I've moved to another two blogs, one on writing, and one on general stuff like this one. Please come visit! MY NEW BLOGS:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Brandie asked me about this one. I hadn't heard about before, and had fun searching around their website. I only looked at books, since this is the area that I have a marginal degree of familiarity with which to evaluate.

The site is owned by amazon, which means it has the advantage of allowing your book to be listed here. The production costs looked reasonable, especially for the pro plan. It works like in that you upload the files without upfront costs. On the website, it looks good. Since the company is part of amazon, though, I'm wondering how accessible they might be if there's a problem -- based on my own experiences getting errors in my own amazon listing cleared up. Let me just say amazon is a fortress, insulating itself from a tactic of repeated calling and emailing that I've normally found effective. I found a forum that discussed HERE -- it seemed like people were either very happy or very unhappy with it. Books seemed to have a few more problems than DVDs, although since this is an extremely small and unrepresentative sample, it's hard to draw conclusions. Take it as interesting information.

Brandie, I'm sorry I'm not able to give a more detailed evaluation.

OK, let me move for a moment to a few general thoughts I have on self-publishing. Remember, please, that I am NOT an expert in this field, although I have done a lot of research and have produced my own book through this process. For a good starting resource to learn about self-publishing, check out Dan Poynter's site HERE. He has many free resources available on his website. I'm also planning to compile a list of helpful books, hopefully soon...

Your publishing venue should be determined by your goals for your book. No more, no less. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you are going to have to have a serious press. Traditionally published authors immediately have credibility. Self-published authors, especially of fiction, rightly or wrongly are not generally respected in the literary field. In other words, if you self-publish you are going to have to jump additional hurdles.

Publishing entities like,, and other book packaging companies are well-known self-publishing venues. If you publish with one of them you'll be marking your book with a stigma that will be almost impossible to erase. This is a complicated issue based also on marketing etc., but in general is true, and this is also why I almost always discourage people from using book-packaging companies if they want to commercially sell their book. Yes, there are some exceptions with a few, really excellent, book packagers. Alternatively, if you want a limited print run, say for your community group, or have a built-in platform such as being an in-demand speaker, this self-published label won't matter as much. Again, what are your goals?

I promise, I'm going to start a series on this that starts at the beginning, since I feel like I'm jumping into the middle of a complicated field. It's great that you're all so interested in this! Gee, I actually know something useful :-)

Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blog Series on Marketing

Just wanted to give you a heads-up on this:

Lisa Tener coaches writing. She will be featuring a blog series February 2-6 written by Rusty Shelton and others from Phenix and Phenix Literary Publicists, about how to create a marketing platform.

Some of the subjects include:

- Why publicity is important

- How to develop your publicity and platform before you even write or publish your book -- and how that can set a foundation for great book sales

- How to develop a PR and platform building strategy

- How the publicity process works

- What goes into a press kit

- How to present yourself on the air (TV and radio)

- How to get invited back after an interview

- How to leverage the internet for PR

- How social media can support buzz for your book -- and how not to alienate people by misusing this medium.

I believe there will be opportunities to ask questions. I don't know how good this series will be, but thought I'd pass it along.

You can find Lisa's website HERE.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

There are different publishing options that you should understand before you decide how you will produce your book. The first big division is traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Self-publishing can be further subdivided into quasi-traditional houses, book packagers, or creating your own publishing company. I'll go through all of these, but since I received a question yesterday from Jessica about, let me review this one today. sounds like a great self-publishing option, and depending on your goals for your book, it might be!

It works like this: Using online tools and helps, you simply format and upload your cover and interior files to Lulu. The cost is completely free; you don't pay a penny. For each book ordered, Lulu collects the money, subtracts the production costs and 20% of your profit margin, then sends you the remaining money. Lulu also has a number of services to help with, say, cover design or marketing.

My opinion on lulu is this: if you want to publish an extremely limited run, such as 30 copies of family memoirs for a reunion, by all means use this company! I have a friend who has done so, and she's been happy with the product quality. You probably wouldn't want an ISBN for this sort of run. You keep the rights to this book, so if you don't like how lulu does it, you've lost nothing.

However, if you're thinking of publishing, say, a novel or nonfiction book that you want to sell commercially, my strong advice is to find a different way to do this. Here's why:

1. ISBNs: The ISBN is like the social security number of each book. That number will ALWAYS be identified with this book, and its history is easy to research. If you sell on Lulu, even if you buy your own ISBN from them, it will always show a link to lulu, not to you.

2. The biggie: the production costs of this company are way high. If you want to make any kind of profit, you're going to have to set a very high price. They give the example of a 200 page book. If you want to have a $10 retail/$4 wholesale profit, you'll need to retail your book for $21, and wholesale it for $10.50.

I just looked through the lulu store, and it looks like they're charging retail prices for their books. Think about this. If you're a buyer, do you really want to pay $21 for a 200 page book? Furthermore, I randomly selected a few top-selling titles from the lulu store and searched for them on amazon: no dice. It's possible you can get your book listed on amazon also, but it didn't look common. Do most people automatically go to lulu to purchase a book?

I have my own publishing company. For my company to produce a 200 page, trade (6x9), perfect bound book, I would be easily able to retail this for $12 to make a comparable profit. By my offering the standard discount to amazon (the wholesale price that they pay me the publisher), amazon would in turn discount the book for sale for (I'm guessing since I don't control amazon) to about $8 or $9. All things being equal, who do you think is going to sell more books?


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self-Publishing a Novel: Some Thoughts

Let's face it: getting a novel signed to a publishing house can seem insurmountable, especially if what you're writing is a little out of the mainstream. Waiting for months is par for the course, even when you've signed with a good agent who is working his or her tail off. Once signed, you may be unpleasantly surprised at how little the publishing company seems to value your book: So-and-so Big Name Author is getting a ten city tour, and you're lucky if you can finagle a few extra books to send to local review sites. It doesn't help when you hear amazing success stories like Stephanie Meyer's (Twilight et al): she said she wrote this for fun, sent it to her sister to read, and six months later it was on its way to becoming a blockbuster.

In this amazing age of the internet and publishing options, it's tempting to think of doing it yourself, especially if you've gone through the traditional channels and can't seem to get traction. We've all heard the success stories of self-published books: The Christmas Box was written by Richard Evans as a sweet Christmas story he wanted to share with family and friends. Eragon was written by a 15 year old homeschooled kid for a project, and aggressively shopped around by his family. The Shack was another *inspiring* story written by William Young for friends and family. (BTW I have my own theological views on The Shack that diverge from many friends, but what can I say? I don't want to get into a debate now about this book).

So, to paraphrase Billy Coffey (waving), what have I learned about this process?

There are many nuts-and-bolts steps you can take to produce a self-published book, and I'll go over what I did on my own journey in future blogs. However, the most important thing I learned, that NO ONE seems to talk about, is before you start putting money down ask yourself:

Is My Novel Ready To Be Published???

You would be surprised. I happily support self-published authors, but have to admit that the quality of writing usually leaves much to be desired. These aren't fatal problems, but the author might need to cut about a fifth of the manuscript, put in better transitions, and write a satisfying ending. Even the biggies; have you read them? I saw the television movie The Christmas Box before I read the book; I found that the book meandered without the same satisfying and sharply cut story. Eragon seemed to be a take-off on Lord of the Rings, and gosh, it had a lot of excess verbiage. The Shack seemed to be better written, but even this wasn't so much of a story as a philosophical conversation.

In other words, I'd argue that just maybe they weren't quite up to a publisher's standard? In my opinion, these books took off because they all had a great premise, even though the writing left much to be desired.

Oh, it's hard to say this, and I know I'm just asking for sharp criticism of Lever by the same token. Actually, please do let me know -- it helps with my writing. But getting back to an objective evaluation, my experience with the self-published authors I know is that they are often anxious to put the book in print now, now, now. You can't really blame them, but still, I gently try to dissuade them when I feel this is the case.

For Lever, I hired a professional editor who did a so-so job. Then, my friend Jane got the manuscript. She was very sarcastic -- "Oh, I know HE'S going to die" -- but by golly, showed me how to do a good edit. After these readers, I went through the manuscript six times over 8 months, and cut more words than I want to think. I only cut three scenes; the remainder was things like passive voice, any words ending in -ly, anything that wasn't related to the story, etc. etc. BTW I've been told a number of times about a few info dumps in Lever, and have to plead guilty here -- I refused to take them out because it had been so doggone difficult to get some of the information and I thought it was cool. I broke my cardinal rule: if two or more people say it, then do it. Mea culpa. See? It's hard to be objective about your work, but you must be! (Hopefully those few passages don't torpedo the whole story).

My agent, who was supposed to be very good, never said word one about spiffing the manuscript first. Oh well.

So, before you try to self-publish, ask yourself: is my novel REALLY ready? It costs a penny a page to print; these costs add up quickly. Be objective, and hold out the standard that your book will be as good as anything traditionally published -- because it must be.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sowing and Reaping

This blog entry probably needs to be expanded, but I thought I'd give you all a nutshell today. I heard a radio sermon about this subject, and was impressed with the pastor's comments.

He says there are four laws defining sowing and reaping. Here they are:

1. You don't reap unless you sow.

If you don't invest something, whether money, work, relationships, whatever -- you won't get anything back. In a related vein, if you sow a little, you reap a little, and if you sow a lot, you reap a lot.

2. You sow what you reap.

You will get back whatever you put into the ground. If you sow anger and discord, you will get this back. If you sow to investing money, you will get money back, and not a good marriage. If you sow to help develop children, you will see the children develop and grow.

3. You sow more than you reap.

As you go about your life be careful what you invest in, because it will rain down on you.

4. You sow later than you reap.

You can't expect an *instant payoff* in anything -- it takes time, persistence, and perseverance. Faith. As Paul says, *Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.* Galatians 6:9, NASV


Well, there's my thought for the day.

Monday, January 26, 2009


A few years ago I was happy because I had signed with my first choice agent. Things didn’t work out, and shortly after that I had to put the brakes on writing because of an unrelated problem. About two years ago I decided to get back into the game, but unfortunately it was more challenging than the first time around because my agent had already blown the contacts for traditional houses in the CBA (once a house has considered a manuscript, they will not look at it again). Although I knew many of the places Lever had been, I didn’t have a complete list of which editors, and which houses, that my agent had talked to.

Quel bummer.

It took a few months to learn that no other agent would touch Lever. I had three options: 1) rename the book and try again; 2) finish *Nest Among the Stars* (the prequel) first, then make the rounds with two books in hand; and/or 3) try for another route to publication. I think I’ve also already mentioned that I was uncomfortable with some aspects of traditional publishing, so I decided to give untraditional publication a shot. I figured the worst thing that would happen was that I would have tried and failed, but I believed in Lever. I figured it’s God’s book, so I’d do my best and that would be enough.

My goal was to make Lever’s quality inside and out indistinguishable from any book from Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, or any other big house. THIS quest is another long series of steps and learning that maybe you’d also find interesting sometime.

My prelude here was necessary to explain another marketing effort I made: two prestigious contests given every year for self- or independently-published books. Even though these contests both have stiff competition, I felt like I had a possible, albeit small, chance of placing (hope springs eternal).

The first is the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Interestingly, about ten years ago at some parent group or something (don’t quite remember), I met the wife of the grand prize winner of this contest. She was impressed that I recognized the title of her husband’s book! (I read Writers Digest religiously). That was about it, except she said it was a fabulous opportunity for him. The grand prize winner receives $3,000 cash, endorsements, guaranteed reviews in major review houses, consultation with marketing experts, etc.

The second contest is the Independent Publisher Book Awards. There are a number of categories. While this contest doesn’t offer so much in prizes, an IPPY award is well-known in the industry and gives a *seal of approval* that increases the chances for reviews, ordering by libraries and other venues, etc.

Another contest that Lever won’t be eligible for until next year (since it has a 2009 release date) is the Christian Small Publisher Association Book Award. This is another award for books from small publishers, and like the IPPY, gives a *seal of approval* and a foot into better buying venues.

All I can say is, the applying and hoping for gateways to open never stops! Oh well, it’s something to keep one busy. The contests are still ongoing, and I’ll give an update if I win.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Audrey Hepburn's Advice for Living

Audrey Hepburn was once asked about her *beauty tips*, and wrote this in response. It was read at her funeral years later.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quick Note

I need to do a short post today. If you're interested in hearing more about marketing, or conversely you're tired of this topic, please let me know!

Impressive Faith

This is a great story, apparently true. I wonder how I might respond in this situation:

Ninety-two-year-old Pauline Jacobi had just finished loading her groceries into her car at a local Wal-Mart in Dyer County, Tennessee. She got in her car, and a moment later, a man climbed into the passenger side. He said he had a gun and that he would shoot her if she did not hand over her money. What she did next did not involve pepper-spray or martial arts, but it did save her life and may have saved his.

Pauline calmly refused her would-be robber three times. Then she said, “You know, as quick as you kill me, I’ll go to heaven and you’ll go to hell.” Then she told him that he needed to ask God for forgiveness. “Jesus is in this car,” she said, “and He goes with me everywhere I go.” Jacobi said that the man looked around, and then tears began to come to his eyes.

For 10 more minutes, Jacobi shared with the man. Finally, he said, “I think I will go home tonight and pray.” But Jacobi told him that he did not need to wait to pray; he could pray now.

Then Jacobi, voluntarily, offered the man all the money she had on her, 10 bucks, on one condition—that he not spend the money on whiskey. After that, the man kissed her on the cheek, got out of the car, and walked away.

This is excerpted from a radio address by Mark Earley, on Charles Colson's Breakpoint radio commentaries. The link is HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lots of Books

You may have noticed from what I've written so far that I've had many books pass through my hands in the last few months. Lever is produced by Taegais Publishing LLC, a newly-formed independent publisher. OK, I'll admit it, this is me. I can get as many books as I want directly from the printer, as long as I have the money to purchase them.

If you have a well-established traditional publisher, you may only get ten, or twenty, or fifty books. If you self-publish through a book packager or self-publishing company, you'll probably have to buy books at a possibly significant mark-up, since many packages only give you a certain number.

Through my studies of book marketing techniques, though, I've read that starting word of mouth is much easier if you have LOTS of books. I knew I'd be buying books, so I've been budgeting for this for a long time. During this enterprise between August and December I went through nine (!) boxes of 22 ARCs (198 books), although remember many were sold through that wonderful book signing at Curves, that then paid for more books. I've sold more, at the August conference and to friends-of-friends of people who'd read Lever. I passed many books out to reviewers (which you've already heard about), and to other groups such as endorsers, the blog tour, home-schooling companies, Christian bookstores, schools, librarians, and a few to contests. I sent a book to a woman collecting reading material for soldiers in Afghanistan. And another fairly large group I passed books out to was influencers.

What are influencers?

Influencers have been a wonderful group, people I've so much enjoyed meeting! If you participated in my contest in December, for example, you may have won one of my books -- this was the last gasp of the 9th box of the ARCs that I had, and you were among my final group of influencers. I found other influencers through asking on the ACFW loop, or through directly finding reviewers and bloggers and asking if they might want to review my book. BTW, a great link to find top amazon reviewers is HERE.

Influencers have a platform, and are so named because they can influence others if they like your book. The platform can be a web presence, but the way I look at it EVERYONE is an influencer. After all, if your friend tells you he's just read the most wonderful book, isn't that a platform? For each book I sent out, I stated that if the person didn't like the book, then I greatly appreciated their time and consideration and I didn't expect them to promote something they didn't believe in. (I had three of these). However, if they DID like the book, there were a number of things they could do if they wanted to to help. Some of the most important things were to tell their friends and book clubs, ask their local library to order it, and write an amazon (or other site) review. Lynn Rush yesterday sent me a wonderful list of things influencers can do, put together by an author, and I'd like to contact her to see if she'll let me post it. Thanks Lynn!

Thinking back on the avenues I've explored over the past few months, I have to say that the influencer pathway has been the most rewarding -- not just because many people have given me valuable feedback and have facilitated further sales, but because it's been great to meet so many wonderful people!

I look at marketing as picking up one grain of sand at a time. There is no shovel; you've got to just keep going, one small thing after another, and before you know it you've made quite a bit of progress. Then again, though, isn't that how most things in life work?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Marketing with Blog Book Tours

The internet creates startling opportunities to network and disseminate information. One fabulous twist on the old-fashioned book tour is the Blog Tour, something that you're probably familiar with. Basically, a single book is featured within a short period of time, such as a day or week, on multiple blogs. The goal is to increase the book's exposure, since it's been shown that repeated reminders of a product make it more likely for someone to convert (ie buy the darn thing). Furthermore, since the reviewers usually give honest opinions of the bad as well as the good, a potential buyer can get a reasonable assessment of whether he might actually like the book.

These book-review blogs take a little bit of work to find: use google or other blog search engines to find blogs that review books, and check them out to see which might be appropriate. You can make a list, then comment or write to the person to see if they might be interested in reviewing your book. Coordinating them will be a challenge, but multiple exposures of a book over a few weeks or months won't necessarily be horrible, providing you can keep other marketing techniques going at the same time to maintain a potential *buzz.*

But wait! There's an easier way.

There are organizations that put blog tours together for authors. Some of these operate out of a publisher's advertising/marketing department, and only work for this company. Some operate from self-pubbing organizations, and you can purchase a package that will help you put together a blog tour. Some are freelance marketers that you can hire. I have the names of some of these companies that I will be happy to give you if you email me, but since I have no direct knowledge of the quality of their work and they're fairly costly, I don't feel comfortable putting their names out here.

However, if you have a book that is consistent with a Christian world view, I have an even better option for you to consider: First Wild Card Tours.

First Wild Card Tours (the link is HERE) is a *free* service that puts together blog tours. You the author must provide the books and the postage, but while not inconsequential financially, that's it. It works like this: You find an open date that works for you, and submit the title, a brief description, the first chapter, and an author photo. You also state how many books you can provide; a good number might be 25. The director makes an announcement on the loop, and then interested bloggers contact you directly. A few weeks later, on your date, the blog tour goes up.

Furthermore, these don't have to be new books, so if you have an older release date you're still good to go. First Wild Card will also tour self-published books.

Personally, I think this is a great deal! My blog tour is next month. When the time comes, I'll link to all of the blogs that will be carrying my book, and you can see what you think.

And by the way, if you have a blog, you like free books, and you don't mind writing reviews, you might want to consider joining this group as well. There are no minimum standards for participation, and you get to choose the books you'd like to read. Not bad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lone Wolf Marketing

A big challenge, and also a big opportunity, is that I must do all of the marketing work on my own. I have no contacts, no industry connections, no help. I only know two people with even peripheral expertise, so their answers, while sincere, are only somewhat helpful.

On the plus side, I'm driven, I research compulsively, and I'm willing to try anything. I have a very very little bit of discretional money still to use for postage or for a few more books. And I don't know enough to know my efforts won't work :-)

My best asset is this: This is the Lord's book, not mine. He is guiding my footsteps, and my only responsibility is to keep walking. I truly don't care if I sell two copies or two million, because it is all for the Lord's glory. I have and will continue to only give Him my best.

This has been a tough road for me to get to this point. A few years ago I was able to capture the interest of my first-choice agent, and he shopped my manuscript around the CBA. All I could think of was getting a contract, having a book, being a published author. For a number of reasons, things didn't work out. Then due to an unrelated problem I had to stop writing for awhile.

When I got back on my feet, I still didn't have the emotional energy to write, so I undertook an in-depth study of story structure, and learned some amazing things. Then, something else.

But now, finally, I'm back in the game. My CBA opportunities were shot for this book, so it's being published by a humble new independent publishing company -- this is the first book out of the gate -- and now, we'll see what happens. It's funny; I'm at the point I'd dreamed of a few years ago, but to me, while it's satisfying that I made it, I don't need this now. Go figure.

Today's entry isn't so much about nuts and bolts, but attitude. But really, this is the most important thing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Marketing, the Next Installment

I have news before I start:

To review events, two weeks ago I found out serendipitously that A Lever Long Enough was one of seven candidates for the ACFW's March Book Club selection (link to join this free Club is HERE). While I was happy with God's will on whichever book was selected, I recognized that this was a good opportunity and would have loved to win if possible. I wrote to many of you to ask that if you were a member of this club, would you please consider voting for me!

Last weekend the poll was closed. My book and one other book were finalists. The final runoff poll started this past Tuesday and lasted until Saturday two days ago. I prayed that whichever book was chosen, God's Kingdom would be advanced.

I am pleased, humbled, and excited to announce that I WON!

Many of you voted for me, and I just want to say thank you, thank you! You allowed me to have an amazing opportunity. I so appreciate your confidence and help in this whole process, and I won't forget it.

So, this is where the rubber meets the road. I pray that Lever hits its marks during the month of March. I am eager to hear feedback, have the book touch hearts, and basically have it become a little better known. This is a big club of about 728 members, so the possibilities could potentially snowball.


The goal of marketing, as well as I have been able to understand it, is to get that wonderful *Word of Mouth* (WOM) phenomenon where *everyone* seems to be buzzing about your product, whatever it may be. There are some books written about this, such as Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and many others. I've flipped through some of these books; they have common sense observations, but nothing that you probably couldn't figure out on your own. This is my own opinion, for whatever it's worth.

This WOM comes about serendipitously, through a lucky confluence of a number of factors. Even so, there are a few things that increase the chances. The first and most important factor is that you must have a top-notch product. If it's not good, even if you ignite the sparks they will not be able to catch: Witness certain well-known figures getting a massive book advance, and the resounding flop of the book sales. All the advertising in the world can't prop up a bad book.

The next thing is that you must show up. You must tirelessly work to get your book's name out there, in as many venues as possible.

My last entry finished with my sending out a bunch of books cold to review sites. In general I don't do cold applications, but some of these places especially the big ones don't consider books any other way. For my After-Action Report on this aspect, I think I'd only consider sending books to the big-three sites (Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal) on the off-chance that they might take a look since it would be such a coup if they did, but then again maybe not even these. Although many of the books I'd read highly recommended this maneuver, for me cold reviews were a disappointing flop. And FYI, I plan to resend to Midwest Book Reviews cold (because, after all, they did write to me), but that's it.

There were other major groups that I sent books out to: invited book reviews, influencers, contests, and potential marketing groups, to name a few. And notice that I sent out A LOT of books. This is critical to start getting your book's name out there. Insist that your publisher do this, or (better, because you know it'll get done) that you have the capacity to do this adequately. I was fortunate because the money I made from the Curves signing after tithing was just enough to pay for these extra books. Also, when I ordered the books, an extra box of 22 books was delivered with the order. I called and no one knew anything about it -- they were just there. Do you see what I mean when I say I sense God's hand in all this?

I have a secret weapon to help get the word out for my book. This single thing is as close to a magic bullet as I've been able to find. I've been using it for three years, I'm STILL using it, and I expect to use it for a long time to come. It's amazingly helpful even if you don't have a book out yet but are still writing.

Are you ready?

If you have a Christian world view, this is your ticket: The American Christian Fiction Writers' Organization (website HERE).

This is an organization of over a thousand writers, ranging from newbies to multipublished authors, plus editors and agents. They have many resources including critique groups, regional meetings, and several very active loops that pass on amazing bits of information. I have made a number of friendships here, including many of you reading this blog. I can ask questions, I can help other people with their questions, I can learn, I can find helpful websites, I can enter contests, and on and on. Joining is $50 the first year and $40 each year thereafter. For me it's been well worth it. For what it's worth, I'd suggest you get single emails rather than digest, and also you get a separate email address so your other correspondences don't get snowed under.

'Nuff said.

Is this marketing getting boring yet? Tomorrow I'll cover more of the groups that I sent to, but if you'd rather I can go back to other subjects. Let me know if you can't stand this!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I am so thankful for the men and women who put their lives, health, and families on the line to defend our country and to advance freedom in other countries. Since it's Saturday, when I sometimes highlight a helpful website, I wanted to review an organization that allows civilians to support military personnel in the field.

Here's the description of from the front page of the website:

Sergeant Brian Horn from LaPlata, Maryland, an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade was in the Kirkuk area of Iraq when he started the idea of Any Soldier® to help care for his soldiers. He agreed to distribute packages that came to him with "Attn: Any Soldier®" in his address to soldiers who didn't get mail.

Brian later completed a tour in Afghanistan and is now home, and his sister, SPC Svetlana Horn, recently completed a tour in Iraq, but continues larger than ever.

Any Soldier Inc. started in August 2003 as a simple family effort to help the soldiers in one Army unit; thus, our name. Due to overwhelming requests, on 1 January 2004 the Any Soldier® effort was expanded to include any member of the Armed Forces in harm's way.

How this works:

We have volunteer Soldier "contacts" on the "Where to Send" page. Click through the names and select the one(s) you wish to support. They list what the folks they represent want and need. We even have a search capability so you can easily identify what the troops need most.

All the Soldiers involved in this effort are military volunteers stationed in areas that are in harm's way. You send your support (letters and/or packages) addressed to them and when they see the "Attn: Any Soldier®" line in their address they put your letters and packages into the hands of Soldiers who don't get much or any mail first. Everything is shared.

We have "What to Send", "How to Send" and "FAQ" pages to help you properly send letters and packages, please read these. Be sure to also read our "New & Stuff" and "Success Stories" pages. This effort is 110% voluntary. You send your support, and maybe some stuff, directly to whatever unit or units you want, you don't send us anything.

This organization works with individuals or groups such as Boy Scouts, churches, or community outreach. Take a look! The link is HERE.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Marketing, Part 3

Yesterday's entry finished with an amazing book signing at Curves that ended up lasting all August and into September. However, fun and games were over. It was August and my book would be released in January, giving me five months to get ready.

Almost immediately I found an oversight. Through studying Dan Poynter's website HERE, I learned that an important and often overlooked market are Public Libraries. For this market it's important to have a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). Since the book hadn't been released yet, I decided to apply for a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) HERE. Books also need cataloguing in publication (CIP) data, rotsa ruck for me since the Library of Congress only generates this data for big publishers. But wait! Dan Poynter said that books can also have publisher-generated CIP data! There are other sites, but I hired a librarian with lots of experience and reasonable prices ($50) HERE. She gave me a fast turnaround also, a few days. Since the ARCs were printed using POD technology, the LCCN and publisher's CIP data could be added to the ARCs easily by uploading an updated PDF of the interior. Zip zip, and I was ready.

Publishers normally build about a 6 month pre-pub time interval into their book schedule in order to get reviews and endorsements . So, since it was up to me, I started searching for book review sites on the internet, listed from other books, etc. I decided to try for a few biggies like Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal. These are highly respected journals that I didn't have a snowball's chance of making, but what the heck. I also googled *book review sites* and listed many possibles, including Midwest Book Review that is a prestigious review site that favors small press reviews. Then, I started sending out books cold, maybe about 25. The results of almost all of these packages felt like the sound of one hand clapping. I did get my self-addressed stamped postcard returned from the religious editor of Publisher's Weekly with a kind turndown -- I think she could tell I was a newbie without a clue. Midwest Book Review told me my book arrived safely, but unfortunately they reviewed the released book, not an ARC, so I should resubmit when I was ready. Just last week I heard from *At Home with Christian Fiction* that they would post a review (I'll put it on my list on the side of this blog when it's up), but that's it as far as I'm aware.

I had another problem come from these cold review copies that I hadn't anticipated: once my book was listed on amazon, I immediately found my book being sold from people who had accounts with amazon (the amazon stores). Well, guess how they got their hands on it? Right! Oh well, you can't worry about this, although I was extremely annoyed when I first saw it.

I sent lots of books out between August through October, but then I stopped. Basically, most of the review sites want to receive the ARC about sixteen weeks, plus or minus, before the release date, so once October hit it didn't make sense to send more out to these cold sites.

But, there were other places I was sending my book besides cold review sites...

To be continued.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Next Installation for Marketing

OK, I wanted to tell you a little more about what I've been doing to get the word out.

I should have mentioned this yesterday, but before you start marketing, really before you start writing your book, you need to come up with a good 15 to 25 word sentence that describes your book. Polish this until it shines, and then whenever asks you what your book is about, you just say "It's-about-a-small-military-team-that-travels-back-in-time-to-film-the-theft-of-Jesus'-body-from-the-tomb," or whatever your personal zinger happens to be. Trust me on this one.

We ended yesterday's blog entry right after my writer's conference, that took place a week after my ARCs had arrived. A few days later, I had a booksigning (!). I recognized at the time that maybe I should wait, but heck, can you blame me? The person who hosted the booksigning, Tammy, was so anxious to do this for me, and I couldn't resist.

This was so exciting. Tammy runs about the *best* Curves affiliate in the country. It is so fun for all the ladies to chat (or not) as we go around the circuit, and no one cares one whit how droopy the hair or baggy the workout clothes are. The comraderie is wonderful and fluid as different combinations of people show up every day. Tammy runs many fund-raising events, especially for the American Cancer Society, and fun in-house competitions, prize drawings, jewelry making, and so forth. So of course she wanted to have a book signing for me :-)

I got back from the conference on Sunday, and Monday was my book signing. It was advertised for about a week beforehand, and at 8 o'clock I showed up, books and a plate of cookies in hand. About three hours later I'd sold close to thirty books. As the Curves ladies read the book and talked about it, more ladies bought books over the next month or so, and I ended up selling a total of about 80 books! Wow. This money was first fruits, and it was very exciting. I bought Tammy a nice bottle of wine, and wrote a big thank you note to all the ladies.

What a lovely start! But now, I had to hunker down and use this prepub time to best advantage...

I will continue tomorrow. In the meantime, again, if you want to consider voting in the ACFW book club please do! The link is HERE. I've summarized both books HERE and pray whichever book is selected, Lever or Gallimore, God's kingdom will be advanced. I'm OK either way. Still I can't help admitting I'd like to win :-)

Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Here We Go!

Just think, if you're reading this blog, you have a ringside seat to the marketing strategies of the first book of a new, unknown author. I'm making my marketing strategies up as I go along, but I've read a lot about this and am happy to let you know of my errors and good choices as things progress. Also, please feel free to write to me if you have any specific questions. Since I have a new independent publisher (read: approximately zero marketing dollars or industry connections), I'm basically doing all my own marketing tout-seul from scratch.

Some authors may think that marketing is *beneath them;* they want to just write in their garret, but IMHO (in my humble opinion) if no one knows about your book you could have written the next Great American Novel, and it would not get into anyone's hands. Maybe your heirs searching through your old desk drawer will find your manuscript in 50 years and be amazed.

Marketing is an intensive enterprise without magic bullets. It's like picking up grains of sand: each humble opportunity is important. I have a little *Marketing* section on the side of this blog, so scroll down for a few tips. Let me tell you what I've done so far:

Most frustrating for me, I've had to put further work on two half-finished manuscripts on hold (my novel Nest Among the Stars, and my nonfiction book The Story Template) because between marketing and family obligations, I don't have the energy to write as well. I probably could if I really really tried, but for me to write I have to go into a well, and I'm interrupted so much it's hard to get the start-up energy. Right now I'm barely keeping my head above water as it is.

Let me say for this next section that I'm normally a shy person, although I've learned a strategy to overcome this: basically, I pretend I'm someone else. It works!

The box with ARCs (advance reader copies) arrived on my doorstep at the very end of July 2008, delivery squeaking just in time to take copies with me to a writer's conference in August. I pushed my book quietly but shamelessly: I put it on my desk for each lecture and I recruited whoever I could to also visibly carry it around. At meals or other socializing times, when people asked what I wrote, I told them and showed them the book. I collected and passed out business cards, and followed up after the conference. I was fortunate enough as a new published author to participate in a panel, so got to talk about my book to a full auditorium. I promoted a contest for book reviews -- you can see the results by scrolling down the right-hand panel of this blog. Carmen Leal, who did a series of workshops on Marketing, saw my book on the desk, held it up, and told the class that she'd seen several people reading this book with great interest (God bless her!) I also approached several faculty -- authors, blog reviewers, and such -- and asked them if they'd consider endorsing the book if they liked it. If they said yes they'd consider it, I autographed and handed them a copy. At the end of the conference I had sold 15 ARCs from the consignment table, and was told this was a VERY good showing for fiction by a new author, especially since money was tight and the table was full of how-to titles and works by well-known authors. I was happy.

OK, this blog entry is getting too long so I'll continue tomorrow. Let me finish with a quick piece of news:


The ACFW Book Club Poll to select March's discussion book is now on until Saturday 1/17. This is a run-off vote between Michelle Griep's Gallimore and my A Lever Long Enough; I've posted descriptions of both books under yesterday's blog entry *Ohhh Nooo* These two books were selected from a previous poll last week of seven books under consideration.

If you think my book is worthwhile and would consider voting for me in this poll, I'd be very grateful. Michelle and I have had a brief correspondence and we're both on good terms no matter who wins. I am praying that either selection advances God's kingdom, but even so have to admit I'd like to win because this is a great opportunity. So.

To vote, go to this link HERE. The banner shows *1 Poll Closing* which is the one of interest, or you can go to the navigation menu on the left top of the screen and hit *Polls.* The poll to vote in is the second one down the page, and is labeled *Runoff.* (be careful because the original poll with 7 titles didn't close -- don't vote here by mistake!)

If you are not a member of the ACFW Book Club, you can join by going to the link (HERE it is again), and hitting the *Join* button on the top right hand side of the screen. It is a free group, a loop with emails that you can receive either singly or in a digest once a day. You can quit any time you want to, although hopefully it will be interesting to you in its own right! NOTE: If you're a member of the main ACFW loop, you don't automatically become a member of this loop: they are separate, so you have to join. It takes less than a minute.

I can't know who votes or not, so if you don't want to for whatever reason don't worry! Thank you for considering my request.

Quiet but shameless?

That's all for today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How Overwhelming and Lovely

This weekend was a scorcher.

My kids both have elaborate science fair projects that are due this week. I stayed up until 2 am on Sunday night helping my daughter -- and let me tell you, I am often unconscious at 10:30 and sing before the birds in the morning. My daughter had a beautiful poster and paper to turn in yesterday -- now it's time for my boy, his stuff due on Thursday.

Not only this, but I found out serendipitously on Friday afternoon that my book was one of a few being considered for the ACFW book club for the month of March, and the voting period was almost finished, due to close on Sunday.

As a new author, I recognized that being selected would be a great opportunity. I scooted over to check the voting: Of 7 books, mine was in clear second place with 10 votes, and the front-runner had 21 votes.

I thought and prayed about this, and after consideration decided that it wouldn't be wrong to ask people who were familiar with my book and were likely members of this book club loop to consider voting for it -- I would never know either way, so they could certainly make a free decision. Then, I listed all the people I've met and corresponded with.

As I went through this list to determine who might fit both of my criteria, I felt so blessed to think about each individual. Most of you, my friends, I've met within the past half-year through a conference from this summer, my blog site, and/or on the ACFW loop. How wonderful and special each one of you is! I smiled thinking about so-and-so's rambunctious children, whispered a prayer for someone else who I knew was going through a hard time, thought about someone who loves the Dallas Cowboys, puzzled again for a moment about a particular plot snafu someone else had asked me about. My emails were short and to the point -- just, help! -- but I smiled as I saw each name, and wondered how each of you was doing.

My inbox overfloweth with wonderful notes back to me. I want to answer each one as soon as I can, although unfortunately with normal life stuff, school projects (history day is coming up in a very few weeks!) and other book-launch duties (a bunch of blog interviews due this week) it may take a few days. It doesn't mean I'm not grateful or thinking of you, just that I can barely breathe right now.

I felt just the barest whisper of heaven with so many people sending such good wishes :-) I happened to be the recipient this time, but I can't help thinking all of you would jump in for any one of us. I look forward to knowing all of you, and a so-dear friend I've lost, better in heaven.

Now, the results: Monday morning I checked the poll. It still didn't seem to be closed, so I don't know what's going on with that, but the final tally is: my book 24, the former front-runner 21. Thank you so so much! I'll certainly let you know as things progress on this front :-)

My book and all things I yield to the Lord.


new info -- see next post

Ohhh Nooo

It's Monday night as I write this; I usually post my entries early and schedule them to publish in the morning.


Apparently the ACFW Book Club will have a runoff between the two highest vote-getters for the March discussion, so another poll is going to take place soon. I will give a heads-up when the poll is live. The good news is that the books seem very different, so there will be a clear choice. God is Lord, so whatever He decides is fine.

If you are not a member of the book club and would like to join, the link is HERE. The join button is on the right top side of the screen. It is a free group, and if you don't like it you can leave at any time.

Here are the summaries of the two books:

Gallimore by Michelle Griep

GALLIMORE (Black Lyon Publishing 2008) Jessica Neale turns her back on everyone the day her husband dies. After conceding to a vacation in England, a bizarre storm and near-fatal accident alters her reality, and she finds herself in the past. When confronted by a knight bearing the mirror-image of her apathetic heart, it's a rude awakening to what she's allowed herself to become.

Colwyn Haukswyrth, as cold and unfeeling as the armor he wears, is a knight who has one focus in life-himself. The product of a family rooted in hatred and greed, he never understood the significance of forgiveness. Until he meets Jessica Neale. More vexing and irksome than any wench he's ever encountered, this provoking bit of a woman teaches him what genuine love is&hellip a lesson he'll take with him to the grave.

A Lever Long Enough by Amy Deardon

In the near future, the Israeli military has developed a prototypic time machine. When believers in Yeshua (Jesus) create a politically explosive situation that threatens the balance of peace between Israel and nearby countries, the Israelis must send a team of four elite soldiers back to film the theft of Jesus’ body from the tomb and thus disprove Christianity. The team, consisting of a Special Forces soldier as leader (Benjamin), an ex-American astronaut as engineering specialist (Sara), an archaeologist, and a linguist, has exactly seventy-two hours to collect the video evidence. Drawn into a web of first century deception and death, the only way to escape is for the team to change the past.

In the present, a traitor, Gideon, attempts to sabotage the mission and seize control of the military complex. Benjamin is the only one who can reveal him, but he is trapped two thousand years away. Even with a time machine, time is running out…


OK, so that's it. Have a great day!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hard Landings

You may have already seen these, but they are darn impressive! Just ponder on your next commute home :-)

Tioman Island, off the coast of Malaysia

Wake Island, Pacific Ocean

Macao International Airport

Kuujjuaraapik , Quebec

A rock off the coast of Greenwood (Canadian Military Labrador Helicopter)

This photo was taken by a soldier in Afghanistan of a helo rescue mission who landed the back half on the roof top of a shack, on a steep mountain cliff, and held it there while soldiers loaded wounded men. The pilot is a PA National Guard guy who flies EMS choppers in civilian life.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Opportunities for a New Blog: Writer to Reader

Hi Everyone --

My friend Peg is launching a new blog. Here is her announcement -- and if you want to get in touch with her the email is: mairead @

OK, Here 'tis. Have a great weekend.


Peg writes:

I am launching a new blog for the benefit of both writers and readers. The blog is called "Writer to Reader" and will be a springboard to bring writers and readers together in an interactive way, in one location. Writer to Reader will cover both fiction and non-fiction, and will be a Monday – Friday publication, more like a newsletter in a blog format, subscription through Feedblitz or RSS.

The object is to help writers connect with readers and to drive traffic to your websites and blogs as well as the Writer to Reader blog. It's a win-win opportunity for everyone.

Some of the blogs features are (but not limited to):*

Book Reviews
Author Interviews
Author Showcase
Guest Bloggers
Blog Tours
New Releases/Press Releases
Market News/Writing Opportunities
Contests and Giveaways
Announcements: book signings, speaking appearances, etc.
"Pit Stops" – funny stories from the publishing world and the writing journey

(*Not all of these will appear every day. There will be a variety to make a good mix, depending on what is submitted.)

So, what I'm looking for are folks to fill these slots. Regular contributors will be given a user account and can post directly to the blog. Do you do book reviews? I want to hear from you. The reviews may appear either in full on Writer to Reader, or, if you prefer, you can submit a short introduction and a link to your blog and/or website where the review appears.

Authors who wish to participate will be allowed to promote their books and appearances and any other information of interest to readers, pictures and links included. Are you "touring" a book? Announce it on Writer to Reader. Have you won an award, received special recognition? Send it.

Got your first contract? Signed a new book deal? Found an agent? Writer to Reader wants to know.

Publishers who would like to showcase their authors are free to send press releases and any other information to be included. These could be just a brief introduction and a link to "read more" at the publishers' site. Both publishers and authors are also free to offer their books in giveaways if so desired. You would set the terms and conditions for winning.

Bloggers, are you holding book giveaways? Send Writer to Reader the books list and time-frames along with the link to your blog. Do you feature interviews and reviews on your blog and/or website? Feel free to send those notices to Writer to Reader with a brief line and a link to YOUR blog. You data will not appear on Writer to Reader . . . just the blog name, the "blurb" and the link. The purpose here is to drive more traffic to your blog and/or website. All Writer to Reader asks is a reciprocal link. This way we all win.

Readers will be encouraged to post questions or start a discussion in the comment section of each blog posting.

"Pit Stops" will be a humorous column about the odd, weird, surprising and funny things that happen along the publishing highway. We'd love contributions from authors, publishers, agents, and PR folks. Even readers may have something to share along these lines.

Writer to Reader is set to launch on Monday, January 12, 2009. Writer to Reader will be registered with Technorati and other blog search engines to help with the circulation and traffic for all of us. For a sneak peek at this new blog just go to:

So, if you have any questions, or have anything you'd like to send to be included in the debut of this new blog, please send it to:

Permission granted to share this with others you think might be interested as long as the entire post is sent intact.



Friday, January 9, 2009

All the Good Things

I was trolling for an interesting story, and found this one here. Snopes certified this as verified. The point is something I really believe: we don't know how our actions, good or bad, can affect people. Remember always to encourage, to be kind to the people around you. And teachers and parents, remember that you hold such great power in your hands.


He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. [He was] very neat in appearance but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischieviousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for bisbehaving: "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I looked at him and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!"

It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."

At the end of the year I was asked to teach junion high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third.

One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves -- and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each students on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?
I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much!" No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip -- the weather, my experiences in general. There was a light lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?"

My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. "The Eklunds called last night," he began.

"Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is."

Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me. The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water.

I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

"Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."

Mark's classmates started to gather around us.

Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."

Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put this in our wekking album."

"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary."

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said, without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists."

That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

By: Sister Helen P. Mrosla

Here's the Snopes commentary:

Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, submitted "All the Good Things" to Proteus, A Journal of Ideas in 1991. Her article also appeared in Reader's Digest that same year, was reprinted in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 1993, and was offered yet again in 1996's Stories for the Heart.

Sister Mrosla first met Mark Eklund in her third-grade classroom at St. Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota, in 1959, and she encountered him again in 1965 when she served as his junion high math teacher. In April 1971, Mark was sent to Vietnam as assigned to the 585th Transportation Company in Phu Bai where he worked in a truck parts depot, and he kept in touch with his family and friends (including Sister Mrosla) through letters. In August 1971, as she was returning from a vacation, Sister Mrosla learned of Mark's death from her parents. (Although he died in Vietnam, Mark Eklund was not killed in combat -- he died in his sleep of a pulmonary and cerebral edema).

Sister Mrosla corresponded with Mark throughout his tour. He told her about nightmares and listening to a firefight while lying in his bunk. She told him stories about her classroom, and that she was praying for him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Amy's Excellent Book Adventures -- Update

Hi Everyone! Just wanted to let you know, my book, A Lever Long Enough, is now available for general purchase. You can buy it on amazon here. You can buy personally autographed copies for no extra cost at the publisher site here.

If you've read Lever and honestly feel you could give it a four or FIVE star review on amazon, would you consider doing so? And for all those who have already written a review, thank you so much! Thank you to all of you, my friends, who have been so kind over the past months.

I've been a bit out of the loop lately but hope to reengage soon, once Lever can be set aside to sink or swim on its own. I'll be posting links to blog reviews etc. -- will be participating in several interviews, and a blog tour February 12.

Have a great day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Shape of the Story

My daughter has been learning about Joseph Campbell's *The Hero's Journey* and *The Monomyth* in her classroom, and I've been enjoying reading her notes over her shoulder.

Let me preface my commentary this morning by saying that I think Campbell was quite insightful to have extricated a generalized structure out of myth, and his work was groundbreaking. The rumor is that George Lucas wrote Star Wars with his notepad in one hand and Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces in the other. Campbell certainly discovered a deep truth about story.

Still, I'm struck by just how clunky his *set of rules* is. For a lengthy homework assignment my daughter recently had to fit an already-produced story into the *Monomyth* model. She chose Ironman, one of my current favorites, a beautifully done film that is as classically structured as a fairy tale. And with this just-about-perfectly-structured movie, with the midpoint falling right at the 51 through 54% mark (you can't get much better than that!), she still had to do a little shoe-horning in order to make this movie fit into the following 17 (!) stages:

1. The Call to Adventure
2. Refusal of the Call
3. Supernatural Aid
4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
5. Belly of The Whale
6. The Road of Trials
7. Mother as Goddess
8. Woman as Temptress
9. Atonement with the Father
10. Apotheosis
11. The Ultimate Boon
12. Refusal of the Return
13. The Magic Flight
14. Rescue from Without
15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
16. Master of Two Worlds
17. Freedom to Live

It made me realize why people don't tend to use Campbell's story structure anymore. A common complaint with this model, related to the fact that it IS so rigid, is that the stories produced tend to all look the same. It gets boring after awhile.

I've also studied story structure, but I see story as a fluid thing, not hammered down by any stereotyped *stages* as Campbell does. The posts that I've identified -- such as the inciting incident or the midpoint -- do not have a particular shape, so much as they guide the story to move in a certain direction. Does this make sense? If I draw the analogy of a stream, Campbell places specifically shaped rocks along the path of the water. I'm looking, instead, at the direction the water flows. The event doesn't matter for itself, but rather with how it guides the story. The flow of the story, I've found, is remarkably similar, but the events are infinitely varied.

Very cool stuff, IMHO. Every storyteller has a unique voice and vision that cannot be duplicated. The storyteller must imagine the events truly, as he or she sees them, and not force them into a box. Dear reader, learn from writing models, experiment with them, but don't slavishly follow them. Trust yourself. Believe in your vision, and then just write.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jett Travolta

I was saddened to hear Friday's news that John Travolta's and Kelly Preston's 16 year old son died unexpectedly on New Year's Day.

I haven't particularly followed John Travolta's career, and was only vaguely aware that he even had a son until this happened. (He and his wife also have an 8 year old daughter, Ella). Because John Travolta is in a sense familiar to me, the news of this tragedy is striking, although really any 16 year old dying is a tragedy no matter how you slice it. There are many questions and details (that frankly are none of the public's business, and hopefully will not be released), but to me it's just sad.

Losing a dear person rips your heart out, whether you're famous and on top of the world or a nobody. The bleeding doesn't stop. There is nothing to say -- it just seems unbearable, and yet you must go on.

We live and breathe in this world, and it seems like nothing will change, that it will go on forever, but the reality is that there is nothing solid in this life. We all die. And then?

My deepest condolences go to John, Kelly, and Ella, and the family and friends of Jett. May Jett rest in peace.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Our month of *January* is named after the Roman god, Janus. Janus was the keeper of gates, doors, doorways, and beginnings and endings. He was often worshipped at starting events such as the harvest, planting, marriages, births; and transitional life events such as when a boy was now recognized as a man. A common myth told of Janus causing a hot spring to erupt, thereby foiling an attack against Rome.

Janus is shown as having two faces, one looking forward and one looking backwards. I can't think of a better picture for what we call *ambivalence.* defines ambivalence thus: uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things. Ambivalence comes from the Latin *ambi* meaning *both*, and *valentia* meaning *strength.*

I think ambivalence is a part of being human in a fallen world, and probably most decisions in life incorporate some degree of ambivalence. Even something as normal as eating breakfast can reflect uncertainty: should I eat the egg or the waffle? (or both?) Or just drink orange juice, or go without... I'm hungry, but I want to lose five pounds by summer...

But have you ever been gripped by a strong ambivalence? Something that is a constant fight within you, that doesn't stop? I imagine that all of us have at least one axis somewhere within our psyche that could make us vulnerable to a frozen ambivalence. What college shall I go to? Should I keep this job, or take that one? Should I marry her?

Should I? Can I? May I?

How horrible this is. I've often wondered if this is why people are so drawn to rules in all areas of life, so that these nagging doubts won't come to visit.

Ambivalence comes in different flavors: intellectual, emotional, moral; and many gradations in between. James 1:8 says *A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.* (AKJV) Yes, this ambivalence, no matter the root, is destabilizing.

It's important to know, really know, your values and goals in life so that when you are faced with these choices, you have a better sense of how to decide. Sometimes, though, life throws you a curve ball, and it's hard to know what to do or how to handle a problem. And then, what?

You will not always know the answer. Or maybe, you know the answer, but can't quite make the final step. Sometimes you hang on: you're too drawn even though you know you should move on.

Immobile, unable to go forward, unable to turn back. Just like Janus.

The solution? First, trust. Trust that God will redeem things, somehow, some way. Then, do the right thing, or the best thing within your power to know.

Being human in this fallen world is hard. I think of the film March of the Penguins, with the Antarctic penguins huddled in a circle through a windstorm with -60 degree temperatures and a four month night. I wonder if the angels look at us humans in this world like this: we don't even know how bad it is. We are battered by ambivalence, despite all of our effort to keep it at bay.

I believe though that God values our good choices, and He will make it right, if not in this world, then in the world to come. Sometimes, that is the best that can be said for a bad situation.

What think you, my friends?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Crazy English

I found this one on a website here. It's pretty cute, demonstrating the funny inconsistencies of the English language.


Crazy English

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

12. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

13. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

14. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

15. They were too close to the door to close it.

16. The buck does funny things when the does are present.

17. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

18. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

19. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

20. After a number of injections my jaw got number.

21. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Time Solid

I love to ponder the nature of time. The only thing I'm sure of is that we humans don't perceive it as it actually is. So what might it be like? Hmm. I have two favorite analogies: the time solid, and paint. I'm not saying these analogies are correct, or even mathematically consistent, just that they feel to me like they could very well be correct. And since it's my blog, I get to write about what I want to :-)

The first analogy, the time solid, I used to invent a mechanism for time travel in my novel, A Lever Long Enough. My analogy comes from Edwin Abbott's often-reprinted 1880 classic, Flatland. This is a terrific and readable book whose ideas on dimensions have stayed with me since I was a kid.

Taking a direct application from Flatland, imagine that you are a two-dimensional figure living on a plane (visualize that you are a square sketched on a piece of paper). Now imagine that your plane passes through a cube, point first. You’d see a triangle drawn on the paper that grows larger, then smaller again, then disappears. You’ve observed sequential slices of the same object over time, like a movie. As a two-dimensional being you wouldn’t be able to imagine what a three-dimensional constant object might look like, or that what you've just seen is qualitatively more of a square than you are. How could sequential views of a triangle even be a square? Similarly, if there is an arched shape that passes through your plane, you'd see two dots. If you push one dot, the other dot also moves and you can infer they are related although you confirm no physical connection between the two dots. Mr. Cube, though, easily understands this physical linkage.

Although our bodies exist in three dimensions, I imagine in my novel that time is a greater-than-three-dimensional constant solid object that we can only experience one slice at a time. My time machine is able to somehow “turn” the time solid so that one of the physical components becomes the cross-section while time is expanded into a full dimension. With this circumstance, an object can travel through seconds or years by being thrown into the time solid or pulled out of it.

The time solid is obviously an extreme oversimplification of what time might be like, and raises all sorts of metaphysical questions such as the existence of free will versus predestination. No, I won't go there today.

The time solid theory also doesn't take into account that time, in its true form, lacks "edges." What are edges? This is a sense, something I believe but it's hard to articulate. It's like explaining what the color "red" looks like. But let me try.

OK. Everything in this world has a beginning, and an end -- everything is "more than" or "less than" something else. There are no absolutes, since things don't exist in isolation, but only in relation to each other. It's hard for us to imagine, say, infinity of distance or size, because we have to start somewhere and continuously calculate "where we are now" compared to "where we were." These are edges. But time, I believe, is limitless and uncompared to other things, even itself. Time isn't linear; it only seems so to us because of our three dimensional limits. I believe that our bodies on this Earth are filters, interfaces, that allow our spiritual soul or spirit to interact with a three dimensional world. While we are attached to these bodies, we are unable to comprehend transcendent concepts, such as time.

Time may also be more than just one extra dimension that we see in cross-section. Lisa Randall, in her book Warped Passages, postulates eleven dimensions interconnected through the ubiquitous pull of gravity. I'm not even going to start on this concept, except to say that I'm not the only one who has strange imaginings!

OK, I think that's enough for today. Are you confused yet? My dear friends, please forgive me for rambling. In a near-future entry I'll explain why time is like paint :-)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Happy 2009, everyone.


Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6


Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)


"For I know the plans I have for you,"
declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)


Here's to a new year, full of hope and promise!