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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.





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.




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, 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




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.




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.




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?


Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

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


Write Your Novel from the Middle interview with James Scott Bell. Click To Tweet



Kay DiBianca

December 2020


Gift – noun – something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.


Lately, I’ve been reading a fascinating book, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” by the eminent Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. In reflecting on the two accounts of the creation of man in the book of Genesis, the rabbi has given me a great gift: he has caused me to think. Why would God feel it necessary to recount the story of Adam and Eve twice? If we accept the axiom that all scripture is inerrant, then there must be a reason for the two accounts.

Rabbi Soloveitchik refers to the first creation as “Adam the first” and the second as “Adam the second.” I will call them “Adam One” and “Adam Two” simply because it’s easy to read. Please understand I’m not concerned only with the human male. In my opinion, the attributes of creation belong to both men and women.

In Genesis chapter one, we are told that God created man and woman in His image, and He commands them to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing. Being made in the image of God, Adam One expresses himself through his creativity. Throughout history, he has obeyed God’s command to subdue the earth. He invents the wheel to conquer distance, the printing press to overcome illiteracy, medical advances to eradicate disease, and machines to provide convenience, power, and even light. Adam One is majestic in his influence over nature.

But then there’s the second account of creation in Genesis chapter two. In this story, man is created from the dust of the ground. He does not become a living creature until God breathes the breath of life into him. God places Adam Two in the Garden of Eden and orders him not to conquer it, but to keep it. Then God establishes the first human relationship when Eve is created from Adam.

Where Adam One is dominant and triumphant, Adam Two is more introspective and concerned with his relationship with his wife and his relationship with God. He longs to understand his place in the universe while Adam One wants to control it. If Adam One is a creator, Adam Two knows himself to be the created. Adam One is defined by power. Adam Two is defined by humility and awe.

In our culture, we applaud the accomplished, successful Adam One, a scientifically-minded individual who looks at the world as a set of practical problems to solve and realities to conquer. However, Adam Two may offer the world something equally as important, but more subtle. Adam Two knows that we are not in total control of our own destiny. Perhaps we can dominate for a period of time, but in the end, each of us will return to dust. Adam Two seeks to understand the meaning of it all, and he senses the need for redemption.

Perhaps the two accounts in Genesis are the essence of one of God’s gifts to us. It’s easy to see that each of us has the nature and conflict of both Adam One and Adam Two within us. While we have an instinctive need to create, we know that we are the creation. While we have a notion to control, we long for understanding. Perhaps God intended us to wrestle with this dichotomy and establish a harmony between our two natures.

Using this knowledge, the writer can fashion his or her own gift to the world. The ability to hone our craft in order to capture the heart and mind of the reader is our Adam One. But we have the further responsibility to provide substance with our entertainment. Our Adam Two wants the reader to think while enjoying a well-crafted story. If we can blend these two parts of our nature and our writing into one, we will have taken our gift and multiplied it to a needy world.


How will you use your gifts in 2021?



One of my favorite quotes is from Sir Francis Bacon:

“Reading maketh a full man;

Conference a ready man;

And writing an exact man.”

Over the course of our lives, we all have thoughts, conversations, and experiences that shape our minds and refine our beliefs, but sharing one’s understanding of this world with the rest of humanity is an awesome undertaking, and one not to be taken lightly. In order to attain that “exact man” (or woman) status, we may need some guidance.

Normally, this blog is dedicated to the craft of novel writing, but as we approach the end of this unusual year, some of you may be thinking of putting your reflections of 2020 in writing. So I think it would be edifying to look at the craft of writing non-fiction today, and I’m happy to welcome David Fessenden to the blog.

Dave’s book, Writing the Christian Non-fiction Book, Concept to Contract, walks the author through the process of getting his/her ideas down on paper and then getting them published. Much of the process is the same for fiction writing, so this will be a chance to cover a lot of ground in one interview.




In addition to being an author of both fiction and non-fiction books, Dave Fessenden is also a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing.

He has served in editorial management positions for Christian book publishers and was regional editor for the largest Protestant weekly newspaper in the country.



Welcome, Dave!


Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

As I neared the end of high school, it was obvious I had to make some decision about a career. After fumbling around with several ideas, I finally prayed about what God wanted me to be (which is of course the first thing I should have done!). And I sensed God saying, How about a writer? Later, I looked back on my years of school and realized the assignments I most enjoyed and was most successful at involved writing. I went to college and got my BA in journalism.

What made you decide to write Writing the Christian Non-fiction Book?

When I decided to write my first book, Father to Nobody’s Children: The Story of Thomas Barnardo, I looked around for a book on “how to write a book” — and was shocked when I couldn’t really find one! Of course, there were many books on writing, but no place could I find any kind of step-by-step process for a nonfiction book — especially not from a Christian perspective.  I figured the Lord was giving me my next writing assignment! But it was quite a few years, a few more books under my belt, before it all came to fruition.

I noticed in your book that you list eight steps in the process of writing. Can you fill us in on what those are?

Sure — but be warned that these steps are often done out of order, and sometimes  simultaneously:

  1. Brainstorming — getting everything down in note form as to what you know about the topic (or, if you’d rather be cynical about it, pooling your ignorance).
  2. Researching — reading, interviewing, etc. to add to your knowledge, and discover other aspects of the topic that you may have forgotten in your notes — back to brainstorming!
  3. Outlining — developing a writing plan, a blueprint, a skeleton for the book. Such an exercise often sparks new ideas — back to brainstorming and researching!
  4. Preparing the Proposal — notice you haven’t necessarily written word one of the book yet? No problem! Prepare a book proposal, while the concept of the book is hot in your mind. The book proposal may force you to answer some tough questions about your book idea, and make you focus and clarify the concept — leading you back to brainstorming, researching, and outlining! (Notice the pattern of cycling back to previous steps? That’s important!)
  5. Writing the Rough Draft — with an emphasis on rough! You spew out on the page all the material you’ve gathered through the previous steps, and try to put together sort of a caricature of what you want the book to look like. Want to write in the worst way? Here’s your chance!
  6. Revising — Now you’re going to whip this baby into shape. Here is where the real writing begins. You fill in the holes, clean up the sloppy parts, and generally make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And when you get frustrated, go back to brainstorming, researching, etc. Don’t be surprised if two chapters are merged into one, or some other major change happens — just be sure the changes are reflected in the book proposal.
  7. Fine-tuning the Manuscript — Prepare the manuscript for submission by doing things like proofreading, checking endnotes, getting permissions, adding appendices (if needed), and other nit-picky details. (It may sound unimportant, but failure to take care with these little things is one major reason for rejection.)
  8. Getting the Contract — Send that book proposal around to publishers. If you’re feeling like publishing houses are locked and barred to you, I share some methods for storming the gates.

Describe your path to publication. Should new authors consider self-publishing their work? Or is it better to go with a traditional publisher?

I have published seven books with traditional publishers. Each one had a unique path to publication. But each one also had some form of a book proposal — a presentation of what the book is about, why people will want to buy it, and why I (the author) was qualified to write it. Even when Sonfire Media asked me — unsolicited — to write a book (ironically, on how to write a book proposal!), the first thing they wanted me to do was prepare a book proposal. And every book I wrote was a daunting task — I began each one with the feeling that I was in over my head.

A new author probably should not consider self-publishing, in the same way a first-year med student probably should not be asked to do abdominal surgery. At one publishing house I worked for, one of our fledgling editors decided to prepare a list of all the necessary steps involved in publishing a book — she came up with over 50, and it was still incomplete. Can a first-time author be expected to know every step involved in publishing — editorial, legal, marketing, distribution — and accomplish all of them successfully? Of course, you can pay professionals to do all these steps you don’t know how to do, but the entire process is still being coordinated by an amateur.

Many new authors want to write a book — a major journalistic task — as their very first writing project. Maybe they’ve never written an article, a blog post, or a short story before, but now they want to write a book (often it’s their autobiography, the first and last thing they will ever write for publication). Is it any wonder that professional publishers give such projects a quick turn-down? I’m not trying to discourage anyone, I’m trying to encourage new authors to attend conferences, read books on writing and publishing, and to write and publish simpler projects before tackling a book.

What is the current environment for writing Christian Non-fiction?

The Christian nonfiction book environment has always been tough, but not as tough as secular nonfiction, and the opportunities are improving — especially since so many Christian writers, it seems, have abandoned nonfiction for fiction.

The key, however, to attracting a publisher is to provide some real content — you have to speak from a position of expertise. We know this instinctively. If you were shoved in front of a huge audience, what would you talk about? (That’s why autobiography is so common among new authors; they instinctively know that they have to speak from their expertise, and of course they are an expert about themselves.) So of course you would not write a book about evangelism if you’ve never shared the gospel with someone; you’d never write about prayer if you don’t pray. Find your area of expertise and run with it.

What single piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to write Christian Non-fiction?

Pray and solicit others to pray. Not one of my books ever came to fruition without prayer.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I take a walk. Since I work from home, about the only way to get away from work is to physically remove myself! And the town I live in has a variety of interesting streets, alleyways, houses and buildings, so it’s never boring.

What are you working on now?

I am writing (or not writing, as the case may be) my second novel, along with several nonfiction book projects. I haven’t made much progress on my writing lately, because of my freelance editing, agenting, and part-time editorial work for CLC Publications. Please pray for me, that I can get the time to write — or maybe I should say, that I would be more disciplined in the way I spend my time.

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

I have a website,, a blog,, and an online bookstore, The bookstore is in the midst of a revamping, after which the blog and my personal site will get an overhaul as well. If you don’t like what you see, please be patient! Improvements are imminent.

Thank you, Dave, for sharing your expertise with us!




This month I’m happy to welcome Daniel Overdorf to the blog. Although Daniel has previously published non-fiction titles, A Death Well Lived is his first novel and is a 2020 Illumination Awards Winner! It was published and released in January 2020 by CrossLink Christian Publishers. The book description on Amazon is so compelling that I’m including a portion of it here:

Lucius Valerius Galeo personifies the Roman Empire’s ambition and dominance. An egotistical centurion, his swagger betrays his arrogance and his blood-stained fists evidence his quick temper. He serves in Judea, quelling Jewish riots in Caesarea’s hippodrome and doing the bidding of the governor, Pontius Pilate, from Jerusalem’s fortress of Antonia. The Jewish people repulse him.

A Death Well Lived is a captivating tale set in first century Judea that offers hope for the worst among us and the worst within us.


Daniel Overdorf grew up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and southern West Virginia, where he experienced the value of the blue-collar work ethic, the wonder of Appalachian storytelling, and the joy of being raised in the home of a preacher who loves the church with all his heart.

These early influences continue to shape his perspectives of life and faith. He graduated from Johnson University, then spent the next ten years ministering with churches in Illinois and Georgia. In the meantime, he earned a Master of Divinity from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently serves as Professor of Pastoral Ministries with Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Prior to A Death Well Lived, he published four books related to the church and preaching.


Welcome, Daniel! Congratulations on your Illumination Award and thank you for joining us!

Thank you so much. I appreciate the kind introduction and I’m honored to join you.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

I remember going to the library as a boy and coming back with my arms full of books. I read all the Hardy Boys series, and later Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. Stories have always captured me.

Through high school and college, teachers encouraged my writing. I appreciate that they saw potential in me. It wasn’t until after college, though, that I considered writing for publishing. At this time, I began writing longer papers for grad school, articles for church newsletters, and lessons and sermons on a regular basis. I enjoyed the process, both the research and the creative side of it.

After having written non-fiction, what made you decide to write this novel?

My previous books grew out of what I was learning in grad school and later as a professor. I enjoyed sharing with readers what I had researched and wrestled with.

A few years ago, I decided to write this novel for several reasons. I have long felt that pastors could learn much from novelists about communication. Since my primary role is to teach pastors, I decided that learning to write fiction would add value to what and how I teach. Also, I wanted to tell this particular story. There are a couple of Roman centurions who show up in the New Testament, but we know very little about them. I wanted to imagine what a centurion’s life may’ve been like before and after encountering Jesus. Finally, I just wanted to learn how to do something new. It was time in my life and development to stretch myself, and since I’ve always loved story, I felt this would be a fun adventure.

I included part of the book description above. Can you fill us in with a short synopsis of A Death Well Lived?

When the book opens, the main character, Lucius, isn’t the most likable fellow. He’s selfish and violent, especially toward the Jewish people in his jurisdiction. As the story unfolds, though, he encounters courage, warmth, and generosity among the Jews that begins to soften his heart. Then, when he crosses paths with a rabbi from Galilee, his whole worldview is called into question.

As a historical novel, the book carefully weaves in historical research about the culture, geography, and events of first century Judea. While writing the novel, I was able to make three trips to Israel to walk the countryside and see the sites where my story would unfold.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

For me, the most difficult aspect was to let the story drive the book. I so enjoyed the research, and I found myself, time and again, including too much data and too little story. My original draft had paragraph after paragraph of description. It was good description (if I don’t say so myself!), but it muddled the story.

With the help of gracious and wise a writing mentor, Cindy Sproles, I learned to bring the story front and center (you can read about Cindy’s perspective of this process at this link). I was still able to include much of the description, but I learned to use it in a way that furthered the story rather than distracting from it.

Describe your path to publication.

Though I was a published author, I was not a published novelist. So, in essence, I was starting from scratch. Christian fiction and non-fiction are two different worlds. I spoke with a couple of agents who offered helpful guidance. I had worked once in the past with CrossLink Publishing, a small, Christian, trade publisher out of South Dakota. I contacted the editor there, and after a few conversations we decided to move forward with the project. I appreciate the opportunity to work with CrossLink.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

I want readers to turn the last page and feel hope—hope that people can change (including ourselves), and hope that our sovereign God is stronger than even the most difficult circumstances we may face.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Find a mentor. Some join writing groups, where members encourage each other and critique their work. Others are able to develop relationships with established writers. However you accomplish it, don’t write alone. Invite others to speak into your process.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I have a couple of teenagers still living at home who keep us busy with concerts, school plays, ballgames, and similar activities. So, I spend much of my time away from work cheering for my kids. I also enjoy exercising, playing golf, and watching college sports.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a book tentatively titled Preaching: A Simple Approach to the Sacred Task. It will be a basic textbook for first-year preaching students and a refresher for experienced pastors. I’m working with Kregel Publishers. It will be another year or two before it’s completed and released.

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

Thank you, Daniel, for sharing your expertise with us!

You’re more than welcome!

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The Punctuation Test


A couple of months ago, I told you about the games we play in our home. Everything from Scrabble to Monopoly. And I mentioned that word games are a special favorite.

For this month’s interview with Kathy Ide, I’m going to take game-playing to another level. Kathy is an expert in grammar and punctuation, and those are areas I’m a little weak in. So we’re going to have a fun test to see if you can spot errors in my sentences. After all, we’re readers and most of us are writers, so we should be able to pick out the mistakes in no time at all. Right?

Take a look at the sentences below and decide where the errors are.

The Punc Test

  1. I think its a shame that Mrs. Fletcher’s Fabulous Chicken Restaurant closed.
  2. Frank ate the hamburger, and went to the park.
  3. I’ve seen the best movies, including: Casablanca, Forrest Gump, and Schindler’s List.
  4. Donna told me that “there is nothing like fried ice cream.”
  5. Is this theme-park a dog friendly place?

You can check your answers here.

How did you do?

If you missed three or more, you might want to brush up on your grammar and punctuation. Kathy Ide’s Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors would be an excellent place to start!

If you only missed one or two, you’re doing well, but you probably need an editor to check your work before you publish. You can find excellent ones at

If you got them all right, you may be ready to become an editor or proofreader yourself! Check out Kathy’s Christian Editor Network at!

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   I am delighted to welcome Kathy Ide back to the Craft of Writing Blog Series. Along with her numerous activities in writing, editing, and mentoring, Kathy is owner of the Christian Editor Network, the parent company of four divisions for aspiring and established freelance editors and proofreaders. In addition to her latest book, Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Kathy has written Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the Capitalization Dictionary. She is also the compiler and editor of a four-book series of Fiction Lover’s Devotional books, including 21 Days of Grace21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, and 21 Days of Christmas.

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Welcome back, Kathy, and thank you for joining us!

It’s been a little over a year since you were here last. What have you been doing in the interval?

Still doing a lot of editing for authors, which I love. The SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference went virtual this year, which was a blessing to many people who couldn’t have attended in person.

The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, which I’ve directed the last four years, was cancelled due to COVID-19. The conference center has been hit so hard by the pandemic, I was laid off (along with 90% of the MH employees), and the ministry leaders decided not to sponsor the writers conference anymore. I’m praying they will recover from this terrible situation, and if they do, I’m eager to see what God does there.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying more time with my family now that my conferences, travel, and visiting relatives are off my calendar due to the virus.

What made you want to become an editor?

When I lost my day job in an office, my husband suggested it might be a good opportunity for me to do something different with my career. He asked what I’d choose if I could do anything for a living, and I immediately said, “Write!” But I knew I couldn’t earn a living with my writing at that point. He asked what my second choice would be, and I said, “My critique group likes what I do for them, and I love doing it.” He suggested I see if I could make a career out of that. I asked my workers’ comp coordinator about it, but she said that since I didn’t have a college degree, it was “impossible.” When I heard that word, I heard God say, “Impossible is my specialty,” and I knew it was a direction He wanted me to pursue.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. While I love writing, helping others improve their writing is an absolute delight for me.

Why did you decide to write Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors?

In my work with authors, as well as attending and teaching at writers’ conferences across the country, I developed several flyers on various aspects of editing. Most were based on advice I’d picked up from best-selling authors I’d met and learned from over the years. Putting those flyers together into a book, weaving in direct quotes from my multi-published author friends, just made sense.

When Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors was published, it was intended to be the first in a series. Editing Secrets seemed like the logical second book.

This has been a strange year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. How has that affected your work?

With the cancellation of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the in-person SoCal conference, as well as other travel and out-of-state relatives visiting, I am no longer behind on any deadlines! It’s an odd feeling, but I have to say, quite satisfying.

Some of my editing clients are using the extra time to get lots of writing done, so they’re keeping me busy. Other clients are finding it difficult to concentrate on their writing with all that’s going on, so their slots on my calendar have been moved. So it all works out for everyone.

Many of the people who visit this blog are new authors. What one piece of advice would you give to them?

Only one? J Let’s see … I think the most important would be to trust God’s calling and his timing. Many new writers get so excited about what God has put on their hearts to write that they tend to rush the process. They set self-imposed deadlines for when they want their books published before they realize all that’s involved and how long those steps can take. God called you at exactly the right moment for you to learn how to write well, make connections with other writers who can help you hone your craft, work with a professional editor to polish your manuscript, and then follow whatever path he has chosen for publication of that book. He knew at the start how long that process would take. He also knew precisely the right time for your book to be published so it would get into the hands of the people he knew would need to read it. So relax, take your time, do it right, and enjoy the ride.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

There are many, and I’d be hard pressed to recommend one craft book above all the others, so I’ll go with The Chicago Manual of Style. It’s not so much on the craft of writing itself, but once you’ve read many craft books and implemented their techniques into your manuscript, it’s important that you do that final polish and make sure your punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling are according to the book industry’s standard guidelines. Because if you have a lot of errors in your manuscript, publishers (and readers) will be so distracted by them they’ll have a hard time getting into your story or your message.

The publishing world seems to be changing daily. What do you see in store for us in the future? What advice would you give to authors to navigate this labyrinth?

That is so true, Kay! My best advice for keeping up with changes in the publishing world is to attend writers’ conferences. COVID-19 has forced several to cancel, but some have gone online … and we’ll be able to have in-person events again at some point. Conferences that have active literary agents and acquisitions editors on faculty will give you the opportunity to find out from them what’s going on in the industry.

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

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you for this opportunity, Kay.


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This month I’m happy to welcome Gale Sears to the blog. Although Gale has previously published other titles, The Fifth Favorite is her first foray into middle-grade fiction. It was published and released in November 2019 by CrossLink Christian Publishers.

From the Amazon book blurb:

Eleven-year-old Allie Whitman is dealing with stress about her sixth-grade science project, embarrassment about her chicken costume for Halloween, and fear of the Mad Woman of Tahoe Meadow. Added to this, she feels that she is her mother’s fifth favorite in their family of six. She tries hard to up her status, but competing with her dad, a charming older brother, a brainy older sister, and a younger sister with autism; Allie laments that she may be stuck forever as low man on the totem pole.

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Gale Sears


Gale Sears is the best-selling author of the well-loved children’s story, Christmas for a Dollar. She has a degree in play writing and a masters degree in theater arts. She grew up in the magic of Lake Tahoe, which colors the story of The Fifth Favorite.


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Welcome, Gale, and thank you for joining us!

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

I grew up in the wonder of Lake Tahoe which shaped my joy and imagination. I also spent time in Hawaii during my high school years, and then attended college in Utah and Minnesota. For many years, my profession centered in Theater Arts. I spent time acting, directing, and playwriting. Later in my life, the Lord moved me onto another path—novel writing, specifically Historical Fiction.

I am married to George and we have two children, Shawn and Chandler. Our son, Shawn, passed away ten years ago. It was a painful experience which brought our family to that crisis of faith faced by many. Would this great loss have us doubt the Lord or bring us closer to His divine love? We chose closer.

After having written other novels, what made you decide to write in the middle-grade genre?

I had a story bumping around in my head about life in Lake Tahoe during the innocent age of the early 1960’s, and a young girl’s discovery of the principle of seeing into a person’s life and not judging them on first impressions. It was a fun book to write as my historical fiction books require hundreds of hours of research and tons of organizing. With The Fifth Favorite, I was able to let my imagination fly! And, there were several characters who marched themselves onto the pages without invitation. It’s always fun when people or events magically pop into the book.

Give us a short synopsis of The Fifth Favorite.

Eleven-year-old Allie Whitman is growing up in a place of beauty and wonder, Lake Tahoe California. During her sixth grade year she experiences exciting adventures and encounters some difficult problems. She also comes face to face with school friends and neighbors who challenge her childhood perception of people. One of the main people who changes her thinking is Mrs. Hemmett, who is the frightening odd-ball character of the community. Allie thinks Mrs. Hemmett is completely creepy until she has the opportunity to get to know her.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a middle-grade novel?

I found the most difficult thing was going back into my middle-grade self to remember what those years felt like. It was important not to talk above the age level, but also not to make light of the real concerns facing the characters. It was vital to express the characters’ genuine stresses and emotions.

Describe your path to publication.

Years ago, when I was still doing theater, I had an idea for a story which did not work as a play. I began building the skeleton of the story and found it worked better as a novel. I wrote the first four or five chapters and an associate of mine knew a managing editor and suggested I meet her and show her the work. She encouraged me to finish the novel and present it to her publishing house. This I did, and they accepted the work. I have been very blessed in my efforts as an author, and I do not have any ego in my accomplishments, because EGO is Edging God Out. I am grateful to be able to tell stories that hopefully lift others.

Prior to this favorable outcome, I’d spent about a year sending out a manuscript which received many rejection letters. It made me evaluate whether I had the talent or tough enough skin to be an author. I kept going. That’s always my advice to new authors, keep going! Book publishing is a fickle business and the needs of the industry are ever changing. If you love your story and have done the work to make it clean and crisp—power ahead.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

Be gentle and non-judgmental of other people and the path they’re traveling. You never know what they’ve suffered or are suffering. I realize that today life is gritty; we do not live in the innocence of the 1960’s, but we can still offer others understanding and compassion.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Be a good storyteller. You can study books and books on writing, but I think if you come up with an amazing character that goes on an adventure (either actual or of the soul—or both!) you will keep your readers interested.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I like to spend time hiking in the mountains or at home cooking! Some of my favorite things to cook—beef stew, chicken and dumplings, and banana bread. Also, when the opportunity presents itself, I like to travel with my cute husband, George.

What are you working on now?

I just finished an historical novel. The working title is “Sisters.” It takes place in 1898 and tells the story of the first sister missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were only twenty-two years old when they were called from Utah to go to England.

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

My web site is

Thank you, Gale, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thanks, Kay! And the best to all the wondrous writers out there!



The Emotion Game


We love games in our home. Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, you name it. Anything that involves a bit of chance and a little expertise.

We especially love word games. Scrabble, Password, and Boggle are some favorites, and you can find copies of crossword puzzles spread around on almost any surface in the house.

We even make up our own games. My husband, Frank, is particularly fond of this. As a retired college professor, his idea of a great game is one in which the student (usually me) is given a cryptic question and challenged to find the right answer. So it’s no surprise when Frank purchased a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus to help him with his novel-writing that he found a way to incorporate a game. Here’s the way we play it with friends:

First, the challenger secretly picks out an emotion from the thesaurus and reads one of the “physical signals and behaviors” that accompany that emotion. The contestants each guess the emotion. If one of them is right, they win. If not, the challenger may choose an “internal sensation” or a “mental response” from the book for the same emotion. This keeps on until one of the contestants identifies the correct emotion.

So, would you like to play our little game? I’ll give you a set of clues and you guess the emotion. The answer is provided later. (No fair peeking!)


  • A wide grin
  • Singing, humming, or chanting
  • Getting the giggles

Got it? Here are some more clues.


  • A lightness in the chest
  • A fast pulse

How are we doing? Here’s one more set of clues:


  • Camaraderie with others
  • Imagining what could happen

So what emotion did you identify? Make your guess and click here for the correct answer.


Whether you enjoy playing games or not, as authors we know the importance of providing an emotional journey for our readers. To do that, we need to understand how emotions manifest themselves in our characters. The Emotion Thesaurus is the place to go to gain that insight.


I am especially excited to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, to The Craft of Writing blog series.

Angela Ackerman Becca Puglisi

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (now an expanded second edition) and its many sequels. Their books are available in eight languages, are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over half a million copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end, they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters. Originally created in partnership with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows and Linux, One Stop for Writers is now a shared venture between Angela and Becca.


Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!

Angela: Thank you for having us! And your husband is awesome. I love the game he created from the Emotion Thesaurus. That would be a fun one to do at writing conferences to sharpen everyone’s show-don’t-tell skills when it comes to emotion.

A note to readers: Because Becca and I are basically the BORG from working together so long, we’ll each answer a question in turn.

How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

Angela: We actually met on an online critiquing site called The Critique Circle. We each wrote Kidlit & YA and started critiquing one another’s work. I think we really connected with the other’s style of writing, values, and desire to gain more knowledge. In fact, we took an entire year to study the same writing craft books so we could discuss the same concepts and help each other fill in the blanks. I think this really helped us become strong collaborative authors.

What prompted you to write The Emotion Thesaurus?

Angela: We both struggled with showing our characters’ feelings as it seemed like they were always rolling their eyes, smiling, and shrugging. Becca and I felt like our inability to write emotion in a more compelling way was holding our stories back, and so we decided to build lists of different emotions and how a character might express them. Becca had already started keeping track of a few emotions, so that kickstarted us. We blogged these lists and the response was so huge, we realized this was a widespread problem, not just for us. So, to help everyone, we put all our research into a book.

What made you decide to write other books on the craft of writing?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was fairly well-received, so we knew that we were on to something. As Angela said, the issues that pushed us to write that book were universal in nature, and it made us think: What other writing problems did we have in common with authors? So we started exploring those areas of struggle at the blog in the form of various thesauruses. When people began clamoring for them in published form, we knew we had more books to write.

I hear you have a new book out entitled The Occupation Thesaurus. Tell us about it.

Becca: As with all of our books, The Occupation Thesaurus is about helping writers accomplish more with fewer words—to streamline their writing and do more with less. As authors, when we reveal a character’s job, we simultaneously show certain things about him or her, such as their beliefs, priorities, desires, and needs. So an occupation can cover a lot of characterization ground, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It can also provide much-needed conflict scenarios, hint at motivation in the form of unresolved past wounds or unmet needs, and offer symbolism opportunities. So this book is really about educating writers as to the importance of choosing character occupations carefully. If anyone wants to check it out, they can find it here at our bookstore.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Angela: Tough to narrow it down to a single piece of advice, lol. I think what I would probably say is to not be in a rush. Developing strong storytelling skills takes time. Can anyone belt out a book and publish it? Yes. Should they? Not if their intent is to have a satisfying career if their skills are not at the level needed for that to happen.

Writing a story is something that, at first blush, seems like it would be easy. But the more we study strong writing and understand the many, many elements that go into a powerful reading experience, the more it becomes apparent that we need to work hard to become great storytellers. Opening our minds to learning and not getting caught up in timelines gives us the freedom to truly focus on elevating our craft. We end up putting out better books…ones we are proud to have our names on.

Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?

Becca: I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one J. Story structure has always been this big confusing mess for me, and Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell was a gamechanger because it brought clarity to that whole process. And when it comes to the nitty-gritty of how to tighten up your writing, I adore Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. There’s so much meat there, and it’s a resource I refer to often. Here’s a big list of books for writers we personally recommend.

What do you do when you want to get away from writing for a while?

Angela: If I am at home, I usually end up in the kitchen. I love to bake and try new dishes, but I honestly don’t have a ton of time between the books Becca and I write, our blog, our subscription site One Stop for Writers, and building/practicing workshops for online and in-person teaching. So for me, taking the time to prepare a special dish for my family always recharges my batteries. I also love to travel, and so that’s another way I refill my creative well. I love visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. So far, my favorite countries have been Vietnam, Italy, and Australia.

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

Becca: Our Writers Helping Writers’ bookstore page contains information on all of our books, including full descriptions, sample previews, and ordering information. As for One Stop for Writers, Angela has created an excellent walkthrough video that shows authors the tools and resources that are available there. And if you’d like to catch up with us on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter (Angela and Becca).

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for having us! It is always nice for us to reflect on how we started and how we are all on the same path. Happy writing to all!



Staying on the Vine

This month I’m happy to welcome Gordon Castelnero to the blog. Although Gordon had previously published two non-fiction titles, his first fiction work, Staying on the Vine, was released in April 2019 by CrossLink Christian Publishers.

Staying on the Vine is the story of Lindsay and Nick, two divorcees who have sought fulfillment in everything but God. Their individual journeys lead them to a second chance at marriage and a better life in Christ.

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Castelnero (1)

Gordon Castelnero is a native of southeast Michigan.  He left his hometown to attend California State University, Long Beach where he graduated with a BA in Radio/Television/Film in 1990.  Upon his return to the Midwest, he worked as a producer at an adult contemporary station, WNIC-FM, for four years.  While in radio, he successfully transitioned into television as an independent writer and producer of multiple documentaries for the Detroit market.  His productions were recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – Michigan Chapter with an Emmy award and several nominations.

In 2006, Castelnero’s first book, TV Land Detroit, was published by the University of Michigan Press.  He later collaborated with his former banjo instructor to co-write Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon, the first authorized biography of the famed country/bluegrass musician, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017.

Staying on the Vine is Castelnero’s third publication and first novel.  His faith in God compelled him to chronicle the “ordinary everyday” events in his life, as well as his wife, in a character-driven story reflecting their kindred journeys to Christ and each other.  Gordon resides in a suburb of Detroit with his wife of ten years and their eight-year-old daughter.

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Welcome, Gordon, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay.  Good to be with you.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

Writing is something that I kind of fell into unexpectedly.  It was never an aspiration, as I wanted to be a television producer.  When I was in college, I discovered that my ability to write good essays and papers is what attributed to my graduation.  Afterward, I produced and wrote a few local television documentaries, which received some accolades.  I then wrote a few trade magazine articles, which brought me a lot of personal joy.  From there, I took the next step into books.  My first two projects were biographical non-fiction.  Staying on the Vine is my first novel.

After having written non-fiction pieces, what made you decide to write a novel?

The novel came out of a series of disappointments in my pursuit to write another biography.  Even though I could write an unauthorized book about any public figure, it’s not my style to do so without their permission—all of my documentaries and non-fiction books are authorized works.  Well, I didn’t want to stop writing so I thought it best to write a book about something that I have exclusive rights to, and that’s my journey in coming to Jesus Christ.

I originally drafted Staying on the Vine as a screenplay back in 2011.  Since it didn’t pan out as a movie, I decided to rewrite it as a novel.  It’s kind of funny the difference in constructing a screenplay versus a novel.  The screenplay was completed in a few weeks, while the book adaptation took about nine months.  A lot more material needed to be added, not to mention the extra attention to detail.

As I mentioned, it’s mainly based on my spiritual journey, plus my wife’s faith walk too.  There are many elements to the story that required the compositing of characters and events, along with streamlining them into a compelling story that moves quickly.  I tend to write for the easy reader so anyone and everyone can breeze through the story.

Give us a short synopsis of Staying on the Vine.

Like so many Americans, Lindsay Kish and Nick Robinson grew up as Christians in name only. Their perceptions of life mirrored the idolatry of the world in rejection of God. Both of them nurtured appetites for their biggest vices, which tainted their judgment in romantic relationships. Their spiritual darkness ultimately led them down the aisle to childless marriages besieged by never-ending sins. Yet, during their trials of tribulation, God always threw them a lifeline of grace through revelations they routinely ignored but would come to embrace after hitting rock bottom.

Based on a true story, Staying on the Vine is portrayed through character-driven backstories depicting the doubtful romance between two mid-life divorcees who ignored God’s many calls, until they came together as the result of answered prayer.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Aside from staring at a blank page, I’d say, keeping your ideas fresh.  I learned early in my career that no matter how original you think your ideas are, there’s always someone else who’s done the exact same thing, or gotten eerily close to duplicating your grand designs.  The difficulty is how to spin them out of the realm of predictability so the reader can say, “Wow…I didn’t see that coming!”

Another difficulty is finding adequate time to write—not always easy to do when juggling a job and family.  I always tell people that creative writing isn’t like painting a house or mowing the lawn.  That kind of work can be started and stopped without missing a beat.  Writing on the other hand, at least to me, doesn’t work that way.  Once you’re on a roll, you can’t stop until your thoughts have been completely transferred from your brain to the page.  Interruptions cause me to forget the ideas I was just about to type, and they rarely come back to me.  When I sit down, I like to know that I’ve got plenty of uninterrupted time ahead of me, so the creativity can pour out of me freely.

Describe your path to publication.

It took me three drafts before I felt the manuscript was ready for solicitation.  Once completed, I worked on a synopsis, and then a query letter.  I had no idea just how competitive the Christian book market is until I threw my hat in the ring.  I’m not a pastor, I don’t have any kind of platform, so I really felt that the deck was stacked against me.  What I did have going for me were my previously published books.  Even though they were not in the same genre as the novel, they were published by reputable publishers: the University of Michigan Press and Rowman & Littlefield.

I had hopes of securing an agent for this project, but the process was taking a very long time.  I must’ve queried over twenty literary agencies, and was either declined or never received a response.  Rejection is not an option with me, so I decided that I’d have to seek a publisher directly, which is what I did with my previous books.  In fact, I contacted my editor at Rowman & Littlefield for assistance.  She was kind enough to send me a vetted list of Christian publishers.

I queried a few of the publishers on the list, and it was Rick Bates at CrossLink Publishing who gave me the most favorable response.  He’s been great to work with and my experience with CrossLink has been an absolute pleasure.

What lessons learned can you share with our readers?

Don’t be preoccupied with what competing authors are doing.  When I started my first book, TV Land Detroit, I was convinced I had a concept that no one else had ever done.  During the research phase, I learned that someone else was doing a similar book, which took the wind out of my sails.  The “someone else” had name recognition, credentials, and industry contacts way above my pay grade.  Thinking his was going to be much better than mine, I seriously thought about aborting the project.  But since I had already made commitments to people who agreed to participate, I felt obligated to continue.  And was I ever glad that I did—my book turned out to be much better and outsold the “other” book, which is now out of print.

The same thing happened again with Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon.  Not too far into the project, I stumbled upon another author who was working on an Earl Scruggs biography.  In the same respect to my previous comment about original ideas, you’re bound to cross paths with another writer pursuing the same subject matter as you.  Never let it distract or deter you from completing your book—the end result may surprise you.  The worst thing you can do is constantly worry about something you have no control over.  By doing so, the quality of your work will suffer.  Just stay focused on your material as if you are the only one in the world doing it, and it will be great.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

The story is relatable to everyone who reads it.  All of the disastrous choices made by the protagonists are typical of most non-believers who seek fulfillment in everything but God.  I think readers will see a part of themselves in the characters of Lindsay and Nick.  Their second chance at love, marriage, and a better life, in Christ, is an inspirational testament that failure is not final!

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Have faith in your work.  If your project is something you really believe in, don’t give up.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I try to get outdoors as much as possible—there’s nothing like fresh air and sunshine to put me in a good mood.  I enjoy long walks, bicycle rides, and a good book with a cup of coffee.  I look forward to church every Sunday, sermons online during the week, and of course, spending time with my family.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a new G-rated novel in the romance genre.  It’s an original story I’ve kicked around in my head for over twenty years now—one of those ideas you get but just don’t know where to go with it, so it goes nowhere.  Last fall seemed like a good time to revisit the concept and develop it into a novel.  I’m almost done with the first draft.  By the time the revisions are completed this summer, I will be ready to query it in the fall.

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

I don’t have a website.  Just type in my name on any search engine, and my books come right up—I’m the only person on this planet with the name Gordon Castelnero.

Thank you, Gordon, for sharing your expertise with us!



By Kay DiBianca


Did you know the deadliest aviation accident in history happened on the ground? It occurred in 1977 when two 747’s collided in dense fog on a runway in the Canary Islands. Here’s how it happened:

An air traffic controller in the tower had instructed a KLM plane to taxi to the end of the runway in preparation for takeoff. He had also told a PanAm plane to taxi on the same runway and then exit at a certain taxiway. Because of the fog, the crews of the two planes could not see each other, and the air traffic controller could not see the planes. They were relying on accurate communication to guide their movements. If the crews of both planes had obeyed the controller’s instructions, the accident would not have happened.

The tower never gave the KLM flight clearance to take off, but the captain of the KLM plane thought he had been given the okay. Because of his misunderstanding and his inability to see clearly, the giant 747 began barreling down the runway, unaware that the other plane was in its path.

The takeoff plane was traveling at approximately 160 mph when the crew spotted the other plane dead ahead. They were only one hundred meters apart. There was no time to stop or swerve to avoid the other plane. The captain of the takeoff plane pulled the nose up sharply in an effort to “leapfrog” over the other one. He didn’t make it. The lower part of the KLM aircraft struck the PanAm plane and crashed onto the runway, exploding in a huge fireball.

Although the crews of both planes were experienced, five hundred and eighty-three people died in that accident. All the people on the KLM flight perished, and most of the passengers on the PanAm plane also died. And it happened because the captain of the KLM plane lacked “situational awareness”, or the ability to understand his environment clearly. He acted on an assumption that the runway was clear. He was wrong.

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Situational awareness applies to many aspects of life, not just flying. Authors need to have a clear picture of the publishing landscape in order to be successful. Even though an inability to see clearly won’t endanger our lives, it just might endanger our livelihoods!

If you’re a pilot, you depend on the air traffic controller to direct your flight. When you drive, you may use your car’s GPS system to get you to your destination. For those of us who are new to publishing, we rely on experts in the field to lead us. Experts like Terry Whalin.

In his book “10 Publishing Myths,” Terry has identified a list of beliefs that can mislead an author on the path to publication. Terry not only shatters these myths, he provides practical exercises to help us as we continue on our writing journey.

So don’t go wandering in the vast publishing labyrinth unassisted! Be aware of your situation. Pick up a copy of “10 Publishing Myths,” and you’ll see more clearly how to get where you want to go.

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TerryWhalinW. Terry Whalin knows and understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and a writer and a literary agent. A former literary agent, now Terry’s an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 Christian and general market publications plus he’s written more than 60 books for traditional publishers. His personal site is located at:

A journalism graduate from Indiana University, Terry writes a wide spectrum of subjects and topics for the magazine and book marketplace. His latest books include Billy Graham, A Biography of America’s Greatest Evangelist (Morgan James) and Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (Morgan James). He is an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Also, Terry is the creator of a popular site for writers: Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Colorado.

* * *

Welcome, Terry Whalin. Thank you for joining us!


Why did you write 10 Publishing Myths?

I’ve worked with hundreds of authors and spoken with many more over the years. Many of them have unrealistic expectations about what will happen with their book. I wrote 10 Publishing Myths to help authors have practical ideas about how to succeed with their book. There is much that can go wrong in the publishing process. Many of these things are outside of the author’s control. My book is focused on practical ideas every author can do to reach their readers.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

It may sound cliché but writers need to learn the craft of writing and telling stories. Storytelling is a skill that can be learned but takes time and practice. I know people want to write books but I recommend writers begin with a magazine article. If they write fiction, then begin with short stories in magazines. Why? In the process of creating such stories, you learn the craft of storytelling. Plus you are working with a shorter form of writing than a lengthy book.  In general print magazines have a high standard and you will have to work hard at the craft of writing to get published in magazines.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? Which method would you recommend for a new author?

Publishing is a complicated business and I don’t know I can capture these in just a few sentences but I will try. Traditional publishing is the path in most people’s minds about publishing. They find a literary agent who shops the book to publishers. These publishers pay an advance and give a royalty contract. There is no cost to the author. The publisher does the editing, the design work, the distribution to bookstores and some marketing. They take over the control of your book too so you as an author have little say on the title, the cover design, the cost and many other factors.  The process of getting a literary agent or an editor of a traditional house interested in your book to give you a contract is complex. I wrote a book for writers called Book Proposals That Sell to help in this process. I have all of the remaining copies of this print book and discounted the price. The book has over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews and has helped many writers. Agents and editors in traditional publishing make cautious decisions because the decisions are based on book sales. Thousands of dollars are involved in this process and the authors who get contracts are ones that have a market or the ability to touch their readers and sell books.

Self-publishing is a huge area at the moment with 1.6 million self-published books last year. The author has complete control for their cover design, title, etc. I’ve met self-published authors who have spent $20,000 on their book (a scam). The average self-published book sells about 100 to 200 copies during the lifetime of the book. The reality is there is still a lot of poor books produced in the self-published market.

The best publishing in my view is a collaborative process. I work for Morgan James which is one of the top independent publishers in the U.S. We pay traditional royalties and have a small advance but there is a partnership in this process. Our books have broad distribution and have been on the NY Times list 29 times during the last 18 years. To explore the system is free and something I recommend authors do. Just reach out to me is a way to get started.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

Every writer needs an editor—even someone like me who has published a great deal. Each of us have blind spots and our writing can be improved with a professional editor. The key word is “professional.” Often finding the right editor is like trying to find the right spouse. You have to check them out, look at their references, see what it will cost and when they could get it done, etc. There are some terrific professional editors but select the right one is my caution.

Why should an author take 100% responsibility to sell his or her own books? Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

As the author, you have the greatest passion for selling your book—whether you publish traditionally or self-publish or use something in between. Your excitement and energy to market your own book will last longer than anyone else (an editor, a publisher, an agent, a PR person, etc).

How does a new author get connected with others in the publishing industry?

Who you know in publishing is almost as important as what you know. People connections are very important. I encourage authors to join an online group but also to get to a writer’s conference. You can also network with others on LinkedIn. A lot of publishing is about being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff in front of the right person. It takes a lot of persistence to get those rights to line up but it is possible.

There are so many books coming onto the marketplace every day, how can a new author maximize his or her chances to be successful?

One of the most important things any writer can do (new or experienced) is to build their connections to their readers or audience. In publishing we call this building your platform or tribe. Yes people love to tout Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn as where they are building their readers—but there is a caution about these sites many people forget—they are rented space. You don’t control Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn and in fact could be banned from there in an instant. It’s much better for you to build your own website and your own email list because they are under your direct control.

You are both an acquisitions editor and an author. How do you find time to handle both of those demanding roles?

I’ve worked for Morgan James Publishing for eight years and it is my third publisher in an acquisitions role. It is a matter of finding balance between my acquisitions work and my work at an author. Often the two intersect and I promote both of them—like this recent podcast I did with Christine Kloser.  Some of my editor friends do not write and only edit. I believe being both an editor and a writer helps me have a greater understanding for my authors.

What are you working on now?

I have a variety of projects in the works—and something I recommend others do as well. It’s called diversity or creating multiple streams of income. I write books for other people and have a couple of those projects in the works. Also I’m a part of a small team helping shape Bible studies for The Passion Translation (Broadstreet Publishing). I worked on the study guide for Isaiah which will come out later this year. Also I’m continuing to devote time to promoting my newest book, 10 Publishing Myths.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

People wonder how I’ve been able to write and publish so much material over the years. Several years ago I stopped and figured it out. It’s not that I’m the best writer in the room. I am one of the more consistent and persistent people you will meet. I go to conferences, listen to editors and meet them and pitch my books like everyone else. After I pitch, sometimes the editor will show interest and ask me to send them something. I immediately make a little note, go home and follow-up and send them what they requested. It doesn’t mean that I get published from it—but I at least give myself a chance to get published. What I realize from going to conferences as an editor, I often will hear a good idea and ask them writer to send it to me. In fact I will email them and at times call them asking for it. But I’ve learned that only about 10% of people that I meet will actually send it to me. My main guidance would be to keep pitching, listening to the editors and their needs, then sending them what they request and what they need. It is that simple. Just look at the Foreword Mark Victor Hanson wrote for my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book.  Everyone forgets Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected many times.

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

My blog, The Writing Life has over 1500 searchable entries. Also my website is located at: Others can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Thank you, Terry, for being with us today!


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