J. Mark Bertrand

Doubling his debut

On the surface, J. Mark Bertrand seems an unlikely candidate to author a new series of novels for Bethany House, a publisher of evangelical Christian fiction for a largely female readership.

Before this year, the 39-year-old Bertrand had published only one book—a nonfiction, book-length essay called Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live and Speak in This World (Crossway, 2007). In fiction, he crafts crime mysteries, not yarns about familial relationships or budding romance. And he has no interest in following the tried-and-true Christian novel formula: lead characters either renew their faith or experience soul-saving conversions.

“The protagonist in Back on Murder isn't a Christian. He's an outsider,” Bertrand says. “What that gives me as an author an opportunity to do is to critique the world that I'm familiar with… to show it, warts and all, in a realistic portrayal. That's one of those things that some people in the church really appreciate, and some people don't.”

Bertrand has scored a coup as a first-time novelist with a serial deal for new titles in each of the next three years. The first in the series, Back on Murder, goes on sale in July.

In Back on Murder, homicide detective Roland March gets one last chance to prove his ability when the daughter of a prominent Houston evangelist disappears. A youth pastor, wrestling with his own guilty conscience, helps March navigate the world of Texas evangelicalism in a search for clues.

Bertrand believes his novel might belong in the crime fiction section of the bookstore, rather than in Christian literature, because he's not trumpeting a particular Christian message. Drawing on his Baptist and Presbyterian roots, he gives the book a decidedly Christian setting, but he's not sure that makes it a work of Christian fiction.

Senior acquisitions editor David Long says he expects Bertrand's series to build on the success of other Bethany House authors known for suspense, such as Don Hoesel and Shawn Grady. General market readers—fans of Richard Price and Michael Connelly, for example—are apt to be interested in Bertrand's work as well.

Meanwhile, Bethany is easing Bertrand into the world of Christian fiction by associating him, at least temporarily, with a well-established form with a big fan base: the romance suspense novel. He's also got a buddy to start. With Deeanne Gist, he's coauthored Beguiled (Feb.), about a dog walker at the center of a crime plot.—G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Erin Healy

Moving to the writer's chair

Erin Healy has had a long career as an editor in evangelical Christian publishing. Lately, however, she's been busy writing what she normally edits—fiction—coauthoring two novels with Ted Dekker and, in May, releasing her debut novel, Never Let You Go. All three are published by Thomas Nelson.

Becoming an author, though, wasn't exactly Healy's idea—at least not at first. It was Dekker, whom Healy has been editing since 2002, who sparked this new track for Healy's career in publishing.

“Ted called me one day to say he wanted a woman coauthor, someone who could expand his brand and help recapture his female readers,” Healy says. “Then he asked me if I would like to do it. It was so unexpected! Then Thomas Nelson gave me a contract to write two novels with Ted and three on my own.” Their first collaboration, Kiss, appeared last year; and Burn came out in January.

Healy counts herself lucky to have Dekker helping to ease the transition from editor to author, though she's a little anxious about what will happen when Never Let You Go comes out.

“It's been a really humbling and somewhat terrifying experience to write on my own. Writing skills and editing skills don't overlap much. I'm not as confident a writer as I am an editor,” Healy says. “But I thought: why not give it a try? It's been an invaluable experience as an editor, since it gives me so much insight into what my writers go through.”

Never Let You Go is a mother-daughter story with a supernatural twist—Healy dedicated the book to her own daughter, Amber, who is almost 12. “I've watched children held captive by their parents' inability to forgive. And I picked a mother-daughter relationship because I have the most personal insight into that,” Healy says.

The supernatural piece, for Healy, is equally important.

“I have a very real belief in the supernatural world, and as a Christian, I'm interested in the moments when spiritual experiences intersect with our physical realities,” Healy says.

Healy's authors will be happy to know that she isn't about to give up editing. “I have a foot in both worlds right now. I'll keep going back to editing because I love it,” she says. “And I hope writing has made me a much nicer editor, too.”—Donna Freitas

Gina Holmes

Making waves in debut

Red-hot anger, new love, repressed fear—novelist Gina Holmes elicits from her characters a wide range of emotions, including emotions characters might not care to admit. In debut Crossing Oceans (Tyndale House, May), protagonist Jenny Lucas returns to her hometown to confront her family, her ex-boyfriend, and her past. A single mother, Jenny must inform her five-year-old daughter's father that he has a child in order to plan for the child's future.

Like an actor who abandons her own thoughts, Holmes stepped into the skin of her characters to determine their logical next steps. She also had some life experiences to draw from.

Since 1997, Holmes, 39, has been living and writing in southern Virginia. Her suspense novels, however, were shelved with no contracts forthcoming. So she started a writers' blog, Novel Journey (www.noveljourney.blogspot.com), to help other authors get the word out about their books. She also continued working as a nurse in dialysis, a left-brained career with benefits for her writing.

“When I'm working as a nurse, I get to see people at their best and worst, without their masks,” Holmes says. “When somebody is with a family member who is dying, they don't care what other people are seeing. I get to pick up authentic emotions, which I wouldn't see in other professions, certainly not if I was secluded at my desk.”

Holmes began reading literary books like Memoirs of a Geisha and discovered a love for women's fiction. She began working on her own novel while she was going through a divorce, a process that made her feel as though she was experiencing a kind of death, she says. Feelings of sacrifice and questions of how to best parent her two sons plagued her as she wrote. Her own genuine feelings, combined with her experiences as a nurse, flowed into her novel, yielding a sad tale with sharply defined characters who don't hide their emotions.

As she continues her work on her writers' blog, Holmes is also writing a new book for Tyndale, exposing the tangle of emotions surrounding infidelity, another difficult and charged subject.

“Hopefully, it's going to nail a tough subject in an authentic manner,” she says.—Jackie Walker