Monday, March 02, 2009

Author Interview ~ Carol Cox

Author of 25 titles, Carol Cox has an abiding love for history, mystery, and romance, themes that appear in many of her books. A pastor’s wife and a homeschooling mom, she makes her home with her husband and daughter in northern Arizona, where the deer and the antelope really do play—often within view of the family’s front porch.

Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?

Thanks for inviting me! I’m excited to be here. My road to publication was definitely not one of those overnight success stories. I had started several books, but hadn’t finished any of them. I finally decided that if I was ever going to see anything published, I had to get serious. I made a commitment to write two pages a day (in longhand in a spiral notebook, before we had a computer) and stuck to that until I had a first draft written. I spent more time polishing the story and transferring it to our newly-acquired computer, and finally had a finished manuscript…and no idea what to do with it. My husband sent me to a writers conference as a birthday gift, and there I met a published author who took the time to read my manuscript and tell me she thought it was publishable. She believed in it enough to offer to help me send it out, which was gift straight from heaven. Even with her help and encouragement, it took longer than I ever dreamed to find a home for the book. It was nearly four years from the time we started submitting it until I signed that first contract.

Do you think an author is born or made?

That’s an interesting question. I’d say a combination of both is needed. Many people have an innate love for books and the desire to create stories for others to read. But desire—even with the talent to back it up–is not enough. It takes hard work to study the craft and then apply what you’ve learned to your own writing. It takes tenacity to learn about the publishing business and hang in there throughout all the ups and downs that come along. On top of that, a teachable attitude is a huge asset.

What is the first book you remember reading?

My mother taught me to read at a very early age, and I was always walking around with a book tucked under my arm,
or trying to read one while I walked—not a great idea for someone who tends to be a bit of a klutz. When I was five, my dad brought home a book called The Happy Hollisters, the first title in a mystery series for kids. I was stunned at first when I opened it and saw more print than pictures, but after the first couple of pages, the story drew me in and I didn’t want to put it down. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next title, and the next. I’ve been hooked on mystery series ever since!

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

It’s easy to get discouraged in this business. One of the most important qualities is resilience, being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a rejection or a scathing review, and not lose heart in the process.

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

It isn’t always easy to know that right away. An idea that sounds “stupid” at first may turn out to be the foundation of a gripping story. The main thing I look for is the germ of an idea that excites me, one that captures my imagination and won’t let go. Can it be built into a story that has deeper levels, or is it a one-dimensional, superficial idea? If it has depth, if it intrigues me enough to want to invest the time to bring it to life, there’s a good chance it will excite others too.

What is the theme of your latest book?

A Test of Faith is part of the Mystery and the Minster’s Wife series from Guideposts. Originally it was available to book club members only, but I’m thrilled that it’s going to be available in bookstores on March 1st. A Test of Faith follows the sleuthing adventures of Kate Hanlon and deals with the theme of how to act in a Christlike manner when falsely accused.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

That took a while! And it’s still a bit of a balancing act. It helped a lot to get feedback on my first few published books and learn what worked for my readers and what didn’t. Hearing that readers connected with something I felt was a key part of the story built my confidence in my own judgment. But trusting yourself as a writer doesn’t mean it isn’t important to stay open to suggestions, especially from editors. Getting a more objective perspective has helped me shape stories into finished products that were far better than my original versions. A good editor—one who can help make a book the very best it can be—is a real treasure.

Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?

I love reading a well-told story that inspires as well as entertains…but I don’t want to be hit over the head with a takeaway message. The same applies to my own books. There are messages I hope to get across, but they have to be woven in as an integral part of the story, or a book falls into the “preachy” category. I don’t like reading preachy stories, and I certainly don’t want to write them.

When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?

No matter how hard I’ve worked on polishing and revising the story, I can always find something I’d like to change, even after the book is in print. At some point, I have to make up my mind that I’ve done everything I can and let it go. Having a deadline staring me in the face is usually a great help in the “letting go” process. J

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

I’m something of a research junkie. The hard part is forcing myself to quit researching and start writing. So far, I’d have to say that the most fun I’ve had researching was in learning about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the setting for my series, A Fair to Remember. Delving into the information available on the fair—the incredible architecture of the exhibit buildings, the vast number of people who attended, and the sheer wonder it inspired in everyone who was there—pulled me into that world so deeply that it was hard to want to pull myself back out again.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

When a stolen car crashes through the front window of the Country Diner, Kate Hanlon vows to find the driver, who has vanished into the night. But when Kate’s wallet is discovered in the front seat of the car—and the citizens of Copper Mill seem all too ready to believe the pastor’s wife is a car thief—Kate has a whole new reason to find the culprit.

Thanks so much for having me on Novel Journey!


Maggie May said...

Great message of perseverance

Patricia W. said...

I'll have to look for your book, if only because I discovered I'm not the only person who lovingly remembers The Happy Hollisters!

Ane Mulligan said...

Good interview, Sandra and Carol. I love the questions asked and Carol's given some interesting insight. I especially liked your comments about feedback. Thanks, ladies!

Sheila Deeth said...

I'm not sure I can remember the first book I read, but I loved the interview. The book looked tempting on Guideposts. Great that it's going to be more widely available.

Carol Cox said...

Thanks for the great comments, ladies. And thanks to Novel Journey for having me here. I've enjoyed it immensely!