Saturday, October 25, 2008

"For The Beauty Of The Earth"

The Mabry Travel Curse struck again--we carried rain with us from the Texas-Arkansas border eastward all the way to North Carolina. Last night, driving the curving highway from Knoxville to Asheville in the rain, with the black asphalt eating the illumination from our headlights like some dark monster and the lights of oncoming cars dazzling my retina, I had to think, "And why am I doing this again?" Then this morning we saw the beautiful fall colors and I knew why we came: To have our minds and bodies refreshed and to once more be reminded of the omnipotent Hand that painted colors no human artist ever could across the broad landscape of these mountains.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Soon Kay and I will be driving to Lake Lure, North Carolina, enjoying the beautiful fall colors along the way and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation. I'll be taking my laptop and hope to get a lot of work done on my next novel. My writing has been curtailed--scratch that and make it brought to a screeching halt--by the activities of our move. But it's time to start writing again.

It seems as though each time I begin to wonder whether I should stop writing, God sends me a sign of encouragement. I've had several such signs recently. This year, three of my meditations have been published in Upper Room. I've just had a free-lance piece published in the November issue of In Touch magazine. (The November issue isn't online yet, but if you go to the site and click "magazine," then "current issue" it should be up soon). Another free-lance article has been accepted by Christian Communicator and should appear soon. And there's significant interest in my latest novel. So I'm encouraged to get back to writing. It should help that I can do it while watching the leaves turn. It generally does.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dabbling Mum: Interview With Alyice Edrich

Today I have as my guest, Alyice Edrich. Alyice is a freelance writer, editor, and aspiring artist. She is also the founder of the award-winning magazine, The Dabbling Mum®. Alyice describes herself as the mother of two beautiful children, a devoted wife, a hardworking businesswoman, and a child of God.

RM: Alyice, let’s start with your name. Help us out here. How do you pronounce it, and what’s the story behind it?

AE: My name is pronounced a-lease. My grandma’s name is Alexandra but she often went by Alyce and pronounced it Alice. My mom threw in a “y” and altered the pronunciation.

RM: I don’t recall how I stumbled upon The Dabbling Mum®, but I’m glad I did. If there’s anything that exemplifies the word “eclectic,” DM is it. Tell us a bit about how it got started.

AE: Originally it started out as a way for me to show off some of my work and sell a single e-book. One day a gentleman emailed me stating that he’d love to see me showcase other writers on my site. I had wanted to start a print magazine, but didn’t find the cost feasible so I thought, “Hey why not? An online magazine would be far more cost-effective and a lot less work.”

RM: DM has an excellent Writer’s Corner. I always read the writing column by Doc Hensley, and I’ve donated a couple of articles that you’ve been gracious enough to run. But you have lots of other things, as well. Are there ways my readers can contribute to DM and see their words in print?

AE: Doc Hensley has been a great asset to the publication, as have the other columnists and writers I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. One thing I try to tell people is to look for areas that need to be strengthened and write for those areas.

Currently, we’re in dire need of articles for our home business center. It seems that the freelance writers I encounter through my publication prefer to share their expertise on the subjects of writing and parenting far more than they like exercising or stretching their creative talents in the area of home based businesses. I often get a lot of generic articles for the business center that I turn down, but rarely get hard core, in-depth articles on the actual workings of a business. I’d love to see more articles on how to get started in a niche business. I really want to grow in that regard.

RM: You also have another site, Good Mourning Lord, for persons who are grieving. It has some excellent articles as well as a list of recommended books. How did you come to start that one?

AE: I lost a child. The loss was so devastating that I wanted to die. It took a long time for me to overcome the death of my child, and there are still days that I struggle with grief, depression, and longing to hold my child again. When my mother-in-law asked to read my journal entries, she cried. She said she finally understood what I was going through and that I should share my journal entries in the form of a book—to help others like me. I set out to write that book and even pitched it to a few places. It was in the final stages of going to print when the publisher went out of business. At that time, I had developed the website to showcase the book and wanted it to be more than a sales site. I wanted to reach out and touch the lives of others. When the publisher went out of business, I pulled the book. By then I decided the book wasn’t needed as much as a place for people to find comfort. So many people search the Internet for comfort that I wanted an outlet that they could trust.

Just recently, I pulled the book reviews I had and opted to request excerpts from authors instead. I believe that excerpts will give readers a better glimpse into the actual books, thus allowing them to make informed decisions about the books they purchase. After all, my reviews were subjective, based on my own experience, and might not match the needs of a particular reader.

RM: I notice that you’re beginning to emphasize your freelance writing work more. Your background is pretty impressive along those lines. How did you get into writing in the first place?

AE: I’ve always been a writer. I know you hear that cliché a lot but it’s true. My mom said that I could never write a letter without it looking like a book. Ironically, none of my teachers ever told me to pursue writing as a career. Maybe if they had, I wouldn’t have wasted 3 ½ years of my life taking business administration courses because I didn’t know what to do with myself after high school.

In 1999, a friend introduced me to the idea of working as a mobile notary. The information was so scarce that once I finally got the inner working of this career worked out, I took all the information I had and formed a book. I began selling it online. From there, writing just became second nature. I realized that I could write and people would pay for this talent.

I began writing for small paying publications online and in print. I had a lot of fun and found that with each assignment I learned something new and grew as a writer. When I began publishing The Dabbling Mum®, however, my writing more or less took a backseat to the publication. There is a lot of work involved in promoting a publication, putting together issues, marketing e-books, and hiring writers—so much work that I didn’t always have the creative energy to pursue glossy magazines or work on more books.

This year I realized that I missed being creative more than I’d miss putting the magazine together so I decided to cut back on the hours I put into the magazine. The extra hours will be used to complete edits on an e-book I’ve been putting off for over a year, writing for some art magazines (hopefully), working on a few art projects, and hopefully, writing another e-book.

RM: Any final words for my readers?

AE: Don’t be afraid of change. Take personal inventory from time-to-time and do what’s best for you and your family first and foremost.

Two years ago I realized I was getting burnt out with the magazine and wanted to slow things down a bit, but I was too afraid to make the necessary changes because I didn’t want to look like a failure. My publication was a success. Not only was I making a living from my writing and the sales of my e-books, but I was able to pay writers for their submissions and pay for the publication’s business expenses through advertising dollars. I was receiving 40,000 unique visitors a month and I had a total of 9,000 e-zine subscribers.

But it wasn’t enough anymore. I felt drained. I felt like something was missing from my life and I wanted to do more with my writing again. I also wanted to tap into the creative side of my brain and get off the computer more—I wanted to sell art, design wall art, and to be around people more. Writing from home could be so isolating and lonely, and I was ready to get outside more.

Yet, I couldn’t make the necessary changes. I was too afraid of what others would think instead of doing what I felt was best for me. And I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had built with the publication.

What I discovered, however, was that the more drained I felt, the less passion I had for the publication and unless I did something about it, I would lose everything I had worked so hard to build. I wasn’t ready to sell, though it had crossed my mind, but I was ready to cut back.

So little by little I started stepping back from the publication until eventually I was able to say, “Ten hours a week is enough to keep this publication afloat and allow me time to pursue other ventures. Whether or not this publication receives x amount of visitors or has x amount of subscribers doesn’t make it a success. What makes it a success is the fact that it is filled with quality articles from very talented writers who want to make a difference in the lives of others—not just their bottom lines.”

Thanks, Alyice, for stopping by. I hope my readers will check out your various web sites and maybe even crank up their computers to write something for submission to The Dabbling Mum.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Article Online

I have an article in the latest issue of the online magazine, The Dabbling Mum. It's titled, "What Do I Have To Do To Get Published?" I hope you'll check it out. While you're there, scan through the other information offered--business, home, parenting, shopping, cooking, and...of course...writing. There's a wealth of material, and I think you'll enjoy it. I'm hoping to have a post by the site's creator up soon. Watch for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Interview With Brandilyn Collins

Today I’m chatting with one of the premier authors of Christian suspense, Brandilyn Collins.

RM: Brandilyn, you’re just back from the American Christian Fiction Writers meeting, and it seemed as though everyplace I looked, there you were. I know that ACFW is very dear to you. What were some of the high points of the meeting for you?

BC: Although I’m “out front” a lot since I serve as emcee, each year the highlights of the conference for me take place out of the limelight and in a very quiet venue—the prayer room. Since God granted me a merciful healing from Lyme Disease over five years ago, He has allowed me to have the gift of healing prayer for others. I just love to be present to watch Him work! Every time I’m amazed, even though I know He’s capable of anything. But the way He leads prayer toward areas—spiritual, emotional and physical—of people’s lives because He is choosing to heal that within the person is remarkable. These may not be areas the people were aware of. If some cases the reason for prayers—particularly for physical healing—don’t become apparent until later. It’s wonderful to talk to people who made an appointment to pray with me a year or two previously and see how far God has brought them.

RM: Your latest book, Dark Pursuit, is due out shortly. What can you tell my readers about it?

BC: The protagonists: twenty-two-year-old Kaitlan, estranged from Darell Brooke, her elderly and muddle-minded grandfather, once known worldwide as the King of Suspense. The premise: Bitter, recluse, and no longer able to write after a brain injury, Darell must create the suspense plot of his life to save his granddaughter from a cunning killer.

In creating these characters I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of their ages and experiences in life. Also, through Darell’s character I had fun dealing with the real-life processes of writing suspense. The conventions of the suspense genre and his struggles with writing are highlighted as Darell’s mind morphs from fiction to reality.

As to the symbolism and theme running beneath the story, for years I’ve loved the passage from John Milton’s Paradise Lost about Satan and his cohorts, kicked out of heaven and bemoaning their fate. In revenge Satan visits Adam and Eve on Earth and woos them away from their God. Satan offers them spiritual death—disguised as life. Man falls for the deceit. And so the need for redemption is born. Down the ages some of mankind would embrace redemption; others would be blind to their very need for it.

You can read more about Dark Pursuit, including the first chapter, here.

RM: Dark Pursuit is a stand-alone work, a departure from the four series you’ve previously had published. Why the change?

BC: Series have worked pretty well for me. All the same in marketing/sales with books two, three, whatever there’s the issue among readers that if they haven’t read book one they’re less likely to pick up book two off the shelves. And by the time you get to book four, the bookstore may not have restocked book one. Stand-alones give a fresh chance to market each time. That’s not to say I won’t ever do a series again. If the right idea strikes me, I will.

RM: You’ve also co-authored a YA book, Always Watching, with your daughter, Amberly. What was that like?

BC: Actually, we’ve done two. Last Breath is the sequel to Always Watching in the Rayne Tour Series, which features Shaley O’Connor, teenage daughter of a rock star. The process has been good, although I think the most fun is yet to come—Amberly’s and my teaming up to market the novels when they release starting next spring.

RM: All your friends and fans are glad you’ve recovered from your snowmobile accident of last winter. Olympic Gymnast Kerri Strug says that, years after her ankle injury, people would still stop her in airports and ask about her ankle. Do you still get those questions as well? And, by the way, how is that ankle?

BC: Always the doc, you are. ☺ Thanks for asking. It’s doing fine. I’m back running regularly. Interesting—I still receive numerous hits every day on my blog, Forensics and Faith, from people googling “broken ankle,” or “screws and plate in ankle,” or something else to that effect. In order to help those poor folks who find themselves in the same situation and want to know what to expect, I’ve linked all my scattered posts about the “Saga of the Broken Ankle” together so they can go from one to the other and hopefully find their answers. I’ve put a link to this saga in the sidebar under “Stories” on the blog. Of course, my saga is told in a light tone, and people suffering from a broken ankle need some humor.

RM: Any last words?

BC: For the readers in your audience: Buy Dark Pursuit. Many galleys have gone out to bloggers, and the resulting reviews are starting to come in, both from people who are already loyal fans and those who’ve never read me before. The responses are very positive. “Where has Brandilyn Collins been all my life” one new reader wrote. Well, ya know that makes me smile.

For the novelists in your audience: This is a hard business. If you’re struggling, my heart is with you. We’re all struggling, no matter what point of the journey we’re on. Don’t look at the people in front of you or behind you. Just keep your feet on the path God has given you and keep praying about your next steps.

For you, Doc, a great big thank you for allowing me to be on your blog.

And thank you, Brandilyn, for taking the time to do this interview and for being such a friend and supporter. Please don't kill me off as a character in one of your novels anytime soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Review: THROUGH THE STORM by Lynne Spears

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, recently had a post on his blog dealing with his decision to publish Through The Storm, a non-fiction book by the mother of Britney Spears. I’ll admit that I was somewhat surprised that a Christian publisher would do this, but since I hadn’t read the book I was willing to withhold judgment. Then Michael made an offer I couldn’t refuse. If I agreed to read the book, then post a review on my blog and on Amazon, he’d send me a copy. I did, he did, and this is the result.

If you’re planning to read this book to learn more about Britney Spears, you’ll be disappointed. The majority of the material deals with Lynne Spears, her own upbringing and background, her troubled marriage, the way she tried to bring up her children only to be alternately thrilled and disappointed. This isn’t a look inside the life of Britney Spears, nor a revelation of the factors that account for her substance abuse, weird behavior, and marital break-up. Rather, it’s about the roller coaster of emotions a mother goes through dealing with all these things along with the dissolution of her marriage to an alcoholic husband and the loss of her beloved sister.

Some parts of the book struck me as attempts on Lynne’s part to justify her behavior or that of her daughter. Some of the reasons assigned for their actions seemed to be a stretch. And a few of the passages meant to demonstrate Lynne’s faith appeared to me to be a bit forced. But that’s just my opinion. Maybe that’s just the way it came out.

The writing could be better. The book is laden with clichés, including, for example, several uses of the phrase “little did we know.” I have no idea how much of the book writer Lorilee Craker actually wrote and how many of the words are Lynne’s, but I can’t imagine a professional writer penning the words, “When Britney left home for the first time, I felt a deep pit in my stomach.”

The chronology was a bit difficult to follow. For instance, it was sometimes hard for me to know whether Lynne and her husband Jamie were divorced or together at any particular time in the story. Then again, they had an on-again, off-again relationship so maybe that’s the way it lived out.

I’m not a Britney Spears fan, so this book held no attraction for me in that regard. Would I have bought it? Probably not. Should you buy it? Depends on your circumstances. For instance, if you’re a parent whose children have disappointed you in some way or another, perhaps this book will encourage you as it says, “See, someone else has suffered the way you’re suffering—suffered even more publicly.” If it does that, and if it imparts a Christian message to some of the readers, I suspect it will have done what Michael Hyatt and the folks at Nelson hoped it would.

Michael, thank you for making the book available to me and for inviting reviews, even if they're lukewarm, such as this one.

To my regular readers, come back on Thursday, when I'll be interviewing Brandilyn Collins about a number of things: what she took away from this year's ACFW, her latest novel, the YA series she co-authored with her daughter, Amberly, and the infamous ski-mobile ankle injury.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Interview With BJ Hoff

Today I’m privileged to chat with BJ Hoff, one of my favorite people. BJ has been writing excellent works of historical fiction for over twenty years. In a changing climate of publishing, BJ is a refreshing constant. I appreciate her taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers.

RM: Most people don’t know of your background in music—former church music director and music teacher. Has that experience colored your writing in any way?

BJ: Yes, I’m sure it has. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever written a book—except possibly one of my very early novels—in which music isn’t in some way related to the story. I’ve also received a number of comments about the “rhythm” of my prose, and I think that definitely has something to do with the musician’s “ear.” It’s interesting to me that many writers have a background in music, and in talking with them I’ve discovered that most of us “hear” the rhythm of our prose or at least are extremely sensitive to the cadence of words and phrases.

RM: BJ, your love for all things Irish is no secret to anyone who spends any time with you. Can you tell my readers how that came about?

BJ: Blame it on my family tree. It’s exceedingly green, other than a couple of misplaced Scots. Rumor has it that there was also a mysterious French woman somewhere in the mix, but we don’t give much credence to that tale. Because of all the family stories passed along as I was growing up, and a near-obsessive interest in the 1800s potato famine and our ancestors, I began to “study” Ireland and Irish Americans at an early age. I was fortunate enough to come across some journals and diaries written during the famine, and the fascination about Ireland and its people simply kept growing. I think I always knew that eventually I would have to write my own stories about these fascinating folks who played such a huge part in building America.

RM: Your historical fiction novels often center on the Irish, but your latest novel, Rachel’s Secret, also features an Amish element. Did anything specific trigger your decision to incorporate Amish culture into your writing?

BJ: I live close to the largest Amish settlement in the country, and another smaller settlement is located nearby, so I’ve long had an interest in the Plain culture and faith. My proximity to these communities gives me easy access to research. But there’s also the fact that I love to work with contrasts in my fiction. I wanted to write a story set among the Amish, but I also wanted at least one or two prominent characters from the “outside world”—and so Jeremiah Gant, an Irish American riverboat captain appeared on the scene, along with David Sebastian, a transplanted British physician. Then, too, because so many of our Amish novels have a contemporary setting, I liked the idea of developing a story among the Amish in an 1800s timeframe.

RM: You’ve told me in the past that no one reads your work until you’re ready to submit it. Do you occasionally run a concept of a bit of dialogue by your husband or a close friend, or do you truly keep everything under wraps until it goes to your editor?

BJ: My husband’s a great help with maps, distance calculations, and practical matters such as “how do you do this?” or “how would this work?” It seems to me he knows just about everything, so I count on him to answer “guy questions” for me. But he reads the book for the first time when it’s released. I do discuss ideas with my editor and ask for his feedback on situations--there’s actually a lot of discussion that goes on between us before I begin to develop a story, and also throughout a book’s progress. But for the most part, he sees it in its final form when I complete the manuscript (“final,” except for his edit, that is). I’m fortunate to work with an editor who loves fiction, who cares deeply about the art and craft of writing a novel, and who has wonderfully keen instincts into character motivation. If he says “but he wouldn’t do that” (regarding a character and a situation), I’ve learned to listen!

RM: Your editor at Harvest House is Nick Harrison, whom I’ve found to be one of the nicest people in publishing. Have you and Nick ever disagreed about something in one of your novels?

BJ: He’s also one of the most patient people in publishing. Ask his authors. So far as disagreeing--I don’t remember any specifics, but naturally on occasion we see something from different angles. Then we simply talk it through until we meet at the same point or agree to the necessary changes. Nick never suggests change for the sake of change, so when he does suggest a change … I listen.

RM: Rachel’s Secret is the first novel in a new series. In the back of your mind, are you already plotting the next ones, or are you taking a bit of time to relax after getting this one done?

BJ: Well, I took time to shovel out my desk and office. But I was already planning and lining up additional research for Book Two while I cleaned and caught up on errands. And then there’s this other series that’s been simmering … and the one after that …

RM: And finally, I’ll ask for any advice you’d give the writers among my readership.

BJ: I don’t usually quote myself, but I’m going to here. I’m asked this question so often that it’s difficult to come up with a variety of answers. So I apologize if you’ve heard it before, but I happen to believe it’s important to step back before the actual writing and consider a few things. That’s why my reply to this question has become, I suppose, kind of “standard.” But I believe in it, for myself and for other writers:

If you’re a new writer just starting out on this incredible journey, face the fact now that it can be a one-step forward, two-steps backward adventure. Fortify yourself with plenty of prayer, patience, and perseverance—unless you’re the exception, you’ll eventually need a lion’s share of each. Be prepared to deal with the bitter as well as the sweet. But don’t let the frustrations and disappointments overshadow your joy in and your appreciation for the gift you’ve been given. And don’t forget that it is a gift. Nothing more, nothing less.

Learn as much as you can, write as often as you can, and read everything that you can. One of the most important vehicles, if not the most important, that will take you where you want to go as a writer is the reading of good books by good authors. Read and study. Read, read, read.

But keep in mind that, in the long run, writing is not about books or deadlines or sales or marketing or success. It’s definitely not about competing, unless you attempt to make each of your own books better than the one that went before. It’s not about getting somewhere; it’s about the way you get there. It’s about life and how you live it with the people God has given you to love, as you try to be faithful to Him--and your gift--along the way.

Thank you for your interest and the questions, Richard. Your interviews make me think. I like that.

Thank you, BJ, for the interview and for those excellent words of advice. I can’t think of anything better to use in closing than this quote from—of course—BJ Hoff:

“It matters not if the world has heard
Or approves or understands…
The only applause we’re meant to seek
Is that of nail-scarred hands.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Words That Endure

I was organizing some picture albums when I came across pictures taken in Jordan. I was there with a number of other physicians to teach local physicians, and during the trip Cynthia and I joined a group that traveled to the ancient city of Petra. As I saw the first picture, these words jumped into my mind: "A rose-red city - half as old as time." That line has stayed in my mind for over ten years. A bit of research tells me that it was penned by John William Burgon while he was in college, as part of a poem that won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1845. Burgon went on to become a clergyman and faded into obscurity, but his words will probably be quoted for decades more.

Have you written anything that you think might grab your reader and hang in their minds? I guess the best writing I've done along those lines was a description of my hero, a failed baseball player who's now a doctor, finishing a boring case. He's stitching up the skin when he begins to feel guilty about letting his mind wander. "Any guilt that Ben felt quickly passed. He’d always thought that closing an incision was sort of like driving through Kansas: boring, monotonous, and you could do it in your sleep."

Let me know your nominations for the best lines that are likely to hang in the reader's heads.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Interview With Author Kathryn Cushman

I first met Kathryn (“my friends call me Katie”) Cushman when we were both in Randy Ingermanson’s mentoring class at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. It soon became obvious to me that Katie was going to be one of the first ones in that group to be published, and that was borne out when Bethany House brought out A Promise To Remember. I’m pleased to have her as my guest today.

RM: Katie, which came first for you? An agent or a book contract? And what was your reaction to the big news?

KC: I had an agent first, but I made the contact with the editor (that eventually brought about the contract) at an appointment at Mount Hermon. As for my reaction to the news—I fell to my knees and cried a while, then shouted a while, then jumped up and down a while. I still didn’t quite believe it until I held my book in my hands.

RM: Your next book, Waiting For Daybreak, will be out in October. Was it easier or more difficult to write a second book?

KC: I wrote a couple of (unpublished) manuscripts before A Promise to Remember, so Waiting for Daybreak is actually my fourth written book. But… it was still the hardest. I really had a difficult time getting the details of the story dialed in, and consequently did a TON of rewriting.

RM: Tell us a bit about your non-writing life. Who is Katie Cushman when she’s not slaving over a hot computer.

KC: These days I’m mostly a busy mom. I have two daughters who are involved in sports, drama, etc., so a good bit of my time is devoted to taxi and cheerleading services. I am a registered pharmacist, but I haven’t worked in that field in about a dozen years.

RM: Are you already at work on your next book? And if so, can you share a bit about it?

KC: Yes, I’m just starting my next book. It’s about a mother who destroys the evidence that would prove her recently-returned prodigal guilty of murder. Later, when another young man is arrested for the crime, she must decide whether to tell the truth and sacrifice her own son, or let an innocent person go to prison.

RM: Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for the writers in my readership?

KC: Keep writing, get hard critiques (these are slightly less painful if you pre-medicate with chocolate), and most of all, pray for guidance. Trust God with the results.

RM: And, as I always ask my guests, any last words of wisdom?

KC: Throw the word “networking” out of your vocabulary. Make friends with other writers because you like them, sit with multi-published authors at lunch because they are interesting, and help newer writers along the path because it’s the right thing to do.
Thanks for having me on your blog today!

And thank you, Katie, for taking the time to be with us.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mysteries and the Hook

Quick note for my readers who write mysteries. Jessica Faust, literary agent at Bookends LLC, has a great post today about "Does your hook match your genre?" She discusses the three types of mystery novels: cozy mystery, mystery, and suspense/thriller. The distinction is important on several levels. First, as Jessica points out, the hook should match the genre. Second, you need to have a clear idea of what your work represents as you prepare to pitch it to an agent or editor.

For those of you nearing that stage in your writing career, read the three-part post on Contracts, the last installment of which was posted today at Writer Unboxed. It's excellent. Something to file away for future reference.

Come back tomorrow for my regular post--an interview with author Katie Cushman.