A Worthy Goal, A Precious Prize.

I read something recently about breaking free of writer’s block. The writer expressed how she had broken through and was energized again. She proclaimed – “The goal, to write. The Prize, to publish.” I felt like cheering. To write – yes! A worthy goal. To publish – yes! And it was here that I paused.

The question came to mind, What is the prize? Is it seeing your byline in a magazine or newspaper or on the cover of a book? Is it receiving a check for a piece of writing you have labored over? I’ve had the thrill of all of these, and yes, it is a thrill, but it is fleeting. The byline may not be noticed nor remembered. The check evaporates like mist. Surely there is more. Is the prize perhaps the process itself? Is the prize all that is learned along the way? Is the prize the life being lived as a writer who belongs to Christ?

Henri Nouwen wrote; “Writing is a process in which we discover what lives within us. The writing, itself, reveals what is alive! The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.”

What lives within us – that which is alive – is revealed to us as we write. As those spaces open up within us we discover Who will fill them. As we trust Him, not knowing the destination becomes irrelevant.

What greater prize can there be? When we focus on the Spirit of God as the giver and sustainer of the gift, it is as we write that we understand Who that Spirit is. It is as we build our stories, our articles, our poems, that we discover the depth of His wisdom and love.

That journey, that adventure is in itself a gift. I would own no other prize.

Saturday’s Poll

This week as I searched my house for reading material, I decided upon a book which I’ve already read three times. It made me wonder how many of you repeat read. For me, if a book has a reputation of being really good, I don’t borrow it from my library, I wait to own it. On the other hand, I have friends who read once and move on—no matter how good it is.
I know some writers read some works more than once. In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says, “To teach short story writing, he had us read James Joyce’s “The Dead” over and over. It was from this practice that I learned the value of dissecting a piece of writing repeatedly until it surrendered its secrets.

Knowing that all books aren’t created equal, for this week’s polls, I’m narrowing it down to your absolutely top five favorite books.

How Many Times Have You Read Your Favorite Books?
( surveys)

Author Melanie Lynne Hauser ~ Interviewed

At an age when many women throw themselves back into their careers after raising their children, Melanie Lynne Hauser looked around and realized she never had one in the first place. After deciding she wasn’t creative enough to start her own business (like all those women on Oprah), she turned to the one thing she did know: Books. A bookworm from the time she was able to form words, Melanie realized that what she really wanted to do was write books. So she wrote one. It stank. She buried it out in her backyard, next to the compost heap. She wrote another book. It didn’t stink quite so much; in fact it got her not one, but two literary agents. Still, nobody wanted to publish it. She wrote another book. It stank the least of all, and led her to her current, wonderful literary agent, but still it went unpublished. Then she wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM. So far, nobody has said that it stinks and someone optioned the story for film. The sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD was published by NAL in 2007. And finally, at long last, Melanie has a career. (And old men in nursing homes everywhere breathe a huge sigh of relief.)

** Melanie is giving away Jumble Pie in e-book form. Click on the book cover and you’ll find out what you need to do to get it on your hot little computer.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

I just settled on a new idea. I’d started a couple of different manuscripts, just playing with them, but nothing had really captured my imagination. Then I got a great idea – courtesy of a dear friend – and now I’m seized. But I can’t talk about it! It’s still too early.

Share a bit about your unique writing journey.

Unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t grow up wanting to be one. I wanted to be an actress, actually, and had a little success with that prior to marriage. But I did grow up reading, always. When my children were of a certain age – fully in grade school – I decided I should finally get around to figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up! Books seemed to be the one constant in my life, so like a lot of people, I decided to write a novel. And like a lot of people’s, it was terrible! But I learned a lot – primarily, I learned when to say good-bye to a project that isn’t going to work, and I learned to have the courage to start something new. Eventually I got an agent, wrote a couple more books that were much better and came close to selling but didn’t, then I wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM and got a two-book deal (including the sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD.)

What has been your biggest writing challenge and how have you overcome it?

For me, it’s been what’s happened AFTER publication. I thought – and I think a lot of writers believe this to be true – that once published, always published. And I think it used to be that way; writers started out small, and were given the time and support to stay at one house, and build an audience through subsequent books. It’s not that way anymore; writing is more like freelancing. Once one contract is over, there’s no guarantee when – or if – you’ll get another one. You constantly have to be able to reinvent yourself; only a very few fortunate authors, these days, seem to have the kind of career that allows them to plan ahead, book after book after book, and know who their audience will be.

Being able to understand this reality, and understanding that it takes a lot of flexibility and creativity and just plain ol’ stubborn determination to succeed as an author these days – well, I hope I have these qualities!

How has life prepared you to be a writer? How has it not?

Life experience is so key, but an author has to be able to learn from experience. I think I have the kind of personality that is constantly observing, wondering, questioning, imagining; I can overhear snippets of a conversation and suddenly I have the idea for an entire novel. That ability to hold back a bit and watch, rather than totally living in the moment is very important to writing – I’m not sure, though, that it’s always the best way to live life! But that seems to be the way I’ve most prepared myself for writing.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Oh, that’s hard! I don’t really know. I think I’ve learned a lot of hard truths but I’m not sure I’d have wanted to know about all of them before I started writing – I might have been scared off! I think I’d just tell myself to hold on to the dreamy, idealistic part that allows me to create, while honing the more rational, realistic part that has to deal with the business part. Did that make any sense?? But I do think an author has to have both parts – a tough part and a soft, idealistic part – in order to succeed.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

I’m not sure I have an answer to that. I don’t think any one event/person can have that kind of an impact. Life experience, as I said, is so important, and I think it’s so true that every time you write “Chapter One,” you’re a better writer than the person who just wrote “The End” only a few days (or weeks) before. So every event, every experience, every person you meet shapes you as a writer, and it’s all, in the end, for the better.

Do you still struggle with any aspect of writing or the writing business? What are you doing to conquer it?

Mainly I struggle with the fact that fewer people are reading and buying fiction. There’s nothing I can do about that, except personally preach the gospel of BUY BOOKS! But it’s the reality today, and it affects every author I know, in some way. I think that as a society we really don’t value writers and writing, at least not the way other countries do, and the way we used to. There are so many more demands on our time and we seem to gravitate toward the whole reality TV version of everything – including the few books that people make the time to buy.

Have you discovered any surefire marketing ideas that you’d like to share with us? Or have you encountered any that our readers should avoid?

There is nothing surefire. And the quicker you get that in your head, the more you’ll be able to relax. Because I think there’s such enormous pressure on authors today; we feel that we are responsible for personally selling each and every copy of our books. Publishers put this pressure on us, other authors do, too. It can get terrifying.

But having said all that, I do know that every author today HAS to be able to think in terms of marketing and publicity (more publicity, though, since for the most part, marketing is out of our hands). We have to educate ourselves on the realities of the business. We have to understand the importance of websites, of some kind of an Internet presence, of not hiding behind some mysterious “author” curtain, high up in our ivory tower of creativity….that’s not part of our “job description” any longer (if it ever was).

The most important thing? Write a great book with a unique hook or concept that will allow you to talk about it in terms other than “great prose.” People need a compelling reason, these days, to pick up a book. So give it to them.

Parting words…anything you wish I’d asked because you have the perfect answer?

These are all great questions! I don’t really know what else I can add. Love the writing, love the reading (and please, read contemporary fiction!! You’d be surprised how many aspiring authors don’t, and I think it’s tragic), and grow a tough skin. Know that there’s no secret handshake to being published; it’s just a combination of plain ol’ hard work and determination and luck. And know that there’s never going to be a place where you can relax and say, “Ahh. At last, I have arrived.”

If you know that, and still can’t stop yourself from writing because it’s the only thing you really know how to do (which is certainly my case!), then – welcome aboard!

Patti Lacy ~ Author Interview

Patti Lacy, a former community college instructor, has penned her debut novel, An Irishwoman’s Tale. Drawn to stories involving secrets and multicultural characters, Patti has sold a second novel to Kregel and is currently working on a fictional series entitled “Spanning Seas and Secrets.” Patti and her husband, Alan, live in Normal, Illinois. They have two grown children and a dog named Laura.

Wild places like West Coast sea islands and the majestic Rocky Mountains call to the Lacys. They love to hike and take road trips when their budget permits. Another passion of Patti‘s is volunteering at Ministry & More, an organization which offers food, prayer, and hope to those struggling with burdens. Patti facilitates women’s Bible studies and small groups. More information can be found at http://www.pattilacy.com/

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

An Irishwoman’s Tale, a work of contemporary Christian women’s fiction.

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

In 1995, God dumped the story in my lap following a book discussion group meeting at my home in Terre Haute, Indiana. “Mary,” a mercurial red-haired woman, stayed after the meeting to clean my kitchen while I picked over the great eats everyone had brought for the At Home in Mitford discussion. When the countertops shone and my belly was rock-hard stuffed, we moved to the front porch, sprawled in a couple of patio chairs, and started yakking. In the middle of a chat about our kids, my new friend asked me, “What is your first memory?” Hours later, I knew I’d been gifted something extraordinary through her story.

At the time, I was getting my master’s in literature but hadn’t written much except some esoteric research papers and embarrassing poetry. Then in 1999, we moved to Illinois, and for the next six years I raised kids and taught Humanities at the local community college. In 2005, God whispered that I should write “Mary’s” story. After getting her consent and taking a research trip to the gorgeous west coast of Ireland, that’s just what I did.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I started my first novel, An Irishwoman’s Tale, in 2005. What I didn’t say was my debut novel was birthed as nonfiction. Two, three…thirty drafts later, I’d attended the 2006 Write to Publish in Wheaton, changed the story to fiction, hired Camy Tang and Dennis Hensley to edit the novel, switched from first person to third person POV, added and deleted scenes, and much, much more.

In December of 2006, I got an e-mail from Dennis Hillman of Kregel Publications saying, “We’d like to publish your novel.” I jumped up and down, then got a grip and started looking for an agent. In 2007, I signed with Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary, and he negotiated my contract with Kregel. I’ve been working on novels ever since.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Well, I don’t bang my head against the wall, I lay my head on the keyboard and cry. However, Bob Pangrazi, a colleague of my husband and author of over 65 publications, gave me a sure-fire tip to prevent writer’s block, and I try my best to adhere to it. “Set a manageable daily page goal,” he said, “then stick to it. No Matter What.”

Do not pass go. Do not set the teakettle to boil or brew a cup of coffee. Do not even go to the bathroom.

My magic number is three little pages. Not much, but it adds up to over a thousand a year. Nearly three novels, if you want to see the big picture I grit my teeth and pound my way through writer’s block like an old, out-of-shape heavyweight sparring with the young, buff national junior champion. On good days, I may type ten or more pages. On bad days, I have typewritten exactly twenty-seven double-spaced lines. Three pages.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?

Putting emotion in my writing. I still struggle with it, and it’s the reason I still utilize two wonderful critique groups and professional editing (though thankfully I’m seeing less red ink on my current WIP, My Name is Sheba.)

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?

I play music related to my writing. For An Irishwoman’s Tale, I purchased Eden’s Bridge and traditional Irish folk songs. I also read and tried to implement Iglesia’s Writing for Emotional Impact and Kress’s Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

When my daughter left for college, she donated her old bedroom, a sunny room on our second floor, to “the cause” and I was promoted out of a windowless basement room with sagging ceiling tiles and industrial carpet. In my new office, a Scott Mutter poster enlivens the south wall, and a painting by Angel Ambrose entitled “Searching for Unanswered Questions” adds beautiful green and yellow tones to the west wall. Of course there’s a sagging-from-its-load bookcase, my favorite stuffed chair, and some neat plants. And my computer and lots of notebooks and pens.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up by five a.m. so I can make my son’s lunch, get breakfast going, get menus planned. We Lacys are big eaters and try to load up on locally grown and organic produce and meats, so meal planning and grocery shopping take quite a bit of time. Then I sink into my office chair and study the Word. After this devotional period, my daily to-do list calls, as do the requisite daily pages.

Somewhere in there I work in a jog with The Three Stooges, my exercise partners. Earning their nickname by their comic relief as well as their looks, they keep me laughing so that I don’t notice the stitch in my sides and the ache in my lungs. Since writing is such a solitary profession, I try to schedule lunch and coffee dates a couple of times a week. I usually stop by three or four o’clock and start banging around the pots and pans. If it’s nice outside, we eat on the patio, then read, watch a movie, play Yahtzee, or stroll the neighborhood. With my latest read in hand, I retire early.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

It happens both ways for me. Sometimes the synapses are firing so rapidly, I stop at a house on our jogging route and borrow pen and paper to take notes. My husband (one of the Stooges) finally suggested I carry my cell phone and leave myself a voice memo. It’s not as fun but keeps the neighbors—and my husband—less stressed out.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

After two SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) novels, I used a modified “Snowflake” method (Randy Ingermanson) to outline my current WIP, a three-book series. But even before that outlining, my novel is birthed when I hear a story or see an image that captures my attention.

For An Irishwoman’s Tale, it was that new friend telling a story she’d kept bottled up for years. For Unsettled Waters, my second novel, it was an oral narrative about two little girls in the 60s, one black, one white, who had to stick toys through the chain link fence that separated their yards because their parents wouldn’t allow them to play together. I’d wake up at night, seeing those beautiful hands, one light, one darker, reaching for each other as the world strove to keep them apart.

I read newspapers, talk to people that I meet in coffeehouses, at church, at the ministry, and put ideas in a Word file. If I think images are related, they go in the same file. Then it becomes like a jigsaw puzzle and I keep arranging the pieces (the images) until they finally fit into a story.

After I piece together the plot, the characters, and write very general chapter headings, I buy and/or check out a ton of books about the time period and all the related subject matter, take copious notes, and start writing.

I use the Google search engine like wild to find relevant memorabilia, names, and facts. But if I REALLY need something right, I take my fingers off the keyboard and let them walk through the phone book. I’ve called pool specialists, firemen, doctors, psychologists, horse breeders, historians, farmers, gardeners, jazz musicians, nurses…the list goes on and on.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

You don’t have enough gigabytes or whatever for my list of favorite books! My old friends have gotten me through some hard and lonely times. I carefully consider on which shelf they should reside and am careful who I let them go out with.

A few old classics? Angle of Repose by Stegner for its intergenerational saga, its redemptive ending. Les Miserables because of the incredible characters. Anything by Jane Austen. Gayl Jones. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Paton. Kingsolver. I also adore Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. And I have a whole collection of multicultural novels and short stories.

In the CBA, I love all of Francine Rivers’ and Randy Alcorn’s books because of those authors’ storytelling capabilities. The Jan Karon series. I just finished Lisa Samson’s Quaker Summer and fell in love with her main character, who taught me a lot about myself and made me examine some weaknesses in my faith. This past year, I’ve been privileged to read some exciting authors: Maureen Lang, Tosca Lee, Melanie Dobson, Julie Lessman.

For nonfiction, I have a few tried and true folks who I turn to over and over. Elisabeth Elliot. James MacDonald, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis.

A few best-sellers from recent years that have hooked me into their gorgeous writing: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards and her book of short stories. Edwards has an AMAZING voice. Don’t miss her book of short stories, Secrets of a Fire King and the exquisite story, “A Gleaming in the Darkness.” I could read that story every day. Other best sellers: Atonement, The Big House, The Good German, Three Cups of Tea—I’m sorry. I’d better stop here.

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

Lynn Austin gave it to me at my first writer’s conference. “Go back to your room and decide if God wants you to write. Decide it once and for all. Then pick up your pen and don’t set it down. Try to forget about all the other stuff.” Many times I’ve grabbed my tennis shoes and headed out the door, tears in my eyes from all the “stuff” we writers have to deal with. Then that still small voice comes. “Isn’t it enough for me to read it? Can’t you give your best if I’m the only one who does?” It silences a lot of head-buzzing.

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?

Do not put a stamp on a proposal or query letter until you’ve (1) written the best book you can (2) attended a writers’ conference (3) had your book edited by a professional editor. I was doing it the wrong way when I by happenstance gave Julie Dearyan a ride at that same Write to Publish conference. In the ten minutes it took to get her back to the dorm, she got me on the right track with the above list of advice.

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

Jeane Wynn has helped me tremendously in this area of business where I feel incompetent by organizing a blog and media tour. As such a new writer, I’m struggling to work on my craft and somehow manage to do justice to the marketing aspect.

I did attend an informal lecture at one of the Chicago Northwest ACFW meetings where Travis Thrasher gave some great ideas, but hey, I’m pretty needy when it comes to marketing. If you’ve got some good ideas, my e-mail’s patti@pattilacy.com

Here are my current three general marketing strategies: (warning: they may suddenly change, like the Midwest weather!)

1) Contact local libraries, including the university. Arrange chat sessions/book signings/teaching seminars. This has gone fairly well so far.

2) Order a slew of bookmarks and send them with an announcement letter to a group of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
3) Send out an e-mail to people who sign up for my mailing list and website contest. In the last couple of months, I’ve had excellent traffic on the website, which, while not a blog, is updated monthly.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Daily ask the Holy Spirit to guide the words you write. Then, as Lynn Austin said: Write for God, and all the rest will fall in place, whether you get published or not. Tough words, but they have that ring of eternity about them…