Best of the Bizarre

by Mike Duran

Who needs traditional “Best of” lists when there’s so much peculiarity to choose from? For instance, Paste’s Top 100 Albums of 2007 is not nearly as entertaining as The Onion AV Club’s Worst Band Names of 2007. I mean, how can you not love band names like Harmonica Lewinski, Dance Me Pregnant, The Asbestos Tampons, and Yo Momma’s Big Fat Booty Band. My personal favorite? The Color Fred.

But being this here’s a writers’ site, I should probably stay on topic. Earlier this month, Merriam Webster announced its Word of the Year, and I’ve got to admit, I didn’t have a clue. The top ten words for 2007 are:

2. facebook
3. conundrum
4. quixotic
5. blamestorm
6. sardoodledom
7. apathetic
8. Pecksniffian
9. hypocrite
10. charlatan

The number one word of the year?

1.) w00t

The word is a hybrid of letters and numbers used by video gamers as an exclamation of happiness or triumph. According to Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, “w00t” was an ideal choice for the Word of the Year because it blends whimsy and new technology. Hey, I’m all about blending “whimsy and new technology.” (Although I’ve heard Windows Vista is far more “technology” than “whimsy”.)

But while you’re busy adding words to your vocabularly, Lake Superior State University 2007 List of Banished Words will assist you in subtracting lame lingo. For instance,

NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS — Heard in movie advertisements. Where can we see that, again?

“How often do movies premiere in laundromats or other places besides theaters? I know that when I want to see a movie I think about going to a shoe store.” — Andrea May, Shreveport, Louisiana.

WE’RE PREGNANT — Grounded for nine months.

“Were men feeling left out of the whole morning sickness/huge belly/labor experience? You may both be expecting, but only one of you is pregnant.” — Sharla Hulsey, Sac City, Iowa.

“I’m sure any woman who has given birth will tell you that ‘WE’ did not deliver the baby.” — Marlena Linne, Greenfield, Indiana.

And while we’re on the subject of words and stringing them together, The Book Page’s World’s Worst Book Title was a stimulating read. The competition was stiff, with titles like

“Who Drooled on My Shoulder? A Guide to Sleeping Well on Trans-Atlantic Flights”

“Everything You’ll Need to Remember About Alzheimer’s”

“Curious George and the High Voltage Fence”

“Letting It Go: a History of American Incontinence”

“The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification”

So what title could possibly be better than these titles? How about “Cooking with Pooh”. Can anyone say bon appétit?

But we’re just warming up, folks. Slate’s The Questions We Never Answered in 2007 contains a whole bunch of questions I, well, never asked. The most baffling, however, were, “Why do men almost never win on ABC’s Wheel of Fortune?” and “When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?” Don’t lose sleep over that one.

No, I was not one of the judges for America’s Best Restroom 2007, but I’m as picky about my potties as the next guy. Apparently, so is ex-Senator Larry Craig.

And speaking of bums… The Most Hated Company of 2007 is Exxon / Mobil, with good ol’ WalMart a close second. (Come to think of it, why WalMart is so hated may be one of those Questions We Never Answered.) Equally as despicable, however, is The Phoenix’s 100 Unsexiest Men 2007. I can barely stand to look at these brutes! Yet, seeing that Sanjaya made the Top Ten added to my already exultant holiday cheer.

And here in SoCal, no year-end list would be complete without Best Bumper Stickers of 2007.

Ask me about my vow of silence.

Without geometry, life is pointless.

Stable relationships are for horses.

National Spellling Bee Runer-Up

I didn’t believe in reincarnation in my last life, either!

If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

Dyslexics are teople poo.

My mother was a moonshiner, and I love her still.

If you believe in telepathy, think about honking.

Who knew that sitting traffic could be so productive?

Well, it’s been great perusing the peculiar with you. No doubt 2008 will have its share of Bigfoot sightings, stupid band names, and wayward senators. From all the staff at NJ: Here’s to a fun, fitful, and increasingly prosperous New Year!

Sunday Devotion- A thimble of grace

Cindy Sproles

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – Romans 5:20

Try and explain grace. Think it through for a minute and then try to explain exactly what grace is. Sorry, but Webster is out – can’t use it. It’s a given what Webster says about grace. Pardon, reprieve, approval, favor, even privilege. However, what the assignment consists of is, you explaining grace in your own words.

My son and I were driving to the store one afternoon, when he asked, “Mom, tell me what grace means.” That would be easy or so I thought and I began listing all those words Webster offers. That’s when the realization of grace came to me. It’s more than single words. Grace is a concept – a big concept. In order to get our mind around it, we have to understand the concept.

Look at grace like this: you take a thimble, a tiny little sewing thimble. Pretend you’re standing on the beach gazing at the ocean. Now, jump in the water, swim out just a bit, dip your thimble in the water, and swim back. Once back on shore, look at the water in your thimble. It’s such a tiny amount of water. Imagine this. That small amount of water, when poured on your head, will cover you completely, soaking you to the bone. One more thing, look at that ocean. It’s huge. You could stand at the beach and dip your thimble into the ocean bazillions of times through your lifetime and never come close to using up the grace that God offers.

One might ask why do you have to swim into the ocean to fill your thimble? Can’t a person do that from the beach? Certainly, but the point of grace is diving into it. The full effects are felt when we immerse ourselves fully into the process. Isn’t that amazing? God’s marvelous grace is so abundant we can’t begin to make a dent in His ocean. Better yet, one thimbleful is concentrated – you know – a “little bit goes a long way” cliché.

There are many Christian concepts that sometimes throw us for a loop when we’re trying to grasp hold. We can be a great theologian and still not really “get” a concept – that’s why it’s important to ponder them. Study. When you least expect it. God will explain it.

So, today when I sat at my desk, I asked the Father, “What’s your definition of grace?”

He pulled his chair close to me and laid His hand on the desk, tapping His fingers in thought. “Grace is my way of canceling out the bad. A freedom of sorts, but one you must make the effort to receive. That’s why I sent you My Son. Grace.”

“Did you like my explanation of grace? You know, the thimble story.”

“I did. And now, here’s the question I pose to you. I freely give grace. What about you? It’s easy to receive grace, but it’s hard to give it. Who do you need to offer up a thimble of grace?”

I was stunned. “I thought grace was a God thing.”

“It is. But the idea is the same. If you can receive grace, you must also learn to offer it. It’s not my grace, because only I can give my grace, but you can offer your version of the idea and find a great peace in the forgiveness that lies beneath a simple word like grace. You know – give a gift. It’s Christmas.”

“Is grace my Christmas present?”

“My Son was your Christmas present. The grace is what wraps His packages.”

“Alright, so You’re saying I can give grace as well. That it’s not just a “GOD THING?”

The Father smiled as He tinkered with my keyboard. “Of course you can give grace. And it is a God thing, however, it’s a gift and gifts are meant to be given.”

I thought for a minute and came to the conclusion, God does know what He’s talking about. There are tons of gifts under thousands of Christmas trees this year, but does one of them contain grace? The Father sent us His one and only Son. What a wonderful and miraculous present and it came wrapped in this amazing paper called grace. A gift that money cannot buy but that blood purchased and paid for in full.

Wow. What a prize.

This year I’m mailing a couple of unique packages to people who’ll never expect them. They’ll open the boxes and find a note that simple says, “I offer you grace.” They’ll probably wonder what I had to drink but the fact remains the gift was given. It is easy to receive but difficult to give at times. That when I think of the sacrifice which came to me without hesitation – note attached – “For you….my gift of grace.”

God makes sense when we listen.

The Novel Journey

It’s Friday evening, and the post I was planning to put on Novel Journey tonight isn’t going to work because I didn’t realize the book’s release is still a few months out. Argh! Who wants to write a blog post between Christmas and New Years?

As I considered what to write about—briefly toying with the idea of touching on platform, or publicity, or working with your local bookstore, it occurred to me that I had no idea what was going to happen to my life the day I finally decided to sit down and write my novel. Little did I know when I wrote the “The End” and made a pledge that I would do whatever it took to see this book published, what that would entail.

The first ACFW conference I attended, guest speaker Karen Ball urged us not to miss the journey along the way to publication. I remember feeling this knot in my stomach, thinking it was easier to say than to live out, for if my novel wasn’t published, I’d just wasted two years of my life and more money than I had to spend.

Since then, I’ve come to a much better understanding.

The journey really is something worth experiencing.

If it hadn’t been for this journey, I wouldn’t have tried my hand at publicity, or be working on my public speaking skills. Neither would have I started to learn graphic or web design. I probably never would have worked at a local bookstore. And currently, I’m taking the skills I learned writing and editing and applying them to video production.

And while those skills are useful in and of themselves, there have been deeper lessons than those. Lessons of perseverance—such as deciding to invest another year to rewrite a manuscript that I’d worked years on, and lessons that nothing can stop you from putting one foot in front of the other if you choose to pursue your dreams.

I’ve picked up honesty along the way, which might sound surprising coming from a Christian and a writer. I’m talking about the kind of honesty that tells (and writes) the truth, no matter how much it hurts or we hate to admit it. Recently my husband played in a concert, and with everyone around him assuring him the performance was stellar, he turned and asked me my opinion. My reply, “I think you did about 80-85% of what you’re capable of.” Shock registered on the faces around me until my husband smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too.” He knew that from me—if he asked—he’d get an honest opinion.

I’ve also learned there’s a very careful balance between career and family. In the end, it’s only a book and some things in life are not worth missing on a chance that may—or may not—happen. Yet at the same time, I’ve learned if you don’t clear your schedule and make time, it definitely won’t happen.

There’s a saying that publishing won’t change your life, you’re the same person after publication as you were beforehand. I won’t argue with that, but I will add a clause that says, there’s a mighty good chance you’ll be a different person than the one who decided to start the publishing journey.

It’s nearing the end of 2007 and for some it might mean the end another year that they didn’t see their novel or book published. I’d like to remind everyone of the best advice I’ve heard yet—Don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way. Photo credit: www.sxc.hu, djayo.

WaterBrook Press Publicist Kelly Blewett ~ Interviewed

Kelly Blewett works in the publicity department of WaterBrook Press. She is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio, where she earned a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys spending time with her husband Ken (returning home from Iraq!!!), reading, brewing delicious pots of coffee and organizing blog campaigns!

Of all the creative author marketing and publicity you’ve encountered what effort has provided the most effective results for both the publisher and the author?

I’m not sure exactly how creative this is, but it’s definitely effective for an author to consider all the types of readers who will be interested in their novel–and then formulate specific strategies to publicize to those folks. Sometimes when we ask authors about their target market, we hear “all women between twenty and fifty.” That’s fine, but it’s more effective to say “Well, there’s a strong pro-life message in my story, and one of my characters is in the military.” That’s what Bob Elmer said about his recent release, Like Always, and that helped me form a specific plan to approach pro-life outlets as well as websites for military personnel.

Of all the marketing and publicity angles you’ve seen – what would you suggest that an author not do or not invest in?

Don’t approach media directly without talking to your publicist! There seems to be a strong emphasis on novelists taking the lead on their publicity. While being a self-starter will produce results, I recommend working closely with your publicity team to make sure efforts don’t crossover. I recently had an author who contacted a well-known blogger to review her book-and I had already sent along a review copy! These crossovers just make the author and the publicist look out of sync and unprofessional.

Do you see a difference in book success between an author who lets the publicity department run with the book, vs. an author who works to make their book known?

I think an author should ALWAYS do both: Let the publicity department run with the book (after all that is our job!) AND work to make your book known. As Liz said in her interview, the best publicity campaigns almost always involve the author and the publicist working hard together. Understand what you can bring to the table: the deepest and most profound understanding of your book (you know how it connects to your life, where it came from, why you wrote it), and contacts from a variety of sources (reviewers from a hometown paper, a list of radio stations that you’ve been on in the past, a high-profile person who may be uniquely interested in promoting your story).

By thinking broadly and creatively about how the book could be positioned, and who you personally know that can help the campaign, you’re prepared to equip your publicist to run a better campaign for the book. In turn, the publicist will bring a huge list of media contacts, experience in promoting novels and hopefully savvy spins to make your topic especially relevant for various kinds of media.

Are there any personal touches that you can recommend to authors who might be very introverted and begin palpitating at the thought of crowds?

I suppose it would depend on what kind of crowd you’re facing! Remember the reason you’re connected to these people. If you’re at ICRS and panic at the thought of leaving your hotel room, remember that everyone in that room LOVES books and is a fellow Christian. If you’re nervous before a signing, remember that the people you’ll be meeting are there because they love your book! If you attend a writers conference and clam up at the thought of sharing your work, remember that the people there are fellow writers and future friends. I think we work in a very kind industry, filled with people who are available and with whom you probably have a great deal in common.

What kind of results are you seeing from your blog tours?

I love blog campaigns! It’s such a fun way to raise an author’s online profile. But beyond creating buzz, I do think that blog campaigns lead to book sales. We’ve noticed, particularly with one campaign, that blog readers bought the book, resulting in a large buy-in from Amazon. While it’s hard to say how much blog campaigns lead to sales, there is a correlation there. It’s an excellent grass-roots publicity tool, both for writers and for readers looking to stay informed about the newest releases.

What have you learned since you started blog tours?

I’ve learned not to put your bloggers in a box! Our WaterBrook Multnomah blogger list has enjoyed reviewing everything from fiction books, to parenting books to devotionals. These bloggers are just avid readers, ready to give an opinion on almost any kind of book. It’s fun to work with such passionate readers.

What changes have you noticed in fiction recently? Do you find these changes good or not so good, explain your answer.

The consensus seems to be that Christian fiction is a higher quality now than ever before—the books are not nearly as “cookie cutter” nor the characters as one-dimensional as perhaps they once were. I also think the writing is all-around better J. I find these changes to be satisfying, and I think fiction from Christians is reaching more readers than ever before.

Bonnie Calhoun recently wrote that Christian fiction is the largest growing segment in the publishing industry. That’s a great thing for all of us who love to read, write and promote it!

What one or two things could you share with Novel Journey readers that might surprise them regarding bookselling?

It seems that many Christians are going to Barnes & Noble and Borders these days to pick up new inspirational reads–and correspondingly these major chains are really interested in the newest Christian fiction. Check out The Christian Book Reader, a free magazine distributed at Borders nationally that features new Christian books (produced by Strang).

Even though this development is cool as it indicates that our market is widening, it dismays many wonderful booksellers who own Christian independents. Keep shopping locally!

Personally — what are your favorite genres?

Honestly I’ll read just about anything! I love coming-of-age stories, sassy stories of young women caught in an improbable situation, sweeping romances, spare poetry and especially a well written essay collection. But I’ll take memoirs, biographies and mass market suspense titles, too.

Favorite books or authors?

You should know better than to ask a publicist! I truly enjoy our WaterBrook titles—Cindy Woodsmall’s books I read in giant gulps (then long for more!). Jane Kirkpatrick’s gutsy women inspire me. Lisa Samson and Geof Wood are deliciously quirky, and Jeffrey Overstreet turns a wonderful sentence. But beyond the WaterBrook faves, I’d have to add that I love the humor of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and almost anything written by Jerry Spinelli makes me smile (especially Stargirl). Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott and Barbara Kingsolver have been wonderful companions for the journey, too.

If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists what would it be?

Keep writing!