Don Hoesel is a Web site designer for a Medicare carrier in Nashville, TN. He has a BA in Mass Communication from Taylor University and has published short fiction in Relief Journal. He lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with his wife and two children. Elisha’s Bones is his first novel.
Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?
Hunter’s Moon is scheduled to come out in Spring 2010. It’s about a writer living in the south who returns to his Upstate New York home for the first time in almost two decades, and who has to finally deal with the family’s dirty little secret.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
I came up with the idea for Elisha’s Bones over dinner with a friend. We were actually discussing how writers come up with story ideas, and I’d made the comment that just about anything could be turned into a story. By way of illustration, I mentioned a recent Sunday school lesson about the passage in 2 Kings, where a man rises from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones. And once I said it, I realized I had my next story idea.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
I started writing my first novel in middle school and got about two hundred pages in before giving up. And then I really didn’t write much until a few years after college—1995. Even then, I didn’t try to pursue publication seriously. That didn’t happen until 2004. That’s when I signed with my agent, Les Stobbe. For the next few years, Les sent out manuscripts, and one finally stuck at Bethany House. So the approximate time between actively deciding to pursue publication and hearing that Bethany House had accepted Elisha’s Bones was a little over three years.
As far as hearing about the book’s acceptance—if I recall correctly, Les mentioned that BHP was interested in the manuscript but I may have actually received the official notice from Dave Long, acquisitions editor at BHP, via email. And I’m not entirely sure what went through my mind, except that I know it was some combination of relief and excitement. Because while I’d only spent about three years in active pursuit of publication, I’d been writing for a long time, so I guess it felt like a much longer process. And the next thing that went through my head was that I hoped the contract came before Dave changed his mind!
Did you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
I rarely get writer’s block, but I can spend a very long time working over a single paragraph because it just doesn’t sound right. When that happens, I can rewrite that paragraph thirty to forty times. I guess that may be a form of writer’s block, but at least it’s the kind in which I feel like I’m at least doing something, even if it’s just throwing words at the page to see what sticks.
On those few occasions when I do get real writer’s block, I either start work on something unrelated (like a short story) or take a break and read a book. The more you read, the more likely you are to find something to steal—er, I mean, pay homage to. What's the most difficult part of writing this story and how did you overcome?
I know this is a terrible answer, but I don’t think there was a hard part. I was pleased with the story, and happy with what BHP let me do with it.
Show us a picture of your writing space.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up at 5:30 AM and drive forty-plus miles to work. I manage the communications department for a Medicare contractor. After work, I drive the forty-plus miles home, then help with homework, ballet practice, baseball, dinner, and baths, etc. Once the rest of the family is asleep (9–10 PM) I write, usually calling it quits around 1 AM or so.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I start with either a character or an idea. Once I have that, I try to let the story build organically around them. It’s usually a pretty linear process in that the story unfolds itself for me. I self-edit a lot as I go, which means that by the time I’m done with my first draft, I feel pretty good about it. So when that draft is done, it’s rare that I’ll do a wholesale revision, although in the case of Elisha’s Bones, my editor suggested some changes that proved to be substantial.
In your opinion, what’s the best novel ever written?
I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’ll list a few that mean a lot to me:
The Sun Also Rises
The Risk Pool,
Father and Son
One Hundred Years of Solitude; the list could go on for a very long time.
What writing advice helped you the most?
The best advice I received was to read. Even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. You get to see how other people approach writing—and it’s just fun.
What advice hindered you the most?
Outlining. I know outlining works for some people, but I don’t much care for it. I prefer to start with a character or two, and a basic plot, and see what happens.
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 would have spent more time early on really studying the craft of writing. It would have saved me some of the trial and error—a lot of the stuff that was just too bad to ever show anyone. Although there’s probably something to be said for that process, too.
As far as publishing, I really don’t have any complaints. While it may feel as if it took a long time to get a book deal (three years) I’ve heard that’s actually pretty quick. I was lucky to sign with a great agent (I can’t overemphasize the value of a writers’ conference), and he just kept at it.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
Since this is my first book, I’m still getting my feet wet in marketing. So far, what I think I’ve learned is to make use of your family, friends, and business contacts, etc, and not to be shy about letting people know you have a book out there. Then, try to do as many book signings as you can and take advantage of all interview requests, even if you don’t think you’d be good at them (I’m a perfect example of that!).
I think if you do the basics, you’ll be in a good position to think of more innovative ways to market. But I’m still looking for some of those, so let me know if you have any ideas!
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Go to a writers’ conference. In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing I did to get published. After that, get sleep wherever and whenever you can.