The Tassie Story

After my last post, I was asked if my upcoming trip to Tasmania will be for a writers conference, to visit a fellow writer, or what. The short answer: To visit a fellow writer. But that’s not quite accurate. So in this post, I’ll answer a bit more completely.

How many years has it been since I was the contest coordinator for the Novel Rocket blog? I don’t remember, exactly, but that’s where this story starts. I believe it was the third year of Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad contest that we added a nonfiction category, by way of experiment. We didn’t have many entries, and we never included nonfiction again. We only tried it out the one year.

One of the submissions in that category was not as polished as some, but the content was amazing, the sort of thing that makes you literally sit up and take notice, gasping, “Oh, my!” The writer’s story was riveting and had a broad appeal—which makes it marketable. I was one of the two judges, and neither of us had any doubt which of the entries should be the winner.

As contest coordinator, I contacted the contest participants to let them know if they won and to give them the judges’ critiques. When I contacted the winner of our nonfiction category, I told her that both judges thought the book had wonderful potential but was a little rough, and I recommended she try to find an editor or someone knowledgeable who could help her smooth it out.

She responded that she would love to do that, but didn’t really know anyone. However, she particularly liked the critique by one of the contest judges, and she asked if I would inquire if that judge would be interested in working with her.

That judge just happened to be me, and so I answered yes. I’d love to help you with this book!

And speaking of “just happened,” let me tell you about how she “just happened” to enter the contest in the first place:

She is the first to tell you, she is not a writer, but for quite some time, the Lord had been compelling her to write about her experiences. Originally it was all in journal form, but eventually she began to compile some of her journal entries into a book. It was a struggle for her, though, and she sought help along the way.

At one time she had contacted a writer in the US, but nothing had been decided between them as to whether or not, or how, they would work together on the project. She tells me that one evening, feeling compelled to get moving on it, she tried to find this writer’s email address but couldn’t locate it, so she did an online search for her.

Among the search results was an interview this writer had done on the Novel Rocket blog. My friend read the post but didn’t see anything there about how to contact her (which is surprising, because the Novel Rocket guests always provided that kind of information), and was just about to leave the page when the Contest tab at the top caught her eye.

Contest? What kind of contest? She clicked on it. Oh, look, there’s a nonfiction category! Let me see if I qualify. Oh, yes, my book sounds like just what they’re looking for. Now, how do I enter? Hmmm… Oh, my! The submission deadline is midnight tomorrow! So she hurried up and submitted her entry.

And that’s how this dear lady Down Under “just happened” to meet up with little old me on the other side of the planet. In the several years since all that transpired, we’ve been in frequent contact, both through emails and Skype. We’ve often talked about getting together in person, and now at last, everything’s coming together for that to happen.

And, in case you wondered, we’re still working on that book of hers. At a writer’s conference last summer, I spoke with some editors and agents about it, and they all suggested that it might be too short. Why? Because from a publisher’s point of view, it costs as much to produce a short book as it does a long one. You’ve got to pay editors, designers and formatters, etc., and you have all the same overhead as you do for a larger book. Yes, there’s a little less paper and ink in a short book, but overall, the costs amount to almost the same. However, consumers don’t like to pay the same amount for a skinny book as a thicker one. If a publisher prices a short book lower, they’ll lose money even if it sells; but if they price it higher, people won’t buy it. So publishers tend to be leery of contracting for short books.

When I told my friend that, she said she could easily expand it. And that’s what she’s been working on since then. I haven’t seen any of the additions yet, but our plan is get it all put together, polished up, and ready to publish—which I will then undertake to do on her behalf.

But that’s another story. For today, I just wanted to answer the question as to who I’ll be visiting.

So now you know!

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An Interesting Morning: The Short of It

file7811297827424I sometimes joke that I write novels because I’m too long-winded for short stories. I joke, but there’s a good bit of truth to it. I tend to ramble.

As I mentioned in a post back in February of 2013, I knowingly committed TMI while drafting The Last Toqeph, the fourth book in the Gannah series. Now, I’m trying to clean up the mess. After making substantial cuts (twice), I recently started at the beginning again to take another look, and–gracious! Every place I look I see redundancies, unnecessary explanations, and actions that add nothing but clutter.

To avoid that problem here, I’ll give you a succinct overview of my interesting morning.

I’ve been doing some guest spots on blogs lately in an attempt to get the word out about the release of Ransom in the Rock. On The Borrowed Book, we feature a different writer each week, and this time, it’s my turn. You can see my blabbering on Tuesday (when I talk about creating characters) as well as today (discussing my authorial so-called career).

But I’d thought I was also going to be interviewed on Novel Rocket today. When I sent in the interview, I thought it would be fun to refer readers here to Y’s Words for a three-day book giveaway campaign. So, thinking myself rather clever, as I prepared my Novel Rocket interview, I also scheduled three Y’s Words posts–one each for today, tomorrow, and Saturday–to correspond with it.

If you followed the link above to my spot today on The Borrowed Book and read my confession there, you know my usual morning routine. (If you didn’t read it, why not? Get over there and do it! Right now!) This morning when I got on my computer, I went over to The Borrowed Book to see my post there and pick up the link for tweeting, etc. But, wawk! It wasn’t up yet!

No big deal, it’s still early, I comforted myself. I’ll go over to Novel Rocket instead. But, wawk! Today’s post was up, but it wasn’t my interview; it was something else entirely. Well, the giveaway campaign on Y’s Words will be up and running, because I scheduled it myself. So I hopped over here. WAWK! All I saw was the same old “Rainy Day” post that’s been moping there since May 29.

By this time I was wawking like a flustered chicken. I knew I scheduled the first post about the giveaway to go live at 5 am this morning. I was positive. So I went to the Dashboard and took a look. I wasn’t crazy; it said it was scheduled for 5 am on June 12, 2014. Okay, it’s June 12, and it’s after 7:30 am. So where’s my post?!

Oh, wait… I was going to keep this short, wasn’t I? PSYCHE! (I can’t believe you fell for that. You’re so gullible.)

But I’ll skip the rest of the details and get to the end quickly. The Borrowed Book post did, in fact, go live shortly after I checked the first time; all’s well there.

And, I was mistaken about my Novel Rocket interview going up today. The actual date is next Monday, June 16. So, thankful my post here didn’t go live today as I’d planned, I rescheduled the three-day giveaway campaign for June 16 -18.

Fly through the Gateway to Gannah for some serious sci-fi adventure!
Fly through the Gateway to Gannah for some serious sci-fi adventure!

Moreover, I realized I do, in fact, have another guest post up. Just not at Novel Rocket. It’s a devotional, not an interview, and it’s on Kimberly Rose Johnson’s blog. So while you’re at it, hop on over there and take a look at that one. You’ve got nothing else to do, right?

And come back Monday, when (with any luck) you’ll be able to enter to win a free trip to Gannah.


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Thursday’s Thoughts: Maturity

I once read that in the wild, wolf puppies bark like domestic dogs, but an adult wolf doesn’t bark. That is, in wolfdom, barking is a sign of immaturity.

A person could do a lot with that thought.

One might, for instance, compare domestic dogs to the welfare culture. Because they’re dependent on people for their survival, they never grow up.  But I won’t go there today. I’ll talk about barking instead.

This subject recently came to mind after an email discussion with a writer who participated in the Launch Pad contest. This is a contest for unpublished novelists sponsored/conducted by the Novel Rocket blog. I’m the contest administrator, so all correspondence concerning the event goes through me.

We conduct a different genre contest each month, with each monthly winner moving on to be a finalist for the Grand Prize. This past Monday, we announced the winner of the latest round, Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction.

Afterward, one of the entrants who didn’t win sent this lovely thank-you: “…I’d like to voice my appreciation of the incisive and immensely helpful critiques by the judges. I don’t think I’ve ever had such pertinent and useful feedback. Absolutely game-changing. …  I may not have won, but thanks to those critiques, I feel like I won anyway. Huzzah!”

I passed her appreciation on to the judges and asked her if we could quote her when we promote the contest next year. She gave her permission, saying “I’m sure there will be plenty more nice comments from other happy contestants.”

True, we did get other positive feedback. But most months, we also receive the occasional murmur from a writer who feels his or her creation didn’t get the credit it deserved. The fact is, though, this appreciative writer received two extensive critiques in which the judges marked up her manuscript liberally. Though they had positive things to say, most of their comments pointed out weaknesses and made suggestions for improvement.

All our entries get the same treatment. Some writers thank us; others complain; many make no response at all, so we don’t know if they found the critique helpful or offensive. As I told the writer whose thanks were so effusive, not everyone is thrilled to have her pride and joy cut to ribbons. The fact that she thanked us demonstrates her maturity as a writer.

Maturity doesn’t mean you’ve arrived; it means you realize there’s much to learn.

It means you’re less concerned about how others feel about you than you are about others’ concerns.

It means you don’t bark at every perceived threat.

It enables you to be patient, because you’ve seen enough yesterdays to know there will be a tomorrow.

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Book Review: A Fountain Filled

I don’t do a lot of book reviews here. One reason: it takes a lot of time to read the book then do the review.  But I make exceptions in some cases — like now.

I met the author, Sarah Wells, through the Novel Rocket blog (then known as Novel Journey) when she submitted the story to the blog’s Out of the Slush Pile contest in 2010. Back then, she still had a lot of work to do on it. However, she’s not afraid of work. And despite major events going on in her personal life (such as, having a family and making a major move twice–or was it three moves? I lost count), she not only polished up this story, but she also recently published it through Amazon as an ebook.

I’m as proud and excited as a grandma at her grandkid’s high school commencement! So I’d like to share with you my review:

A Fountain Filled
by Sarah Wells MD
Kindle Edition
File Size: 570 KB
Available only on Amazon

Anne Knox, a Southern belle adopted from South Korea in infancy, dreams of becoming a missionary doctor. She starts her first year of medical school determined to make it through Gross Anatomy without passing out or puking. What she doesn’t expect is a plea for help from her brother in the jungles of Venezuela, who asks her to recruit a team of students to set up mobile clinics. But the desperate need, and a call from a surgeon friend who offers to help, make the request one she can’t refuse.

So, despite an overwhelming workload, unnerving clinical experiences, and her secret belief the med school made a mistake by admitting her, Anne sets out to build a team from her class. One by one they agree to join her: A handful of Christian classmates she meets during a prayer meeting on 9/11, both her bulimic and Hindu roommates, a scarred Gulf War veteran, and even legalistic Jonathan Church—a cutthroat student looking to pad his resume.

After a tumultuous first year, final exams complete, the splintered team travels into the Orinoco River Delta and camp amidst the Warao, a primitive jungle tribe. Each day in the clinic brings more difficulty. An ill child needs round-the-clock care, and tempers flare while the thermometer rises, with students quarreling over the complex needs. Then a terrible accident occurs, a massive thunderstorm hits, and they face a new question. Will they all get out alive?

In an era when it seems everyone contrives a plot to make the reader’s heart pound, Dr. Wells takes a different approach. Without sensationalizing, she lays it on the line with a breathtaking realism. You’ll feel like you’re beside the characters around the dissection table, struggling to concentrate in the lecture hall, or unwinding on a jog through Charleston. When the protagonist hears the shocking news on 9/11, you’ll remember how you first heard it and what consumed your thoughts and prayers throughout those uncertain days. When the team sees patients in the jungle, you sweat with them, scratch sympathetic insect itches, and grieve for the unfortunate patients the young doctors can’t help.

But best yet, if you’re a Christian, you’ll appreciate the honest reflection of the protagonist’s insecurities. You’ll relate to her reticence in talking about her faith and her struggle with judgmentalism. You’ll share her joy at seeing how God works out His plan for her life. And you’ll shout “hallelujah!” at the end.

This is a real snapshot of the Christian life, flaws and all. I’m at a loss for another adjective besides “real” to describe the characterizations, the setting, the situations, and the issues of faith portrayed here.

I recommend this book. It is, in my opinion, a graceful example of what Christian fiction ought to be.

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Launch Pad 2012 – Writing Contest

We launch today!

This is an opportunity for unpublished novelists to share their writing with the public and boost their manuscript out of the slush pile and into the hands of a compatible publishing professional.

Every month, June through November, Novel Rocket will choose one category winner and post that writer’s first chapter on the blog. The Grand Prize winner will be chosen from among those six, and the recipient of that award will be announced in December.

The winner will receive a crystal rocket trophy much like that pictured here. Also, Novel Rocket will make arrangements for the writer to connect with an agent or editor to look at the winning manuscript with a serious view toward representation or publication. We can’t know who this industry professional will be until we determine the winner, because it will depend on the genre of the work, the intended audience, and the writer’s background.

When Gina Holmes of Novel Rocket (then known as Novel Journey) introduced our 2010 winner to an agent, the two hit it off so well, the agent offered the writer a contract that same day. This year’s winner is currently preparing her manuscript for presentation, but we hope for similarly delightful results for her as well.

If you’ve written a novel that you feel is ready to unleash on the world but have been unable to find it a home in the the traditional publishing world, this might be the opportunity you’ve been looking for. The Official Rules can be found here.

One caveat: a modest entry fee is required this year for the first time. That’s because every entrant is provided with a thoughtful critique. Since the judges are busy writers, this sometimes puts a bit of a crimp in their schedules, and it seemed fair to offer them some small compensation.

However, since every entrant gets a critique, he’ll benefit from entering even if he’s not the winner. The judges are all affiliated with Novel Rocket. Experienced writers all, some of them multi-published authors, each has a finger on the pulse of the industry and is current on what sells and what prompts an editor to reject a submission. And that’s the kind of people you want offering input and advice on your work-in-progress.

So what do you think? Ready to take the plunge?


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Dry as Rain is Lush with Promise

It seems inconsistent, I know: I don’t read romances because I prefer a book with depth. But what could be deeper than love?

Gina Holmes is a writer friend and founder of the Novel Rocket blog (formerly Novel Journey). Her debut novel last year, Crossing Oceans, was well received, for good reason. But I like her second book, Dry as Rain, better.

Though not a romance by genre, it’s a love story for sure. It’s about love blossoming at first sight, only to dry up and wilt over time.  It’s about love’s pain. Love betrayed. Love’s power to heal.

Stirring the emotions without stooping to sentimentality, Dry as Rain is the story of Eric Yoshida and his wife, Kyra, at the end of a once-happy marriage. Their love fades and erodes as one thoughtless comment and gesture leads to another, creating a rubble of misunderstanding and confusion. Finally, an ultimate betrayal pushes them past the point of no return. After what Eric did, reconciliation is out of the question.

But when an auto accident erases part of Kyra’s memory, he wonders if they can start over. Is this a chance to mend their relationship? Can true restoration be based on a lie?

This beautifully crafted story raises some good questions, which the reader is led to answer for him or herself. Though the questions are sticky, the journey is enjoyable.

Gina’s done a fine job portraying a delicate situation and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. I give it five stars.

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Now THAT’S What I’m Talkin’ About…

Until he joined the staff of the blog then called Novel Journey/now known as Novel Rocket, I’d never heard of Athol Dickson.

But since we’d be working together (more or less), I thought it would be nice to familiarize myself with him a little. So I checked out his blog — and found a writer after my own heart. In fact, I borrowed (stole?) a quote from one of his entries and have it displayed prominently above my computer:

Let us search out the finest words deliberately, with beauty as our goal, as shepherds once searched through their flocks for lambs without a blemish.

Man, I wish I’d said that.

Since then, I’ve read three of his books. He has a new release coming in September and I’ll review it then. (Can hardly wait!) But in the meantime, I’d like to share my thoughts concerning his 2008 release from Bethany House, Winter Haven.

Winter Haven
by Athol Dickson
Released: 2008
Publisher: Bethany House
333 pages
ISBN 978-0-7642-0164-6

Vera Gamble, shy and retiring numbers-cruncher from Dallas, Texas, gets a call from a police chief on an island off the Maine coast: they’ve recovered a body, and it appears to be her brother’s.

Her autistic older brother, Siggy, walked away from home thirteen years ago, when he was a teenager, and was never seen again. How could he have washed up now, and on a desolate Maine beach? It wasn’t possible. But Vera was trapped on a treadmill of CPA work, captured by an eternal parade of scrolling numbers that held no more meaning than the endless, impersonal Texas heat. It would be cool in Maine, and there, she could catch a break from the tedium and stress of her lonely, demanding life.

Suffering from seasickness on the mail boat to the island of Winter Haven, it’s too late for the second thoughts that plague her. And upon landing, she has third thoughts as well, and fourth ones, at the reception she receives and the shock of seeing her brother’s dead face, preserved unchanged despite the years that have passed.  But when she wants to leave, the police chief won’t release the body because too many questions remain unanswered.

Ghostly apparitions, veiled threats, polite deceptions and overt rudeness run Vera through an emotional ringer and keep the reader spellbound to the last page. Dickson proves himself a true artist, painting word pictures as graphic as oils and as breathtaking as the fragrant mists that curl through the towering pines.

It’s a compelling story, beautifully written, with a conclusion that warms the bones like the breaking through of a sunbeam.

When I have a hankering for a good book, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Athol Dickson is fast working his way toward the top of my Favorite Authors list.

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