Your favorite word

words

WORDS. Writers love ’em. And what power they have. Power to inspire, comfort, engage, infuriate. They can cause war. And bring peace.

Words refine our thinking. They give us pause to examine ourselves. They are the machinery that runs the enterprise of civilization.

Consider this: God spoke the world into being. Not a bad advertisement for the power of words.

Do you have a favorite word? I do. Mine is kinestatic. You won’t find it in the dictionary because it hasn’t made its way into popular usage. Yet. The word was coined by my husband several decades ago when he invented and patented an imaging device and named it the Kinestatic Charge Detector. (You can google it.)

Of course, I’m proud of Frank’s work, but I’m also amazed at the word he came up with. You see, kinestatic is an adjective describing something that is moving in one frame of reference, but at rest in another one.

Think of walking up a down escalator. Or running on a treadmill. In both cases, you’re moving in relation to the escalator or treadmill, but you’re still in relation to the surrounding area. That’s pretty interesting, but it gets better.

The word kinestatic describes so much more. Have you ever thought that you spent all day rushing around, but didn’t get anywhere? That’s a kind of kinestasis (using the noun here). How about climbing the corporate ladder, but never succeeding in accomplishing your goals? Same thing. You can probably come up with quite of few examples of kinestasis yourself. What a great word!

Do me a favor and post your favorite word or words below and let us know why you like them.

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — OCTOBER 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — OCTOBER 2021

Stork Bite

 

I’m excited to welcome author Lisa Simonds back to the Craft of Writing blog. Lisa first appeared on this blog in February 2020 when we discussed her debut novel, All In.

Lisa is back today as an award-winning novelist for her second work, Stork Bite, which won a 2021 IPPY Award. New authors take note: it’s possible to be recognized for your work even early on in your career!

 

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L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

Her debut novel, All In, was released in August 2019. Her second novel, Stork Bite, released in November 2020.

 

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STORK BITE with author Lisa Simonds Click To Tweet

 

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Welcome Lisa Simonds and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! Good morning to you and everyone who’s joining us. October is my favorite month, and I’m thrilled and honored to be this month’s Craft of Writing guest.

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Actually, no. The first career I really wanted was as a pilot. That was around the time I became a Christian and got my private pilot certificate. I wanted to be a missionary pilot with a group like Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I have a friend, Nancy Cullen, who has volunteered in the Idaho and Indonesia MAF facilities. MAF uses small aircraft to help people who live in hard-to-reach locations.

Even though I didn’t always want to be an author, I always was drawn to stories. I lost myself in books when I was young, and I think all that reading nurtured my imagination. I made up stories in my head too, as far back as I can remember. I think fiction called to me a long time before I became self-aware as a writer.

You asked about becoming an author, which implies a readership. I think gaining a readership demands a submission to craft in order to write stories that other people want to read. Mastering the craft of writing, particularly the craft of fiction, is a never-ending quest. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, athletes who have their eyes on the prize submit to the discipline of training and run the race according to the rules. As a runner yourself, Kay, you know something about that. The prize for writing isn’t an award, it’s a readership.

 

Can you give us a brief synopsis of your second novel, Stork Bite?

Stork Bite is difficult to capture in a brief synopsis. The novel encompasses two interconnected books. “Book One” is about a young black man named David Walker, and I titled it with his name. David’s peaceful, pastoral life is suddenly and dramatically torn from him when he accidentally kills a white man. The year is 1913 and the man David kills is a Klansman. David hides the crime and flees the scene because he fears what the Klan will do to him and his family. “Book One” is the story of what happens to David in the wake of that terrible event.

“Book Two” is titled “Shreveport,” and it introduces a cast of characters who live in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cargie (rhymes with Margie) Barr; her husband, Thomas; Mae Compton; and Jax Addington. “Book Two” picks up in 1927, about a decade after we leave David in “Book One,” and it follows the lives of the Shreveport crowd over many years. These characters may seem distant from the boy David Walker and his story, but all of their lives, including David’s, intertwine—some more directly than others.

I like the idea of the secret lives people have. It’s interesting to me that two people can be right next to each other physically, but each can have whole worlds happening inside them that the other doesn’t know about. I touched on that idea a lot in Stork Bite. There’s one scene in which Cargie, who has been reading a lot of novels, thinks it’s strange that her husband, Thomas, doesn’t know all the goings on inside her head when she lays it on the pillow next to his. But then, Thomas has his own secrets that Cargie doesn’t suspect either.

In the early drafts, I played with interspersing David’s story with the Shreveport stories, jumping back and forth in time and place. This type of structure has been done effectively in some popular novels, but it didn’t work for Stork Bite. Based on feedback from some early readers, the intermingled narratives were disruptive and hard to follow. In the end, I decided to keep David’s story as a whole piece and place it at the beginning. The Book One/Book Two structure is unfamiliar to readers, and some are more than a little discombobulated by it. A few have had trouble getting past their initial disorientation to enjoy the novel. Others take to it just fine.

I want to say something here about the contract of trust between an author and a reader. I think it’s very, very important for authors to fulfill all the promises they’ve made by the end of a novel. That’s how we gain and hold readers’ trust, and it’s their trust that compels them to hang with us while we lead them through the labyrinth of our story. Trust is built over time, book by book. Part of a writer’s craft is learning to manage readers’ expectations throughout the story. We need readers to stay on the same page with us and not expect something we didn’t promise or didn’t intend to promise. That’s a huge part of craft as well.

 

What made you decide to write Stork Bite? How is it different from your first novel?

The genesis of Stork Bite was very different from All In. The novel that became All In grew from a desire to show the inner transformation when someone—in this case, a particular young woman—passes from unbelief through the veil to saving faith. All In was narrow and specific in its premise, and the story drove single-mindedly toward that end.

Stork Bite is a much more meandering, atmospheric novel. Before I wrote it, I had spent years thinking about how to capture some of my aunt’s life in a story. Aunt Mabel, my mother’s eldest sister, was a brave, decisive woman who endured more than her share of heartache. She lived in Shreveport, right across the street from Centenary College, and she was the inspiration for the character Mae Compton. During the writing, Mae became a very different person from my aunt, but I like to think Mabel would have understood Mae.

In the end, Stork Bite overflowed the boundaries of Aunt Mabel’s life, as I had imagined it, and became a story of my South. Many details in the novel came from my own tribal knowledge: a World War I diary, a dry-cleaning store, a juke joint on Lake Bistineau, cotton farming, squirrel hunting with a .22, a jilted beau, an abrupt marriage, a flight from a hurricane in the dead of night. A minor character is murdered by a jealous husband, and the killer is convicted because he reloaded and shot some more. That detail came from my great uncle, who did time in Angola for the crime.

I think Stork Bite’s strength is the world building that came from all those details. At least, that’s what readers who review or talk to me personally mention every time. They like the Southern vibe. Last week, I gave a copy to an acquaintance, and the first thing he asked was, “Does it have all the Southern…?” He didn’t finish the sentence because he couldn’t quite capture it in a word, but I think he wanted to know if he would be immersed in a Southern experience. I like to think Stork Bite gives readers that experience.

 

Tell us about the title, Stork Bite. How did you choose it and what does it mean?

I put a highlighted note on GoodReads about the title because readers are puzzled by it. I get that. There’s only one reference to a stork bite when a child in the story is born with one. For your readers who don’t know, a stork bite is a common birthmark on a baby’s forehead. They almost always fade with time.

The title is a metaphor for being born under the Adamic curse that is in this world. We all share an imperfect nativity. I love the shades of meaning in the Hebrew word we translate as nativity, as in Ezekial 16:4. They include everything about our entrance into this world: our family, our antecedents, our culture, our physical situation. We are all born, but the challenges our births entail are unique to each of us.

In one of the early manuscripts, I had David Walker considering all the joys and sorrows that accompany being born into this world. He thinks about how everyone is marked by trouble, like a birthmark. In the end, I felt David’s ruminations were a little too on the nose and I edited them out. In retrospect, I wish I had included some sort of epigraph at the beginning to explain the title, as Rebecca Makkai did with The Great Believers.

 

I love the cover of Stork Bite. Can you share how you came up with that?

Isn’t the cover beautiful? Actually, Kay, you had more than a little to do with that cover design. What I mean by that is you gave me a very good steer toward Kristie Koontz, your cover designer for Dead Man’s Watch. I contacted Kristie and we had a Zoom meeting to discuss the book and what I was looking for in a cover. I wanted an image of a stork and a cover that evoked a low country, Southern feeling. I had even gone as far as purchasing an image on Shutterstock and playing around with it myself.

I sent what I had done to Kristie, thinking she would dress it up and make it better. Kristie asked if I was open to something different if she came up with it. Of course I was! Soon she sent me back a few much-improved versions of my work and a design she had come up with on her own. There was no contest. I loved Kristie’s original design and it became the cover for Stork Bite. Incidentally, the stork image I bought from Shutterstock became a tiny icon on the spine of the print edition. Kristie suggested that little detail.

 

Did you find writing a second novel was as difficult as the first? If so, in what ways?

Stork Bite was more difficult to write than All In. For starters, Stork Bite has five POV characters versus All In’s one POV character.

I had to do a lot of research for Stork Bite too because so much of the novel takes place in a time before I was born. My research for Stork Bite was like an iceberg in that most of it never made it into the book. I spent hours upon hours on the internet and reading books, researching Shreveport’s history, Centenary College, Mooretown, Texas Avenue, Caddo Lake, the Klan, 1930s fashions and music and aircraft, bootlegging, Hot Springs, Irish gangsters, Al Capone, World War 1, Hurricane Audrey, cotton farming and ginning, and more. I have a 91-year-old friend whose family cotton farmed in Arkansas using horse-drawn plows when he was a boy. His memories of their life then were a great help.

Figuring out the structure of Stork Bite was a real challenge, requiring draft after draft of revisions and resequencing. I’m not just talking about how to position David Walker’s story, but how to sequence the chapters in the Shreveport section of the book to create a smooth narrative flow.

 

Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

I entered for the added exposure. I felt that book contests were a necessary part of my marketing strategy. I entered Stork Bite in several contests, including the Texas Institute of Letters, the Eric Hoffer Awards, the IPPY Awards, and the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The IPPY Awards issued Stork Bite a bronze medal in the Best Regional Fiction – South category. That was a very nice honor, and I have some pretty stickers to put on print copies.

I want to remind your Craft of Fiction audience that The Watch on The Fencepost received an honorable mention in Mystery and Crime Fiction from the Eric Hoffer Awards, which was a very, very nice honor for an exceptionally well-crafted novel.

I vetted the contests as best I could. There are plenty of contests out there, but I only entered the ones that met two criteria: 1) Stork Bite seemed like a good fit, and 2) winning might bring the novel some recognition or credibility.

 

How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

In my opinion, not very much because you don’t have any control over winning. There are so many variables, not the least of which are the personal tastes of the judges. If you enter a contest that you think your book has a good chance of winning and it doesn’t, there’s probably value in examining the books that did win. What’s special about them? What stands out? What, if anything, can you learn from them?

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

If you want to be read, learn to write for others, not only for yourself. I believe the more we learn to edit the self-indulgence out of our work, in other words “murder our darlings,” the more we’ll be in a position to broaden our audience.

There’s a wonderful book titled, Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. The author did a tremendous amount of research into the Inklings, who were Tolkien’s and Lewis’s critique group. One thing she discovered was that J.R.R. Tolkien wore his buddies out by reading ad nauseam every week about hobbits and elves and Middle Earth. Had it not been for C.S. Lewis convincing his dear friend to edit, Tolkien’s work might never have been published. Wouldn’t that have been a great loss?

Getting the self-indulgence out of our work requires an objective, unsentimental approach to revision. I think maybe that’s why so many writing teachers and coaches recommend letting a first draft cool off for a period of time before editing.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel that I hope will snag some new readers. My first two novels focused on questions that I personally wanted to explore. In that sense, I wrote those books for myself first and foremost. With this third novel, I’m focusing on reader enjoyment rather than exploring life’s big questions. I’m trying to write quick scenes with plenty of humor and some suspense too. (Hopefully!) The target audience are readers who want a clean read—no language or other elements that might offend. The characters in the novel are Christians, so there is an opportunity to show the day-to-day life of a young Christian couple and their children.

This novel will be genre fiction. I’d call it Christian suspense. Something James Patterson said in his MasterClass really stuck with me. He advised writers to never condescend to the genre. I love that because it blasts away the highfalutin idea that only literary work contains great writing. Genre fiction can and should have great writing too.

I won’t tell you the title because it’s a working title that may not stick. But I do have a name for you to remember: Freddie Funderburk. Hopefully, you’ll see that name again. And again.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Please visit my website. www.lksimonds.com

There you can find links to purchase my novels and to my social media. For years, I’ve written little essays called Leaves of Grace. You can get to those from my website too, or visit www.melissakaysimonds.com for a direct link.

 

Thanks again, Lisa, for being with us.

It was my pleasure, Kay!

 

STORK BITE with author Lisa Simonds Click To Tweet

 

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — SEPTEMBER 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — SEPTEMBER 2021

The Plot Whisperer

 

“Why is writing important? Because it teaches you about yourself, expands your horizons, and challenges you to discover new truths.”

That is the very first paragraph of Chapter One in Martha Alderson’s book The Plot Whisperer.

If you’re like me, you’re probably nodding your head up and down in eager agreement because those two sentences resonate with what you’ve discovered about yourself as a writer.

Once I began reading The Plot Whisperer, I knew I wanted to explore more of what Martha Alderson had to say about writing, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Martha as my guest today on the Craft of Writing blog.

 

 

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Martha Alderson, MA, is the author of the bestselling The Plot Whisperer. She writes novels for readers, plots books for writers, and most recently a workbook for anyone looking to enrich their lives with more creativity and inspiration. Martha has been exploring and writing about the Universal Story for the past twenty years as part of the plot support she offers to writers. She first introduced the Universal Story in The Plot Whisperer to transform writers’ creative lives and to “show” plot. More recently, she has expanded her work to include helping people transform their creative lives.

 

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Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Martha Alderson. Thank you for joining us!

Thank you for inviting me and for the opportunity to share my passion with your followers.

 

Tell us about your writing journey. Why did you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

I started writing fiction on a lark after having sold my speech, language, and learning disability clinic for children. Quickly, I stumbled over plot. As I analyzed literally hundreds of novels, memoirs, and screenplays for plot, I started sharing what I was learning with my writing friends. That quickly led to a writing gig at the University of California Santa Cruz. This was all long ago when plot wasn’t something covered in creative writing classes. Now, there are loads of books on plot but that wasn’t the case back then. Find a need and fill it. I independently published my first book on plot that’s now published by Penguin Random House as Writing Blockbuster Plots. Quite a thrill indeed! From that first plot book evolved my bestselling The Plot Whisperer book.

 

In The Plot Whisperer, you talk about the Universal Story. Can you define what you mean by that?

The Universal Story is an energetic pathway that is at the heart of every great transformational journey in stories and in life. An understanding of the Universal Story helps you better direct the flow of your story and connect you to your creative promise.

 

I noticed in your book that you describe two approaches to writing: the left-brain, analytical approach and the right-brain, intuitive approach. Can you describe each of these? Do they present different challenges for the author?

Plot is a linear, organized sequence of events affected by cause and effect. Thanks to my background in special education, I appreciate that we all learn differently. The longer I taught plot, the more clearly emerged two major types of writers. Some writers quickly pick up the concept of plot. Others struggle and feel stifled. For ease, I divide the two groups into left-brain, analytical and right-brain, intuitive. Those who grasp plot easily – left-brain dominant versus those who don’t – right-brain dominant.

 

Can you explain what a Plot Planner is and why it helps define the overall plot?

The Plot Planner replicates the energy of Universal Story and highlights the essential Energetic Markers in every great story. Creating a Plot Planner for your story allows you to step away from all the words and “see” your plot from beginning to end. It allows you to evaluate the sequence of your scene placement and the cause and effect at play.

 

Why is it important to develop a Scene Tracker when writing a novel?

A Scene Tracker allows you to analyze your scenes based on the 7 essential elements in every great scene.

 

How important is it for the novelist to show transformation in the main character?

If all the drama and excitement, conflict and suspense, mystery and romance in your story doesn’t affect your protagonist on a deep emotional level, what’s the point of your story? In other words, characters grow and change because of what happens from the beginning to the end of your story.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Understand that writing a novel from beginning to end takes you on an epic journey. You’ll learn as much about yourself as you do about stories the longer you write. Keep going. Trust the process.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

MarthaAlderson.com

@MarthaAlderson (FB)

@MarthaSAlderson (Instagram)

@PlotWhisperer (FB, Twitter, Instagram)

 

Thank you, Martha, for being with us today.

You’re more than welcome, Kay!

 

THE PLOT WHISPERER with Martha Alderson Click To Tweet

 

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — AUGUST 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — AUGUST 2021

NOW and THEN and ALWAYS

 

I’m excited that multi-award-winning author Melissa Tagg appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.

We don’t talk a lot about Romance novels here, so this is our chance to jump into that genre and learn some of the secrets of great romance writing. Melissa’s novel Now and Then and Always won the 2020 Christy Award for Contemporary Romance.

 

 

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Melissa Tagg is the USA Today bestselling, Christy and Carol Award-winning author of swoony and hope-filled small-town contemporary romances. She’s also a former reporter, current nonprofit marketing strategist, and total Iowa girl.

Melissa has taught at multiple national writing conferences, as well as workshops and women’s retreats. When she’s not happily lost in someone else’s book or plugging away at her own, she can be found spoiling her nieces and nephews, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next fictional hero. Connect with Melissa at melissatagg.com.

 

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Welcome Melissa and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for having me!

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Oh yes, I can honestly say I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve just always loved stories…always, always. As a kid, I wrote a ridiculous number of stories in Mead 5-Star notebooks and, thankfully, I had the kind of parents and grandparents who read my stories and fueled my dreams with endless encouragement. I attended my first weekend writing retreat in 2009 and my first national conference in 2010, and those two things really helped me hunker down and get serious about completing a novel.

The story of how I got published, though, is wonderfully random (or perhaps not random at all considering I’m pretty convinced God opened the doors). An editor at Bethany House happened to come across my blog in early 2012 and contacted me out of the blue. She asked if I had any manuscripts in the works and I sent her two proposals. That summer, I signed with an agent, and about a month later, signed my first contract.

I love telling that story to other writers as a way of reminding them that sometimes we can do ALL the things people tell us to do—go to conferences and pitch to agents and editors and be everywhere on social media and enter contests and thing after thing—and yet, the open door we’re waiting for might be in a hallway we never even thought to walk down! I’d never pitched to a Bethany House editor, never figured I wrote the kind of books that might be attractive to them. It’s encouraging to me to remember that our dreams aren’t nearly as dependent on what WE do as what God can do. That doesn’t mean we don’t do the work and chase the dream…but it takes the pressure off to realize at the end of the day, the best open doors are the ones He flings open.

 

Can you give us a brief synopsis of Now and Then and Always?

Last year, after traumatic circumstances forced her from her job as a nanny, Mara Bristol finally found a place to belong–the winsome Everwood Bed & Breakfast at the edge of Maple Valley, Iowa. For months, she’s helped its owner, Lenora, maintain the ramshackle property despite their shortage of guests. But when Lenora fails to return from a month-long trip and the bank threatens foreclosure, Mara worries she’s once again alone . . . abandoned . . . about to lose the only true home she’s ever known.

Detective Marshall Hawkins is no closer to whole today than he was two years ago . . . the day his daughter died. Between his divorce, debilitating migraines, and a dependence on medication, his life is falling apart. And when a reckless decision on the job propels him into administrative leave, he has no other plan but to get in his truck and drive. A one-night stay at the Everwood was supposed to be just that. But there’s something about the old house–or maybe its intriguing caretaker–that pulls him in.

Together, Mara and Marshall set out to save the Everwood. But its secrets run deeper than they could’ve imagined. As they renovate the house and search for its missing owner, they’ll each confront the pain that brought them to the Everwood in the first place . . . and just maybe discover a faith and love to help them carry on.

 

What made you decide to write that book?

A couple of things: First, this story features an eerie old B&B that first appeared in one of my older books. It was just a brief appearance in that book but I knew as I described it that one day I wanted to set a whole book there.

And then the second thing that propelled me into this book, and really, the series as a whole, was the fun collection of side characters from previous books who I just knew were waiting for the spotlight. None of them were all that connected, but they’d shown up in past books individually and grabbed ahold of my heart for one reason or another. So when it was time to start a new series, I thought, hmm, what if I could take all these characters I love—characters with intriguing backstories that I simply haven’t had a chance to explore yet—and found some reason to pull them all together into a makeshift family? That’s where the spark of this story and its series came from.

 

What is the secret to being a great romance writer?

I think I could answer this question in so many ways, but as I think about it, I think one of the most vital keys to writing a great romance is knowing your WHY/WHY NOT for your hero and heroine and making sure those WHYs and WHY NOTs carry equal weight. What are the reasons your hero and heroine belong together? What are the reasons they don’t? What are their competing values?

To me, it’s that WHY/WHY NOT that adds wonderful tension to a romance. I think a lot of people mistake conflict for tension—they throw random conflicts at their characters, have them butt heads repeatedly, and while that might make for some nice banter and a good read, to me, it’s the tension and depth that takes it to a great read. And you find that tension in threading your WHYs and WHY NOTs through the story so that there’s a captivating push and pull for the reader.

 

Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

You know, that’s a good question. I think after I was first published, I began entering contests just because I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do. Haha! Prior to being published, I entered contests for not-yet-published writers as a way to receive feedback from agents and editors and that was so helpful! But most of the contests I’ve entered post-publication don’t offer that kind of feedback. One of the reasons I continue to enter (though I don’t enter nearly as many as I used to) is because sometimes when you final, it’s a nice way of reaching new readers. It’s also simply just fun and affirming when a book does well in a contest.

But with the Christy Award specifically, that one was just a dream-come-true for me. I was in high school when that contest first began and as a young person who’d read the book it’s named after (Christy by Catherine Marshall) probably already five times by then, that contest just felt like a far-off dream that I held on to for many, many years.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

I think one of the most important things to consider before entering a contest is who the judges are. If you’re pre-published, it’s so helpful to look for contests where the judges are agents or editors, especially editors who work for a publisher you’d like to land a contract with, or authors you look up to and admire. And then on the other side, I really appreciate contests where there’s a nice mix of judges—librarians, reviewers, bookstore owners, and avid readers…with a few authors or industry professionals mixed in, too. I like knowing it’s not only peers serving as judges, but people who represent who I’m actually writing the book for—readers.

Oh, an additional note for entering contests as a pre-published writer: I highly suggest looking for one where you get great feedback and suggestions from the judges. Some contests will only give you a number score, but others really strive to help you improve your book.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

This isn’t going to be all that tangible, but it’s something I needed when I was a new writer and I still need it now—and that is, remember WHY you write. Write it down, even. Put it on a post-it note and attach it to your laptop if you need to. There are so many things that can come along with this journey, both good and bad, and it’s so easy to get tangled up in those things, to get overwhelmed or compare yourself to others, and in the process, forget why you started writing in the first place. Hold on to your Why. Hold on to your love of stories. Hold on to those first story sparks that grabbed hold of you when you first started working on your current manuscript and use them as kindling whenever your story flames start to flicker out.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a new three-book series in the works that I’m oh-so-excited about! The first book is called Autumn by the Sea and it releases on September 28. While I get ready to market and promote that release, I’m also drafting the second book in the series, A Seaside Wonder. Like my other books, these are contemporary romances that take place in a small town. Unlike my other books, they take place in Maine and there’s an overarching mystery threaded through all three books, plus individual mysteries in each story. I’m having a blast!

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

The easiest places to catch up with me are on Instagram (@melissatagg) and Facebook (@authormelissatagg) and on my website (melissatagg.com).

 

Thanks again, Melissa, for being with us.

 

 

NOW and THEN and ALWAYS with Melissa Tagg Click To Tweet

 

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JULY 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JULY 2021

VISION AND REVISION

One of the great things about hosting the Craft of Writing blog is getting to meet so many accomplished professionals, and I’m thrilled to welcome craft expert Jodie Renner to the blog for the first time.

I titled this blog interview VISION AND REVISION since we’ll be talking about Jodie’s award-winning book Fire Up Your Fiction. Much of that book has to do with revising your first draft. However, it’s also a wonderful guide to read *before* you start that new novel.

So grab your literary blowtorch and let’s add some spark to our stories.

 

 

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Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and award-winning author of three Editor’s Guides to Writing Compelling Fiction, WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS; as well as two QUICK CLICKS e-resources for writers and editors, SPELLING LIST and WORD USAGE. She has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity, VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories & Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers.

When she’s not editing, writing, blogging, or reading novels, Jodie loves to pursue her three other passions, dancing, photography and traveling. She has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and hopes to get away again soon to continue her explorations.

 

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By the way, Jodie is also appearing today on The Kill Zone Blog. After you read (and comment on) the interview here, hop over to TKZ and take a look at her post entitled “Hook Your Readers with a Compelling Storyline, Tagline, & Back Cover Copy.” Lots of useful information.

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Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Jodie Renner. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks so much for inviting me, Kay. I’m honored to be in the same company as some of my favorite writing craft gurus – James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, Steven James, K.M. Weiland, Renni Browne, and Dave King, among others.

 

How important is the revision process when writing a novel?

The revision process is an indispensable step in the creation of an engrossing novel or short story. Of course, first, it’s important to just write with wild abandon. Get your ideas down without thinking about word choice or making the sentences perfect. But then, once you’ve written your first draft (or are at a point where your muse is taking a break), it’s time to go back and reread, revise, and polish.

Did you use the best word there? Would a different word choice bring the scene to life more vividly? Have you varied your sentence structure and included short, medium, and long sentences? Look at pacing. Are you keeping readers interested and intrigued? Is your writing bland or rambling and repetitive in places? It may be time to do some weeding and tighten it up by deleting excessive words, combining and shortening sentences, etc. Are some of your paragraphs too long? Condense them or break them up for more white space. Have you included a balance of narration and dialogue, not too much of one or the other?

Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural, like that character would actually speak? Or stilted, too correct, overly wordy, or more like the author would speak? In dialogue, cut many of those complete sentences down to a few words or even one word or a silence.

And of course, there are macro issues that may need to be considered, such as premise, plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, inconsistencies, discrepancies, and more. As writers, we’re too close to our work, so we don’t see what might confuse others. Often a fresh set of eyes will help with those.

 

How important is it for an author to work with a professional editor?

If you’re serious about getting your book published, selling well, and garnering great reviews, it’s essential. But never send an editor your first draft. You run the risk of having it rejected, or the editor could get bogged down on correcting basic errors and won’t have time to address bigger issues and really take it up several notches. Go through your manuscript several times, fine-tuning and polishing. Also, read writing craft books, as there may be several important fiction-writing techniques you’re not even aware of or have not yet mastered; for example, head-hopping, showing instead of telling, and info dumps.

Then try to find some volunteer beta readers (savvy, discerning readers who read in your genre; best to avoid family and close friends, who may not feel comfortable telling you what they really think) to go through your short story or novel to give you feedback on where the story lags, where it excites them, where they were confused, etc. You may know some grammar nerds who can help you with spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, too. That would actually be a good first step, so your other beta readers aren’t distracted by grammatical errors and typos.

 

In Fire Up Your Fiction, you point out many areas where authors need to revise their first draft. As an experienced editor, what’s the most common mistake you see authors make?

New authors typically want to “tell” too much, explain too much, as the author or an omniscient narrator. Try to stay out of the story and let the characters interact in a natural way. Get in the point of view, the head and body, of your main character right from the start, and stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint for most of the story, only showing what he perceives and his physical, sensory, and emotional reactions to what’s happening around him. This provides the intimacy that today’s readers crave and brings the scene to life. And when you’re not in the viewpoint of the protagonist, you should be in the POV of another important character, like the love interest or the antagonist. Stay out of the head of minor characters unless it’s a critical scene where a major character is not present.

Don’t step back and explain things as the author/narrator. Avoid any kind of info dumps or backstory dumps. Just let the characters tell the story. Work in other details gradually and briefly, in a natural way as the story unfolds. Don’t stop to explain anything in a neutral paragraph to the readers. That takes the readers out of the story, away from the intimacy of the character, and is distracting and even annoying.

Here’s an example of “show, don’t tell”: Telling: He was overweight and obviously didn’t look after himself.” Showing: “He was pear-shaped, potbellied, and smoked constantly, even though one of his lungs had already been surgically removed.” – James Lee Burke, Heartwood.

Along the same lines, resist the temptation to tell readers all about the protagonist’s background early in the novel. Keep the readers intrigued and turning the pages to find out more by hinting at secrets, regrets, and other critical background info and revealing it in tidbits as you go along.

 

You recommend deep POV when writing in third-person. Can you explain the advantages to taking this approach?

Most popular fiction today uses first-person POV, close third-person point of view, or even deep POV, as opposed to the classics of 100 years ago or more, which were usually written in omniscient. Today’s readers want to identify immediately with the main character, to see what they see and feel what they feel. This approach engages the readers emotionally, makes them bond with the protagonist, and keeps them turning the pages, which is what they and you want.

Using this method, you start out your story in the head and body of your lead character and stay there for most of the novel. You show the setting and other characters from their point of view, including their physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Don’t zoom out and show that character from the outside, as the author or an omniscient narrator. That breaks the spell and can be off-putting to today’s readers, who prefer the more intimate approach. You may decide to show a scene or chapter from another character’s viewpoint, but be sure it’s an important character, and don’t head-hop back and forth.

 

I loved reading your recommendation to provide factual information by using attitude. Can you describe that method?

If you feel the need to impart some information to the readers to help them understand something better, don’t do it in a block, like an essay or lecture or nonfiction book. Work in only the necessary facts, briefly and in a more natural way, preferably through a dialogue with questions and answers or some kind of disagreement, or one character explaining to another, but not in long paragraphs. Break it up with interaction, maybe with some initial confusion or misunderstanding, then some disagreement or questioning. That makes it livelier and not like you’ve interrupted your story as the author to present a mini-lecture on the topic. That’s jarring and doesn’t feel authentic. And it takes the reader out of the story world, which you definitely don’t want. Stay in the character’s point of view. Let the characters tell the story!

For more on this topic, including examples and detailed tips on how to achieve this, see my blog post, “Need to Add Info to Your Story? Use Lots of Attitude!

 

Do you have a preference between plotting and pantsing? Will your books help authors who use either one of those approaches?

Each author chooses the approach that works best for them – outlining first or “writing by the seat of their pants.” “Pantsing” often requires more extensive editing later, but plotting can feel restrictive to some writers. Both methods will produce a first draft that will then benefit from my books. The advantage of my three writing guides is that they are written for busy authors who want to quickly find what they’re looking for and get back to writing their novel or short story. I’ve made them all reader-friendly and easily scannable, with lots of bolded subheadings and before-and-after examples, so the information is really easy to find, read, and apply.

 

How important is it for an author to read other books in his/her genre?

If you want to succeed and sell lots of books, it’s critical to read a variety of best-selling novels in your genre. Analyze the techniques of the popular authors to find out why readers love them and post great reviews about their books. Study their first pages especially, and how they introduce the main character (usually right away, in his/her viewpoint) and handle dialogue and backstory or flashbacks. How do they hook you right from the start, keep you intrigued, and make you care about the characters? How do they keep you guessing and slowly dole out bits of critical information and secrets?

 

Your writing guides have won awards, and you’ve also acted as a judge for writing contests. Do you have any advice for new writers entering their short story or novel into a contest?

Yes, I’ve judged for many writing contests, including several times for Writer’s Digest. Right now, I’m busy judging the first 10 pages of unpublished novels for Page Turner Awards. My advice as a judge? Make sure you’ve revised and edited your work several times. Read it out loud or have Word’s “text to speech” app read it aloud to you. Get several volunteer beta readers to give you feedback. After your third or fourth revision, change the font to something visually different, make it single-spaced and 6”x9”, like a book, print it up (or put it on your phone or tablet), and read it in a different location, preferably away from your home. Make notes and revise again.

Get it edited and proofread. Your first few pages have to be stellar – polished to a shine. A boring or confusing beginning or grammatical and spelling errors are an instant turn-off. Judges often have hundreds of entries to pare down to their top ten, so they’re looking for reasons to quickly reject any non-contenders. When I have hundreds to read and assess, I reject obviously weak ones after reading only the first few paragraphs, which is what agents do all the time. Remember, these are contests and they’re looking for “la crème de la crème” for their awards. If they gave an award to a story with numerous careless errors, especially in the first pages, the organization would be laughed at.

For a checklist of judges’ criteria for submissions of stories and novels, go to: How Will Your Story Rate in a Contest? Evaluation Criteria.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Don’t be in a rush to publish your novel or send it off to agents. Be sure to go through it several times, then get some volunteer beta readers to go through it and give you their impressions. Then, if you can afford a professional editor, that would be invaluable. Agents and small publishers are flooded with submissions, so the slightest off-putting issue (wordiness, repetition, bland characters, stilted dialogue, not enough intrigue or tension, typos, punctuation errors, bloopers, etc.) will quickly land your story in the “rejects” pile. And if you rush to self-publish your novel before it’s vetted by others and revised and polished, you run the risk of getting a lot of negative reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and those reviews stay there forever. The only way to get them to go away is to unpublish your book. Then you’d have to publish a revised version with a different title and a new ISBN.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can visit my website, https://www.JodieRenner.com, my Amazon Author Page at https://www.amazon.com/Jodie-Renner/e/B008H80AIE, or my blog, https://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, which has been offering free advice on a variety of topics for writers since 2010.

 

Thank you, Jodie, for being with us today.

I’m honored that you invited me, Kay. Thank you. Love your blog!

 

 

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THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JUNE 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JUNE 2021

I am thrilled to welcome award-winning author and craft expert Steven James to The Craft of Writing blog today.

Steven is a member of that prestigious group known as the Christy Award Hall-of-Famers. Not only has he won numerous writing awards for his novels, he is well-known for his expertise on the craft of writing. And he hosts a weekly podcast, “The Story Blender.” (Where does he get the time?) I was doubly thrilled to see that he’s a runner.

Not knowing which of his many works to discuss here, I’ve chosen two: Synapse, his latest novel, is a near-future thriller. It received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and was a finalist for an International Book Award.  I picked Story Trumps Structure to represent his work on the art of fiction writing. I expect we can have a lively discussion today.

 

 

          

 

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Steven James is the critically-acclaimed author of seventeen novels whose award-winning, pulse-pounding thrillers continue to gain wide critical acclaim and a growing fan base. Publishers Weekly calls him a “master storyteller at the peak of his game,” and RT Book Reviews promises that “the nail-biting suspense will rivet you.”

Equipped with a unique Master’s Degree in Storytelling, he has taught writing and storytelling on four continents over the past two decades and has spoken more than two thousand times at events spanning the globe. Widely-recognized for his story-crafting expertise, he teaches regularly as a Master Class instructor at ThrillerFest, North America’s premier training event for suspense writers. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including the New York Times.

Steven also hosts the weekly podcast, The Story Blender, on which he interviews some of the world’s leading writers and storytellers. His groundbreaking books on the art of fiction writing, STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE and TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR NOVEL, both won Storytelling World Awards.

When Steven isn’t writing or speaking you’ll find him trail running, playing basketball, or drinking dark roast coffee near his home in the Appalachian Highlands of eastern Tennessee.

 

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Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Steven James, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for having me.

 

First, can you tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing fiction? Was that always your goal?

I have always loved stories that transport me to another place. When I was young, my uncle would always tell us stories whenever we got together for holidays. When I started working at a councilor at summer camps after my senior year of high school, I was looking for a way to calm the campers down for bed and started telling my uncle’s stories. One Saturday, in between camp sessions while I was sitting in a laundromat, it struck me: I want to be a storyteller. That’s what I want to do with my life. I began telling stories everywhere I could and writing short stories and personal stories from my life.

But I always had this dream of writing a bigger story. A novel. I approached my publisher who was doing my nonfiction books, asked them about the possibility of writing a novel, and I said in my slightly whiney voice, “Do I have to write the whole thing first?” They said, “Well, we’re familiar with your other work. Just send us the first fifty pages.” From that, they offered me a three-book deal, and I was off and running as a novelist.

 

Can you tell us about your latest novel, Synapse?  How did you come about writing that book?

I guess I would have to say that my love of science fiction led me to ask this question: Once machines have free will, what will they choose to believe? So my story revolved around a robot who has self-awareness, consciousness, and free will, but is forming his own belief system. Throw those questions into a thriller with a terrorist plot that takes place thirty years from now, and you have the genesis of Synapse.

 

I read that you have a Master’s Degree in Storytelling. I had never heard of that before. Can you tell us how you decided to pursue that degree and what’s entailed in it?

Yes, when I started the program in 1996, it was the only Master’s Degree in Storytelling program in the world. East Tennessee State University offered the degree. Although it mostly focused on oral storytelling, I was able to study story in a broader context. What makes a story work, whether it’s written or told, and how I can help others shape and tell stories of their own. You should see the looks on some people’s faces when I tell them that I have a Master’s Degree in storytelling.

 

How and why did you decide to write books about the art and craft of writing?

As I was learning to write, I kept coming across the same advice over and over about outlining, following a three-act structure, plotting out your story, and so on, none of which I did and none of which worked for me. I started looking for books that would equip me to write my stories more organically, and honestly couldn’t find anything, so I decided to write Story Trumps Structure to help other organic writers – and really novelists of all stripes – by telling them to break the “rules.”

 

I’ve been reading your book Story Trumps Structure, and you take a different approach to constructing a novel than many other craft experts. Can you give a brief synopsis of your theory of novel-writing?

Story is pursuit. Asking questions that relate to the characters’ unmet desires and the actions they take in pursuit of their goals. This is what shapes a story. On a very elemental level, stories consist of four things: characters, settings, struggles, and pursuits. Without a character, there’s no one for readers to cheer for in the story. Without a setting, there’s no way for readers to picture a story. Without a struggle, there’s no reason for the story, and without a pursuit, there’s no movement to the story. Plot is simply the pathway that a character takes through the setting as he faces struggles during his pursuit. So this is why I encourage authors not to focus on plot, but rather on pursuit.

 

Congratulations on the many awards you’ve won for your work. How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

Awards don’t pay for groceries! They’re encouraging, but not necessary.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

Regarding contests, I would do my research to find out specifically what types of books or stories that contest is looking for. I’d advise against spending a lot of time re-writing a story for a specific contest, but if it’s a good fit already, fantastic! Also, don’t spend a lot of money submitting to different contests. It’s just not worth it in the long run.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Strive for excellence. Rage against mediocrity. Don’t allow your work to be published if it’s anything less than your best.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

For all things Steven James, click to stevenjames.net or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @readstevenjames.

 

Okay, I figured out how to get the subject of running into this interview: It’s been shown that aerobic exercise increases creativity.  Tell us about your running experiences. Do you compete?

If competing means losing: yes, I do compete.

I live at the base of the Appalachian mountains, and there are tons of amazing trails close by. I did run a couple of 50k trail races a number of years ago. I loved the experience, but they were stinkin’ hard. We’ll see if I ever join one again. Perhaps someday.

 

Thank you, Steven, for being with us today.

Thank you for inviting me! Best wishes to you and all your readers in your creative endeavors.

 

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THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MAY 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MAY 2021

 

I am honored to welcome Steve Laube back to the Craft of Writing blog today.

Steve is president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency and a veteran of the bookselling industry. As president of The Christian Writers Institute, he publishes the annual Christian Writers Market Guide (also available online).

He also wrote and published a must-have work for aspiring authors: Book Proposal Tips and Tricks. In addition, Steve is the owner and President of Enclave Publishing one of the premier publishers of Christian fantasy and science fiction.

 

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Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for 40 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year by the Christian Booksellers Association. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year. He later founded his own Literary Agency, has represented over 2,000 new books, and was named Agent of the Year. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition, he was inducted into the Grand Canyon University Alumni Hall-of-Fame by their Department of Theology.

 

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A Conversation with Steve Laube Click To Tweet

 

Welcome Steve Laube and thank you for joining us!

 

Can you give us an update on the current state of the publishing industry?

Nothing has really changed in the last year. Great books are still being contracted.

The only pressure, especially in non-fiction, is the need for the author to have a substantial platform from which to launch the book.

 

The Christian Writers Market Guide is an enormously popular book for Christian authors. When did you decide to produce it?

It has been around for a long time. Originally put together by Sally Stuart, she sold it to Jerry Jenkins in 2010. Jerry produced it for five years, then in 2016 I approached him to see if I could take it over and fold it into The Christian Writers Institute. The timing was perfect. Jerry still provides a new foreword for the book each year.

 

Tell us a little about the different sections of The Christian Writers Market Guide and what benefits authors can gain from it.

Those sections change with the times. We have one section for traditional publishers and another for independent publishing. That way you can know which are designed for those who self-publish. We also added a section on podcasts that help writers.

There are about 70 pages worth of information on freelance editors who can help writers.

Someone said, “Can’t I just get all that info on Google.” My answer, “Do you trust Mr. Google to have your best interests in mind?” Hah! We, in essence, curate the best options for you so you don’t have to wade through those who spend money to get their listing ahead of someone else’s. We don’t charge to be listed in the Guide. That keeps that motivation out of the equation.

We also have an online version for only $10 a year. (www.christianwritersmarketguide.com) This site is everything you see in the print guide, but is updated throughout the year.

 

You are also president of Enclave Publishing. Can you tell us a little about that publishing company?

Enclave is a small press dedicated to publishing a dozen new hardcover releases a year. But we only do speculative fiction, meaning science fiction and fantasy.

www.enclavepublishing.com

We have a number of award winning authors who write for us. If you or anyone you know like this genre, ours is a place where you know you will find books from authors who have a Christian worldview.

Our guiding directive is “To publish out-of-this-world stories that are informed by a coherent theology.”

 

This year we’re looking at the role awards play in an author’s career. How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

Concerned? No. Happy if it happens? Yes.
The above mentioned Jerry Jenkins didn’t win a Christy award for best fiction for many years after the famous Left Behind books were published. A lack of a prestigious award didn’t hurt sales.

 

Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?

It can help. I know I look at those who have won the top level of awards. There are so many that one should know if the award is from a local chapter of six writers who pick the best among their group every year or if it is a national award where the top books in the industry are judged against each other.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Keep learning.
If you think, “I don’t need to take another class on craft” you are probably wrong. Even veterans are looking for that tip that keeps their edge sharp.

 

If you could recommend one book other than your own on the craft of writing, what would it be?

One that isn’t about craft but is something just as crucial: The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman (University of Chicago Press: 2018)

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Subscribe to our agency’s blog. www.stevelaube.com. We will put something in front of you nearly each day of the week. You’ll get at least 150 posts a year that you can read about various aspects of the industry and craft. And get to know the personalities of our agents in the agency.

 

Thanks again, Steve, for being with us.

 

A Conversation with Steve Laube Click To Tweet

 

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2021

I’m excited that author David Rawlings appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.

David’s novel The Baggage Handler won the 2019 Christy First Novel Award. What better person to discuss writing and awards for new authors?

Note: Since David is in Australia, his responses to your questions and comments may not appear on the blog until late in the afternoon of April 5, so please be patient.

 

 

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David Rawlings is a Christian author with books published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing in the USA.

He is the first Australian author to win the prestigious Christy Award for Christian fiction – Best First Novel of 2019 with The Baggage Handler. A writer of modern-day parables, David writes stories that take readers deeper into life, posing questions of them to explore their own values, faith and how they approach life.

David is a multiple finalist in the American Christian Fiction Awards and Oregon Christian Writers’ Cascade Awards. He is based in Adelaide, South Australia with 30 years experience in communication, ranging from journalism to the corporate sector. He has worked in Australia, South-East Asia and Hong Kong and has always paid the bills with words. He is also a sports-mad father-of-three who reads everything within an arm’s reach and always – always – makes sure his text messages are grammatically correct.

 

Who is The Baggage Handler? Click To Tweet

 

 

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Welcome David Rawlings and thank you for joining us!

You’re welcome Kay, it’s a pleasure to join you all the way from Australia. I hope you can hear my accent coming out through my typing.

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Yes. My Mum used to say that the minute I could hold a pen… I did. Ever since I was 6, I wanted to write for a living. Back then that meant a dream of being a journalist, working in sports, a gig that was my first job as a graduated journalist back in the 1990s.

Then as I moved into corporate copywriting, I put the dream of writing my own stories on the backburner until I had enough time, money, margin in my life – whatever. I thought I’d get to it one day, so I just stockpiled all the ideas I had until I had a folder with about 50 storylines in it.

That one day arrived in 2015 and I felt challenged by God to dust off the dream and trust Him for the rest. So I started writing fiction. The next year I submitted my first manuscript – a story about reality TV and churches – to a number of American writing competitions, confident that as I was doing what I was called to do, I should do well.

I didn’t even reach the semi-finalist stage.

It was a hard lesson, but an important one. The judges in the competitions wondered about my ability to write, with one judge posing the question that the school system had failed me. After writing for a living for 25 years in corporate Australia, that was a slap in the face. But I realized why they thought that: I was writing as an Australian (with our UK spelling, grammar and phrasing) for an American marketplace. So I took myself back to the drawing board and learned the US equivalent. I had to do more than type with an American accent.

Now reworked, my manuscript finaled in a number of competitions. And I didn’t win anything.

That was okay though. I wrote the next story that unveiled itself to me at 9pm one night. The Baggage Handler. Now that I had some kind of endorsement from finaling in these competitions, I signed with the Steve Laube Agency, and Steve found me a home with Thomas Nelson.

And I kept writing the stories that I’d been stockpiling all those years.

The Baggage Handler came out in March 2019, and was followed by The Camera Never Lies in December 2019 and Where the Road Bends in June 2020.

 

Can you give us a brief synopsis of The Baggage Handler?

Sure. Three people mix up their luggage at the airport, and at the baggage depot they discover there is far more in their baggage than they remember packing. And the Baggage Handler tells them they have to deal with it before they can leave.

I am writing modern-day parables, with truth presented in the form of stories that engage with readers because they are recognizable from their own world. The Baggage Handler is a modern-day parable about the power of releasing our baggage.

 

What made you decide to write that book?

The Baggage Handler itself was borne out of rejection. That first manuscript about reality TV and churches finaled in a range of fiction awards but I couldn’t get industry interested in it. Someone suggested for my next novel maybe I should focus on “life lesson” stories. I read a couple of stories like that, then at 9pm one night I was reading when The Baggage Handler arrived. It pretty much downloaded into my head. When I next checked the clock it was 1am, and I had the story, the characters, plot, twists, structure – almost everything. That hasn’t happened before or since with books 2 and 3, but I’m glad it did with The Baggage Handler. 

 

Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

A number of reasons …

I’m based in Australia, so breaking into a marketplace like America is all-but impossible. I had to get known and make connections, so I thought being recognized through awards would help.

I also wanted feedback. I’m glad I did – as I mentioned earlier I learned a quick but important lesson about writing for the US market when I submitted to my first awards. Without that lesson, I don’t get published in the USA, it’s that simple.

Writing contests also gave me a deadline to work to. As this is secondary to my job, I find that it’s a constant juggle, and the thing without deadlines often is the first to slide back to the back burner. A writing contest makes it impossible to shift the deadline.

Lastly, I wanted to see if my work was good outside my head. My stories – like every author’s stories – bounce around internally with no idea if they’re going to work. This is one way to test it out.

 

How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

You shouldn’t be concerned with winning, just entering. There is a discipline around entering – polishing your work, submitting your ideas – that provide so much benefit. And awards can be subjective – The Baggage Handler won the Christy Award in 2019 as Best First Novel, but six months later didn’t win the next award it was listed in.

If you want to be concerned about awards as an author – focus on becoming a finalist. It gives you visibility.

 

Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?

It’s one way, sure. It also helps you build a profile, and that Holy Grail of new authordom: platform.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

Go for the contests in which the judges represent those groups you want to be in front of. Look for those that are within your financial means. Look for those that provide real feedback to make you a better writer (in fact, personally I avoid any competition that doesn’t give you feedback).

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Enjoy your writing. This is hard, it’s likely to be unfinancial and if you want it to be and you’re still working you’ve just added a second job to your plate. So enjoy it! Writing is a heart pursuit driven by our head, so go back to the reason why you want to write. That can help you when times are tough or you hit a hurdle. And every author has those.

 

What are you working on now?

Novel #4 … which is that manuscript I wrote first up. It’s never been published! I’m updating it for 2021 and will then look to finding a home for it.

Soon-to-be-fired reality TV guru Randy Stone is out of ideas, and his last roll of the dice is a new show taking aim at churches: Pastor Swap.

 

Randy tricks a national denomination into participating by offering a national platform to help draw people back to church after the pandemic, and two of their pastors are thrown into the manipulative world of reality TV. Brad Shepherd leaves his tiny, elderly, suburban church, switching places with Jack Alexander, son of the city’s biggest megachurch pastor at New Heaven Cathedral. Brad and Jack believe this is a God-given opportunity to go on TV – Brad to save his dying church from real estate developers and Jack to prove himself to his controlling father.

 

But Randy already knows how churches will be portrayed on his show, because in the 21st century there is no god bigger than TV. Or him.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Web site = https://davidrawlings.com.au/

Facebook = https://www.facebook.com/DavidRawlingsAuthor

Instagram = https://www.instagram.com/davidrawlingsauthor/

Twitter = https://twitter.com/DavidJRawlings

 

Thanks again, David, for being with us.

My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity to chat to you.

 

Who is The Baggage Handler? Click To Tweet

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MARCH 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MARCH 2021

The Craft of Writing blog continues in 2021 with alternating monthly posts between craft experts and award-winning authors. Today I am thrilled to welcome craft expert and award-winning author Randy Ingermanson back to the blog.

Randy is probably best known for his wildly popular craft book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. However, he’s also an award-winning novelist. Transgression was the first book in his City of God series and won the 2001 Christy Award for best futuristic novel in Christian fiction.

Randy has been interviewed on this blog once before: in 2019, he discussed How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. In today’s interview, I’d like to explore his follow up craft book How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method. Enjoy!

 

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Randy Ingermanson wants to teach you how to write excellent fiction.
He’s been teaching for more than twenty years, and he’s known around the world as “the Snowflake Guy” in honor of his wildly popular Snowflake Method of writing a novel.
Randy is an award-winning novelist and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. He says that “Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing,” so he focuses on those three topics in his e-zine.
He also blogs when the spirit moves him. He is trying to get the spirit to move him weekly, but the spirit gets touchy about schedules.
Randy lives in the Pacific Northwest and works as a manservant to two surly and demanding cats. Visit Randy at AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

 

Write a Dynamite Scene with Randy Ingermanson Click To Tweet

 

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Welcome back to the Craft of Writing blog, Randy Ingermanson. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me again, Kay!

 

Your book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is an enormously popular book on the subject of writing. Can you tell us how you came about writing that book?

If my memory is right, I was talking to an agent friend of mine, Steve Laube, at a writing conference in the spring of 2014. I’ve known Steve for nearly 30 years now, and he bought several of my novels when he was an editor, back when I was writing for traditional publishers. So we have a long history together and we make it a point to spend some time talking whenever we’re at the same conference.

Somehow or other, Steve and I got onto the topic of my Snowflake Method, and the amazing response it’s generated around the world. The Snowflake Method page on my website has been viewed more than 6 million times, and it’s made me famous.

And I mentioned to Steve that I had once tried to write a book on the Snowflake Method, but my agent at the time said he didn’t think he could sell it. Steve pointed out that I didn’t have an agent anymore, because I was publishing my work independently. And I decided it couldn’t hurt to try it on my own.

So I went home from the conference and started typing. Within four months, I published the book, and it’s now sold over 50,000 copies and is still going very strong.

 

How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method is a follow up to the first.  Why did you decide to write that book?

A few years after I published the first Snowflake book, I realized that it had incredible legs. It was still earning nearly as much money every year as it did the year it launched. And I was still getting a lot of email from people who loved the book.

And it occurred to me that there’s a lot more to writing than just the overall design of a novel. One of the most popular talks I teach at conferences is my talk on how to structure a scene, which happens to be Step 9 in my Snowflake Method.

It’s a very important step.

There are two scene structures that work. Only two. If you master those two structures, you’ve made a quantum leap forward in your writing skills. I remember back in the early 1990s when I was learning to write, and I discovered these two scene structures. Within months, my writing level had jumped up several notches. My critique buddies were astonished at how much better my writing got, month over month.

So I decided to write a book on just that—the simple secrets of structuring a scene that automatically gives your reader a powerful emotional experience. If you follow these two “design patterns,” you can’t help but write perfectly structured scenes.

 

Please give us a quick synopsis of How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method.

There is one thing your reader desperately wants from you, and you have the power to give it to them. Your reader desperately wants Story. And what is Story? Story is what happens when you walk through great danger in somebody else’s skin. There are two key elements to any Story—a character and a crucible. You put the character inside a crucible; and you put your reader inside the character. The fundamental thing you need to know about writing scenes is that every scene in your story must be a story in its own right. That is, a scene is a story-within-a-story. Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and end, and therefore every scene does too. Over all the centuries that writers have been writing fiction, two kinds of scenes have been found to work incredibly well as stories-within-a-story. One kind is called a Proactive Scene. The other kind is called a Reactive Scene. If you master the mechanics of these two types, you can’t help but write powerful scenes. Every time. The book covers these two kinds of scenes in extreme detail.

 

Do each of those craft books stand on its own, or does the reader have to read the first before the second?

They each stand alone. There are somewhere between six and twelve important skills that a novelist needs to learn. One of these is story design, and the book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method teaches you one approach to that skill. Another skill is scene structure, and the book How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method teaches you that. Some writers are good at one of these skills but not the other. Some writers need to learn both skills.

 

You won a Christy Award for Transgression, the first book in your City of God series. Was Transgression your first work of fiction?

Transgression was the first novel I actually got published, but it wasn’t the first one I wrote.

I started writing on Easter Sunday in 1988 and I worked at my novel for a couple of years. Then a writer friend of mine pointed out a serious flaw in the story—it didn’t have one protagonist, it had eight. That was seven too many. The book simply had too big of a scope.

So I started a new book that trimmed it down a lot, with only one protagonist. But then I realized it was still too sweeping in scope. I was trying to cover too much history.

I junked that novel and started another–and actually finished it, four years after I first started writing. I never did get that third novel published, but maybe I will someday, if I rework it. It was good enough to get some requests to read by various agents, but not good enough to actually get published.

If I’m remembering right, Transgression was the sixth book I started, and I had a very strong hunch I was going to sell it. I just felt like I had learned enough of the skills of fiction writing to actually tell a story that would engage my reader’s emotions. I started it in the spring of 1996 and sold it in the spring of 1999. My publisher originally planned to release it on January 1, 2000, but that got pushed back a few months.

 

How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

Awards are good, and they definitely help validate you as an author. When I won a Christy award for Transgression, it was up against books by two very famous authors. Nobody thought it had a chance to win, because it was my debut novel, and at the time, no debut novel had yet won a Christy. At the awards ceremony, nobody even knew who I was, other than my editors and a couple of writer friends. My editors entered it figuring we had absolutely nothing to lose.

So when they called my name, that was a huge shock to everyone, including me and my editors. But overnight, it put me on the map in Christian fiction. After that, I quickly sold several more novels to other publishers, and I was on my way.

But it’s just a fact that there’s a huge element of luck in awards. Your book needs to be good, but there is no scale that measures “goodness,” and a lot depends on what the judges like. I got lucky, but I’m not going to complain.

I certainly encourage writers to enter their books in awards contests, because winning helps, and losing doesn’t harm your career. (It may harm your ego if you take the whole award game too seriously. Don’t.)

But I don’t think it’s wise to plan your career around winning awards. Plan your career based on the factors of the “Success Equation:” Write for a particular target audience that’s large enough to sell to. Focus relentlessly on improving the quality of your writing. Get your production level up to a strong, sustainable level. And when all those are working, build out a marketing machine that emphasizes automation and discoverability. (Please note: social media emphasizes neither.)

If you do that, in the long run, awards will be the tinsel on the tree.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

I’m just now submitting my latest novel, Son of Mary, to several writing awards contests. These cost money to enter, so there’s a tradeoff here. I don’t think it makes sense to shotgun out applications to all the many contests.

Some of the awards are well-established and I think it would be great to win any one of those.

Some other awards look a little shady to me—maybe I’ve never heard of the award, or their past winners have terrible sales numbers on Amazon, or they have basic spelling and grammatical errors on their website. Maybe they just have too many categories, which suggests that their main interest is in collecting entry fees and passing out as many meaningless awards as possible.

In the end, I think you should go with your instincts and submit your work to awards you’d be proud to win. Then send it in and forget about it. If something good happens, that’s great. Otherwise, you have a life to live and books to write and a family that you need to spend time with while you have them.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Focus on quality above all else. If you nail the quality thing, everything else will follow. You’ll find agents and editors worth working with. You’ll get your books published. Your work will find readers. You’ll have something you feel good about marketing. Quality is Job 1 for any writer. Until you’ve got quality, nothing else really matters.

And the good news is that quality can be learned. We now know that “talent” is mostly a myth—quality really is about hard, focused work where you’re constantly trying to write just a little better.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m currently polishing up a novel titled Son of David, which is Book 2 in my Crown of Thorns series. This will be a four-book series of novels on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Last year around this time, I released Son of Mary, which is Book 1 in the series.

You might very reasonably ask if there’s anything new to be said about Jesus. Hasn’t the “greatest story ever told” been pretty much done to death? What could anyone possibly say that would be original?

If you’re asking that, then read what my reviewers say about Son of Mary. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0863CSFDG

I’ve been doing research on first-century Judea since the early 1980s. My personal library has a LOT of books. I’ve been to Israel five times and worked on archaeological digs in both Jerusalem and Magdala—the hometown of Mary Magdalene. I’ve read most of the Old Testament in Hebrew. My wife and I have driven all over Israel, just hanging out at sites, both famous and obscure.

I’ve connected the dots in a new way that my readers like, because it makes them feel like they’ve been traipsing around Galilee with Jesus. That’s all I want for these books.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

If you want to learn more about how to write fiction, I have a website that focuses on just that one thing. I will teach you to write excellent fiction at www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

If you want to learn more about the fiction I actually write, I have an entirely separate website that focuses just on my novels. I will take you on an adventure to first-century Jerusalem at www.ingermanson.com. If you don’t want to go on an adventure to the time and place where Jesus walked, then don’t come to this website, because you’ll hate it. My novels are for people who would jump at the chance to buy a one-way ticket on a time-machine to first-century Jerusalem—and never look back.

 

Thank you, Randy, for being with us today.

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THE CRAFT OF WRITING — FEBRUARY 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – FEBRUARY 2021

 

I’m excited that author James L. Rubart appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.

Jim Rubart is not just an award-winning author. He has won so many Christy awards that he’s been inducted into the Christy Awards Hall of Fame! What better person to learn from than someone who is incredibly successful?

Rather than pick one of his Christy Award-winning books, I’ve listed four of them here, and we’ll let Jim tell us about his favorite.

 

     

 

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James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on mind-bending journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories.

He’s the best-selling, Christy Book of the Year, Carol, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award winning author of ten novels, co-owner of The Rubart Writing Academy, and an audio book narrator. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington.

 

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Welcome James L. Rubart and thank you for joining us!

Thanks much for the invitation!

 

Tell us about your journey to becoming an award-winning writer.

It started in seventh grade when my mom bought The Chronicles of Narnia for my sister and me for Christmas. I devoured the books and decided I wanted to someday try to do for others what Lewis had done for me. Open up new worlds and new ways of thinking and show them God in a way they might have never seen him before.

So in eighth grade I took journalism, fell in love with writing and at the end of the year tried out for the school paper. Didn’t get accepted. That rejection broke my little 12-year-old heart and I buried the writing dream for a long, long time. In my immaturity I thought that rejection was a clear message I had no talent for writing.

Fast forward to 2002. My wife went on a fast. When I asked her why she said she didn’t know, but the Spirit had definitely led her to do it. After 24 hours I asked her if she’d heard anything from God. Nope. After two days I said, “Remind me, why are you fasting?”

“To get the answer.”

“What’s the question?”

“I don’t know.”

Halfway through day three the Spirit spoke to me and said, “I’ve given you the desire to write and the ability. When are you going to step into your destiny?”

I turned to Darci and said, “I know why you’re fasting. I’m supposed to be a novelist.”

She frowned and said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been hungry for three days and YOU get the answer?”

It was pretty funny. The next day I got serious and started working on my first novel.

Four years later I finished that story, went to a writing conference (in 2006) and started meeting people in the industry and learning about publishing. And my first novel, Rooms, came out in the spring of 2010.

 

I listed four of your Christy award-winning books at the top of this post. Can you give us a brief synopsis of each of them?

Soul’s Gate – My first novel, Rooms, is the story of a man who inherits a home that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul and heart. I always thought someday I’d write a sequel and that’s kind of what Soul’s Gate is. Except instead of going inside your own soul, it’s the story of four spiritual warriors going inside other people’s souls to fight for their healing and freedom.

The Five Times I Met Myself – For a long time I’d wondered what I would say to my younger self if I had the chance. In this story my protagonist gets that opportunity. Through lucid dreaming he meets his younger self, tells him how he messed up and what he should have done differently. It’s cathartic in the moment, but then he wakes up to find his present day world has changed because of what he told himself in the dream.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer – Such a fun story to write. When my sons were young we used to take them to the end of this lake in eastern Washington and swim through a huge swath of cattails and then push through thick trees to get to this open meadow. I’d tell the boys we’d entered a magical land where anything can happen. So Jake is about the search for a legendary lost corridor, that if you can find it, and get through the other side, you’ll get what you want most in the world.

The Man He Never Was – I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller about Romans chapter 7 and he mentioned that Robert Lewis Stevenson’s father was a pastor, so he would well know about the evil inside each of us. Keller surmised that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was likely influenced by that chapter in the Bible. It struck me like a flash of lightning. What if I were to take that story and modernize it and tell it from a Christian perspective? With that, The Man He Never Was, was born.

 

Which is your favorite? What made you write it? Please tell us about it.

Of those four I’d have to say The Five Times I Met Myself. Probably because it’s so personal. I was going through an incredibly challenging time during the writing of that story. A 130 foot 20,000 pound tree had crashed into our house earlier that year—almost killing my wife and youngest son—and the stress of that situation, Darci working through severe PTSD, dealing with the contractor, the insurance company, the bank, a son graduating from high school … it was a nightmare. And through the process the Lord showed me that too much of my worth came from being a bestselling, award winning author. He showed me that the only true validation is from Him. So that book is my story of learning that lesson. Like I said, very personal. I even use the story of how Darci and I met in the novel.

 

Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

When I first got into writing, one of my early mentors was Randy Ingermanson. He’d won a Christy Award and I was dazzled by that. It was (and is) the Oscars of Christian Fiction and I was captured by the idea of someday winning one. In my heart of hearts I thought it was a pipe dream, but in the end I figured, “Why not try?” So to now be in the Christy Hall of Fame is quite surreal.

 

How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

It’s probably not fair for me to say this given the fact I’ve won a few, but I’m going to say it anyway. How concerned should authors be? Very little. Remember, contests are just a few people’s opinions, good or bad. I entered a contest before I was published and one judge gave me 97 points and the other gave me fifty-five. It’s subjective. What really matters is our readers. Are we giving them a powerful emotional experience? Are we making them laugh and cry and think deeply? That being said, it’s quite nice to win awards, I just don’t want authors to think it’s the end all.

 

Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?

Yes. And that’s one of the best reasons to enter contests. Awards will get the attention of editors and agents. And that’s a good thing if you want to be traditionally published.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

  1. Make sure they’re legit. There are scammers out there so go through the process of vetting the contest thoroughly.
  2. Decide why you’re entering the contest. Are you wanting feedback? Some give feedback. Some don’t. Are you wanting recognition? Make sure it’s a big enough contest that people will recognize it as significant.
  3. Is it for your ego? C’mon, let’s be honest. That’s why many writers enter a contest. And that’s okay. We writers are fragile, neurotic folks; getting recognition for a job well done, and gaining confidence from placing in, or winning a contest is a legitimate reason to enter.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

If you can afford it, get a really good pair of running shoes. Put them on. Look writing the face. Say goodbye. Then turn and sprint as fast as you can in the opposite direction. I’m kidding. Kind of. I’d just want them to know writing is a challenging path. Why? Because you’re putting yourself on the page. I talk about Voice simply being an expression of your personality on the page. So when someone rejects our writing, it’s really hard not to think they’re rejecting us.

That being said, writing has been one the most rewarding journeys I’ve ever taken. So my heart-felt advice to beginning writers is very simple, but very powerful if taken deep into their soul. Do. Not. Give. Up.

I play guitar. I could entertain you for half an hour or so and at the end you’d probably say, “That was nice. I enjoyed that.” But there’s no way you’d buy any of my music. I’m just not that good. To get that good I’d have to work hard on my music for years.

Yet beginning writers think they can work on a story for a few years and be ready for publication. Nope. Just like the guitar analogy, it takes years of dedicated labor to bring our skill to the point where people will pay for our writing.

But that’s the good news. Most people aren’t willing to put in the time and effort. They give up. Which means there’s more room at the top than we realize.

I believe talent plays a role in becoming an author, but far less than we realize. The greatest characteristic of my successful authors friends is one thing: persistence.

 

What are you working on now?

A really fun project. It’s a series of six books called The True Lies of Rembrandt Stone. This series was a long time coming. Ages ago (probably around 2012) my friend Susan May Warren and I were on a short plane ride together from Asheville, NC to Atlanta. We started talking about someday writing a book together and our shared loved of time travel stories.

Then in mid 2016 Susie came up with the idea of Rembrandt Stone, called me asked, “Are you in?” I laughed and gave the only appropriate response: “Are you kidding?”

Susie asked her son David to join the team and in February of 2017 the three of us gathered at my home in eastern Washington (after Susie and David battled a Seattle and eastern Washington snowstorm) and brainstormed all six of the stories. So yes, it took a while from conception to release, but it turned out to be the perfect timing!

The first book in the series, Cast the First Stone, just released. You can check it out here. And I voiced the audio version which was great fun.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

There are a number of places. The Rubart Writing Academy (click here) which my son and I own where we teach authors how to do what I’ve done, my website, jamesLrubart.com where folks can sign up for my newsletter, and social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and MeWe.

 

Thanks again, Jim, for being with us.

Thanks so much for having me!

 

Check out the interview with Christy Hall-of-Fame novelist James L. Rubart today! Click To Tweet

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JANUARY 2021

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JANUARY 2021

 

I’m excited to begin a new year of the CRAFT OF WRITING blog. This year we will alternate monthly posts between craft experts and award-winning authors, and I am thrilled to welcome our first guest in the series since he is the perfect combination of craft expertise and award-winning fiction.

James Scott Bell is not only a best-selling author of books on the craft of writing. (I counted about twenty books, including the #1 Best-selling Plot and Structure). He is also an award-winning fiction author. Among other awards, his legal thriller Final Witness won the first Christy Award for suspense.

Mr. Bell has been interviewed on this blog twice before: in 2019 he discussed Plot and Structure, and in 2020 he talked about How to Make a Living as a Writer. In today’s interview, I’d like to explore his craft book Write Your Novel From the Middle because that book had substantial influence on me when I was writing my second novel.

So thanks to all of you for stopping by the Craft of Writing blog today. You have a great opportunity to learn from and interact with one of the masters of the craft.

 

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James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer.

 

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Welcome James Scott Bell and thank you for joining us!

Great to be here!

 

Your craft book Write Your Novel From the Middle had a profound impact on me when I was writing my second novel. Please tell us about the book.

I’m a structure guy, and always love digging into it. One area where I’ve found a lot of confusion is what some teachers call the “midpoint.” It’s usually described a scene in the middle of Act 2 that somehow changes the course of events. I found conflicting ideas here, and a kind of fuzziness, and that bothered me.

So several years ago I went on a quest to find out what’s going on in this midpoint. And when I did, I discovered something that had never been written about before. Like any explorer who discovers a new river or cave, I got to name it. I called it the “Mirror Moment.”

 

Write Your Novel From the Middle is the only craft book I’ve read that talks about the importance of life-and-death stakes at the midpoint of the book. How did you come up with that idea?

What I did was take out some well-known novels and movies and started looking around. I would turn to the exact physical middle of a book, and use my DVD slider to go to the middle of a movie. What I discovered knocked my socks off. Indeed, my house was littered with socks.

What I saw was that a true middle was not merely a scene; it was a MOMENT within the scene. I started calling this the “Mirror Moment,” because it is when a character is forced to look at himself—as if in a mirror—and take stock of his situation. It’s funny how often now I see and actual mirror in such a scene; my favorite example is when my wife and I were watching No Way Out, the Kevin Costner thriller, and I stopped the DVD and told my wife the mirror moment was about to happen (I hadn’t seen the film in years, but I sensed the set-up). She laughed and may even have rolled her eyes, but then I started the film up again and…boom…a minute later Kevin Costner is looking at himself in the mirror.

And what does this “look inside” mean? It’s one of two things. Either the character has seen himself and his major flaw in bold relief. Like Bogart in the middle of Casablanca after drunkenly insulting Ilsa. The question then become one of psychological life and death. Will Bogart recover his humanity or not?

The other kind of look is the character realizing, “I’m probably going to die!” Meaning physical death…because the odds are too great. You find this mostly in thrillers, like The Fugitive and The Hunger Games.

 

Does the book work for both plotters and pantsers?

Absolutely. The beauty of the Mirror Moment is that you can brainstorm it at any stage. I’m mostly an outliner, so I get to it quickly. A pantser who gets stuck might consider brainstorming it then. Or you can even go find it after a first draft. What’s so great about it is, once you find it, it illuminates the whole book for you, from beginning to end. It makes scene writing and revision more organic and connected.

 

You’ve won awards for both non-fiction and fiction. Do you have any favorites among your award-winners?

I’m most proud of winning the International Thriller Writers Award, for Romeo’s Way. This is a book in my Mike Romeo series, which I love writing.

 

How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

Do NOT get concerned at all. First, realize that an award has little to no effect on sales. It’s an ego stroke to have on your website or book covers, but potential buyers always judge by the pages your write, especially the opening pages.

And do NOT let lust grab you if you are a finalist for an award. I’ve been there, and when you “lose” it eats you up. When I was chosen a finalist for Romeo’s Way, and went to New York for the big ceremony, I made myself not think about it at all, not to have ANY expectations. When my name was called it was frosting on the cake. Had I not been called, I would have been all right.

 

Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?

A well-regarded award, like the Carol Award in Christian fiction, could get the interest of an agent or a publisher. Not so much Bob’s Best Dang Book I’ve Read This Year Award.

 

There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

I don’t, because I’ve never entered one.

 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Keep Calm and Type On.

 

Do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2021?

No plans. Everything is Zoom now and up in the air.

 

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

JamesScottBell.com

 

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

You’re Welcome. Carpe Typem. Seize the Keyboard!

 

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