Back from Mount Hermon

So the big news is, the two women I rode with to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference both won awards—two of eight offered.

Rachel Marks, on the left, won the True Grit Award, described as honoring a writer who perseveres under personal difficulty. Rachel is a cancer survivor. In the last year or so she had two surgeries with chemotherapy sandwiched between. By God’s grace and mercy, she is doing well and has continued to write.

Merrie Destefano, on the right, won the Mount Hermon Writer of the Year Award. Besides her many past accomplishments in the business, including her work as the editor of Victorian Homes magazine, she sold a novel to a general market publisher that will be releasing later this year.

I can’t tell you how happy I am for them both. What a fun/wonderful Awards event that was. More on the conference later.

Why Writers’ Conferences

I’m a believer in writers’ conferences and would go to more if I could afford it. Not so long ago I attended Mount Hermon in the spring and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) in the fall.

I’d even like to attend smaller conferences such as the one the Orange County Christian Writers’ Fellowship sponsors or the nearby Antelope Valley Christian Writers’ Conference. I used to periodically attend the ACW conference in the Los Angeles area, but for the last several years they’ve held their western US workshops in Arizona.

Why would I want to go to all these conferences, you might wonder. After all, isn’t much of the information the same?

Some is. But I go to these conferences because I learned when I was teaching that there’s always room to improve. Hearing someone else speak and interacting one on one or in small groups with other writers may supply me with some new way of networking or plotting or deepening character.

Besides learning more about the craft, however, I go to conferences just to hang with other writers. I have wonderful, caring friends and family who are interested in my writing and who pray for me, but other writers are going through what I go through. They know what yet another rejection letter feels like. They understand the level of dependency and trust in God’s sovereignty this business takes (or the level of worry and bitterness it can foster for those who go it alone! 😮 ) Sometimes it’s just nice to be with a bunch of people who are in the same boat.

A third reason I like going to Christian writers’ conferences is because they remind me of my reason for writing—I desire to glorify God through stories, and now through nonfiction as well. In a tight economy, for those of us trying to earn a living as writers, it’s easy to get off track and think making money is the point of it all. For me, the point is obedience to the job God has called me to, and conference speakers often remind me of that.

Here’s another one—I like to go to writers’ conferences because I get to see friends I’m making in this business. I may have started out attending another writer’s class, exchanging some emails, chatting at meals, and before you know it, these colleagues are friends. It’s good to get together with friends.

Lastly, writers’ conferences put me in touch with the professionals on the other side of the table—agents and editors. I like hearing their perspectives, picking up their tips, getting whatever insider information they’re willing to share. Writing is a different business, and if those who know are kind enough to offer help, I want to be there to accept.

Mount Hermon – Looking Back

I first attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference (where I am now, though you think I’m at home writing this blog post 🙂 ) back in 2004. Afterward one of the writing groups I belong to asked us to write about our most memorable moment at the conference.

Here’s my offering:

My Mount Hermon memorable moment was in transit. First stop for this poor white older single female bus traveler with Too Many Bags (both kinds) was downtown LA, for a transfer, at midnight.

I might mention, I’m not the most courageous person (i. e. I sent [one of the writers teaching a workshop] about seven dozen e-mails asking what I should expect at the conference).

The bus trip, however, was me and God—and about 82,000 other travelers. And the homeless folk who hang out at warm places like bus stations in the middle of the night.

Faced with an hour wait, I plopped on an end seat in the terminal and
determined to apply a recently-read writing tip—use the opportunity to people-watch. However, an elderly woman soon approached and sat next to me.

To my polite question about her travel plans, she responded, “No In-glesh.”

I dug out my rusty third-year Spanish and proceeded to stumble through a wonderful conversation with a godly Christian woman whose pastor-husband sat across the aisle.

Lessons learned:

  • God is in the bus station, too.
  • Language is important.
  • God transcends language barriers.
  • No matter how much I learn about my craft, without God’s transcendence, I might as well be stumbling along in a foreign language.
  • Connecting with culture is easier if you know the language.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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    CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 3

    CSFF’ers are having a good time on this tour for Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson. There’s some excellent content to enjoy. You won’t want to miss YA author Sally Apokedak‘s review, Tim Hick‘s thoughtful summation of its value, or Fred Warren‘s humorous take on manly men reading this faery story.

    Now it’s my turn to review this wonderful middle grade/YA/adult book. Already I tipped my hand—I think this is one of those stories that qualifies as a crossover. It is not limited to a certain-aged reader or to a specific gender or to a particular worldview. All this book needs, in my opinion, is more recognition.

    The Story. The main character is called Bryony after her egg-mother, but when she becomes a teen, she chooses to go by Knife. However, her real name, known only to her and to those to whom she wishes to give it is … well, when you read the book, then she will have chosen to tell you, too. 😉

    Bryony lives in a faery colony, one that has a number of oddities about it. For one, the denizens are all female. For another, only the queen has magic. Then too, they are no longer making any thing new or creative. And they stay in their home, a large oak tree situated near a house inhabited by Humans the faeries are deathly afraid of—so much so that the queen only allows Gatherers and her Hunter to venture outside.

    Ah, but Byrony wants so much to fly free into the wide world. When she comes of age, the queen assigns her an adult job, and to her surprise she is chosen to be the Hunter. And so her adventures begin as she protects the Gatherers, hunts meat for the colony, and encounters a human. Or, more accurately, re-encounters him.

    And there I’ll stop. You have enough to get the flavor of the story and perhaps the drift, though it takes an astute reader to see where this tale is going. Which brings me to the next part of this review.

    Strengths. In my opinion, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter has everything a reader could want. The characters are realistic—yes, even as faeries; if I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to check the tree outside my window to see who was living there! 😛 I especially loved seeing the human world through the eyes of the faeries. So a boy is a monster and a wheelchair a throne.

    The plot was excellent too, and for me, that means, unpredictable. Lots of surprises, but all of it was so well foreshadowed that none of it seemed outlandish or jarring. There was intrigue, twists, mystery, friendship, self-sacrificial love.

    The themes of this book were wonderfully woven into the fabric of the story. No authorial commandeering to make sure the reader “gets it.” And of course, not everyone will get it all. I’m sure I didn’t. But that’s OK. The central themes are ones that come from the ultimate choices and actions of the characters and will have an impact, one way or the other.

    The Christian worldview influences I saw include the Gardner, though he is invoked more as a curse word than anything. The faery colony has all the earmarks of a world that has experienced a Fall. Great loses, to the point that the faeries no longer remember what life was like Before or how things got to be The Way They Are Now. They certainly don’t know how to fix things, though the queen tries. And as is true about self-effort, she makes a hash of things.

    There’s also a picture of the Incarnation, though I don’t want to say too much about that so as not to spoil the story. I already mentioned the self-sacrifice, and the cool thing is, these two—incarnation and self-sacrifice—are shown by two different characters, two different types of Christ. In other words, the story is not attempting to be allegorical, but there is typology for those who wish to see it.

    Weaknesses. In my opinion, the only weakness is the limitations put upon the book by calling it Middle Grade fantasy. The implication is that the story is for children only. Not so. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter needs to find a wider market because it is that good.

    Recommendation. I suppose you can already tell I’m enthusiastic about this one. I’m going to go out on a limb. Even as Narnia is a series written for children but enjoyed by young and old alike, so too is Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good story.

    CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 2

    Commercials first, or if you’d rather, announcements:

  • To find a list of other bloggers participating in the CSFF Tour for R. J. Anderson’s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, see yesterday’s Day 1 post.
  • If you haven’t voted in the Titles—Which Captures Your Attention? poll yet, please click on the link and take a minute to give your opinion. Thanks. 😀
  • And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post—more discussion about Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter—well, to be accurate, discussion about the author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, R. J. Anderson.

    Yesterday, in her tour post, Donita Paul said, “I have got to meet the lady who wrote this book.” That made me think, I bet a lot of our participants would like to know more about R. J. (Rebecca—cool name, don’t you think? 😉 ) Anderson.

    The sad thing was, when I approached her about availability to do interviews, she had to decline because she’s on deadline. I certainly understand, but it is our loss. R. J. is an intelligent, thoughtful writer; an interesting person; and a committed Christian.

    I’ll just mention here in passing how much I love the first part of the Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter dedication: “To my father, the voice of Aslan.” Is that perfect for a Christian writing fantasy, or what!

    Prompted by Donita’s comment, I did a little research to see if I could learn more about R. J. Happily, there are several interviews online, and each one has a different slant. In the first, I learned some fun facts.

    Which of the following, would you guess, influenced R. J. in writing Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the X-Men, the Flower Fairies books? If you said, All of These, you’d be right!

    And how long do you think it took this book (titled Knife in the UK where it first came out) from inception to publication: 2 years, 8 years, 10 years, 15 years? Not, All of These, you goofs. 😆 But the book was 15 years in the making.

    If you’d like to read the interview for yourself, you can learn more.

    Of course you can also visit R. J.’s blog at LiveJournal or you can follow her on Twitter. (I think we’ll have to see what we can do about getting her on Facebook too).

    HarperCollins has a great author interview posted as well. In it, R. J. answers the “why fantasy” question, something I’m sure CSFF’ers and other fantasy fans would be interested in:

    I’m always fascinated by questions of “What if?” It interests me to play around with possibilities and new ideas, and I’m also interested in the meaning behind those ideas. To me, fantasy and SF offer a chance to explore emotional, philosophical, and moral issues in a fresh and interesting way. You can talk about good and evil in a fantasy context, for instance, in a way that it’s difficult to do believably in other genres. And besides, it’s fun. I love seeing the ingenuity of other authors who invent new worlds and new magical systems for their stories—building a really believable and consistent fantasy world is one of the purest expressions of creativity I know.

    Another interview taking a “behind the scenes” approach, with this teaser:

    But as far as the story itself goes, I think I’m most pleased with the way that certain themes and… I hesitate to say “morals” because that makes it sound preachy, so maybe “ideals” is a better word… came out naturally in the course of revising the manuscript. I didn’t want to force anything in there, but on the other hand, I didn’t just want to write an exciting story with no depth or substance to it, so it was a relief when I realized that there actually was more going on than just “tough faery action heroine kicks crow butt, saves world, details at eleven”.

    One more centered more on the writing process. Here’s the teaser:

    The book changed a lot between the draft that sold and the final published version. The basic framework of the story was the same, the order of the main events and so on, but my editor challenged me to make sure everything was tight and consistent and that I’d thought through every aspect of the plot and how it affected the characters, which resulted in a much more layered and nuanced story. I was just feeling all proud of myself after taking the book to pieces and rebuilding it from the ground up, and then she said gently, “Well, we’re about half done. But what about this and this and this? Let’s do it again.” It was definitely a rethinking-and-rewriting process, rather than just tweaking bits here and there. But it was so worth it, and I learned a great deal from the process.

    Enjoy getting to know R. J. Anderson. She’s an author I think we’ll be hearing about for a long time.

    Special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of the book.

    CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 1

    How fun to at last be back on track with CSFF. Our feature this week is R. J. Anderson‘s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, a middle grade fantasy published by HarperCollins.

    In my opinion, this book is Christian fantasy at its best. Christian fantasy? Published by a general market press?

    Why not? Certainly all kinds of other worldviews are represented in books put out by general market publishers. A Christian worldview, therefore, should not be excluded.

    My question, however, is this: why don’t houses affiliated with the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) produce more books like Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter? To be fair, I think a few have moved in this direction—in particular WaterBrook. Kudos to them.

    But why aren’t more ECPA houses on board? I have some ideas. One might be the existence (really, the lack thereof) of magic in this story. I recently read an interesting article on the topic of magic in Christian fantasy. Here’s the key portion I want to address:

    There are really only two options when dealing with the issue of magic: either magic is a craft that can be learned and mastered by any person who applies themselves, much like any skill in the natural world, or it is something that must be innate within a being, something one is born with.

    The author goes on to say that J. R. R. Tolkien used the latter. While I would add a third way of dealing with magic—creating make-believe power, dissimilar to real magic sourced in evil and to real supernatural power sourced in God—I believe Anderson has gone the Tolkien route. Her characters, for the most part, are faeries, who should have magic innately.

    I’ll say more about them in particular when I do my review. For now, suffice it to say that I believe too many Christians are losing the power to discern between what is a real concern and what is superficial. In saying this, I recognize myself.

    Years ago, I pulled aside a student of mine for a lecture about a novel she was reading that had the word “witch” in the title. Never mind that I had not read the book, didn’t have a clue if the story was in any way promoting anything evil or not. Some lessons are costly, and that one was to me, but also valuable.

    It was reinforced some years later when I wanted to add a novel to the curriculum (in a different school) that used alchemy (unsuccessfully) as a key plot point—only to have the powers that be say no, such a book was unsuitable.

    But back to the topic—why aren’t more books like Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter coming out of the ECPA? I’d suggest a second reason: the Christian worldview is not overt. Although someone unfamiliar with Christianity can’t miss the central themes, they won’t necessarily identify them as Christian.

    In my opinion, the best fantasy coming out of ECPA houses takes this same approach. The stories are accessible by anyone and thoroughly enjoyable. There is no need to preach because the key action in the climax does the heavy lifting, much the way Aslan dying in Edmond’s place did in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I think there is a place on bookshelves for stories that deal with Christianity in an overt way. But ones that stir our hearts because of love and self-sacrifice are important, too.

    Take some time this week to see what others participating on the tour have to say:

    A check mark links to a tour post. (Special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of the book).

    Titles – Which Captures Your Attention?

    Yep, I’m at it again. This time, nothing to read. No prep. One vote—indicate which, if any, of these titles captures your attention.

    Then for those of you who find you have time galore ( 🙄 ), tell me what you think makes a title eye-catching.

    Thanks for your input.

    Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 11:10 am  Comments (7)  
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    Queries and All Things Proposal

    The hardest writing for me is writing about my writing. That’s essentially what a query letter and a book proposal are, and I find them both excruciating.

    The query is hard because I, the writer, have to encapsulate an entire book or book idea (in the case of nonfiction) in a few paragraphs. Without being too vague, too general, or too specific, too caught up in details. You get the picture why this is hard writing?

    I read a number of agent blogs and there is a lot of information about queries since this is the first introduction to a writer the agent gets. It’s helpful stuff but also a bit confusing and reinforces the fact that so much of this business is subjective. What one agent likes, another gives a pass to.

    Then there is the biographical information. How do you distill from your life what will say to an agent or editor that you are qualified to write this book and what’s more that you might even have some contacts that will help sell it? (I just realized I left out that last part in the query letter I was working on today)

    All this is hard enough, but then there’s the proposal and the synopsis. YIKES! Now you have to tell the story succinctly but keep it interesting. Let your voice come through. Be sure to show the ending (“this is not back cover copy”). Don’t get bogged down in subplots. Or minor characters. But don’t be too general.

    And what about the short pitch? It’s maybe not necessary to include, but you need it for face-to-face meetings at writers’ conferences, so why not put it in the proposal too.

    As if this isn’t hard enough, the agents often say helpful things like, This may be the most important writing of your career.

    Wow! All I can say is, I’m glad I know God is sovereign. If I muff a query letter, God can see to it that I receive grace from the recipient, if He so chooses. My job? Do the best I can do, then put it in God’s hands to do with as He pleases.

    I just wish it weren’t quite so excruciating to write these things. 😉

    Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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    Wait ’till June

    I’m going off topic (not fiction, not Christian worldview) today. As some of you know, the NCAA basketball tournament started this week. Normally I have quite a problem because I want to watch games, but I’m also working, and most often, as I am this year, preparing for the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

    But here’s the thing. This year, no conflict. My team of choice to cheer for is UCLA, but alas, they didn’t even finish at .500, let alone garner enough respect to be invited to March Madness. Second choice would be USC, but they didn’t even make the PAC-10 Tournament because of recruiting violations.

    How about Long Beach State or Cal State Fullerton. A few years ago, CSUN (Cal State Northridge) was the local Cinderella story. Nope, none of those teams made it either.

    One sort of bright spot is UC Santa Barbara. I grew up in Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos were the rivals of tiny-Christian-college Westmont where my dad taught. So UCSB isn’t really a favorite. But even though it’s a hundred miles north of LA, it’s about as good as SoCal has. Unfortunately they had a low seed and probably already lost their first round game.

    So what does that leave a die-hard basketball fan like myself? JUNE and the NBA finals with the reigning league champion Los Angeles Lakers looking to repeat.

    Ah, June will be good. Until then I’m (mostly) sitting out March Madness. (I think Washington is playing right now—they’re PAC-10, so I might just take a peek at that game. 😉 )

    Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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    CFBA Tour – Dead Reckoning

    Isn’t that a GREAT cover?

    Dead Reckoning, published by Abingdon Press, is the debut novel by talented writer Ronie Kendig. By my way of reckoning, this adult novel falls into an unusual category—romantic thriller. It’s unusual, I think, because of expectations. Readers who enjoy romance aren’t expected to enjoy thrillers, and vice versa. But think Indiana Jones, and you’ll have an idea what this book is like.

    The Story.
    Rather than an archaeology professor, Dead Reckoning features an archaeology student, Shiloh Blake, who specializes in underwater recovery. In the midst of an important dive off the coast of India, Shiloh’s two companions who remained topside are gunned down. One is killed, the other wounded.

    Shiloh is able to drag Khalid, her best friend, to safety and signal for help. When the authorities meet with her in the hospital, however, she suspects they are not police as they said.

    So begins the adventure that takes her into the world of spies and secret agents, and eventually into the arms of the one man she thinks she can trust.

    Author Deborah Piccurelli said “Dead Reckoning moves at the pace of an action-adventure movie,” and I think that’s true. Lots of intrigue, clues, connections, danger, and narrow escapes. For the most part Ronie makes these scenes believable. The opening in particular had me on the edge of my seat wondering who was shooting at college students even as I admired the heroine’s quick thinking and courage in the face of the danger.

    The protagonist Shiloh Blake is a smart, caring young woman, though she’s been emotionally wounded and has trust issues, especially when it comes to men. Because of her, I want to follow all the exploits and dangers that entangle her.

    With so much going on, I think it’s not surprising that some threads seem to get dropped. One in particular seems to be ignored until the latter part of the book, but then it is picked up only to be dropped again.

    There’s a writing instruction book adage that if an author puts a gun on the mantle, he’d better have some character use it before the end of the book. Unfortunately, I thought there were a number of “unused guns,” and I felt myself wondering why some things that seemed important the way they were painted in the initial scenes weren’t revisited. (I don’t want to give details because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone).

    I realize that fans of thrillers probably care less about these details, but mystery fans like myself are always looking for clues, so I found the dropped threads disappointing.

    Now to the romance. I haven’t read widely in this genre, but I think Ronie has all the elements necessary. My one problem here was that at particularly tense moments when action was fast and fear high, there were romantic interludes that didn’t seem realistic. I would rather have seen those slipped in when the characters wouldn’t have been trying to avoid death. 😉 (And don’t get me wrong. There were romantic scenes at more appropriate places, too.)

    This is a tough one. I think women who love romance will enjoy this book, but men who like thrillers? I’m not sure they’ll want the romance, which shares almost equal weight in the story, I think. Of course, if you love both, then this is definitely the book for you.

    Special thanks to Abingdon Press for providing a review copy of Dead Reckoning without cost.

    Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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