The Bookshelf Game (and Giveaway)

Let’s play a little game, just for fun.

Since today is 9/22, take a book off your shelf, then go to page 22 and pick a random excerpt starting on that page. Then count nine books away from your first book, turn to page 22 there, and pick an excerpt to add to the starting half you picked from the first book. (You can determine where to start it and how much to use. Feel free to look for parts that would make the story more coherent or funnier!)

I tried this myself to give you some examples. A few of my favorites:

“While I don’t doubt my ability to complete the accounting portion of the business, I’ll need a jug full of grape juice.”

Taken from: The Artisan’s Wife by Judith Miller, Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Her relationship with her daughter had never been easy, particularly since she had died from some disease in a South American hospital.

Taken from: The Midwife’s Dilemma by Delia Parr and A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson Continue reading

Inside a Book Tour

It’s getting near the end of Beverly Lewis’s fall book tour to promote her new release, The Wish. From last Wednesday until this coming Saturday, fans in the South had a chance to meet her, ask her questions about the Amish, and get their favorite books signed. (You can find the schedule here. If you missed a signing near your home, check the store: Beverly signed some books to leave there that you might be able to snag!)

I was able to tag along on the tour to manage the line, hand out newsletter sign-ups, take pictures with every variety of camera imaginable, and chat books with readers.
It was quite a whirlwind week with three stops every day! Here are some pictures of the tour. (You can find more on Beverly’s Facebook page.)

Sometimes Beverly will speak at events, sharing the inspiration for her book and her writing journey.

We ran into lots of Tennessee fans on a big football game day!

We ran into lots of Tennessee fans on a big football game day!

Little Leo, asleep with Mom, was the youngest book signing attendee.

Little Leo, asleep with Mom, was the youngest book signing attendee.

On Sunday, we went hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

On Sunday, we went hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

 

A few more behind-the-scenes fun facts:

  • In our rental van in between stops, Beverly and I regaled our longsuffering tour manager, Steve, with a singalong to classic musicals like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music.
  • After years of doing these tours, we’ve seen nearly everything go wrong that could: missed flights, lost luggage, freak storms, sickness, mixed-up schedules, car troubles…you name it, it’s happened. There was even one book signing tour where Beverly didn’t do any actual signing because of an injury to her right arm! Somehow we always make it through to the end (and we appreciate all the readers who pray for the tour).
  • This tour, our most unusual stop was probably The Original Moon Pie General Store and Book Warehouse. It gives away free mini Moon Pies to guests!
They also had large barrels of candy. I was excited!

They also had large barrels of candy.

As someone who usually stands near the front of the line, I always overhear great stories about how Beverly’s books have changed readers’ lives. It just goes to show there’s a lot of power in fiction!

Do you have any questions about what goes on during a book signing tour?

Advice for Perfecting Your Contest Entry

One fun thing about working at a publishing company are the connections I have with what goes on “behind the scenes,” including writing contests. Since I know many writers follow this blog, I decided to interview three judges who have experience evaluating first chapters, synopses, and other entries. Their comments are kept anonymous (to keep their mystique of course…and so if you happened to enter a contest where they were judges, you wouldn’t worry that all of their comments here were talking about your entry). I hope you learn a lot from them!

Amy: What’s a common mistake (or a few) you saw in the manuscripts you judged?

Judge One: The most common problem I saw was when writers would tell me what was going on with their character instead of showing me. One example of this would be an author telling me how a character felt about a significant event in his/her life instead of showing me how he/she reacted to said event (e.g. a wife narrates her angst over an argument with her husband instead of showing me the argument itself). Another common example would be an author trying to fit too much backstory in the first couple pages of a novel. I fall into this trap too, so I get it—it’s hard to find the balance between confusing your readers and keeping them in suspense. But too often, authors would tell me everything that had happened to a character to bring him to this point in the story (lost his job, became an alcoholic, wife divorced him) instead of leaving me with a little mystery and letting me find out those things one by one while I read.

Judge Two: Some entries did a lot of telling instead of showing—outright stating characters’ emotions or motivations instead of showing what they looked like. But other entries made the more subtle mistake of showing and telling. They did a great job of using dialogue, body language, and vivid verbs so I understood what was happening…and then tacked on a totally unnecessary explanation of it in case I missed all of that. As a reader, I feel cheated, like the author didn’t trust me. It’s also a waste of words, because it says the same thing twice. Other mistakes that are a bit more obvious include a slow start to the story with lots of backstory or info-dumps, unrealistic dialogue, and too-perfect characters, all of which brand a manuscript as a beginner.

Judge Three: Because I was only able to see the very first part of the book, a strong beginning was crucial, as it was all I had to focus on. Several of the submissions could have had much snappier starts. I would also advise entrants to be very careful about their synopsis and not skipping necessary details or assuming knowledge. Several times I came away confused on things like timeline and certain plot points

Amy: When an entry caught your attention in a good way, what were some characteristics of that entry that made it stand out?

Judge One: Last month I watched the women’s gymnastics at the Olympics, and one thing the announcers keep saying over and over is that these young women have to do the hardest things in the world and make them look easy. The entries that caught my attention did the same thing—they worked in historic details without losing the story’s momentum, dropped in the occasional foreign word to provide a sense of place, or added an accent to a character’s speech without making it cheesy. The plot, dialogue, and character development were all there too, but these authors had gone the extra mile and made the world of their imagination into a world I could picture visiting. They had paid attention to the details without letting the details overwhelm the point of the story.

Judge Two: One huge thing is that in the best entries, a scene accomplished more than one thing. For example, it didn’t just give information…it also advanced the plot, showcased the personalities of the main characters, and foreshadowed something still to come. Or it didn’t just raise the stakes of the suspense, it also hinted at the hero’s backstory, introduced a minor character, and reinforced the spiritual theme. These are just a few examples of what a scene can accomplish. If you read a chapter in your manuscript and realize that if it disappeared, you wouldn’t be missing much, or it could be easily replaced with any generic obstacle, it’s not doing enough work.

Judge Three: It’s hard to quantify, but simply the fact that I wanted to keep reading and was bummed I wasn’t given the whole manuscript. The other aspect is that I didn’t notice the writing, I just became so engrossed in the story and really bought into the character’s voice and perspective. Heavy use of adjectives or stilted dialogue can make you notice the words over the story and pull you completely out of it.

Amy: If you could give one piece of advice to someone editing a contest submission, what would it be?

Judge One: Get someone to edit your submission for you first. (Seriously. I know this is mentioned in every piece of writing advice ever, but it was clear that the better entries I read had already benefited from detailed and constructive editing—and that the not-so-great ones still needed more help than I could give in a simple scoring sheet.) Ideally, you’ll have three or four editors, or better yet, a whole critique group of them. And these can’t be friends or family members who will love your writing no matter what. You want your first readers to be people a little bit distanced from your work so that they’ll be honest with you, and you also want them to have enough writing experience to be able to kindly point out potential trouble areas. After you get this first hurdle out of the way, go ahead and bring in those friends and family members for another go-around. They’ll be able to give you a reader’s point-of-view, warning you of any confusing sections and telling you where the action could be sped up a bit. Plus, they’ll give your confidence a great boost!

Judge Two: Read your entry out loud. Not only will you catch small mistakes like typos or missing words, but you’ll also notice when you’re using the same sentence pattern over and over to the point of monotony. And nothing points out a bit of cliché or boring dialogue like hearing your characters say it out loud in your own voice.

Judge Three: Make sure you get someone to read and edit the entry who knows nothing about the story. This will help you eliminate any missed details or loopholes that someone familiar with it will naturally fill in. Good writing won’t overcome a confusing story.

Readers, what would make you lose patience with a book if you encountered it in the first few chapters? Writers, tell us about a mistake you made early on in your writing career that now makes you cringe.

Prayer for Authors: September 2016

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in September:

Davis Bunn
Beverly Lewis
Susan Anne Mason
Tracie Peterson
Roseanna M. White

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.– Psalm 37:4-5, ESV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For peace and clarity when it comes to making career decisions.
  • For these new releases to get into the hands of readers at just the right time for what they’re struggling with.
  • For the authors to be able to invest in their relationships with friends and family even during a busy time.

Thanks again to everyone for praying, especially for those of you who are Prayer for Authors regulars. It’s so great to have a prayer-centered community of readers!

September Bethany House Books

On this first day of September, I’m excited to let you know about five new releases from BHP. They’re set all over the map: the Pennsylvania countryside, Montana’s frontier, the halls of Edwardian England, a New York horse farm in the 20s and the bustling Wall Street of current day. Take a trip inside the pages by clicking on a cover to read an excerpt.

 

Wish
The Wish by Beverly Lewis

Leona lost her best friend the day Gloria’s father was expelled from the Amish church. When she receives an unexpected letter from Gloria, Leona makes up her mind to go after her friend. To the alarm of her fiancé, the deacon’s son, she sets out on a mission to persuade Gloria to return to the Amish church. Will Leona’s dearest wish lead to her own undoing?

Love Transformed

A Love Transformed by Tracie Peterson

Widowed and penniless, with two small children, Clara Vesper returns to her uncle’s ranch in Montana, the only place she has ever been happy. As she tries to find that feeling again, she encounters a suitor from her past and is soon followed by her brother-in-law, who will stop at nothing to bring her back to the family business.

Domino Effect
The Domino Effect by Davis Bunn

Esther Larsen, a risk analyst at a powerful banking institution, is convinced she has uncovered a ticking bomb with the potential to overshadow 2008’s market crash. She has to do something—but what? With global markets on the brink, and her own life in danger, Esther races against the clock to avert a disaster that threatens worldwide financial devastation.

Lady Unrivaled
A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White

Lady Ella Myerston knows of the danger that haunts her brother, and she intends to put an end to it. While visiting her friend Brook, the true owner of the Fire Eyes diamonds, Ella accidentally gets entangled in an attempt to blackmail the dashing, newly reformed Lord Cayton. Will she become the next casualty of the alleged curse?

Love's Faithful Promise

Love’s Faithful Promise by Susan Anne Mason

When her mother suffers a stroke, Deirdre puts her medical career on hold and persuades Dr. Matthew Clayborne to help treat Mrs. O’Leary at Irish Meadows. But since the doctor has no intention of leaving his life in Canada, and Deirdre has sworn off marriage altogether, how will they deal with the undeniable spark between them?

Since school is starting up, here’s a question: what’s a classic novel you read in high school or college that you genuinely enjoyed?

Ask BHP: Who Are Some New Authors I Should Know?

Love this question from our Ask BHP poll: “Sometimes I tend to default to my favorite authors, but I want to branch out. Who are some up-and-coming authors I should be aware of?”

Well. I’m so very glad you asked!

I enjoy nothing more than introducing new authors to the world, so without further ado, here are three authors whose first Bethany House novel released in the past year and a half or so. They may be new to you since they haven’t been in the inspirational fiction world for long, so go ahead and add their novels to your TBR list!

Meet Susan Anne Mason…

Susan Anne Mason

Connilyn Cossette…

Cossette_Connilyn

And Kristi Ann Hunter!

Hunter_KristiAnn

I decided to ask all of the authors a few quick questions so you can get to know them and their writing.

Amy: Tell us what inspired your novel. Did you start with a character? A situation? An image?

Susan: The first whisper of Irish Meadows began with me wanting to create a sweeping saga about a big Irish family, along the lines of The Thornbirds. Part of the idea for the story was based on my own grandfather’s family who came over from Ireland and settled in Brooklyn, New York. They had many children, some of whom were born after they came to the USA. But instead of living in the tenements of Brooklyn, I wanted my fictional family to have achieved success and be members of the upper class. And so I came up with the horse farm, Irish Meadows, and the assertive patriarch, James O’Leary, who would wreak havoc on his children’s lives in order to maintain the status he had achieved.

Connilyn: Counted with the Stars was inspired by a study I was doing on my own into Exodus and the roots of my faith. I ran across the verse in Exodus 12:38 that said “a mixed multitude went up with them.” I thought to myself—who were these people that went with the Hebrews on the Exodus? I wondered whether some of them might be Egyptian and what would have inspired them to follow an invisible God into the wilderness when all they had ever known were the gods of Egypt? In my mind an image appeared—an Egyptian woman standing on the bank of the Jordan River waiting to enter the Promised Land. Kiya’s story was born from that vision and from my curiosity about the motivations by those we would call “Gentiles” who journeyed with the Hebrews.

Kristi: I started A Noble Masquerade with Miranda. I got to know her while writing A Lady of Esteem. She was a much more guarded person that I originally thought she would be and I knew that someone would have to get under her guard in order to really get to know her. That meant she had to meet Ryland in such a way that her normal defenses would be shaken. Continue reading

Prayer for Authors: August 2016

Normally these posts happen on the first Sunday of the month, but this time I accidentally scheduled the post for 2017, which is not helpful at all to our lovely August 2016 ladies with new releases. Since I’m sure they’d still appreciate prayer, here’s the post a few weeks late!  To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in August:

Melissa Jagears
Laurel Oke Logan
Janette Oke
Judith Miller
Sarah Loudin Thomas

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son….The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.– Hebrews 1:1-3, NLT

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For sustaining grace to get through deadlines, to-do lists, and the craziness of release month without losing focus.
  • For God to use these books to change hearts and minds.
  • For words and ideas to come for any current writing projects.

We appreciate you, BHP blog readers! Thanks for taking some time to remember these authors in your prayers.

Seven Annoyances Every Reader Understands

Being a reader can be tough. Not only do readers face trials and tribulations in their quest to finish as many great books as possible, but non-readers just don’t get it. They can’t even begin to relate, and you’re left wishing your closet would take you to [insert favorite fictional world here], despairing because your favorite fictional hero is, in fact, fictional, and occasionally praying for main characters on accident.

This post is for all the bookaholics out there who need some reassurance that they are not alone. (Tweet this!) If you’ve ever craved a little sympathy, if you want to diagnose your novel addiction, if you just want to hear that you’re not crazy, read on, my reader friend. Read on.

Seven Annoyances Every Reader Understands

One: Too many books, not enough time.

This is a big one, folks. Of course, you have your favorite authors who are always a must-read. But then friends recommend their top picks, and you see a lovely cover at the bookstore, and really, you should be better at catching up on the classics, and what about nonfiction…and your list of books to be read grows steadily longer, until there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

We feel your pain. But keep adding to that TBR pile, keep buying that series on sale planning to get it someday, keep turning your “office” into a giant sculpture of book stacks, because those are the actions of hope.

And friends, readers should never, ever give up hope.

And all things considered, it’s a good problem to have, so keep that in mind as you stare valiantly up at your mountains of books.

Two: So. Many. Emotions.

As if real life weren’t stressful enough, we readers also heap on the conflict, intrigue, and impossible choices of dozens of fictional characters. Whether it’s a sobbing-by-the-last-page sort of ending or a story so tense that you felt like you might have a heart attack yourself before it was all over, the emotions of reading can be intense. Some books should come with a warning label.

This is really only an annoyance, though, when a non-reader, observing your vicarious emotional breakdown, says something dangerously flippant like “Those people aren’t real, you know” or the dreaded “Um…it’s just a book.”

“Just a book? Try 400 pages of beautifully written angst and agony as these people I love go through trials of all kinds and I barely hang on to hope for a happy ending.”

Sigh. Normal people just don’t get it. Continue reading

One Good Book Deserves Another: August New Releases

Time to talk series! Obviously, each book in a series should be a complete story with a satisfying ending, but after that, there are many different kinds of series. Are they connected by one central protagonist, a family, a setting, or a chain of historical events? Do they have a thread of unresolved suspense that leaves you waiting anxiously for the next release date, or are all the plot questions resolved by the last page?

For Bethany House, August was a month that does a good job displaying different kinds of series. Of the books listed below, The Artisan’s Wife is closing out a trilogy with a similar cast of characters, the McKay family, but with each story following a different protagonist. A Tapestry of Secrets is not technically in a numbered series, but it gives us a sense of closure about some of our favorite characters’ future—and past. Where Hope Prevails is the conclusion to Beth Thatcher’s journey in the Canadian frontier. And A Heart Most Certain is the first in a series set in the same town, each featuring the love story of one of the women there.

To get a behind-the-scenes peek into the making of these novels, the authors share a few more details about the place this entry has in the series as a whole, and how it came about. (And, as usual, click on the cover if you want to read an excerpt.)

Artisan's Wife

Judith: In this final book of the series, one of Ewan McKay’s twin sisters, Ainslee, takes center stage as the protagonist. All of these books have been centered around clay deposits in the state of West Virginia. The Artisan’s Wife depicts yet another use of those clay deposits: the family’s newly acquired tile works. As in the previous books in this series, the McKay family is confronted with issues that threaten to fracture the family. As the story unfolds, it looks at the issues of genuine forgiveness and the ability to consider change a positive factor in our lives.

Tapestry of Secrets

Sarah: The mystery that’s lingered since Miracle in a Dry Season is the identity of Sadie’s father. My favorite part of writing this latest novel, A Tapestry of Secrets, was going back to the 1940s and revealing that secret by telling Perla’s story. Anyone who’s read the previous books knows she had a child out of wedlock, but how that unfolded was never discussed. So many readers wanted to know about little Sadie and what happened to her later in life. Not only will they find that out, but they’ll also learn who her father was—something Sadie herself is conflicted about discovering.

A Heart Most Certain

Melissa: This book was actually the one I was editing in hopes of putting it out on submission when Bethany House contracted A Bride for Keeps. Now, all I thought I’d have to do was finish editing where I left off, but I had grown as a writer over the course of the Unexpected Brides series, so I had to rewrite some things as well. Be sure to keep a lookout for secondary characters in A Heart Most Certain—some will be featured in the next romances of the series, set in the same town.

Where Hope Prevails

Laurel: Because this is a collaboration with the television movie and TV show which derived from Mom’s book When Calls the Heart, we grafted a new branch into her first Elizabeth Thatcher’s family tree for this novel. These new characters weren’t mentioned in the original series of stories, but we made Beth a much younger cousin to the woman she refers to as “Aunt Elizabeth.” In Where Hope Prevails, Beth wrestles with her internal struggles and sense of calling…but readers will leave with a sense of completeness about what God has for her future.

Readers, do you have a favorite go-to series that you read and re-read?

What Makes a Great Story?

Coming off of our BHP Book Banter, I’m wading into the gridded, graphed, somewhat-unfamiliar world of data analysis. I like to imagine myself hacking through a dense jungle of spreadsheet rows and columns with a machete of clarity, because that sounds significantly more interesting than organizing survey responses.

Armed with that particular brand of melodrama, I found that while some of the sorting and graphing is a bit tedious, there are so many interesting comments and conclusions that it’s hard to be bored. I’m going to share one in particular that I think readers and writers alike will appreciate.

When readers were asked “What elements make a great story?” I noticed the feedback often clumped up in contrasting pairs.

Characters should be “flawed” but still “likeable.” Plots that are both “believable” and “surprising” make the best stories. Novels that “make you laugh” and “make you cry” were listed as favorites, often by the same person. The two most common adjectives applied to everything from setting to structure to and dialogue were “realistic/familiar” and “unique.”

HOpeAnd it made me think: good stories hold opposites in tension because The Story does too.

It doesn’t have to be Christian fiction, or even fiction written from the point of view of a Christian, for this to come through, although one thing that I think sets Christian fiction apart is seen in another comment made by several readers: “It’s not necessarily that the ending needs to be happy…but it needs to be hopeful.”

A special note for you writers—seeing these comments, I realized again that what you do is hard work. No other way around it. To write the novel described in these surveys you have to…

  • Give us characters who are better than us in some way so we look up to them…but also just like us so we can relate to them.
  • Portray a beautiful romance (which in real life can be a little dramatic, because lovebirds aren’t necessarily the most rational beings) without being cheesy, cloying, or over-the-top.
  • Maintain tension and suspense without slipping into melodrama or crossing the line into the improbability.
  • Make the heroes or heroines people with admirable qualities so we cheer them on the whole way, while still giving them deep flaws and weaknesses.
  • Plan a storyline that is complex enough to engage readers and keep them turning pages, but not so intricate that it becomes confusing.
  • Create an ending that has some element of unexpectedness, while still being nicely foreshadowed so it doesn’t feel like it dropped out of the sky.

Here’s the thing, though: you have everything you need to do this.

As a person of faith, you hold these contrasts together all the time. You believe that people are both made in the image of God and deeply broken by sin. You pray in the name of Jesus who was fully God and fully man. You listen every Easter to the greatest example of a surprising yet inevitable ending.

Aslan2

Another contrast from C.S. Lewis, who liked writing about paradoxes.

Keep telling your stories, Christian writers. The world needs them because the world needs more hope.

Readers, which of the bullet points above do you think would be hardest to balance? (Writers, if you want to chime in with which one is most difficult for you, you’re welcome to do so!)