Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Interview with Sibella Giorello

Fifteen year old Raleigh Harmon's life has enough complications - a rebellious older sister, her mentally ill mom, snobby classmates, and hiding things from her dad, like her weekly dinners on the bad side of town with her best friend, Drew. 

Her already crazy world turns upside down when Drew vanishes. What's worse - no one takes her disappearance seriously. Only Raleigh believes that Drew didn't run away. Determined to find her friend, Raleigh turns to a trusted teacher and her love for geology to help track down Drew. 

Raleigh's efforts to help find Drew fall on the deaf ears of the local police department, and she has to rely on her own determination to find Drew.

I love Sibella's Raleigh Harmon novels, but Stone and Spark is her best book yet. Raleigh's adult life is shaped so much by her father's unsolved murder - I loved getting the chance to see her dad and their relationship. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Sibella about her newest book.

1.What made you decide to write about Raleigh's teen years?

            Life imitates art, they say. Or the other way around. But in my experience, life dances with art and the cha-cha in my days are teenagers: two boys, one girl. And a stint as youth group leader.
            All those teenagers taught me just how crucial these teen years are. They’re old enough to realize some really profound things, but young enough to still search for an identity.
            Normally that’s plenty for me to write about.
            But readers kept asking for a prequel to the first Raleigh Harmon mystery. The first book opens--“The Stones Cry Out” -- opens with Raleigh already working as an established forensic geologist for the FBI, and her dad’s already dead.
            The cha-cha went to a tango: Raleigh’s teen years meshed into a prequel. Readers meet her dad, and they get to see her figuring out how geology can solve crimes.
            But it all started with the teenagers in my life. That’s what I mean by the dance between art and life, it goes back and forth.

2.  How much of your teenage self did you put into Raleigh's character? Is she a lot like you, or completely different?
            Raleigh’s both me, and not at all like me.
            My mom was difficult to live with. I ran for miles to keep sane. And my dad was also the world’s coolest.
            But I grew up in Alaska--not the South. My best friend wasn’t at all like Drew Levinson --although I would’ve wished for her--and I pretty much hated science. 
            The list goes on, but I think it’s that dance again between art and life. Writers have to draw from the well God gives them, and they also draw from their imaginations.
3. How is writing a YA book different than writing an adult novel?

           It’s like the difference between talking to teens and talking to adults.
            With teens, you better get to the point quickly--and with some charm--or they’re gone. They also hate anything phony. Which is another reason I love teenagers so much.
            But this YA series keeps all the strong elements of the adult mysteries: Whodunnit, how, and why. But the chapters are punchier and shorter.

4.  You changed things up with publishing this book. Tell us a little about your decision. Also, how are things different between publishing this series and publishing your other books?

       Traditional publishing has some difficult changes ahead. Everyone has an opinion about what’s going to happen, but nobody really knows.
            And I don’t care.
            Seriously. I just want to write.
            I was fortunate that two publishers picked up the Raleigh Harmon series. Revell nominated the first book for a Christy award, and miraculously, it won. Then an editor at Thomas Nelson really shepherded the series; she never shoe-horned it to match every other mystery series out there. She let Raleigh be Raleigh--warts and all. I’m really grateful for all of that.
            But I also wanted to write more books, and in different genres. The traditional model forces a writer to justify the book before it’s even written. That doesn't allow for much agility. And it kills the fun for me.
            Now I’m with Cool Gus Publishing, a kind of indie-writer house. They work like a publisher doing the editing, designing, and publicity. But I own the books. I've got total freedom to tell the stories that come to me. This meant I could launch this YA series and see how it goes. Or change things up again. It’s gone so well the series will continue for quite some time.
5. What's next for Raleigh and your writing?

            The new freedom means there’s plenty of things coming up on the horizon.
            For Raleigh Harmon, it’s the next teen mystery which will come out this winter, followed by a third in summer. The adult series is going to pick up where “The Stars Shine Bright” left off. And I’m starting a new mystery series, set in my home state of Alaska.
            But there’s another interesting twist, and it’s called “Great Battles.”
            For years my husband has taught a class for middle-grade boys on Great Battles in world history, everything from the weapons and tactics to the warfare and leaders. The boys absolutely love it! And now Cool Gus is going to publish it as books for young readers. Three volumes will be out by October. I’ve been helping with the editing and all I can say is, Wow! These are pulse-pounding tales of battle, that also show teenagers the character qualities for fighting them: courage, valor, tenacity, strength. 

            Which is what we all need, every day. 

You can find Stone and Spark here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview and Giveaway with Catherine Leggitt

Please join me in welcoming Catherine Leggitt. 

Catherine, can you tell us where you're from?

This is actually a complicated question for me, except to say I am a fifth generation Californian. I was born in Oakland, and adopted at two weeks of age. My new parents took me to San Luis Rey in southern California. I spent my childhood on a wonderful farm where my father raised oranges. From a very stable childhood, I have moved all over California during my adulthood (be careful what you wish for). In the twenty-six years I’ve been married to Bob we’ve moved nine times. I truly believe he’s part gypsy.

Nine times! That does sound gypsyish. What inspired you to begin writing?

Although I always said I wanted to write and wrote a few stories in college mostly for my children, I didn’t get serious about writing until Bob retired early and moved me to his dream house in Grass Valley, CA. We lived in a lodge-like log house on fourteen wooded acres with a Grandma-Moses view. BUT, I was a day’s drive from my children and grandchildren, and I had to leave my friends, too. My allergies went insane, AND then menopause hit. Talk about a crazy sad time. I desperately needed a diversion and found it at the keyboard. Down the hill from us was a gray house. Although we’d lived there three years at that time, we’d never seen the occupants. I made up a story about why those people never came out of their house. Seven years and ten rewrites later I published that story as PAYNE & MISERY, the first Christine Sterling Mystery.

I'm so glad to know about your inspiration for PAYNE & MISERY. Now I have to wonder if Christine is inspired by someone real, too. Do you have a mentor?

In the early days of my writing journey, I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference where I met the amazing author Susanne Lakin, who writes under the name CS Lakin. I credit her with keeping my enthusiasm for writing going during the days I knew I didn’t know enough to write, but the desire wouldn’t go away. Many times, I’d be teetering at the quitting place ready to jump when I’d sit down at the computer and find an encouraging email from Susanne. We met for lunch at times and brainstormed plot ideas. She’s truly been a godsend. I thank God that she shared her tenacity, expertise, and friendship at a time I needed it so much.

She sounds like a wonderful friend. Sometimes we just need that extra encouragement. What are your current writing goals?

With three published books and two more finished, my immediate goal is to find a publisher for the last two. I have come so far on this writing journey. IMHO these last books could be good sellers, maybe best sellers. I have another book plotted, but I don’t feel the pressing urge to complete it. At this point, I’m praying and waiting on God for direction. Another short-term goal is to attend the ACFW conference in September of this year. Perhaps I will hook up with an agent or generate interest in my books there.

Congrats on getting to attend the ACFW conference this year. I can't wait to find out you've contracted with a new publisher after you attend. How do you juggle the promotional aspect of writing with the actual task of writing?

BLEAH! Not my cup of tea, the promotional aspect. I do it gritting my teeth, the same way I take yucky medicine—because I know it’s good for me. Occasionally I am called to do inspirational speaking, which is extremely outside my comfort zone, but always turns out to be fun and special once it’s over. I’ve sold a lot of books doing that. I keep the local Christian bookstore supplied with my books and participate in all the local author stuff I hear about. I spend way too many hours on social media most every day—primarily Facebook, although I’m also on Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. And I try to go to a writer’s conference and sell my books there at least once a year. This all conflicts with writing time, of course. If I am in the midst of an inspiration, like just happened in finishing my latest book, then writing is mostly all I get accomplished. My husband insists I have a life outside writing.

Funny how husbands think we need lives aside from writing! I must say I love marketing as much as you do. How has your life changed since you wrote your first book?

I have to say I’ve never worked so hard at anything in my life as I have on my books and the payoff has been increased skill at writing. It’s a good feeling to write a book. Even better when people appreciate your work or when God uses it to speak to a heart. Maybe no one but me understands how that has changed the way I feel about myself. Exploring themes as I write has also given me a greater understanding of who I am and who God is. Many years ago, I prayed for creativity. God continues to answer that prayer and for that I am very grateful.

I love how God uses the tools He gives us to change us. Who is your most memorable character and from what novel?

Probably Stryker from the book I just finished, THE ROAD TO TERMINUS. She is an eleven-year-old bald homeless child in St. Louis in 1955 when the story opens. Cars are her special passion and she can name make, year, and model just by seeing the front or back and sometimes just from the outline. But she cannot read. Her favorite possession is a stuffed monkey her mother told her she must always keep with her because it is valuable.

As one of Catherine's critique partners, I can vouch for the endearing nature of Stryker. I love this character. 

Catherine will be giving away a signed copy of Payne & Misery. To enter the contest, you MUST leave your email address. You may spell it out if you'd like: someone (at) something (dot) com. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Interview with Adam Blumer

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview author Adam Blumer.

Adam Blumer

You write meaningful suspense. Can you expound on that?

First, thanks for having me. I chose the tagline “Meaningful Suspense” to express the irrepressible redemptive nature of Christian fiction. What I mean by that is this: if an author is truly Christian, then God’s message of redemption will or should somehow show up in what he or she writes, even if it’s only allegorical. I believe the Bible supports this view. While we Christian authors can simply write a fun, clean story on occasion, I believe the redemptive message we find in Christ should somehow be part of—and generally characterize—what we write. Then our books will have eternal value beyond thrills and chills. That’s why I write meaningful suspense. This doesn’t mean Christian novels need to be preachy, but I believe some message of redemption should be there.

How many books have you written? 

There’s a difference between how many books I’ve written and how many I’ve actually published. I’ve written a total of eight novels, and I’m almost finished with my ninth. God has so far opened the door for me to to publish two novels. A third book, a memoir I cowrote, has a publisher slated, and the other author and I will hopefully be working through revisions soon.

Many of those early books were experiments, if you will, for developing my craft, finding my voice, and simply learning how to connect the dots of plot formation. I tried several genres. By writing these novels, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, usually by trial and error. I don’t intend for most of them to ever see the light of day, though a couple may be publishable down the road.
Who are your favorite authors?

Goodness, there are so many, but here are a few: Richard Adams, Jeff Shaara, Terry Brooks, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Katherine Anne Porter, Leif Enger, Madeleine L’Engle, Charles Dickens, Frank Peretti, Willa Cather, Erik Larson, and Stephen Ambrose. As you can tell, I read a wide variety.

Did you always want to write suspense, or did you start out writing in another genre?

From the earliest childhood stories, suspense has always dominated my writing, though genres have varied. My first novel, written during high school, was an Agatha Christie copycat. So I started with a traditional mystery. I’ve also written suspense as a young-adult fantasy novel and a young-adult historical novel. It was when I submitted a young-adult novel for publication that an editor recommended I try something for adults. It was her challenge that compelled me to write my first published novel, Fatal Illusions, with Kregel.

You work full time from home as a freelance writer and editor. Does working from home make it easier or harder to write your fiction stories? Do you ever get tired of working on a computer and/or prefer to write your stories out by hand?

Being at home makes it easier and harder, if that makes sense. Because I’m home, it’s easier for me to carve out a few minutes here and there if I want to, though a few minutes are hardly enough to make headway on a novel. It’s harder in that I’m editing so many books for other people each day that the life feels sucked out of words sometimes. And yes, sometimes I stare at a computer screen way too much and just have to get out of my chair and go for a walk.  

But that’s the nature of life for me: both my paycheck and my novel writing depend on a lot of screen time. There’s no escaping it. Sometimes I wonder if I should switch vocations and be a welder or work some other trade; then I could channel my energy for words into my own books. So far God hasn’t led me on that path.

I never write my stories by hand; my hand can’t keep up with my brain. I can type about ninety words a minute, so that’s about right. 

I appreciated your series, In Defense of Clean Speech in Christian Fiction, which is featured on your Web site: How else can fans find out more about you and your writing?

Thanks, I’m glad you appreciated the series. I’m rather passionate about Christian fiction being clean. Fans can learn more about me at my website (listed above) and at Twitter and Facebook:

I also have a website for my freelance editing: God has enabled me to edit a good number of published novels.

Adam is giving away a free e-book copy of his latest novel, The Tenth PlagueTo enter, leave a comment, along with a valid e-mail address, and let Adam know what you think about meaning in Christian fiction (i.e, Does Christian fiction need to say something?) or list what you are currently reading and enjoying. The giveaway ends on August 23rd.