Right Kind of Wrong

If you came here expecting Thursday’s traditional author interview/book review, you’re in for a surprise. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s a good surprise or a bad one.) We felt that this week a little “rant” was more important.

Yesterday I mentioned to Lisa that sometimes it feels like we’re doing everything right and still getting nowhere. We both got into this career with the end goal of getting paid to write novels. While we’re grateful to be working full-time writing and editing non-fiction, that was always meant as a means to an end, not the end itself.

Unfortunately, John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” And instead of getting us where we wanted to be, we’ve gotten really good at something neither of us have any interest in continuing long-term. Worse, we’ve done all the right things and don’t seem to be any closer to our goal than we were at the start.

I grew up dreaming about writing a novel for Bethany House. The older I got I expanded the dream: Kregel, Waterbrook, Multnomah, Harvest House. Because I was determined to succeed, I chained up my misfit leanings and played by the rules. So I did my “internship.” I read every book on writing I could afford to buy or borrow, and I attended Write! Canada every year. (I still do because I believe writing is a skill you need to constantly sharpen.) I “paid my dues,” building up a body of published work and winning fiction competitions. I networked even though I’m naturally a painfully shy introvert.

And I took every opportunity that came my way to get whatever novel I was working on looked at by the “right people.” I got some rejections, but more often I was asked for more. A manuscript critique led to an invitation from the fiction editor from Bethany House to send him the entire manuscript . . . but after I sent it, he disappeared. Another manuscript critique on a different novel led to another invitation to send the full manuscript to a respected agent . . . who I sent a polite follow up to six months later. He still wanted to consider it and asked for my patience. Another six months, another polite follow-up. No response. One more try six weeks later. I accepted that the silence meant I’d been blown off. Would a Dear Joan Writer letter have been so difficult?

I thought maybe the problem is that I’m writing too far outside the box. I’ll be more conservative in my content instead of pushing the boundaries. So I started a contemporary romance with the full intent of “doing everything right” once again. And I followed the same pattern, and I got the same result. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity?) It’s only been six months of silence this time, but I can see the writing on the wall. Probably for the best since my heart wasn’t in that one.

I’ll admit at this point I’m passing disappointed and heading straight towards frustrated. What’s left to try?

Some writers decide to self-publish when they get to this point, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, it’d actually mean that I was giving up. My dream was to be paid to have my novel published, not to pay someone else to do it. (Even if I did have the money for it, which I don’t.) As much as I hate to admit it, I also need the validation that comes with traditional publishing. I have something to prove, and I won’t have proved it until I’ve reached that goal.

Lisa and I have now begun a novel together that we think might be the right mix—quirky and unique yet written with the necessary rules and conventions in mind. And maybe this will be the one that breaks down the door. And maybe we’ll then be able to give new life to those other stories that we still believe in.

And maybe doing everything right will finally pay off.

But I have to admit that doing everything the wrong way is starting to look really appealing. If the in-person meetings aren’t working, maybe I should have sent the entire manuscript unsolicited to someone. Maybe I should have cared less about trends and genres and submission packages. Maybe I should have accosted agents in the bathroom. Maybe I could have been one of those broke-all-the-rules-and-got-a-million-dollars writers. (More likely I’d have just looked like an idiot, but I have a feeling you’re nodding your heads. You know what I’m getting at.)

Maybe the solution is that it’s time to let the misfit out and take some more risks. It’s time to find the right kind of wrong.

This is one time we’d especially love to hear from you. Lisa and I have agreed: It’s a good thing we’re both fighters or we’d have given up long ago. Why do you keep fighting? Why do you keep chasing traditional publication? Why have you decided to self-publish? What do you think is the key to finally succeeding? When will you know that you’ve “made it” as a writer?

Leave a comment or email us at marcyandlisa [at] gmail.com. If we get enough replies, we’ll collect the best into another post so that you can hear what everyone else is thinking and saying.

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Rape and Childhood Abuse

As a book reviewer, sometimes you dread opening up a new book. It could be amazing. You always hope for amazing. But more often than not, you find yourself facing the mediocre, or worse, a book that you can barely force yourself to finish. That’s why it’s a relief when I hear that someone wants a book by M.D. Meyer reviewed. To give you just a taste . . .

In The Little Ones, in their first experience as foster parents, Colin and Sarah Hill find themselves caring for the two daughters of the man who sexually abused Colin as a child. Less than six years old, the girls already show the signs of severe neglect and abuse—Emmeline lashes out physically; Verena eats from the garbage like a stray dog.

Chief of Police Colin works to solve a kidnapping, only to begin to suspect that not only is the girls’ father out of jail and back in the remote Native reservation town of Rabbit Lake, Ontario, but that he is also behind the kidnapping. Worse, he’ll do whatever it takes to get his daughters back.

In The Little Ones, Meyer effortlessly weaves together suspense, the contemporary issue of the lasting scars of child abuse, and theology as her characters seek to answer the question “Can God be both merciful and just?”

And after saying just that in a review for Maranatha News, I had the opportunity to write an endorsement for Meyer’s next book—Jasmine.

Eight months after her rape, Jasmine Peters has isolated herself from everyone who loves her. When her childhood friend Andrew Martin returns to the remote Native reservation town of Rabbit Lake, Ontario, after finishing his training with the RCMP, he hopes to ignite the sparks of romance that used to exist between them, but he barely recognizes the woman he finds. She’s gained weight and is filled with fear and anger.

Andrew slowly begins to bring her out of her self-imposed exile, then loses all the ground he’s gained when he has to arrest her father. Unable to face yet another loss, Jasmine’s desperate attempt to escape the pain endangers not only her life, but the lives of Andrew and two others as well.

Although some of the plot twists near the end might be a stretch, I rushed to see what would happen. Meyer had once again tackled a delicate topic with sensitivity and grace. I think Jasmine’s struggle can help woman who’ve been raped know that they’re not alone and that healing is possible.

As the author of five books, M.D. Meyer has never shied away from addressing difficult issues. That’s something that I really respect about her writing. Jasmine was the first in a new series, and now that it’s on sale, I thought you might be interested to know what drives her to also tackle those tough, touchy topics.

MK: You’re not of First Nations’ ancestry. Why did you choose to set this new series in a First Nations’ community?

MDM: I worried about how my books would be accepted by readers since I’m not of First Nations’ ancestry, but I seem to gravitate there. Maybe because I spent the first four years of my life in a First Nations’ community. Maybe because my mom was a foster parent, so the brothers and sisters I spent my days with were First Nations. The Northern lifestyle is familiar to me and comfortable to write about.

MK: Where did you get your inspiration for the plot of Jasmine?

MDM: It actually came in the form of inspiration for a whole series. After attending two Rising Above conferences and leading support groups for people who’d experienced sexual abuse, I thought up the idea of a fictional support group with a separate story for each step in the healing process. The books are short and can easily be read in one week, so my dream is that these books can be used in a real support group for weekly discussions.

My focus for this first book was on the first step in the healing process – telling your story. Jasmine, at the beginning of this book, is very much in denial. I chose the issue of rape to start with because I’d focused on child sexual abuse a lot in my previous books, and I wanted to balance this with the adult sexual abuse.

MK: What research did you conduct to understand what women who’ve been raped go through?

One book that I read was Surviving Procedures after a Sexual Assault. I was also studying a lot about depression and post-traumatic effects. But how could I possibly write with the voice of someone who’s suffered through something I haven’t? I rely a lot on the stories that people tell me of their experiences. As I write their common thoughts and feelings in my characters, my story becomes the story of the thousands who’ve gone through a similar trauma.

MK: Can you give us a sneak preview of the plot of the second book?

MDM: In Lewis, I ask the question, “Why would a young woman leave the security and love of her home to sell her body on the streets?”

MK: What motivates you to tackle such thorny issues in your novels?

MDM: The love of God for a hurting world. As I come to accept that God truly loves me and accepts me, I want that for others too. I want them to know God’s amazing, unconditional, and abundant love.

To learn more about M.D. Meyer and her books, visit her website at www.dorenemeyer.com.

Too Hot to Handle

Stop! Don’t touch! . . . At least not until you put on your oven mitts anyway.

We’ve had a lot of interest in touchy and untouchable topics within the Christian market. A few weeks ago, I looked at what makes a topic untouchable. This week, I’m giving you a few hints that have allowed Lisa and I to write about almost anything else.

(1) Find a Christian Who Has Dealt with It, Had It, or Cared about Someone with It

Between us, we’ve written about the occult, AIDS, anorexia, drug abuse, pornography, human trafficking, and many other prickly topics, all for Christian magazines and newspapers. A key to delving into the swamps and trying to shine light into the murk is to find someone who’s slogged through it. Talk to a Christian with real battle experience. Who cares about the knight in shining armor? His armor is only that shiny because he spends all day in the ivory tower with a bucket of polish. Show me a knight with tarnished, broken, blood-stained armor, and I’ll show you someone who knows what it means to fight.

When Lisa writes on drug abuse, she tells the stories of men she met while working for Teen Challenge. Their stories of how they got addicted (some of them accidentally through prescription drugs they initially needed for pain), how they deceived and used the people around them, and how they got clean again give a face to a dangerous issue.

Show the Christian connection by finding a Christian who has been there. If you can prove to an editor that this is something Christians deal with, they’ll probably take a shot at printing it (as long as you follow the other guidelines below).

(2) Make a Strong Biblical Argument for Why Christians Should Care

As Christians, we try to find the balance between showing mercy and holding people accountable for sin. We need to take a stand against what’s wrong, but we also need to pick up and dust off those who have fallen. Not always an easy line to walk.

I tackled an article on AIDS leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1st. Most AIDS victims in North America contracted the disease through unprotected, extramarital sex or intravenous drug use—in other words, through sin. One attitude I encountered among Christians while I was writing this article was, “Why should we help people who are simply suffering the consequences of their own actions? Won’t we be seen as condoning sin?” For my article to stand a chance, I had to know that some Christians felt this way, and I had to answer their objections. And I had to do it using Scripture.

I couldn’t tell them how to help until I’d convinced them that they should.

(3) Avoid Preaching, Preachiness, Self-Righteousness, or Judgment

When Stacey McKenzie from Testimony approached me about writing an article on Harry Potter, she was upfront about the fact that they couldn’t promise to publish it. Although they wanted to print something on new age/occult practices that Christians argue over, they also wanted to be careful to avoid any “preachiness.” Nothing turns a reader off faster than feeling like someone is shaking a finger in their face.

When it comes to explosive issues, you need to respect your reader’s intelligence. Don’t tell them what to think. Show them why you care enough to fight for this issue. Tell them the key facts, give them the best arguments that you can find from both sides, and then let them decide for themselves. Convicting and changing hearts is the Holy Spirit’s job.

(If you want to see my Harry Potter article, “Is There Harm in Harry?” is scheduled to appear in Testimony’s January issue.)

(4) Choose Your Language Carefully

Knowing your audience is key. While you don’t want to sugar coat an issue, you also need to judiciously select how much reality your readers are willing to face. Do they need to simply see the dirty diaper to know that a change needs to be made, or do they need their nose stuffed right up in it?

Lisa ran across this in her writing on pornography addiction for Renee James of The Link & Visitor. Although Renee wanted her readers to get a clear picture of the damage pornography does to women (along with a picture of hope for recovery), her readers could get the message with the term “pleasuring himself” rather than with the harsher “masturbation.”

You want readers to write to the editor about how informative/helpful/motivational they found your article, not about how offended they were by it. (Though sometimes you won’t be able to avoid offending people.)

(5) Find Experts

You might think that finding experts is just a standard of good reporting, but it becomes twice as much so if you’re dealing with a topic that might insult or offend people. If you make readers angry, they’re going to ask questions like “Who does she think she is to tell me that?” and “What right does he have to say something like that?” The simplest solution is to find an expert and get a quote from them.

This isn’t being cowardly. Think about it—if you’re 50 pounds overweight, are you going to take the admonition “you need drop a few pounds” better from your doctor or your spouse? Even if you’re an expert in the subject yourself, find someone else to back you up.

Keep in mind that an expert is different from someone in the trenches. For example, if you’re writing about anorexia, a Christian who is or has been anorexic, a spouse or parent of an anorexic who helped them recover, or the grieving friend who lost their loved one to complications from anorexia. An expert is a doctor, psychologist, or recovery center coordinator who has professional experience with the disease.

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.