It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Marcia Z. Nelson, associate religion editor at Publishers Weekly.
I met Marcia at the ACFW Conference in September at a reception. It was one of those unexpected God encounters. I ended up grabbing a plate and some lemonade and sat with Marcia and Dineen Miller (Winning Him Without Words) as they chatted about the industry. As is usually the case at conferences, before long the room began to clear as guests started going their separate ways to various appointments.
Marcia and I made small talk and then she saw SEEKERVILLE on my namebadge. Her eyes lit up, she jumped up on the table and did a joy-jig, sang the Hallelujah Chorus, then gushed about how much she loved Seekerville. (This is only partly true, but it is true in part. I'll let you separate truth from fiction.) Mary Connealy taught me well and without blinking an eye (but maybe after a twitch or two), I gathered my wits and promptly invited Marcia to guest blog in Seekerville. She accepted with obvious delight, and here we are.
Please welcome Marcia Z. Nelson...
“I’m looking for good writing.”
What that means
As the religion reviews editor for Publishers Weekly since 2008, I see a lot of Christian/inspirational novels. The total has increased slightly every year, with the recession year of 2009 the exception. This year I’m on pace to receive the biggest number yet. It’s no secret that the market is crowded.
I already know this, you’re thinking. Don’t leave yet. I feel both frustration and curiosity when I hear from others what I’ve just said. So what’s good writing? What makes a book stand out in the crowd of stories about spies and suburban moms, pioneer women and Regency ladies?
I’ll have a go at unpacking this familiar and fond hope of those who see a lot of good and bad novels. Since I began my career teaching literature, I’ll lecture a tad, illustrating my points with examples from my own overstocked shelves.
Reel me in
The Pigeon was not one to sit around and pine, and so the day after he saw the beautiful Anielica Hetmańska up on Old Baldy Hill, he went to talk to her father.
The author had me at “the Pigeon.” I read several chapters immediately after this opening sentence of A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) because I had to know who the Pigeon was and why he was the Pigeon. You know this is a romance, but no pining is allowed – what a wonderfully underused verb.
Make me see
The kerosene heater had been turned on as darkness fell, and, when he went up to his room, found that Lisette had preceded him with a lidded copper pan on a long handle, filled with embers from the fireplace, and warmed the sheets, but the stone house breathed winter into every room, and you had to sleep with your nose beneath the covers.
I get cold reading this passage from The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (Random House). I don’t have to know everything, but a stone house that breathes winter and a copper pan filled with embers locates me in a dark and chilly place.
Make it move
Clare immediately said, “We can at least help him find a local motel.”
“He’s going to be spending the night in the lockup.”
Her mouth dropped open. “For defending himself in a bar fight? You can’t do that to him.”
He stared at her. “Of course I can.”
She blew out an impatient breath. “You know what I mean. Out here, it’s thirty days’ community service or a couple hundred bucks, but when the army gets wind of it, it’ll mean serious trouble.”
I can open any page in a Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery (this is from One Was a Soldier) and hear the conversation, how it conveys who’s speaking and what they’re thinking. Rev. Clare Fergusson and local police chief Russ Van Alstyne are doing their usual dance, each jockeying to win the argument. I read Spencer-Fleming’s books very fast because she makes me turn pages quickly, with short, declarative sentences, economical paragraphs, minimal yet essential description.
Make me care
But that night the alarm sounds and we all jump from our beds and I snatch up Baby and the girls come running to me, and Anthony throws open my bedchamber door and says, “Be brave, they are coming upriver and there will be firing. Keep away from the windows.”
I slam and bar the shutters on the windows, draw the curtains around the big bed, and jump inside with the girls and Baby, and listen.
I’m awfully worried about what will happen to Elizabeth Woodville and her children in this scene from The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. The dialog, pacing, and word choice have me hooked.
Make me think
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.
Three sentences into Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road and I’m already sad, a little frightened, and mostly puzzled. Why so dark-dark and why are they sleeping outdoors? “Cold glaucoma dimming” is a fierce metaphor.
My examples come from novels for a general audience. I’m reluctant to play favorites in the Christian/inspirational market. The last thing I want to say indeed dates back to my teaching days: Read, read, read. Read outside your world view. Read literary and commercial fiction. Read the prize winners. (Here are well-written and fresh writing tips from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding, author of Tinkers.) That’s how you hone your skills and feed your imagination.
Thanks for the invitation to visit Seekerville. I tweet @PWreligion.
Marcia Z. Nelson is associate religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She is also working on an M.Div. degree.
Marcia, thank you for being our guest today. It's always interesting to see what catches a reviewer and a reader's eye, and it's obvious that you have a discerning eye.
---Silence is a good thing, but not in Seekerville! Please share an opening line or two from a favorite book (your own or someone else's) and tell how that line made you think or care, reeled you in, and ultimately made you want to keep reading!
Today's giveaway is a GRAB BAG of fun stuff that may or may not include books, pens, bookmarks, chocolate, notepads, magnets. Give me a shout-out if you want to be included in the drawing. Winner must reside in the USA.
AND NOW FOR THE BIG REVEAL
Launches New Website!
Launches New Website!
Today is the official launch of my new website. For a long time, I limped along on my own like a cowboy stranded in the desert with worn out boots and precious little to drink. I filed away notes and emails about website templates, fonts, styles, colors, and design. I bookmarked sites I liked and followed the scent of water to the creative genius behind those sites. Finally, it was time (actually way past time!) to bite the bullet and hire a professional designer. I chose Jones House Creative and couldn't be happier with the end result. Matt Jones went above and beyond to create a website that fits my lifestyle and more importantly, my writing-style.
With pleasure and great excitement, I give you my new website....
|Click to visit www.pamhillman.com|