Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bad Review

After the Leaves Fall has been in bookstores for nearly eleven months now. And the shelf life of Summer Snow is somewhere around three months. It's been a fun year to say the least, and so far I've been very blessed by lots of positive feedback and encouragement. Publishing a book has been a dream come true!

Until this week. Da-da-da-dum. Cue the violins. This week (*gasp*) I received (*sniffle*) my first (or, at least, the first that I know of) bad review (oh the horrors). Ahhhh!!!

Okay, enough melodrama. I knew this was coming. Every author gets bad reviews. So, how does a new author deal with a crappy analysis of her blood, sweat, and tears hard work??? This author blogs about it apparently.

What did my unimpressed reviewer have to say about Summer Snow? Well, he found my characters "stereotypical" and "close to being unconvincing." He also didn't think my story was original and he figured he knew exactly what was going to happen throughout the rest of the book by the end of the first few chapters. Bummer. Thankfully, he was "slightly impressed with the quality of the writing." Hey, that's better than nothing.

I have to admit that some of his opinions stung. How could they not? I think that anytime you pour yourself into a work of your hands (or your mind or your heart) you expose a very private, vulnerable part of yourself. And then people get to walk by and analyze it--and you. Yeeps.

But in spite of my slightly battered feelings, I know that there is much I can learn from my icky review. Lesson #1: Not everyone is going to love my stuff. I'm okay with that. I don't love everything I read either. Lesson #2: There may be hard truths to uncover in the midst of a bad review. Though I'd love my first two books to be perfect, I know that I have much to learn about the craft of writing. I need to be encouraged by the good people have to say, and search for wisdom and advice in the bad. Lesson #3: I can't take myself so seriously. 'Nuff said. Lesson #4: I need to remember that I write for an audience of one. It's easy to get caught up in what people say or don't say about my books... But writing for me was never about what other people thought. For twenty years I wrote for no one but myself and God. Volumes of poetry, short stories, character sketches, you name it. And I was happy and fulfilled because my writing was an act of worship. Summer Snow was an act of worship. Writing it was a beautiful, holy experience. That's enough for me.

Hmmm... I guess I owe you a thank you, Mr. Bad Review. :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008


So I'm researching tanker explosions for my next novel. How's that for an opening blog line? Mmmm... tanker explosions. Very interesting. Or not. Does the premise of a tanker explosion make you want to read book #4? :)

You may or may not remember this, but a year ago our small town experienced what could have been a major disaster. (You can read the original post here.) A semi driver was pumping ethanol from a train car into his eighteen-wheeler when a spark of static from his shirt ignited the gas fumes. Within seconds, the entire tanker was engulfed in flames and moments later a series of explosions rocked the town. 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes as fire crews worked to prevent the remaining tankers from exploding. Scary stuff. Anyway, back then I remember thinking: this would make a great story! And look at me now: it's a year later and this incident is finding it's way into my fourth book. Though I have other ideas for books, this is the one that is gripping me now--I have to write it.

So far, I can't believe what I'm learning. Who knew ethanol production was so dangerous? In the little research I've done, I've been shocked by the amount of explosions at both ethanol plants and throughout the distribution process. Apparently the politics of ethanol production extends beyond it's arguable status as a "green" energy source. Yeeps. I just wanted to write a good book, not a political manifesto... Maybe I should have a tornado hit the town instead. Is a natural disaster less potentially offensive?

Nah, I think I'll keep researching. Hopefully my "worst case scenario" plot will exist only on paper and never in real life. Though the towns that experienced what you see below are probably thinking the same thing I am: what about next time???

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Okay, so I tackled serious stuff in my last post about ICRS, now I'll write about something fun.

The last night that I was in Orlando, Tyndale hosted an Author Appreciation Dinner at Epcot. It was so much fun! We had a banquet in the Great Hall of China, replete with Chinese food, incredible acrobats (I was so terrified that they were going to fall I could hardly watch), and wonderful conversation. After supper we enjoyed a dessert buffet of chocolate mousse and all the toppings. (Great idea for summer entertaining, by the way. They set it up like an ice cream bar--we scooped mousse into waffle cones and topped it with nuts, chocolate shavings, sprinkles, cherries, the works.) Then we walked to an outdoor plaza and watched the fireworks show over the lake. I felt like a little kid! And if you know me at all, you know that I love feeling like a kid.

Anyway, I'm so humbled and grateful to be a part of Tyndale! I love this company and the people in it. They certainly didn't have to throw a banquet to make me feel appreciated, but it was a wonderful evening even if I did feel very spoiled.

Here's a photo of our table. I'm afraid I had to steal it from Angela Hunt because although I took my camera to Epcot, I was dumb enough to forget to take pictures. Anyway, I'm second from the left between my lovely editor, Stephanie, and Francine Rivers. Isn't the table decor pretty? The orchids were real. I love orchids...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I promised I'd write more about ICRS, and here I am forgetting about it already. It feels like Florida is months away, not mere days. And I haven't even been home a week! If I have mommy-brain this bad after two kids, can you imagine me after more? I once thought I was destined to be the mother of six. Six. I must have been insane in another life.

Anyway, on to the show. I could tell you about people I met, food I ate, and things I did, but what kept me up at night was the whole concept of a Christian market and my place in it. More to the point: I was struck by the discrepency between what seemed to be two camps of thinking. I'm not really sure how to classify them, but they felt distinct to me. Maybe the line is drawn between products that are inward-directed (books, music, etc. by Christians and specifically for Christians) and outward-directed (books, music, etc. by Christians for a larger audience). Maybe it comes down to a generational divide: Boomers vs. Gen-Xers (Gen-Y? I think I'm Gen-Y...). Whatever the distinction, it got me wondering: Am I meant to be a CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) author? Do I even fit in this market?

I don't want to imply that Christian fiction is prescriptive--though it may have been at one time, there are so many authors out there right now who are writing honest, edgy (I hate that word but can't think of a better one) books that blur the lines between secular and traditionally Christian fiction. But I'm not necessarily convinced that the Christian market is totally ready for it...

Case in point: I have received several emails from people saying that After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow were not hopeful enough. They wanted a happier ending, a more dramatic (and complete) conversion, and more resolution to issues that I intentionally left unfinished. The tenor of my writing makes sense to me--the kind of books that I read are Amy Bloom's Away (breathtaking, by the way, in spite of being bleak), Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (didn't like that one as much, even though the title clued me in to exactly what the book would be), and Carol Sheild's Unless (yet another self-disclosing title). And they think my books aren't hopeful enough?!? :) But honestly, I can see where these readers are coming from. If you pick up one of my books expecting to encounter the same happily-ever-after ending that most CBA fiction is known for, your not going to find it. So... Am I a disappointment to CBA readers? Are my books a let-down because my readers want everything to be peachy in the end?

Of course, on the other hand I have also received numerous emails from people saying that my books were a breath of fresh air, something they could totally relate to because their own lives aren't the proverbial "bowl of cherries."

Who's right? Both? Neither? I guess the bottom line for me is, I felt like a bit of a stranger in a strange land at times during the convention. Almost apologetic: Here's my book, but I'm not sure you'll like it as I can see you're clutching an armload of homespun romances that lean more towards the escapist side of literature... Maybe I'd be a better fit in a secular market. But then again, I'm sure they'd think I was too Christian.

Maybe we need a new market altogether. A sort of evolving genre that captures the postmodern movement of our generation while embracing the hope and beauty of an unmistakably grace-filled life. An emergent-genre maybe, like the emergent church. Hmmm. I could get into that, I think. But since I'm not going to start my own publishing house, I guess the best I can do is keep writing what I write and hope that the people who were meant to read my stuff will find it--even if it's not quite Christian fiction, not quite Women's, not quite Literary, not quite Secular... I just hope it makes sense to somebody.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

At Fault

I hurt a friend today. Doesn’t that suck? I’m not sure there is anything quite so agonizing as knowing that you have upset someone you love. My offense was unintentional--a result of my own inability to manage my life and my time--but I don’t think that the thoughtless nature of my transgression lessened her distress any.

Thankfully, she called me on it and we were able to talk. I’m usually a pretty straightforward person (past friends have told me that I handle tense situations more like a guy--deal with it then forget it) so I didn’t have any trouble trying to communicate my deep regret at the fact that I trampled her feelings. But I can’t help wondering if she would have understood me better if I struggled. If I cried. The truth is: I can’t eat, I can’t sit still, and I can’t think about anything else. I’m afraid I’m effectively ruined as a contributing member of society until I can know without a doubt that she has forgiven me.

And who knows? Maybe she won’t.

Isn’t it amazing how complex we are? How deep our emotions go and how tied they are to events, relationships, and perceptions from yesterday and as far back as our childhood? A husband leaves his dirty shirt on the floor and his wife sees disrespect written all over the wrinkles of the discarded garment. It’s not just a crew neck in a heap, it’s a blatant disregard of who she is and what she does. She’s convinced she’s being trampled on and ignored. She just knows that this one small act of selfishness is indicative of their entire relationship: he doesn’t care. And the sad truth is, he does care. He just wasn’t thinking in the moment he dropped the dirty laundry a foot from the hamper. Maybe he was being selfish. Maybe he was daydreaming. But whatever the reason, the bottom line remains: his insensitivity to her needs created a rift that could have been easily avoided.

Anyway, I’m the inconsiderate husband in this little scenario, and since I don’t have much experience in this realm, I’m struggling. How can I make it up to her? Or is this one of those situations where only time can heal all wounds…? Sigh.

My friend is not much of an internet girl, so there's no chance she'll read this, but if a public apology would help I'd write: I'm an inconsiderate shmuck. I am so sorry I hurt you. I will do my best not to make such a dumb mistake again, but since I'm far more fallible than I usually like to admit, I'll probably disappoint you again. I hope we can work through that together. But for now, I just hope you can forgive me. I absolutely, unequivocally love you to death... Thing is, I already said all that to her and more. I hope she was listening.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

I got home from Orlando last night at 8:30 and was greeted by two pajama-clad boys screaming "Mommy!" at the top of their lungs. In case you're wondering: nope, it doesn't get any better than that. Meeting Jeremy Camp doesn't compare. Signing 200 books while sitting next to Maureen Lang doesn't compare. Even watching the IllumiNations show at Epcot with fellow authors and good friends from Tyndale doesn't compare (though we're getting closer).

Okay, I'm being cheeky. Missing my boys aside, my trip to Orlando was fabulous in every way. I had a great time. Mostly because I got to dress up, talk books, and hang out with people who think the way I do (scary thought, I know). I stayed up late chatting with Lisa, got to know my wonderful agent and her equally cool assistant, met the authors of books I've long loved, and spent time plotting and planning my next book.

It's a little strange to be home. Good strange, because I just listened to my four-year-old put on a concert featuring his debut song Mommy's Home, but unsettling strange, too, because I'm reminded that I live in two worlds more or less. There's Nicole, the author, and then there's Niki, the wife, mom, small town girl, and closet poet (also known as Nik, momma, and 'Lil Beth--but that's another story).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I feel so blessed to be able to do both: write books and be a full-time pastor's wife and mother of young sons. But the balancing act is hard sometimes. I came back from Florida full of ideas and ready to jump headfirst into my next project, but I had pancakes to make, eggs to scramble, diapers to change and phones to answer (all before 7:30 this morning). Then it was off to the doctor for my baby's two-year check-up (can I still call him a baby?), followed by Bible study and errands, and before I had a chance to breathe it was time to make lunch. Boy the days go so fast.

I guess the best thing I can do is love it while I'm in it, and enjoy the memories when the moment's gone. Awww... Isn't that sweet? But whether it's cheesy or not, I'm serious. Life goes too fast sometimes. I want to suck the marrow out of my life, but before I can pucker my lips it's gone. Bad analogy, but you know what I mean. Take this trip for example... I can't believe it's over. Oh well, at least I got some great pictures. :)

Anyway, time to switch the laundry and start thinking about supper. I'll write more about ICRS soon (maybe I'll even copy some of my journal entries), but in the meantime here's a photo from the Christy Awards banquet. I'm on the left next to Lisa McKay. On the right side is Shelly Beach, Christy Award winner in the Chick Lit category. Oh, and I should confess: I stole this photo from Lisa. Sorry, Lis!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Off to ICRS!

Tomorrow morning I take off for Orlando, Florida and the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS). I'm so excited! This will be my first time at the show, and I'm really looking forward to it. Saturday evening I'll be attending the Christy Awards (and cheering on my friend, Lisa McKay), Sunday I have brunch with some amazing fellow authors, Monday I'll be busy with interviews and booksignings, and Tuesday is the Author Appreciation dinner for Tyndale. I promise to take lots of pictures and tell you all about it. In the interim, I hope you have a lovely few days.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Birthday

Two years ago today the Spirit laid a very heavy burden on my heart. Aaron and I were in the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia and we were firmly entrenched in the unhappy stage of waiting. Just waiting. Twiddling our thumbs because the dossier was complete, the homestudy was done, the papers were sent overseas, and there was nothing active for us to do. And I'm a do-er. A get things done-er. So God gave me something to do. He pressed so earnestly on my soul for so many days that I was heartsick. I lost my appetite, I couldn't sleep, I became so fidgety I couldn't stay still... Finally it got so intense I spread out facedown on my living room floor and begged the Lord to tell me why I was so unsettled.

Though he didn't speak outloud to me, within moments I knew why my spirit groaned so: my baby was being born. Thousands of miles away, amidst circumstances that I will never know, my little son was making his appearance in the world. Suddenly, I had much to do: I prayed. I prayed for his health and safety, I prayed for his poor mother and father, I prayed for each of his fingers and toes, his talents and weaknesses, his enfolding into our family. And when our case worker called with our referral of a sweet little son on August 22, 2006, I wasn't the least bit surprised when she told me his birthdate was July 8.

So, it's two years later and my counter is filled with balloons to be blown-up, streamers to be hung, presents to be wrapped, and cupcakes to be made. Tomorrow we celebrate our baby's second birthday. Happy birthday, Sweetheart.

Here he is, a moment after I first laid eyes on him. Isn't he sweet???