Anniversary post with Deborah Raney

Novel Journey is in its 5th year! To celebrate, we wanted to catch up with our very first interviewee, DEBORAH RANEY.

Deborah is at work on her 19th novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books, the Clayburn Novels, are from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.

Deb, much has changed in the 5 years since Novel Journey began. What new things have happened to you?

The most significant new things for me are two precious grandsons, a new daughter-in-law, and sending out baby to college. Ken and I have only been in the empty nest for a month now, but already we’re finding it quite sweet!

I noticed your website has also undergone a new look. What about in your fiction? What new things have you learned since we first interviewed you?

I’m with a new and wonderful publisher these days, Howard Books, which became an imprint of Simon & Schuster shortly after I came onboard. I just finished the first book in my second series for Howard, and believe it or not, I’m learning to add mild elements of suspense (yes, me! President of the Big Honkin’ Chicken Club!) Don’t worry, my novels are still––and probably always will be––contemporary women’s fiction, but I’ve enjoyed adding threads of adventure and suspense.

In my sixteenth year as a novelist, I finally feel I’ve found my voice––or at least I’ve become comfortable with it. I’m not a literary, poetic writer. I write a pretty straightforward, popular-fiction kind of book, and I’m fine with that. I think I’ve become a sparser writer, just telling my story and dispensing with too much description. I’m learning to let dialogue and my characters themselves carry the story.

Tell us about your latest release.

The first of my Hanover Falls novels series for Howard/Simon & Schuster will release in May. The series in a nutshell: After five heroic firefighters die, their surviving spouses band together to cope—and to try to resolve the mystery surrounding the fire that killed their loved ones.

That sounds like a complex series, rife with drama. I cant wait to read them. How did you come up with the idea for these stories? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

On June 20, 2007, my husband opened the newspaper to the horrific story of nine firefighters who lost their lives battling a fire in a furniture warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina. My niece’s husband and his father are firefighters, so I knew something of the amazing strength of the firefighting “family,” and what an ongoing tragedy such an event would be to that community. I wanted to explore the issues these people would be dealing with in this new series.

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

This story really took me out of my comfort zone. The inciting fire in my novel takes place in a homeless shelter, so I knew it wasn’t a coincidence when our church got involved in ministry at a local homeless shelter about the time I began working on this series.

I went through the volunteer training and have helped out at the shelter whenever it’s our church’s turn to supply volunteers. Most nights are quite uneventful, but the very first night I was there, just about everything that could happen, did happen.

It was a baptism of fire and I came home exhausted, my head spinning with ideas for my novel. On the way to bed, I happened to glance at my calendar, only to realize that I’d showed up one week earlier than I was scheduled to! I soaked up more “research” material in that first night than all the nights since!

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

Occasionally I sit in front of my computer without a clue what comes next. I especially seem to hit a wall about 12 chapters in. Once I get over that hump (my books are usually around 40 chapters long) it’s like coasting downhill, but I struggle with the second fourth of the book. My best tricks for getting over that spot include:
• brainstorming with writer friends, or my husband
• reading an excellent novel
• going for a long walk
• attempting to outline a few chapters ahead (a huge sacrifice since I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer)
• Sometimes I find I just need to step away from writing for a day or two. Often, if I spend that time answering my reader mail, or working on promotion, I come back to the computer with a reminder of why I write.
• Of course, a deadline is the best motivator ever!

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

I’m very visual. I see my stories playing out like a movie. I love Scrivener software (sorry, for Macs only) with its virtual bulletin board and a way of organizing research material that keeps it all in front of me as I write. I still create an actual bulletin board, too, with photos of my characters, maps/blueprints of my settings, and other visual and tactile “talismans” that help me get into the story.

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you, and how do you overcome it?

First draft! Hate it! The blank page paralyzes me!

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

Editing. I LOVE rewrite because, for me, that where the creativity begins to flow. That’s where the bones of the story finally develop flesh and sinew and my characters finally begin to breathe.

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

Write from what God is doing in your own life, and your stories will feel genuine. If God is working on honesty and transparency in your life, let that be the struggle your protagonist is battling. Of course, your heroine may be learning her life lessons in the witness protection program, while you’re learning yours raising teenagers, but the point is the same: write from your heart and your stories will have heart.

Thank you, Deb, for joining us at Novel Journey once again. I’m looking forward to the Hanover Falls series.

Happy Anniversary, Novel Journey!

Publicize Your Book–Getting Started

How to Publicize your Book: Getting Started
From Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval (Perigee, www.publicizeyourbook.com )

Look at what other writers have done successfully.

Before you set up a web site or blog, look at other authors’ sites to see what works. Start doing this a year before your book is out.

Some sites to look at: Brad Meltzer (bradmeltzer.com To see how a novelist creates ways to attract attention); Jeff Carlson (jverse.com To see how a site can provide one stop shopping for readers and the press with press kits, photos, appearance schedules, contests)

Find out what your publisher is planning to do to launch your book.

Talk to your editor about what the house is planning for publicity 6-7 months before your book will be published. Then you can plan whether to hire a freelance publicist or supplement with your own efforts. Many books get a simple press release and review copy mailing. There’s much more to be done but you may have to initiate it. Start by…Reading everything you can about book publicity. What to read? Here are four great resources:
1. PublicityHound.com, a publicity and marketing site run by a former journalist, offers many great ideas for publicity as well as plenty of advice about how to approach reporters—useful in the event you ever set up your own interviews.
2. Buzz Balls & Hype, mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype Lots of smart publicity advice here from novelist MJ Rose.
3. Galleycat.com This site covers the business of publishing. Check out the frequent coverage of effective author promotions and videos.
4. Publishers Weekly (publishersweekly.com Learn about the publishing industry here. Search the word “promote” and you’ll come up with tons of information about what authors and publishers are doing to market their books.

Build your tribe.

What is a tribe? The people who know and like you or take an interest in your work. Build the mailing list of everyone you know, professionally and personally. You’ll market to this list through emails, postcards, press releases, invitations to readings. Then you’ll build on that list particularly as you being to network through online marketing.

What’s More Dangerous, Amish Heroines or Christian Vampires?

by Mike Duran
Okay, so Eli the Buggy Driver wouldn’t stand a chance against Count Orlok. However, in the world of Christian fiction, both may inflict their own share of damage.
According to an AP Report from this summer’s ICRS in Denver, Amish heroines and Christian vampires are expanding opposite ends of the religious publishing gamut:
The Christian book business, optimistic that a little literary escapism might be an antidote for readers in hard times, is turning to bonnets, buggies and bloodsuckers. Even as Christian publishing suffers during the recession — one study found net sales for Christian retailers were down almost 11 percent in 2008 — several publishing houses are adding or expanding their fiction lines with both the tame (Amish heroines) and boundary-pushing (Christian vampire lit). This couldn’t be more indicative of both the boundaries, and the pushing of them that’s going on in the Christian publishing industry. Amish fiction and vampire lit represent polar opposites — literally conservative and liberal bookends — of the Christian fiction spectrum.But while most Christian readers have serious reservations about the inclusion of vampires in their literary camp, I think there are just as good of reasons to worry about the upsurge of Amish heroines.

The undisputed [Christian publishing] industry leader is so-called Amish fiction – typically, romances and family sagas set in contemporary Amish communities. They’re a surprise hit with evangelical women attracted by a simpler time, curiosity about cloistered communities and admiration for the strong, traditional faith of the Amish. The success of the genre has spawned not just new Amish fiction authors but spinoff series about other cloistered communities. If you want to sell it, as one literary agent put it, put a bonnet on it.

In all fairness, I’ve never read any Amish fiction and am sure that much of it is well-written and inspirational. My problem is not with the genre itself but with the degree to which evangelical women are “attracted by a simpler time,” curious about “cloistered communities,” and admire “the strong, traditional faith of the Amish.” Talk about escapism! I’m not sure what’s worse, imagining the redemption of revenants or pining for strapping young men in suspenders to whisk one away to a world of gentle breezes and white steeples, with nary an atheist in sight.

Face it, Amish fiction can be just as escapist, unrealistic, and unhealthy as vampire fiction.

In fact, at its heart, the desire for tradition, simplicity, cloistered living, and chivalry, may be dangerously close to idolatry. Christ commissioned His followers to penetrate the world, embrace its citizens, and influence its course. Maybe it’s me, but Amish fiction seems less about engaging the world and more about escaping it. So while the “Amish reader” fears that vampire lit is embracing the darkness, the “vampire reader” fears that Amish lit is retreating into the light. But even though both worries may be legit, the Christian vampire concept is the one taking all the heat. Why is that?

Either way, I’m thinking that “Amish heroines” are just as potentially dangerous as “Christian vampires.” Besides, if the devil appears as an “angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), there’s more chance he’s lurking under a bonnet than in a coffin.

What’s important?

Anita Mellott writes to encourage others on their journey of life. With a background in journalism and mass communications, she worked for 13 years as a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International. She balances homeschooling and the call to write, and blogs at From the Mango Tree (http://amellott.wordpress.com/).

“I guess I’ll get a job when my kids go off to high school.” Debra, a friend and fellow homeschooling mom, picked up a doll from the floor to hand to my toddler as we sat in my family room. “What about you?”
I grinned and pointed to my toddler, “It’s going to be a while before that happens. But when it does, I’ll probably write full-time.”
“What?” Debra dropped the doll and stared at me. “I thought you were doing that stuff as a creative outlet. You mean you’re actually working toward publication?”
“Well, that’s what most serious writers do.”
“But, you don’t even know if you’ll be successful or not, Anita.” Her eyebrows almost disappeared into her bangs.
“Umm, well to be honest, I figured if God called me to this, He’ll work things out…” My voice trailed off as she shrugged and turned her attention back to my toddler.
Success. The word embedded itself in my mind and made its presence known almost daily after that conversation.
What would success as a writer look like? Multiple contracts? My books in stores around the country and perhaps even in other countries? High book sales? An income?
As the months passed, rejections trickled in and a paying market closed. I was ever aware of the uphill task of breaking into the publishing world, especially as a newbie.
Would I ever be successful as a writer?
But what was success? The question was never far from my mind. I loved the exhilaration when words gave life to the teeming ideas in my mind, and the sheer joy when everything began to fall into place under the guidance of the Master Designer.
But was it enough just to write? I neither had contracts, nor pay checks. I spent every spare minute working on a single idea that I felt drawn to time and time again.
Was Debra right?
Several months later, my tween and I sat at our kitchen table, discussing a heart issue that raised its ugly head now and then.
“What Daddy and I really need from you is obedience.” I tried to catch her eye as she twirled strands of hair around her finger and looked everywhere else, except at me.
“Did you hear me?” I raised my voice. “You don’t always have to ‘get’ why you’re supposed to obey, you just need to do it.” I stopped short.
“That’s it!” I pounded my hand on the table. My tween started.
“What?” She stopped twirling her hair and looked at me.
“That’s it.” My voice went up a decibel.
“Mama, what’s going on?” She stared as I began to drum my feet on the floor, joy bubbling up inside.
“It’s obedience, that’s what it is.” She rolled her eyes. I laughed.
“Don’t you get it? That’s all God requires of me. It doesn’t matter whether what I write gets published or not. It doesn’t matter whether I earn a single cent from writing or not. All I need to do is obey Him.”
“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22, NLT

From the Mango Tree