The Lost Art of Letter Writing – A Giveaway with Beverly Lewis

**Update: I’ve chosen our two winners at random…but let me tell you, it was so encouraging to read about the people in your lives that mean a lot to you! And I’m sure they appreciated hearing from you, so thanks to everyone for participating. Here are the winning comments:

Bev1Bev2

Winners, please email me, Amy, at agreen@bethanyhouse.com with your mailing address. I’ll send you The Love Letters and give you your options for your bonus book!

“Three books of stamps, please,” I said to the man behind the counter.

He stared at me for a second. As the only twenty-something in the post office line, I guess I stood out. “You gettin’ married? These for wedding invitations?”

I shook my head. “I just like writing letters.”

Another squinty, appraising look. “Email’s quicker, you know.”

Sigh. “I know. But…I’ll take three books of stamps, please.”

SongbirdsForever

These are the stamps I’m using right now.

 

Let’s face it: people don’t write letters anymore. And I think that’s just a shame, because there are few things more exciting than actually getting a letter that isn’t a bill, another credit card application, or coupons to the local Chinese buffet. When someone gets something in the mail with your real, actual handwriting and a personal note, it means so much more than seeing your status on Facebook. It means you took the time to drop them a line because you care about them.

If you need a little encouragement to use those stamps that have been languishing in your junk drawer, here are some practical tips for being a letter writer in a fast-paced world.

Amy’s Tips for Letter Writing

  • Buy a pack of postcards or small, cute notecards and keep one or two in your purse. Then, when you are sitting in the dentist’s office or waiting for a friend to show up at lunch, you can jot down a few lines.
  • Letters don’t have to be long, complete life updates. A short “thinking of you” note with a question for the other person and a sentence or two about something you’ve enjoyed doing lately is just as appreciated as a four-page soliloquy (probably more!).
  • Ask people for their addresses in a private Facebook message or via email. That way, you’ll be able to search for it again in the future.
  • Sending a card out of the blue with a Bible verse or something you appreciate about another person is one of the most thoughtful things you can do. It might be exactly the encouragement that person needs in that moment. Yes, it takes a little time, but knowing you took that time is part of the gift you’re giving the other person. It means more than you might think.
  • If you’re more of the send-a-package-or-gift type of person, it’s amazing the number of fun items you can send directly through the mail without boxing them up. Here’s a handy site giving you some creative ideas…I have personally tried the box of candy, Frisbee, and box of crayons.
Lately, I've had these Pixar-themed postcards tucked away in my purse.

Lately, I’ve had these Pixar-themed postcards tucked away in my purse.

One people group certainly hasn’t lost touch with the art of writing letters: the Amish. As Beverly Lewis puts it, “Can you imagine not having access to email, IM, Twitter, or Facebook messaging to stay connected with friends and family? Amish women don’t have that ‘real-time’ luxury, of course, but they do enjoy writing and sending pen pal letters and ‘circle letters,’ via snail mail—some as often as twice weekly. Sharing with extended family members in other cities or states is important, as is church-related news. Many of my Amish friends pen their letters on pretty store-bought stationery, or add their own floral drawings and artwork to plain paper, while others use a lined tablet for their heartfelt ‘reveals.’ Love letters, birthday cards, and encouragement notes are often saved for a rainy day, to be re-read and cherished anew.”

Love LettersThat’s one theme of Beverly Lewis’s new novel, The Love Letters. In it, an Amish family encounters a homeless man whose most treasured possession is a clutch of handwritten letters. As the story progresses, those letters—and the heartfelt words inside them—slowly change the other characters and help them to better love those around them.

And with that, we here at Bethany House would like to issue a challenge to you:

We’re going to give away three copies of The Love Letters, and each winner will also get a chance to choose a bonus Bethany House book for themselves and one to be sent to a friend.

How can you enter? It’s simple: write a letter or a card to someone you care about. Then comment on this post with the name of the recipient of your letter and one thing you appreciate about him or her. (We’re going on the honor system here…but be sure to actually send those letters!) I’ll draw the three names randomly from the comments and post the winners here on Wednesday, May 6, so be sure to check back!

Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Reading

I am told that this is the time of year where people will devote large chunks of their free time to cleaning up their homes and getting rid of clutter. This seems like a good goal…but just to make sure the time is being spent in the best way possible, I’ve compiled a list of criteria to evaluate whether you should clean your house or read a book. (Keep in mind, of course, that I am not biased at all, even though I’m the fiction publicist at a publishing company.) Enjoy!

spring-cleaning-green

Time Required

Spring Cleaning: I don’t know who created the myth of a spring cleaning day, where in one swoop of Clorox-induced productivity, the entire house becomes sparkly clean, meticulously organized, and lemony-fresh. (Maybe this is you. If so…I admire you, my friend.) In my world, however, this process drags out over a full month, and some tasks still never get done. I’m looking at you, fridge that needs to be scrubbed down.

Spring Reading: Usually, you’ll end up reading a book over a period of days or weeks, interrupted by that silly thing called “real life.” However, just think of all you’re cramming into that time! In a book world, you could experience months, years, and even whole ages of time from the point of view of the characters.

Winner: Clearly, reading comes out ahead on this one. (Unless you’re factoring in the time it takes me to justify reading a book instead of cleaning my fridge. Then we might have a tie.)

Lasting Effects

Spring Cleaning: Temporary. A clutter-free living room seems to attract chaos and mess within days, no, hours of being straightened up. It’s the second law of thermodynamics.

Spring Reading: A good story, with characters who feel like old friends, will stick with you forever.

Winner: I don’t even think there’s any contest for this category. Reading. Continue reading

Ask Bethany House: What Do Editors Look For in a New Author?

Because many of the questions submitted to our survey involved what the process looks like for our editors to give a contract to a new author, this is the second post that aspiring authors might find useful. Last month, I covered the ways to get yourself and your manuscript in front of our acquisition editors. This week, I’m chatting with Raela Schoenherr to get an editor’s perspective on this process. Enjoy!

Editor

Amy: Since I’m guessing you would say that “strong writing” is what makes a manuscript stand out to you, what do you mean by that? What does that look like to you?

Raela: Here’s a laundry list of things of things that make for a good novel. This is far from comprehensive, but hopefully it’s a good start.

•    Interesting, varied word choice and use of the English language in a way that is appropriate to era, setting, characters, etc.
•    Non-generic narrative
•    Natural and readable dialogue
•    Distinct voices for POV characters
•    Delivering back story without info dumping
•    Foreshadowing without telegraphing
•    Clear character arcs for main characters
•    Secondary characters come alive
•    Logical, believable character choices
•    Pacing that neither drags nor makes awkward, abrupt jumps
•    Clear, compelling conflict
•    Paints the picture of a setting. Characters are clearly grounded in that setting and couldn’t be easily transplanted into another generic setting.
•    Distinct author voice. A very simplified example: if a reader was given a paragraph from you and three other authors, would she be able to tell yours apart from the others just by your tone and way of writing?

Amy: That’s quite a list! So, beyond the writing quality, what’s one thing that makes a manuscript stand out to you?

Raela: Publishing savviness always makes authors stand out to me. Do they understand the world of publishing to some degree? Have they researched the industry? Have they read broadly in the industry? Do they have a realistic grasp for what sets them apart? If they’re writing something that sounds like a lot of other books in the market, can they articulate why their book is different? Or, if their book is pretty different from the rest of what’s in the market, can they articulate why it would appeal to our audience? Do they understand the aspects of being an author beyond simply writing a manuscript? Do they have ideas for helping to promote their book? Do they have connections or unique qualities we can leverage to help spread word of mouth? Do they have endorsements of themselves as an author or of their manuscript? Continue reading

April Bethany House Books

C.S. Lewis once famously said “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .'” There’s something exciting about finding another person who shares a hobby or passion or way of looking at the world…or even something as small as a favorite ice cream flavor. Fictional characters are the same way. We love them because they remind us of ourselves and those we love. Their struggles often mirror our own, and we cheer them on, in part, because we hope our own stories have similar happy endings.

I asked our April authors to share a little bit about why they loved their heroines and why they’re excited to share these leading ladies’ stories with the rest of the world. Take a look at their answers. Who knows? You might find a new book best friend!

From the StartMelissa Tagg about From the Start: “I think what makes Kate relatable is the doubt she has about whether her life matters. She currently writes romantic movies…and she’s convinced she needs to do something bigger or more important. She can’t see how her stories make any kind of difference. I think that desire to matter is something we can all relate to. And I’m excited to share with readers Kate’s journey of learning to believe in her own story and calling…and consequently re-falling in love with love along the way.”

Finding MeKathryn Cushman about Finding Me: “Kelli, through absolutely no fault of her own, has her life turned upside down. Everything she once believed, the people she trusted, all of it has proven false. I’m really excited about this story because at one time or another, most of us will find out that something/someone we counted on is not that immovable rock we thought them to be. When nothing is left to stand on, that’s when we find out what we’re really made of. More importantly, that’s when we find out what we truly believe.”

Together With YouVictoria Bylin about Together With You: “Anyone who has left home for the sake of school or a career will relate to Carly Jo Mason. A Kentucky girl by birth,  she’s a grad student at UCLA and eager to go home to her family. What I love most about Carly’s journey is the way her faith sustains her, especially when she falls in love with a man who’s all wrong for her. We all have to make tough choices at times. Carly does it with love, and I hope that inspires readers to do the same.”

 

What is it for you that makes story so compelling that you would recommend it to others?

Prayer for Authors: April 2015

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.

Authors with Books Releasing in April:

Victoria Bylin
Kathryn Cushman
Melissa Tagg

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.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” — Psalm 46:10, ESV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For time to rest and pray and worship even during a very busy time.
  • For books to touch readers in unexpected ways, addressing areas in their life they didn’t even realize they needed hope and healing for.
  • For supportive relationshipswhether family, friends, or other writersto encourage these authors.

Particularly on this Easter Sunday, I am so thankful for our ability to approach God in prayer. Thanks for joining with us on behalf of these authors!

Maundy Thursday

If you talk to our authors, they’ll tell you about a term in fiction known as the “black moment.” It’s the point where the main characters are at their lowest mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When you as a reader just have to keep turning pages to find out what happens next. When you start to wonder: How will they ever get together? Will this last blow crush them for good?  Don’t they have anyone who will stick with them?

Think of the last novel you read, and you can probably point to this moment. It’s the time when the characters feel most betrayed or lonely or fearful, with all odds stacked against them, and everything seems very dark. The mark of a really good story is when you as a reader feel along with the character at this moment.

I love Christian fiction and always say that Christians should be the best storytellers, because the romance of God giving up everything for the ones he loves is the story that all good and true stories remind us of. Just like a novel, this story has a black moment, too.

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day where we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death for us. On this day, we remember a God who was betrayed and lonely and even fearful—for us.

13156-BHP_GoodFriday

Just as any good novel needs conflict and suffering to make the happy ending really feel worth it, we need to feel the impact of Good Friday—really feel it—in order to celebrate Easter.

We know the ending of the story, but let’s not jump there too quickly. Let’s take a little time to mourn. Easter is a beautiful, blessed thing…but it came at a great cost.

This is the story of our faith: a separation that brought reconciliation. God suffering to save his enemies. Hope out of darkness.

And it’s the best story of all.

Does your family or church do anything special to remember Good Friday? If so, what is it?