Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Being a Teenager Can Be Dangerous

Over the past weekend, four teens in my area went for a joy ride in the middle of the night. The car ended up colliding into a tree at an estimated 90 mph and literally split in half. Three kids were killed, the only survivor a boy who used his seat belt. A tragic accident that will forever be graven in that young man's memory.

According to news reports the car was stolen (by the girls who came by in the car and invited the boys to go for a ride) According to the survivor, the driver had been drinking (and it's presumed the others were too). The boy also said that when he told the driver (one of the girls) to slow down, his buddy said something to the effect of "Lighten up. If we die, we die." And he did, along with the two girls. Chilling.

I remember back when I was 16 and how I thought I was invincible. I'd get behind the wheel of my dad's car and roar through my small town at speeds well above the limit. Why the police never observed my less-than-stellar driving and put a stop it it, I have no idea. But friends of my dad did see me zooming down Main Street at high speed and told him. I think getting stopped by the cops would have been a less painful experience LOL.

I may not have stolen the car I was driving, and I wasn't drinking beer. But the mindset I had at the time wasn't too much different than the kids who died in that awful crash. The survivor said he didn't think his friend really meant the words "If we die, we die," that he was only joking. Some joke.

Why do teenagers think nothing is ever going to happen to them? Today, not only do many drink and drive drunk, a lot are doing drugs. They start out thinking they'll only try it to see what it's like and become addicted so fast they don't know what hit them. They pop pills, snort cocaine, and smoke pot, among other things. And now there's a product on the market called Bath Salts. Believe me, the powder in those little containers has nothing to do with taking a bath. Many states have started to ban the sale of these so-called bath salts, but for many, it's too little too late. Some have already died from the effects of ingesting this powder with it's rather innocent-sounding name.

Is there any way to protect our teens from being teens save locking them in their rooms until they reach their twenties? I have no concrete, fool-proof answer, except one - PRAY.

Pray for the teens you know personally. Pray for the leaders of your church's youth groups. Pray for the parents of the teens you know. I wonder if everyone started praying in this vein, what would happen.

Are you willing to find out?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Story In The Stars--A Story You'll Love Even if you Never Read Science Fiction!

A number of months ago, Yvonne Anderson, one of my critique partners, signed with Risen Books to publish her space fantasy novel, Story in the Stars. I have to admit that because I don't read sci fi, or fantasy I opted to not critique her work. Yet week after week, as submissions for the chapters of her book showed up in my crit group folder, I'd soon see the critiques coming back from my other crit partners with exclamations of how good the story was and that they couldn't wait for the next chapter. I wondered if I wasn't missing something special. But, by then the story was half done, and I hate jumping into the middle of a story. So I abstained.

A few weeks ago, Story in the Stars released, and I agreed to read it and put a review up on Writer's Journey. Once I began reading, I hated to put the book down. It is that good.

The storyline is set sometime in the future where interplanetary travel between fictional planets is the norm. That is the backdrop, but the real draw is the story about relationships, good and bad, as well as a well-crafted yarn that has the reader wondering if they are going to survive at all.

Anderson's characters are unforgettable, from Dassa, the only survivor from the planet Gannah, who as heir to the headship of the planet, becomes its leader; to Pik a tall, gangly guy from the planet Karkar whose emotions are expressed through his ears. There is also a supporting cast of characters that add color to the story. The message of the Gospel, told through the constellations, is presented and done so in a very organic way that neither preaches nor beats the reader over the head. It is the kind of book you could give to someone who doesn't follow Christ but loves fantasy.

I asked Yvonne to join me today to answer a few questions about her story and how it came to be.

I see you call your book a space fantasy. What does that mean, exactly?

I’ve been told that if a story involves space travel, it should be called Science Fiction. But another definition of Science Fiction says that it’s fiction based on existing science. That is, where the writer takes current concepts and technologies and extrapolates how they might play out in the future. But that doesn’t describe my story. Stars is completely unrealistic, has no basis in scientific fact whatsoever. It’s more of a fantasy in a space setting.

Risen Fiction is a new publisher with an unusual model and a unique focus. Is that why you decided to go with them?

There were several reasons, actually. They’re a very new house and don’t have much of a track record yet. But I’ve read everything they’ve done, and I’m impressed. A lot of Christian publishers have a list of controversial subjects they won’t touch for fear of offending someone. I’d been afraid my book was doomed, being too secular for a Christian publisher but too Christian for the secular market. But Risen Books has the courage to venture out of the cushioned pews and out into the world, and I respect that about them.

As far as their model goes, you’re right. It’s POD and ebook, and not quite traditional. But as I don’t need to tell you, the publishing industry is in flux right now, and “traditional” is soon to be redefined in ways no one can yet foresee. Risen’s model is less risky, more flexible, more efficient. Since they’re willing to take a chance on me, I’m happy to take my chances with them. In fact, I’m excited about working with them to make a name for both them as a publishing house and me as an author.

How did you pitch your project to them? Do you have an agent?

Second question first: no, I don’t have an agent. And, of course, that limits my options, as none of the major houses will accept submissions from unagented authors. But the pitching process with Risen Books was so quick and painless, my head’s still spinning.

I have a friend who signed with them in December, and she gave me the good news as soon as they offered her the contract. She writes speculative fiction, too. I thought, Risen Books? Never heard of them. So I checked them out, and, as I mentioned before, I was impressed with their offerings. I sent them a proposal as per their submission guidelines, and right away, they requested a complete MS. I didn’t get too excited though – I guess I’d become a little jaded by then. But when they contacted me a couple weeks later and asked about my vision for the series… now, that got my hopes up.

I didn’t realize this was part of a series.

Neither did I. In fact, in 2007, the first time I ever pitched this story, I was asked more or less the same question by an acquisitions editor from Zondervan. I told him it was a one-shot deal, I didn’t see myself as a sci-fi writer. But later, after spending more time on the planet Gannah, I realized it needed to be further explored, so in 2009 I went back for another visit. That second book was drafted and in the process of revision when Risen asked me about the series; and when I considered the matter, I came up with a total of seven possible storylines (including the two that were already written) in about as many minutes.

So I take it they liked your vision?

I guess so. A week later, they offered me a three-book contract, with the possibility for more depending on the success of the series. I’m calling the series Gateway to Gannah because I like alliteration.

You say you first pitched your Story in the Stars in 2007. Is it first novel you ever wrote? Had you been trying for four years to get published before you were offered this contract?

No to both questions. Stars is actually the fifth novel I’ve completed. The first two, I fed to the burn barrel long ago. I thought the third had potential, and maybe it did – but I went about pitching it all wrong, and eventually got burned out on it. The fourth was an offshoot of the third, and that contributed to the burn-out. I wrote The Story in the Stars on the rebound. It’s completely different from anything I’d ever written before, and, as I said, I figured it was a one-shot deal. I just did it for fun, and at first I never had any intention of trying to get it published. But it started begging me for an audience, and I eventually had to give in.

What were your other books?

The first was historical, and the rest, I guess you’d say “women’s fiction.” I find that an irritating term but I guess it’s appropriate. It describes stories with strong female protagonists in contemporary settings that have more appeal to women than to men.

So what made you write something so different this time?

For one thing, I was mad. Mad as in, not in my right mind, but also the angry kind. Mad at myself for wasting so much of my life writing books that no one would ever want to read. You know how they ask what titles your book is comparable to? Well, toward the end of my unrequited love affair with my third novel, I went into a bookstore and studied the shelves, trying to find titles comparable to mine. Not only did I fail to find any, but I also failed to find any I’d want to spend my money on. I was so angry with myself, I wanted to start tearing books from the shelves and throwing them across the room. What did I think I was doing? How could I expect someone to buy the garbage I wrote, when I wouldn’t buy it myself? So I swore off writing altogether for a while, and started drowning my sorrows in nonfiction.

Somewhere in my meanderings, I stumbled across an old book, originally published in 1882 but reprinted in the 70s, called The Gospel in the Stars. The premise is that the constellations proclaim the message of the gospel of salvation for all the world to read. But the language was archaic and it was hard to follow. It also probably didn’t help matters that I know nothing about the stars, so what I was reading was altogether unfamiliar right from the start.

But the idea intrigued me. As I tried to make sense out of it, it occurred to me that it might be fun to write a story based on the concepts. Sadly, though I’d been straight and sober for several months, I hadn’t quite kicked the fiction-writing habit. And that idea was all it took to make me fall off the wagon.

So is your book, then, a novelization of that old non-fiction reprint?

Though reading the Gospel in the Stars was the inciting incident, my book soon developed a life of its own. The Story in the title is, in fact, the gospel. But, though the gospel is truly “the greatest story every told,” it’s incidental to the novel’s plot.

You mention extraterrestrial societies. Are there earth people in your story too, or are they all ETs? And who’s your favorite character?

Though the primary characters are ETs, many others are Earthers, or Terrestrials as they’re sometime referred to. My favorite character, though, is a doctor named Pik from the planet Karkar. Though he’s seven feet tall and has twelve fingers and toes, he’s kind of an Everyman. Or maybe I should say, he’s the Everyman we are on the inside even when we put on a good front. He’s vain, arrogant and self-serving, he complains constantly, and he’s afraid of change.  But somehow he ends up doing the right things for the right reasons despite his flaws, and he brings a little self-deprecating humor into the story.

Who do you think your book will most appeal to?

Anyone who likes light sci-fi, like Star Trek or Star Wars. Fantasy fans should like it too, since I was a rabid Tolkien fan as a kid, and he was a big influence on my style. But some of my friends who write romance say, “I don’t read sci-fi, but I love this story!” So I think it should have a fairly wide appeal. I just hope the non-SF reader isn’t put off by the girl in the spacesuit on the cover.

You can purchase Story in the Stars on line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It comes both in paperback and e-book formats. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Expect the Unexpected at the ACFW Conference

Once upon a time, a writer with high expectations, boarded a plane for Kansas City, Kansas and the very first conference for American Christian Fiction Writers. (Back then the organization was called ACRW, the "R" standing for Romance.)

The excited newbie writer hungered to learn all she could about writing fiction and to meet other fiction writers--some of whom were published, while many others aspired to be contracted. The conference did not disappoint. Only 100 attendees, including the presenters, but they made a mighty impression on that rather small hotel and its staff.

What the writer didn't expect was a call a couple days later from Andrea Boeshaar, who was then agenting, saying, "I want to represent you." The writer had already been rejoicing over the wonderful experience in Kansas City that included a conversation with Andrea, and the call was like a cherry on top of the dessert. Totally unexpected.

As you may have realized, that writer was me.

I've had the blessing of attending each and every ACFW conference. What kinds of unexpected things happen at the ACFW Conference?

Margaret Daley announcing the Service Award Winner at the Denver Conference in '09
For some, having your name called out as Mentor of the Year or recipient of the ACFW Service Award which is given to an outstanding volunteer. Two awards the recipients have no idea about since there isn't a slate of finalists.

Every year someone has been blessed to have their name called out by a Barbour Publishing editor to receive their very first fiction contract. It's never expected and comes as a complete and awesome surprise.

"Chance" meetings go on every day of the conference. Someone sits at an editor's meal table and by dessert they have a request for a proposal, while out in the lobby another settles into a cushy chair to kick off her heels and happens to sit next to an agent. Soon she's being asked to send a proposal. Back in the dining room, someone is chatting with people at the dinner table and before long, they agree to become a crit group. Are these meetings chance? I like to think of them as "God Appointments." Opportunities don't all happen in editor/agent appointments.

Last year, one of our sponsors gave away an Ipad through a drawing. The winner was volunteering in the bookstore and someone had to get her. A very surprised woman came into the room to receive her prize. A totally unexpected moment.

One of the most unexpected moments for me came several years ago at a Dallas conference. Because Andrea had decided to stop agenting, I had gone to conference determined to find a new agent. The agent with whom I requested an appointment canceled due to a health issue, and all other appointment slots were filled. I found myself in the prayer room, pouring out my heart to God and opened to Psalm 37: 3:
Trust in the LORD, and do good. Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. (NKJV)
The part about feeding on His faithfulness prompted me to look back on how God had been faithful to me in so many ways up to that point. Truth be told, I didn't have a manuscript ready for any agent to present. God impressed that at the right time, I would have a new agent. And a year later I signed with Terry Burns. That was also unexpected, but has been the greatest of blessings.

I encourage anyone reading this who has not yet decided whether to attend conference this year, if it is at all possible, go. You never know what unexpected thing may happen while you are there!

Below are some candid shots of attendees at Denver in 2009 and Indianapolis in 2010.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My First Sale!!!!

About a month ago I received a call, known among the publishing industry as THE call, from my agent Terry Burns. The conversation started out like this:

Terry: Hi, Pam, how are you?
Me:    Fine. How are you?

All the while I'm thinking that he never calls for casual conversations, especially when he's at a conference, so why is he calling me in the middle of the morning? The conversation continued.

Terry: "She wants the book!!!"
Me: "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Are you serious?"
Terry: "Yes. She wants it."
Me: (sniffling and wiping my nose) "I am so amazed."

He then turned the phone over to Bonnie Calhoun, one of my crit partners who is also a client of his. She was at the conference and insisted she be with him when he called me. She screamed with me again and gave me my first congratulations.
Ramona Tucker, my editor & me signing the contract!

Then, outside of my closest friends, I could not tell the news until the contract was signed. I had to wait a few more weeks until last Saturday. Both Terry and the editor, Ramona Tucker, were at the Write to Publish Conference a short drive away from me. I drove there for lunch and after we ate, Ramona handed me my contract. Terry took our picture and now I can announce that my book, "Thyme for Love" has been contracted with Oak Tara Publishing. Release date to be announced later. I have not yet come down from the cloud I'm floating on.

But it's true! I'm sitting here with a copy of the signed contract in front of me along with a to-do list to get everything ready to roll on production later this summer or fall.

I give God all the glory for this. I've been writing for a long time and had some close calls, but never THE phone call I wanted. But God knows what is best for us, and His timing is perfect all the time. At the right time He allowed all the pieces to fall into place.

I'll keep everyone posted as to the release date. What fun. As ACFW's New Release Coordinator, I'll get to announce my own book!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chasing Sunsets by Eva Marie Everson - A Must Read!!!

If you are ever looking for the perfect summer read, look no further than Eva Marie Everson's Chasing Sunsets.

Years ago, a dear friend who lives in Florida talked about a small island off the Gulf side of the state called Cedar Key. The way she described the place, I  wanted to jump on a plane and go  there. But I haven't yet made it to Cedar Key. HOWEVER... through Chasing Sunsets, I have been transported there every time I sit down to read the book! And now I want to go even more.

But the setting isn't the only reason I have enjoyed this book. Everson has woven a wonderful story of God's grace and second chances. It's a tale of one woman's battle to not let the heartbreak of the long ago past, as well as not-so-distant past, have power over her life in the here and now.

Kimberly Tucker spent her seventeenth summer on Cedar key falling in love with a boy she'd known since childhood. Then Steven Granger went off to college, and as often happens with summer romances, all her dreams soon fell apart. Now she's back on Cedar Key at the family summer home, fresh off a painful divorce. Can old loves be reunited? Can she forget her pain long enough to find out? 

Run, don't walk to you favorite bookstore, or let your fingers do the walking to one of the on-line retailers and get Chasing Sunsets. Then pour yourself some sweet tea, find an Adirondack chair under a beach umbrella, and you can pretend you are in Cedar Key while you read this gripping story!


Eva Marie Everson is a speaker, a popular radio personality, and the award-winning author of Things Left Unspoken and This Fine Life. She is coauthor of the Potluck Club series and the Potluck Catering Series. She lives in Florida.

Monday, June 06, 2011

It's Graduation Time: A Time for Looking Ahead & A Time for Looking Back

I'm writing this on June 6, 2011. Many years ago on another June 6th (I'll spare you the year) I graduated from Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My grandparents came from Ohio to sit in a very hot and sticky gym and watch me walk across the stage. At the end of the ceremony, we grads moved our tassels from one side of our caps to the other. I can't remember which side you start on and which you end, but I remember the feeling that with that act, my childhood was truly ending.

After most of us had escaped the hugs and slobbery kisses from our moms and grandmas, we converged at the Rivera (the building that figures prominently in my yet-to-be-published novel currently titled Dream and Little Dream of Me) and boarded one of the large excursion boats that ply the lake during summer. It was a unique way to celebrate and one most appropriate, since the lake and the boats figured greatly in my growing up years.

To me that night was bittersweet. Like any kid that age, I was anxious to get on in life, and ready to take on the world. But, my senior year had been a difficult one for me socially, and that figured strongly in my eagerness to get out of Dodge. To that end, I was set to attend a state college a half-hour's drive away, but  I'd never admit to anyone that I was scared. Scared because I didn't think I had the chops to make it in college, but also scared not to give it the "old college try"  because I didn't want to be different from my friends. To me waiting wasn't an option.

I was right. I didn't make it. Truth was, I had no business going on to college until I matured a couple more years. Staying at home and working and saving for school would have been a much better choice for me.

So home I came, and the next year found me working at a local bank and saving money to return to school to learn some office skills. The academic track I'd been on during high school did me no good in the real world without that diploma.

Fast forward about ten years and two cross-country moves later, I was working in an office, using those skills I learned at secretary school. At my roommate's urging, I finally ventured back into a college classroom, taking a course here and there. I actually received A's! Funny what ten years of maturing will do. Fast forward another couple decades and another cross-country move back to the Midwest. There, on a May morning, with my proud papa sitting in the audience, I received my Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree.

I may have accomplished the degree much faster, had I made a different choice years earlier. But, between the time I would have graduated from college and when I finally did get that degree, a lot had changed in my life. Most of all, God came into it in a huge way. By the time I got serious about school, I knew that through Christ I can do all things, and He gives me the strength to face all conditions. Through the accelerated adult program I was in,  I learned that He had gifted me to write, quite possibly for publication.

Would I have figured out the writing angle if I'd done college way back when? Maybe. But I might have pursued a far different direction with how to use my writing ability. From the beginning of this endeavor I have always sought to give God the glory for the gift and the inspiration, because He truly is the source of who I am and what I am to become.

If someone had told me that warm June night as I was handed my diploma in it's red leatherette case, that on that same date many years later I'd be writing fiction stories for others to read, I'd have laughed, thinking no way. But my ways aren't His ways and He had a plan for me that I would never have believed if I hadn't experienced it for myself.

This is true for all of us. All we need to do is turn to God and say where You lead I will follow.