Tuesday, January 11, 2011

For the first time in more than a decade, I stayed awake until midnight on New Year's Eve.

I wanted to see 2010 go away.

A year of strife. Family died, friends died. Cancers, brain tumors, strokes, heart attacks. Financial ruin for even the hardest workers. Jobs evaporated. What seemed like good marriages got struck down. Close relationships fractured, past drug addictions roared back to life.

There were days last year when I felt like I was tiptoeing through a field of tall grass embedded with land mines. More often than usual, my family huddled, forming a tight knot of human hope, praying for hearts and minds and help.

God is sovereign; everything flows into his larger plan, even the bad stuff. Especially the bad stuff. During his time on earth, God's own son repeated this truth over and again -- and then was mocked, scourged, nailed to a cross, and killed by religious people.

And I'm weary from one tough year?

I am human. Sometimes that walk from here to eternity feels like the longest path ever taken. But I'm also a writer and it seems as if writers -- those who choose to take up this difficult calling --- get issued a sort of dual citizenship. The worst circumstances in the world provide the best material for the imagination: It's the really rotten childhood that gives us Angela's Ashes. 

But only eventually.

Wordsworth said that poetry came from "emotion recalled in tranquility." I think most really good books come from writers who gaze into the rear view mirror and describe what they see, while still moving forward.

But every writer faces certain battles. The first battle is sitting down to work. And the biggest battle might be finding quiet time to think, to work through the land mine detonations in order to figure out what you're really trying to say.

"If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can," writes the great Oswald Chambers. "The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance."

Writers conquer their particular battles in any number of ways; I've been helped by an army. Without my family, particularly my husband the Italian Stallion, none of it would happen. And in a previous post I mentioned my agent, Brian Peterson.

But I've also been blessed by my editor at Thomas Nelson publishing.

Amanda Bostic holds the stopwatch -- and cattle prod -- for all my deadlines. By the grace of God I've managed to make every deadline.

Until this year.

When it comes out in March, I know readers will enjoy "The Mountains Bow Down." And they'll enjoy the next book, coming in 2012, "The Stars Shine Bright." But they'll probably never realize what went on behind the scenes to get these books out on schedule, and still offer this writer time to wrestle with words, to struggle with what she really wants to say.

The constraints of publishing don't allow for such words to appear inside a book's cover, but I'd like to post a Public Service Announcement.

It goes like this:

"These novels are brought to you by a gracious and word-loving editor who adjusted her tight schedule so that you could read a better book. It's a thankless job."


Amanda Bostic, Thomas Nelson: Thank you for the time.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

This is my agent, Brian Peterson.

When we first met, I was a stay-at-home mom writing for magazines. I also had a first novel stored on a floppy disk.

Yeah, it was awhile ago.

But let me back up. Before I met Brian, a highly respected writer who runs with America's best literary crowd, offered to send my novel to her agent in New York City.

Her literary agent was a woman known as Dr. No. The woman could make or break a writer's career with one word. Usually that word was. . . No.

But the word that came back to me was Maybe.

We like the book. We think it has potential. But you'll need to change the main character from a Christian to an alcoholic. 

I smacked myself on the forehead -- why didn't I think of that?!  Faith in God. Self-destruction. Yes! They are totally equivalent!

The literary agent went on to say that I needed to remove every passage in which Raleigh Harmon, forensic geologist and Christian, reveals her belief that the Earth was created by God and that the people who live here didn't evolve from pond scum. (Well, most of them didn't. I had serious questions about the literary agent.)

After reading the agent's letter, several friends begged me to keep my mouth shut. "Just do what the agent asks," they told me. "You need people like this to get published."

My reply was succinct.

"Thank you for your time," I wrote. "You should get out of New York City. Fast."

There was no further correspondence.

Writer Lee Knapp heard of my travails. She had just published her terrific book of essays, "Grace in the First Person." I didn't know Lee well but she said to me, "I have an agent. He's a super nice guy. His mission statement is to help other people reach their goals. Do you want to send your manuscript to him?"

Several weeks later Brian Peterson and I had dinner. We laughed -- a lot-- and talked about writing and later I sent him the manuscript. He sold it to Baker publishing. "The Stones Cry Out" went on to win a Christy Award for best first novel. The rest, as they say, is hard work.

To this day Brian Peterson remains my great friend. He's among the most honest people I've ever met. And this picture of him seems particularly appropriate.

Over the years, without goading, he made sure I didn't stop or stand still. He opened doors to new opportunities, new vistas. And he never lost his cool, even during turbulence.

Okay, once.

Once, during a really nasty battle over a manuscript, Brian called somebody "a manipulator." That's about as low as the guy can go.

When people ask me what to look for in an agent, I say, Look for somebody you can really talk to. Somebody who will hold you accountable. Somebody honest.

But don't forget to look for somebody who stays in your corner, cheering you on -- making sure you never stop or stand still.

And then all you'll want to say to them is, Thank you.

Thank you.

Hello, and welcome to 2011!

One week into the new year and already the days have gotten away from me. (Are you finding that to be true, too?)

I'm writing to let you know that I gave away a KINDLE last month. Yep. It's true. For those of you who knew this, you're probably wondering if I'm planning on announcing the winner. Or maybe you're thinking I was giving away the KINDLE to myself (sadly tempting). Well, I'm not keeping it and I am going to announce the winner.

But first I want to congratulate all of you who entered! You were smart enough to choose a contest that didn't cost you a dime -- proving yourselves smarter than all those dupes coining into their state lotteries.

Way to go, people!

Final congratulations, however, go to Norman Jackson of Delaware who was chosen by Random.com to win the Kindle and $25 gift card. Norman, savor every inkless word! 

As great as this contest was, it's only an appetizer. The next Raleigh Harmon novel, The Mountains Bow Down, releases March 1st (check out the cover in the sidebar --->). Since it takes place on a cruise to Alaska, we're giving away the big kahuna. That's right: A FREE CRUISE!  Once again, skip that state lottery and stay tuned for details -- coming soon. You do NOT want to miss this contest. And no, I won't keep the ticket for myself, though it's way more tempting than the KINDLE.

Thank you all for coming out to play, and thank you for supporting the Raleigh Harmon novels.

As a small gift of thanks, I'll be posting an excerpt of The Mountains Bow Down. It's not quite ready yet, but if you'd like to be the first to read it, be sure to click the LIKE button on my  Facebook Author Page.

Thanks again, and happy reading,