Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing for you, for me

I’m a cynic. I am a critical, cynical, and occasionally condescending person. I look around and see injustice and hypocrisy and stupidity wrapped in enviable praise. And yet, when I went to see the new Muppets film this last weekend I sobbed. Like a child. When I watch Superman and see Christopher Reeve, with conviction in his eyes, say that he fights for Truth, Justice, and the American way. That he never lies. I get chills.

Gandhi once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I write that world. I write a world where good triumphs over evil, where money and power mean nothing, where style has no credibility and substance rules supreme, and where true love really does conquer all.

And yet, if I write it and no one reads it, it’s still just my world. So, perhaps pathologically, I seek to write about justice and substance – but I’m prepared to tell you whatever story I need to in order to share that experience with you. Because when we believe it together it means more. So if the world wants to read about New York Socialites or Fuzzy Bunnies or Drunken Trailer Trash – then I’ll be there, pen in hand.

I don’t write thrillers, or steampunk, or supernatural suspense, or chick lit. I write a world where courage and sacrifice (whatever form they take) are the supreme measure of what is good. Where honor will outlast treachery, and the temporary spoils of life don’t make you worth listening to, and can’t save you in the end.

Genre? That’s just window dressing.

Lasting story is the perseverance of unyieldingly innocence in the face of the unrelenting rationality of cynicism.

So, I guess I do write for myself. But whatever ending I create in which virtue outlasts, I want the world to come along, because if that’s the only meaningful change I can make in the world, then it isn’t a wasted life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Tis the Season for Giving Thanks

Gathering with family and friends around a table loaded with good food is special at this time of year for most people. Many tables will have an empty chair for one who is no longer with us. Those who have lost loved ones since last Thanksgiving may find it difficult to celebrate and have joy, but in their hearts there is comfort and peace when that loved one is now celebrating the greatest time of giving thanks. Many are in hospital rooms this day fighting for their very lives, and some will be sitting down to a table with less than others. In all of this we follow Paul’s example and give thanks in the circumstances and praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Those who are not as fortunate to have a bountiful year can find hearty meals provided by charitable organizations across the country. These groups share not only with the food but also with the story of our Savior. Volunteering at one of these gatherings can be a real eye opener and will bring great joy to the heart. Watching the faces of children as well as adults partake of what others have shared brings a great deal of peace and hope to those who serve.

Many of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, or even friends are across the ocean serving their country and missing out on the traditions of their families. We remember them and pray for their safe return.

As we take time to pause from our writing and celebrate with our loved ones, we can give thanks for all God has done for us in the past year even though it may have included some rejections and rather meager royalties. God’s plans are far greater than any we could come up with on our own. Let us remember those who are not as blessed as we are. Let us lift our voices in praise to the one true God, the God of Truth and Light and give thanks with a grateful heart for the Son who lived and died that we may eternal life in His presence.

What has been your greatest blessing this past year?

May you all have a blessed and happy day of giving thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Spotlight: Spirit Blade Productions

Given the fact that I'm super behind on a number of writing projects over here (and I've been sick to boot), I'm turning the spotlight over to a fellow Christian writer who is doing some amazing things, blazing incredible trails: Paeter Frandsen and Spirit Blade Productions.

Spirit Blade Productions' mission is providing a sort of haven and gathering place for those Christians who love science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Paeter runs a blog where he talks about movies, comics, and games--while always adding a Biblical understanding to the mix.

Apart from that, SBP's focus is producing high-quality audio dramas! With a full cast, Hollywood-style special sound effects, and dynamic editing, Spirit Blade's productions play out like a big budget roller coaster ride of a movie for your mind. I'm endlessly fascinated by all that Paeter has accomplished with their flagship title Spirit Blade. So far, there are two parts released of the Christian Sci-Fi actioner Spirit Blade Trilogy . He is also in the process of adapting Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan's classic epic Christian fantasy allegory.

I did an interview with Paeter a year ago, talking about his work in the nearly lost medium of audio dramas. In high school, I was turned on to radio dramas, listening to the original The Shadow episodes, and, of course War of the Worlds. It's really an art form that many modern day audiences don't fully appreciate, but I think Paeter has gone a long way to make an audio play that appeals to the "flash-bang" desires of our modern generation. Head over to my blog to read my in-depth interview with Paeter, but more than that, check out this page and listen to the incredible trailers he's put together for their stories! Buy yourself a copy, if you're so moved, and support Paeter's work. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

For those of you who are familiar with audio dramas, which ones did you listen to? I've just discovered a Sirius radio station that plays Classic Radio Dramas, and I'm learning more about the medium every day!

Friday, November 18, 2011

To Sign or Not to Sign . . .

In recent posts, Jillian wrote about the book festival she attended. Beth wrote about the ever changing world of publishing. And, Mike asked the all important question of “Why?” do we continue to write. I just completed a six week book tour for my debut Realms novel, “The 13th Demon” and spent many hours in book stores signing books. Was it worth it?
My very first book signing was in 2001. My co-author, Mark Sutton, and I showed up at our local Barnes & Noble and we proceeded to sign over 50 books in a two hour period. There was a line in front of our table and we both regarded the event as a rousing success. Subsequent book signings were not as successful but we sold over 25 to 30 books at each sitting.
Fast forward to 2006 and my first self published book. At my first book signing for that book at our local Barnes & Noble, we sold all of the books the store had ordered and I had to go crack open a box of 50 books I had in the car. I was stoked! Then, I showed up at my next book signing in Orlando, Florida at a major book chain store. No one greeted me on my arrival. A table was set up. I put up my sign and got out my goodies and sat down. And waited. And waited. And waited. Not a single worker at the store ever spoke to me. Not a single customer stopped at my table. It was the single most depressing book signing of my life!
Fast forward to 2011 and the release by Realms of my first real “debut” novel. Do I hold book signings? Are book signings a thing of the past with the availability of e-books? Is it worth having a book signing to make certain my book ends up on the shelf of a book store? These were difficult questions to answer. Only five years had passed since those early book signings, but marketing a book has changed significantly. With the advance of blogging and social media, is it a waste of time to have a book tour and travel long distances to hold book signings?
My first book signing for “The 13th Demon” was my “book launch” and the response blew me away. I planned this event at my church’s combination book store/coffee shop. I advertised in local Christian family magazines and on the local Christian radio station. Over 100 people showed up and I sold 91 books! I was overwhelmed by the response. But, the next three book signings ranged from 4 books sold to a dozen. Why then should an author continue to hold book signings? Here are my reasons:
1 -- I want to support local book stores. With the growth of e-publishing, local book stores are hurting and hurting badly. Customers may show up to browse books, but they end up purchasing them on their book “pads”. But, if you hold a book signing, the event hopefully will draw potential readers into the store not only for my book, but for additional purchases. I reason if the local book store sees I am supporting them, then they may be more likely to stock my book and maybe even put it on one of the “golden” tables up front!
2 -- I want to connect with potential readers and put my face and my personality behind my book. Word of mouth can increase sales. At least, I hope it does. Even if I don’t sell a book, I make myself known to anyone who approaches my table and I pass out bookmarks and tee shirts.
3 -- I want to meet people and talk to them about the issues pertinent to my books. I am not only an author, I am a physician and a trained apologist. At a LifeWay store book signing in Austin, I had the opportunity to talk to a grandmother who was distressed that her grandson was abandoning his Christian faith and she didn’t know how to answer his rather pointed and cynical questions. We had a pleasant conversation and I gave her some pointers on relating to her grandson and his growing unbelief as well as giving her some websites that would help not only her, but her grandson. She ended up buying a book for her grandson and I was able to write him a short, encouraging note in the book. I’ll never know how that situation turned out but I have to believe it was a “divine” appointment.
4 -- I want to give away promotional material. I always begin a book campaign buy having my good friend Jeremy Johnson ( design a killer tee shirt. I produce a limited number and I advertise that I am giving away free tee shirts with each book that is purchased. Now, I lose money on the tee shirts and that is a given. But, if someone wears the tee shirt to a concert or to a worship service or to a youth event, my book title and website are clearly evident. Hopefully such promotion will bring readers to my website.
So, what do you think? In view of the past three posts, where do you think an author should best spend promotional time? Do you still hold book signings? Do you think they are effective or just a waste of time? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Question of "Why . . ."

Thirteen years ago when I set my sights on becoming a published author I had a vision in my head of what it might be like. Without going into the painful details, I was wrong on almost every account.

Now, five books later I find myself still working my day job, juggling writing and work around family, and trying in vain to keep up with all the social media outlets. I'm writing one book while editing another while gearing up to promote and market yet another. My time management skills are being put to the test and at times I fail miserably. I fret and worry about each book, whether it will be well-received or not. I lose sleep. I second-guess myself. I struggle with writer's block and lack of inspiration.

This isn't the way it was supposed to be. This writing life has turned out to be too much like work.

So I think about why I keep doing it, why I keep writing. My reasons have to go further than just wanting to honor the rest of my contract. There must be a deeper purpose. To find it I really don't have to look far within myself and the answer is more complicated than you may think.

There are several reasons:
1) I continue because it gives me something to do. I'm not a hobby kind of guy. I can't see myself spending Saturday afternoons on a golf course. And I'm not so much into watching sports on TV. Writing gives me a worthwhile activity to channel my energy into.
2) I continue because the opportunity is there. Not everyone gets this chance to be published so there must be a reason God allowed me to be. I don't want to waste it.
3) I continue because I still have stories to tell. Not my stories, though they come from within me, but the stories of others, so many just like the people I meet on a daily basis.
4) I continue because I believe God wants me to. Whether I grow tired of it at times or not, whether I question my ability or not, whether I want to or not, doesn't really matter. God has put this task before me and I want to complete it. I don't want to let Him down. And, for me, that's enough motivation to press on.

So what keeps you going? Not just with writing but with anything. Where do find your motivation? Why do you press on in the face of discouragement or failure or hardship? Why do you feel a burning need to do more than zone out in front of a TV?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Ever Changing Publishing World

Writers, editors, publishers and readers are watching the publishing industry closely these days. Authors are just a few of those who are scratching our heads waiting to see how the changes will affect us.

Print sales are still in demand, but not as much as they used to be, and the tides are turning to e-books at a rapid pace. The variety of e-readers is appealing, popular and even kosher. There are different models in various colors and picking out the cover shows a flare of your personality. Publishers Weekly reported e-book buyers spend more money than those who buy print books, and more women than men own them and are over fifty. But it has also been said that this generation still values print books more than the up and coming.

Bad news for book stores, I have a harder time with this than the change to e-books. I still envision going into the book store with my e-reader to drink Starbucks even if there isn’t a print book in the entire store. Silly I know, but can’t they still put book covers around and create an aroma of book pages? I hope I don’t see the day when book stores are obsolete, but hopefully libraries will still be around for a long while.

The good news is that with the higher numbers due to print on demand, digital and self-publishing there are more publishers. Writers have more access than ever to create their own cover art, price, release date etc. And although some genres are more popular than others the variety of genres has gone up. No matter what you want to read or write, it’s out there or you can create it.

I've heard conflicting research on the future for writers. I’m sure that getting your book to stand out in the mass will become more difficult, but there has to be as many new stories to read as there are people who want to read them. They say writing as a profession may become harder in the future, but there are too many imaginative minds, and readers who want to sink into that creative world, for writers to give up their passion.

For me and my house…we’re going to continue to enjoy settling in at the local B&N to read a good book, e-reader or print, without the worries of what lies ahead. And I’ll never stop writing, whether what I write is published or not. It’s just what we do, and we can’t let the questionable future discourage the present.

These are bits are pieces of what I have heard about the publishing world. What can you share about what the future holds for the industry?
What about readers and their preferences?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cincinnati's Book Festival

I blogged about my weekend experience at The Cincinnati Book Festival that was held on October 22nd here as it relates to Marketing for those of  you who are published and interested in such things. There's even more though that doesn't necessarily relate to marketing, but relates more to being passionate about words and books and how they make us feel and what they make us think about. If you want to read up on what was happening and who was there here's a link, BBTB.

 The first night we went to the author reception at The Mercantile Library. I've lived in Cincinnati for thirty one years and I had never been in that library. I loved disappearing from the crowd to sit in the stacks of this incredible library, which is located on the eleventh floor and you can get a pretty good idea from the link what it looks like.
 I wanted to curl up in one of the big chairs and read a book. Knowing that I was going to be at this huge event the next day I really had to push myself to socialize. I'm more introverted than extroverted so I have to make sure I get alone time to energize or power up.There wasn't a big author turnout, but a lot of library people who worked hard to put this event together showed up.

My hubby and I were thrilled to get a chance to talk to Dennis Lehane who had come to the reception as well. I did pick Dennis' brain for awhile and asked him to sign my copy of Shutter Island. He was a gentleman and willing to talk about what to expect at a big book signing, etc. But then I spent more time talking to the catering folks and a woman I didn't know from my suburb who was providing transportation for a couple of the authors. I just felt very relaxed and enjoyed myself and spending time with hubby, without getting all freaked out about trying to fit in with the crowd or how stressful the next day might be.

The next day at the event was great. I was assigned to a table with Donna MacMeans, Redeeming the Rogue who is an author from Ohio Valley RWA where I'm also a member. Then I met Regina Jeffers, The Phantom of Pemberley and then sitting next to me was Carrie Bebris, Deception at Lyme. All delightful women. The picture as the right is my friend Donna MacMeans, awesome assistant that day for us was Tracy and then me. You can tell from our smiles that we were enjoying ourselves.

The crowd was wonderful and I had a wonderful time talking to everyone who stopped at our table. Gina in the picture with me to the left is an enthusiastic reader that I enjoyed spending time with and there were many more. I think my main point here is to say that it's just fun sharing your passion with others who, "get it." :) They all read and love books. Some write, some don't, but in the end we all  have passion for words.

Do you remember the last book event you attended? Where was it? Did you go as an author or reader? Why did you go? What drew you there?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Another CBA Publisher Gets Purchased By an ABA Company


The CBA (Christian Book Distributors) is an acronym largely used to reference Christian publishing or the Christian marketplace. The ABA (American Booksellers Association) is its general, or secular, counterpart. Recently it was announced that Harper Collins (a secular company) has purchased Thomas Nelson Publishing (a CBA company).  Harper Collins also owns Zondervan, another CBA publisher.

So what does this mean for Christian authors who want to publish in the CBA or the Christian marketplace?

No one is quite sure yet. But it does mean that the content coming out of Thomas Nelson in the future will have to be approved by higher-ups who may or may not find a Christian worldview and the Christian message favorable.

My agent, Steve Laube, has posts on his blog about it, from today and yesterday. CLICK HERE TO READ IT

Could this be an end to Christian fiction as we know it? Perhaps. If the demand is not there. Christian readers don't realize that when they share books or buy them at resale shops they are doing a disservice to Christian authors. I understand that readers want to be good stewards of their money, but if we're going to get serious about standing strong in the end times, we need to support Christian authors -- and other Christian talent.

How many of you have seen the movie Courageous? What about the movie Fireproof? If you have only borrowed the DVDs (or you're waiting to borrow them) from your church library, you're not doing Christian artists any favors.

I personally think most Christians are CHEAP. There I said it. Stone me. But it's so true. Many good Christian folks would rather beg and borrow than buy. This does our Christian publishing industry no good.

If our aim is to get Christ's message of love and redemption out in the form of fiction, we have to cultivate readers. But readers need to do their part too. They need to buy our books! And we, as authors, have a daunting job: We have to write books that readers want to buy!

But that in itself poses another set of issues.

Have you heard of the book Heaven is For Real?  It's published by Thomas Nelson. Readers, both Christian and secular, are grabbing it off of store shelves. What do you think is the reason for it? I haven't read it, but I wonder if the Christian message has been watered down to a feel good story rather than the truth of our sin, which sent Jesus Christ to the cross.

Will the Christian message be watered down in the future, so publishers can sell, sell, sell and make money, money, money?

What do you think?