You and Sandra are the Novel Journey team's first published novelists . . . so far. So tell the scoop: What new book do you have coming out?
So far is right. I’m in such talented company here at Novel Journey, I know it won’t be long before the rest of this team publish novels as well. I just happened to luck out because right about the time Barbour announced the launch of its new mystery line, my critique partner, Janelle Mowery, and I were discussing co-authoring a cozy together. What we came up with is a quirky little mystery entitled, Where the Truth Lies. It’s due for release from Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES! this April.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
Actually, there was. I was home for Christmas and staying the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law in Michigan. He works full-time as a youth minister. We got to talking about Jacob and Esau and their rather strange, rather strained, relationship. Later that evening, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I called Janelle, and together we came up with this loosely based idea about twin brothers—one who dies, and one who lives to inherit everything.
You wrote this with Janelle Mowery. How do you divvy up the work?
Different authors have different approaches to co-authoring. Janelle and I thought it best for each of us take one character and write strictly from their POV. I believe the end result works because as readers, we often expect characters to act, think, and speak differently from the other characters in the book. With this expectation in mind, the transition from one author to the other becomes a lot more seamless. Of course, we’ve each edited one another hundreds of times, so our work is already on much the same level.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
I finished my first novel in 2001. Like every other aspiring author, I sent my (VERY) rough manuscript out expecting every house I submitted to, to beg me for the right to publish my book. After all…I was an English major in college and I had read all the great works. Imagine my chagrin when every single publisher turned it down! LOL!
So, I started entering contests. I joined a critique group. I bought books on writing. All of this led me to understand how much I had to learn. Several years and manuscripts later, I sold my first novel to Susan Downs at Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES!
I’ll never forget that day. Janelle called me at work to tell me she had just finished an Instant Message with Susan. She was interested in our cozy.
“How interested?” I asked.
“They want it.”
I’ve never heard more glorious words.
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I do, and it’s usually when I’m very tired. Nothing squelches the creative juices in me more than being overly stressed and exhausted. That said, the quickest way I’ve discovered for overcoming writer’s block is a good night’s sleep! Well, that and really sappy, romantic movie like “While You Were Sleeping.” Watching stuff like that makes me want to write equally sappy, romantic books. LOL!
Oh, and music will do it for me on occasion as well. Remember that final scene in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”? The one where the entire cast is in church and the pastor starts singing, “Father, Can You Hear Me?” Every time I hear that song I want to stand up and PRAISE God. That is what I want—to write something that SO inspires someone they automatically want to praise God.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?
As I stated earlier, I was an English major in college. I’d already learned the mechanics of writing—sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. It was the finer points of fiction writing that gave me trouble, things like story arc, goal, motivation, conflict, and POV.
Finally, having had my fill of hearing that my work “wasn’t quite there,” I took the plunge and hired a freelance editor to help me pinpoint exactly where “there” was and why I wasn’t reaching it. This lady not only helped me clean up some of the basic problems I was having with POV, she really helped me understand the importance of giving my characters a goal and a past history that drove them to want it.
How did you climb out (overcome it)?
Hiring a freelance editor was, of course, just the first step. I’m still buying books on the craft of writing and studying them every chance I get. I also attend writer’s conferences when I can and take notes like crazy. I’m active in three different critique groups and judge two different contests because I believe we learn the most from studying other people’s mistakes. Lastly, I read as much and as often as I can.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
My favorite place to write is on the couch, my laptop in my lap, and my dog curled up by my feet. Noise doesn’t usually bother me, but if it gets too loud, I move to the bedroom. My family understands when I really need to work. They give me space when I’m in writing mode.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Are you ready for this?
I wake up around 6:00 or 6:30. I get the kids up, feed the dogs, and get ready for work all within an hour. If I have time, I throw in a load of laundry before heading out the door.
From 8:00-4:00, I work as an Assistant Superintendent’s Secretary at a public school. I have an hour off for lunch, so I try and answer email, write blog articles, and make changes to my website during that time.
I also work part-time as a youth minister, so on Mondays and Wednesdays, I go straight to the church and start getting ready for my meetings with the pastor and with the youth. Believe it or not, both of these provide excellent fodder for character ideas.
Once I get home, I usually have two or three chapters to critique. I try and do those before starting supper, unless I’m on a deadline. In that case, I work on my own stuff first. After that, I clean up in a hurry and either cook (or buy) something for the family to eat. Then it’s back to the computer for an hour or two more.
Bottom line: housekeeping doesn’t carry the same urgency it used to.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
It depends. There are times I see a scene so clearly in my head, the words literally FLOW from my fingertips. Other times, it feels more like pulling teeth. Either way, I’ve discovered I can’t avoid the issue. I have to get past each scene, so whether it’s easy or hard, I have to force myself to sit down at the computer and put words to paper.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
Writing mysteries is so different from anything else I’ve done. No longer do I plop myself in front of the computer and start plunking down words. Now, I write a detailed timeline BEFORE I even start chapter one. I know exactly where the story is going to go from start to finish, I have all my clues and red herrings, a list of suspects, and character sketches handy. I even (shudder) write my synopsis before I start the actual story. That way, I am able to spot any potential plot problems before they get too far out of hand.
Once these items are accomplished, I’m ready to start writing, but even the first draft is nowhere near the end. After numerous rounds of self-editing, I send my book through two different critique groups (waving to Crit3 and Silverarrows) and they help me polish the finished product to a fine sheen.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
My favorite books are usually the ones I’m reading that day! Seriously, the only book I can truly say has stuck with me over the years is a tiny little children’s book I read when I was in elementary school. It’s called No Flying in the House by Betty Brock and Wallace Tripp, and I recently purchased a used copy, just for nostalgia’s sake.
That’s not to say I don’t have books that have touched me deeply. Deb Raney’s book, Beneath a Southern Sky made me boohoo for days. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers challenged me to write better and more powerfully than I’d done before, and The Prisoner’s Wife by Susan Page Davis proved it was possible to tell a full, well-developed story in fewer than 55,000 words. Each of these books helped me as an author in some way, but then again, I try and learn something from every book I sit down long enough to read. That’s what makes it so hard to say which ones are truly my favorites.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Get to know your characters early. It’s okay if they surprise you from time to time, but you definitely want to know them well enough to write them well.
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 wish I’d taken the time to learn the craft before I started submitting. Rejections are hard, and they hurt! I learned so much more from entering contests and getting feedback than I ever did from a form letter rejection. If you’re going to spend your money, use it for contest entry fees instead of postage. You’ll get a much higher return.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
I don’t have nearly enough time to market like I should. I do update my website and blog regularly, though. I also contract as many speaking engagements as I can manage, and schedule blog tours, interviews, and appearances whenever possible. I’ve created a book trailer to help generate excitement for my upcoming release, and before too long, I’ll mail out the postcards, bookmarks, and newsletters I ordered informing people how they can get their hands on my book. It’s definitely work, but let’s face it, writing is a business. To make it successful, I have to invest a certain amount of time getting it off the ground.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Don’t give up. No matter how long you’ve been at it, the real tragedy will be if you stop writing before God is ready to let you go.