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Monday, August 28, 2006

The Book Doctor...Crystal Miller

The last few years have been so great getting to know other writers, published authors, editors, and all those other people in our business. As with anyone, there are always a few people you just really click with. I'm fortunate enough to consider Crystal Miller one of those people I click with. She's been a great friend and I consider it a true blessing to have her on this journey with me.

I think by the time this interview is over you'll see her humor and wit and know exactly why I consider her so dear.

If you don't know her at all, here are a few things you might find interesting. Crystal Miller has reviewed hundreds of books over the last ten years and in particular in the areas of health, diet, exercise, fitness, curriculum, Bible studies, Christian living, parenting and Christian fiction. Her book review column has appeared in Montgomery’s Journey magazine (with 20,000 readers), Church Libraries magazine, and numerous other print media.

She’s the editor of Fort & Field Christian Writer’s Newsletter and has written articles for a variety of publications, such as Christian Communicator and Women of Spirit on topics including writing, conferences, health, spiritual issues, diet, exercise and parenting. She’s written for newspapers, ezines and magazines. She co-wrote a parenting column with Teena Stewart called Stayin’ Alive While Parenting Teens. (Both still alive.)

Currently Crystal works for several literary agents and occasionally editors as a first reader and book doctor while she continues to fine tune her own fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She wrote a nonfiction women’s humor book called, This Ain’t No Glamour Detail, receiving rave reviews from editors, but didn’t have a glamorous enough platform for it to actually be published. (Where’s Chonda when you need her?)

For the last 25 years, Crystal has been married to Chris, an ER physician, and is mother to their four boys ages 21-15. Next year will bring her and her husband into a new level of parenting (and poverty,) when 3 of the 4 will be in college. Her experience as a former P.E. teacher, elementary teacher, reading specialist, apartment flunky painter, dessert girl, Wendy Lawton’s assistant interview flunky, preschool teacher, Christian school board vice chairman and education curriculum chairperson, a payroll clerk/business manager for an Interpreter for the Deaf referral group, track and field/basketball and cheerleader coach, competition trapshooter and head-on car crash survivor has served her well for book reviewing and content editing (People that survive enough trials are called experienced.)

She’s been a leader in Bible Study Fellowship, and has been the head of various children’s Sunday school departments and programs, as well as made it through many summers as a VBS leader(ask her to sing a song or cram marshmallows into her mouth—or both at the same time.) Check out her web site at: for humor, reviews and general blonde moments and her blog, for thoughts expressed in her diner, The Chat ‘n’ Chew CafĂ©.

Crystal, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us. How exactly did you get involved with the editing side of writing.

I was reviewing so much (plus attending conferences,) that editors and publicists were getting to know me. One day I got an email from an editor friend and he asked me to read a manuscript, just to get a “reader’s feedback,” since it was a book where he saw great potential. Editors do not have time to coach and give feedback to “almost there” authors. So, I not only read it, but I gave comments (rather brash for someone unpublished) of what I saw wrong with the content, various things. The editor liked it and sent my comments on to the author without revealing who I was.

I’d also critiqued/edited for author friends. My name kept popping up with editors through authors, and eventually with an agent. From there the editors and agents just asked me directly if I’d read, do editing, fixes for authors they had who needed direction and feedback. I liked doing that, and plus, I’d get paid. But see? It was all a God-incident because back when I first started writing, we learned all about how it worked in publishing. (I took a full year at Taylor University’s professional writing program, both fiction and nonfiction, with Dr. Dennis E. Hensley.)

Crystal you make me tired just listening to you. LOL. On a different note, do you have a favorite scripture you'd like to share?

I have two:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Whenever my peace is shattered, all I have to do is listen to Jesus whispering in my ear, “Take heart, Crystal!” How can you fear and grieve when you hear that? Take heart…

I'm feeling convicted here, Crystal. You're so right. Sometimes we forget to listen to those quiet whispers in our ear.

If you're like most of us, you're going to hate this question. But I have to ask. Who are some of your favorite writers?

This is a trick question, right? I mean, I love authors and almost all the authors I’ve worked with are going to be my favorites, you see. (LOL) I do love to read—essential in editing and writing. I have enjoyed almost every genre in the CBA and several in the general market, but I especially love the CBA authors. If I go naming names, well, that mean I’d have name hundreds of authors!

But if you’re talking authors who have influenced my own style and voice--Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Charles Schultz, Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Will Rogers, James Thurber and a huge amount of Southern writers from Eugenia Price, Margaret Mitchell, to Olivia Ann Burns and then, I adore James Michener, especially his Centennial—well, I really like to read, LOL. I love anything with a bit of humor and edge, which is why I currently love reading the works of Anne Lamott, Haven Kimmel, Garrison Keillor, Brenda Kinsel (a fashion author—ha!) and Deborah Paul, and while I’ve only read a few of Stephen King’s books, I really love his
On Writing book. And if you must really know—I love a good romance, whether contemporary or historical. (And if you write historicals, I’m a pushover to buy it.) But then, next thing you know, I’m reading Christian African American novels, Sci fi or fantasy (and have worked on all of these as a book doctor,) or a really good suspense or thriller.

Crystal I'd love to share a sample of your writing. Do you have something you can share with us?

I do have this portion of the first chapter of my This Ain’t No Glamour Detail: Beauty for Here and Beyond that has been on the internet. This is nonfiction. However, I am using some of my experiences from this book in my fiction.

The First Glamour Detail
By Crystal Warren Miller

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

When God created Eve, she must have been some woman. The Bible says that the man, Adam, was created in God’s own image, so we know Adam was perfect. There is probably no man walking around today who even comes close to him in appearance, demeanor, or manners. Then God went on to make this “helper” for Adam by taking a rib out of Adam’s side. He called her “woman.” We refer to her as Eve. I’m not going to dwell much on the significance, symbols or interpretations of how God made her. I’m simply pointing out here that God is good, God is perfect, and God made these people perfect. She probably would make any woman on the movie screens or walking out of plastic surgeons’ offices today look like they needed to walk right back into the office (or over to her attorney’s office.)

It’s what happened in the next chapter of Genesis, chapter three, where all of women’s glamour problems begin. Here’s Eve in a perfect world with this perfect man, and she’s not even getting wrinkles. She’s never had to go through a blemish, as far as we know. She never has had to tweeze stiff hairs out of her chin. She never has had flabby thighs or a gray hair. It’s never occurred to her that maybe she’s not attractive to Adam or that her behind might look big when standing next to a rose or the daylily. She walks around naked and doesn’t even think about throwing on a natty robe or turning off the lights, because, well you know, there’s that roll around her waist. No, Eve never thought about these things. She’s perfect.
Then, one day she’s strolling through the garden, still not worrying about any of these things. She’s never had her nail break, and never had a hangnail. She didn’t worry about her skin being too pale, dark circles under her eyes, or moles growing out of her perfectly shaped chin (the kind that makes Michael Jackson call his plastic surgeon.) She’s never even had flaky, dry skin or embarrassing dandruff. Can I paint this picture any clearer?

Wow, good stuff. I hate to end here. I'd like to share the rest. Again, thanks so much for doing this, Crystal. You're a peach! Be sure to check out her blog and her website.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Getting to know Jennifer Tiszai...

It’s so fun to learn from published authors about their journey to publication. What it was like for them, and how long it took, etc… But what about before they were published? What about those years of learning craft and struggling to make ends meet? For every published author, there’re hundreds, if not thousands, of unpublished writers who work hard every day to make those stories come alive. Over the next few weeks I’m going to showcase these writers and their work. Hopefully by the time we’re done, you’re going to have a few new favorite writers you’ll be on the lookout for.

Today’s guest is a woman who has taught me so much about the business side of writing. I, along with Malia Spencer, was lucky enough to get Jennifer Tiszai as my official ACFW mentor. Over the past year Jen has taught us about things we’d never pick up on our own. She’s spent the last 4-5 years learning the business and perfecting her craft.

Welcome, Jennifer! Let’s just jump right in there. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Family, faith, careers, etc…basically anything you’d like to share. =)

Ah, you might regret leaving that wide open! My husband and I are native Californians that moved to Arizona over three years ago when we felt God calling us to do that. It was a pretty scary step for me because I felt like I was finally beginning to have some success with my writing and my music after putting all of that on hold to start a family.

We attended Saddleback, Rick Warrren’s church, and I was active there singing in the choir and on a worship team. I also led a team of writers that turned Rick’s sermons into small group Bible studies each week, wrote devotionals for the website, and wrote articles for the website. One of my favorite moments was when an article I wrote on my son’s dedication was posted on the front page of Saddleback’s website for ten days and received a million hits. So it was pretty hard to leave all of that behind and come to the desert, away from my beloved beach, and into the unknown. From the coast to toast, as we like to say.

Peter and I fondly refer to the next three yeas as boot camp. Peter was out of work for over a year, and we were pretty much challenged in every area of our lives. But we came out of it with the strong assurance that God is faithful to provide our needs, often using other people to do it. It deepened out trust in Him, and I know it was preparing us for even bigger challenges down the road.

What made you want to start writing? And who are some of your favorite authors? (no pressure here) ;)

I think I wrote my first story when I was six. I had an active imagination and was always coming up with stories for me and my brothers to act out. Star Wars seemed to figure heavily into them. I didn’t end up being a sci-fi fan, however. But creativity wasn’t encouraged in my family. It was expected that I would do something practical with my life. I went through multiple majors in college (pre-med, English, Business/finance—got a degree in that one, then philosophy, comparative literature, history—my other degrees). I worked as an underwriter for an insurance company, a job I grew to hate as it slowly ate away at my body, causing nerve damage in my neck, elbows, and wrists. Nobody knew much about ergonomics then.

Still, I struggled with how to work writing into the equation. I didn’t know any other writers. I didn’t get any support, and I didn’t have the time. So I would take creative writing classes, attended a conference, and mostly wrote when I felt inspired.

Until I started writing for Saddleback and met another writer who would become a good friend, Peggy Rose. She got me into some online classes, and we joined a writer’s group together. I attended Mount Hermon the next year, 2001, when I was pregnant with my son. But shortly after that, I had to go on bed rest with him and there went my writing for nearly a year. It wasn’t until we moved out to Arizona that I was able to commit to writing daily for two hours, and I finished my first manuscript, a historical.

Oh, the dreaded favorite author question. I’m pretty eclectic in what I read, but here’s a sampling: Richard Russo, Elmore Leonard, Dee Henderson, Suzanne Brockmann, Dale Cramer, Lisa Samson, Michael Snyder, Alison Strobel, Harlan Coben, Douglas Coupland.

Currently in the middle of some editing, she’s well past the honeymoon stage. ;) Her current WIP, Witness, is making the rounds through her agent. Tell us about the book.

Since it just underwent major surgery I’ve had to rethink my hook for it. It’s a romantic suspense, the story of Heather McAlistair, editor of a Christian teen magazine, who has lived a pretty sheltered life. Until she meets Detective Kyle Taylor. On their first date they get caught in the middle of a gang initiation robbery. She gets shot at, placed in protective custody as a material witness, and has her life turned upside down. Kyle tries to keep her alive, she tries to keep her job, and both of them have no idea that their biggest threat is closer than they think.

I’ve read the story. It’s fabulous. How’d you came up with the idea?

Thanks, Sabrina. It’s always nice to hear great things about your writing. This story was one of the ideas I was playing around with before I was seriously committed to writing. I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the idea, but I had typed up about 20 pages of it and stuck it in a drawer. When I made the decision to move from historicals to contemporaries, I pulled out my story folder. This idea, plus two others, came together to loosely form a series I’ve called Hometown Heroes. Each book focuses on one of the three friends: Kyle the detective, in Witness; Joe the fireman in Flash Point; and Scott the naval aviator in Justice.

What is the hardest part of writing for you, or your biggest challenge as a writer.

Two things, really. One, since I have little kids, I always struggle with feeling like writing is taking away from them and stuff around the house. Even though I know it’s good for them to live without me at their beck and call for two hours, and my husband is very supportive of this, I easily feel guilt over it.The second thing is really specific to writing. I don’t consider myself overly creative. I’m more of a concrete thinker and so I need a germ of an idea to build on. Once I have something to go on, I can move out from there. But the other problem this creates is what I call “quick-drying cement.” Once I go a certain way in a book with a plot or a character, I have difficulty seeing any other options. I am blessed with a few writing partners who understand my writing and what I want to accomplish, and still help me come up with new things that I can’t see.

And what do you hope to accomplish with your writing. To entertain, to minister, to educate, etc...

When I was writing nonfiction, the goal was to educate and minister to people while entertaining them. In fiction I think entertainment has to be the upper most concern. Yes, it’s great if people can walk away from my books relating in someway to my characters and their struggles. And I know my beliefs will always come through in my work, whether or not there is a heavy spiritual thread. I think one thing fiction does is explore ideas all of us have about life. A spiritual journey is a big part of that for everyone, so those kinds of questions are natural to explore. The degree to which the author explores those questions depends on the kind of story she is telling and the characters she has created. But if it’s not done in an entertaining way, it will come off as a thinly disguised sermon. And nobody enjoys that.The thing is, God called me to write. He doesn’t waste anything, so mostly I trust that He has a purpose in my writing and my job is just to be faithful to my end of the deal: sitting my butt in the chair and writing. :)

Thanks, Jen. Point well taken. Consider my butt in the chair! LOL. Now could you give us a buildup for the scene you're going to share with us?

This is a scene that got cut from the latest rounds of revisions. Originally, Kyle and Heather dated a little before the gang initiation scene. To up the suspense, I cut about 50 pages out of the first part of the book, making the gang shooting occur on their first date. So a lot of good stuff had to go. This scene takes place right before the shooting. Bernie is the one who introduced Heather to Kyle, but he has an interest in her as well, though Heather doesn’t realize it. Bernie had driven Heather to Bible study after Kyle got caught up in a case and couldn’t make it. But Kyle was waiting at Heather’s house when Bernie dropped her off, ruining Bernie’s plans, which included stalking her in the first version.

Bernie made a right on El Toro, curious if Kyle’s truck was still at Heather’s condo. He’d been driving around, not wanting to head home yet. What was Kyle telling her?

It had made his day when Heather had called him. He always knew if he could get her away from Kyle and just talk to her, let her get to know him, he’d have a chance. They’d always gotten along well at choir practice and in the green room. She’d liked his comments at Bible study tonight. He just needed to build on that.

He liked Kyle, but Bernie saw what Heather didn’t: Kyle was in love with his job. Everything else came second. She didn’t see that now, but she’d end up with a broken heart. He hated to see that happen to her.

Of course he could be there waiting with a shoulder to cry on. He turned into her complex. Kyle’s truck was gone.
Good. He hadn’t stayed long.
Maybe Heather asked him to leave. Bernie smiled at the thought.
He pulled out of her street onto El Toro, heading home. Passing the shopping center on his right, something caught his eye.
Kyle’s truck. Parked under a streetlight.
Bernie slammed on the brakes and swung into the parking lot. He scanned the area. The Jitter Bug was the only logical place. He eased toward the shop, peering through the big plate-glass windows into the brightly lit interior.
Kyle and Heather sat at a back table.
His stomach filled with lead. He slammed his fist on the steering wheel.
“No, Bernie, I’m too tired for coffee.” He mimicked Heather’s voice. Apparently not too tired for coffee with Kyle. He should have driven her here instead of her condo. Then he’d be in there with her now, and Kyle would still be sitting in the dark, waiting.
He sped out of the parking lot, nearly sideswiping another Honda idling near the entrance.

There you go, folks. One of our future authors of tomorrow. Be on the lookout for Jennifer Tiszai! And you can say you knew her when. ;)

Thanks for having me, Sabrina. This was a lot of fun. And you can bet I'll be letting you know if I get any good news on Witness. J

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Have you ever fizzled out? Not sure what I’m talking about?? I’m talking about that point in a persons life where they’re juggling about 15 things and uh oh…they drop 12 of those things. =)

That’s me. I’ve had these interview questions for the unpubbed writers sitting on my desktop. I have a manuscript proposal sitting in an envelope on my breakfast bar. (That I’m probably not even going to mail off) My parents both need me to take them to doctors appointments this week and I haven’t even started on the onslaught of homework and errands for my son or husband. Or even the article I’m now writing for our local paper. Sheesh! Throw in work, church, the PTO, open house, and whatever else and I’m going to be sitting in the corner rocking before the week is over.

How ‘bout you all? Ever feel pulled in too many directions? And just FYI, I’ve had my rant, I’ll have those interviews up soon. LOL