f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bertrand on Serious Fiction

Mark Bertrand floated a definition for "literary" fiction during our book-by-book tour of a Grand Rapids Barnes and Noble that I liked. I was all set to plagiarize it (since that seems to be the flavor of the moment) but alas he beat me to it and fleshed it out a bit in his latest Master's Artist post.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

2006 Christy Award Finalists

The Christy Awards have announced their finalists for 2006. Congrats to all. (I've highlighted the BHP authors.)

Contemporary (Stand-Alones)
Grace at Low Tide by Beth Webb Hart (WestBow Press)
Levi's Will by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers)
Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin (WestBow Press)

Contemporary (Series, Sequels and Novellas)

Living With Fred by Brad Whittington (Broadman & Holman)
Moment of Truth by Sally John (Harvest House Publishers)
The Road to Home by Vanessa Del Fabbro (Steeple Hill)

Glimpses of Paradise by James Scott Bell (Bethany House Publishers)
The Noble Fugitive by T. Davis & Isabella Bunn (Bethany House Publishers)
Whence Came a Prince by Liz Curtis Higgs (WaterBrook Press)

A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist (Bethany House Publishers)
Chateau of Echoes by Siri L. Mitchell (NavPress)
In Sheep's Clothing by Susan May Warren (SteepleHill)


Comes a Horseman by Robert Liparulo (WestBow Press)
Last Light by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
River Rising by Athol Dickson (Bethany House Publishers)


Legend of the Emerald Rose by Linda Wichman (Kregel Publications)
The Presence by Bill Myers (Zondervan)
Shadow Over Kiriath by Karen Hancock (Bethany House Publishers)

First Novel

Like a Watered Garden by Patti Hill (Bethany House Publishers)
The Road to Home by Vanessa Del Fabbro (SteepleHill)
This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella (Paraclete Press)

Make It Stop

I'll offer a publishing contract to the next person who doesn't put hidden messages in their writing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Within certain Christian conversations I've noticed a determined suspicion of anything that strikes of academia or elitism. A degree from Harvard for instance, which is much lauded by the "world," becomes more Scarlett Letter than superhero insignia.

A conference like the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing is a fascinating beast because it is at once demonstrably Christian and yet, for lack of a better word, somehow worringly "high brow." Poetry is read and discussed. People give presentations with titles like: "Retelling the Stories: Dramatizing Texts from the Revised Common Lectionary." Short story writers find friends. And half the women wear kicky little "librarian" glasses.

But it has to be more than those things that causes such suspicion. To me, the answer is as obvious as "black-and-white."


We as Christians see ourselves as holders (and defenders) of truth. Truth, like the word of God, is a sharp sword that divides. Lambs here. Goats there. The spectre of relativity among truth has been one of the great aggravators of people of faith and many blame the universities for fostering such wishy-washiness.

Marilynne Robinson, in her interview with Andy Crouch, addressed the counter issue--the one of which CBA is so often accused: Is right/wrong the only space in which we live? Crouch then brought up the marvelous paradoxes in Robinson's work and it rang a bell as something I'd picked up from Gilead. I'll quote myself:

"...the first thing I want to point out is that the ground Marilynne Robinson treads in her novel is the rich soil of paradox. Grace and predestination. Love of this life and the desire for heaven. Causing pain to fight injustice. Beauty that brings pain. And some others.

These things work well for the soil of novels, I guess, because exploring them is like walking on a knife's blade. How two simultaneously contradictory things can exist in the same moment...that's one of the great mysteries of our life and one of the things I think writers and artists and philosophers have been struggling with for decades."

Is this just academic double-talk or is life complex enough to hold multitudes? And if so, where does absolute truth step in and establish itself?

Marilynne Robinson's plenary speech was a call to arms for artists. The world and much of our culture has decided the populace are idiots who need to be spoken down to. They are incapable of deft, elegant thought and so the issues of the day need to be boiled down into sound-bites. Her response is that this is nonsense. We are created for more and better. Her call is for artists to think of their audience as more intelligent than themselves. If anything, it is an anti-elitist message.

What are we saying about the world in our books? And does it match our own esperience of life...or rather life as we'd rather it be. It is easy and comforting to be able to say, "I am right and you are wrong"--but is it true?

On many issues, yes, obviously it's true. There is right; there is wrong. But when we leave those areas touched on by creed, does our attitude change or our willingness to explore life's complexity?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Chernobyl - 20 Years Later

Slate has a photo essay on Chernobyl. I pretty much want to curl up in a ball and weep.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Quitting the Blog

Not me. Her--Sarah Hepola, at Slate. To write more. But it's a sentiment I've been hearing more and more. And it was part of the lunch conversation I hosted at Calvin.

Friday, April 21, 2006

On Calvin

Some random memorable moments from Calvin so far:

1. An older woman approached me and said, "I'm sure people have told you that from the back you like that young man from Numbers." I replied that, actually, she was the first to make such an observation and admitted that--not knowing the show nor the actor to which she was referring--I wasn't certain if this was a good thing or not. "Oh," she reassured me, "It's a good thing. He's very smart."

Which I take to mean that, from the back, I look quite intelligent.

2. I added another half-dozen or so names and faces to the list of f*i*f folk whom I've now met face-to-face. It seems like just two years ago that you were all random names or little monickers.

3. I shook Lawrence Dorr's hand. I don't know him, but my miniscule impression based on just a heartbeat of interaction and in watching him chat with others is that I'd very much like to. He seemed joyous.

4. Watched Salman Rushdie do about ten minutes of fatwa humor. It's become a "bit" for him now. Personally, I think I'd hold a grudge.

He concluded with some strong thoughts about "story" and the danger of allowing a single entity (be it government, religion, etc.) control how the "story" is told. Hmmm, single entities controlling voice and story. Defining appropriateness. Yes, I can see how that could be frustrating.

5. Too, I felt for the first time a growing sense that, perhaps, the window of opportunity CBA has for talking about how it's going to "adapt" is somehow narrowing. Or perhaps certain voices are growing weary of the talk and are getting very antsy to see the results. I too am antsy. I'm worried about how long we'll have before folks decide that, in the words of Beck, "baby, you're a lost cause."

While it may not be the best for my family to be here so soon after Mt. Hermon it has been instructive. Both seem to represent ends of the spectrum on a variety of issues...and often opposite ends of the spectrum. It's somewhat schizophrenic to find myself seeing and understanding the arguments on both ends. My heart leans one way; the practical side of me leans the other. My spirit tilts to one side; the artist in me (what little is left of the poor fellow) tries to point the other direction.

And I think that's fine. I've talked of the glorious tensions within Christian publishing before. It's just instructive to see them laid out in front of me so distinctly at these two events.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Next Week is Calvin

Next week is the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. I'll be there. Mark Bertrand will be there. Salman Rushdie and Marilynne Robinson will be there. (I'm trying to arrange a round of miniature golf for the four of us.) It's really quite a line-up and should be an inspiring, challenging time.

I'll be on a panel on Thursday talking about the Christian book industry. (Poor Jon Pott. All he wants is respectability for Eerdmans and he keeps getting stuck on panels with me.)

On Friday I'll be hosting a lunch discussion for which Bertrand helpfully provided a topic--A Community of Strangers: How the Internet Helps Build and Destroy Aspiring Artists.

I'll also be available at the booth for appointments to discuss your book. Do stop by. Leave your name for me if I'm not around. Or, even better, email me in the next few days and we'll set a time to chat.

Calvin is trying something new this year with a manuscript submission opportunity. I'm assuming I'll be able to access the proposals and it will be interesting to compare the projects with something like Mt. Hermon. I spoke with one of the organizers and they're trying to walk a fine line between attracting aspiring writers and yet keeping the focus on the "reading" side of the book world. Which I find honorable.

Communique: online literary and arts journal

Sometimes I don't think I look for these things hard enough. Apparently there's an online lit. journal that's been around for more than a bit called Communique. Looks well done in the set-up. I'm just finding out about it because Ryan McDermott who partnered with me on The New Pantagruel's short story contest has placed some short fiction, "The Holy Adultery," there.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Upcoming Religious Fiction

Deeanne Gist passed on this break down of upcoming religious fiction titles. I'm totally disappointed I wasn't presented any of these.

Clarification on a Statement Made a Mt. Hermon

I'm not the world's least pretentious person and generally let my opinions just hang out there in all their glorious obnoxiousness but I said something, twice, at Mt. Hermon that now causes me pause.

It was a question, asked twice, regarding my favorite books: particularly "classic" literature. When I asked for a clarification for what "classic" literature the gentlemen said anything from 1600-1980, which seemed a bit unhelpful. In my head I was stuck with the "classics" and so I named Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Which is beyond utterly pretentious even for me.

A few points:

1. I've read all of Moby Dick.
2. I read it for pleasure.
3. It was pleasurable.
4. The pleasure, in a lot of ways, was completely unexpected.
5. I'm not sure I understood the whole thing.
6. It remains, to this day, one of the weirdest, wonderful reading experiences I've ever had.

Part of it was the setting. At the time, I was touring the South Island of New Zealand and was in amongst the old whaling centers they have there around Kaikoura. Kaikoura is nothing like the salty east coast of our country but whaling is whaling and when you're combining Melville's almost-clinical realism with the experience of say, going on a hike, wondering what smells, turning a corner, and stumbling onto a decaying beached whale, well, it made the book resonate for me.

And, then, there is the simple fact that the novel still has to be one of the oddest ever written. And unique, oblivious things like that endear themselves to me.

So, yes, I do love Moby Dick. But I think I'm still a normal guy, too.

Thank you.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Six Things I Learned at Mt. Hermon

1. Acquisitions editors are the nerdy rock stars of writers conferences. Folks want to chat with us. I've had people get very, very nervous in my presence. I understand it in theory and yet it continues to surprise me conference after conference.

2. There are five or six editors at different houses in CBA who could be hosting this blog or something very similar in tone and purpose. Some may find that disconcerting. I found it rather heartening.

3. The human body, if pushed, can produce a lot of phlegm. Remember when I said I was at the peak of health? That was a hill I abandoned on one flight to Phoenix.

4. My blog is spilling over into my conference life. I was grilling writer after writer about their intentions to make their writing sustain and become a career.

5. My internal clock is broken. I used to be able to write a speech and pretty well gauge how long it would take me to get through it. The presentation I offered at Mt. Hermon missed short by 33%.

6. This market change CBA is going through is not likely to settle down anytime soon. New publishers are cropping up or getting bought. Others are disappearing (Realms and RiverOak). Retail is still sorting itself out. Writers and editors are searching for the direction of the "new" CBA. A lot of propositions were offered as to some possible outcomes, but it will be interesting seeing how many pan out and how many flame out.


If you attended and have a quick writing tip you learned, some good publishing advice, a funny story, or any other thought to share, feel to free to add it to the comments here or at the discussion board.

Friday, April 07, 2006

From the Coffee shop in Mt Hermon - Colleagiality vs. Competitiveness.

It's an odd thing being at a conference with your colleagues from other publishing houses, because they're fabulous people with whom you share so much in common and would likely be "best friends for life" except for the fact that...well...you're all battling for the same thing: talented authors.

I don't have much to elaborate on this. It's just an odd unspoken tension. We're professionals; we understand the importance of having a broad and thriving publishing market across many houses--yet we still want the best books for ourselves darn it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mt Hermon

I will be at the Mt Hermon writers conference beginning tomorrow through next Tuesday. I hope to see many of you there, so definitely look me up, even if you've not got a single thing to pitch to me.

I also hope to post a time or two about the experience.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean DaVinci Code Isn't Wretched

Mark Bertrand examines some recent noodling columnists have been doing on the rise of the "religious thriller" and wonders if they've gotten it slightly wrong.

Some good thoughts, plus he coins the phrase, "The Hack Novel that Wouldn't Die," which is about the most apropos thing anyone has said about the book Dan Brown's afflicted upon us. Didn't we say everything that needed to be said last time? Why are we doing this again? It's baffling. Who cares if there's a movie coming out. Just let the thing die.

Congrats to...


I ended up on top of the first annual Faith*in*Fiction March Madness Challenge. Not a very good host, am I?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part XI

Baseball season started last night. Doesn't the sun shine just a bit brighter today?

I'll take some time to answer a few important questions folks asked about Friday's post.

So if those budgetary guidelines are set up at acquisition, are they ever reviewed and adjusted?

Yes, they are reviewed and can be adjusted. I doubt a "blurb" would cause that but if somehow your book was going to get national media attention (Today show, Oprah, 20/20, etc.) that might spike the budget. Sometimes the folks down in marketing read a manuscript, fall in love with it, and decide editorial undersold it a little. This is perhaps more common for books contracted at in proposal stage...where you're not sure what you're getting.

What if you know of a magazine/newspaper which might welcome your type of manuscript--in my case, a military newspaper--can you suggest that? Or even buy the ad yourself?

Definitely. Marketing and promotional departments should be in contact with you for your suggestions on the best places to feature your book. I'd hope you could make a pitch or three or five for certain opportunities. And hopefully if they're strong suggestions, they'll be looked at closely. Authors can buy ads; I believe we've provided a designed ad for a magazine while the author covered placement cost. That's certainly not a trend however.

So if your novel belongs to a niche market, then the first time book sales numbers will be smaller and the promotional budget tighter?

If it's only a niche book, likely. But general publishers don't often pick up "only" niche books. They want books that will appeal at general bookstores (CBA and ABA) but then also will have performance in niche markets. You've got to figure out how well your publisher understands your niche. If yours is the first book they've tried, then they likely won't be 100% experts. Info about the best stores, bestseller lists, conferences, etc will be valuable to pass along.

Also, can't these predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies?

Ah, yes. The Catch-22 of the publishing world. You can't sell books without a sizable marketing budget, but you can't increase the marketing budget unless you're sure you can sell books. To me this is where expectations become most crucial. Both for authors and publishers. Authors need to be aware of how their book is "supposed" to do. They need to accept that figure, or else you wonder why they signed with the publisher in the first place. Then they need to help sell the book so it meets that goal. Or hopefully exceed it.

Publishers need (at least) two things:
1. A strong discernment for risk management. Playing not to lose is good way to ensure you'll never win.

2. An ability to celebrate the small victories. If you plan to sell 8000 copies of a book, you budget for that, and you sell 10,000 copies--that book may not be even close to your best selling title, but it's a success. And it's something to build on.

For me, this series is all about establishing "something to build on." That's what leads to the next book and the one after that. It's about communication with your publisher, teaming together to take intentional steps, and finding "success."