I Think I Like My Own Novels (Maybe) by James L. Rubart

Do you like your own novels?

I’m not sure how I feel about mine.

My novel, The Chair was Christian Retailing’s TOP PICK for September 2011, was nominated for a Christy, is a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards, and I’ve received many reader e-mails about how much they loved the book.

But my reaction to all that has been: Really? You’re serious? Are we talking about the same book?

I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. It’s truly how I felt.

Why felt and not feel?

Because recently I recorded the audio version of The Chair (after being away from the book for more than a year) and as I read through the novel I caught myself thinking, “Hmmm, I guess that part isn’t completely horrible,” and “Hey, that works okay.”

Can you relate? Yes, I see that hand, and yes you in the back, I see yours as well, thank you.

A few weeks ago my son Taylor and his girlfriend, Mara, read my next novel, Soul’s Gate (releases this November). When I asked how they liked it, both said it’s their favorite out of the four I’ve written. Again, my reaction is, “Really?”

Help me. Why do we do that?

Maybe it’s because a novelist’s concentration as well as their editor’s is on what’s wrong with the book and where it needs to improve rather than on what’s working well. That of course has to be the focus, but I wonder if it skews my thinking after the novel is finished. You?

How long does it take for you to be away from something you’re written to get back and see there are elements that work well?

Do you don’t ever go back and read what you’ve written. If not, why not? And why is it easier for others to love our work more than we do?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. His fourth novel, SOUL’S GATE hits shelves in early November.

During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

Should Christians Read to “Escape”?

If the entertainment industry is any indication, modern man desperately needs to “escape.” It’s understandable when you consider how bleak things can
appear — globally, economically, and existentially. What better way to
forget that you don’t have a good job (if you have one at all),  your
love life stinks, your knees are shot, an asteroid just missed striking earth,
and the nuclear black market is thriving, than to get lost in a good
book or movie? It’s understandable that you’d want to escape. 

What I don’t understand is why Christians are in need of doing so. I mean, Christians
are supposed to have abundant life and be fully engaged in the world
that is. So why do they read fiction to “escape”?

Yes, I
realize there’s those who’ve challenged the idea that escapism is
fundamentally and exclusively negative. Like, J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote
in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” that escapism, in its attempt to
understand and envision a different reality, contained an element of
emancipation. C. S. Lewis was also fond of suggesting that the usual
enemies of escape were… jailers.

At the risk of sounding like
one of those jailers, I get that some reading transports us to a very
healthy place, one that fires our imagination and inspires us to right
living. It just doesn’t seem like a lot of Christians read fiction for
that reason.

I recently heard a respected CBA agent conjecture
that one of the reasons Historical fiction is so popular among Christian
readers is that during hard economic times, people want to escape. And
nothing says “escape” like petticoats, parasols, and remarkably
clean-speaking pirates. But if you’re reading because the economy sucks,
perhaps you should be reading Making Ends Meet on a Shoestring Budget rather than Love Finds You as Far Away from the Here-and-Now as Possible.

Which leads me to ask,

  • Do Christians read books to sharpen their discernment or to give it a rest?
  • Do we read books to help us engage the world, or detach from it?
  • Do we read books to add excitement to our lives, or stave off terminal boredom?
  • Do we read books to help us love our spouses more, or create expectations that will never, ever, be matched?
  • Do we read books to think more, or think less?
  • Do we read books to enrich our time, or kill time?
  • Do we read books to revel in life or forget about our crappy existence?

Listen, I can definitely “escape” by reading Buck Rogers and the Venusian Vixens. Question is whether the planet I land on will be any better than the one I’m fleeing.

Mike Duran writes supernatural thrillers. He is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, and an ebook novella, Winterland.  You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.

Taking a Break- M. Laycock

We’ve had two young men and my mother-in-law staying
with us for the past week. We’re running a soccer Bible camp, hence the young
men, and it was my mother-in-law’s 89th birthday, hence her visit. It’s turned
out to be a fun time. We have three daughters, all grown and away, so having
some guys around has been great, even if they do eat a bit more. Well, okay, a
lot more. “Grandma” has been teaching them to play dominoes so
there’s lots of laughter happening around the kitchen table.

I’m on the run, doing registration, being the
“go-fer,” making meals, cookies, doing laundry, etc. etc. etc. I
don’t mind it at all, but trying to get to my computer for some extended
writing time has been a challenge. I was getting rather stressed about that
when I remembered something that happened a while ago in the parking lot of a
local bookstore. 

My husband and I were heading for our car when I heard my name
being called and looked back to see one of my favourite writers, a mentor and
friend for some years, Sigmund Brouwer. I was pleased to bump into him because
I’d sent him an email some time before about speaking at a writers’ event and
he hadn’t replied. When I mentioned it he explained that when he’s writing he
doesn’t do email. After chatting for a while we went our separate ways and I
commented to my husband, “I wonder what would happen if I ignored my email
for that long?”  

“The world would stop spinning and fall of its
axis,” he said. His sardonic reply made me grin and it gave me some much-needed perspective. Having just gone through a whole year during
which I could neither do much writing nor involve myself in most of the other
endeavours in which I usually engage, I have come to realize that I’m not
totally indispensible and a break in routine doesn’t necessarily mean disaster.
The world didn’t stop spinning. Life did go on even if I had to take a break
from some things. And the slower rhythm of life gave me time to ponder and
listen and sometimes just enjoy.
So, with this
week getting more and more busy I gave myself permission to take a break from
the writing regimen I’d set out for myself to finish my latest w.i.p. The pause
will throw the schedule off a bit, but it won’t stop the world from spinning.
As soon as I made that decision the week immediately became less stressful and
a lot more fun. It reminded me of one of my favourite verses from The Message
my Eugene Peterson – 
“I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and
work with me – watch how I do it. 
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 
I won’t
lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn
to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
unforced rhythms of grace.” Words to ponder, words to build into our
lives, as we take the time to “keep company” with the Lord, draw closer
to those around us and closer to the interior workings of our thoughts and
emotions, motives and dreams.
How about you?
Is it time to give yourself permission to take a break? 

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta
Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She
was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel,
One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been
endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Marcia’s
second novel, A Tumbled Stone has just been released. Abundant Rain, an ebook
devotional for writers can be downloaded here.
Visit Marcia’s website
High Concept Plots ~ What Are They and Why Do I Care?
What is a high concept plot?
This is the million-dollar question. Different people have different answers,
and after reading a lot about it, I haven’t found the definitive answer. I have
come up with some theories about high concept novels, though.
First Theory: high concept stories sell because they’re  a little shocking
In his excellent article on high concept, Steve Kaire says: 

In seeking originality, we are not talking about reinventing the wheel. We can take traditional subject matter that’s been done before and add a hook or twist to it which then qualifies the material as original. Using the kidnapping plot, there have been dozens of films which covered that subject area before. In the film Ransom, Mel Gibson plays a wealthy businessman whose son is kidnapped. That story in itself offers nothing new. The hook of the movie which makes it original is that instead of paying the ransom, Gibson uses the ransom money to pay for a contract hit on the kidnappers. That twist makes the film original and therefore High Concept.

Some plots are familiar
and comfortable. There’s room for such stories. But if you’re trying to break in with agents and editors, I’m guessing something fresh is the way to go. When I’m judging fifty contest entries, I want something to POP off the
page. And when agents and editors are reading through
their hundreds upon hundreds of queries, they want the same thing. They want to
be grabbed by something new and improved.

But they don’t want
something so new that they don’t know what to do with it. They seem to want, most
often, a fresh twist on an old idea.
Second Theory: high concept stories sell because they’re familiar
We want something we
loved in the past. We don’t want to commit to a journey into a strange and
far-away place without having at least a trusted guide with us. What if we get
lost? What if the food makes us sick? We need a security blanket with us, when
you push us to try something fresh and exciting.
This is why people sometimes
pitch high concepts using pitches that marry two familiar stories or concepts to give them a strange new feel:
  • Godzilla in Disneyland =
    Jurassic Park
  • Rags to riches story at the
    race track = Seabiscuit
  • Oliver Twist meets Superman =
    Harry Potter 
Third Theory: high concept stories sell because of they’re universal 
They are universally appealing to your
audience, I mean. I’m writing middle grade and young adult books for young
readers, so if I’m looking for high concepts, I need to make sure my ideas appeal to young readers. They should plug readers into one or two of the following shared experiences or desires. 

My themes, settings, characters, and plots should be universally: 

o   acceptance, a happy
ending, security, success, a cause greater than ourselves, the hope of a
creator who loves us and will take care of us, the desire to be worthy of love,
the desire to live with integrity, the desire to save the world
o   pain, death, being
unloved, being the object of ridicule, being vulnerable
§  which play out in things
like: suicide, 9/11, terrorist attack, shark attack, the dark, gym class
experienced (by us or by someone close to us)
o   school, parents,
friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, first kiss, success, failure, embarrassment,
divorced parents, learning to drive, moving away from home, blamed for
something you didn’t do
held with passion (loved or hated—controversy sells)
o   homosexuality,
environmentalism, religion, spirituality, suicide, pregnancy, abortion
intriguing—what would you do?
o   what would you do if someone left a recording, blaming you for her suicide? (Th1rteen R3asons Why) What would you do if a
vampire fell in love with you? (Twilight) What would you do if all the adults in the wold disappeared in one night? (Gone)
unexpected—they offer the twist
a twist on suicide, TWILIGHT was a twist on Eve and the forbidden fruit. ARTEMIS FOWL offers the twist on
the fairy story with his fairies, and their L.E.P. Recon force, being
sophisticated and using advanced technology, and with the child criminal
mastermind who really loves his parents. (Let’s face it, Eoin Colfer’s books
are full of twists—he has a twisted mind, I guess. I
adore his books.)
known (a person or event)
o   Armageddon, Jack the
Ripper, Atlantis, the president’s daughter, princesses,  
o   super powers, bad boys
who love good girls, take-charge heroines, looking inside yourself for the power
to defeat your enemies
Okay. Those are my
theories. What do you think? When you map out your books, do you ask yourself 1) what’s the universal
hook? 2) what’s the familiar hook? and 3) what’s the fresh new twist? Do you
think I’m right to say that this is the next level we have to take our writing
to if we want to sell agents and editors on our stories? 

photo credit: Espen Faugstad via photo pin cc


 has published short works in a number of places, has won various and sundry contests, and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She’s between agents at present, and can be found blogging about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com