Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This Blog Has Moved

I'm posting now at my own site: http://www.erinhealy.com/category/blog/.

Even though I'm still a Bad Blogger, you can now expect weekly posts for a few months surrounding the release date of each new book. So if you're looking for insights into my stories themes or my characters' lives--and my own--I hope you'll come visit me.

Photo credit: The Eggplant / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Loose Ends (and a couple of Plot Spoilers)

[images by stacy] flickr creative commons

Last week, a reviewer who’d just finished reading House of Mercy contacted me and asked if there’s a sequel in the works. “I just have so many unanswered questions,” the reviewer said.

“Well, I’m not one for tidy endings,” I replied.

“I’m not either, but I seriously thought the book was missing pages.”

I have a feeling I’m going to get this reaction from a lot of HOM readers. If you’re one of them, maybe I can answer (in very general terms) some of the unanswered questions here. If you’re not, wow—you’re more easily satisfied than I am! And if you haven’t read the book yet, this is your plot spoiler warning.

Q: Will there be a sequel?

A: I hope so. HOM was designed to be the first of two books, but it will not be the next book I write. The publisher and I have mapped out a plan for several more stand-alone titles before I return to Beth and Jacob’s story. It may be that the sequel takes the form of downloadable novella rather than traditional bound book. I just haven’t decided yet. (Which would you prefer?)

Q: Is the Blazing B lost or saved?

A: In the draft of HOM that I turned in to the publisher, the ranch was saved. Instead of a wolf den on the property, Wally and Beth finally located Wally’s lost lock box and the truth about Wally’s pre-brain-damaged past: he was wealthy beyond measure and had squirreled away his wealth from greedy relatives. Wally could think of no one more deserving of the keys to his international safe deposit box than Abel Borzoi’s daughter. Levi was foiled, all was well.

The longer I sat with this ending, the more it soured in my stomach. Because if HOM is a story about anything, it’s about whether a person can believe God is good in all circumstances, especially when we don't get what we want or think we need from him. So by ending with the miraculous answer to prayer, I felt I was undermining my own question. Faith comes easily when our suffering ends. But what if it doesn’t end on this side of heaven? I just couldn’t let Beth off the hook. Her life has been forever changed by the events of HOM. She needs to reprocess her own beliefs about God in light of those unexpected and amazing miracles, which are greater than the salvation of the ranch.

Q: How did Jacob get Miracle Mattie’s saddle? And why was he happy Beth stole it?

A: House of Mercy is Beth’s story; any sequel will be Jacob’s. I’m busting to tell you more about Jacob’s past, what happened to his mother, his family connections to the Wulffs, the significance of that saddle in his own history, how his love for Beth blossomed, and why he is such a patient man. But I’ll have to beg your patience, just as Jacob asked for Beth’s. HOM is already a long novel, and more slowly paced than my others. To tell Jacob’s story too would have been too much for this first installment.

Q: Does Beth ever figure out her healing gift? It seems she's just growing into it.

A: Unpacking our personal giftedness is a lifelong process, and in Beth's case, she's only had a few weeks to start sorting through all the layers of hers. I can't promise she'll ever "figure it out" any more than the rest of us do, but I too am curious about where this unusual path might take her.

What other questions do you want a HOM sequel to answer? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How the Wolf Found Me

The wolf at the center of my latest novel plays such an important role that when the cover was being designed, I asked my publishing team to include a wolf instead of a horse. They hesitated, then said, “These days, wolves say ‘paranormal romance.’” Of course, House of Mercy isn’t that type of book. I felt a little silly for not thinking of this obvious detail and even spent a short time wondering if I’d made a mistake in choosing a wolf for the story.

But C. S. Lewis has forever tabs on lions, and Colorado doesn’t have dragons, and black stallions have a kind of literary magic that I hold sacred for another place and time. And after all, the wolf chose me.

The earliest incarnations of my manuscript had no wolf. A variation on the scene where Beth heals the antelope—now chapter seven—were the first pages I wrote, and the wolf wasn’t there. He wasn’t even in my mind. Until …

Beth Borzoi, the young rancher at the center of this tale about a search for miracles, was originally a healer who couldn’t heal herself. She would have lupus, I decided, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body’s hyperactive immune system attacks healthy tissues. Lupus (which is Latin for “wolf”) is so named for the butterfly-wing rash that straddles a patient’s nose and cheeks and resembles the markings on the muzzle of a wolf. While trying to see this similarity for myself in online wolf images, I discovered how little I knew about these wild canines, including this detail: gray wolves were driven out of Colorado by ranchers and poachers before World War II and are only just now, as an endangered species, beginning to return to the Rocky Mountain states.

I abandoned Beth’s illness and issue after the similarly themed film Sympathy for Delicious was released, and although her story changed, the wolf stuck with me. I had always assumed wolves lived here in Colorado, though I’d never seen one in the wild. I was captivated by their relationship with humans—some hostile, some protective, some indifferent—and by the mythical mystery that surrounds these majestic animals. The fact that they are slowly, almost secretly, making a comeback gave me a thrilling kind of spiritual hope.

It seemed to be the right metaphor for the triumph of God's goodness in a broken world.

My three-year-old son was the one who helped me decide to make the wolf a character in House of Mercy. One morning we looked out our dining-room window and down into a neighbors’ yard. They were playing with a massive German shepherd mix.

“Isn’t he pretty?” I said to my son. “He’s big, like a wolf.”

His surprising reply was, “Is it an angel?”

He and I hadn’t talked about angels before, and I wasn’t sure what made him connect these two unrelated beings. But I didn’t want to pop his idea bubble. I said,

“Do you mean a wolf angel?”

“But it’s a dog,” he said, and I deflated a little. Then he finished, “A dog angel.”

Maybe it was. I still wonder.

That was when I decided that House of Mercy would get its supernatural wolf, though he isn’t an angel. I think of him as a spiritual guide, a Holy Spirit type, full of mystery and comfort in the midst of uncertainty. I hesitate to draw connections to the true Spirit of God too tightly—who am I to presume?—but the wolf of Beth’s story represents the way God often works in my own life: Slowly. Subtly. Dangerously. Daringly. Meaningfully. Personally.

Do you see any similarities between Beth’s experience with the wolf and the way God reveals himself to you? I’d love to hear the details.
With my husband Tim (he's the one on the right) and a gray wolf
at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How Can Co-Authoring Work?

Because I've co-authored two novels with Ted Dekker (Kiss, Burn), people often ask me how the collaborative process works. Isn't writing a deeply personal endeavor? Is it really possible for writers to share ownership of their "babies"?

Co-authorship isn't for just anyone, but it can and does work. These are the most common types of writing partnerships that I've encountered during my editorial career:

The Identical Twins: Both authors are equally involved in the entire process of writing, from concept to research to execution to revision to editing. They might write alternating chapters or different characters' points of view. I see this type of collaboration most often among friends who are seeking publication for the first time. This is the most rare type of partnership, though it's how many non-writers (and solo writers) think the typical co-author pair works. It's rare because such partners need to have unusual problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills--not in storytelling, but in working together. It's also rare because it's the most difficult way to get a manuscript that has "one voice."

The Visionary and the Workhorse: One author develops the big-picture concept; the other helps to flesh out the story and then puts it on paper. This type of collaboration works best for storytellers who see their stories as products for consumers rather than as works of literature. James Patterson has built an empire on his story brand, which is so well defined that he can delegate the actual storytelling to other writers. He's prolific, and perhaps he's overpublished, but he is also the leading model of profitable collaborative storytelling today. This type of partnership is also common in Christian publishing, an industry whose messengers aren't necessarily writers. It's more prevalent in non-fiction than in fiction, and yet . . . Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, anyone?

The Yin and the Yang: Sometimes authors pair up because they each have a strong, complementary contribution to make to the storytelling. William Cutrer and Sandra Glahn's medical thrillers come to mind: Both have dramatic flair. Sandy has great writing skills and Bill has the M.D.

The Master and the Apprentice: I'm not the only novelist who got her start by writing stories with an established author. Even Ted Dekker wrote stories with Bill Bright. T. Davis Bunn wrote stories with Jeanette Oke. There are many examples. In this kind of partnership one writer submits to the other's veteran skills, even if both authors are contributing to the story as a whole.

Co-authorship isn't always a great idea. Remember House, which Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker did together? How could it not have worked? These men are smart, they're gifted, they're best-sellers. They share important values and write compatible genres. We tried the Identical Twins approach with them. It quickly fell apart, and by the time we were done with that book, everyone involved needed therapy. Why? In my opinion  Frank and Ted have incompatible creative processes. They are humble, respectful, cooperative. But the way they each create, develop, and write a story is so divergent that trying to blend the two caused almost insurmountable challenges.

If you're thinking about co-authoring a book with someone, consider these aspects before you jump in:

  • Why co-author? What is the goal of your partnership? What can you do together that you can't do solo? Make this your joint mission statement.
  • What does your creative self need to produce your best work? What does your partner need? Are your needs complementary or at odds?
  • What will your process look like?
  • How will you divide the labor? Who will "own" specific responsibilities?
  • How will you solve creative disputes when they arise? (They will arise.)
  • How will you achieve continuity of voice and style in the writing?

Co-authors out there: What partnership models have worked for you? What advice would you give to authors who are thinking about pairing up?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Be an Ox-Writer

Coming July 2012
In my twenty-year editorial career, I've had the pleasure of working with some pretty amazing professional authors. I like to say that "my" authors (as if I get to claim them) have taught me everything I know about what it means to be a good storyteller. They are my models, my collective inspiration, my wise teachers. Each one has made a special contribution to my personal aspirations as a novelist.

Colleen Coble stands out with an exceptionally rare trait, and her peers will know what it is before I even name it: I don't believe there is any novelist writing today who gets as excited as Colleen does about the revision process. When I say excited I mean hovering-over-the-e-mail-in-box-while-waiting-to-hear-from-the-editors excited. Tweeting and posting and raving, "I just got my editorial letter!" excited. Devouring-the-notes-and-responding-POSITIVELY excited, sometimes with comments like, "I can't WAIT to tear this thing down and start all over again! It's going to be amazing!"


Yes, really. Most of her peers think she's crazy. Just ask them.

This week I'm editing Colleen's latest book, Tidewater Inn, the first book in her new Hope Beach series, and once again I'm deeply impressed by how her positive attitude and enthusiasm toward the revision process has transformed her tale from good to great. Having written six novels of my own, I'm aware of how hard it is not to get defensive about a manuscript that consumed months or years of creative sweat and blood. Colleen has written dozens of popular novels and could make the case that she doesn't need editorial input anymore. She could decide to ignore her editors. She could get defensive about her creative choices.

But she doesn't. So today I wanted to publicly highlight some specific qualities of Colleen's attitude that make her, and her work, such winners. It's a list I'll refer to when my next editorial letter shows up (which will be any day now):

  • My editor shares my yoke and will strengthen my efforts if I let him/her.
  • My editor wants the book to succeed as much as I do.
  • Every suggestion is worth pondering, and most are worth trying.
  • Every book is an opportunity to write a better story than the last one.
  • Good books don't write themselves, and the best creative choices are usually the ones that seem, this side of the effort, most difficult to pull off.

I'll never forget the time Colleen explained that she sees her editors as fellow oxen sharing the plow yoke with her. Two are stronger than one. Imagine my laughter when I found this passage in the King James: "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 22:10). I used to say to fellow editors, "Be your author's partner ox. Make sure you're not an ass." Now I say it to myself as an author: "Be an ox, not an ass." I can do this because I learned how from the strongest ox-writer of all: Colleen. Thanks, my friend.

You can learn more about Colleen and her terrific romantic-suspense novels at her website, and at the blog she co-hosts with fellow novelists Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, Denise Hunter, and Cheryl Hodde.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Do You Hide Behind What You Write?

Kay Garston “Hide Behind Truth”
Or do the words you choose to put on the page reflect the real you? I asked myself this question recently while I was reflecting on how many of us blog, tweet, write, and otherwise seek ways to be heard by the world. It’s a pretty noisy place out there where finding a voice can be difficult. The temptation, then, is to write wildly, into the extreme margins of life, where we can get attention because we’re so far “out there.” Or, on the flip side, we might write conservatively to the “largest common denominator” of an audience, because we’re afraid that real and deep honesty might alienate people. In either case, words become a shield that separate our true selves from the people we are trying to reach. That’s ironic and tragic.

It’s easy enough to put up a false front when we’re face to face with another person. How much easier it is in this techno-savvy era when we can be more verbose than ever while being more physically isolated than ever.  
I’m not trying to draw any conclusions or make any accusations with these thoughts. I’m merely sharing a question that I’ve found difficult to answer personally as a novelist. I want to be “real” without being offensive, but it’s not always possible to be both. Sometimes speaking the truth takes the courage to kick people in the pants; whether listeners will be offended is irrelevant. So these values I hold as a writer live in imperfect tension. But if I ever stop being aware of that tension, I think my words will lose their integrity.

How do you hold onto integrity when you write?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lis Wiehl, Best-Selling Author of Waking Hours

Maybe you've seen the analyst Lis Wiehl on FOX News. Did you know she's a best-selling author? Earlier this year my publisher asked me to read Lis's latest novel, Waking Hours, and consider endorsing it. I was happy to do this for a great publishing team and a talented author with a shared fascination for supernatural things.

In just a few short chapters I completely forgot that I was supposed to read as a professional. I forgot I was ever trained as an editor. The writer part of my self read on with admiration, and Erin the reader got lost in a riveting, frightening tale. What a great book! Easiest endorsement I've ever had the pleasure of offering. So I thought you'd enjoy hearing a little bit about Waking Hours in from the source herself:

What inspired you to write Waking Hours?
I’ve so loved the experience of writing fiction—always the kind of stories I like to read, so very true to me! My Triple Threat books have been great fun, and I’m so excited about this new East Salem series. Inspiration for Waking Hours came from wanting to create strong yet fallible characters in Dani and Tommy, who have a romantic side to their serious selves, and to layer that with exploration of the major theme: good vs evil. Set that in a town named East Salem, and there you go.

How does your unique background inform your fiction writing? 
As someone who prosecuted crimes and who now works in the news, I see some heinous things. This new series explores the good and evil behind the surface of what we see. I've been so blessed that I can weave in the reality of crime-solving because of both my prosecutorial and media background. Colleagues and other professionals write to tell me that the stories feel authentic, and that’s a huge compliment. But perhaps the best praise comes from readers who say that my stories helped them understand the interworkings of a newsroom, courtroom, or law enforcement office in ways they’d never considered—entertaining them, but also granting new perspective.

What’s next for East Salem and Dani and Tommy?
Erin, I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Suffice it to say, Dani, Tommy and I are working on the plot and I’m buying the pizza as we develop it. But a little hint: their story is just beginning. Darkness Rising is set to release October 2012.

Be sure to get a copy of Waking Hours. You can learn more about Lis's other books at LisWiehlBooks.com.