A Passion for History

Peter Leavell is the winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s 2011 Operation First Novel contest. His novel, Songs of Captivity, will be published by Worthy Publishing, the contest’s co-sponsor.

Leavell (left with his book’s cover), who also took home $20,000 in prize money, is a Boise State University history graduate. Historical fiction is his passion and his story about Tad, a courageous child of slavery, was chosen the winner because of its “emotionally-charged approach to a sensitive, historic period,” says Jeana Ledbetter, Worthy vice president of planning and author relations. “Peter’s story presents a piece of history readers will be eager to learn more about.”

In Songs of Captivity, Leavell writes about how Tad’s actions expose the sins of an entire nation as the Civil War threatens to tear apart the United States. But where did Leavell’s interest in history come from?

Two educators nurtured his interest
“In the fourth grade I had a teacher who taught about Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneers, and Native Americans,” Leavell says. “She painted pictures with her lessons, giving us a feel for what it was like living back then.

“Imagine waking up in a teepee, the night still young, Sioux asleep on their buffalo robes, and you looking up through the open flap of the teepee at the stars revolving slowly overhead. I lived the history in my mind. Since then, I’ve been trying to recreate what it was like to live in other times.”

The idea for Songs of Captivity came from another educator during a three hour night class at Boise State on the Civil War. “It was three hours of joy and happiness,” Leavell says. “Dr. Lisa Brady told us at the beginning the course would not be about fighting—that there was more to the war than the battles.”

What would it be like if…?
Part of that “more” was the launching pad for his winning novel. At the beginning of the war, the North needed to refuel ships patrolling Southern waters. They took the Sea Islands of South Carolina, including Hilton Head and Beaufort. All the Caucasian people left, leaving 10,000 slaves to fend for themselves.

“My fiction feelers, those receptacles that sense a good story, were charged and sending massive signals,” Leavell says. “What would it be like to grow to adulthood under those circumstances? How would I get educated? Would my relationship with the woman I love survive the war? I had to write Tad’s story.”

Historical fiction, Leavell says, breathes life into the past. “Good historical fiction helps us understand why people did what they did—and what it meant,” he says. “I want to paint those pictures.”

Unusual camaraderie
Leavell’s class of Operation First Novel finalists included Terrie Todd, Kimberley Gardner Graham, Jim Hamlett, and Clarice James (Right: Leavell, after his win, being embraced by Terrie Todd, with Jim Hamlett). The five developed a strong bond, thanks to Todd reaching out with an email describing the symptoms she was having as a finalist.

“Those symptoms mirrored what the rest of us were feeling,” Leavell says. “So we kept emailing back and forth, getting to know one another. Then we started to pray for the conference and each other.

“One prayer surfaced, ‘Please, Lord, let the book the world needs win. Not our wills, but Yours.’ We all rallied around that thought. Of course we each wanted to win, but God was more important.”

Look for Songs of Captivity in late 2012.

In Case You Missed It…

Are you an aspiring novelist? If you’re ready to take on the world but feel lost in the crowd, take heart: you’re just the person we had in mind when we created Novel Rocket’s LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile.

No tricks or sleight of hand involved here. Not only does every entrant receive a personal critique, but previous participants have found the experience helpful in moving them forward on their writing journey.

For more details and the official rules, click on our Launch Pad Contest tab.

Questions? Email us at NovelRocketContest@gmail.com, and a real human will provide a prompt, personal reply.

We hope to see YOUR submission soon!

Besides writing fiction that takes you out of this world, Yvonne Anderson has been our contest administrator since the event’s inception in 2010. The first novel in her Gateway to Gannah series, The Story in the Stars, debuted last summer, and the next in the series is planned for release this year. Read more of her wisdom on her blog.

What Do You Really Need From a Critique Group?

by Mike Duran

Not long ago, I was contacted by an unpublished author who was looking for a crit partner. They had acquired my addy from a mutual friend and was wondering if I’d be interested. I was flattered. Really. Nevertheless, I emailed this response:

Thanks for the consideration. I’ve kind of given up the crit partner thing, mainly because of my own schedule and perfectionist tendencies. When I’m not working (which is full-time), I’m writing or editing. I’ve found that I tend to overwork so many things — nit-pick, second-guess, obsess over detail — to the point that critting just takes far too much time and is often frustrating for whomever happens to be on the receiving end. My apologies, but I’ll have to pass on the offer.

Okay, so I’m anal retentive. When it comes to critiques, I am just too hard on myself and others…

And I think this is a good thing.

Maybe that’s why me and critique groups don’t always get along. You see, some of the critique groups I’ve come in contact with are just way too nice. Perhaps this is what some writers want — they want encouragement, they want to be told their stuff is good, they want to feel they’re on the threshold of publication, they want a pat on the back. The problem is, that’s not what they need.

Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, in a piece entitled “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” provides some wisdom on what we need in a critique group:

I believe the [writing] teacher’s work is largely negative, that it is largely a matter of saying, “This doesn’t work because …” or “This does work because …” The because is very important. The teacher can help you understand the nature of your medium, and he can guide you in your reading. I don’t believe in classes where students criticize each others manuscripts. Such criticism is generally composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite. It’s the blind leading the blind, and it can be dangerous. (emphasis mine)

Two things stand out in this quote in relation to critique groups. One is the nature of the task. O’Connor notes that “the teacher’s work is largely negative.” No, she’s not implying that good critique is intentionally harsh, nor that it should be without encouragement or positive reinforcement, but that critique, by its nature, must be rigorous and address what is wrong with a work. In this sense, the work of a good critique group is largely negative.

Equally insightful is Ms. O’Connor’s suggestion that student-led critiques are unhealthy, “generally composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite.” Which is a bit of a problem. Nowadays, most online writing groups are comprised of “students [who] criticize each others manuscripts.”

Clearly, many online critique groups do not seem to meet either of Flannery O’Connor’s specs. Whereas some groups exist primarily to provide support and encouragement (rather than correction and hard critique), other groups suffer because of their make-up (too many students and not enough seasoned authors), resulting in what O’Connor calls “the blind leading the blind.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that a good critique group is without “support and encouragement” or that it cannot involve “students” swapping advice. The important thing is getting “trained” eyes on our work, receiving hard critiques without swooning, and being willing to absorb and make changes as needed. It is natural to need encouragement and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. But ultimately, if we are unwilling to seek honest criticism and unable to weather the toughest scrutiny, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and potentially capping our artistic growth.

Several years ago, the authors at Charis Connection (a group which has since disbanded) were asked if they belonged to a writing group. Of the ten that responded, only a couple spoke favorably of crit groups. At the time, I was incensed. “Of course crit groups are a good thing!” I protested.

Now I’m not so sure.

The question isn’t IF you need critique partners. The question is WHAT KIND of critique partners you really need. How you answer that question may, in the long run, determine a lot about your growth and longevity as a writer.

Question: Do you agree that there is an inherent danger in being critiqued by unpublished and beginning writers? Do you see the role of a critique group as primarily “negative”? What advice would you give a new writer who is seeking to have her work critiqued?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now and his novella, “Winterland,” is available in e-book formats. Mike’s sophomore novel The Telling releases May 2012. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.

I Wanna Bend It Like Bailey

Today’s guest
devotion is by Sandra D. Bricker, from: His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not © 2011 Summerside Press
I Wanna
Bend It Like Bailey
But
seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, 
and
all these things shall be added to you.
Matthew 6:33
I
adore children, and my favorite age is right around three or four; they’re just
developing their communications skills, but haven’t quite perfected the
transition from emotion to verbalization.
            
While
babysitting for a friend’s three-year-old, I encountered the challenge of
keeping Bailey occupied so that she might forget that her beloved mommy had
left the house without her. And it wasn’t easy.
            
First,
we played Safari. After strategically placing all of her most treasured stuffed
animals around the house, Bailey put on a plastic pith helmet and climbed
aboard her push-and-ride Jeep and we toured the African plains of home to
observe the animals in their natural habitat. When she spotted the giraffe
leaning against the refrigerator, Bailey suddenly remembered who had given her
that giraffe, and she started to cry for her mother.
            
Several
games and a coloring book later, she accepted my invitation to a tea party in
her bedroom. We donned straw hats, and Bailey tugged on little white crocheted
gloves. Along with two of our very best doll friends, we sipped from empty tea
cups and munched imaginary scones with cream and strawberries. Bailey was
enthralled!…Until the garage door went
up
. Tossing the plastic teacup to the floor, she flew from the bedroom and
down the hall. On her trail, I stepped over her hat and gloves that she’d shed
on the way. I reached her just as the kitchen door opened and her mother walked
in.
            
So
excited to see her mom again at last, Bailey squealed with glee. When the words
wouldn’t come, she finally began hopping from one foot to the other, pumping
her arms, fists clenched, and her little face contorted. The return of her
mother had trumped everything else, and thoughts of tea parties and safaris had
fallen to dust. I stood there watching as the child completely surrendered to
the ecstatic happiness of seeing the one person that meant more to her than
anything or anyone else.
             
On
the drive home that afternoon, I tuned my radio to a local Christian station
playing I Can Only Imagine by
MercyMe, a song exploring the depths of our reaction when we finally see Christ
face-to-face. As I sang along, Bailey’s reaction to her mother’s return home
sprang to mind. How sweet would it be to the Lord if, at His presence, we just
jumped up and down with the glee of little children!
Today’s Prayer: Oh,
Lord, thank You for the sweet parenthood You offer us. Let me always see You as
Abba Father, through enthusiastic and childlike eyes. Today I am overcome with
joy as I delight myself in You, remembering that Your arms always welcome me,
Your thoughts are always about my well-being, and there is no one else I would
rather see. Amen. 

Sandra D. Bricker is an
award-winning best seller in the inspirational market with laugh-out-loud
novels such as Love Finds You in
Snowball, Arkansas
and Always the
Baker, Never the Bride
from the Emma
Rae Creation
series. She spent 15+ years in Los Angeles as an entertainment
publicist while studying screenwriting. However, when her mother became ill in
Florida, she left all that behind to take on a couple of new roles: Caregiver
and Novelist. Visit her Website at www.SandraDBricker.com