A Lesson In Persistence

A guest Post by Kristen Stieffel, author of Alara’s Call. This article, part of a blog tour for the new novel, includes Kristen’s remarkable publishing journey. Well worth the read.

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I once made the mistake of telling an agent just how long I’d been working on Alara’s Call. She said, “If you’ve been trying that long without success, you should probably give up and try something else.”

It’s the only time an agent made me cry.

There were times—many times—I tried to walk away from this book. When I wrote the first draft—longer ago than I’m going to admit—I did not know what I was doing. I had only written short stories before, never a novel.

I wrote this book eight times before I learned how to write a novel. And if you check out the stop I made at Steve Rzasa’s website on September 17, you’ll see that even then it had a lot of room for improvement.

I got feedback from a book doctor, implemented his recommendations, and started pitching. At first I got rejections like the opening was confusing or the worldbuilding was insufficient. I got feedback from another editor who helped me fix the opening. I kept revising. I kept submitting. I kept getting rejections.

Some of the rejections were just angry-making, like, “Many Christian denominations don’t have female clergy, so this book won’t appeal to those readers.” Others were just wrong, like, “There’s no market for that.” It took me a long time to figure out that what agents mean when they say this is, “That market is too small to be worth my time.”

In addition to agents, I started pitching to small-press editors who were willing to work with unagented authors. Finally, finally, early in 2013, I got a contract. Not just any contract—a four-book contract on the series. I was over the moon. This was the fulfillment of an over-the-top, big hairy audacious dream. New novelists don’t often get four-book contracts.

I never got editorial notes from the publisher. All I got was a cover mock-up that still had the stock photo site’s watermark on the image.

Then I heard nothing. Months. Years.

Fortunately, my contract specified that if the publisher didn’t release the book within two years of my turning it in, the rights automatically reverted to me.

So by 2015, I started looking for a new publisher. Collected a bunch more rejections. A few were silly, like, “We already have a fantasy novel with a female lead.” A lot were the dreaded, “Does not meet our needs at this time.”

In the summer of 2016, at the Realm Makers conference, I pitched to Michele Israel Harper of Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing. She loved the story and offered me a contract—only on the first book. A reasonable offer.

Meanwhile, I had finished Book Two. And as Book Three took shape, Tyana, a character who’d barely been mentioned in Book One, came to the forefront as one of the major players.

When Michele sent her editorial notes, I told her I was going to make other changes as well, to beef up Tyana’s role. She gave me the go-ahead. So when I turned in my edited copy of Book One, I had laid the groundwork for Tyana’s appearance in Book Three. This would have been impossible if Book One had been published two years earlier.

Isn’t it awesome that God knows what he’s doing, even when we have no clue?

When my first contract fell through, it seemed like a disaster. In hindsight, I see the four-book contract as God’s way of granting my big hairy audacious dream while reserving his right to bring the work into fruition on his schedule rather than mine. During the year between getting my rights back and finding my new publisher, I pitched to several editors who rejected me, and queried many agents who ignored me. Knowing my story was worthy of a four-book contract kept me going.

Paul tells us, “. . . suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). There were days I thought I had quite enough character building, thank you very much. But God is no more finished with me than I am with my characters.

Persevere, my friends. Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) will ensure that your troubles are not in vain.

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Michele Israel Harper with Tim Akers and Kristen Stieffel, both Love2ReadLove2Write authors
Photo Credit: Fen Wilson

Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor and writer who specializes in speculative fiction. Although she edits projects in varied genres for both the general market and the Christian submarket, she is a novelist at heart. Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection, mentor with Word Weavers International, and on the planning committee for Realm Makers, Kristen stays busy doing what she loves most. She is also the associate editor of Havok, a flash-fiction magazine focused on science fiction and fantasy. Visit http://www.KristenStieffel.com to learn more about this many-faceted author.

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Book Summary

Alara sees visions of other’s futures, but never her own.

A young clergywoman with a fiery passion for her Telshan faith, she has been assigned to a mission abroad but longs to lead a congregation in her homeland. Her father, the prime minister, jeopardizes her dream and her safety when he coerces her into what he calls a diplomatic mission.

But it’s a ruse.

The trip is meant to end with her marriage to the crown prince of a foreign nation, where members of Alara’s faith are persecuted and women oppressed. All for a trade agreement her father is desperate to enact.

But her mentor intervenes and takes Alara to Dorrel, the suitor she left behind. They believe they are safe, but foreign soldiers are under orders to bring Alara to the king’s palace . . . by any means necessary.

Published in: on September 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm  Comments (7)  
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Guest Post: Chris Morris – I am Afraid of Waterslides

I am a forty-year-old, seventy-nine inch tall man. And I am afraid of waterslides. But not for the reason you might imagine. Maybe I do have a (ironic) fear of heights, but my fear runs deeper than that.

If I wanted to be cruel, I could say it’s my daughter’s fault that I am afraid of waterslides. But that is unfair and not entirely accurate. It is the memory of a seizure that makes me fear waterslides.

We purchased season tickets to the local waterslide park two summers ago, and it was so worth it. We could spend a Saturday or just an afternoon having loads of fun. Nothing is quite as refreshing in the middle of a Phoenix summer as hours of fun water.

Except for the Water Bowl slide. More specifically, the stairs going up to the Water Bowl slide.

As Cynthia leaned back into my chest, I was having a typical summer conversation with her.

    Are you having fun Cynthia?

    [Grinning] This is amazing Daddy! I can’t wait for this slide!

    Do you think it’s your favorite slide, sweetie?

    Oh I don’t know. They are all so fun, Da…

Mid-sentence, she just stopped talked and slumped back against me. Before I could do anything else, she fell to the ground and started seizing. Thankfully, her head was pressed against my legs, so she wasn’t injured.

I stooped down and held her through her seizure. Then I scooped her up in my arms and sprinted down the two stories of stairs. I couldn’t get the idea of her falling down the concrete stairs out of my head. We sat in the grass and waited for her to recover. Then we headed home, because nobody much felt like water fun anymore.

Ever since then, I have this gut-twisting paranoia almost overwhelm me whenever I see a waterslide. I know the waterslide didn’t cause Cynthia’s seizure, but I still feel the paranoia.

After I beat down the irrational fear, I am lambasted with the second round of attacks on my psyche.

Why are you afraid of a waterslide? What’s wrong with you?

It’s that second question that trips me up every time. What IS wrong with me? What rational person is afraid of every waterslide in existence because his epileptic daughter once had a seizure on one? I should be afraid of bedrooms and bathrooms and stairs and Chick-Fil-A’s and Tahoes and hospitals and living rooms and couches by this logic.

I eventually pull myself through this volley against my sanity as well. But not before I come face to face with this stark reality – I cannot protect my daughter from her epilepsy. I do my best, but it’s never enough.

Everyone with a loved one who suffers from a chronic condition is familiar with this helplessness. This feeling that we cannot do anything to help.

But that is not the truth.

We can do something to help. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we can save the day. Every single day. What would have happened if I wasn’t right there with my daughter so she could lean back into me and seize? She might have fallen on the stairs, sustained a concussion. Maybe even fallen down the stairs or over the edge. Who knows?

The point is – I saved the day by being there. By loving her enough to take precautions. It was no accident she was leaning against me. I was taking precautions just in case she went into a seizure. And those precautions saved the day.

Every day won’t be as dramatic when we care for someone with a chronic illness. It sure isn’t for me. But I keep in mind that I save the day, every day, by being there. By paying attention. By taking precautions.

What I do matters. What you do matters too.

But we need help. We need support. We cannot do this on our own. Sadly, not many resources are devoted to the emotional aspect of chronic illnesses.

Believe me, I have looked. Resources to coach on protocol are prevalent. Foundations to raise money for research can be found. But very little for the social and emotional components can be

So I created one. Perfectly Abnormal: Uncovering the Image of God in Chronic Illness walks through eight myths about chronic illnesses that can paralyze us, if we aren’t careful. My book dissects eight of these myths, counteracts them with truth, and offers pointed questions to get us moving again.

If you or a loved one suffer from a chronic illness, I hope you will you will pick up this book. Because not only you are enough, you are NOT alone.

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Chris Morris is the author of the new book Perfectly Abnormal: Uncovering the Image of God in Chronic Illness. He writes to give encouragement and strategies to people who are dealing with circumstances that feel overwhelming. He believes in redefining normal and rebuilding hope.

He writes at at his web site. You can also follow him on Twitter and find him on Facebook.

Published in: on September 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (10)  
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Fade To Blue And Julie Carobini

Writer friend and fellow SoCal resident Julie Carobini just released Fade To Blue (B&H Publishing) and is currently touring the Internet and holding various book signings at local book stores. (She has a signing down my way this coming Saturday).

I jumped at the chance to host one of the blog tour days. It’s a delight to have Julie share some thoughts about writing especially in light of yesterday’s article, “Where Are We Going?” And as a double treat, I’ll be posting a review of Fade To Blue (available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD.com, and many of your fine local book stores) some time later.

In case you’re not familiar with Julie’s work, she’s the author of five novels and countless non-fiction articles. Her specialty, as you can see if you visit her blog or web site is beachy fiction. If you’d like to follow Julie’s cyberspace tour, you’ll find a list of her stops here. Tomorrow is Pam Wiseman‘s turn to feature Fade To Blue.

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Writing At The Crossroads
By Julie Carobini

I found myself stuck. In my last book, A Shore Thing, one of the supporting characters, Suz, continued to pray for her soon-to-be ex-husband, even as he sat in jail for committing a felony. In Fade to Blue (released this month), Suz became the heroine. I already had a strong sense of her character, so I began the process of asking, “What if …?” and applying those questions to this very real person in my mind. Eventually, I found myself with more questions than answers.

What if …

But just when she does …

What if …

And at about that time …

What if…

As I followed single-mom, Suz, it quickly became apparent that one aspect of the story—her divorce in the midst of faith—would become an issue. So I continued to write and plan, to follow Suz on her path of finding out what she wanted to do, and to learn if her desires matched up with her faith.

Inevitably, my heroine found herself at a crossroads.

May I be honest? If faith wasn’t a thread in this story, I could let my character do or say whatever pop culture dictated. The issue of her divorce might not have been an issue at all and some other conflict would have risen to the top of the plot point chain. In Suz’s case, however, her faith is the point on which she pivots, so how could I ignore her struggle?

As Christians who write, we have to be so careful, though. I’d never want to steer someone wrong, or, as the Bible says, to “cause my brother to stumble.” Yet I have no interest in sermonizing either. Instead, I want my characters, no matter what the issue, to struggle with their decisions the way we all do at times. And that means that as writers we too have to press in to those corners where we inevitably find ourselves.

The answers don’t always come easily. If you write, maybe you’re like me, and you often find yourself listening to the voices of many more than your muse. There are readers, of course, but also reviewers, editors, sales and marketing—even critique partners—all who have opinions about what our characters should or should not do. Daunting, isn’t it? But in Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord gives this advice to savor: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

To writers, this verse suggests standing at the crossroads with our characters. It suggests contemplation, prayer, and continuing to show up and write even through the tough patches.

With Fade to Blue, after I prayed and wrestled to the point of a near-ulcer over my heroine’s decisions, my pastor “happened” to deliver a sermon that provided the perspective necessary to taking that first step out of her crossroads—and I was ready with pen in hand. Don’t you love when that happens? No peptic medication necessary!

I love what Donald Maas says in Writing the Breakout Novel: “Some say success as an author requires a big ego: I say that it requires a big heart.” So true. Not only that, I believe that those big hearts must be softened by our experiences with God’s grace.

Next time you find yourself at a crossroads in your novel, don’t shy away, instead press in. Pray hard. Shut out the voices for a while. Instead, think about what it’s like to hold a seashell, constantly turning it over in your hand. Though they’re often tossed into the sea with nary a glance, seashells are intricately beautiful—even when broken. The more you examine your characters lives, no matter how shattered or sinful they may be—the more beauty can be found. Why? Because it’s in those dark places where God’s grace shines brightest.

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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Beguiled by J. Mark Bertrand

😆 I realize the title to this post is misleading on two levels. First Mark hasn’t beguiled anyone that I know of, and second he isn’t the sole author of the novel Beguiled.

The latter, however, is on point. As part of the CFBA blog tour for Beguiled, co-authored by Mark and Deeanne Gist, I offer the following guest post by J. Mark Bertrand. Tomorrow I plan a review of Beguiled, an ARC of which I received for free from Bethany House Publishers.

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Films About the Wheat Harvest?

    by J. Mark Bertrand

I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me that I sound like a broken record, always intoning the same quotation. In my defense, I’m often asked the same question, namely, “How can you justify what you’re writing as Christian fiction?” Short answer: I don’t even try. In the same way I don’t try to justify it as crime fiction, or even good fiction. All I can say is it’s my fiction, a reflection of the world as I see it.

The long answer involves the aforementioned quote. Claude Chabrol, the French film director, was asked by Robert Ebert back in the 1970s how as a communist he could justify the kind of movies he made. “I am a Communist, certainly,” Chabrol replied, “but that doesn’t mean I have to make films about the wheat harvest.”

The reason I cite this response so often is that it underscores a false assumption behind the question — i.e., that an artist’s ideology ought to dictate the kind of work he does and whatever meaning it might convey. How could a Communist sleep at night knowing a particular film, perhaps the only one of his movies a certain viewer might ever see, didn’t include a persuasive pitch for collective farming and the redistribution of wealth? His only chance to convert a movie-going capitalist and he blew it!

A novelist’s perspective doesn’t have to function as a pair of blinders or a pigeonhole. Think of it instead as an influence. People are influenced by their politics, by past experience, by religious and philosophical convictions, and these influences combine to form an interesting (or at any rate, unique) way of seeing things. When a Communist puts pen to paper, he’s not representing a monolithic movement; he’s revealing himself. The same is true for any ideologue, including the Christian.

Naturally, there are people who believe by definition that Communist art should be about dialectical materialism and Christian art should be about the gospel. “Redemption,” broadly speaking, is the term often used. Paradoxically, these totalizing narratives are straightjacketed into narrowly-focused niche products that can’t speak to the whole of existence, or at least shouldn’t.

I can respect the position, but I don’t happen to share it. As a writer, I prefer to take on the world at large, the big messy scope of reality, pursuing it subjectively and (I hope) convincingly wherever it leads. I’m confident enough in my ideas not to think they need special coddling, and have a high enough view of my readers to realize that while my work might entertain and engage them, even influence them, it’s hardly capable of scrubbing away their own conception of life and inserting my own.

So when I write, I’m speaking for myself, for better or worse. I’m a Christian, and in my less humble moments (which are all too common) I prefer to think of myself as more influenced by that theological tradition than many people who’d own the label of “Christian novelist” with less ambiguity. My books come with no implicit guarantee that they’ll match up to anyone else’s notion of what they should be. For better or worse, the worldview they embody is my own.

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J. Mark Bertrand’s novel Beguiled, co-authored with Deeanne Gist, is in stores now. His crime novel Back on Murder, the first in a series featuring Houston homicide detective Roland March, releases this summer. More information at BackOnMurder.com and on Mark’s new blog CrimeGenre.com

Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 9:50 am  Comments (2)  
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Gene Curtis on Book Buzz at Spec Faith

Well, I finally remembered! I had said a month or so ago that I would post at Spec Faith on Mondays and point you all there. It happens to work out perfectly because the post is actually a Guest Blog by author Gene Curtis, and his topic is Book Buzz.

I decided to break his essay into multiple parts, so I have the first segment posted today, with the rest to follow during the week. Gene knows what he’s talking about and has some helpful guidelines to share.

Published in: on February 11, 2008 at 1:48 pm  Comments Off on Gene Curtis on Book Buzz at Spec Faith  
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