Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Over two thousand years ago, the God of the universe, He who is sovereign over all and Lord of the armies, stepped down from his exalted position, deliberately and voluntarily depriving himself of all the privileges due Him, to take on the form of a man. And not just a man full grown, but a helpless babe, unable to speak, unable to feed himself, unable even to roll over. The one who in his deity held everything together, voluntarily took on the form of a baby, utterly, totally dependent on human parents who were poor, homeless at the time, and fallible -- ordinary people with sin natures and clouded vision. He humbled himself in a way we cannot even comprehend, all so that he could Himself pay the penalty Justice demanded for our sins. It is an incredible, incomprehensible act, exceeded only by what he did next, some thirty three years later on the cross outside of Jerusalem.

At this busy time of year, let us all take time to reflect on what was done on our behalf and be grateful. Wise men sought Him even then. They still do...

May you have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.

See you all in 2007!

Monday, December 18, 2006

a lab tour, a conversation & links

Well, I thought I would not work on my next book for at least two months. But I guess the Lord had other ideas because over the weekend, the opportunity presented itself for me to tour a genetics lab at the UA (above). A friend of my son's works there, and was available to show me around, so this morning at 9am I went over. It was the perfect time what with school being out and the campus relatively empty. No parking problems, no getting in the way of people trying to get to class or do their work. I learned a lot. Learned even more of what I don't know... and am very pleased with the experience. I love the difference between real labs and the ones on TV. Real labs look more like my office, for one!

And then today, as part of an interview I'm completing for Where The Map Ends, I had to come up with a little blurb that tells about this next book, working title Black Box. (They've already told me that title won't do, since some airplane book out a couple of years ago had that title. I thought Black Box was a clever title for a number of reasons, but in light of this -- ie, that most people think of airplanes when they hear "black box"-- I suspect it's a bit too clever.)

On another note, over the weekend, I also had a conversation with another friend of my son's who works at Barnes and Noble. What she told me about her process of keeping shelves stocked was a little different than that article I linked to the other day. For one, if she notes that books in her department are selling, she will ignore what the computer says and increase the amount of books she orders. She also hand sells books she likes. And, something that really surprised me, she told me that the store very rarely initiates a return of books. Returns are almost always initiated by the publisher. I suppose so they can have more shelf space for their new releases...

And finally... the epilog is now in place at the end of Return of the Guardian-King. My editor loved it and thought it was just what the book needed. I'll reserve final judgment until I go over the galleys in a few weeks...

PS. Check out Becky Miller's blogpost An Open Letter to Christian Fantasy Readers for some thoughts about why Christian fantasy isn't selling as we'd like and what she thinks people can do about it. Also, she's got an interview with Nick Harrison up on Speculative Faith concerning the new fantasy trilogy Harvest House will be putting out next year.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Economies

A concept I like to ponder frequently, especially in times after I've read something like that link I posted yesterday about How the Business Operates, is the fact there are in fact, two economies (which, out of the blue, just "happened" to be the subject of last night's Bible class.) There is the worldly economy, which says, Work! Write the absolute best book possible! Be better than all the others! Strive for success! Save! keep!

And then there is the heavenly economy which says, Seek first the Kingdom of God, submit to your pastor in learning God's word, live in what you've learned, and all these things will be added to you. It says, don't strive for success, strive to know God. It says, don't keep and hoard, give it away, and "it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap..." (And how cool that there are 5 different ways of measuring what is given -- five being the number of grace).

As believers we are not of this world. We have a heavenly citizenship. And if I am not a citizen of this world, then any attempt to function in the world's system, ie, according to the world's system will never lead to any real success or happiness in it.

Proverbs 4 commands us to "Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her (wisdom) and she will guard you. Love her and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. Prize her and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown of beauty."

"I (wisdom) love those who love me," says Proverbs 8:17. "And those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness."

God's system is grace. We follow Him, we learn of Him, we live in what we've learned, allow Him to change our thinking into His and then we have capacity to receive.

The world's system is works and striving all the way, and includes things like that horrible computerized buying procedure outlined in Holly Lisle's article. Where you get discouraged before you even start. But God has overcome the world. He is not bound by it and I, of all people, know that.

When I first went to Mt. Hermon with Arena, no one wanted fantasy. Most of you know that. There were no fantasies being published except Tolkien or Lewis. I was told that fantasy was a death word. The dreaded seven letter word. (Hmm. And seven is the number of perfection, if I'm not mistaken.) If you weren't Tolkien or Lewis your books wouldn't sell. No one would touch you with a ten foot pole. When Steve Laube took my manuscript, he held it for nearly two years before he thought he had even a prayer of getting the buying committee at Bethany House to accept it. And that after fighting and wrangling his way to seeing Kathy Tyers' Firebird books and then Ingermanson/Olson's Oxygen bought. Everywhere the word was gloom and doom.

Even after BHP bought Arena another year+ passed, during which time the word came that Kathy's Crown of Fire had already gone out of print. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I remember Steve saying, "They're great books! We just can't get people to read them." (come to think of it, he and others have said the same thing about mine.) The future was dismal. And what in the world was I going to do to change anything? I am not a marketer. In fact, even then, my first efforts at going into the bookstores to meet the buyers and salespeople were complete fiascos.

And then the Lord just blew the doors off everything. Somehow Arena got reviewed favorably at Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. Those two things, which I had absolutely nothing to do with, opened all the doors. It was unbelievable. PW does not review first novels of unknown authors especially not in the dreaded genre of Christian SF/Allegory. But it happened and it moved Bethany House to contract the four books of the Guardian King series-- in the straight down the road, no way to avoid calling it fantasy genre. Within two weeks I went from no discernible possibilities of every really having Arena do well enough to convince someone to buy LoGK to awestruck. That's how fast it happened. How out of the blue. Completely unexpected and totally not my doing.

And lest you say, "Well you just wrote a good book in Arena," my response is... I don't think that the books I've written since Arena are any less than it is. I actually like them better, though some readers, I'm sure, disagree. The point is, I don't think that Legends of the Guardian King is this huge step down from Arena. But it didn't get reviewed by either of those publications. Furthermore, I've seen books reviewed that I thought were very poorly done and others ignored that I thought very well done. We can go on down to the minutiae of cause and effect in the attempt to root out why certain books are reviewed and others not, but the truth is, mostly we'll never know why. The truth is, "What do you have that you have not received?" The truth is, as Deuteronomy 6 says, He gives us "great and splendid cities which we did not build, and houses full of good things which we did not fill and hewn cisterns which we did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which we did not plant..."

So yes, things may look dark and grim, now. But dark and grim is when the Light's advent always shines the brightest.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How Chain Stores kill Midlist Writers' Careers

As part of the CSFF blog tour held this week, talk came out about the rumor that Kathryn Mackel's Birthrighter's Project was originally intended as a trilogy, but was cut back to a two book series on account of sales not being what the publisher hoped for. Shannon McNear has posted a piece on the age old problem of Christian publishers' claims that SF/F doesn't sell in their market and so they don't publish SF/F or don't publicize the few books they do publish with the result that readers never know they're out there.

I can relate to all of this. As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, Legends of the Guardian-King was originally contracted with a descending advance rate so that the publishers wouldn't lose any more money than they had to if the series tanked and they had to cut it off before the end. To their credit, though the books have not sold as well as they had hoped, they have stuck with it, and for that I am deeply grateful and even a little awestruck after having read this account (and the one by Holly Lisle cited below). Writing and book publishing is a brutal business, made moreso by changes in bookselling methods over the last few decades.

As an illustration of just how brutal, Tina Kulesa, one of the tour partipants put up a link to a fascinating article by SF writer Holly Lisle on the "midlist writer's career death spiral" called Selling to the Net . In it she describes how books are ordered and sold by the chain bookstores, and what that does to a writer's career. This is not new information -- Donald Maas also outlined it in his book, The Career Novelist -- but it's sobering to be reminded of it, and also in some ways heartening because, in my case anyway, it reminds me of how God has kept things alive when by other considerations they might not have been.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More of Mackel's Birthrighter's Project

Wednesday is the last day of the CSFF blog tour highlighting Kathryn Mackel and her newest release in the Birthrighter's Project, Trackers. Yesterday I mentioned that Beth Goddard was doing an interview and today I read part one of it (part two should be up Wednesday -- which may or may not be today, depending on when you read this!). I'm glad I read it.

I'll be honest -- when I read the setup about the new Ark built under the polar ice cap, my picky, whiny, critical mode kicked in. I'm trying to keep that one in its cage, or at least ignore it for the most part, especially when I have almost no facts. And this is a good case of the need for it to stay in the cage. My thoughts on the new Ark ran along the lines of, (whiny voice) "Well why would God need to do that? He already did it once, and people deciding to build an ark to preserve the species... yada yada blah blah... doesn't really work for me..." But then I read the chapter and decided maybe that didn't matter. See, if the writing, the pacing, the world, the action and the characters are appealing enough, I can set my theological quibbles aside and just enjoy the story, and this definitely seemed to be one where I could do that (not that you can always tell if your theological quibbles are even valid from ad copy -- of all people I should know that!)

Anyway, then I read the interview and Kathy said that her intent wasn't to create a new ark as such but to present a "metaphor for the church or the Christian home. The world of the strongholds is what we face every time we step outside our sanctuaries. Just as the Birthrighters collect specimens to honor God’s creation, we share the Gospel to honor Christ’s sacrifice. In the books, the kingdom of Traxx is sheltered by a wall of thorns. How many hardened hearts are there behind spiritual walls of thorns that the Spirit is calling us to dare to approach?" How cool is that? I'm hooked. In fact, I ordered both books today and you can too. In fact if you go to the Trackers page on Amazon you can order them together for less.

Or you could go on over to Shannon McNear's blog or Beth Goddard's both of whom are offering the chance to win copies of the two book set of the Birthrighter's Project. Mirtika Shulz is giving away a copy of Trackers and also pointed me to a fun test on the Birthrighter's site that you can take to determine what type of hero you are. I took the test, but as with all these kinds of tests they never give me the right options. What kind of canine would I be? A hound! Not one of the choices. What would I do if I had a craving for chili? I don't like chili. Yuck. But I know lots of ways to make it... Sometimes the answer is "all of the above." More often it's "none of the above..." in any case, it came out that I'm a scout:

"Your independence and perseverance fit you to serve as in this role. Your job is to wander this fallen world as the eyes and ears of the Birthrighter camps. Your reports allow trackers to ride, hike, climb, or even swim the ends of the earth in search of original (non-mutated) species for the Ark. You also warn of troop movements that threaten camps or missions, going undercover as needed to spy on strongholds.

"Your mild appearance and shoddy clothes mask the quick strength and iron-clad determination that allow you to move through peril almost at will. Your strong spirit allows you to endure the solitude and lack of physical comforts that your duty requires. While trackers, teachers, and outriders live in Birthrighter camps, you cannot—your duty requires that your identity be kept secret and that you always be on the move.

"The stronghold princes don’t even guess at your existence. But should you fall into their hands, you would be far more valuable than an outrider or tracker because you know the location of all the camps and the pick-up sites from the Ark. Your inner strength keeps you on course and your faith sustains you, even though your duty is harsh and lonely."

Which isn't as off as I'd expected...

Scroll on down to yesterday's post to check out the other tour participants' blogs today. The way this works is we're supposed to post on the subject at least once during the three days, and preferably on all three. Many only get around to one entry, though, so if you tried yesterday and found nothing, give it another shot. Of course, some put up multiple posts, as mentioned above, and you'll want to see the continuations.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Kathryn Mackel & Trackers

It's time for the December Christian SFF blog tour, this time highlighting Kathryn Mackel's most recent release, Trackers, part of her Birthrighter's Trilogy. Since I don't seem to be able to read anything anymore (I just found out I'll be getting the galleys for Return of the Guardian King in a little over a month -- if the Lord is gracious and holds them off that long!) I haven't read Trackers or the first book in the series, Outriders, but I plan to. You can read the first chapter of Outriders here. In fact, Kathy has set up an entire website devoted to the Birthrighter's Project and I encourage you to check it out for more info.

The chapter that I read was well done and undeniably intriguing. An ark below the surface of the ice in the arctic, an earth corrupted almost to extintion by genetic manipulation gone wild, whales, sled dogs, blacksmiths, swords... many things to get my attention. I recommend you read that chapter!

If you want to read some reviews, too, check out the blogs of Sharon Hinck, Rebecca LuElla Miller, and Shannon McNear. Shannon is having a contest for those who leave comments on her blog Monday through Wednesday for an autographed two book set of Outriders and Trackers. Beth Goddard is doing an interview Tuesday.

And check the other tour participants this month -- part of a growing list! -- for more reviews, comments, contests, etc:

Jim Black; Jackie Castle; Valerie Comer; Frank Creed; Gene Curtis; Chris Deanne; Janey DeMeo; April Erwin; Beth Goddard; Todd Michael Greene; Karen Hancock; Elliot Hanowski; Katie Hart; Sherrie Hibbs; Sharon Hinck; Joleen Howell; Jason Joyner; Karen and at Karen¹s myspace; Oliver King; Tina Kulesa; Lost Genre Guild; Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium; Terri Main; Rachel Marks; Shannon McNear; Rebecca LuElla Miller; Caleb Newell; Eve Nielsen; John Otte; Cheryl Russel; Hannah Sandvig; Mirtika Schultz ; James Somers; Stuart Stockton; Steve Trower; Speculative Faith; Chris Walley; Daniel I. Weaver


Wednesday, December 06, 2006



Hooray! Hooray! Today I turned in the final draft of my fifth book, Return of the Guardian-King! Last night I felt only cautious relief. Today, I'm bouncing off the walls. Set free! Whee!

Finally I can get caught up on my email, interviews, my very late newsletter, blog posts, reading, Smallville (Of which I've not seen a single episode this season), doctors appointments, bank statements... Oh, and Christmas, too.

Now, I'm reeling with amazement that this book is done. When I signed the contract for Legends of the Guardian-King, they gave me a contract that has descending advances. That means when you sign the contract you get, all at once, half the advance for the first book, 40% 0f the advance for the second, 30% for the third and a whopping 10% for the fourth. That's so if publisher decides to cancel the series somewhere along the way, they won't have lost too much money in the advance. I was already uncomfortable enough with taking any money at all for books I hadn't written yet, that I was happy to accept that. But it does show the concern they had for the books not doing very well. So I am jazzed and thankful that the Lord has seen fit to see it through. All the way to the end.

I think I'll be even more amazed to actually hold the book in my hands. But first I have to finish fielding the detail questions my editor is still sending me, then I'll have to do the galleys... so right now I think I'll just savor this Impossible thing that's turned out to be Reality: I've finished! It's a book!


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Writing to a Deadline

Well I want to thank those who commented on my last post. I appreciated your kind and encouraging words .

I do want to clarify, though, what I meant by acknowledging that I am hack. I meant that in some people's eyes I will be regarded that way. That compared to some writers, what I do will be found, in some people's eyes, to be lacking. (Maybe even in my eyes!) When I worry about that, and think about how what I'm doing will be criticized, it's paralyzing. When I let go of it, acknowledge that, like all people, really, I write stuff that's flawed, it's freeing. Yes, there will always be those who will be annoyed by those flaws and feel compelled to point them out, but recognizing that, and realizing it doesn't matter, takes away its power to sting me. Some day I'm going to post about the thoughts I've been having on this entire issue -- that the world is way too caught up in comparisons and rankings and nebulous "official" standards when God could care less about stuff like that.

But that's for another time. For now, I'm posting over at Speculative Faith tomorrow (Wednesday) on Writing to a Deadline. I can't imagine why this should have been the only topic I could manage to muster any words to write about today. Must have something to do with what is going on in my life. And if it's not specifically on Speculative Christian fiction, well, it's is on what it's like to write Speculative Christian fiction. Though in this case, I think deadlines get to writers of all types of fiction.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Marathons & Hackwork

Another photo from the Rose Garden on Thanksgiving Day.

Well, I've been unexpectedly quiet, because I'm slogging along through the last couple of miles of this writing marathon I inadvertantly got involved in. I remember when my husband ran Boston last spring, my son and I went down to cheer him on at the end and he neither saw us nor heard us... too focused on just getting to the end.

I sort of feel like that right now. Just getting to the end. Bible class has been on thought testing and mental attitude and how there will be people, things, fiery darts sent in to screw it up. I've experienced it. For one thing, we've had four social engagements in the last week. Dinner parties and the like. We never go to dinner parties, and granted it's the holiday season, but it's not even December yet! Anyway, I thought it was funny.

I also stupidly googled my name late Wednesday night, just to see what would come up (I never do that; I know better than to do that), promising myself I would read no reviews... and ended up doing it anyway. Whoa! Did I get a boatload of fiery darts from that mistake. The reviewer didn't seem to think I'd done much of anything right in my books, and, in fact, spent the bulk of the words in the piece discussing all the things I'd done wrong, or at least not according to the reviewer's standards. Fortunately, immediately thereafter I did Bible class, which brought up the aforementioned fiery darts sent to destroy your mental attitude, and the part that zinged me was,
"'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but only that which ministers grace to the hearer.' When's the last time you listened to some corrupt communication out of someone's mouth that didn't minister grace to you? It ministered judging to you. It ministered negativity to you. It ministered insecurity to you. Why? Because you listened to the garbage. You did it to yourself. You disobeyed God's commands to be careful what you listen to and how you listen and you said yes to the kingdom of darkness: 'Oh, do you have some more hits for me so as to corrupt my mental attitude?'"

Exactly what happened. All those things -- judging, negativity, insecurity -- were ministered to me. Even after that class, the next day when I had to keep on slogging through the book, the words from the review kept plaguing me until finally I just stopped, looked at it all and said, "Okay, yes, I'm a hack. I can't write. My secondary characters are poorly developed, my worldbuilding stinks, my dialog is mediocre, my characters don't seem real, I preach at unbelievers, and really, I'm just a hack. Fine. God uses the foolish to shame the wise, and even being a hack, even not having everything be wonderfully wrought and exquisitely rendered and blah, blah, He can still use what I do. He called me to do it, and gave me whatever hackish sort of gift I have, and so... who cares if that's what I am? I am what I am by the grace of God. Besides, I like what I do and there are others who like it, too. So, what's the big deal then? I think I'm actually quite comfortable with being a hack because then you have nothing to live up to!

Anyway, after that, well, I was still plagued with the negative voices, but I just kept on writing. Doesn't matter, you negative, accusing voices. You can accuse all day long. I know I'm not a terribly good writer, so it doesn't matter. God will use it anyway!

As of tonight I've sent in to my editor the weekend's worth of work: chapters 34, 36 and 37 (having already sent 35 last week). All that remains to go through are 38 and 39, then 40 to write. Maybe I'll get that done tomorrow. But even if not, I think the finish line is near.