Thursday, December 22, 2011

Debut Author Spotlight ... Carey Jane Clark

by Carey Jane Clark

I have wanted to be a writer almost as long as I can remember—since I first read Anne of Green Gables. But, although I won some writing awards in high school and continued to enjoy fiction, I never really found time to give to writing until I was in college.

As part of an assignment for one of the courses I took as part of my degree in English literature, I wrote the beginning of a novel. It was a speculative fiction. When the first three chapters were complete and the rest outlined, I submitted to a publisher. I had no idea at the time that you were supposed to have a manuscript finished before you sent it to a publisher. The editor sent back a letter saying the novel wasn’t suitable for that publishing house, but gave me the name and the direct line to another editor at another press. I made it as far as calling that number and when a voice answered on the other line, I hung up. I never called again.

I knew in my heart I wasn’t really ready—that I hadn’t learned the craft of writing well enough to finish the novel I was writing and to do it well. And, at that time, I didn’t know where to turn to learn more.

Ten years later, my son was born. I made the decision to stay at home with him, and it felt like a new beginning. I decided to take a writing course from Writer’s Digest online. The instructor and students in that course were very encouraging, and I subsequently enrolled in another course focusing on the novel. I had begun working on After the Snow Falls when I attended a small writer’s conference and met authors Cec Murphey and Randy Ingermanson.

I learned so much from that conference, and took notes that I continued to refer to for months afterward. I came home and started all over again with my novel. The things I learned at the conference made it clear to me that what I had written to that point weren’t making good use of conflict. I persevered through that draft. It was better, but I still wasn’t happy with the results. The climax fell flat.

After taking some time to analyze the story as I’d written it, I decided it needed another complete rewrite. At that point, the story was written entirely from the perspective of Celia (the main character). I realized that there wasn’t enough invested in the character of Alfie (her father) for the reader to care about him. I rewrote the story in alternating viewpoints, as it is now. There was one further rewrite, when I changed the portions written in Celia’s viewpoint from first person to third person. I was almost finished writing when we decided to move to China.

During the two years we spent in China, we were really busy learning the language and settling into life in a different country and culture. I didn’t do much writing at all during that period. When we returned home I determined to finish, which I did just prior to attending another writer’s conference this past summer. I received a lot of positive feedback about my manuscript and met a lot of wonderful writer friends. One of those friends was Karen Anna Vogel, fellow writer at TrestlePress, and author of the best-selling Amish Knitting Circle series. She introduced me to Giovanni Gelati of Trestle Press, and very soon after that, After the Snow Falls was published.

So, my journey to publication is really a story of a seven-year overnight success. When I began writing, my children were small, and now my oldest son is the same age as Caleb, Celia’s son in my novel. But I cut my writing teeth on this story, and I’m humbled by the positive reviews that After the Snow Falls has received since its release December 15th.

After the Snow Falls
by Carey Jane Clark
Trestle Press, 2011

In the middle of a soccer drill, in an awful, awkward moment, Celia Bennett's eight-year-old son Caleb lands on his face and chest in the grass. The diagnosis blindsides her, bringing her face-to-face with every parent's worst nightmare.

Desperate to save her son’s life, Celia pursues a cure through alternative medicine, but her quest ends in frustration and disappointment. Facing despair, hope walks in on the most unlikely set of legs, when her father returns after a 30-year absence. Can she release pain to embrace hope? Will it make a difference, or is it too late?

Carey Jane Clark writes to instill courage, hope and conviction in her readers. She is a homeschool mother by day, writer by night. The writing bug afflicted her early in life. She has been writing in one form or another for more than twenty years. After the Snow Falls is her first novel. 

Carey shares the adventure of her life with her husband Brian and three children, whom she homeschools. She blogs at . You can find out more about her novel at

What People are Saying
Carey's writing has been compared to that of Karen Kingsbury and Jodi Picoult.
"Her picturesque prose and compelling characters make After the Snow Falls a riveting story, one that will remain with readers long after...the final page." - Kathi Macias, author Deliver Me From Evil

Available for $4.99 from Trestle Press via: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords

Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 INSPY Award Winners

I was privileged this year to be a judge for the 2011 INSPY Awards in the General Fiction category. I never imagined what a difficult job it would be as all the novels merited praise.

One thing I really appreciate about the INSPYs is that they pull nominees from outside the normal Christian literature box, drawing them from the general market as well. It proves that faith-driven literature can reach beyond the Christian market. The winner of the General Fiction category, City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell, is firm proof of that. It's a book I would recommend to anyone, Christian or not. I'm certain the winners (and nominees) in the other categories share the same outreach.

So, congratulations, INSPY Award Winners, on your well-deserved victory! And thank you, INSPY Awards, for introducing all these great books to us.

Creative Nonfiction: Passport Through Darkness by Kimberly L. Smith (David C. Cook, January 2011)

General Fiction: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell (Henry Holt & Co, September 2010)

Literature for Young People: Saint Training by Elizabeth Fixmer (Zondervan, 2010)

Mystery/Thriller: The Bishop by Steven James (Revell, July 2010)

Romance: Yesterday's Tomorrow by Cathy West (OakTara, March 2011)

Speculative Fiction: The Falling Away by T.L. Hines (Thomas Nelson, September 2010)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Debut Author Spotlight ... Ryan Grabow

by Ryan Grabow

If you'd told me ten years ago that I would write a novel, I'd have known you were kidding. I wasn't in college as an English major and avoided taking writing classes my degree didn't require. Regardless, there was an assignment I enjoyed: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. I didn't know exactly why, just that it messed with my head and defied my expectations. I had other assignments to deal with and the New York Trilogy was forgotten, but I now realize it was the first book that made me feel like writing.

I wouldn't become a bibliophile for more than five years. After a childhood full of Star Trek, Stargate, and Sliders, I would discover anime and it would expand my tastes beyond sci-fi into fantasy. As with books, it was the deeper stories which defied my expectations that held my attention. Finally came the spark that got me fully into reading: Dragons, of all things. Ads for the movie Eragon were showing everywhere and I realized that every time something dragon-related came out, my eye had been drawn to it. I prayerfully set out to understand why. The itch for writing soon returned.

Metafiction would be the bridge, taking me back from straight fantasy to the deep and mind-bending. An analysis of fiction within fictional framework. The question "why are dragon characters interesting?" set off a room full of dominoes, spreading from fantasy to spec-fic in general. The resulting favorites list was disappointingly un-Christian, however, the works lukewarm or hostile to faith. My attempt to correct this trend only seemed to draw from an empty well. It occurred to me that I found a gap the Lord was leading me to fill.

I can only give God credit here, because the malvirai-seeking-Him idea came out of the clear blue sky. The seed that would become my first novel sprouted quickly. A year after I started, the book was typed and its gaps filled in. Then began the typos and test readers. By early 2009, I was confident enough to start querying agents.

Major publishers wanted me to go through agents and the list of (reputable) agents who represent Christian sci-fi turned out to be extremely short. When their responses also ended up being short I was left wondering where else to go. I didn't want some Darwinist coming up with the idea and planting the "FIRST!" flag on it (Their author yawns. "Oh look, we have so many."). If nothing else, I knew my story was original: a black eye to those who say Christians can only rip off the ideas of others.

With the Internet and a growing number of e-book readers, I knew I could make my appeal to the readers themselves and roll a little popularity into future queries. I released Caffeine under a Creative Commons license (as far as I know, the first Christian novel under CC), which allowed the e-book to be shared by anyone as long as it was free and unaltered. As downloads zoomed into the thousands, I queried a more inclusive list: including secular agents, especially those who've handled CC-licensed work. Still no dice.

As timing would have it, I'd received an invitation to enter Marcher Lord Press's Premise Contest the week after Caffeine went up. I had submitted to them months earlier and loved the contest idea. Caffeine ended up being a finalist and Grace Bridges took notice. Here was my introduction to Splashdown Books and a community of Christian writers.

More editing. The permanence of the 2009 release imposed a few limits, but 2011's manuscript was a solid improvement on it. God has blessed this offering (from a non-writer like me) and I know He will continue to bless it. I plan to write a film treatment to see if it can get a special effects budget and make it to the big screen. Exciting times.

Work has begun on my second novel, which is independent of Caffeine. I'm not ruling out short stories or serial-type works, but for the moment my interest remains firmly in stand-alone novels.

by Ryan Grabow

Splashdown Books, November 2011

Brandon Dauphin feels like a dying ember. He’s jobless and feels worthless, and falling in love has only made his problem worse. In an authoritarian and over stimulated 22nd-century America, all he can do to relieve his pain is indulge in the computer-simulated fantasies of a network called Dynamic Reality, until a virus takes control of the simulation. Unable to return to the real world, Brandon finds that the virus shares his questions about existence, and that she will stop at nothing for her answers.

Ryan Grabow graduated from Long Island University in 2004, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Media, and currently works in television production in Fort Myers, Florida. Caffeine is his first novel, combining his Christian faith with observations on how communications technology has impacted the reality of our lives, and drawing from his experience as a webmaster, programmer, and spiritual geek as points of speculation.

Links for Caffeine:
Official page:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Debut Author Spotlight ... Michael Berrier

by Michael Berrier

My dreams at first had nothing to do with writing books. I wanted to be a secret agent making the world safe for democracy. Or a cowboy intent on living a quiet life on the range, roped into a struggle against outlaws or greedy ranchers. Or a downed fighter pilot in enemy territory.

You get the picture. Like a lot of other kids, I was a daydreamer. A junior Walter Mitty, for you film buffs. If other kids wanted to be outside running around tackling one another, maybe I’d join them, but while I did I was imagining what might happen between tackles.

By the time I got to college, I’d written up a few of my daydreams. At USC I met my first real live author (T.C. Boyle), and after working with him for a few semesters I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted my life’s work to be. And for me, the path would be easy. It would go like this: I would write a novel, send it off to universal acclaim as a work of poetic genius, and then I would settle into a quiet life of luxury, fame, and the rewarding toil of the world of letters—in that order.

As you can see, the junior Walter Mitty lived on.

What actually happened was, I finished my first novel before graduating from college (check), and sent it off (check), and nothing came of it (no check!). Since I needed a check from someone, I interviewed for a bank job called “technical writer” and was hired to write policies, procedures, and official memoranda. As enthralling as that work was, the career path was going to peter out quickly, so I entered the bank’s management training program and emerged eighteen months later as a banker ready to take my spot in the great machine of American capitalism. Also working that machine in Beverly Hills was my dream girl, and a few years later I married her, so life was good.

I didn’t start writing again until the recession of the early ’90s, when Citibank decided I wasn’t needed by their Private Bank anymore. I had some time before my money ran out so I wrote another novel. I’d read a lot of them since college, so surely this one would do the trick. I checked the boxes of finishing the manuscript and sending it off, but again, nothing came of it (no check!). Since our family now included a newborn who was probably going to need braces if his screaming mouth ever sprouted teeth, I interviewed for another banking job and set aside writing again. When my son was old enough to like stories, I wrote a few for him and his friends and got good reviews from the honest little listeners, so the old dream of being a novelist came on again.

I began working on a series of novels for kids and attended my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in the early 2000s. There I learned that getting published involved more than sitting at your desk picking the right verbs. You had to actually talk to people. You had to find out about the market. You had to know who published what, how editors wanted to be approached if you could approach them at all, and what they were looking for in a writer. And it didn’t hurt if you weren’t completely wrapped up in yourself and your own fame and fortune.

Imagine my surprise.

Over the years attending the annual conference at Mount Hermon I moved on from children’s stories into novels for grown-ups—suspense. I made friends at the conferences, cheered them on and was more delighted by their success than I ever imagined I could be. I also paid close attention to the teachers and did everything I could to grow as a writer. James Scott Bell was on faculty, and Randy Ingermanson, Angela Hunt, and Brandilyn Collins. Rounding out the faculty were editors representing publishing houses that might consider putting my words into print. To get to these editors at the conference you didn’t have to go through a gatekeeper and your manuscript didn’t have to rise to the top of a slush pile. You could sit at a table and break bread with them, look them in the eye if you dared, and sometimes… most of the time… they would come right out and—get this—ask you about your writing. And they expected an answer!

But it wasn’t a conversation at a table in the dining hall at Mount Hermon where I got together with Tyndale House. Here’s what happened. A good friend I met at Mount Hermon is author Shawn Grady. Shawn and Kathryn Cushman and I had been sharing drafts of our work for a few years, and when Shawn read the first chapters of my Cash Burn manuscript he got the wild idea of sending it to his agent without telling me. He didn’t even tell me afterward until he heard from her that she was interested in reading more. Then he fessed up to what he’d done and asked if I wanted to be introduced to Janet Grant.

From Mount Hermon I had a sense for Janet’s reputation. I couldn’t answer Shawn’s e-mail fast enough with a yes. The only problem was, I hadn’t finished the Cash Burn manuscript. I sent Janet as much as I had, and she responded that she liked what she read but needed to see the complete manuscript before she could sign me as a client.

It took me a few months to check the box of completing and polishing the manuscript. Janet liked the way I ended the story, and soon I was the newest client of the Books & Such Literary Agency.

Another surprise e-mail came out of the blue this year. Janet informed me that Tyndale House was looking for new authors to publish electronically, and the editor at Tyndale, Jan Stob, wanted to launch Cash Burn as an e-book. This would bypass the typical delays of print runs and accelerate the launch process. Cash Burn could be released in only about 90 days with the endorsement of a venerable publisher, versus a launch date more like eighteen months out for a book released through the typical paper & ink process.

So suddenly, thirty years after completion of my first novel, I had a contract.

I’ll wrap this up with something I heard Ted Dekker say at the first writers’ conference I attended. It kept me going many times. I hope it strikes a chord with someone who has the calling to write, and inspires them to keep writing:

“Writers don’t fail, they quit.”

by Michael Berrier
Tyndale House, June 2011

Billions of dollars flow through Jason Dunn’s banking office each year. When he suffers a series of career setbacks and his marriage begins to crumble, he and his attractive new assistant devise a plan to disappear with a slice of the bank’s cash flow. The unwelcome appearance of his brother on the scene, just released from prison, threatens to sidetrack Jason’s plans. But Jason’s brother “Flip” has his own problems with a parole officer who isn’t fooled by this dangerous parolee. In the race to the jackpot between Jason and Flip, and the unwinding of their troubled history, the question soon becomes, Who will get burned?

Michael Berrier is a novelist and businessman with a special interest in ethical capitalism. To learn more about him, visit his website and blog here.