This past week, Bonnie Calhoun was kind enough to chat via the phone with me as I added PC protection and cleaners on my computer. (Alas, it was running slow.) She showed me new software to combine with my old ones. So this week, I thought I’d pass on the information. After all, we all use our computers for writing.

(And for those with Macs, feel free to leave a comment razzing us PC users. :-P)

Here’s a good checklist for those looking to speed things up or test their virus protection.

To remove infections of Trojans, Spyware, Adware, Worms, Keyloggers, Rootkits, Dialers and other malicious programs A-Squared has a free program.

This one is my favorite. CCleaner removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history.

Ad-Aware 2007 free anti-spyware version provides you with advanced protection against spyware that secretly attaches and takes control of your computer, resulting in aggressive advertising pop-ups, sluggish computer activity, even identity theft through stolen bank details, passwords, and credit card account numbers.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is one of the most popular solutions to provide basic security protection on home and non-commercial PCs.

So there you have it! Hope someone benefits from them like I did.

Timeless or Literary? Semantics Count, by Mary E. DeMuth

Mary DeMuth began her writing career as a newsletter editor, then novelist, columnist and freelance writer. She lives in Texas with her husband and three children. Her newest release, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture: Practical Help for Shaping Your Children’s Hearts, Minds, and Souls, hits shelves July 1, 2007.

I have good friends. One such amazing friend is D’Ann who loves me well, dares to speak the truth to me, and shoulders my burdens in prayer.
Recently I asked a group about including a literary track at a conference.

Later, I realized this word, literary, is a divisive word, and can sound elitist. D’Ann helped me unpack literary and helped me see it really wasn’t the word I was after.
The thesaurus says:
Literary: bookish, literate, scholarly, erudite, cerebral, formal, artistic, stuffy
“Timelessness,” D’Ann said. “You want to write something that becomes a classic.”
I resonated with her words. I thought back over the books that had become classics over the past century. While some would definitely be placed in the literary genre, many were popular books, well written, that spoke deeply to the human condition.
There is a universal quality about timeless books–something in the storytelling that resonates with a broad spectrum of people. Consider the synonyms of timeless and classic:
Timeless: eternal, never ending, everlasting, ageless, perpetual, immortal, undying
Classic: excellent, model, exemplary, extraordinary, vintage, standard, prototype
I used to say I wrote Southern Literary Drama. Now I’m not so sure. It would be stuck-up to say, “Um, well, yeah. I write classics–timeless books, you know.” How presumptuous! But internally, this is something I’m aiming for. I believe many novelists aim for this. Who doesn’t want a story that is ageless and extraordinary? Who doesn’t want to write characters that startle the reader enough to stay with her the rest of her life?
Scout and Jem play in the sweaty South in my mind. Huckleberry Finn’s in there too, paddling. Stephen Dedalus haunts me still. Pip, Lennie Small, Anne with an E, Jo. They’re classics. They’re timeless.
But how do we do that? How does Scout enliven a page as she did? Because she lived in the mind of Harper Lee, a woman who took the craft so seriously, she couldn’t bring herself to write again, for fear of not measuring up to Scout’s reputation. We hold the characters in our minds, but they live through our fingers. And they breathe through our stories. Weaving it all together in a beautiful prose tapestry takes time.
Maybe that’s the kicker. Time. To write words that become timeless, we need to stop, breathe, wrestle, and take our words slowly. I’m writing a novel right now, and although I’m having the time of my life, every time I go back through yesterday’s words, I shudder. Because there’s so much to do. So many nuances to invoke. So much characterization needed to do to morph my characters from simple to complex, from out-on-their-sleeves to subtle and nuanced.
Maybe our discussions should form more around what makes good literature timeless. Maybe the word literary is too pithy and stuck up. Maybe it divides. And maybe it’s not what we’re after anyway.

Author Interview ~ Annette Smith

Annette Smith lives in East Texas with Randy, her husband of 28 years. She began writing in 1997, and has authored twelve books. Annette’s first release, The Whispers of Angels, has sold over 110,000 copies. Her novel credits include the Coming Home to Ruby Prairie trilogy and two books in the Eden Plain series. When she’s not writing, Annette serves as a full time hospice nurse.

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

I’m currently enjoying readers’ responses to A Bigger Life, which released a few months ago.

Coming up is my next project, A Crooked Path, which releases in September. This book chronicles the story of Mexican immigrant Manny Ortega and his relationship with chronically ill ranch owner Owen Green. Manny’s story, told in first person, deals with racism, class issues, and the power of unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

I’ve been writing for ten years. A Bigger Life is my eleventh book, my fourth novel. Writing is difficult for me. I generally struggle and fret my way through. Not so with A Bigger Life. The way this book came to me feels like a gift.

Two and a half years ago, at my young adult daughter’s insistence that I do something about my hair, I visited a new salon. That day marked the beginning of an unusual relationship between me, a middle-aged, church-going wife and mom, and Paul C., a 27-year-old hair stylist sporting a shaved head and multiple tattoos. As he cut and colored my hair, Paul shared with me snippets of his poignant story..

As I listened to him talk, I was moved by the way Paul spoke from a place of such brokenness and grief. He was the single dad of a three-year-old little boy whose mother had died two months before. Devoid of self-pity, his words stunned me with their transparency and truth.

Paul’s voice resonated so strongly with me, I could not wait to get him on paper. As soon as I arrived home from the salon, I began writing the first chapter of A Bigger Life. While in no way a factual account of his life, Paul’s spirit and voice are on every page. Since that first meeting, he and I have become friends. Coming from such different places we learn so much from each other. My life is richer because of him.

A Bigger Life is told in the first person male voice. How did you manage to pull that off?

I love it when people tell me they can’t believe the book was written by a woman. I never thought about writing in the male voice, but this one (as well as my next book) came to me in that way.

I seem to have a knack for hearing the way people talk. I’m a terrible eavesdropper. There’s not much I enjoy more than listening in on people’s public conversations. I also am intrigued by the world of men, how they think and reason, how they view women and relationships.

As I was writing this book, I would imagine my friend Paul saying the words of my main character. It was as if he was sitting next to me talking. And so I wrote as I heard.

I also had two good male friends, as well as my husband, read my manuscript. Their comments and input helped so much. I was blessed to have Jeff Gerke edit this project. He’s the one who pointed out that a man would be unlikely to take notice of a beautiful woman’s shoes.
NJ: To read a review of A Bigger Life, click here.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

My journey is not typical. Though I’d always loved to read and had excelled in writing papers and such in school, I never thought about becoming a writer. To me that would be akin to having aspirations of modeling or singing in a famous rock band. Impossible!

However, in 1996, I began to dabble a bit, writing short stories and essays. I showed my work, about fifteen pages total, to a writer friend and she showed it to an editor at Harvest House. That editor happened to be Chip Macgregor. He liked my work enough to contract my first and best-selling book to date, The Whispers of Angels. Chip became a real supporter of my work, eventually serving as my agent for a time. I consider him a good friend.

I’ll never forget the thrill of the arrival of that first case of books. I knelt on my kitchen floor and sliced through the packing tape with a butter knife. I couldn’t believe someone had actually published my book. I still can’t.

Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

The best cure for writer’s block is a contract. The pressure of knowing I’ve committed myself is usually enough to keep my seat in my seat. On days when it’s really difficult, I may spend time editing the previous days’ work rather than producing new pages.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?

Plot is most difficult for me. Characters, voice, and dialogue are easy. It’s figuring out what these interesting folks are going to do that’s a challenge.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I have a sunny room at the back of my house that I use for my office. It’s actually a converted carport, a bit hot in the summer and chilly in the winter, but with windows on three sides, the view of my tree-filled back yard is gorgeous.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

When I begin a new project, I divide my word count by the number of weeks I have available to work. Then I break that down further to get the number of words I need to write each day. I’m forever getting behind which means that several times during the process, I end up redoing the math and upping my needed word count. Ideally, I can do about four pages a day.

I wish I could write for long stretches of time but I can’t. I may work for thirty-minutes to an hour, then I’m up doing something in the house for awhile before coming back to my computer.

What does a typical day look like for you?

In addition to writing, I work as a hospice nurse. I must fit my writing around my nursing schedule. So I’m very flexible. I wedge writing time in where I can. Every day is different. I’m most creative in the early mornings, but when I work a late night shift, my early mornings are spent under the covers. A girl’s got to sleep.

It helps that my children are grown and away from home and I have the world’s most low-maintenance husband. He’s supportive of my work and loves Sonic burgers. Am I blessed or what?

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

I don’t write right. I’m an intuitive, seat-of-the pants writer. No outlining. No plotting. I simply sit down and begin, editing as I go. Once my story is finished, I’ll read through and edit as many times as needed to smooth the rough edges. I strive to turn in as clean a manuscript as possible.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter
Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons
Never Change, by Elizabeth Berg

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Don’t compare yourself to others. There are many definitions of success. There is no one right career path. Write only those stories you are passionate to tell.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I wish I’d studied the craft of novel writing before I landed my first novel contract. My first novel has lots of flaws. If I’d put in my time studying technique, it would have been a much better book.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

Not enough. Marketing is extremely difficult for me. I loathe self promotion. I have a website and I blog, but not nearly as faithfully as I should. I do speak to library and reading groups. I’m available by phone for book clubs.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Be a listener. Focus on being interested rather than interesting. People have amazing stories to tell. Consider yourself the recipient of a precious gift when someone blesses you with theirs.

Guest Blogger ~ Tamera Alexander

TAMERA ALEXANDER is the bestselling author of Rekindled, Revealed, and Remembered, the three-part Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers. Rekindled, a CBA bestseller, has won critical acclaim and was chosen as one of Library Journal’s Top 5 Picks for Christian Fiction 2006. Rekindled and Revealed triple-finaled in the 2007 RITA® Awards sponsored by Romance Writers of America—Rekindled and Revealed for Best Inspirational Novel, and Rekindled for Best First Novel. She and her husband make their home in Tennessee with their two college-age children, and a seven-pound Silky named Jack.

Her most recent release, Remembered, is in stores now and garnered the following starred review from Library Journal: *This follow-up to Rekindled and Revealed is a rich historical romance by possibly the best new writer in this sub-genre… Descriptive prose and memorable characters set within an engrossing love story make this an essential read for those who like 19th-century Western romances with faith subtly interwoven throughout.

Tamera is currently working on her fourth novel, part of her second three-book historical series with Bethany House which is set in the Colorado Territory. She’ll be presenting a workshop on Dissecting a Novel at the ACFW Conference in Dallas in September. You can visit Tamera’s website and her blog.

Thanks for asking me to guest blog on Novel Journey today, Ane. I’m excited to be with you guys. I was recently asked a question by a fellow writer which led to a longer discourse between us on learning to write novels, so I thought I’d share some of what we discussed here.

She asked, “What’s the best thing you’ve done to learn how to write novels?” Invariably, I answer…by reading them!

1. Learn from your favorites—

One of the ways in which I’ve learned to write novels (and continue to learn) is by reading them. By taking them apart, piece by piece. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a ton of great “how to” books (and have listed some of my favorites below), but I’ve learned the greatest and most lasting lessons from reading other’s work. From finding what works and what doesn’t. How did the author get me to cry on page 28 or laugh out loud on page 47? Or have me gripping my afghan in a strangle hold? All veracious readers have favorite novels that resonate with them, that they’ve read time after time. The next time you reread one of your favorites, try looking more closely at:
*Point of View (Note how many POVs the writer used, how they used POV to deepen characterization, are the transitions smooth and fluid?)
*Characterization (Did you already care about the characters after only two or three pages? Did the author plant a burning question(s) in those pages that kept you reading?)
*Pacing (Is the plot quick-moving? Does it keep you turning the pages? If yes, what hooks did the author use and where were they placed? How long are their chapters?)

Reading a novel as a writer is far different than reading it as a reader. In the Wizard of Oz when the professor is in fear of being found out, he cries out, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” But when you read to learn, you very much want to pay attention—to everything that “man (or woman) behind the curtain” is doing.

Suggested Reading for Writers:

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins

Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

2. Join a professional writing organization—

If you’re a writer of Christian fiction and you’ve never attended a Christian Writers’ Conference, please try to work it into your budget and your schedule this year. I’m part of American Christian Fiction Writers and our annual conference is coming up in September in Dallas. James Scott Bell is the keynote speaker (he’s a master of teaching fiction writing), and there are comprehensive sessions for all levels of writers. The training I’ve received from ACFW has made all the difference in my writing—and in my being published. You can find more information about this professional writer’s group and their annual conference at ACFW.

3. Find a writing partner—

Finding a compatible writing partner has been one of the greatest joys in my writing career, and one of the greatest helps in relation to accountability in writing. She and I critique each others first drafts before we submit them to our editors, and she’s helped me to grow in my writing—both in my voice and in my technique. We’re pretty brutal with each other. We both know we enjoy each other’s work so while we do try and remember to point out the “what’s working” in our first drafts, we never shy from speaking the truth in love—no matter how much rewriting is involved.

You say, “Sure I’d love to find a great writing partner, but how?” Attending Christian conferences is a great way to facilitate that because you’ll be around a lot of other writers who desire to hone their writing skills too. Many organizations (ACFW among them) has critique groups you can join. I’ve been involved with two successful critique groups in the past and so appreciate those journeys. Pray about it. Ask God to direct you to that person or persons, in his timing, and in his way. Don’t force it. Let it come naturally and from him.
4. Never forget that I have a lot to learn—

Writing is a process. Just as a book may be months or even years in the making, so the skill of writing takes time to be honed, to be polished to a sheen. We can all learn from anyone, if our perspectives are right.

Something that has helped me in every stage of my writing career has been knowing this—nothing happens to me that doesn’t first filter through the loving hands of my heavenly Father. Nothing. He’s known since the beginning of time how many books I would write in my lifetime. It may be six, it may be twenty-six. But no matter the number, I want to be centered in the middle of his will for my life. And while I’m critiquing at conferences or partnering with another writer over a manuscript, I always pray God’s will for their life, whatever that is. How could we want any more or less?