Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Travels with Charley

Last weekend, I was up in Oregon visiting my college-aged daughter. While at the Bed and Breakfast, (ah, bliss! A lovely hotel room all to myself!) I came across the book Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck is a hit and miss author for me. Loved some of his work but not all. Travels with Charley, though, is a hit.

In 1960, when he was almost 60 years old, Steinbeck set out to rediscover America. He was accompanied only by his French poodle named Charley, and he traveled the length and breadth of the country. One adventure after another. All true!

Loved this paragraph in particular:

For weeks I had studied maps, large-scale and small, but maps are not reality at all--they can be tyrants. I know people who are so immersed in road maps that they never see the countryside they pass through. Suddenly, the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. I wondered how I'd got myself mixed up in a project that couldn't be carried out. [Here's the part I like...] It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.

This last weekend, while in my delightful B&B, I finished up the notes and groundwork for a novella that is due September 1st. Steinbeck's words spoke to me!

And now...I better get busy...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Real Test

The call from the Women's Center was surprising: "We've got a homeless woman here who lives in her car. She's written a book and would like to see about getting it published. Since you're an author, we wondered if you'd mind speaking with her."

I cringed quietly (didn't want the counselor to know how annoyed I was) and replied, "Well, I'm kind of busy right now with two speaking events coming up next weekend to prepare for and a book proposal my agent wanted yesterday."

No reply.

Enter conscience. I had volunteered to help the charity "in any way I can." And I had just finished writing in my speech on "Becoming a Barnabas" the incriminating statements, "A true Encourager must be willing to be used whenever, however, and for whomever God places in her path. That means willingness to be available, even if it means interrupting our own busy schedules for unexpected developments."

Yikes! Time to put my conviction where my mouth is.

So regardless of my private eyerolling and preconceived ideas that that this would be a waste of valuable time, I met with "Lynn" in the lobby of a church where we could sit in air conditioned comfort to discuss her manuscript.

To my utter astonishment, it was good. Very good. She was a bit rough around the edges in appearance (who wouldn't be, living in a car?) but was articulate and well educated. Lynn had been working on her memoir for nearly two years and had painstakingly typed it into book form on a computer at the public library.

I found her story fascinating and well written, and with some good editing, I believe it has commercial potential.

When we first met and she reluctantly turned over her well guarded manuscript to me, I could read the fear in her eyes. Or was it distrust? Probably both. Her tension was palpable. For a moment, I thought she might snatch the bundle of papers out of my hands and bolt for the door. But after I completed the first chapter, I'll never forget the light in her eyes and relief on her lined face when I aasssured her it was one of the best firsts drafts I'd ever encoutered.

Her smile was absolutely radiant!

I was able to offer a few tips and recommend a professional editor I know. But most of all, despite my initial selfishness, I was able to encourage this aspiring writer who had received much discouragement and disappointment from life in recent years. I gave her a copy of my book, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers and invited her to our monthly writing group and a free writing mini-workshop I'll be doing at a local bookstore soon.

We hugged as kindred spirits when we parted ways, me to my nice home in a safe neighborhood and her to her rusty car packed with all her earthly posessions.

Yet I was the one most encouraged.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview with award-winning author, Ruth Ellinger

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I have been writing magazine articles, short stories, periodical columns, and literature for over thirty years for both secular and Christian publications. My writing interests cover a wide variety of genres including everything from garden articles for Ogden to a recipe book that went to three printings. My real love, however, is writing for the Christian market. In 2005, my first full-length historical fiction was published and was my first experience in writing fiction. This was an entirely new genre for me and I felt very unqualified. I have just completed the third book in the ‘Wildrose’ series and it has been quite a ride. I am actually beginning to enjoy writing historical fiction.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

After my first draft of The Wild Rose of Lancaster, book 1 in the Wildrose Series, I began to seek a publisher. I should have waited until it was the FINAL draft. It would have been far more impressive. I thought my first draft was the final draft. It was my limited experience in fiction, but I soon learned I had only begun. The revisions came next.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

Concerning book publishing, the time element is always a challenge. As a pastor’s wife, I have many other obligations and I must lay aside writing time to attend to ministry needs. I do this willingly but the interruptions do get me off track when writing full-length historical fiction. So far, I have met only one deadline. Yikes! Fortunately, my publisher is very understanding.

What has been the best part about being published?

Several things come to mind. Of course, it is always thrilling to see your book on the shelf at the bookstore. Most importantly is sharing the message of God’s love and biblical/Faith principles to anyone who might read your book. It is so rewarding to receive a letter or email from someone who has been inspired or blessed by your unique way of sharing the gospel. Meeting other authors and writers who share your writing ambitions is also a blessing and encouragement.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

The Wildrose Series is based on the lives of the colorful and passionate people in my ancestral lineage. I have always loved stories from childhood, and my paternal grandmother inspired me with her love of God, family, and events that shaped the lives of our ancestors. I tucked these great stories away and filled in the blanks. A book was born.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I have a loosely structured outline with a list of significant events, characters, and a time frame organized according to chapters. I estimate the word count I want for each chapter and try to stick to this count. However, sometimes my plans go in another direction when one of my characters begins talking or acting on their own, so I change my outline to fit the character. So, yes, sometimes the story comes as I write. I like my writing best when this happens.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

My goal in writing inspirational fiction is to reach out to my readers with the message of God’s Sovereign love for His children and His willingness to forgive all who seek Him. I want them to carry away the expectation that -- “because He lives,” they can face the complexities of life with hope and courage. This has been a theme in the Wildrose series.

What are your dreams for your writing?

Mostly, the same as the above question except…it would be really great to have my books sell without doing all the promo. I would much rather be sought after than seek after readers myself. I am getting lazy.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Revise, rewrite, reword, rewrite. Then rewrite again.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I had known how important it was to join a writers’ group and attend conferences where good instructors and teachers offer their expertise and assistance. Going it alone is not an easy road.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I don’t know of any writer who would say it is smooth sailing right into publication. It is hard work with long unpaid hours. I must average about 1 cent an hour. My thirty-year portfolio as an article/story writer paved the way for the launch into book publication, but even then, I piled up some rejections before I landed a publisher.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Eighteen long months.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I don’t have an agent and I don’t really need one with my present publisher. There are pros and cons to having an agent. I like being free to plan my own agenda and don’t want the hassle of complying with agent requirements. I have looked into acquiring an agent and this route doesn’t seem to be a fit for me. Too much ‘Highlander’ in me. It probably works well for some though.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
A super smart, hard working publicist. (some are not)

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is not my strong point although a certain amount is necessary. I cannot be the shameless self-promoter. It’s just not in me. I do just what is necessary to keep my publisher happy and to keep me happy too. I have a website and blog online. I have no time to twitter, my face, your face, buzz—whatever else comes down the pike. I promote my books at a variety of events at libraries, festivals, book fairs, bookstore signings, and workshops. I have a loyal readership who help spread the word. Wow! That’s enough for me!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

My latest book, Sword of the Wild Rose, will be released April 24, 2010 and will be shortly posted online and available at your favorite Christian bookseller very soon. It is available online from CBD,, and can be ordered from most online booksellers such as Barnes & Nobles, Borders, etc. In regions of interest such as the Midwest, my books are available in ‘Choice” book racks as well. You can also order autographed copies from my website. Cross your fingers for an in the works deal with Target and Cosco.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sometimes it's Just Roadkill

Did you hear about the Pennsylvania man who was arrested after trying to resuscitate a possum on the side of the highway?

Nope, I ain't funnin' ya.

According to the article in the 3/27/10 Florida Times Union, a 55-year-old , um, gentleman (and I use the term loosely) was a apparently bit tipsy on his way home one afternoon. Several witnesses called in a report of a man kneeling in the road before the deceased animal, attempting to give it mouth-to-mouth resucitation.

You just can't make up stuff this good.

While we may never understand his motives, one can only assume that he was an animal lover with passions gone awry. Or eww-y in this case. A possum? Have you ever seen a possum up close and personal? That species must have been last on God's to-do list and he ran fresh out of eloquence. A wee, cuddly puppy or an adorable fawn I might understand, but a possum?

It wasn't like our guy had just hit the thing with his car; witnesses said the possum had been "dead a while." Wouldn't you love to read that police report?

Anyway, it occurred to me that trying to revive one of my old manuscripts is kind of like that. I pulled the thing out of its bottom drawer with the intention of infusing it with life and giving it one more shot at a future. After all, I spent many hours of effort and energy on that ill-fated plot years ago; why just bury it without first pulling out the electric paddles?

But you know what? It was too far gone. It had no pulse. No heartbeat. No dying breath. So I got out the coffin.

As much as writers hate to admit that every single thing they write isn't golden, we must face hard, cold facts. Sometimes it's just roadkill.