Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Clubs

I have found that visiting book clubs as a guest author has been, in a word, fun! It's rewarding to get face-to-face feedback, and the club members have enjoyed getting a sneak peek into the book publishing industry. Invariably, the members are surprised how much work goes into taking a book from inception to completion.

My presentation is divided into two parts. In the first part I talk about the process of writing, editing, and rewriting. I show the club members the galley proofs and the changes I have made to the manuscript after the editing process is supposedly finished. For example, with my latest book (The Return of Cassandra Todd) I made changes right up to the last possible second. I tweak obsessively and finally have to stop reading the manuscript for fear of finding more changes I want to make.

In the second part of my presentation I discuss the book and invite comments and questions. One of the questions I'm often asked is this: How do you know when your manuscript is finally finished? I answer: A famous artist was once asked the same question regarding his paintings, and he replied, "I know a painting is finished when I walk away from it in boredom." I can relate to that.

 How many of you have attended book clubs as a guest author? What has worked well for you? Any suggestions?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vive La Difference: A Writer for Every Reader

Celebrating my 77th birthday tomorrow, and it reminds me of how good God has been in my life. So, I'm celebrating not only another year, but also a God who has given me my dream.

Authors are such unique individuals. We all may think alike as far as our writing skills and knowledge are concerned, but when it comes to topics and styles, we all have our own way of doing things. Some are plotters, planners, and organizers. Others of us are Pantsters and don’t know the whole story until we write it. Those who write mystery, suspense or thrillers have their own way of thinking and keeping their readers on edge until the end. We have gentle, sweet, romance writers who have conflict, but it doesn’t blow up in our face. We have a limited number of true plot ideas from which to draw, but how we present that plot is as varied as the personalities of the authors who write them.

I envy those who can write mystery, suspense, speculative and fantasy. That’s just not me, but I enjoy reading those genres. Perhaps that’s because I don’t feel I am competing with them for a reader base. I want my stories to touch the hearts of my readers as they watch the lives of my characters grow and evolve in their relationships with each other and with the Lord.

The libraries and bookstores are full of books for every kind of reading tastes. If you can’t find something you would enjoy reading, you just haven’t looked hard enough.

Each of us writes with our own style and voice, and that’s how it should be. Being true to ourselves in our writing is what makes our writing sincere and keeps it moving. It also builds our fan base if we strive for excellence in our writing. When the quality of our writing stays true to our voice and style, our readers won’t be disappointed.

So many times we may wonder if that first book was a fluke and if everyone will hate the next one and the one after that. As long as God is helping us write, and we rely on Him to supply us with the stories, we will not disappoint.

With eleven books under my belt and three more contracted, my greatest concern is that the quality will diminish the more I write. I’ve seen it so often in the secular world, but only a few times in CBA authors. Later books by well known, best-selling authors sometimes lose the pizzazz of the first few and the plots and outcomes become much too predictable. That’s what I hope I can overcome and write so that each book keeps getting better rather than predictable.

With my newest release, Love Stays True, I drew on genealogy research into my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents all because of a few letters my father gave me. One love letter from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother became the catalyst to learn more about their story. The result is the first book of my new series, The Homeward Journey.

Of course in romance there has to be some predictability in the hero and heroine resolving all issues and coming together at the end, but the journey to that end must be exciting and keep the reader turning the pages to find out how the two will finally be together.  

What do you do to make sure each book is as good as or even better than the previous one, especially in a series?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Covers

Don't you just love the day when you get your book cover? I am especially happy with this one, the cover artist did a great job!

Do you have a favorite? If so what made it stand out?

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Fiction Writer’s Purpose According to Debby Mayne

Every fiction writer has a reason for sitting down at the computer every single day and pounding out the words that eventually come together to create a story. One writer may want to use story to share a biblical message, while another may want to make readers laugh, tremble in fear, or sob.

Don’t laugh, fellow authors, but I know a writer who does this so she can get rich and never have to go back to her day job. She hasn’t sold her first book yet, but according to her, she’s this ( ) close. And once readers discover her, she’ll be able to give notice at work, buy the house she always wanted, and travel to exotic places that will inspire her to write even more interesting books. Her husband will quit his banking job and be her agent and business manager. (Yeah, right, let me know how that goes.)

I’m often asked why I chose to write novels and what motivated me to keep going after five years of not selling a thing. After all, it isn’t something I wanted since I picked up my first crayon. I enjoyed English classes—particularly those that involved diagramming sentences—and P.E. I also liked math just fine, until we got past Algebra I. After high school, I went to college and majored in recreation with a minor in English. 

Writing was something I did on the side, but I never expected to see any rewards other than an occasional check for doing a little ad copywriting I did on the side. Then when my children were little, I started writing articles for regional parenting publications after a neighbor made an off-hand remark about how there were probably other “clueless” parents out there who needed some helpful tips. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) writing nonfiction, so I had fun picking up an occasional check for my articles, but I still didn’t see myself as a fiction writer.

Then one day my husband commented on how much I enjoyed reading novels. He pointed to a stack beside my chair and said, “You’re a writer. I bet you can write one of those.” At first, I laughed and shook my head, and then I started thinking about it. Maybe he was right. Books had always been my escape, and I absolutely loved romantic stories.

So I sat down and started pounding out a story. Someone at the library told me about the Writer’s Market. I perused the listings until I found the publishers that might be interested in the type of book I was writing. Long story short, that book didn’t sell and neither did the next one. It took me five whole years to write something that editors deemed publishable.

After I got to know my first editor, I asked why she chose my book over the hundreds of others she had in the stacks on and around her desk. She said that my story pulled her out of her world and into the lives of the characters. With a hint of a blush, she added that she'd fallen in love with my hero. That got me thinking about how I finally wrote the type of story I enjoyed reading, and only then was I able to sell a book. When I tried to teach through fiction or give a message that didn’t come natural to me, I flopped. That obviously wasn’t “my thing.”

That was almost 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve discovered that my purpose in fiction writing is to entertain readers with characters they can relate to or fall in love with. As I write each book, I’m entertained by my “friends” who just happen to be the characters in the story. In fact, I’m often sad when I finish my book, which is why I love writing series.

All published authors have their own reasons for their chosen path. Christian fiction offers all sorts of stories, including those that teach biblical lessons, some that make you laugh, and others that might even have you nervously glancing over your shoulder. My fiction writing purpose has developed into entertaining readers with a fun story and a spark of a message that will leave readers thinking about their own walk with the Lord. Most of the time, the message is very subtle, but it’s there.

Readers, what types of stories do you like to read? Fiction authors, what is your purpose in writing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Just the Story, please!

For my post, I want to feature something my son, Sean Hennigan, recently wrote to me in an email. It was in response to all of the uproar over the announcement of the new Xbox game console. Oddly enough, his words, reflective of the twenty something generation, are right on the money as to where we are today in our world of instant content. For me as a writer, it is particularly insightful so I want to share it with this blog:

"every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great" Michael Hyatt

The biggest problem we're facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we're given?

We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can't hide, and if they can, they can't hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world's population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.

Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we've spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and "real") and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion - the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.

But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism's key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.

That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed  world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.

Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was. It's an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power's realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

It's an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power's realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

There's a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We've consumed because we've been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.

So that's my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.