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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stephanie Landsem ~ a Visual Writer

Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats.  When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.

Some say a writer is born and others say anyone can learn. What say you?

Both. Some people are born with a love for words, others with a love for movement, numbers, or other gifts. Those of us that love words have to learn how to use them effectively. If you want to write, it’s not enough to know a well-turned sentence when you see one. It takes diligence to be able to use those words we love to craft a plot, characters, and ultimately a gripping story.

Was there a specific 'what if' moment that sparked your latest release story?

Yes, I was sitting in church, listening to the gospel reading from John about the Samaritan woman at the well. I started by wondering about her, then about the people around her. I wondered what effect five husbands would have had on a daughter. The name of her daughter, Mara, which means bitter, came to me, and I knew that I wanted to write Mara’s story.

Do you have a full or part time day job? If so, how do you balance your writing time with family and work?

I have four children ages 19 down to 12, and I’m lucky that I don’t work outside the home. Just keeping food in the house is a full time job! I try hard every day to balance work and family. Some days I manage better than other days. With one book releasing, another in editing, and another due in 9 months, I often feel like I’m twirling several plates in the air and wondering which one will come crashing down. Thankfully, I have a great husband who helps out and those four kids are learning to cook and clean like pros.

Did anything unusual or funny happen while researching or writing this book?

Yes. One of my characters turned into a completely different person on me. When I first started writing The Well, Shem was just a wayward Samaritan with a chip on his shoulder. But as I continued to do some research into Samaritan history and what Biblical scholars say about Samaritans, I discovered something surprising. This bit of research completely changed the way I looked at Shem and took his story in an entirely new direction. I won’t say any more, but you’ll understand when you read the book.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

I’m a very visual person. I need to see things in print to learn them, and I love to see historical places in person to really get the feel for them. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to the Holy Land. I use lots of pictures, most of them are on The Well board on Pinterest. To get an idea of my upcoming books, The Thief, you can look check out this board.

Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between?

When I wrote The Well, I didn’t even know the difference between a plotter and a pantser. With my second book, The Thief, I tried a little bit of both, but I think for my third book I’ll turn to the dark side: I’ll be plotting it all out before I ever put a word on the page.

Have you discovered some secret that has helped your process for writing?

Don’t despair. It always looks terrible right after you write it. Sometimes, I just want to highlight the whole chapter and hit delete. But it never fails that the next day, when I look at it again it isn’t nearly so bad. Sometimes, there are even bright little nuggets of gold that I hadn’t seen before.

What are your thoughts on critique partners?

I don’t know what I’d do without them. I have several and they have saved my life and my sanity. After a book or two, they know your weak spots better than you do and point them out with gentle but brutal honesty.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing?

I’d have to say I like editing a better. As I mentioned, I write a terrible first draft. I wouldn’t let my critiquers, my best friend, or even my mother read my first draft. It’s that bad. But when I sit down to it again, at least I have something to work with, even if I must completely rework a page and it ends up looking nothing at all like what I began with.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you ~ plotting, setting, characterization?

Setting. When I first wrote The Well, I hardly described anything. After doing all my research, I could picture the places in the story so well that I just completely forgot to describe them. My first readers said they couldn’t SEE the story. I looked at it again and realized that they were right. Now, I’m careful to describe the setting before jumping into action and dialogue, which are my favorite parts to write.

What's your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?

Since The Well is my first book, I’m still not sure what my strength is. I do know that I’m most comfortable writing what I like to read. So, I’d rather write a sword fight, a chase scene, or an argument than describe a scenic vista or delve into my characters thoughts.

Did you have any surprising discoveries while writing this book?

By the time I turned the final draft of The Well in to my editors at Howard Books, I felt like I never wanted to see that book again! I knew it backwards, forwards, and sideways. So when I got the final line edits a couple months later, I was sure that reading through the whole book again would make me crazy. Surprisingly, that wasn’t so. By a few pages in, I remembered how much I liked Mara and Shem and was glad to see them again. I actually enjoyed reading it that last time.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

My husband worked at home while I was writing The Well. He’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert. He talks a lot and listens to music, I like complete quiet. Therefore, The Well was written mostly at my public library or in the car while I waited for kids. But, about a year ago, my husband started working in town and I got a whole office just for me! It’s lovely and quiet and has plenty of room for bookshelves, a big desk, and a lovely couch for napping . . . I mean, for reclining while I do my research. This is the winter view from my office.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

There’s just no other way than BIC HOK. Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It’s the only way to get it done. Then revise, revise, revise.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Eating half a pound of peanut butter M&Ms won’t actually help you get that scene written. Trust me on that.

The Well

Could he be the one we’ve been waiting for?

For the women of the Samaritan village of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—the place where they gather to draw their water and share their lives—but not for Mara. Shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava, Mara struggles against the constant threats of starvation or exile.

Mara and Nava’s lives are forever changed with the arrival of two men: Shem, a mysterious young man from Caesarea, and  Jesus, a Jewish teacher. Nava is transformed by Jesus, but his teachings come to late and she is stoned by the unforgiving villagers. Desperate to save her dying mother, Mara and Shem embark on a journey to seek Jesus’ help—a journey that brings unexpected love and unimaginable heartbreak.


  1. Stephanie, it was so fun to lead more about you. Greati interview, Ane!

  2. Great interview, ladies! I love the winter view from your office, Stephanie. I've always been a pantster, but lately I've been thinking about plotting my next story.

  3. Love Stephanie's writing! I always learn as I enjoy!

  4. Fun and interesting interview. I love how writers often try a different method with a new book. What's your favorite time period, Stephanie?

  5. So sorry for the late response to these comments. I had a family crisis with my parents and am just now getting caught up!

    Thank you, Ane, for a wonderful interview. Your questions were fun to answer :)

    Thanks, Elaine and Cynthia, so nice that you enjoyed the interview. Good luck with your plotting, Jill. I've found it to be so helpful when it's time to edit.

    Leanna, I can't even answer that question :) So many great time periods: Roman, medieval, and of course, Biblical.


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