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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

From Romance to Women's Fiction -- Welcome Joyce Livingston!

I'm excited to again have the opportunity to share a special interview with all of you. The previous ones have been quite a success, and I enjoy chatting with these authors then passing on their stories for you to enjoy.

Joyce made her foray into the world of writing in 1997 through her captivating romances and has been named the favorite author of the Heartsong Presents book club for 3 years running. She has even been the featured guest on television interviews. Now, she not only takes a step into the realm of women's fiction, but also into the world of first-person POV. The interview delves deep into the writing and personal life of this dear-hearted author, and a special guest appearance by Joyce immediately follows.

I'm also giving away a FREE copy of Joyce's new book, Widow's Club. Anyone who comments on either this post or Joyce's post will be entered. And no, I'm not picking. I have an arbitrary friend who's disconnected from ACFW and the writing world who will be making the selection. Make a comment, say hello, just sign your name. You just might be the winner!

Joyce Livingston photoAmber chats with Joyce Livingston:

1. You have a successful career as a romance novelist, but now you've branched into women's fiction. Not only that, but you have now delved into first-person POV. How did you decide to make the transition? What was the most difficult aspect of the change?

The change to Women's Fiction wasn't that hard since I have written so many books for Heartsong Presents and one for Love Inspired that deal with women's issues and experiences. Actually, I found it refreshing and stimulating to have several more thousand words to work with, and to be able to expand its premise and storyline.

As to writing in first-person POV? That was an exciting discovery! When I started THE WIDOWS' CLUB, something didn’t feel right. I had a hard time putting my finger on it. I changed the beginning, and even that didn't help. I knew what I wanted to say but I just wasn't saying it. Then I tried first-person POV! I'd never written anything in first person! And, to my surprise and amazement, it worked! That was what my story needed! I was off and flying!

2. You've also been selected with another favorite author to launch a new focus for Barbour's Heartsong Presents line. Tell us a little about that.

As I understand it, the American Wedding focus means that all books have to end with a wedding or *wedding-type* situation. To launch that premise, they asked me do write 3 brand-new, never-seen-before, complete contemporary stories which will all be included in one volume as the *launch* book. They have asked Cathy Hake to do the same thing for the Historical side of the launch. I consider it quite an honor to write these books and have already sent the completed stories off to Rebecca Germany, my editor. What fun I had doing them. I hope everyone enjoys reading them.

Widow's Club book cover3. Widow's Club covers a rather sad reality about life but balances humor and engaging characters with the melancholic aspects. What was your favorite part to write? Your most difficult?

My favorite part? I think it would have to be the chapter where Barbie Baxter comes into Valentine’s life. Barbie wasn't even in the original synopsis I'd written. I loved my characters and the plans I had for them, but I needed a spark. She was that spark! I got very excited when she entered the book. She's self-centered, flamboyant, unpredictable, a non-Christian, out to get the man Valentine is interested in, and so much more, causing havoc wherever she goes. I hope the readers enjoy her part in THE WIDOWS' CLUB as much as I enjoyed writing her into it.

The most difficult? That's a good question. Have you ever written a manuscript that seemed to flow? Like you couldn’t type it fast enough? That’s kinda what happened with this story. I can't say there were any really difficult parts to write. Since I am a recent widow myself, much of it was written from the heart and almost therapeutic for me (with its lightness and humor), but I admit I did shed a few tears along the way. I was quite happy with the book when I finished writing it, but it was definitely improved with editing. Rebecca Germany had some good ideas on how to make it even better and I implemented all her suggestions. Tracie DuPree did the copy-editing and that, too, made a vast improvement. Both of these ladies know their stuff! I owe them much.

4. What themes exist in Widow's Club that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

a. That God made many promises and decrees about widows in His word, promises we can depend on. Though we may question His plan, He is never wrong.
b. That even though God made those promises, and is faithful to keep them, He can't physically put His arms around us and whisper sweet things in our ears like our beloved spouse may have done. It is okay to miss them. True love never dies.
c. Life goes on---and so must we.
d. Casual friends are a tremendous help, but true friends are there when you need them.

Overt themes? Not really. As a Barbour author, I’ve always written a thorough synopsis when submitting a proposal for most of my books, and I stay with the *bones* of the story. Not that I don't venture off a bit, I do, but the actual structure pretty much stays the same. So my themes stay close to what I’d planned. Since Barbie, who turned out to be a key character and a big part of the book, wasn’t in my original plan, I emailed Rebecca Germany about adding her before I continued on with the writing. I want to give my editors what they expect—the book they agreed to purchase.

5. How did you come up with the idea for Widow's Club?

A big part of the joy in my life disappeared October 4th, 2004, the day the Lord took my husband home to be with Him. For the first time, I began to see widowhood in a whole new light and I knew I had to write a book about widows. Not just for widows, but for all women who are, or will become widows, and those who know widows. I wanted to show not only the sad part of widowhood, but also the joys and triumphs of the recovery that comes once we accept all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. Widows come in all ages, all sizes, income levels, and all walks of life. Some know the Lord. Many don't. I wanted this book to lift the spirits of those who know Him, and help provide the answer for those who don't. I hope I have succeeded. Since fiction seems to be my forte' (and I'd been wanting to write a women's fiction book), I chose fiction as the way to do it, thus THE WIDOWS' CLUB was born.

6. You've been voted as favorite author 3 years running in Heartsong Presents, and your book, Down from the Cross, was voted favorite contemporary for 2005. Share a little about your reaction to this.

As both Rebecca Germany and Tracie Peterson can attest—I responded with total shock and disbelief! Each time has amazed me. As I've told so many people, I am such a simple writer. If I try to write the wonderful, flowery descriptive phrases so many can write, it comes off sounding contrived and unnatural. And it is. But with each book I try to get better at it. Maybe someday I will. Heartsong has so many wonderful, talented authors. Their books are fabulous. That the Heartsong readers would name me Favorite Author of the Year absolutely astounds and humbles me, and encourages me to write more and better books. It's an honor I'll never forget. God called me to this ministry and I praise him for it. The little sign I keep over my computer says, God doesn't always call the qualified. Sometimes He calls the unqualified and qualifies them. That's me!

7. 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 a really nice office with all the fancy gadgets, but most of my writing is done, kicked back in my recliner, in my Victorian-decorated living room which has an inspiring view of the little lake outside my condo. I love it here. For revisions, proposals, synopses, etc. I usually work at my desktop computer in my office.

I don't write a certain number of words each day, or have a goal. With my lifestyle, I spend from 8 to 14 hours-a-day, six days a week (sometimes, even on Sunday afternoon), at my computer, writing, doing revisions, checking galleys, synopses, proposals, etc. I write until I'm ready to quit. Now that I'’m alone, I get so engrossed in my writing, sometimes I have no idea whether it is still morning or late afternoon. But I always stop when some of my family stops by, which is often. They inspire me.

8. What changes have taken place in your writing routine recently and what has been the hardest part of this adjustment?

Of course, the biggest change has been the loss of my husband. That changed every phase of my life. He was my biggest fan, and did so much for me, more than I realized until he was gone. I have to do those things myself now, which takes me away from valuable writing time.

9. You have been interviewed for television and radio spots and even conducted interviews yourself. What would be your top 3 pieces of advice to give to authors who are facing their first media interview?

Be prepared. Take along a list of questions or comments to give to whoever will be interviewing you, though they may not use them. If you have sent a book to them ahead of time, don't be surprised if they haven’t even lifted the cover, let alone read it. Be yourself. Smile, that's very important. The 18 years I hosted TV shows, I always told my guests—if they were uncomfortable looking at the camera—to keep their eyes on me and let the director worry about how to get the shots. Many of them told me this really helped and made them feel as ease, which was my goal. It made for a better interview, and isn't that what we all want? If you feel you goof up an interview and didn't do your best? So what? Who is going to remember it in six months? Forget about it and chalk it up as a learning experience. The next time you'll be better!

10. It's obvious your heart is in encouraging new writers to keep at it and not give up when your paths cross. What advice would you give to a author looking to her his/her start in the business?

As many ACFWers may have noted, I rarely post writing advice on the ACFW loop, but I do read most of the posts. Why don't I post? I think advice is a very personal thing. Though it may benefit others, I prefer to personalize my advice and send it directly to the person who asked for it. To me, you can't beat one-on-one. Not only that but, I admit, I don't agree with much of the advice that is so freely given on the loop. Sorry, but that's the way I feel. Too many who haven't been there—done that (by having a book actually bought, gone through the process of publication and working with an editor, copyeditor, proofreader, etc)—are giving advice that isn't always correct. It concerns me that many unpublished writers are taking it as gospel truth. So, weigh the advice you receive.

However, that being said, I do want to encourage those who are truly seeking publication. Do your homework. Don't expect the book-of-your-heart (that very first book you write) to be the one that will be your first published book, though it may happen. To set your work apart and look as professional and business-like as possible, turn in the most perfect query, synopsis, proposal, and manuscript possible, making sure you follow the publisher's guidelines. Competition is fierce (just look at the marvelous unpublished members of ACFW). Rejections are discouraging and sometimes hurt. But remember, (in most cases) your work was rejected for a reason, no matter how undeserved. Perhaps it missed the mark simply because they had already purchased a manuscript similar to yours, or it wasn't right for their line, or their focus is changing, or (I hate to say it) the editor or agent had so many proposals on their desk they didn't have time to give it a good reading. The list goes on and on. If the editor or agent takes time to give you criticism, learn from it. If they don't, scour your proposal and try to see what you could have done to make it better. On the website, in the Fiction section, in the Writer's Corner along the right hand side of their website, I have written a column on things that will help a writer to become published. You might want to check it out.

11. How important do you believe it is for a new writer or even an established one to join a writing group such as ACFW?

I'd say imperative! To this day, I still believe if I hadn't attended the first meeting of The Kansas Fiction Writers and met Tracie Peterson, who was the acquiring editor for Heartsong at the time and so graciously asked to see the manuscript Love Inspired had just turned down, I may not have become a published writer. Tracie was not only an accomplished author herself, she was a great mentor and inspiration. I owe much to her and Barbour for giving me that first chance. You'll never be able to make better one-on-one contacts with agents and editors than the ones you make through conferences like you find at ACFW and others. They're the best! And they care. If you can't afford to attend this year's conference line-up, save up your money for next year. It won't insure publication, but the things you learn there will be of tremendous value as you meet people, hear speakers, schedule appointments, and attend workshops taught by those in the know. Consider it an investment in your future.

12. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

THE WIDOWS' CLUB was released May 1st, and should be available nearly everywhere, including on-line. If not, it can be ordered. After that Cathy Hake and I have a 4-in-1 book releasing early fall (2 stories by Cathy, 2 by me) titled SAN DIEGO. We're both excited about that. Those stories are re-releases of the LOVE IS series Cathy and I did about a pair of twin girls. Some ACFW members may remember my book, ONE LAST CHRISTMAS, which placed first in ACFW's short contemporary division last year, much to my surprise! It is being re-released with two other author's stories in a Christmas book late fall, titled BITTERSWEET CHRISTMAS. That story is one of my favorites. It's a reconciliation book about a couple who have let other things keep them from the happy marriage they both had wanted. I think I have one or two Heartsongs coming out this year too. So 2006 is a busy year for me. God is good! .

13. Anything else you wish to share?

Yes, one other thing. In addition to being named Heartsong's Author of the Year three times, the readers also voted 4 of my books—Contemporary Book of the Year. I say that not to boast, but to tell you of my own experience. For years, after that first rejection, I put my fiction writing aside, sure I would never have a chance at being published. Why? Somehow I got it in my head published authors were English Lit majors with all sorts of degrees to their name. I never even attended college. But I wanted to write.

In 1990, I decided to try to get some publishing credits by writing and submitting magazine articles. Unbelievably, my first article sold. So I began to write articles for quilting and craft magazines, as well as others. By 1997, with a stack of magazine articles to my credit, I decided it was time to try fiction again. I sent off a proposal to Love Inspired, they asked to see a complete, I sent it, and it was rejected (as I've already told you above). Heartsong bought that book (which was not the book of my heart, but a brand new book) and it came into being in Fall 1999. I'm saying all of this to prove to you—if you have the desire and the gumption to stick with it—there is a good chance you’ll be published—providing you write a good story, one an editor can't refuse. Learn your craft, hone it until it shines. It’ll take work, and you'll want to give up, but perseverance is what it takes.

* * * * *

And you can read Joyce's post above.


Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Wonderful interview.

Margo Carmichael said...

Very encouraging comments. I mentioned the other day how God was pushing me to persevere, so Joyce really spoke to me. I'm eager to read her book, one way or another. It sounds very entertaining and thought-provoking. So, what's the deadine for this unique comment? : )

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Deadline? May 20th. In time for a few days prep for my next interview. :)

Martha W. Rogers said...

Unique comment uh? Well, I'm such a unique person that I speak for myself. The Widow's Club sounds like a fun read with a quirky character or two to spice up things.

Margo Carmichael said...

Joyce Livingston's interview
Far exceeds
Any other I've read
This week.

I'd love to win
_The Widow's Club_.
How's this poem
For "unique"? : )

Unknown said...

I would like to know what are the most comfortable and book producing jammies to write in?

MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA said...

I so en joyed this interview. Thanks, Tiff and Joyce. You are both an inspiration.



Camy Tang said...

Awesome interview! Thanks, Joyce and Tiff! THE WIDOW'S CLUB looks fun and quirky!