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Friday, March 23, 2012

Author Interview with Jack Cavanaugh

Author, Jack Cavanaugh

Today I'm excited to introduce you to a writer I admire greatly, novelist Jack Cavanaugh. He's an award-winning, full-time freelance author with twenty-five published novels to his credit. His nine-volume American Family Portrait series spans the history of a nation from 1630 to the present and is still in print nearly fifteen years following its release. 
A student of the novel for more than a quarter of a century, Jack takes his craft seriously, continuing to study and teach at Christian writers conferences. He is the former pastor of three churches in San Diego County and draws upon his theological background for the spiritual elements of his plots and characters.
His novels have been translated into a dozen foreign languages, largely because of the universal scope of his topics. Jack has not only written about American history, but about South Africa, banned English Bibles, German Christians in the days of Hitler and Communism, revivals in America, and angelic warfare. 
Jack’s current writing schedule includes motion picture screenplays and e-book serial fiction with Internet distribution. His novel Death Watch has been optioned to be made into a motion picture by Out Cold Entertainment, Inc.

Jack has three grown children and lives with his wife in Southern California.


So many aspiring writers think there is a set path to getting published, would you tell us about your journey to publication?

Settle in, because my journey to becoming an author was down a long and winding road. The initial seed was planted thirty-five years ago. I was in seminary preparing for the pastoral ministry and one of my professors — a prolific author himself — said, “Men, if you want to expand your ministry geographically and beyond your lifetime, write.” He was right, of course. Think of all the people C.S. Lewis continues to influence all these years after his death.

The seed germinated when, as a pastor, I witnessed the incredible power of story to teach spiritual truth. The idea of writing Christian fiction took root and I began attending a local writers’ critique group and attending conferences. However, instead of encouragement, I encountered a significant obstacle. Every editor, every publisher told me the same thing: “Jack, Christian fiction doesn’t sell.” They were right. At the time, it didn’t.

So I altered my strategy and eventually got published writing articles and promotional pieces while crafting proposals for devotional books. But I didn’t stop studying how to write fiction. I figured if I could get a few non-fiction books published, maybe I could talk my editor into taking a chance on fiction. The strategy was based on getting some non-fiction books published. That didn’t happen, so I started a new hobby — collecting rejection slips.

Then, along came Janette Oake, Frank Peretti, and Brock and Bodie Thoene, and the door to Christian fiction opened, and there I was standing on the doorstep with proposals in hand. All those seemingly wasted years of attending conferences paid off at Mt. Hermon. My first contract was for four novels (The American Family Portrait series), which eventually stretched to nine books.

Remember I told you the journey was a long one? From the time I began seeking to get published to the time of my first contract was thirteen years. Was it worth it?

Do you really have to ask?

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the industry since you began and how have they affected you as an author?

Oh my . . . where do I start?

Should I start with hand-printing manuscripts on papyrus and vellum with goose-feather quills? Actually, it wasn’t that long ago, but sometimes it seems like it.

There weren’t any computers. Manuscripts were typed page by page on typewriters. White-Out was my best friend. Then, when computers came on the scene, publishers wouldn’t accept manuscripts printed on dot-matrix printers, so I bought a daisy-wheel printer that typed as well as a typewriter, only with all the paper jams it took a full day to print out two complete manuscripts per publishers’ request. 

Of course, then it had to be mailed. $15 postage, unless the publisher wanted it overnight, then it was $60. When email first appeared, I told my editor about it — the publisher didn’t have email yet — and how, if they were to get email, I could send the manuscript to him in seconds. He said it would never happen because then they’d have to print out the two copies. 

Let’s see. What else? There was no writers market guide. Sally Stuart was teaching us how to track industry changes using a file system at writers’ conferences. To get the most recent changes, we either had to attend a conference, have a writer friend who was working with the publisher, or call the publishers individually and request updated information.

And there were no agents. You were on your own with the publishers. Funny thing, when agents first began showing up, no reputable Christian publisher would work with them. Now, most publishers won’t work with you if you don’t have an agent.

How have these changes effected me? The computer and the Internet has made manuscript preparation so much easier. As for the relationship with the publishers? I sorta miss the old days when you called your publisher or editor on the phone directly. Going through an agent still seems impersonal to me.

If you had a crystal ball, give us your predictions on how readers will enjoy books ten years from now.

If Amazon and Google achieve their goal, we’ll have access to any book that has ever been written, no matter how obscure. As a writer of historical fiction who lives to read primary source material, that thrills me to the tips of my toes.

With cloud computing and quantum processors running computers, access will be instantaneous. There will be no shelf space limitations. Your library will literally be the wealth of the world’s books. I imagine notes in margins will be a thing of the past; instead, you’ll insert spoken comments into the text. If you want, you’ll also be able to access other readers’ recorded comments, or interact with readers live who are at that moment reading the same passage.

I don’t believe text books will ever be a thing of the past. Printed stories have an advantage over all other forms of storytelling in that they access the most powerful and creative resource available — the human imagination.

If you could share anything with an aspiring author what would it be?

One Christmas my brother stood in a long line at a bookstore to get a signed copy of Dean Koontz’s latest, Intensity. As he reached the front of the line, my brother told Mr. Koontz that he was buying the book for me and that I was also a novelist just starting out. Dean Koontz wrote the following inscription:

“Perseverance counts.”

And now I pass the same advice on to you, writer-to-writer-to-writer.

I urge you to take to take time and visit Jack's websites. www.jackcavanaugh.com 
and for writers: www.jcwordforge.com

7 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

I always love to see what Jack has to say. THanks for the good interview!

Gina Holmes said...

Love Jack Cavanaugh. He always has such great advice. "Perseverance counts" is inscribed by you in my copy of "Storm". One of my favorites. Thanks for being with us!

BK said...

I attended my very first writers conference at Glorieta in 2004 and Mr. Cavanaugh taught the extended class on the basics of how to write a novel that year.

He laid the foundation for me and it has served me well. It continues to be the best class I've ever taken at a conference.

Sherri Wilson Johnson said...

Jack was one of my teachers at the CWG Conference years ago. I love what he has to say!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

How informative! So funny about how the publishers originally distrusted the Christ.fiction agents! And $60 to mail your stuff out! But so glad you persevered. Will go check out your blogs!

Johnnie Alexander Donley said...

I hadn't read much Christian fiction when I started my writing journey. A friend recommended Mr. Cavanaugh and I loved his books. Thanks for the interview. It's fun to see how things have changed -- both good and bad!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Reading this has taken all day, as it's been a day of interruptions.
But I'm so glad I read the entire interview as I enjoyed Mr. Cavanaugh's reflections, observations, humor -- and the truthful admonition: Perseverance Counts.