Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Author Interview ~ Bruce Judisch

Bruce Judisch write's historical fiction and Biblical studies, as well as being a teacher and book reviewer. He still delights in the wife of his youth, Jeannie. His latest novel, Katia is in stores now. You can learn more HERE. 

Tell us about your current project. 

I’ve just completed the third draft of a sequel to my most recent novel, Katia. The working title is For Maria, and it recounts the story of infant twin girls torn from their parents during World War II. Rescued by neighbors when their mother and father are dragged away by the Gestapo, Lilli-Anna and Kammbrie Szpilmann escape occupied Poland to Salzburg, Austria. From there, they come to America via France, Spain and Portugal in 1941 as part of the Kindertransport program.

The title character Maria is their long-lost mother who survived the concentration camps. She is also the grandmother of our modern-day heroine, Madeline Sommers, a young journalist who has made it her mission to reunite Maria with her twins. Despite the odds, she hangs passionately onto the hope that they’re still alive after all these years and that she can find them before her failing grandmother passes away.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Just about every one imaginable, I think. I approached the publishing industry prematurely, even naïvely. I paid an exorbitant amount to have my first work published, a novella introducing a two-part series based upon the minor prophet Jonah. It was my first attempt at fiction and, oh my goodness, it sure reads like it. It reminds me of how a wonderful friend and accomplished author, Cecil Murphey, began a writing seminar I attended last year. He said, “There’s a lot of bad writing out there. You don’t need to add to it.” Well, I added to it and paid a lot of money to foist it upon unsuspecting readers. Happily, I learned a few things along the way about the craft of writing and the industry that facilitates it, and the ensuing series, “A Prophet’s Tale,” turned out much better. Honest.

What advice do you wish you’d received or heeded as a writer just starting out?

Strive to avoid my answer to the above question. Study the industry and establish your goals, which will drive how you approach your attempts to be published. Are you ready to become a fulltime writer, or is this an avocational pursuit? Is the answer “both,” and it’s simply a matter of timing? Sage advice from an acquisitions editor for a major publishing house came at a writers’ conference last year: 

“Worse than landing no publisher is landing the wrong one.” I would add, “Or at the wrong time.”

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Although this question is addressed later, marketing is my greatest struggle. I know, that’s probably not exactly what you were looking for, but in today’s industry, marketing a book is as much a fact of life for an author as writing it is. I handle it by grumpily wishing someone else would do it. Then I go out and market my book.

Other than that, I have no real struggles. I’m avocational and publish contract-to-contract, so I have not multi-book standing deadlines; my time is pretty much my own. I write when I can, and I love what I write. Now, here’s praying my readers do, too…

What is the best and worst writing advice you’ve received?

Interestingly, “Write what you know” can be both the best and the worst advice. True, writing what you know gives you the advantage of personal insight into your topic. But what if what you know is really boring? I’d counter with, “Write what you’d want to read, and write it the way you’d want to read it.” If you don’t know it, learn it.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

I’m a late bloomer in the writing world; began pounding the keys at 49 years old. Because I’m an ‘oldster’, there are many issues that share my passion and several of them have found their way into my stories. Laying them out well within the context of a compelling tale should make them more compelling and memorable for others—and remind me how important they are to me.

I already had a neat life prior to becoming a writer. 

Writing has enhanced my life, not defined it. 

Therefore, I’m forced to answer that last question with, “If I didn’t write, I’d start writing.” I mean, why would I want to lead an unenhanced life? Really.

To paraphrase a popular steak sauce slogan, “Yeah, it’s that important.”

Describe your special or favorite writing spot. 

John Wayne is credited with saying, “Home is where I hang my hat.” True to my calling as a writer, I’m going to steal a good line and say, “My writing spot is where my keyboard is.” I don’t always have much influence over where that might be when inspiration bludgeons me.

Having said that, I do have a pretty neat study, complete with an appropriately messy desk and an I-love-me wall. Now if I’ll just stop grinning at the camera, turn around, and start typing something useful… 

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book? The last when you finish?

The first thing I do is fret whether what I’m planning to write will interest anybody. The last thing I do is fret whether what I’ve written will interest anybody. Hey, there’s something to be said for consistency.

In between the fretting, as a seat-of-the-pants writer, my first act is to type the first sentence and worry about organization later. If I love my story, the last thing I do is get misty eyed when I type “The End.” If I don’t get misty eyed, I throw away the manuscript.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? 

As I mentioned above, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. That approach is lots of fun for writing individual scenes, but eventually you’ve got to stitch those things together into a coherent story. In my writer’s world, that’s the definition of ‘pulling together a book’.

I have yet to outline a story. I need to learn to do that. Oh, make no mistake, at some point I do sit down and formulate a timeline, do a flow analysis, psychoanalyze my characters, and all those things. But that’s usually at the point I discover I’m writing myself into a corner. Not recommended; wastes a lot of time. Nonetheless, to date this is where my middles get a tummy tuck, I dry out my characters, and I strain the meat out of the broth.

Editing…editing…editing. I have a favorite tagline for my writing, “Editing your manuscript is your characters’ revenge for thinking you’re running their lives.” Does that resonate with anyone else besides me?

Marketing and publicity is always a challenge. What do you do to get the word out about your books? What have you found to be particularly effective or ineffective?

I answered all the other questions before coming back to this one. That’s how much I love marketing. And no, it wasn’t a case of saving the best for last.

This interview and the ad on the left sidebar are good examples of marketing at my level of investment. I’ve been interviewed on network television about Katia and my experiences at the fall of the Berlin Wall, spoken at book-club meetings and home-school career nights, held book-release events and book signings at both independent and major-chain bookstores, as well as book festivals. I have Internet radio and video interviews coming up at the end of this month. Some marketing activities seem to be more fun than others—although it pains me to use ‘fun’ and ‘marketing’ in the same sentence.

The success of these types of events for increasing visibility, believe it or not, is how well you market your marketing. (grumble…sigh!) For example, social networking sites open a whole new world for highlighting mass media events. Personal snail-mail invitations to book signings make all the difference in the world on their success—unless, of course, you’re already really well known. I’m not.

Still looking for that silver bullet that sells books while I sleep. You know, like all those fad diet programs have done for my weight…

Thanks for being with us and sharing your knowledge. Do you have any parting words for our readership?

Writing is a powerful medium, a form of teaching—especially if you write your passion. James 3:1 cautions us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (NIV) Apply that to bestselling Christian authors who have hundreds of thousands of books on the street. They’ve just impacted hundreds of thousands of lives. That’s some classroom. Teach well.


Sarah Allen said...

Great interview! Fantastic advice for us aspiring writers here.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Gina Holmes said...

This was a good interview, Bruce. Lots of truth.

Elaine Stock said...

Thanks for your encouragement of SOP writing, plus late-bloomer-writers!


E. G. Lewis said...

Great thoughts, Bruce. KAtia and its sequel are wonderful reading. I'm still waiting to see who will be cast in the movie.