what unpublished authors can learn from J.K. Rowling

I’ll make it no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. So, of course, I was shocked when news leaked that Potter author J.K. Rowling had secretly released a who-dun-it mystery novel under a male pseudonym.

The book industry exploded. Every publishing authority had something to say about it on Twitter. Bloggers were quick to offer their two cents on the matter. J.K. Rowling had done a disservice to unpublished authors, some believed.

Not this unpublished author.

Of all of the words floating around on the internet, there were a few that immediately resonated with me. On her Robert Galbraith website, J.K. Rowling explains:

“As for the pseudonym, I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

The metaphorical concept of seasons is important to me. To be honest, I can lose perspective quickly if I don’t find little things to be grateful for in the midst of difficult or less-than-glamorous times in my life.

While I wouldn’t call this stage of my writing career less-than-glamorous or unenjoyable by any means, it can be easy for pre-published authors to focus so much on the future that they miss the fun and adventure that this stage of the game affords. There’s something about the self-discovery of carving a new path that you just can’t get back once you’re accountable to agents and editors and public expectation.

Granted, if Karen Kingsbury decided to jump on the Amish zombie romance ship, we’d probably still buy it. {Yes, that’s a thing. But no, that’s not the point.}

Whether I’m squeezing my story into a synopsis-sized hole (Sorry, lovely critique partners!), composing my elevator pitch that will hook, line, and blow everyone out of the water, or playing the waiting game with an editor or agent, I’m going to try to remember the shiny new feeling of honing the writing craft, learning the ropes of the industry, and you’d better believe it, going all fangirl on the big-time authors I’m going to meet at conference a month from now.

Because I believe someday my writing will give something unique back to readers, and I will own my rewarding responsibilities and enjoy that season, too. But I definitely don’t want to be the one saying “I wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

Unpublished authors, what have you enjoyed most about this *season*? Authors with a few books under your belt, what do you miss most?

the asterisk

Source: Flickr (Kerry Campbell)

 

He was finally at the top of his game–the top of the game. The place he’d worked his entire life to be. Every time his feet touched the diamond of dirt and chalk and grass, he was home. Every swing of the bat gave him power. Every record he set drove him further. Until the routine random screening found a little something in his blood. A little something that gave him extra. A little something that sent him tumbling from the top.

Now old and graying, he knows when his grandchildren ask him to tell them about his glory days, they won’t ask to see his name in the record books. For there next to his name will always be an asterisk.

—-

The child lived to please her parents, longing for their pride, looking for approval in their eyes after every accomplishment. She grew into a woman who worked hard. Brilliant, beautiful.

But all she worked for was forfeited with one wrong decision, one lapse in judgment. One child that filled her with joy but branded her.

Even as she walked down the aisle toward a wonderful man who loved her, with her son beaming at his side, she wondered. Is there a condition to his love? An exception?

An asterisk?

—-

Remember today: There are no ifs, ands, or buts attached to the love of Christ.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39)

We are His and He is ours. By His blood, we are blameless.

No asterisk attached.

{friday favorites} colorado, new releases, and more

By the time you read this, I will most likely be somewhere in the middle of Flat Plains Highway and Tumbleweed Lane. We’ve been in Colorado for the past week and are about to trade in 70-degree temps for the 100s and say goodbye to views like this:

photo 2-1
Without further ado, here are five favorites of this week:

1) The good thing about vacation is that I got to read a lot. Okay, maybe just a little more than usual. My favorite article I read this week was one my friend Katie shared on Twitter: How to talk to your daughter about her body by Sarah Koppelkam at Hope Ave. She hits the ball out of the park on this. Beautifully crafted, well-written. It resonated with me because the last thing I want is for this joyful, brilliant girl to inherit any self image issues.

photo

2) On a related note, I saw this in place of the mirror at a Crested Butte ice cream parlour. 
photo 5I posted it on Instagram and will tell you the same thing: Don’t. Ever. Forget. It.

3) My friend Kathleen released her latest book, Millie’s Treasure, on August 1! I read the “prequel” to this novel and adored it, so I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. If you like historical romantic suspense with a “dash of steampunk,” be sure to check this series out.


4) I found this book in the NavPress bookstore in Colorado Springs and snapped it up right away. It’s the first nonfiction book I can remember purchasing in years, as sad as that is. Oh, Stasi Eldredge. She’s done it again. You might know her from a little book called Captivating. Let’s just say, in the first chapter of this book, I underlined more than I left clean and got choked up in a few parts. I will probably be posting more about the spiritual message of this book at a later time.

5) Last, but certainly not least. This video. “God Made a Dog.” Maybe it’s because I miss my Yellow Puppy a whole lot, but I loved this so much! Anyone who’s ever had a faithful canine companion will love this video.

Any fun favorites you stumbled upon this week?

{august goals}

**Thanks for all of the love on my New Adult blog post! The ACFW loop blew up with a lively email conversation on the topic a few days later, so it’s been fun and encouraging to see such a positive response to this genre.**

 

august

I can’t believe August will be here tomorrow. The eighth month of the year. And if the rest of this year is any indication, I’m pretty sure it’s going to fly!

Maybe it’s because it’s my birthday month and my last chance to make this age all it can be, but I’m setting some pretty big goals for myself in August.

I can do anything for a month, right?

My writing-related goals for August are:

  • Develop my pitch for my first manuscript
  • Polish my one-sheet copy
  • Complete NaNoWriMo to finish the bulk of my second manuscript

Yes, you read that correctly. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is usually in November. But the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month, which works out to 1600-1700 words a day. I’d love to have something to show for this new idea at conference–I’m that excited about it!

I’ll update you when I figure out how I’m going to make this happen 🙂

Have you set any goals for August? Is anyone crazy enough to join me?

where the New Adult genre meets inspirational fiction

lauriegradYou think you know.
(But you have no idea!)

I was so excited when the lovely and brilliant collaborators of The Writers Alley posted an article about the emerging New Adult (NA) genre yesterday. While this genre has burst onto the scene in bookstores and its self-published authors are experiencing tremendous success, the CBA market has been slower to introduce New Adult titles.

When I was a new college grad eager to read for fun again after spending four years with my nose in literary anthologies, I got really into inspirational fiction’s offering for my age: chick lit. I gobbled it up and still love it, whether it’s recognized as a legitimate genre today or not. But even though I found these books entertaining, the characters weren’t precisely relatable in my current position. The feisty heroines were all around 30, established in their careers and designer stilettos, simply awaiting Prince Charming as the final puzzle piece to make their lives complete.

Meanwhile, I was grasping at straws about what I was going to do with my degree, learning that expensive piece of paper didn’t guarantee a job by any means, and realizing firsthand that the dollar doesn’t stretch as far these days.

I became aware of a huge chasm in the Church. There are books, magazines, church services, Sunday school classes geared toward teens and college students. But what about the New Adults? They’re stuck in an awkward transition between teen and adult, trying to find their place in the real world, dodging sometimes harsh realities, many shouldering responsibilities with new weight and significance for the first time.

It can be a lonely place.

So that’s the heart behind my first manuscript in a very condensed nutshell. My prayer is that it will encourage people during a very confusing transition of life and point them to the Lord for hope and wisdom when it seems every decision has the power to make or break their future.

The emergent church has made great strides to accommodate this age group in recent years, especially with a pointed focus on community/Bible study groups and the explosion of inspirational nonfiction writers and blogs. So it’s time for the Christian fiction scene to get on board.

One published author I would definitely identify as the pioneer of inspirational New Adult fiction is Erynn Mangum. In fact, a recent USA Today article reviewing her latest novel, Paige Torn, says:

I’ve heard this book referred to as YA {Young Adult}, but the ages of the characters argue with that assignment. Paige and her friends are college grads — so, if anything, this is inspy’s answer to the evolving New Adult category of romance lit. If so, keep it coming, inspirational publishers!

When I had the chance to meet literary agent and publishing guru Chip MacGregor, the first thing I asked was whether it was wise to bill this manuscript “New Adult” as I begin pitching it. His answer? An enthusiastic “Absolutely.”

Hopefully Christian leaders and publishers will continue building their efforts to reach out to New Adults in this very pivotal time of life.

#friday5 {gratefulness on a monday}

friday5(Better late than never, right?) 

This week, I’m thankful:

1) That God provides when two things on the house and two things on the car break in the same week. That even in the midst of wrecked houses, cancelled out-of-town visitors, dragging afternoons at the mechanic, and phone calls that require lots of bravery, God is still unchanging. And His love never, ever fails.


2) For this rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by the Gaither Vocal Band. I know it’s not cool or “emergent” to admit this, but I had so much fun returning to my contemporary Christian music roots with this song and the subsequent YouTube searches that resulted 🙂 No matter what your preferences, it’s undeniable that this is the way our national anthem should be done!

3) That I’ve gotten reacquainted with road running during my self-imposed Crossfit hiatus. (I got sloppy, and my shoulder is telling me to take some time off or else things are going to get ugly.) Even though it’s scorching hot outside, I’m remembering how good the pavement is for my body and soul, a feeling I haven’t had since before Allie was born!

4) For my favorite discovery this week: #1K1HR. It’s a writing sprint that challenges you to unplug all distractions, maximize your word processor, and simply write for an hour, aiming for 1000 words. It seems like there’s always someone starting on Twitter, and it’s fun to have the company. I’ve been trying to do it once a day during naptime, and it’s helped me ramp up my word counts tremendously. More on this later!

5) For one year at CityChurch. I don’t think I’ve ever grown more in a single year than this one.

I started this post on Friday, trying to keep my attitude in check as the hours stretched on at the mechanic.

As you begin a new week, what are you grateful for?

the many wonders and woes of self-editing

IMG_0041

The name of my game has been editing lately. We’re talking long nights, sacrificed sleep, crossed eyes. The whole, glorious lot.

I’m not talking about editing others’ work. That’s a breeze. A breath of fresh air. A completely different ballgame. I’m talking about self-editing the same lines I’ve read over and over again, forcing myself to look at them with fresh insight, from an unbiased lens.

If it sounds intense to you that’s because it is. I’m trying to teach myself discipline, and in the process, I’ve given myself a tiny taste of what it’s like to be on deadline. {Someday I’ll look back on this post and laugh…}

The good news is, while I’ve worked on this kind of schedule before, I’ve never had this kind of happiness and fulfillment. This is fun as a whole. But like most things, it has its stages…

Optimism
Checklist. Check.
Red pen. Check.
Throwing my bias out the window … Check?

Disbelief
Maybe the second chapter would be a better first chapter. (Cringe.) Axed.
I’m never pantsing a story again. Ever.
Will I have anything left by the time I’m finished with this?
Is this really as good as it sounds in my mind?

Happiness
I wrote that? That’s actually kind of funny!
Epiphany! That’s just what this scene needed.
These characters can do no wrong!

Delirium
Is this screen moving? Are these letters supposed to look purple?
*Face-first in the keyboard* How long have I been asleep?
What did I change while I was asleep!?

Finality
I have a lot to be proud of with this manuscript.
There’s nothing more I can do to it this round. (Famous last words)
After some serious prayer, I’m ready to press send.

Look at these like ingredients in a recipe. It isn’t like baking cookies where, when you combine the proper proportions of butter, sugar, and flour, it’s predictably fool-proof. You blend these ingredients together and repeat, never sure what you’ll get and when you’ll get it.

If you’re not a writer, you might not understand why someone would choose to do this willingly. But if you’re an author, you get it. Because hopefully at the end, this manuscript medicine has delivered that Finality, a polished product you should be proud of.

Go ahead and make the cookies too. You deserve it.

Here are some helpful resources I wish I’d found much earlier in the process:

This editing checklist from the Writer’s Cafe. It’s pretty extensive!

Read>Play>Edit: The blog of writer and developmental editor Jamie Clarke Chavez. She’s worked with some of my favorite writers and really knows her stuff. Her blog shares this sage advice and makes me realize how much I have to learn!

Pretty much everything YA author Janice Hardy tweets. I have so many bookmarks of articles she’s shared. Her blog also looks really informative with a great content map in the left sidebar. But to be honest, it’s still on my list of things to check out when I can give it the full attention it deserves.

Professional editor Amanda Bumgarner’s blog. I used to work with Amanda, and she has a lot of great insights and grammar tips to offer. I’m excited that she’s recently taken her editing show on the wild and crazy road of freelancing.

What are your tried and true ingredients and resources for editing survival?

love to the acfw

At the beginning of this year, I “finished” my manuscript. Or at least the first complete version of it. (Does it ever really end?) I felt I’d tied up loose ends and filled holes in a plot that was written haphazardly, randomly, and often in reverse. I even mustered up the bravery to let my husband and a few close friends read it. And then came the million-dollar question:

What do I do next?

I’d heard about the American Christian Fiction Writers from some of my favorite authors and joined primarily so I could enter the Genesis. But it wasn’t until I stopped working full time in May that I truly realized the benefits of membership, what the community behind ACFW is all about.

You know, I could list all of the perks of ACFW, like the Loops (email subscription groups you can join for ACFW/industry news, prayer requests, writing and editing accountability, critiquing, educational courses–whatever). I could mention how cool it is to meet with other Christian fiction writers in your area at local chapter meetings or all of the resources and connections they offer, the eagerness they have to invest in your writing. But I think all of these marvelous things all boil down to one comforting realization:

There are other people out there like me!!

The writer’s life can be kind of isolating, knowing that we’re investing ourselves in fictional characters who don’t always behave like they’re supposed to. Though supportive and sympathetic, non-writers don’t always understand how involved this whole process is. How real of a connection we have with our characters. How strange it feels to be sitting in an airport or privy to a loud conversation at a coffee shop, each detail magnified and begging to be put in a story. How agonizing it when we have time to write and get nothing, yet receive an epiphany about a character’s next direction when there’s no time or computer in sight.

And the guilt. The guilt is an entirely different ballgame.

I will confess that I have broken my rule of friending people on Facebook before meeting them in real life. And I am amazed at the open-arms attitude of this organization. By the amount of people–even “strangers”–who took the time to send me an email or comment after the Genesis results.

Finally, I’m excited about how much I’ve learned in this short amount of time. The resources, the sheer amount of knowledge in this group, the accountability, and the critique partners who have adopted me have been invaluable. I’m seeing my work through an entirely different lens now, and I think that’s so important to a writer.

I would encourage you to join a reputable organization within your writing niche. Go to meetings, take the seminars, read the blog posts. The opportunities, the accountability, and the camaraderie will flat-out take you to another level.

Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

the genesis, taking ownership, and other updates

Since so much has changed since my last blog post, I think it’s high time for an update. Here’s what’s been going on since then.

Genesis update

When we last spoke, I had just taken a huge leap by entering the ACFW Genesis Competition. Shortly after, I found out I had made the semifinal round, and today, they announced my name on the final list, top three in each category. I’m thrilled and so honored to be among such talented semifinalists and finalists. Everyone has so much to be proud of!

The future of this website

Perhaps the reason I haven’t posted recently is because I’ve lacked a clear direction for this website. But that’s all changed, and now I hope to be on more of a regular schedule in the future.

Let me explain. I recently lost my full-time job, which has turned out to be a huge blessing that can only be attributed to God’s wonderful and mysterious ways. So while I’m working on building my freelance writing, editing, and publicity career (click here if you want to learn more about that), the blog aspect of this website will be primarily focused on my journey as an author.

I know. Fan me. I said author.

But between the timing of losing my job and making it further than I ever thought possible in the Genesis competition, I’m ready to silence all of those voices that tell me writing novels will forever just be a hobby and childhood dream for me.

The industry is too competitive.
I don’t have the time or talent it takes to make it.
The book industry is on its way out.

I’m ready to go beyond the ole college try and take ownership of the passion and message God has given me. In the last few weeks, my specialty/niche has become clearer to me: contemporary fiction based on real life and real redemption. I’ll be posting more about what this looks like and my journey as I navigate these new and very exciting waters.

So, what’s next?

While I took a break from my first manuscript during the Genesis judging and began work on a second manuscript in a very different style than I’m used to — which was an adventure in and of itself — I’m excited to get back to work on my first manuscript and to be reunited with my lovely characters I’ve missed so much! (“We were on a break!”)

We are slated to receive our judges’ scores and comments from both rounds today, so I’ll be refining my submission for the last round of judges, clicking send, and then awaiting the final results at the ACFW conference in September. In the meantime, I will be working my hardest to prepare for conference and praying God’s will over all of this.

Because without Him and His glory, what else is there really?

laryngitis of the writing variety

I was talking with my writer friend Kathleen yesterday about things that can derail one’s writing. There are small, insignificant distractions like mouths to feed and children to shepherd. No big deal.

Then there are uncooperative characters, half-filled screens, and frozen fingers. They usually occur during large blocks of time you’ve designated for writing, days before looming deadlines, in the middle of important scenes, or any other time you think you know what’s going on with your story. They’re like the mutant version of writer’s block because you know where you’re going. You have a direction. And then your characters become toddlers in the middle of the store on the last errand of the day: thrashing, protesting, planking, deadweights.

Not that we have any experience with this or anything.

If you’re not a writer, you’re probably going to look at me like I’m waving my hand over a crystal ball, trying to examine your aura or something, but fellow writers will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Emma Thompson as Prof. Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban

Sometimes when your characters are staring you down, challenging you to a duel of sorts, it may be indicative of a more serious problem. You may be suffering from laryngitis of the writer variety, the kind that has nothing to do with the vocal cords (That condition might actually be welcome to a writer, as a matter of fact) and everything to do with the invisible force that propels words from a writer’s brain or muse, if I want to sound even creepier to my non-writer friends, through his or her fingertips.

I’m here to tell you that when a writer loses touch with his or her voice, it’s not permanent. And it’s not the end of the world.

Laryngitis happens to the best of writers and affects fiction and nonfiction writers alike. Everyone copes with it differently. Sometimes a small break is all that’s needed (if you do this, make sure you set a firm date for when you’re going to come back to your project). A change in scenery, particularly people-watching, can serve as a distraction and get those subconscious wheels back in motion. Or some quality brainstorming, talking to other writers or friends can release the floodgate.

But the number one thing that helps me in this situation, whether I’m writing press releases or working on a manuscript, is reading. I pack a book or two in my writing bag at all times or take a break while working to read a few good quality journalists when I need an intervention — not to steal ideas or imitate them, but to simply be reminded of what complete, well-constructed sentences look like in succession on the page.

Once my muse has had a little exercise, usually my voice whirrs back to life and my characters begin cooperating again. And then we have a little moment and all is right in the world.

How do you deal with laryngitis/writer’s block?