Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plutchik's Eight Primary Emotions--Part 2

Part 2 in Daniel Smith's guest post:

Today we'll talk about blending the eight basic emotions and how to use them in our writing. The color wheel (GIF Image) from last time doesn't show any blending beyond neighboring emotions. These are listed between the "petals" in the flower diagram. For example, "Optimism" is a blend of both "Anticipation" and "Joy". Thankfully, Plutchik didn't stop there. Last time I introduced you to:

The 48 Emotions of Plutchik
EmotionLVLCompositionOppositeIntense FormMild Form
AggressivenessPrimary BlendAnger + AnticipationAlarm1
OptimismPrimary BlendAnticipation + JoyDisappointment
ContemptPrimary BlendDisgust + AngerSubmission
Alarm1Primary BlendFear + SurpriseAggressiveness
LovePrimary BlendJoy + TrustRemorse
RemorsePrimary BlendSadness + DisgustLove
DisappointmentPrimary BlendSurprise + SadnessOptimism
SubmissionPrimary BlendTrust + FearContempt
PrideSecondary BlendAnger + JoyDespair
FatalismSecondary BlendAnticipation + TrustIncredulity2
CynicismSecondary BlendDisgust + AnticipationCuriosity
DespairSecondary BlendFear + SadnessPride
GuiltSecondary BlendJoy + FearEnvy
EnvySecondary BlendSadness + AngerGuilt
Incredulity2Secondary BlendSurprise + DisgustFatalism
CuriositySecondary BlendTrust + SurpriseCynicism
DominanceTertiary BlendAnger + TrustShame
AnxietyTertiary BlendAnticipation + FearOutrage
MorbidnessTertiary BlendDisgust + JoySentimentality
ShameTertiary BlendFear + DisgustDominance
OutrageTertiary BlendSurprise + AngerAnxiety
SentimentalityTertiary BlendTrust + SadnessMorbidness
DelightTertiary BlendJoy + SurprisePessimism
PessimismTertiary BlendSadness + AnticipationDelight
Peacefulness3N/AEmotional ZeroN/A
1 - Plutchik gave "Awe" as the emotion for "Fear + Surprise". I believe "Alarm" is a better choice since the meaning of "Awe" has changed over the years.

2 - Plutchik did not include an emotion for "Anticipation + Trust" by any list I could find. Therefore, I have included "Incredulity" in this space though some disagree as to the validity of the word.

3 - Plutchik did not include the state described as "Emotional Zero" in his list. However, I believe it is useful and have therefore included "Peacefulness" to represent it.

So how can we tap into this ocean of emotion and make it flow onto our pages?
  1. The first and simplest step is to save a copy of this information for your personal reference. A fabulous poster exists courtesy of Markus Drews of the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. Download it here
  2. Next, read over the list of emotions again. Look at the diagram. Get them into your head. Study. Focus. Cram. Actually, don't cram but do all the other things. Take the time to really explore what this theory means to you and your writing.
  3. Feel free to test the limits of Plutchik's theory as you do this. For example, does the combination of "Fear + Disgust" suggest "Shame" to you as he proposes? How about the other combinations? I had an excellent discussion with someone who expressed doubt about Fear and Anger being mutually-exclusive opposites. I shared this insight: In both emotions, one's attention is strongly focused - usually on some object or person. However, the action that expresses the emotion happens in opposite directions; Fear is about escaping away from that focal object whereas when Angry one usually cannot be kept away. Clearly 'approach' and 'escape' cannot co-exist in the same moment of time so in this sense at least Fear and Anger are mutually-exclusive opposites.
  4. The previous step should naturally lead to thoughts of individual characters as their emotions travel around Plutchik's wheel. In general, let the wheel be the spark that ignites your creative juices. In particular, use the wheel to identify and emphasize opposites (as in dialogue between two characters with different scene purposes).
  5. Finally, if Plutchik's research is correct, then many writers are not using the full spectrum (or potential) of emotions in their writing. Make your characters three-dimensional by showing as much depth to their personalities as possible.
Let me introduce you to Sylvia who has just returned home from the grocery store to find her door smashed in and splintered. Her arms are full of groceries. What emotions would she experience?

How about Outrage (Surprise + Anger) over the state of her door, Anticipation that an intruder might still lurk inside, Fear and very likely Terror (Intense Fear) that she will be discovered on the stoop. In Alarm (Surprise + Fear) she grasps the grocery bags tight around her body like a shield. Her eyes are wide with Grief (Intense Sadness) as she lowers her head in an act of Submission (Trust + Fear) over the state of her home and backs ever so silently away. As she nears the driveway she sees a shadowy figure in the outline of the broken door and reacts with Disgust and Contempt (Anger + Disgust), but she controls her emotions and does not leap toward the fiend in Rage (Intense Anger). Finding the handle to the car door provides instant relief (Serenity) as she finally starts to Calm Down (Peacefulness, Emotional Zero) knowing that soon she will be safely away. She Trusts her engine to start and run smoothly - and it does. No good writer would write a scene this way, so take it for what it is - an example, an exploration of all eight emotions in the same scene. Yet if you count them up, they're all represented! While including all eight probably isn't a good thing, exploring all eight for each scene is. Thus writers can use Plutchik to explore each of the eight emotions in your scenes in order to identify which are the best emotions to use or emphasize. It works like this: We all have pet words that we tend to overuse. We often prefer certain letters of the alphabet for our characters' names too. And the same goes for emotions. In short, we're biased. We write about certain emotions while ignoring others. So use Plutchik to keep your writing fresh by exploring the areas of human emotion that you often overlook. Keep what improves your writing and discard what doesn't.

Finally, the thoughtful and observant writer will note the need for specific methods to include this material in their writing. For this, I propose the need for a comprehensive list of Facial Expressions, Body Language, and Mental States mapped to Plutchik's emotions. However, in my research such a list does not yet exist. So that will have to be the topic of another post.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Plutchik's Eight Primary Emotions--Part 1

This two-part guest post was written by Daniel Benjamin Smith. Daniel wears many hats: high school teacher, computer geek, young father, and devoted husband, to name a few. He's currently writing the first book in a complex young adult mystery series. Daniel blogs at 'Dragons Can Be Beaten', where visitors will find a collection of useful writing tidbits, nibbles, and the occasional mouthful.

Randy Ingermanson once said that people read books because they want to have an emotional experience. While that's certainly true of Twilight, I think it holds true for all books. Even books about negative characters can be interesting to us because of their emotional content due to what James Scott Bell calls a "'car wreck' dynamic." Ironically, even though we’ve all experienced many, many emotions throughout our lives, few humans are experts. So, depicting them in our stories can seem an impossible task. However, as with most things, we can learn to be better at emotions.

But where to begin? Emotions are complicated and confusing. Consider these obstacles:
  • Many lists of emotions have been generated, yet no matter how much they overlap, they never quite converge. Some are even in conflict with one another.
  • There is no agreed-upon method to organize emotions. Do emotions resemble a list, a tree structure, or a three-dimensional shape? Can they even be visualized?
  • There is no agreed-upon method to name emotions. What someone calls "Joy" is called "Happiness" by another.
  • As if this weren't complex enough, there also seem to be levels of intensity to emotions. What is the difference between Affection, Love, and Ecstasy but the level of intensity?
  • Emotions seem to somehow blend together to form new emotions that are distinct from their progenitors.
  • Even Wikipedia, a site that normally excels at harnessing the collective knowledge of the human race, fails to adequately deliver on a comprehensive list and understanding of emotions. The current list includes 80 separate emotions yet many overlap. And some are, well, foreign.
So, how can emotions be classified so that we better understand them, and understanding them better, use them in our writings? I believe psychologist and researcher Robert Plutchik, who spent decades studying emotions, has the answer. Plutchik's research yielded some amazing discoveries about emotions, including a comprehensive list of eight primary emotions arranged as opposing pairs. Observe:
  • Joy vs Sadness
  • Trust vs Disgust
  • Fear vs Anger
  • Surprise vs Anticipation
He also visualized this list as a wheel of sorts, referred to by some as Plutchik's Flower:

Analogous to a color wheel, variations in color intensity correspond to variations in emotional intensity. Thus, the eight primary emotions occupy the middle ring of the flower with more intense forms occurring in the center (note the bolder colors) and milder forms the extremities (note the paler colors). For example, "Rage" is the stronger form of "Anger" while "Annoyance" is the weaker.

Also note that the two-dimensional flower can fold into a spinning top shape as shown in the lower-left corner. The tip of the top and the center of the flower is the point of emotional zero. Plutchik's approach satisfies our needs by providing:
  • a semantically-consistent set of distinct emotions
  • an organizational structure
  • a standard set of names
Plutchik's approach satisfies our expectations by providing:
  • levels of intensity in emotions
  • the blending of primary emotions to form new ones
  • the concept of emotional "opposites" as mutually
    exclusive pairs
  • a blank, non-emotional state
In summary, Robert Plutchik left us a deep legacy. Next time I'll write about blending emotions. This is where the really interesting stuff happens and which can be directly applied to the process of writing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Amazon's Two Kindle Bestseller Lists Now Running

The new dual-bestseller list system is now in place for Amazon's Kindle. Take a look at
this bestseller page to see how the lists run side by side. If you go to the main Kindle book page and scroll down, you'll see the "Too 100 Paid" bestseller list as the default. Just beside it is a button to click for "Top 100 Free" bestsellers. I predict this default format to the paid list will result in somewhat less publicity for those books that make it to the top of the free list, because their covers won't automatically be displayed on the main Kindle book page. How much less, I don't know.

Meanwhile the controversy continues for Christian freebies. You're apt to see quite a few one-star reviews simply because a certain novel wasn't labeled as Christian.

Meanwhile Publishers Weekly reports that e-book sales from thirteen reporting publishers rose 252% in the first quarter of 2010, to $91 million. The e-book increases were by far the biggest in the publishing industry for the quarter. Still, overall estimates put e-books at only three to five percent of total book sales so far. Experts in the industry predict that percentage will increase significantly in the next few years.

Between my husband and me, we've now become a three-ereader device couple. I bought Mark the original Kindle for Christmas when it first came out. Price: $400. Then last year at the Zondervan party at ICRS, all attending Z authors received the fabulous gift of a free Sony reader. Now I've just purchased the second generation Kindle for $259. I love the Sony. It's wonderfully small and light. So easy to slip into a purse for travel. But Amazon continues to feature far more free books, and its second generation device is more the Sony size. (I can't seem to use Mark's Kindle because he's always using it himself.) I figure 26 free books from now I'll have paid for the device. Plus for my business it's tax deductible.

One tip: if you're thinking about buying a Kindle, ask your friends with similar tastes in books if they'd like to buy one also. You can buy multiple Kindles on the same account and share books between these Kindles (typically one book can be shared among six devices on the same account at a time). With the right partners and shared purchasing among them, you'll make back your money on the device over time. At this point you can't share books with other Kindle accounts. Even Mark and I, together on a Prime Membership for Amazon but with different accounts, can't share our Kindle purchases. That's a pain and something I hope will change in the future. B&N eventually may push the marketplace to allow such sharing since it allows sharing with its own device, the Nook. But so far the Nook hasn't been much competition against the the Kindle. For more information on sharing Kindle books and the device in general, check out the support page on Amazon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"If You Want to Preach, Hire a Hall."

Recently on an author's e-mail loop the discussion about "preachiness" in Christian fiction came up. I particularly liked the response from top-notch editor Dave Lambert, who used to edit me at Zondervan and then went on to work for Howard. (Dave is now on his own and working on a "new venture" that I hope to tell you more about in the future.) I always like to see Dave's name pop up on the loop, because I know his response will be insightful. Here's what he had to say on the subject (run on F&F with his permission):


I submitted a story years ago to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. She rejected it personally, in her own handwriting, which I found exciting. Her rejection note was just one sentence: "If you want to preach, you should hire a hall." Well, OK, she had me. It was a little message-driven. She was right.

I think what's at issue here is how we view our readers. William Sloane (I think) said "Great writers assume greatness in their readers." Bernard DeVoto said it differently: Fiction is "children talking to children in the dark." Either of those statements precludes preaching to our readers. When we preach in our stories, it's as if we're saying to our readers, "I have the truth. You don't. Sit down now and listen to me, and I'll tell you what it is. Don't forget it." That attitude might work well for a preacher on Sunday morning; that's what he's paid for. But in fiction, it's arrogant. A better attitude would be to say, "In this story, I'm going to explore these characters and their conflicts and issues, and I hope to learn something. Come along on this journey with me, and maybe we'll both learn something." That's humility. And it assumes greatness in your reader.

Yes, I know--we as Christians like to think that we already know the truth, and that our job is to communicate it to the masses. And fiction is all about truth. But do we really have the truth already? What are we going to be doing, then, for the rest of our lives, if we already know it all? If we've already been perfected, we should ascend bodily to heaven right now. The truth is, we're just at the beginning of our journey toward truth, and we grasp only a tiny part of it so far--there is so much of God we don't yet know, so much of the Bible we don't yet understand. Every novel is an opportunity to learn more, and if we're humble, we'll invite our readers along for the lesson, instead of lecturing them about what we already think we know.

What's your response to Dave?

Check out Dave's latest suspense release, The Missionary, co-authored with William Carmichael. Amazon has it at a great price of $5.60. 
Also available on the Kindle.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Photo Friday!

Here we are with another Photo Friday. PF runs monthly on Forensics and Faith. For you new readers, here's the scoop: Write the best caption, win your choice of one of my novels. Enter as many captions as you like. Come back over the weekend to read all the captions and vote on your favorite. Winner will be announced next week. Facebook friends--make sure to leave your captions here, even if you put them on Facebook.

This photo was submitted by Anita van der Elst. Anita also wins a book since her submitted photo was chosen. If you'd like to submit a picture for possible use, please send it as an attachment in an e-mail to: brandilyn (at) brandilyncollins (dot) com.

All right, we're off! Bring on your captions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Latest Release Hits the Shelves

Now released: Final Touch, third and last in my young adult suspense Rayne Tour Series (co-authored with my daughter, Amberly).

Final Touch follows Shaley O'Connor in the most harrowing days of her life. She is kidnapped just moments before a very special event. Who is this man who has taken her---and why? As the FBI races against time to find her, Shaley's abductor eludes them at every turn. Fearing for her life, Shaley wills herself to stay strong. But as the days pass, she realizes that no one can save her but herself.

Four teenage girls wrote the insightful reader questions for Final Touch, included in the back of the book. "I love this series!" one of the girls wrote. "And Final Touch is the most exciting book of all!"

Seeing all three books in the Rayne Tour Series hit the shelves has been a wonderful thing for me as an author and mother. Of course, life is hardly fair when a 16-year-old gets offered a three book contract, and her mom had to work like a dog for 10 years to be published in fiction. But our mother/daughter team worked splendidly from the beginning. Amberly and I both created the series and characters and plotted the books. I wrote the stories, and she edited to make sure the 16-year-old protagonist's POV was right. Last year at ICRS we signed books on the convention floor.

Feedback on the series has been great. One of the best things is hearing from families--where two to even three generations are reading the stories. The Rayne Tour Series is suspense. At the same time it explores personal issues, such as Shaley's relationship with her mother and her search for her unknown father. Along the way, Shaley and her family began to see that there's a God who's "Always Watching" and whom they can turn to for help in difficult times--and in their daily lives.

If you haven't read Always Watching, book #1, and Last Breath, book #2, I do suggest you start at the beginning of the series. While each suspense story is self-contained, the character arc and personal issues build throughout the three books.

Buy Final Touch on Amazon, $9.99
Buy on, $7.99

Monday, May 17, 2010

Comparison of Bestseller Lists for April 2010

Here is a comparison of the CBA "June" list and the ECPA "May" list, both reflecting sales in the month of April. Books appearing only on one list are highlighted in blue. For a reminder of how these lists are put together by ECPA and CBA, please refer to the first few paragraphs of this
F&F post.

ECPA (Number in parentheses reflect book's standing on the ECPA Top Fifty list, which includes fiction and nonfiction)

1. (2) Take Three, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
2. (4) The Telling, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
3. (5) Her Mother's Hope, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
4. (16) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media
5. (19) Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
6. (30) A Cousin's Challenge, Wanda E. Brunstetter, Barbour
7. (31) No Distance Too Far, Lauraine Snelling, Bethany/Baker
8. (34) Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
9. (39) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, Waterbrook/Multnomah
10. (40) Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
11. (43) Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
12. (49) In Harm's Way, Irene Hannon, Revell/Baker
13. Morning's Refrain, Tracie Peterson, Bethany/Baker
14. A Promise of Hope, Amy Clipston, Zondervan
15. Plain Paradise, Beth Wiseman, Thomas Nelson
16. The Missing, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
17. Greater Love, Robert Whitlow, Thomas Nelson
18. A Man of His Word, Kathleen Fuller, Thomas Nelson
19. Sixteen Brides, Stephanie Grace Whitson, Bethany/Baker
20. The Secret, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker

CBA (Numbers in parentheses reflect book's standing on the CBA Top Fifty list, which includes fiction and nonfiction)

1. (5) The Telling, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
2. (7) Take Three, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
3. (8) Her Mother’s Hope, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
4. (19) Edge of Apocalypse, Tim LaHaye & Craig Parshall, Zondervan
5. (23) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media
6. (30) The Bride Collector, Ted Dekker, Center Street/Hachette
7. (33) A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
8. (37) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, Multnomah/WaterBrook
9. (38) Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
10. (41) No Distance Too Far, Lauraine Snelling, Bethany/Baker
11. (43) In Harm's Way, Irene Hannon, Revell/Baker
12. (45) Betsy’s Return, Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour
13. (49) A Promise of Hope, Amy Clipston, Zondervan
14. Greater Love, Robert Whitlow, Thomas Nelson
15. Letters to God, Patrick Doughtie & John Perry, Zondervan
16. Here Burns My Candle, Liz Curtis Higgs, WaterBrook
17. The Missing, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
18. A Cousin’s Challenge, Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour
19. Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
20. Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan

Friday, May 14, 2010

Free Kindle Books Given Own Bestseller List

In a move I find not surprising, Amazon has announced it will soon run two bestseller lists--one for paid books and one for the freebies. I've wondered about this phenomenon of freebies hitting the top of the list for some time. I've been the beneficiary of that--with my freebies of Exposure and Dark Pursuit hitting #1 and #2 respectively in January and staying there for nine days. Being at the top of the list garnered me extra publicity--not the least of which was being included in an article on free Kindle downloads on the front page of the New York Times. But I had to wonder--is that fair to authors whose books are selling at full price?

An exact date for the switch to two lists isn't yet known, but an Amazon representative said it will happen in "a few weeks."

It will be interesting to see what happens with my next two Kindle freebies, which will be available for two weeks in June (Brink of Death, first in the Hidden Faces series, and Violet Dawn, first in my Kanner Lake series). By then the freebie bestseller list should be in place. Will the splitting of these lists lessen the publicity and overall benefits of putting a book free on the Kindle? Perhaps. But I'm not sure it will. It will partly depend on how the lists appear on the main Kindle page. Right now the top 10 on Amazon's one list appear there. You have to click a link to see the rest (the list goes to 100). At the time of the Exposure and Dark Pursuit freebies, only the few top titles appeared on that page. I think that's what made it work so well for me. Anyone on that main Kindle books page saw the covers of my books. They could see right away that the books were free. So any cynical person could discount them. But the freebie promotion did work just by getting those books up there. So if a freebie bestseller list also shows at least the top few on that main Kindle page, I think the promotion may be as successful--if you get to the top of the list. That's the key. Just because a book is free--doesn't mean it's going to reach the #1 spot.

As I said in the NYT article--and was requoted yesterday in the Publisher's Weekly article about this new Amazon move, "When you push to No. 1 of any bestseller list, that in itself seems to beget publicity."

By the way, I don't see the new freebie list as a negation to our discussion here last week about whether or not we should label CBA fiction as Christian. The same naysayers will be around.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sawing Off a Tree Branch You're Leaning Against

Just had to share this one with you all. In England, a handyman propped his ladder against the tree branch he wanted to remove, then proceeded to saw off said branch. WHUMP went his ladder. He was injured, of course.

Now? He's suing the hotel.

Where did this handyman work previously? British Aerospace.

Read the whole crazy story here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Blog, Lyme-Over the Edge, Launches

How much do you know about Lyme Disease? Do you know:

1. It's the #1 vector-borne illness in America.

2. All too often standard tests backed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) result in a false negative, forcing the patient to go years without a diagnosis while he/she gets sicker and sicker.

3. Many times patients with chronic Lyme are told it's "all in their heads."

4. The standard care for Lyme patients is 2-4 weeks of antibiotics. After that time, the CDC declares, all the bacteria that cause Lyme are eradicated from the body. So what happens when these patients are still sick with Lyme--and the medical community at large won't accept the fact they need further treatment?

5. To this day doctors who know little of Lyme are apt to tell a patient with clear Lyme symptoms, "No need to test for Lyme. We don't have it in this state." Wrong.

It's bad enough to have a disease that steals your quality of life as thoroughly as Lyme does. Pain throughout the body, weakness, instability, inability to concentrate, extreme fatigue--these are just a few of the myriad possible symptoms. Lyme has often been called the "Great Imitator," as patients with Lyme are instead diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, or a host of other illnesses. Problem is, the wrong diagnosis not only means lack of correct treatment, it can mean wrong treatment that exacerbates Lyme. CFS patients, for example, are often put on steroids for their joint swelling and pain. Guess what--Lyme spirochetes (Borrelia burgdorferi) love steroids. The patient becomes much worse.

As you've probably heard, I'm writing my 22nd book, a novel centered around Lyme Disease and the so-called "Lyme Wars" that surround its treatment. Over the Edge is due in the beginning of June. (Very soon now!). It will release in May 2011--May being Lyme Awareness Month. Yesterday I launched my new blog, Lyme-Over the Edge, a place where Lyme patients can tell their stories about fighting the disease. These stories will amaze you and educate you. Who knows--you may well know someone who has Lyme and who doesn't realize it. Your understanding of this disease may help someone you love one day.

Yesterday's post on Lyme-Over the Edge: launch of the blog and an intro to Lyme Disease

Today's post: Suze Overstreet's story: "A Decade of Symptoms." Here's an excerpt:

From March until June I missed many days of work due to illness. I started feeling severe sharp pains in my knees and it was very difficult to bend them or walk up inclines. My legs would burn to the point where I needed to sit down. I took 5 trips to the ER between June 1 and July 2rd. Each time, the doctor would say there was nothing wrong me. On my fifth trip to the ER I was given an MRI, CSCAN, and multiple x-rays, which came back completely clear. But I was still feeling terrible...

Read the rest of Suze's story. (A custom template for the blog is now being created.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gina Holmes' 10-Year Journey Pays Off

Gina Holmes’ first novel, Crossing Oceans, has just released from Tyndale. For the last number of years Gina has been known through the popular blog she started, Novel Journey.
NJ has been widely read, and now methinks her novel will be also. Gina has already garnered some great reviews, including the endorsement on the front cover of her book from bestselling author Tess Gerritsen: "Poignant and unforgettable ... this book will break your heart--and then put the pieces back together again."

As I did, Gina spent 10 long years working toward being published in fiction. Now her hard studying and working is paying off. Here's the story of her journey.
In 1997, I had the brilliant idea that I might be able to be a stay at home mom if I could actually bring in some cash. Writing had always come easier for me than most, so me being the genius that I am knew that this would be the way to bring in some fast, easy, cash. Ahem, yeah, well…

So, for the next six months or so I wrote everything from greeting cards, to articles to short stories, poetry, and my personal favorite—rhyming children’s books with strong morals featuring talking fruits. I sent this little gem to all the best New York literary agents in fancy, twenty-four point font, wondering how I would ever decide which agent to allow the privilege of representing Anna Banana.

Needless to say I collected quite a pile of form rejection letters. I cringe to think that some of my earliest work is probably framed above some agent or editor’s desk just for laughs. Despite my stupidity, laziness, and lack of knowledge in the publishing world, I did manage to get my first pay check six months in for a magazine article. I was a published author!

I had a little more luck over the years which followed—a few articles, but not a whole lot. In 2003ish, a girl at church was talking to the congregation about writing her second novel. My mouth dropped. She was just seventeen! If she could do it, surely I could. With all the know how I used to launch my rhyming fruit books, I set about penning my first novel.

In six weeks I had my first novel. I took this masterpiece, (which was so good it needed no editing,) to sell at the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference. It was at this conference that I picked up my first copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a book that would teach me a thousand times more than I previously knew about editing. I also met my critique partner Ane Mulligan, who I half suspected was insane. Turns out she is, but pleasantly so, and together with Jessica Dotta, the three of us have remained critique partners for the last 6 years.

It was at this conference that I also met the man who would become my agent, Chip MacGregor. He scared off a lot of people with his brash frankness, but I saw a truth teller. I pitched him that first novel. He blinked at me a few times, smirked a little, then said, “Gina, I’m with Alive. We’re the top agency in the business. I’m really not looking for authors who are just starting out….in fact, I’m a little surprised that you’re pitching me.”

Ouch. Undaunted, Chip and I prayed together before I left that appointment and I’d made a friend. With the help of Self- Editing and my new critique group, I spent the next year or two editing that first novel, and learning the basics of the craft of writing. After that, I wrote my second, third and fourth novels, all suspense. All of the novels I wrote came close to publication, but somewhere between an editor’s interest and the publishing board meeting, interest waned and rejection after rejection . . . after rejection followed.

Through all these years, I ran Novel Journey, wrote, edited, mentored and was mentored. I attended many writer’s conferences, built relationships in the industry and learned all I could about the business. I had several agents who weren’t quite right for me and then at an ACFW conference Chip announced he was starting his own agency. He also made it clear that he was interested in representing me. Chip and I were friends, our philosophies lined up and I knew he was very good at what he did, so the partnership was a no-brainer.

Over the following months, I would get calls from Chip every now and then making sure I wasn’t planning on jumping ship just because it was taking us a while to get a contract. I think we were both concerned we were letting the other down during this time. Chip always kept my spirits up by letting me know he believed in my writing and that I would get published eventually because “greatness will out.” I think he represented me close to two years before I was contracted.

In 2008 I started reading things like Memoirs of a Geisha, Peace Like a River, Jane Eyre, Watership Down, etc., and thought that maybe I was writing in the wrong genre. I wasn’t sure, so I figured the only way to find out was to try writing something a little different.

I presented a third-person medical mystery to Chip along with a few chapters from my first-person women’s fiction novel about a young mother dying of cancer. I asked Chip which one he thought we ought to pursue. He said, “They’re both good and I can probably sell either, but Crossing Oceans seems like your true voice.”

That was it. I knew he was right.

At the ACFW conference that year, two editors asked to meet with me. Normally, I’m the one stalking them, so this was way different for me. They both had some suggestions on improving my story. One editor was on fire for it. The other, was really more passionate about seeing me get published because she thought I’d done so much to help others. In the end, one pursued me and my story and that passion is what won out at the end of the day. I sold my novel before it was completed. It’s rare to do it, but we did. Not only that but Chip scored me an advance that far exceeded my expectations.

Long before I understood that Tyndale was really going to publish Crossing Oceans, Chip knew. He kept congratulating me before we’d even had an official offer. I trusted him, but was afraid to get my hopes up. Finally, he called me when I was at work in the hospital nursery, surrounded by crying babies, nurses and doctors. Via cell phone, he said, “Gina we have an offer. It’s okay to scream now.”

I had to sit down. The whole nursery grew quiet as everyone listened in. My coworkers knew I’d been at it a long time. I spilled a few tears, so did some of them. That night, I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Not my critique partners, not my family, no one. I couldn’t tell anyone that after ten long years of rejection my dream was really going to come true.

At least I get to tell you. That’s my story.

Buy on, $9.49

Friday, May 07, 2010

Amazon the New Big Brother?

With its new Kindle software update, Amazon has started collecting data on what readers highlight in their Kindle e-books--then sharing this information with others. The information given out doesn't specify highlighted sections by individual reader but aggregates the data and displays it to other readers.

Here's what Amazon says about the new feature:
We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.

Amazon's list of "recently heavily highlighted" books.

The move, as you might expect, is controversial. Many readers don't like Amazon "looking over their shoulders" to see that they're highlighting, even if the data given out isn't reader-specific. Others think it's a cool new feature. What do you think about this?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Kindle Freebies--Can You Take the Heat?

Since the beginning of this year I've been watching the phenomenon of authors allowing their Kindle editions to be downloaded for free for a set amount of time. I myself allowed this for two of my books--Exposure and Dark Pursuit. And in fact two more of my books--Brink of Death (first in Hidden Faces series) and Violet Dawn (first in Kanner Lake series) will be free for a set time in June. The marketing tactic for Exposure and Dark Pursuit was a successful one. The books went to #1 and #2 on the Kindle bestseller list and stayed there for 9 days. Altogether they were on the bestseller list for weeks. And their position there fueled sales of the print editions and my other books.

The free downloads also fueled some negative comments from readers who didn't like the Christian content.

Since then I've watched the same thing happen to other authors whose books were downloadable for free. "Why," critical readers ask, "can't they label these books as Christian?" They feel duped for getting a free novel--and finding out it's Christian. I've wondered about that. Do these folks not read the back cover copy first? Most of the novels mention God or faith in some way. And should they be so critical--when the book was free? It's as if the very presence of the manuscript in their Kindle will somehow taint it. On the other hand, I've thought-well, should we somehow label our novels as Christian--just for such readers?  

Recently the same thing happened to Rita-Award-winner Irene Hannon. She wrote a post for Forensics and Faith on the topic. Here are Irene's thoughts:

A few weeks ago, in conjunction with the release of the third book (In Harm’s Way) in my Heroes of Quantico romantic suspense series, my publisher released the first book in the series, Against All Odds, as a free Kindle download on Amazon for about two weeks. It seemed like a good promotion, since this book made both the ECPA and CBA bestseller lists and had just won the Reviewers’ Choice award from RT BOOKreviews for best inspirational novel of 2009.

So I was unprepared for the backlash.

Numerous readers wrote reviews vociferously complaining about the Christian content. Their hostility was palpable.

I’m not super sensitive to bad reviews. In fact, I’ve learned from constructive criticism. I’ve even written thank-you notes to reviewers who have provided helpful insights. But many of the Kindle-generated reviews were simply anti-Christian. Here are a few examples from some of the one- and two-star reviews:

- “The story is just window dressing for the usual Christian propaganda.”

- “This book was proselytizing at its worst.”

- “I’m with Samuel Goldwyn about messages—if you want to deliver one, send a telegram.”

- “I did read it from beginning to end but felt quite angry that I had done so!”
These same reviewers went on to call the book sophomoric, trite, shallow, predictable, clichéd and preachy.

In light of all this negativity, here’s what I wish I could say to these readers:

1. People who order free books should do their homework. Read the product description, third party reviews or the section marked “Most Helpful Customer Reviews” on the book’s Amazon page. If there is Christian content, that should be apparent.

2. If you order a book without doing the above and discover there is Christian content (or any other content you find objectionable), STOP READING! How hard is that?

3. You got the book free. If you don’t like it, fine. But don’t broadcast your anti-Christian bias to the world. Just write it off as not your kind of book.

My novel isn’t the only one that’s been slammed by readers who find Christian content offensive. Debut author James Rubart’s book “Rooms,” which had a free Kindle promotion around the same time as mine, received comments even more vitriolic.

Many negative reviewers complained that there was no warning the book was Christian fiction. My comeback: There aren’t warnings on smutty fiction, either, and there’s no outcry about that. But I guess graphic sex, profanity and gratuitous violence are PC and Christian content isn’t.

How sad.

Both my publisher and agent have reassured me they don’t believe such comments will hurt future sales. I hope not. In the meantime, I intend to pray for those whose outrage to the mild Christian content in my books was so strong that they felt they had to give virulent voice to it.

Though I’m sure they would find that gesture offensive, too.

What do you think? Should CBA free Kindle editions somehow be labeled as Christian fiction? And if so--how? (There's no normal place to add the label. Secular fiction isn't labeled secular.) Authors--would you allow your novel to be free on the Kindle, knowing you'll receive some of these kinds of responses?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Will Self-Published E-books Replace Publishers?

Apple has just reported that it has sold 1 million iPads in 28 days. And in that time it has sold 1.5 million e-books. In light of all the recent competition in selling e-books--will they one day replace print books? And, in an even larger picture, will the immediate gratificaton of self-publishing in e-form replace the need for editing and publishers?

A response from Jeff Gerke, editor of Marcher Lord Press:

It seems that digital media and the thrill of the iPad is not concerning print book publishers only. This morning I was reading my new Popular Science magazine (yes, I'm a geek; proud of it) and found an interesting advertisement/message on a two-page spread.

It was an ad arguing the legitimacy of print magazines even in the digital age. One quote I liked: "The Internet grabs you. Magazines embrace you. The Internet is impulsive. Magazines are immersive."

But here was the key bit: "A new medium doesn't necessarily replace an existing one. Just as movies didn't kill radio. Just as TV didn't kill movies. An established medium can continue to flourish so long as it continues to offer a unique experience."

It's so true. The Internet is instant but often rash and raw; magazines (and, even more so: books) are usually more mature in their thought, more considered. One might be the immediate pulse taken at the patient's bedside but the other is the fuller picture created when all the tests have come back. There is an ADHD feel to the Internet: it's happening now and oh, that headline is so ten minutes ago. Whereas magazines and books tend to feel more level-headed.

Now, someone could argue that the Internet and digital media/iPad content are not the same. Some digital content has been through the same editorial rigors as print magazines and books, after all. All true.

But I am speaking to the concern that e-publishing--especially that uncensored, YouTube model in which every yokel with a modem is a publisher--is this awful threat to our style of writing and to print books in general. So long as people still value reasoned, vetted commentary (or story) over the instant response of the blogosphere, there will be a place for the more thoughtful media and its model.

That's not to say we shouldn't embrace e-publishing. I think we should. I like what Charlie Peacock said as keynoter at Mount Hermon this year. He said we need to stop thinking of the print book as the primary product of publishing and instead think of an intellectual property (our story) as a source or treasure and come up with 30 different forms and delivery mechanisms by which we can get our stories to the people. If they want it on iPad or iPhone or iBubble (iMade that one up), we should give it to them that way. But the point remains that our style of slow, thoughtful craftsmanship will always be valued even as people sometimes enjoy the "flash fiction" feel of the Internet. Both have their place.

April '10 List of Today's Word

Here's the list of words from April. I challenge you to use at least six in a sentence.

DIVAGATE (DIH-vuh-GATE) intrans. verb--to wander about or stray from one place or subject to another.

STRAMINEOUS (struh-MIN-ee-us) adj.--having the nature of, or resembling straw.

INCONNU (ink-uh-NYU) noun--an unknown person, a stranger.

TENSIVE (TEN-siv) adj.--relating to, or causing tension.

EMBONPOINT (am-bohn-PWAH) noun--plumpness, stoutness. (French)

PETROUS (PEH-trus) adj.--resembling stone, especially in hardness.

PRECISIAN (pri-SI-zhun) noun- one who stresses scrupulous adherence to a strict standard of religious observance.

NOVERCAL (nuh-VER-kul) adj.--relating to, or characteristic of a stepmother.

MEPHITIS (muh-PHIT-is) noun--an offensive or poisonous smell, a stench.

DECLIVITOUS (duh-KLIV-i-tus) adj.--having a considerable downward slope.

SNAFFLE (SNAF-ful) noun--a light or gentle restraint or check.

PANEGYRIC (PAN-uh-JEER-ik) noun--formal or elaborate praise or eulogy; a laudatory discourse.

HOMOLOGATE (hoh-MAL-uh-GATE) trans. verb--to agree with or sanction; to confirm officially.

ONOMATOMANIA (ON-uh-MAH-tuh-MAY-nee-uh) noun-uncontrollable obsession to repeat certain words/sounds.

LENTIGINOUS (len-TIJ-i-nus) adj.--freckled.

NIHILARIAN (nih-hi-LARE-ee-un) noun: a person who performs useless work.

SPREZZATURA (SPRATE-tsuh-TOO-rah) noun--perfect conduct or performance without apparent effort.

GEMÜTLICH (guh-MOOT-likh) adj.--warm and congenial; pleasant or friendly.

ANTIPODAL (an-TIP-uh-dul) adj.--situated at the opposite side of the earth; diametrically opposite.

GIMCRACK (JIM-krak) noun--something characterized by flimsy or tricky ingenuity rather than worth.

SCIENTER (SI-en-ter) noun-a degree of knowledge that makes a person legally responsible for an act.

PRESTIDIGITATION (PRES-ti-di-gi-TAY-shun) noun-sleight of hand; skilled in deceitful cleverness.

EQUIPOISE (EK-wi-POIZ) noun--a state of equilibrium or balance; a counterbalance.

STELLIFEROUS (stel-LIF-er-us) adj.--having star-shaped markings.

SIGINT (SIG-int) noun--info obtained through intercepting transmission signals. (From SIGnals INTelligence.)

SUPPOSITITIOUS (sup-POZ-i-TISH-us) adj.--substituted with fraudulent intent/counterfeit; hypothetical.

PRIMAVERAL (pre-muh-VER-ul) adj.--of or relating to early spring.

PULLULATE (PUL-yu-LATE) intrans. verb--to show signs of growth; to increase rapidly; to swarm or teem.

SERPIGINOUS (sur-PIJ-uh-nus) adj.--healing in one portion while continuing to spread in another.

JOQSANUE (JOHK-sawn-YU) noun--an unexpected turn of events caused by someone else; a prank. (Used on April Fool's Day)

Read May ‘10