First Booksigning Is in the Books

Last night was my first live event to support the launch of We Hope for Better Things.

Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a perfect venue. Not only is it the retail arm of my publishing house, it is a fantastic space with lots of room for events like these.

I didn’t count, but I would estimate that there were around 50 people who came to listen to me jaw on about the importance of knowing our history in order to improve our future.

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There was family — my mom and dad, my aunt, my husband and son, my mother-in-law and father-in-law.

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There were dear friends — girls who were on my Little League softball team and stood in my wedding, and fellow writer-friends I met through WFWA who actually made the trip from Chicago (with two more of their friends) to surprise me (and boy I was surprised!).

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There was a sweet old lady from the church I attended in my early twenties when I lived in Grand Rapids. There were members of my publishing team and people I’d worked with for well over a decade. There were fellow writers I met through my involvement with the Breathe Writers Conference and the Capital City Writers Association.

And there were lots of people I’d never met before. Several of them grew up in Detroit during the 1960s, which is where the book is partially set. One of them actually went to the same high school as my mom did in Detroit at the same time she was there. Those who had already read it said they really enjoyed seeing their childhood come alive in the book. That was really gratifying to me because it means I not only did my research but I got it onto the page in a compelling way.

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All in all, it went well and I know I’ll be less nervous for my next event coming up on January 24th at 7:00pm at Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, MI.

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Also, I want to take a moment to point you to a new page on this website. This events page is where I will be putting information about where I will be in the future, just in case you want to connect in person. You can also find it through the media page in the header of the website, along with pages that link to reviews, interviews and articles, and resources for book clubs.

Thanks for reading!!

Opening the Door to 2019

If you follow me on social media, you know that the past week has been on the busy side, and that it’s not over yet. Christmas celebrations on both sides of the state, time with friends in different cities, my wedding anniversary. Now New Year’s (though we blessedly have zero plans) and my birthday rapidly approach.

And…release day. We Hope for Better Things will be out in the world on its own, like a young bird finally pushed out of the nest into the cold air of the unknown. Today’s podcast is about what that feels like.

That’s little first-grade me in the picture, reading. And for the past few months, I’ve been reading a lot.

 

 

 

 

These are all books that will release in 2019 like mine, with the exception of the first, which is already out, and I’ve enjoyed reading each one of them for different reasons.

Reading has always been important to me. I cannot imagine my life without books. And in the past eight or nine years, writing has been just as important to me. So as I consider what 2019 will bring and make goals for myself, reading and writing figure heavily.

It’s hard to believe we are entering the last year of the twenty-teens. The last year of my 30s. The last day, today, that I will consider myself an unpublished author or an aspiring author. 2019 is sure to bring with it a lot of excitement and opportunity, some stress and probably some overwork, and certainly some disappointments or failures. But one of the things I am sure it will bring in spades is more great books to read, more stories to write. And what book-lover could ask for more?

Thanks for coming along this journey to publication through the storytelling vehicle of this blog. Some of you have been here since 2012. Some came along with me to this space from earlier blogs, starting way back in 2008. Ten years! Ten years of reading my words, looking at my photos, watching me sew, seeing my son grow from a baby to a fifth grader…it’s nuts how quickly the time slips by. And it’s exciting to think about what the next ten years will bring.

I’m so grateful to you for reading this blog and my newsletter.

I’m so grateful to those of you who will read We Hope for Better Things.

I’m so grateful that I get to do what I love and that what I love to do can offer you some pleasure, comfort, laughter, or maybe just a moment to slow down and think.

May the Giver of all good gifts bless you in the coming year with faith, hope, and love. See you in 2019.

Writing Across the Color Line

Last week I did an interview for a couple publications that will be coming out around the time We Hope for Better Things comes out to help spread the word about it. One of the questions the writer asked me is one I expect I will get a lot as people begin to encounter the book:

What did you, a white woman, do to ensure your black characters were authentic?

In answer to that question, I talked about my minor in US History in college and my year of extensive research into the black experience in America before I put pen to paper.

After that, I told her about Nancy, Mary, Debra, and Booker.

At various stages of the writing and revising of the manuscript that would become We Hope for Better Things, I asked black friends and writers to read and critique it, looking specifically for issues with black speech and characterization. Looking for anything that didn’t feel authentic to them, or that smacked of misinformation or stereotype.

Waiting for their critiques was sometimes nerve-wracking, especially since some of them were personal friends, not just other writers.

Today I’m with Nancy Johnson (who is now my critique partner) over on Writer Unboxed talking about how we’ve worked with each other to bring out the best in our writing, specifically how we’ve approached questions of race in our writing.

If you’re a writer who wants to populate your stories with a diverse cast of characters but you’re worried about getting something wrong or unintentionally offending someone, come join the conversation!

If you’re a reader who wonders how writers do what they do, come read about it!

NaNoWriMo Success, a Goodreads Giveaway, and the Return of #Debut19Chat

The past week has been busy in a good way.

I topped 50,000 words in my newest novel manuscript and won National Novel Writing Month for the second time (the result of the first time will actually be my second novel, coming out in September, and which has a shiny new title I can’t wait to share with you).

I finished up several PR items my publicist needed in order to spread the word about We Hope for Better Things.

I actually did my very first interview with a writer for a magazine!

I made much progress on an advance reader copy of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth, another author who will debut in 2019.

dusted. I actually dusted.

I decorated for Christmas.

I did some laundry (finally).

I prepped food for a church potluck.

I started my Advent reading, Wrapped in Grace by Deana Lynn Rogers.

And #Debut19Chat is running again on Twitter, with new questions and answers to get to know 2019 debut authors and their projects.

Now I sit back a moment and consider the reality that 2018 is racing to a close and I have a very busy year ahead of me, in which I have two books coming out (one in just a month!), two books in the process of writing and revising, and I’m directing my beloved WFWA writing retreat.

If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, including my book launch events, speaking and workshops, my podcast, and more, you can get my newsletter in your email inbox by subscribing here.

If you want to enter to win one of ten free copies of We Hope for Better Things, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway here!

And if you want to listen to me riff about the cute online animal videos I would have attempted to make as a child had the technology been available to me, click here to listen to the latest Your Face Is Crooked podcast episode. Or click the graphic below, which is my husband communing with a goat.

 

1-Week NaNoWriMo Check-Up

We’re one week into National Novel Writing Month and I hope that any of you who are participating are finding success. I’ve been happy with my progress thus far — 15,535 words — and I have to admit it is due to two things: lots of pre-thought and a little pre-writing.

On the pre-thought tip, I’ve been ruminating on this story for at least a couple years, and in the past couple months my disparate ideas codified into something with enough layers and complexity to work for a novel.

As for the pre-writing, in the week or so before November started, I forced myself to write chapter summaries for where I saw the beginning chapters going and managed to get up through chapter 17.

What has that meant for the writing? Well, in this first week I’ve managed just shy of a chapter a day because I already knew the main plot and character points I was going to cover in each. I doubt very much that I can keep up that pace all month with a heavy workload of writing copy for the next catalog and Thanksgiving coming up. But a solid start does wonders for my motivation to push forward, and all those chapter summaries make it easier for me to write in short bursts that I can fit in here and there throughout the day as time presents itself rather than waiting for perfect conditions of a long block of alone time that will not be interrupted.

So what happens when I reach chapter 18 and the summaries are no more? Well, at that point I should be over the halfway point of the novel and the forward momentum of all that story should make the going easier. Plus, I do know the ending already. I may take an hour or so and write out the next five or ten chapter summaries before I go on writing the novel. Or I may find that that would just slow me down.

One thing’s for sure, though. NaNoWriMo came at just the right time for me this year and the progress I’m making on a new story after so much time fiddling with old ones or making false starts on new ones has me feeling much less anxious than I have been in a long time.

National Novel Writing Month Is Coming

Back in 2014, I won National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is “won” by hitting 50,000 words written in a new novel in the month of November. It means you’ve written at least an average of 1,667 words a day for 30 days. And if you’ve never tried it, it is not easy.

Prior to 2014, I didn’t think I could write that fast or write under pressure. But the novel I started drafting back then became what will be my second published novel (in November 2019).

After that success, I tried to attempt NaNoWriMo again, but I was never quite ready at that moment to start something new. But this year, after sending a revision of my current WIP to my agent for her comments, and after thinking and planning and gathering notes on what I want to write next, I think I’m finally ready to tackle it again.

Or I’d better be, because I already signed up to compete.

For me, this may mean getting up early each morning to write before the day gets going. It may mean writing in the evenings instead of reading or watching a show. It may mean spending most of a Saturday at the keyboard. And it may mean all of those things at once!

Why try to write 50,000 words in one month? For me, it’s about momentum. Momentum that will carry me through a crappy first draft that I can then spend a lot more time revising and honing, which is my favorite part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise what hasn’t yet been written. Plus, I haven’t drafted something totally new in at least two years as I have been focused on revising earlier works and letting my creative well re-fill. It’s time to get moving on a new story with a new cast of characters.

One of the things you do when you officially sign up for NaNoWriMo (at nanowrimo.org) is choose a working title, write a short synopsis, and upload a provisional cover in order to make it all feel more concrete. Here’s mine:

Mel and Ollie Go for a Walk

Sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were college students on a remote wilderness hiking trip when their parents died in a terrible car crash. They emerged from the isolation of the woods that day only to discover that, except for each other, they were utterly alone in the world.

Ten years later, Melanie insists they mark the occasion by hiking the same trail. Olivia doesn’t see the point. They’ve gone their separate ways in life and now have little in common besides their grief–and their uncanny ability to get on one another’s nerves.

Olivia, a young, hungry lawyer, has retreated into a strictly materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie, a self-proclaimed life coach and YouTube guru, affirms all spiritual belief systems, just to cover her bases. Neither of them is prepared for what the wilderness is about to throw at them.

As things go from bad to worse on the trail, Mel and Ollie will have to learn to lean on each other and find the right path in order to get back to civilization. Along the way, they will discover just how deep the bond between sisters goes.

I’ve been wanting to write a sister story for a while. And I’ve been wanting to write a hiking story for a while. (No big surprise, considering the fact that I hike with my sister regularly.) The kind of silly working title popped into my head one day and wouldn’t be dislodged, though once the book is written I am sure a better one will emerge. And obviously the very simple cover is just for my benefit (it doesn’t even have my name on it because there’s no good place to put it). But sometimes you have to visualize the finished product in order to make it more real, to make it something you’re willing to put in the work on.

The fun part about this story as I envision it? Taking all of those concerns one has when embarking on a backcountry hiking trip where there is no cell service–the possibility of bear attacks, sudden injury, getting lost, getting caught in the elements, running out of food or water, wildfire, being tracked by a person with ill intent–and throwing some of them at my characters to see how they react and what they learn about life and themselves along the way.

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is a little like taking a hiking trip. You plan as best you can, but you also have to make decisions in the moment. Because you never know what’s around the next bend…

 

Hear Me Bloviate on Publishing!

You may or may not know that my husband, also a writer, is a podcast fiend, both as a listener and as a podcaster himself. He is currently hosting three podcasts (The Gut Check Podcast, Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction, and These Go to Eleven) and his sermons are available online as well.

I’ve appeared here and there on the Gut Check Podcast, mostly as a bystander or an interrupter-of-proceedings, though occasionally I am asked direct questions or serve as a reader for Gut Check Literacy Month (which has lasted, oh, I’d say maybe two years). And I bet you can hear my laugh in some of those sermon recordings. But this week Zach actually interviewed me for the not-fiction portion of Clinch.

If you’re curious about what I do in publishing, how annoying I think I will be as an author to the people on my publishing team, or you just want to listen to us talk about Zach getting lost in the woods outside of Owosso, actor Kevin Sorbo, and whether or not we should have closed the drapes to keep our dog from barking during the recording, you should definitely give it a listen.

Also, you should go back to episode one and binge it, both for the fiction portion, where Zach reads his current work in serial fashion, and the not-fiction portion, which gives you an inside look into the highs and lows of publishing, both traditionally and independently, from Zach’s own rollercoaster experience and interviews with other authors. It’s one of the most honest assessments you’ll get of what it’s like to be a writer trying to make a mark in the book world today.

Anticipating the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing

In just over two weeks, I’ll be leading a workshop at Calvin College’s esteemed Festival of Faith & Writing. I’ll also be attending a number of sessions and panels that promise to be stimulating (and some of them possibly controversial).

If you are attending FFW2018 and want to connect in person, here are some likely places to find me!

 

THURSDAY

9:30 am – Self-Editing to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
I am leading this 2-hour workshop about revision and editing. Participants learn: how to do an effective, targeted revision; how to edit on sentence, paragraph, and chapter level; how rewriting can shape your voice; how planning on rewriting frees you to finish a first draft; and more.

1:45 pm – Navigating Faith and Religion in Writing
Explores how a writer can approach personal religious beliefs or those of others while writing for general audiences. How to show spiritual feeling rather than just telling the reader about it, how to use detail to evoke spiritual spaces, and how to demonstrate what religion means to a character without including the entire history of the religion. Also considers whether faith or lack of faith affects the stories writers choose to tell and how to navigate real or imagined religious restrictions on creative writing.

4:30 pm – The Risks of Writing on Race—and the Obligation to Continue
Do white writers have an obligation to use their influence and privilege to serve as allies to people of color? These writers argue yes, despite the fact that painful mistakes are inevitable. They discuss the personal cost, what it means to serve with an open and humble heart, and how to respond when things get ugly.

 

FRIDAY

8:30 am – On Finding and Growing Ideas for Fiction
Christian publishing needs new and exciting voices who are able to write outside the currently marketed boundaries. But fresh ideas for novels or short stories sometimes seem hard to come by. In this workshop each attendee cultivates their own ideas for fiction writing by beginning with character creation and then working through setting, conflict, and the formation of a plot.

10:00 am – Religious Readers and Sexually Transgressive Fiction: “What Does Your Husband Think?”
“What does your husband think about your work?” What inherently sexist assumptions are buried in this question? Why is art that depicts illicit sexual desire offensive, specifically, to the church? Does Matthew 5’s “thinking = doing” apply to the reading and writing of fiction? Explores these questions in the context of the current socio-political polarization in America, in which secular readers find serious treatment of Christian themes ludicrous, while readers on the “evangelical” right find explicit sexual content related to spirituality obscene, even blasphemous.

11:30 am – Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets: Writing Faithfully about Social Issues 
The prophet Jeremiah said that when truth stumbles in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Writing from Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, Eudora Welty pondered a question, “Must the novelist crusade?” When writers take up social and political issues, how do we aim to create art rather than propaganda? A narrative journalist, a novelist, and a poet grapple with the tension between conviction and proselytizing, frankly discussing times when they felt they succeeded as well as times when fear of stumbling made the work more difficult—and crucial.

2:00 pm – Why Don’t Men Read Women Writers? Closing the Gender Gap in Christian Publishing
Women read relatively equally between male and female authors (54%/46%), whereas men are much more likely to read male authors than female authors (90%/10%). This panel explores reasons for this gender gap as well as practical ways in which women writers might gain a broader readership among men.

3:30 pm – In Others’ Words, 
The co-writer is tasked with a particularly difficult form of writing: that of getting down some other person’s words, some other person’s story. How does one go about doing such a thing, practically speaking? Artistically speaking? This panel explores these questions plus the economics of co-writing and the ethics of ghostwriting.

 

SATURDAY

8:30 am – Do I Have to Be a “Christian Writer?”
If we believe in the exclusive claims of Christianity, are we obligated then to be “Christian writers”? How do we reconcile the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples ” with the aesthetic demands of good Art? Leslie shares her own wobbling path through the limits and the possibilities of writing from faith, offering a third path that honors and embodies both Art and Gospel.

11:30 am – Writing the Wrinkles in Time
Sarah Arthur, author of the forthcoming A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, explores what Madeleine’s life and books have taught her about writing from the stuff of your life when life doesn’t go as planned—whether it’s surprises about your topic, plot twists in your personal circumstances, or feedback that requires rebuilding a project from the ground up. Special guests include Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters, Léna Roy and Charlotte Jones Voiklis, coauthors of Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters.

2:00 pm – Sentiment without Sentimentality: Women Writers Who Won’t Stay in Their (Inspirational) Lane
For those who don’t fit the standard definition of what it means to be a religious writer in this day and age, this panel explores how to get published when you are religious but not inspirational, how to be sad in a publishing world that rewards tidy solutions, and transcending the traditional boundaries of genre, religion, class, and gender.

A Tinseltown Twist on NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year. Emails from National Novel Writing Month are popping up in my inbox. Writer friends are talking about prepping for NaNoWriMo on Facebook. Writerly blogs are starting to post content about it.

And here I am looking ahead to a leisurely, wide-open November and several projects I could choose from. So what am I going to do with those thirty days?

I think I might write my first screenplay.

Screenplays are a LOT shorter than novels, so I wouldn’t be trying for 1,667 words per day to hit 50,000 by the end of the month. A 120-page screenplay (with the average of one minute screen time per page) written in 30 days means averaging four pages a day.

I’ll be taking pre-writing work and tentative outlining I’ve done for a novel and turning toward a more visual medium, for a few reasons. First, I’ve never written a screenplay and I enjoy continually expanding my experience and repertoire. Second, the idea had first started in my head as a great idea for a movie. Third, if the screenplay goes nowhere, which, let’s face it, it probably will (won’t?), it can still function as an extended outline for a novel.

To that end I have been watching a ton of interviews with screenwriters and gleaning lots of advice. I’m searching out well-respected and successful screenplays to read. I’m contemplating taking a screenwriting class in the future. And I’m happy to have an excuse to re-watch a bunch of films that feel like they are in the vein of what I intend to write so that I can take notes on scenes, sequences, and structure.

A screenplay seems just the speed of something I’d like to fiddle with over the cold months while I continue to freefall down the research hole for my WWI novel.

Those are my November plans. How about you?

The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Received…and More

I’m over on the Capital City Writers blog today talking about what I’m working on right now, the worst writing advice I ever received, and more. Here’s a taste…

1. What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?

 

It’s hard to say what I enjoy most because I do enjoy all the different parts of the process for different reasons. I love the idea phase when anything is possible, the drafting phase when I am speaking worlds into existence, the revising phase when I am making this lump of words more closely resemble the perfect vision in my head. There are two contexts in which I feel more elementally me than any other: when I am silently and deliberately exploring the natural world and when I am writing.

 

The most challenging part is …

 

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

And tomorrow night I’ll be at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center leading a free workshop called Empathy over Experience: Writing Convincingly from Someone Else’s Shoes.

The fun starts at 7pm. If you’re a relatively local writer, I hope to see you there!