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1. You write Christian romance for 3 different publishers. What are some of the similarities and differences for writing across houses? How difficult do you find it to work with different editors?
I started with Tyndale, perhaps one of the most conservative of the CBA houses in terms of language and "romantic" content. This was good training for writing for Steeple Hill/Love Inspired Suspense, who in stretching from the general market into the CBA have become even more UBERconservative than any of the other publishers. I have found Zondervan to be slightly more relaxed than the other two, though they’re still careful not to cross an offensive line.
Steeple Hill, as a division of Harlequin, seems to be more interested in promoting its line of inspirational romance, rather than building an individual author's career—as is the case with Tyndale and Zondervan. I don't mean to say that authorial support isn’t there at Steeple Hill; my editors have all been lovely to work with. Acquisitions and manuscript editing and marketing support is highly professional at Steeple Hill; I would just say that the atmosphere is a bit more distanced simply because of the structure of the company.
I had two manuscript editors at Tyndale—well, besides the renowned acquisitions editor, Anne Goldsmith, who bought seven of my manuscripts and rejected about that many, and Kathy Olson, who I credit for "spotting" me at an RWA conference in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in 1998. They all taught me so much about writing for publication, and I’ll be forever grateful.
Interestingly enough, I found the editing at Steeple Hill to be much more loosey-goosey. Or maybe by then I'd learned how to edit myself—I don't know—in any case, the process seemed fairly painless. All three of my Gatekeeper books went through with only minor revisions, and I have been treated with the utmost in professional courtesy and kindness.
Zondervan's attention to detail in the editorial process is astounding. I was required to move to a whole new level of craft with Fireworks. Each of their books goes through at least four rounds of revisions and edits. Not that I'm Ernest Hemingway or anything, but I've learned so much about characterization and story arcs and tightening prose since Karen Ball and Diane Noble got hold of me. I hope I can continue to improve as a storyteller with each book.
To answer the question, how difficult is it to work with different editors—well, it’s just different! One thing you learn quickly in the publishing industry is to be flexible. Change is the only constant. What one editor likes will make the next one want to throw up. There’s no sense getting frustrated over stuff like that. You just smile and pray, and if you’re Lenora Worth, you go buy shoes
2. The primary focus of your more recent books seem to contain a measure of suspense. How much background in this genre do you have (either in real life or through reading), and how much more research is involved for these books as opposed to your category romance stories?
Real life? A Southern Baptist pastor's wife who's afraid of birds and roller coasters? Um, yeah. I'm a real thrill junkie. Honestly, I don't know where this stuff comes from. Maybe I just have a vivid imagination. I have read some romantic suspense, but I don't really enjoy the "hard-core" stuff, because I'm easily grossed out. I'll tell you a secret, one of my all-time favorite authors is Max Brand, pulp-western author of the 20's and 30's. That's where I developed a real love for adventure mixed with romance. I have 46 Max Brand westerns in a shelf on the back of my office door. The man could write a romance!
Usually when I include suspense in a book it's because the nature of the story—the journey of the main characters—requires it. My very first novella with Tyndale, "Miracle on Beale Street," has an element of suspense. Miranda's efforts to rescue a teenage street walker get her in major trouble from which the hero must extricate her. It's sort of played for comedy (and romance, of course), but the voodoo madam who goes after the two girls is definitely scary. When I wrote Under Cover of Darkness, the first of the Gatekeeper books, I didn't realize I was writing suspense. I just thought I was writing a romance with a sexy undercover Border Patrol agent (is it okay if I say Jack Torres is sexy?). Then Steeple Hill bought it to help launch the new Love Inspired Suspense line.
Research…baby, it all takes research. Whether you go check things out in person, or schedule interviews, or look it up on the Internet. Nobody can know everything there is to know in order to write a novel. Except Marilyn vos Savant, who is my hero. If I had her brain I'd write a novel a day. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Suspense stories usually require knowledge of law enforcement type things, and I've sat in on my share of workshops and have a load of books and pamphlets and files I refer to as needed. I also have a couple of lawyer friends whom I bug on occasion, plus several expert resources (Border Patrol agents, DEA agents, ATF agents, etc.) who don't mind answering questions. Also, as I said, the Internet is a handy tool, if you don't mind wasting an hour or two hitting dead ends and urban legends.
The last two books I've written have been "straight romances" (meaning, they don't contain an element of suspense—of course all my heroes and heroines are heterosexual
3. Fireworks is set in your home town. What was your favorite part to write? Your most difficult?
My favorite part I think was setting Quinn's scenes in Bellingrath Gardens. It's one of my favorite places on the planet. You just cannot believe how beautiful Fowl River is, especially in springtime when the azaleas are blooming. The most difficult thing might have been trying to explain the Azalea Trail Run without having actually seen it myself. Maybe I shouldn't have just admitted that.
4. What themes exist in Fireworks that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
Well, overtly, I worked with the concept that God uses the body of Christ to do two things: to draw unbelievers to Himself (as in Susannah's conversion experience), and to strengthen Christians to accomplish their individual walks with the Lord (as Quinn's friends helped him in the absence of his family). My books generally come around to themes of forgiveness and grace, too. We all wound one another, and God wants to heal us of bitterness and restore our joy. Quinn, the hero, is basically a good guy, but he has to learn to extend grace after he's betrayed. It's not an easy thing, but one of the most necessary parts of growing as a Christian.
5. You have a very strong heroine in Fireworks, with a lot of expertise in many different areas. How much of your own personal experience was used to draw on the specifics of your heroine?
I'm about as opposite to Susannah as it's possible for a woman to be. She's athletic; running makes me cranky. She doesn't understand clothes; hey, I'm a southern woman, I like to dress up occasionally, and I do wear make-up and carry a purse. As I said before, anything I know about law enforcement is gleaned from talking to people who do the job (I do a really good interview). Let's see. Similarities… Oh, yeah, I hate snakes and love dogs. Susannah's dog, Montmorency, is modeled after my mom's dog, Hunter. What a sweetheart.
6. Describe your writing space and schedule. How many words per day do you write and do you have a minimum goal you hope to reach before you push away your keyboard?
I have an office in the back part of the house next to the garage. It's full of my books, a couple of plants, pictures of my kids and some black-and-white drawings, and my computer stuff. I work on a Mac, and I have to have silence to compose (though I can edit in any sort of setting). Music distracts me. Music is not background, it's to be listened to.
I try to write 2000 words a day, but it doesn't always happen. I'm very easily distracted. It's maddening. When somebody asks me to do a blog interview, I'm so there. Even scrubbing the bathtub looks more entertaining than writing on some days.
7. Are you a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer or a plotter? Or do you possess a blend of both?
I've learned to write a five-to-ten-page synopsis before I start composing the manuscript. Otherwise, I wander off onto trails that lead nowhere, and I waste a lot of time. I take that synopsis, divide it up into scenes, and plug it into a chapter outline of the book, which I set up as a Word Master Document. That way, the book's all ready to go, and I just open each chapter as I get to it. Also, I keep an Excel worksheet (ala Terri Blackstock) with Chapter, Scene, POV, Date, Time, Setting, Event, and Word Count. I fill that worksheet in as I write so that I can keep track of where I am in the plot, and I can easily move things around if I need to.
However, this method is still fairly loose. It gives me a broad outline to follow—rather like an artist sketching a pencil drawing before beginning to paint in oils—but still allows me to develop characters and subplots as needed, to expand scenes and follow them to their obvious conclusions, and even to delete anything that might prove to be extraneous to the true heart of the story.
I've been known to get halfway through a story and start over. Once, I got to the climactic scene and realized I didn't have enough word count left to write the plot I'd outlined (this was On Wings of Deliverance for Love Inspired Suspense). So I panicked, truncated the ending and decided on a completely different way to end the story. It worked. But I don't recommend the panic part.
8. How important do you believe it is for a new writer or even an established one to join a writing group such as ACFW?
Well, you could conceivably break into the publishing industry as a lone ranger, but I don't know why you'd want to. There's so much valuable craft and marketing and networking opportunity here—not to mention the fellowship of other Christian writers who can talk your language, so to speak. It's just a lot of fun.
The sheer number of people interested in writing Christian fiction is staggering to me. On one hand, it seems like it might be overwhelming and discouraging to "see" the competition on a daily basis. But on the other, there's a tremendous amount of encouragement to be found in ACFW—not to mention the challenge to excel. I don't have time to participate regularly in the open loop discussions, but I'm glad I joined! I don't mind sharing what I've learned along the way.
9. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?
Fair Game releases in October from Zondervan. It's one of my "Roxanne" books set in Vancleave, Mississippi, for readers who're familiar with the crazy red-haired granny in a few of my early novellas. It's about a veterinarian—a young widow with two kids—who comes home to establish a wildlife center on her grandfather's property, only to discover Grandpa's already promised to sell it to her high school crush for a hunting camp. Very Southern, very funny, very romantic, not necessarily in that order.
10. Anything else you wish to share?
My mind always freezes with a question like that. How about I quote Eeyore: "Thanks for noticing me."