Friday, October 26, 2007

Time For Rest and Renewal

I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next week or so, while we enjoy the mountains of western North Carolina, one of our favorite places to rest, recharge our batteries and marvel at the wonders of God's creation.

I have some projects to keep me busy: a couple of articles to complete, a work-in-progress that needs a bit of work and a lot of progress, and a new non-fiction book that's only partially done. But there'll be time for golf, walks in the woods, meals with friends, and sitting on the balcony letting God speak to me.

I'm speaking this Sunday at Fairfield Mountains Chapel, in Lake Lure, North Carolina. Last year I spoke there and then did a book-signing for The Tender Scar, and they've asked me to speak again on our return here. Not a full sermon. Just ten minutes from the pulpit. Pray that I have the right words to say as I talk about "Divine Appointments." Next Sunday, November 4, I'm speaking at South Roebuck Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, during the morning service ("When God's Answer Doesn't Match Your Request"), then doing a grief workshop that afternoon. I'll need your prayers for that one, as well.

My life has changed dramatically in the past eight years, and what I expected to be a quiet retirement has turned in a new direction: writing and speaking. I've experienced a number of my own Divine Appointments along the way. Maybe I'll post about them soon. Meanwhile, have a wonderful week. Thanks for dropping by.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Editing Offer

One of the neat things about Christian writing is the way we get to know others who share this common bond. We can meet them at writers’ workshops, at conferences, in crit groups, or even via their blogs. I’ve become something of a “pen pal” with Tina Helmuth, who wears two hats in the area of Christian writing. I mentioned Tina's editing services in a prior blog, and now I thought it would be interesting for you to get to know a bit more about her as a writer as well as a critiquer and independent editor.

RM: Tina, you took second place in this year’s Genesis competition in the historical division. How long did it take you to write Hidden Snares, and was it your first novel?

TH: Yes, it was the first novel I’d ever written. I want to flash a “results not typical” warning before I answer how long it took. Actual writing time was about six years. You have to understand that I started it purely as a hobby and I knew nothing about writing. Plus I’ve done extensive research. Really. If I mention a full moon, there was actually a full moon on that day in history.

When I completed the first draft, I was proud that I’d been able to complete a novel. I even tried to get it published after only a couple of drafts. Then I started studying the craft and found out how little I knew. I had good writing instincts, but my execution was so poor that after a couple of years I basically threw it out and started over. I salvaged my plot and my characters, but the writing was all fresh. That’s when my journey began in earnest.

RM: Like most of us, I suspect that, in addition to encouraging events, you’ve had some disappointing times along the road to writing. Would you share some of your highs and lows?

TH: My first rejection letter was the hardest. Back then I thought publishers would see writing potential and want to work with someone who had a good story idea—sort of take a writer under their wing to mold and shape them. So young and na├»ve! I had chosen my favorite publisher to send to first, so I was crushed when I was rejected. And the rejection form letters just kept coming.

Another low was when more than one friend advised me to write children’s books. My translation: Your writing is too simplistic to satisfy an adult audience. That was what prompted me to throw it out and start over. So they actually did me a favor.

Since I’ve come so far, my victories are all the sweeter. Just over two months ago, I signed with an excellent agent. Now my rejections are coming with reasons. And more than one respectable editor has complimented my writing ability.

RM: Besides writing, you also edit. And you have sort of a different focus from some of the professional independent editors. Can you tell the readers about what you offer?

TH: I have a heart for helping writers who are just starting out. Probably because I floundered for so long on my own. I started a critiquing blog called The Ink’s Not Dry. Writers submit their first chapter—roughly 3,000 words—and I critique it for free, then post it on my blog for others to learn from.

I say beginners, but the editing I’ve done for the blog has ranged from newbies with not even a rough draft completed, to polished writers whose only obstacle to publication is meeting up with the right editor. I’ve even critiqued one or two authors already published by small presses.

RM: It sounds to me that the offer to edit a first chapter at no cost represents one of the best bargains around. For those who don’t already know, why is the first chapter—even the first five pages (to quote Noah Lukeman)—so important?

TH: Agents and editors are inundated with proposals. The writing in those first pages has to stand out, or they’re not going to take more of their valuable time to read further. Don’t give them an excuse to put down your pages prematurely. If they see messy grammar and poor punctuation, they’ll immediately say, “Not ready.”

But beyond the technical, you’ve got to hook the reader. Make them care about your character and put that character in a high-stakes situation from the beginning. The stakes can be emotional or physical. If not much is happening with your character, ask yourself if you’re starting the story in the right spot.

Thinking beyond getting an editor’s attention, you want that bookstore browser to be captured by your story from the start. You won’t be there to say, “Oh, but it’s about to get so good!”

RM: What if someone wants to engage your services to edit a whole manuscript?

TH: My contact information is on my blog. They can email me for a quote. My fee is around $300 for a complete manuscript, but that will vary slightly depending on length. I always edit the first chapter for free as a way of seeing if the writer and I are a good fit for each other.

RM: Where do you stand with your own writing right now?

TH: The proposal for Hidden Snares is sitting on several editors’ desks. Meanwhile I’ve started a new WIP. Looking ahead to the day I might be under a contract deadline, I challenged myself to have a polished manuscript done in six months.

RM: And any final thoughts for our readers?

TH: Most probably know this already, but I’ll say it anyway. If you aren’t part of a critique group, join one. It’s so vital to have someone else look at our writing. Friends and family can give good feedback—strictly as readers. But fellow writers will catch things that no one else can. It may sound like I’m shooting myself in the foot since I do paid critiques, but a free exchange of critiques is the best place to start.

It’s been a pleasure, Richard. Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

Tina, thanks for sharing your experience and your advice. I think one important “take-away” message is that, although we all may think our initial efforts at writing are wonderful, sometimes they’re like the first waffle—the one you use for practice, then throw away. The secret, I guess, is to keep cooking.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"I'll Play Your Game"

I’ve been tagged for the latest blog version of a chain letter: 10-20-30. Mary DeMuth gets the blame/credit for starting all this. She tagged D’Ann Mateer, who in turn tagged me. I don’t normally play these games, and I respectfully decline to tag others, but in deference to the folks who brought me into this, here’s a view into my life at those times.

30 years ago (1977):
I was entering my tenth year of private practice in otolaryngology (ear, nose & throat) and just beginning to move toward a subspecialization in nasal and sinus work, including allergy. My wife, Cynthia, and I were celebrating eighteen years of marriage. Our children were seventeen, twelve, and seven respectively. Our travel was pretty well confined to trips to our lake house at Runaway Bay, about an hour’s drive away.

20 years ago (1987):
I was still in private practice, but getting disenchanted with so much of the hassle. Cynthia and I made several trips to other parts of the country to meetings and courses where I was teaching. I’d had a number of professional papers published as well as writing dozens of textbook chapters. The children were growing up and one had already left home.

10 years ago (1997):
I’d been a Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School for four years. Cynthia was also working in the department as Allergy Nurse. The nest was empty. Our trips now involved not only medical schools and courses all over the US but into Europe and Asia as well. I’d published one textbook and was working on the second.

A few more bits of history:
1999—Cynthia, my wife of forty years, my constant companion, suffered a massive stroke two weeks after she retired from the medical school. With her death, my world collapsed.

2001—God blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, and Kay and I were married. At the time of our marriage she didn’t have a passport, but she got one the next week and within a year, because of my lectures and teaching, it was getting full. (Our honeymoon trip was Thailand--where I almost pushed her off the top of an elephant-- and Singapore).

2004—I retired from the medical school after ten years on the faculty. Attendance at a Christian Writers’ Conference started me on the road to turning the journaling I did after Cynthia’s death into a book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, now in its third printing.

If you'd like to read more about me, you can go to my website. But that should hold you for now. Mary and D'Ann, thanks (sort of) for inviting me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The "First Reader"-- Interview With Crystal Laine Miller

We’re back with Crystal Miller, who has revealed that she’s not just a writer. She’s a “first-reader”—a position about which most of us know little or nothing. If you missed the first half of her interview, scroll down and check it out. Now let’s continue.

RM: If you encounter a manuscript that makes you think, “You know, if they’d just do this or that, they’d really have something,” do you just shrug it off or do you try to intervene?

CM: It is my job to mention this sort of thing. Many times I have said, “if the author would do this, we may have a winner.” It’s up to the editor or agent to decide whether they want to tell the potential client this information, or to just reject. They get so many manuscripts that it is easy for them to just reject and not spend any more time on it. This is more likely to happen with an editor than with an agent. You have to understand that the purpose of an agent is different than the editor’s purpose. With an agent, a potential client may be close, and just needs a rewrite. The agent sees the client as a whole career, not just that one book, but that one book should be good, nearly ready to go. With an editor he is looking for something that he can take to the committee and sell there to be published. The agent may take time to develop the potential client. The editor expects the story to be nearly ready to go.

So, if you ever get a note from the agent or editor who actually gives you direction on your manuscript, you better listen up! SOMETIMES it is how the author responds to this direction that will make the difference between an acceptance or rejection. If I see markers of a good story, just needing a few tweaks, I definitely point this out. It is a matter of checks and balances, really. If there is too much to fix, then it is not worth our time to go into too much detail. I recommend rejection. If there are just a few things that would make the manuscript a “go,” well, if the author could fix them and all the other things line up with the author, then yes, of course, I will tell the agent/editor what I think.

If you get encouragement from an editor, but still it is a rejection this is what this means: 1. Do not revise accordingly and send it back to that editor. They rejected it and unless they say, “Revise and send it back to me,” don’t. 2. Do revise and send it on to another publisher (or agent) who has not seen it.If it is an agent, you must tell them what editors have seen and rejected it. 3. Do write something else and send again to this editor because you were “this close,” and they are hoping with that next manuscript you nail it.

RM: Have you ever been given a manuscript by an author that the editor or agent thought was a real prize, only to find that the work wasn’t all that great? How can you handle that diplomatically?

CM: Agents and editors expect their first readers to be brutally honest. They have built a relationship with their readers and they respect your opinion or they wouldn’t use you. They often pay you to give your opinion, so yes, they will listen! A reader knows what kind of a client, or what kind of manuscript is wanted/needed at that agency/publishing house. They are the spotters, the point men or the scouts, if you will. There is no diplomacy. LOL.

It’s funny, but I did once get a manuscript and I emailed immediately back after only a few chapters, “This is atrocious. You don’t really want me to read the whole thing, right?”

The Boss assured me that yes, indeedy-doody I was not only supposed to read it, but “fix” it. It was amazingly awful. I hated the story. And I ripped it apart, evaluating exactly what made it so heinous. Well, The Boss sent it back to the author with all these comments. The author rewrote, and I got it again to read (!!!) The author fixed almost everything, but refused (arguing with me) about a couple points. Because the author was so willing to work and comply and trust our judgment, I this time read his objections with a softened eye, in some respect. (Though I still was sharp on cutting and doing the surgery needed.)

But The Boss listened to what I had to say and I respect this person enormously, and the “eye” that The Boss possesses to spot a potential client/author. I do not have to be a “yes” woman, but I do offer my opinion with respect, and because I may not necessarily see what they see (and it’s their call, not mine) I don’t second-guess the agent/editor. It’s on that editor or agent, not me. I used to worry about a manuscript/author once it/he left me, but after reading hundreds of manuscripts now, I pray over them and let them go. But I do remember names.

RM: What else can you tell our readers that might help them?

CM: Just remember to write the best story that you possibly can. Learn your craft. Get to know the various publishing houses and what they publish. Don’t insult the editor by saying something like, “You know, this book from your house was lousy! I have a much better story than that.” You may have addressed the very editor who worked on that “lousy” book.

Never burn bridges or tell an editor or agent that they don’t know a good story if they do reject you. Maybe you were “this close” and they knew something about the market you didn’t that made this manuscript a no-go. Maybe they were hoping you will send them something else and they gave you encouragement to try something else.

And when you are at a conference talking about your project, don’t sit there and say to someone who has offered some advice, ”Oh, you aren’t anyone, I wanted to talk to thus-and-so agent or editor. You wouldn’t know.” I’ve had people shove me out of a chair at a table because they desperately wanted to talk to some agent/editor. If you are the nameless table, don’t assume that all of the people there are not worth your time.

You never know, but you may be insulting a first reader of thus-and-so agent or editor and the first thing that reader opens up after a conference is your manuscript. Woe is the would-be author who has a first reader who has to pray to forgive that author. Ha, I’m just kidding about this, as I personally do not hold grudges and I always look at the manuscript itself with no preconceived notions about it. A first reader has a strict code of ethics and her main purpose is to answer to the person for whom she is working. Never expect me or any other first reader you happen to know to divulge anything specific, but if you are given a tip, do listen. Don’t expect a first reader to do favors or to actually hold any specific powers (we just read, like Robert Redford did in Three Days of the Condor.)

This business is relational. Show respect and you will be given respect and people will remember that about you. And be patient. It’s a combination of your hard work and perseverance and God’s timing. If you are given criticism or encouragement from an editor or agent, don’t dismiss it just because it came with a rejection this time. You never know who is watching how you take that criticism. You may have been closer than you think.

Crystal, thanks for taking the time to give us this fascinating and educational insight into what goes into the process of getting that manuscript further up the line. I especially like what you’ve pointed out to us: like a “mystery shopper,” there are first readers all around us. So we should remember that we might be “entertaining angels unaware.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What Is A "First Reader?"--Interview With Crystal Laine Miller

Crystal Miller’s secret is out: she’s a “first reader.” What, you may ask, is a first reader? Read on and find out.

RM: Crystal, tell us exactly what a first reader does, and for whom he/she does it.

CM: A first reader reads a requested manuscript that comes into the office of an agent or publisher, usually before the agent or editor reads it thoroughly. Think of it as a first checkpoint. Usually (there are exceptions) the agent or editor has criteria and a pre-established response sheet that the reader fills out to evaluate the manuscript. The reader is expected to read the manuscript (duh) and to respond to it, using the criteria set by the agent or editor/publishing house.

RM: Why don’t we hear more about first readers? Do editors and agents try to keep their existence a secret? I know that the readers need to have their anonymity preserved, but is there something wrong with having someone other than the editor or agent read the manuscripts and winnow them down?

CM: I know of agents who don’t want anyone to know their first readers. However, I don’t know that there is a big secret that there are first readers. Editors and agents have an enormous amount of material to work through. Some have editorial assistants and these people act as first readers. Some get so many manuscripts that it is necessary to hire freelancers to help categorize and evaluate the material, because frankly, the editor or agent doesn’t want to miss a good manuscript just because they are overwhelmed. Most TRY to respond in a timely fashion. It is a process, and every author must go through this process. The editor or agent trusts this reader, but the reader does not make the final decision. The editor or agent reads the comments, and acts upon that information to help speed the process. If a reader finds something in the manuscript that makes it unacceptable, why should the editor waste more valuable time with it?

One example I can give to you is when an editor did read the manuscript and asked me to read it, too, giving my opinion. When I gave him my opinion, he said, “That’s exactly what I thought.” Editors are people. While they are good and have a sharp eye for what is good, and what will fly in their house, they still like talking it over with others before taking it front of a committee. They need comments to build consensus in the publishing house and if they have readers saying, “Good stuff, and this is why” then this only helps the cause of the writer. Don’t just look at first readers as those who winnow out the stack.

There have been times in the case of an agent that the manuscript needs fixing to make it marketable. In that case the first reader points out the problem areas and the agent is giving that author a chance to rewrite. This can also be a test for the author. If an author argues, or says “my story was given to me by God and you don’t know what you’re talking about,” then the agent knows that this is not the client for him.

The main reason agents probably keep their first readers a secret is because they don’t want authors trying to bother the first reader, because more than likely you know this person in your writers’ groups. With a first reader it is the story that must stand. I don’t think it is any secret that they use first readers in publishing houses. Sometimes it is the secretary or someone working there, but those people can’t handle all of them, so they’ll ask or hire freelancers. The first two times I acted as a first reader (two different editors,) I was not paid. They were just getting another opinion.

RM: Do the agents or editors even look at the manuscripts before you see them?

CM: Well, yes and no. Yes, they look at them, check them into the system, and may give them a quick once-over to make sure they need to be read (an agent or editor can make a good evaluation reading your synopsis and a few pages.) They MAY read them, and just really need another set of eyes. Then, they assign the manuscript to a reader.

In a large publishing house there may actually be an editorial assistant who sends out the assignments. For an agent she may send/give the manuscript with a no set up, no synopsis, etc. The reader’s job is to respond just as if it were published. So, while the agent or editor may not have read the entire manuscript, they may be very aware of this author and the work. You have to understand that no manuscript gets to an agent or editor without first having a query (or meeting at a conference) and then, a proposal. The manuscript has already gone through that process. This is the next hoop to jump through.

RM: What do you look for—both in a positive and negative sense?

CM: It sort of depends on who I am working for, but it’s like this—I have certain preset criteria that I can follow. Story is always first. If it is a good story, can any problems be easily fixed? It’s a checklist in many ways. In fiction I look for theme, is the theme a natural part of the story or some hobby horse to ride?; convincing characters; does it fit into the genre?; good pacing; writing problems like grammar, spelling, typos; showing or telling; audience; and in CBA, a spiritual thread that isn’t preachy.

I look to see if the lead draws me into the book. Well-developed characters and plot, subplots. Something that is hard to describe is the author’s voice. I look for it and describe it to the agent or editor. Point of view must be consistent. I look for tension. I look for the overarching question in the book (that is that one pitch line they always talk about—no one has to tell it to me—I find it.) I look at setting, varied scenes. And get this—I can say whether I personally liked it or not. Yeah, just like your reader does when they buy your book! But I have to be specific in voicing my likes and dislikes. I say whether or not I’d buy the book. Here’s one that depends on who I am reading for—does it offend the audience, for example, is it something that a conservative
Christian audience would find offensive (this sort of thing just depends on the house or the type of client an agent wants.) Is the writing good?

RM: If you encounter a manuscript that makes you think, “You know, if they’d just do this or that, they’d really have something,” do you just shrug it off or do you try to intervene?

Sorry--that's enough for today. Come back on Wednesday for the conclusion of the interview with Crystal. I've found it fascinating so far, and I hope you have as well. I have some other neat interviews and guest bloggers lined up for future postings, so I do hope you'll keep dropping by Random Jottings. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Interview With Alton Gansky

Today I'm pleased to post an interview with Alton Gansky, a man who has been both an inspiration and a mentor in my writing journey.

RM: Al, you've held a number of positions-pastor, firefighter,
businessman, architect. Did any of them especially influence you, either to become a writer or in your choice of what to write?

AG: It's true. I'm a professional used-to-be. I suffer from a mental illness-my imagination has no off button. It runs all the time. I've known this since childhood. In grade school reading was a favorite pastime.
Writing is the natural fruit for some readers. Stories came unbidden then and they still do.

I have another mental illness: I love to learn. My magazine subscriptions range from Dwell through Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Discover, and Scientific American. The same is true for my television viewing. I'm as happy watching a documentary as I am the latest sit-com.

I was, and I suppose I remain, a loner. What better career for a loner than writing? I enjoyed all my careers. I still follow architecture, miss my days as a firefighter, and still occasionally work with businesses.

I suppose I should see a psychologist but I'm afraid it will ruin a good career.

RM: You've written a number of fiction and non-fiction books. I've read some of each, and I must confess that you do a great job in both areas. Is one more a favorite than the other with you?

AG: Fiction remains my first writing love. Nonfiction is challenging in a different way. I loved writing 40 Days: Encountering Jesus Between the Resurrection and Ascension and feel proud of the work. I write nonfiction when a topic takes over my mind. Many of them came from my sermon research.

For me nonfiction educates; fiction explores.

RM: Of course, one of the sins for which you'll always bear responsibility is getting me started in the field of Christian writing at my first writers' conference. What do you like the most and the least about teaching at these conferences?

AG: You were a joy to work with. I'll shoulder that responsibility gladly. Writing conferences are a joy. I love hanging with the other writers and students. My greatest joy comes in finding a new writer who has great talent. I figure if I find one in a conferences and encourage that person, then the event has been worth my time. I have found a few that have gone on to publish with major publishers. That's always a joy.

The only thing I dislike is the travel. This weekend I'll be winging my way to North Carolina from California. It's a long trip but worth it once I get there.

RM: One of the things you've taught me about plots is to constantly ask, "What if?" How did you develop such an active imagination? And does it carry through into your everyday life?

AG: We're all born with imagination. It is part of being created in God's image. Cultivating imagination is another thing. For me, reading as a child gave my creativity a boost, but reading never fully satisfied me. It still doesn't. I always wanted a little more, or I wanted the writer to go down another path.

Imagination and creativity must be nurtured. Many people are afraid to wonder "What if?" or feel it is a waste of time. It's never a waste. Medical advances are made because a scientist asks, "What if." Buildings are erected, business started, art made, because someone had the courage to ask the what if question.

The key, I think, is in being bold enough to have ideas you know are no good and be willing to throw those away and keep searching. No one has one great idea after another. Usually the creative person has one great idea followed by dozens of stinkers only to be followed with a new gem of an idea. I have about 10 bad ideas for every good one. The key is to keep looking.

Does it carry into my everyday life? Yes, I suppose it does.

RM: You have two novels coming out within a month of each other. Tell us about them.

AG: In October, Angel hit the bookstands. It's a supernatural suspense novel published by Realms Fiction. Realms came to me and asked what storylines I had that fit the supernatural suspense category. I sent them six or so ideas. They settled on three then bought one. Angel is that book. The premise of the book is based in the human's capacity to be willing deceived.
Following a jarring earthquake in San Diego, a strange craft appears in the sky. A being appears in time to save a life. Soon the alien Aster is a worldwide phenomenon. He brings a message of peace and hope, offering to help us out of the mire of ignorance that keeps us from evolving. Priscilla Simms, a reporter, becomes Aster's advisor on all things human. She learns that things are not what they seem.

Zondervan will release Zero-G in November, a book I'm very excited about. It's a suspense novel set against the new industry of private space travel. Commander Benjamin "Tuck" Tucker is the lone survivor of a tragedy in space that kills his entire crew. He manages to land the Shuttle and the world considers him a hero to everyone but himself. Someone else doesn't see him as a hero but a target.

RM: I notice that your hobby is woodworking. How did you get into that? And what's the most unusual thing you've ever made?

AG: I've been woodworking for a few years now. Honestly, I don't remember how I became interested in it, but since then I've made a couple of dressers, reading stands, piano bench, plant stands, coffee table, headboards, and an art deco style crib for my newest grandchild. It seems that everything I make goes out to the kids, but that's all right.
Woodworking is another creative outlet for me but I only get to do it when time allows.

RM: Any last words of wisdom for our readers?

AG: Keep reading.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Is Critiquing The Same As Criticizing?

Several months ago I did a blog post on rewrites and the input authors get from others about their writing. I discovered through the informal survey quoted there that some authors want input from critique groups, some get it from one person (often their wife), and some absolutely won't let anyone see their work until it's finished. I tend to fall into the middle category.

My wife, Kay (pictured above with our grandson, Ryan), is my "first reader." I've teased Kay about whether she's picky or particular, but in either case, I know that when I show her something and she approves, it's good. On the other hand, she's an ace at finding holes in my plots, misplaced commas, and lack of logic and application in non-fiction works--including one that I'm writing now.

After she gives me back the hard copy of the latest draft, my tendency is to go off and pout for about ten minutes, then sit down and look at her notes. Although I don't always take her suggestions and translate them onto paper word-for-word, I generally see her point and it's almost always a good one.

As authors, we sometimes feel that everything we put on paper (or onto the computer screen) is deathless prose and should never be changed or deleted. Or, putting it another way, nobody likes to hear that their baby is ugly. But rewriting is--or should be--part of writing. A big part, matter of fact. And we all need to develop a thick skin and the ability to repeat to ourselves in seven languages the phrase, "This is constructive critiquing, not destructive criticism of my ability as a writer."

Do you think it's easier to write well than critique well? I don't. I think it takes a special gift to look at words that someone else has put down and make suggestions that will make the work stronger without just recreating the writing in your own words, thus losing the voice of the writer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some rewriting to do. Thanks, Kay. (And thanks for giving me a couple of grandsons, a definite bonus that came with the marriage).

Come back on Wednesday for an interview with one of my favorite authors, Alton Gansky. You won't want to miss this one.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Interview With Deb Raney

Today I’m truly privileged to have as my guest one of the most prolific and accomplished writers of Christian fiction today. Deb Raney is at work on her seventeenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Readers' Choice Award and the Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas. Deb is just back from the ACFW meeting in Dallas, and I was lucky enough to catch her long enough to get this interview.

RM: Deb, in addition to all your novels, when I looked at your work on Amazon I came across a couple of books of children’s sermons. Can you tell us about those?

DR: My sister, Vicky Miller, and I were both presenting the children’s sermons in our churches about ten years ago and we decided we ought to turn the ideas we’d come up with into a book. We wrote Children’s Sermons To Go, which Abingdon Press published in 1998, then More Children’s Sermons To Go in 2001. Those two books have sold about 25,000 copies, and ten years later, we’re still getting a nice little royalty check for them. Helped us both put kids through college, and we’re happy to have shared our ideas with others who present children’s sermons. We’ve also heard from quite a few people who use our books for family devotions, or homeschool object lessons.

RM: Amazon also shows a number of books for which you’ve written endorsements. I know that lots of authors have begun to shy away from giving an endorsement for a book because once you open that door you may be letting yourself in for a flood of requests. How do you handle that situation now?

DR: I really enjoy reading books for endorsement, but I’m a slow reader and frankly, don’t love every manuscript I read. I’ve made a policy that I will only read books that are contracted and have been through the editing process. I only endorse books I’ve read cover to cover and truly enjoyed. Recently, I’ve had to say “no” to several novels I would have liked to read, but with the recent ACFW conference and now a deadline looming, I need to clear off my desk. But as long as publishers use endorsements, I think I’ll probably always be glad to offer mine for those books that are a cut above. I know, as a reader, I appreciate other author’s recommendations when I’m choosing my next novel to enjoy.

RM: I know that you have a couple of books coming out soon. Would you tell us about them?

DR: I have five releases in the next eight months! Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often for this slow writer! But here’s the rundown: A Vow to Cherish is releasing in mass-market size in October; the brand-new sequel, Within This Circle, comes out later that month, both from Steeple Hill Books. I have a novella, Finally Home, in the Missouri Memories anthology from Barbour Books, out in December. That’s one I agreed to do six years ago at the very first ACFW conference. I thought the project was dead, but about a year ago, I got a call saying it was a “go,” so here we are! In March, my second Clayburn Novel, Leaving November, will show up in bookstores. (I’m working on the third Clayburn book now, titled Yesterday’s Embers.) Then in May, Over the Waters will re-release in mass-market size from Steeple Hill with a brand new epilogue (including a much-requested kiss!)

RM: You’ve written for several different publishers. Do you ever consciously change your writing style to fit a particular house, or do you just write what’s on your heart and see where it goes?

DR: I write pretty much the same type of book for each publisher I’ve worked with. My stories for Barbour have always been novellas, and my Steeple Hill books might have a touch more romance to them than my novels for Howard, WaterBrook or Bethany House, but for the most part, what I write could be termed “Women’s Fiction,” and for each publisher, what I’m writing are simply the stories of my heart.

RM: You’ve told me that your husband is going to be speaking at a writing conference this fall on the subject of being married to an author. What do he and your kids think about your being such a celebrity?

DR: Shhh! Don’t tell them. They think I’m just an ordinary wife and mom. Seriously, my husband could not be more supportive. Ken is a celebrity in his own right—an award-winning artist, and illustrator/author of two children’s picture books (one with my publisher, Simon & Schuster). He understands the writing life and is my favorite brainstormer/de-stresser/champion and friend.

Our four kids totally took my published status for granted when they were younger. In our small town, I was far more famous as Mom of the quarterback or Mom of the lead in the musical. But I’ll never forget our eldest daughter calling me from college out-of-state where she was studying elementary ed. She’d returned some books to the library and one of my novels was on a stack someone else had just returned. Tobi was surprised to see my book and commented to the librarian that the author was her mom. The librarian went nuts and treated Tobi like a celebrity. When she got home, she called me with awe in her voice: “Mom! You’re kinda famous!” Now she is a young married woman, mother of my darling grandson (and one on the way!) and we write a column together for, Marriage Perspectives. You can see our latest piece here.

RM: Every time I turned around at the ACFW meeting, there you were—and you were always smiling. What lasting impressions did you take away from the meeting this year?

DR: It was a great conference and the few sessions I was able to attend were fabulous—especially the early bird presented by Allen Arnold and his crew from Thomas Nelson. But I think the impression that stuck with me the most was how many friends were there that I barely got to say “hello” to! It’s wonderful that the conference has grown so, but the downside is that there aren’t enough hours in the conference to touch base with everyone I would have liked to! You, for instance! We greeted each other briefly after one of the meals, but I would have loved to sit and visit for a while! Maybe next year in Minneapolis…

RM: And finally, what thoughts would you like to share with my readers?

DR: For your readers who were at the ACFW conference, let me just say that I am seeing a commitment to excellence among new writers that impresses my socks off! And makes me realize I’d better pay attention to my own craft, or some of these up-and-coming whippersnappers are going to put me out of a job! Back to work now!

Thanks, Deb, for dropping by. I know that my readers will be watching for all those releases. It makes me tired to just read about them. Sort of makes me glad I’m not on deadline. (Well, I sort of am, but that’s another story).