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Monday, March 27, 2006

Interview with Mike Yorkey and book giveaway!

How special am I? Mike Yorkey gave me an exclusive, Camy-style interview (okay, some questions aren't mine, but keep reading the interview) about his new book, BY THE SWORD co-authored with Rick Myatt.

In this modern thriller, underground Islamic extremists force religious conversions to create a region free of Christian and Jewish influence. Those who won't convert to Allah and follow Mohammed are dying in terrorist acts or mysteriously disappearing. Amber Robbins, a top U.S. reporter in the Middle East, feels no one is safe until she can expose the radical intolerants.

We're also giving away a copy of BY THE SWORD. If you want to enter to win it, leave a comment (at the end of this blog post, click on “comments”), giving your name and saying you want to enter.

If you post anonymously or if your email address isn’t on your blogger profile, please leave an email address or website where I can contact you (use this format with the brackets: you [at] yahoo.com). International readers are welcome to enter!

You have a week to comment--I'll pick a name out of a hat next week Monday, April 3rd. (BTW, you can post a comment and NOT enter, too.)

Interview with Mike Yorkey:
How did the idea for this book spark?

My church pastor, Rick Myatt, and I began talking about writing a novel in the spring of 2000, based upon our mutual love for thrilling fiction. I wanted the lead character to be an investigative reporter who chases after a major, global-changing story. I had done some investigative reporting for a small-town newspaper when I started my journalism career, and I'll never forget how my job was on the line when I investigated the tax judgments and liens filed against the most powerful politician in the county. Fortunately, the story stuck, and voters recalled him eight months later in a special election.

Rick and I were also interested in the Middle East and how that part of the world would play out in these modern times. We began fashioning a plot, but we wanted to include many plot twists because that's what we liked when we read a thriller. We came up with a terrorist event to open the book that we called "The Passover Massacre," which took place in Jerusalem and involved the middle-of-the-night killing of 74 innocent Israelis. We placed our investigative reporter, Amber Robbins, at the scene of the crime, and then we worked on fashioning a plausible plot that involved Iran pulling the strings. Remember, this was more than a year before September 11.

Who handled the research? Plot line? The actual writing?

I handled the research and the actual writing, although Rick wrote bits and pieces of dialogue because he had a good ear for pious "religious" talk. Rick was great in talking out loud on the plot line . . . if we have this person do that, then we can do this . . . we really haven't had any readers predict what happens in By the Sword, which is great since the last thing we wanted to do was write a predictable novel.

How do you think 9/11 affected the way publishers and readers view your story?

September 11 was huge-and didn't help us at all. As the Twin Towers lay smoking in ruins, we were 75 percent done with By the Sword. Rick and I looked at each other and shivered. While our novel was not prophetic in terms of Osama bin Laden, it certainly seemed very plausible in light of the new global situation. We stuck with our view that Iran would play an increasingly larger role in Mid East events, and we've watched with amazement to see that happen, especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Getting back to 9/11, Rick and I hustled and finished our novel by December 2001. When our agent sent it out, the response was . . . underwhelming. In fact, no one wanted to touch a novel with a major terrorist act, and publishers were wary of how much interest Americans had regarding the turbulent Middle East.

We got rejected by every CBA publisher doing fiction. Some acquisition editors were forthright in their reasons behind the rejections, and we listened to them. One pointed out how the manuscript was not ready for prime time because of its writing quality. I took those criticisms to heart. I studied books on writing fiction. I rewrote scene after scene. I combined characters and simplified a few plot threads. I avoided any narration and stuck to action. I eliminated flashbacks. I tightened up the prose and reworked the dialogue. I reworked plot details based upon the Iraq war and new global realities. I paid two fiction editors to give the manuscript a hard edit. After more than two years of rewriting, I felt the novel was ready to be resubmitted in 2004, and I found a few publishers more welcoming. I was a happy fellow when Broadman & Holman greenlighted the novel-with our original title-in the fall of 2004.

Writers often find that their books mirror real life in ways they never anticipated. Have you seen this happen with By the Sword?

Very much so. Rick and I are blown away with the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and how he's moving the country toward nuclear weapons. He's also denied the Holocaust and wants to wipe Israel off the map. Lots of saber rattling. In By the Sword, we have Iran purchasing a nuke submarine from the Russians, intent on international havoc. Keep in mind that we originally wrote this more than five years ago. Scary.

How has writing fiction differed from non-fiction? Which do you find harder to write?

Fiction is definitely more difficult and more pleasing to write. Readers can tell when amateurs are writing fiction. I'm sure the manuscript we finished in 2001 was pretty amateurish. But we learned from our mistakes and have written a pleasing, professional book that is entirely plausible while still keeping readers turning pages. In other words, I had a ball writing a book that I would want to read.

What's next for both of you in terms of writing?

I’m currently writing a ton of books for Jordan Rubin, author of the best-selling health book, The Maker’s Diet. I collaborated with Jordan on his new book, The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, which came out in January and is selling well. It’s been great working with Jordan; he’s passionate about trying to get folks to eat better and take better care of their bodies so that they’re more available for ministry and their families.

I’ve also been kicking around some ideas with Rick Myatt for a sequel to By the Sword, and Tricia Goyer and I have actually plotted out a World War II thriller involving the German’s desire to build the first atomic bomb. Tricia has three World War II-era novels out, so she’s carved out quite a niche for herself.

What's the one best piece of advice you'd like writers to know?

Have other people read your work and be bold enough to let your friends or acquaintances know that they can tell you what didn’t work, or where they lost interest, or what you could do to improve the manuscript. We probably had 20 people read By the Sword in various mutations, and we learned something from each round.

Is there anything about the writing journey that you wish you'd done differently?

Rick and I should have plotted By the Sword in greater detail before we started writing in earnest. That was inexperience. We had a great idea and ran with it, while everything worked out in the end, it took us a while to get there. By that I mean rewrites and rethinking where we were going. We combined some characters, simplified a plot thread or two, and rewrote scenes where we thought we were “telling” instead of “showing” through action.

Maybe it’s good that I didn’t know how hard it would be to find a publisher. I always felt if I could just get someone at a publishing house to read the manuscript . . . to compare it against what they published or what they received over the transom . . . then we would have a good shot at winning a publishing offer. But acquisitions editors are so swamped with manuscripts that it was very difficult and time-consuming to get someone to sit down and stay with the novel. Again, I know how important the first 50 pages are, and our novel starts out with a bang and keeps up the heat . . . but even getting people to read those first 50 pages was a chore.

Do you have a special Bible verse that inspires you?

Yes, it’s Proverbs 22:17-19 (New Living Translation): “Listen to this wise advice; follow it closely, for it will do you good, and you can pass it on to others: Trust in the Lord.”

That helps keep me going because in the writing game, where you wait and wait and wait for answers to come and decisions to be made.

What is the predominant theme in By the Sword? What do you want readers to take away from it besides a heart-pounding, exciting read?

Our underlying theme is that there may come a time when Islamic elements have the power to demand that you either convert to Islam or be killed. Actually, this is already happening in parts of the world, including Malaysia. We have no idea here in comfortable America that Christians are being martyred because they will not renounce their faith. I salute them and recognize them, and By the Sword helps tell their story. I’ve been told by readers our story of Davood and Mrna, a pastor-and-wife couple in Iran, brought them to tears. (Sorry, I can’t give away more!)

Thanks for the interview! Any parting words?

Yes, thanks for the attention and helping to get the word out. By the Sword has been six years in the making, and there were times when Rick and I looked at each other and said, “Well, shall we admit that no one wants to publish it and try something else?” We persevered because we believed in the message, and since the Lord knew the best timing, if that timing involved that the novel never be published, then I was fine with that. But now that By the Sword has reached bookstores, we’re thrilled to start hearing back from readers who tell us that we kept them turning pages to see what happened next.

Camy here: Thanks, Mike!

Anybody read this book yet? What did you think? Any suspense readers who are itching to pick this one up? (Enter the drawing!)


At 9:55 AM, March 27, 2006, Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

Great interview! I haven't read the book yet, but would love to enter win a copy!
-Jennifer Yates

At 1:37 PM, March 27, 2006, Anonymous Sanjay said...

Now that's intersting! Can't wait to read the book.

At 9:04 PM, March 27, 2006, Blogger Pammer said...

Suspense reader here, itching to pick this up. :0) How did you know?

Great interview!

At 9:19 PM, March 27, 2006, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Oh, I've been "itching" to read this one. Enter me please! LOL!

Scary indeed, especially with what's going on about that guy on trial for converting from Islam. Even if the guy gets off for "insanity" they'll kill him. The "priests" or whatever they're called said they will hang him. That's scary.

At 7:22 AM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous MaryLu Tyndall said...

Thanks Camy for the great questions and thanks to Mike for taking his time to answer. This story sounds extremely relevant to our current times and is a subject we all as Christians should be aware of. Sounds like a great read.!

At 8:44 AM, March 28, 2006, Blogger Mike Yorkey said...

Hi, Mike Yorkey here . . . it's neat to read these comments. Camy and I did this interview before the Abdul Rahman situation came up in Afghanistan about a week ago, which really ties into "By the Sword." In fact, I received this e-mail from a reader telling me about the newspaper story regarding plans to kill Abdul Rahman because he converted to Christianity. Here's what Scott said:

Mike, I have finally found some time to start reading your book. I am about 135 pages into the book and I am really struggling with it. The struggle that I am having is that I do not want to put it down, so far it has really consumed me, I will write more once I complete it. The real reason that I wrote you is that I saw this article in the Arizona Republic newspaper ( I read it online) and I told Lori this is just like what is in your book.

Anyway, I was blown away by Abdul's bold faith and his willingness to accept death for believing in Jesus Christ.

Mike Yorkey

At 1:34 PM, March 28, 2006, Blogger Missy T said...

Yes, I watched a news story on Abdul Rahman last night, which was exactly what I thought about as I read this blog. Scary.

Please enter me in the drawing! Great interview, Camy. Thanks, Mike, for telling about your book.



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