Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Redemption in the Valley


As Omega President, it is my turn to greet you Australasian Christian writers and readers. It is ANZAC Day, and in times past I've reflected on true stories from people who lived through those dreadful years of war 1914-1918. This year marks 100 years since Armistice and I'd like to offer another piece. This time, the reflection is a piece of fiction—an excerpt taken from one of my early novels 'Beyond the Valley'. When I wrote this book, I read many accounts of ANZAC soldiers and heard from people who had lived through the Great War. This excerpt (re-written for this occasion) starts at the time of Armistice, and follows the story of one young returned soldier, having left his mate behind—killed in action:




John didn’t want to put it off any longer. There was still one last issue that had not yet been laid to rest—to do with Charlie and Johnny, and only he knew about it.
He’d watched Charlie over the last few weeks, not sure if his attendance at church meant he’d given up atheism, or if he was there just simply to see his little girl. As a minister, John was used to reading people, but from Charlie’s demeanour he couldn’t tell what was happening in the young man’s heart. Charlie sat through the services, talked a little with Aimee at the finish and then went home with his parents. He showed no emotion either positive or negative. He showed no interest, neither in the sermon nor apparently towards life in general.
Then last week, the armistice had been announced. November 11th at 11 o’clock 1918. The whole valley had gone mad with joy. There was a public holiday and picnic. They held races for the children, and sang songs and cheered. It seemed that everybody in the valley had come into the school to attend, even Charlie. But Charlie didn’t cheer. Neither did he sing or engage in any way. And when they’d played The Last Post at the flagpole in remembrance of those who’d paid the ultimate price, Charlie didn’t cry. Nearly every other townsperson had wept for the Johnny, John most of all. His son would never come home. Charlie had stood impassively, his head bowed, no expression on his face. John was aware of his son’s best friend, and what he observed troubled him. It was time to pay a pastoral visit.
‘He’s probably out at the lookout.’ Charlie’s grandmother had answered the door. ‘He sometimes goes there to be alone. This melancholy takes a hold of him and he doesn’t seem to be much use to anybody for anything,’ Rose said.
‘It must be hard for you,’ John said.
Rose’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I’m glad our boy came back at least. Yours ...’
John swallowed back his own emotion. He’d cried nearly every day since he’d received the telegram. He doubted it would ever stop.
‘I’m sorry.’ Rose wiped her nose with her handkerchief. Try the lookout. I can’t think where else he could be.’
As John rode up into the hills, he kept wiping his own nose. His son had come up here many times with Charlie. They had been the best of mates, and Johnny had told his father about the plans they had talked about at the lookout. This wretched grief was going to dog him forever. Every place he went, there was something to remind him of his son.

***
Charlie’s head snapped up. Was that Johnny calling him? For that brief moment a surge of joy pushed him to his feet in anticipation. Then he remembered—Johnny was dead and buried somewhere in the desert in North Africa. When John Laslett rode from between the trees, it made sense. Johnny had always sounded like his father.
‘Grandma Rose thought I might find you here,’ the minister said as he rode up and dismounted.
‘I come here sometimes to think,’ Charlie said. That momentary burst of energy was gone and the weight was back pressing on his shoulders.
‘Do you mind if I sit down?’ John asked, and then tied his horse to a nearby bush. ‘I’ve been meaning to catch up with you. Some things we need to talk about.’
Charlie forced himself to nod. There was his adopted daughter to talk about. He couldn’t run away from responsibility forever.
‘I’m really grateful that you and Mrs Laslett have allowed Meg to take on Aimee.’
‘We’re grateful you’ve given Meg a chance to continue to do what she loves best. Having Aimee has helped her cope with leaving her missionary work. She would have been restless sitting at home with nobody to care for and love.’
Charlie hadn’t thought about it like that, and was relieved to know the Lasletts looked upon Aimee as a blessing rather than a nuisance.
‘It’s not Meg I want to talk about. It’s Johnny.’
Charlie felt a wave of anxiety cord his muscles. He wanted to get up and run into the bush. He had fought not to think about Johnny for nearly a year. He couldn’t think of his friend without the image of his body being hit by the shower of bullets and falling lifeless to the ground.
‘I don’t think I can …’ Charlie’s mouth had gone dry and his stomach had knotted.
‘You blame yourself, Charlie, I know that,’ John said. ‘You think it was all your fault that Johnny was killed.’
‘It was,’ Charlie said, ‘and I wouldn’t blame you for hating me for it.’
‘How was it your fault?’ John asked.
Charlie braced for John’s anger, but it didn’t come.
‘No one has ever told me exactly what happened. All we know is that he was killed in action.’
‘I don’t know if I can talk about it.’ Charlie was now fighting a wave of black spots that seemed to be clouding his vision, and a wave of nausea that made him want to spit out the pain boiling inside.
‘I can’t force you.’ John’s tone remained quiet and steady. He paused for a while before continuing. ‘You know Johnny wrote to me just before he died. He knew it was going to happen.’
Charlie squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath. He didn’t want to hear this.
‘He wanted me to tell you.’
Charlie became aware that John was waiting. He cracked his eyelids and saw the minister holding out an envelope, and recognised Johnny’s handwriting.
‘You need to know, Charlie, and I need to tell his mother and sisters, but not before you’ve given me permission.’
Charlie stared at the extended envelope. What was he saying? He was speaking in riddles, and Charlie didn’t want to understand. He began to shake his head.
‘Please,’ John said. ‘For Johnny’s sake and your own.’
After a long pause, Charlie eventually took the envelope. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to hear from Johnny. He didn’t want to think about Johnny. He didn’t want to remember what he had done.
‘You need to read it,’ John pushed. ‘It’s important, Charlie.’
Heart hammering at an alarming rate and feeling dizzy with worry, Charlie withdrew the letter and began to read.

Please don’t show this to mother. If it all comes to nothing I wouldn’t want to upset her, but I felt I had to share my feelings with somebody, Dad, and I know you will understand.
All my life I have felt that God has something for me to do, and I said to Meg some time ago that it was something I must do alone. Lately I have begun to feel that I know what it is. It has to do with Charlie. I love him like a brother, Dad, and yet he lives his life as if it will never end. He refuses to acknowledge God and stands on the edge of blasphemy constantly. If only he knew that he was breaking his Saviour’s heart as well as my own when he talks like that. I pray desperately that he will not be killed in this war. Dad, you and I both know that if he dies his life will not end there. If I am to die tomorrow, I know that I will be welcomed into the loving arms of my Saviour, Jesus Christ, but if it is Charlie, I fear he will face a lost eternity.
Dad, if it comes to this, I will die in Charlie’s place. At least I will not be lost, but I cannot risk having him in everlasting torment forever.
Of course I pray that he will soften his heart and remember the things that we have all said over the years, but he becomes more reckless with despair as the days go by.
The other night, I read that Scripture: ‘Greater love has no man than he lays down his life for his friend.’ I don’t pretend to be anything close to Jesus Christ, but I will follow His example if it means Charlie has another chance to one day meet me in heaven.
This may all come to nothing, and if so, then I will rejoice in coming home again, but if something should happen, please tell Charlie that I loved him like a brother, and I plead with him, if there is still time, to give his life to Christ. I want to meet him in heaven, and know that we were brothers on earth.
As always, tell mother and the girls that I love them with all my heart and will see them soon, in this life or the next.

Your loving son
Johnny.

 Something harsh was scratching at Charlie’s eyes, and he stood trying to blink it away. His jaw has locked with tension and his throat hurt. The emotion was boiling in the pit of his stomach.
‘How did Johnny die?’ John asked softly. Charlie’s chin began to quiver. He needed to say it, but wasn’t sure it would come out right.
‘Charlie?’
‘He died saving my life!’ The words were hardly out and the emotion came spilling out after it in deep gut-wrenching sobs. ‘Why did he do that? I’m not worth dying for!’ Following the sobs came wave upon wave of rage and Charlie felt a loud and angry cry come from deep within his being. He began to punch his chest with his fists until he fell to his knees and pushed his face to the ground.
‘Why did you do it, Johnny? I’m not worth it. You shouldn’t have done it! You should have let me die.’ Charlie was barely aware of how he must have sounded. His face was leaking—from his eyes, from his nose, from his mouth. ‘Why?’
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. Why did Johnny’s father care so much? He should hate him.
Eventually the storm subsided.
‘How can you ever forgive me? If I hadn’t been so hard hearted, Johnny might still have been alive.’
‘You can’t know that,’ John said. ‘If it hadn’t been you, Johnny might have done the same for one of the other men. He might have been taken down in the charge on Beersheba. Johnny’s life was and is in the hands of God.’
Charlie shook his head. ‘He should have let me die. It was my own stupid fault, and I have nothing to live for any way.’
‘Eternal damnation is a serious business, Charlie. Please don’t waste my son’s sacrifice. You read what he said. There is still time. Give yourself to Christ. Meet Johnny again someday, and tell him yourself.’
‘It’s too late for me,’ Charlie argued. ‘I married a prostitute, didn’t you know?’
‘I know,’ John answered quietly. ‘And I know that you rescued Aimee from neglect and abuse.’
‘That hardly makes up for all of the wrong things I’ve done.’
‘Nothing makes up for our sin, Charlie, except the blood of Jesus Christ.’
‘I don’t understand it.’ Charlie shook his head. ‘When I studied natural science, they said I needed proof before I accepted anything.’
‘Do you need proof that summer will end and winter will begin before you plan what crop you will put in next year?’
‘Yes, but everybody knows the seasons will change, they always have.’
‘A lot of people know that God is real, and that He has sent His son, Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and death. He always has, and always will.’
‘Yes, but I can’t prove that.’
‘You can’t prove that winter will come either, and yet you plant your seed hoping that it will.’
Charlie stopped. He was spent, and couldn’t think of an intelligent answer.
‘You don’t believe with your head, Charlie. You have faith in your heart. You accept it without proof.’
‘Only fools do that.’
‘The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’. There is a God all right, Charlie. You only have to look at the stars and the wonders of creation to see his fingerprints all over the world. And you only have to look at the example of your friend, Johnny, to know what Jesus has done in dying for you. Like Johnny, Jesus died for your sin, except His gift is eternal life. Johnny’s was only for a bit more of this mortal life, hoping you’d make the right choices now.’
Charlie sighed. He heard what Reverend Laslett said, and he desperately wanted to believe, but his mind kept getting in the way.
‘Is it possible to pray for my faith to grow?’ Charlie asked hopefully.
‘It’s more than possible.’ John smiled. ‘I’ll pray with you right now, and tomorrow, and every day after that, until your faith is enough to accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour. I don’t know if it is possible, but if it were, Johnny would be laughing in heaven if he knew you would do it.’
Charlie nodded. ‘He would laugh, and probably cry too. I miss him so much.’
The emotion welled up again, and Charlie saw it in John’s eyes as well as he grabbed him in a hug.
 ‘I’ll try it, for Johnny,’ Charlie said as he pulled away. ‘It really is the least I can do.’
‘Do it for yourself, and for Aimee, and for your parents, and for me as well.’ John said. ‘The angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner repents and comes home to the Father.’
Model photograph of Character, Charlie Shore

Omega Writers' President, Meredith Resce, has written and published 18 titles. This excerpt comes from her novel 'Beyond the Valley'—fifth novel in the Heart of Green Valley series.


Don't forget registrations for Omega Writers Conference will be coming up soon. Save the date: October 26-28th in Adelaide.

 





Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Tuesday Book Chat | 24th April 2018 | Narelle Atkins


Narelle here. Welcome to our ACW Tuesday Book Chat where we encourage book lovers to answer our bookish question of the week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Please join in the conversation in a comment on this post or in a comment on the blog post shared in our Australasian Christian Writers Facebook Group.  

Let's chat. Where is your favourite place to read?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Parts of a Book: Author Information

By Iola Goulton @iolagoulton


Last week I discussed the elements which must be included in the front matter of a book, whether a paperback or an ebook, trade published or self published.

This week I'm talking about author information, which can be part of the front matter or the back matter, depending on the format and the publisher. Author information includes:
  • Author Note
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Author
Older books (from the pre-ebook era) often included these as front matter. Newer books and ebooks are more likely to include these as back matter. Why?

Because there are differences between how ebooks are formatted compared to paper books.


Ebooks vs. Paper Books

Most ebooks start directly at Chapter One, which means the reader won’t even see most of the front matter. There is limited use in including Endorsements or other sales material at the beginning of an ebook, as the casual reader won’t see them. Someone who wants to look has to go back to the Kindle table of contents, and choose the appropriate section. Choosing Beginning will take you to the beginning of Chapter One (or the Prologue).

It is also important to limit the front matter in ebooks. Most online stores allow readers to sample a portion of the book—up to 10 per cent (or more, depending on the retailer). Too much front matter limits the amount of the actual text that will be included in this sample, and that can affect your sales.

I remember downloading one Kindle sample which was all front matter, with no actual book content.


Yes, really.

Did I buy the book? No. I download samples to (wait for it!) sample your writing to see if I want to read your book. If there is no book to read, I’m not going to buy.

So while some authors and publishers recommend including these three elements of author information as front matter, I don’t. With a few exceptions.

Author’s Note

This is your opportunity to address any factual issues in the novel—such as part of the novel being based on your own personal experience. Books that deal with traumatic issues may include contact details for relevant help organisations (e.g a novel about dealing with an unplanned pregnancy may include details for organisations that provide pregnancy support).

Some authors include a short list of research books and sources, which always impresses me. Others say this information is available on their website, which is doubly clever—it shows me the author has done their research, and it encourages me to click through, and perhaps sign up for their email list.

Exceptions

I do have a few exceptions, instances where I believe the author’s note or similar material should be included in the front matter, not the back matter:

Deliberate Errors

Authors of historical fiction sometimes introduce deliberate errors to better serve the story they are telling (e.g. they may have moved event by a few weeks or months to better fit the timeline of the novel, or they may change the location of key characters or events).

I’m a history buff, and when I find incorrect “facts” in a novel, I always turn to the back to see why the author has made that change. If there is no note, that affects my enjoyment of the novel because it gives me the impression the author hasn’t done their research.

I don’t mind deliberate changes to suit the story, but telling me Germany was in the “early days” of World War II in 1942 is guaranteed to annoy me. An introductory Author’s Note is the perfect time to explain these changes … but only if it can be done without spoiling the story. Otherwise, it may be more prudent to add a simple note explaining that certain facts have been changed, and detail the exact changes in the back matter.

Family Tree

Historical or fantasy novels often include a family tree to enable the reader to keep the characters straight. Depending on the circumstances, this can be helpful or it can serve as a spoiler. My suggestion would be to include the family tree as it is at the beginning of the novel, not the end.

Glossary

If your character uses unfamiliar vocabulary, then readers will appreciate a glossary explaining the meaning.

This could be words from another language (e.g. many Amish novels translate the Deutsch terms used). They could be technical words, or terms which have fallen out of everyday use. Or they could be local idioms that your characters use, but your target reader may not understand (e.g. if you have a book set in Australia or New Zealand).

As a guide, if the information is essential or important to enable the reader to understand the novel, include the information in the front matter.

Map

Fantasy novels or historical fiction often include a map (I’ve even seen maps in some contemporary novels set outside the USA). This provides readers with a heads-up about the setting, and helps them orient themselves in that unfamiliar location.

Acknowledgements

This is your opportunity to thank the reader for buying and reading the book. It is also the place to thank people who have helped in the writing, editing, and publishing process—your critique partners, beta readers, and editors (if you’re trade published, you can also thank your agent, publisher, and the marketing team).

I always read the acknowledgements. As a reader, I often the names of other favourite authors in this section. I’m then more inclined to check out books from the authors whose names I don’t recognise—if I enjoyed this book by Author A, who thanks Authors B and C (who I’ve read and loved), then I think I’m likely to enjoy books by Author D as well.

As a pre-published author, the acknowledgements section provides valuable market research. Which agents and publishers are interested in books like this? Who designed the cover of this self-published book? Which freelance editor does the author use? (Everyone needs an editor, even editors. We can’t edit our own work—we see what should be there, not what is there.)

About the Author

Readers want to know and connect with the author as a person. There should be an About the Author or Author Bio section which gives readers a brief author biography, and displays a professional photograph. It may also include links to the author’s website, and social media sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

A paper book will have these as written links, but an ebook should have them as hyperlinks so the reader can click through to the website. Hopefully they will then sign up to your email list, or subscribe to your blog.

Conclusion

This author information needs to be included in your book no matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, and whether you are trade published or self-published.

I’ll be back next week to talk more about the back matter that always goes at the back.

What do you like to see in the front matter? Or the back matter?


About Iola Goulton


Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).

Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, and currently works as a freelance editor. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, two teenagers and one cat. She is currently working on her first novel.

Friday, 20 April 2018

How to Get Published (in the US)

By Carolyn Miller @CarolynMAuthor


Occasionally I see people in ACW asking how to get published. I remember what it was like first entering this unknown world a few years ago – you have your story, you don’t know if it’s any good, so what’s next? – so today I thought I’d share some of my experiences from the past few years, specifically on how to get published in the US, via a traditional publisher. (Because if you self-publish, you can pretty much be published (online, at least) where you like)

Why the US? Because it’s the largest Christian fiction market in the world, with the greatest number of Christian readers and publishers. Not writing Christian fiction? No worries. But if you are, you may want to consider your US options, and keep reading…

Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

1.     Create a quality product.


It can be pretty easy to think my words are like gemstones from heaven, each positioned perfectly on the page in a manner that should not be moved. (Wait, that’s just me? Oh…) 

Sorry. Writing well means so much more than just plonking words on a page. It means reading widely in your genre so you’re familiar with what’s out there, it requires planning, writing, editing, rewriting, editing, then revising some more. It means knowing your writing style and ‘voice’ so your product is ‘same, same but different’ – unique enough to grab attention, but not so weird it frightens publishers (and readers) away. 

How to know if your work is any good? Ask advice. Once it's polished (by you) to an acceptable standard, find people willing to 'beta-read' your work and offer feedback about whether it makes sense, the plot and characters are engaging, to spot those things we just can't see because we're too close to our story, and we love it so much, we think it's practically perfect... J Find (and pay for) editors to cast an eagle eye over your manuscript to check for continuity, to check the grammar, spelling, typo errors we too easily miss. I didn’t even know about ACW when I finished my first novel, so I started entering US online writing contests to get anonymous feedback on whether it was any good (here’s a previous post I wrote about writing contests) – because, let’s face it, family and friends are generally predisposed to be kind, rather than brutal, so that honest feedback you’re searching for may not come from them.

Handy tip: if you want your writing to be accessible to Americans, write in US English (and use US letter format, not A4). Trust me.

2.     Create an online presence.


If you’re genuinely wanting to publish in the US (or anywhere, really), then you have to look legit. Publishers (and agents) are wanting to winnow out the try-hards from the die-hards, the wannabes from the will-get-it-done. Why should they waste their time and money on someone who hasn’t got a plan to treat their writing career seriously? They also find it very helpful to know if you have followers and how much influence you as a newbie author might bring to the negotiating table. 

So that means getting your social media stuff sorted before you’re published. Get a website (I use freebie Wix), start writing a blog if you want (I didn’t, & I don’t), get your facebook author page, twitter etc happening. Need more info? Sign up for Iola Goulton’s marketing challenge. I did it last year and it was extremely helpful J Don’t know what to say, because your book isn’t ‘out there’ yet? Then start with what you do know, your subject area, your genre, other authors in that genre, things that promote your ‘author brand’ and share snippets from your writing journey along the way.

3.     Create quality connections.

    
Because you’re not living in the US, this is where it gets harder. Often the best connections happen from meeting people at conferences etc, but you might be like me and not quite in the position to be shelling out thousands of dollars for a US conference. That’s okay. Make connections at Australian conferences (like the Omega conference for Australian Christian writers). Join various Facebook groups (especially US ones, like Avid Readers of Christian Fiction) and contribute, with a view to encourage authors and to learn.

There is so much to learn about this industry, and being open to online opportunities (reviewing books, learning about launch teams, writing tips, etc) can provide a smorgasbord of authorly encouragement. Iron sharpens iron, and this can be a great way to figure out your writing style and persona – those things about your writing that makes you you. This means when you finally do get the chance to attend something like the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference you’ll have made that many more connections and be able to own your writing legitimacy a little more – even if you’re pre-published.

4.     Get an agent.


Yes, easier said than done. But if you want to be traditionally published, nearly all US publishers won’t take unsolicited (unasked for) manuscripts, so you need a doorway to enter their hallowed halls. For me that meant entering those online contests mentioned earlier, and working at my craft until I started to final. Finaling is where agents and editors from various publishing houses start taking notice, as they are often judges at the pointy end of the contest. 

My win in the 2013 ACFW First Impressions and finaling in the 2014 ACFW Genesis contests led to a request from Tamela Hancock Murray (ACFW 2017’s agent of the year) to see more of my work, and then to an offer to represent me. Even then it took nearly a year of her shopping my Regency novel to various Christian US publishing houses before one said yes. The others were either not taking on new authors at that time or had just signed someone else in that genre. On the other hand, Kregel Publications were looking for someone in that genre, so it was a case of God’s good timing – and developing my patience J

Of course, other people may have that serendipitous chance conversation with an acquisitions editor and see their manuscript accepted that way, but may find an agent useful for negotiating all the fun US legalities and tax stuff. I just know it wouldn’t have happened for me without an agent. 

5.     Keep the wheels turning.


By this I mean keep at it. Keep learning, so your writing improves. Keep connecting, so people know who you are. Keep writing, so it’s not just one book you can offer. For a publishing house to invest heaps of money in a newbie author they want to know you can deliver a quality product not just once, but several times. For me, that meant offering a series rather than a standalone book, which meant Kregel could market for the second and third books and create more momentum, with a new book being released every 4-6 months. Of course, that meant writing more, which means treating my writing as a full time job (I gave up high school teaching to write J). This requires focus. Maintaining awareness of my writing brand. And writing more.

Most importantly, this means keeping on trusting God. Ultimately He is the One who opens the doors, the One who knows the best timing for our lives, the One who gives us glimpses of His creative power in our words. So many times I would have given up but God’s grace and strength and remembering His past faithfulness and His promises encouraged me.

Want to be published in the US? Work hard, write well, but most importantly, keep fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and trust that He knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t. That’s faith, isn’t it?


Over to you: Any other tips you can offer for being traditionally published in the US?

Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher.
A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, and Winning Miss Winthrop, all available from Amazon, Book Depository, Koorong, etc

Let's connect! Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
SaveSaveSaveSave