Someone gets on the caller thingy and says they can’t fix the auxiliary power. They need a new part. Problem—said part is in Honolulu. We’re in Kauai. Fortunately, they can fly one over. Unfortunately, it’s now four o’clock, and the flight from Honolulu just took off. We have to wait for the five o’clock flight. Which arrives at 5:30. Fifteen minutes to install the new part, they say. We’ll be outta here by six.

I’m thinking how many tomatoes I could eat in the next two hours.

Five-thirty. The part arrives. They put it in. It doesn’t work. They tinker.

Six o’clock. Six-thirty. Seven. A gal gets on the caller thingy. Well, I’ll be honest folks (you do want me to be honest, don’t you?) I’m thinking what is this, a stand-up comedian? Honest Gal says the part ain’t working. The plane ain’t working. And it’s 90 degrees inside it. Nobody’s flying in the thing.

I quit thinking about tomatoes long enough to picture our wet clothes in our suitcases—sitting in that metal oven belly. The thought’s not pretty.

Everybody book new flights, we’re told. ’Cause this one’s going nowhere fast. Next straight flight to San Francisco? Tomorrow at noon.

Okay, so how about getting our bags off the plane since we’re stuck for the night?

No can do.

People start calling hotels.

They’re all booked.

A long line forms to get to the two—count ’em—TWO—ticket agents who must rebook some 150 passengers. I call our daughter and tell her we’re stuck. She has the nerve to make some sarcastic comment about our deplorable state--in Kauai.

She’s just still ticked ’cause we didn’t bring her. I remind her it IS our 25th anniversary, and this IS the first time we’ve taken a vacation without her since before she was born. I almost start in about tomatoes, but realize that would take some time to explain, and she has a very important teenage life to lead.

Hubby stands in line—while calling his company travel people (they must work 24/7). They rebook us before he gets to the head of the line. On the flight next day at noon. Great. No hotel, no car, no bags. No tomatoes. It’s still raining outside. What are we supposed to do?

Daughter calls. United has phoned our house with an automatic rebooking, she says. We’re on a flight to L.A., then up to S.F. Great, but we’re already out of line. We whip our heads around. The L.A. flight is boarded up and about to close the door. We don’t have boarding passes. Hubby manages to get some help. At the last minute—we’re in.

First class seats. Oh, man. At least we’ll get to sleep a little.

In first class, they still feed you. Chicken, noodles, carrots. No tomatoes.

We land in L.A. at 5:00 a.m. Fly out at 6:30 and arrive at 7:30. Daughter picks us up, and we arrive home around 8:00. No luggage, of course. Do you have any idea how many hours those wet clothes have now sat in those suitcases? When do we get our bags, we ask at baggage claim. I hope tonight, is the answer. Around 9:00.

She hopes.

We get home. I find some pizza left in the refrigerator. Like finding gold. Before I hit bed, I just have to heat up a piece. My daughter catches me licking off the tomato sauce, a big smirk on my face, and rolls her eyes.

I don’t even try to explain.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Hi folks. Gayle here. By now you know. The only time I pop up to say hello is when Brandilyn can't. While she and her husband had a great time on their anniversary mini-vacation, it was their intention to return home last night. She called me, however--at the time they should have been high up in the air--to say they were stranded at the airport. And if she and Mark were lucky, they'd be home by about 3 a.m this morning... if they were lucky.

So, she'll catch up with you tomorrow. Fill you in, I'm sure. I imagine the delay was boring. But being the fine novelist we all know Brandilyn is, even if it is, in her telling of it, you'd wish you were so fortunate to be stranded.

Blessings all. Headed back to my cave until the next time Brandilyn calls upon me to communicate with y'all. :-)