What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?
My debut novel—They Almost Always Come Home—released May 1st from Abingdon Press. The tagline for Abingdon Press Fiction is “a novel approach to faith.” I think that rings true in each of the books they’ve published. My own tagline is “stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark.” They Almost Always Come Home reveals that Hope in layers of action, longing, and discovery.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head. (be as specific as possible)
I’ve been writing fictional mini-scenes for many years as the opening stories for the radio broadcast, The Heartbeat of the Home (www.heartbeatofthehome.org). About ten years ago, I started toying with the idea of writing longer works of fiction, taking the characters and plots similar to those slice-of-life stories and developing them into a full-length novel. I studied, attended conferences, zeroed in on fiction, kept my mind and fingers agile through magazine articles, newspaper columns, and the radio broadcast. When I found out about American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), I knew I’d connected with an organization that could help me grow in all levels as a novelist. I inhaled all the training it had to offer, embraced the wisdom of the experts on the loop, read more than I ever had, and watched the Lord settle me into writing niche that fit me and His purposes for me. I entered ACFW’s Genesis Contest and learned from the judges’ comments and from my ACFW online critique group. In 2008, my Genesis entry took second place in Women’s Fiction. Within weeks, that project was picked up by my agent, Wendy Lawton, and purchased by Abingdon Press through my editor, Barbara Scott. I actually heard in a roundabout way, since I was flying across the country when the call came on my answering machine. Barbara left an email message to confirm, a message my daughter had to open and read for me since my flight was delayed for an extra day! I was blessed, of course. Overjoyed. But I also felt a deep consciousness that the hard work had just begun.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
The self-doubts are totally under control now. They only raise their slimy heads once an hour rather than once a minute. Truthfully, I believe authors live in a duality of being pleased with their work and doubting their work. Any confidence has to come from remaining obedient to the Lord with our writing and allowing Him to keep the self-doubts in check. In the Bible, we’re told that a godly sorrow leads to repentance. I think in much the same way, if self-doubt presses us into the Lord and utter dependence on Him, it has served a holy purpose. If it cripples us and immobilizes us, then it has not served God’s purposes and needs to be reined in.
What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
I’m trying to think of one I haven’t made. In the early days, I rehashed my favorite lines until I could quote them yet today. Then I learned that sometimes favorite lines have to be the first to go when editing to make a book publishable. I’m more ruthless now with passages I once thought golden. It’s still painful, but I’m willing to cut things that I once held too dear.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
Work as hard as you can. Wait as hard as you can.
How do you craft a plot? Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?
I play with an idea long before I sit down to write a word. Other times, a title or a single phrase comes to mind and the story develops around that. Although I once rebelled against the thought of a synopsis, I now see the value of having at least a rough outline to help with spacing the turning points and not creating dead end appendages to the story.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
I wish I’d realized earlier in the game that completing a manuscript, any manuscript, was key to my education as a writer. Beginnings are easy for me. I have a file drawer full of intriguing beginnings. After I listened to wise counsel (including the Scripture verse that says “Finishing is better than starting”) and made completing a manuscript my goal, I crossed a major hurdle, and discovered during the process of working toward completion that I still had a lot to learn about the construction of a book, not just the art of jewelry making—stringing pretty words together.
Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?
An editor took a project back to his office from a conference, fired up about its potential for his publishing house. He wanted to see more. The eventual rejection stung, as they all do. But about a year later, the fiction department experienced a major upheaval. If that project had been accepted (as I’d wanted), it would have been left hanging, an orphan. Only God knew that the best thing for that manuscript was rejection.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
I’m passionate about this subject. When I read, I feel the nuances in the rhythm of language. I subliminally learn where commas go in a quotation. My creativity is stirred when I observe other authors’ creativity, much as an artist is inspired by nature. I keep one eye on technique and the other on the story, which explains why the room is spinning.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to write They Almost Always Come Home. I believe it portrays life situations and relationship tensions that are too real to be ignored but too infrequently expressed. I chose the word “grateful” rather than “proud” because of what the book taught me, even as I wrote it. I take joy in the Christmas novella (A Door County Christmas) coming this fall because the Lord showed me that He is able when I am not. The bulk of it was written in the short weeks between my father-in-law’s sudden death and my mother’s final breath. A fun romantic comedy.
What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?
I don’t know what it would be like to have an editor or agent that I didn’t highly respect and care about as a person. As a writer, I’m devoted to meeting or exceeding deadlines, doing what is asked of me without complaint, and praying for my editor and agent and the publishing houses and agencies. And I respect that their jobs are as fraught with complications as mine.
How many drafts to you edit before submitting to your editor?
My style tends toward writing pretty tightly and cleanly when I finally move from musing to getting the story into the computer. I make many passes through the manuscript, but seldom write a completely new draft. It has happened. One story I thought would need only minor tweaking needed a complete rewrite before I dared submit it to my editor for her first look at it.
We often hear how important it is to write a good query letter to whet the appetite of an editor. What tips can you offer to help other writers pen a good query?
As much as possible, write a query that carries the same tone or flavor as the novel. But I confess that I have had little personal success through queries. Most of my promising contacts have come from face-to-face connections at writers’ conferences.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
I’ve also considered giving up chocolate, but the feeling soon passes.
How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
It’s a balancing act to write well enough to be published and market well enough to keep writing. When I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities of what I should be doing in marketing, I’m reminded of the question posed to Moses—“What’s that in your hand, Moses? Throw it down.” What is it in my hand? What DO I have available to me? Despite where I live, where can I reach? Despite time constraints and other responsibilities, what can I do? They Almost Always Come Home released so recently that I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t work. But I’m also learning that marketing can quickly become consuming. In that realm, too, I need the Lord to write my to-do list.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
I cherish every touch with readers. I’m especially blessed when they comment that it is a book a husband and wife can share—enough adventure for him and enough of an emotional journey for her.
Novel Journey, thank you for helping fulfill a dream. An interview in this venue, with your readers, means so much to me. Thank you for affording me the opportunity. If you read They Almost Always Come Home, please contact me with your thoughts about it. I’d love to continue the dialogue. You can connect with me through Twitter, Facebook, the Cynthia Ruchti Reader Fan Page on FB, or my websites: www.cynthiaruchti.com or www.hopethatglowsinthedark.com.