DeAnna Dodson is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of historical romance novels set in medieval times. She has always been a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage, and has a keen interest in history from the Middle Ages to the present. Her latest book is A Dinner of Herbs, a novel of the American Civil War, and her work in progress is the first of a 1930s whodunit series, Heir to a Murder: A Drew Farthering Mystery. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers and belongs to the Christian novelists’ group Chi Libris. She lives quite happily with her three cats in North Texas and loves to quilt, cross stitch and watch hockey.
Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?
My most recent finished work is a Civil War romance titled A Dinner of Herbs. My agent is currently presenting it to publishers, so I don’t really have any definite release information on it. I hope to have some good news soon!
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
A Dinner of Herbs was written at the request of a friend of mine. After I finished my medieval trilogy, I asked her what she was particularly interested in reading. She gave me the time period and the names of the hero and heroine, but nothing else. I suppose my “what if” moment was when I thought, “What if a man decides he’s married to the “wrong” woman? What does he do about it? Who does he blame for it?”
NJ: To see DeAnna's books, visit her website.
Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
I had been writing just to amuse myself for about eight years. Then, for the next three years, I started really trying to write a book with the goal of being published. About six months after I started submitting my first book, I got a call from the third publisher I queried asking for the whole manuscript for In Honor Bound. I almost couldn’t believe it. They called me at work at about 4:55 p.m. and asked me to call back the next day. I was so excited, I called back right then. Fortunately, the editor who had left the message was still in and we had a really nice conversation. They ended up buying all three books in my medieval series. I didn’t have an agent at this time, so I knew it was a total miracle!
Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I very frequently struggle with writer’s block. And it seems that the more urgent it is for me to get something written, the worse the writer’s block is. The only way I know to deal with it is to just keep writing. Write something. I generally know where I want to end up in a scene, so I write towards that. Even if it sounds stupid, write something down. It can always be fixed later if need be. For me, editing is always easier than the initial writing.
What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc? How did (or do) you overcome it?
I struggle with all of it from time to time depending on what I’m working on. Fortunately there are a lot of books on craft that can help in certain situations, and writer’s groups like ACFW can be priceless if you need specific help.
Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?
I have a wonderful office to write in. It’s wall to wall bookcases and a corner desk with a hutch, plus a writing desk if I need to spread out. You can see it here.
Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?
I probably should, but at this point I don’t. Since I have to have a “real” job to pay the bills, I never know for sure what my schedule will be like.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have the tremendous blessing to be able to work out of my home right now, so I get some flexibility in my schedule. Usually I get up and check my e-mail so I’ll know what’s going on with my boss and with my writing friends. And I always want to know if I have any news from my agent. Once I’ve taken care of anything pressing, I can write. Some days I get more done than others.
Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.
I mostly start with a setting. I’m interested in a lot of different time periods, and each of them has different constraints and different risks. Then I put my main character into it and find out what his problem is and try to figure out how he solves it. When I first started writing, I would just write the scenes that interested me and then figure out how to tie them together.
Now, though, my agent wants proposals and synopses of books that I haven’t written yet, so I have to do a lot more planning ahead of time. So, since I know where I’m headed, I just have to figure out how to get my hero from initial problem to complication to resolution. After that comes the grinding it out part, getting something on the paper until I have a whole story. Next comes the fun.
Once the story is all down on paper, I can smooth it out, add nuances and layers of theme and allegory and foreshadowing. I usually weed out or combine characters that aren’t necessary, too. After that, I usually let the book sit for a while and don’t look at it or think about it. If possible, I let a writer friend of mine read it during that time so I’ll have the benefit of fresh eyes. There are always problems I didn’t notice because I’ve read a manuscript too many times. Then I go over the book again, fix typos and inconsistencies and add more nuance if needed. I repeat the process until I feel the book is ready. Then it goes to my agent.
What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?
Francine Rivers and Athol Dickson are probably my favorite Christian authors, simply because they write so beautifully. I love Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries, which is why my work in progress is a 1930s mystery, too. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books when I’m in the mood for Americana. Georgette Heyer wrote the most delightful Regency novels ever, and Ian Falconer’s Olivia books are a treat even if they are meant for kids. Man, I could go on and on, but these are a few of my favorites.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
The best and only advice I think is helpful is to write. Just write. Write the absolute best book you can. The rest will take care of itself.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
I think the time and frustration are actually a necessary part of developing into a good writer. There are some things you just can’t know until you’ve been through them. Learning how to work through plot and characterization challenges helps to give your writing your own unique voice. Life experience adds to the depth of your stories, and that includes the experience of being rejected multiple times and learning to bend and grow a little throughout the editing and publishing processes.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
I don’t do that much because I haven’t had anything new out in a while. Once I have a publisher for A Dinner of Herbs and my mystery, Heir to a Murder, I plan to do more. I think word of mouth is the biggest help. Getting review sites and bloggers to talk about your book seems to be the latest thing.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
There are lots of great books on craft. Take advantage of them as much as possible. Why reinvent the wheel?
Thanks so much for interviewing me!