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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Perpetual State of Tired

Ok, so I made a promise that now I'm almost wishing I hadn't made. A friend of mine delivers newspapers every morning and for the past 3 years, I've subbed for him while he and his family went on vacation. He shamed me into again this year, only this year I'm also working fulltime on top of running a web design business and trying to squeeze in time to write. Needless to say, my plate is quite full.

Add to that the fact that I have to be up every morning at 3am, get done at 6, grab a shower and a bite to eat and I'm off to work. And by the time I get home, I can't take a nap because then I wouldn't be tired at 9 or 10 in order to catch at least 5 hours' sleep. So, I force myself to stay awake...if you can call it that. :)

Today was a killer. I worked a split shift totaling 10.5 hours. At least on other days, I could relax in the evenings. Not tonight or the next 2 nights.

And I've also teamed up with 5 other authors to launch an historical fiction blog which began this past Monday. That, plus it's "returns" week at work meaning I'm pulling product from the shelves, removing price stickers, keying the product and packaging it to return to the vendors (I work in a Christian bookstore as the inventory control supervisor).

Yeah, that leaves me tired and not functioning on all cylinders pretty much all day. And I don't want to hear it from anyone who says that's my normal state of being. *g*

Anyway, as it's now 9:30 and I have to be up in 5.5 hours, this is it. At least I'm halfway done. Only 5 more days. *yawn*

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I'm NOT crazy. I promise!

Hi, I’m Virginia Smith. My friends call me Ginny, and I hope you will, too. You can read about me at my website – I’m honored to be Tiff’s guest this week.

Since I have your undivided attention (assuming your office door is closed and the phone is not ringing and your spouse is in some other part of the house keeping the kids quiet for a moment), I’d like to confess something.

My characters talk to me.

They really do. They make demands on my time just like the other members of my family. When I’m working on a book, these made-up people become real. They’re not very polite, either. They interrupt everything I do and insist that I focus my attention on them. No place is sacred; even my children were trained that when Mommy is in the bathroom with the door closed, you don’t bother her. Not my characters. They traipse right along with me and keep up a running monologue the whole time.

They’re demanding, and occasionally one of them tries to take over the story in which he or she has been cast in a supporting role. At the moment I’m being hounded by a preacher’s wife who is charmingly insistent that she receive a starring role in every scene I write. I try to tell her, "Margaret, you’re a sweetheart, but you’re not that important to the plot." She just gives me that patronizing smile and tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about, and who cares about the silly plot anyway? She’s charming, and my readers deserve to get to know her better.

I have to admit, sometimes my characters know more than their author. In Just As I Am, two minor characters created a big enough stink about their limited page space that I gave them starring roles in the sequel. And turns out they were right. Their stories demanded to be told. Yes, I had to rein them in for a while, but they became real in my mind, and their stories became important and interesting and alive.

I attended a conference a few years ago and heard two well-known writers, Silas House and Joyce Carol Oates, talk about this very thing. They both described the way a work of fiction will take an unexpected turn as the author writes, something completely unanticipated by even the most dedicated Plotter, something not in the outline. They talked about it like it was a normal, everyday occurrence. House called it, "the mystique of writing." That was the first time I heard presumably sane people admit that it happens to them, too. I felt a huge sense of relief. Maybe I’m not crazy after all.

That mystique is what keeps me going. It’s what lets me know that the Lord really is involved in this process. He knows every book I’ll ever write, and I have no doubt that He is giving me hints, laying trails in my mind right now for the next book. Or the next. Or the next. Who knows? Maybe one day Margaret will have her own book.

If you’re a writer, who is your most insistent character, the demanding one, the scene-hog? I’d love to hear your story!

Spotlight on Virginia Smith

It's Tuesday again, and you know what that means. Time for another author spotlight. Maybe once I get back on track again with a routine, I'll get around to developing the rest of my blog goals. :) For now, at least I can keep this schedule.

And today, we have a very special guest. An author who packs a lot of insight and biblical wisdom and encouragement into both her books and her words. You won't want to miss what she has to share, and make sure you also read her personal post to follow this one.

Don't forget to leave a comment on this interview or Ginny's post to be entered into the drawing for a chance to win a FREE AUTOGRAPHED COPY of JUST AS I AM.

1. Your debut novel features a rather misfit-type heroine, and you seem to be somewhat of a misfit yourself with your love for daring adventure. How much of your own experiences influenced the character of Mayla? What aspects of Mayla became traits that were hers and hers alone?

Until you asked that question, I had never considered that aspect of my personality as one I share with Mayla! But now that I think about it, I was raised to believe that I am unique, that God has a unique plan for my life and tasks for me that can’t be done by anyone else. I had a troubled childhood, so that belief is what kept me going and formed a lot of my personality. And it became the foundation of my belief in a personal God, one who would have died for me even if I was the only person in the entire world who needed to be saved. That’s the relationship I wanted to portray between Mayla and the Lord, a very personal one. And I wanted to show her as unique, as not like anyone else. In fact, my working title as I wrote the book was,
"Uniquely Mayla," taken from a line where her pastor tells her, "Act like Jesus is right there with you. He is, you know, and if you let Him, He’ll help you to act in a way that honors Him but is still uniquely Mayla."

Though the book is not autobiographical, many of Mayla’s questions and thoughts are my own. I’ve never had a desire to pierce my nose, but I’ve really wanted a tattoo - a cute little dragon in the small of my back! I’ve satisfied the urge with those temporary ones, but I do understand some of Mayla’s wacky desire to do something out of the norm. On a more serious side, some of her experiences, such as the suspicious and even angry reactions of her friends to her Christianity, are things I’ve experienced myself. Others I’ve never encountered, like her open and honest friendship with a man dying of AIDS. But if I ever do, I hope I handle myself with the same grace and love as Mayla.

2. Just As I Am deals with a common experience among those who come to their new life in Christ when they're older as opposed to children. What was your most difficult part to write? Your favorite?

The most difficult part to write had to be Sylvia’s conversion. And yet, that’s also one of my favorite parts of the book. I can never read it without getting tears in my eyes. That’s because if there is any character in that book who is autobiographical, it’s Sylvia. I never blamed God for the bad things that happened to me, but Sylvia didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord, so she did. Sylvia is who I would have become if I hadn’t come to know the Lord at age 12.

Probably the easiest part to write and the part I love to read aloud is the opening scene, Mayla’s baptism. She is completely ignorant of anything ‘churchy,’ and that makes for some really funny misunderstandings. Plus, readers get a glimpse of her relationship with her mama, and that’s one of the things of which I’m most pleased.

3. What themes exist in in Just As I Am that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

I approach a discussion about this book’s themes with a little bit of hesitation. That’s because I didn’t set out to write a book with a theme. I wanted to write a book that was funny and entertaining and realistic. When readers turned the last page, I wanted them to sit back with a sigh and say, "Man! That was a good book!"

But when the book was written and I read it with fresh eyes, I was astounded to realize that sometime during the crafting of the story, a theme had developed. And that theme was this: God loves each and every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, no matter where we are, no matter how ugly or horrible or despicable our actions. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us, so He could spend eternity with us by his side.

One thing I really enjoyed was Mayla’s developing relationship with Mr. Holmes’ and the way she got past his judgmental attitude about her looks. I think there’s a message in there to those people who find themselves on the receiving end of a judgmental attitude – when we take our focus off of ourselves and put it on others, they’ll respond.
4. You also speak to women's groups on a variety of topics. Which themes can also be found in Just As I Am and will we see those that aren't in future stories?

Some of my talks are just plain fun, as I hope my books are. I have one called, "Spiritual Truth in Star Trek," where I show video clips and then draw Biblical comparisons. I actually wear a Star Trek uniform, and that always goes over well. (No, I don’t speak Klingon.) One of the things I discuss in that talk is the sense of community in the body of Christ – we each have our role and we depend upon one another, just like the members of the starship Enterprise. Shades of that theme show up in my upcoming cozy mystery, Murder by Mushroom.

One of the hardest but most profound talks I give is called "Rumplestiltskin: A story of grace." I parallel my experiences as a victim of child abuse to the story of the Miller’s Daughter who tried and tried, but couldn’t spin straw into gold. I’ve given this talk to women in prison, because so many of those ladies have similar backgrounds to mine. I’ve also written an article on the topic for Today’s Christian called "Forgiving my Abuser." Forgiveness is a major theme my life, and shows up in every book I write to some degree.

5. 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?

My office in Salt Lake City (I spend half the year there and the other half in Kentucky) is on the second floor of our townhouse. My desk (ergonomically correct!) is beside a window looking out over the stunning Wasatch Mountains. In fact, I can glance out my window and see the mountain where Charlton Heston was filmed coming down off Mount Sinai in the film, "The Ten Commandments." Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

Writing is my job. When I’m working on a book, I go to my desk at around 8:30 in the morning and stay there until 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon, with a break for lunch. My daughter and I go to the gym together around 4:30, but if something happens to prevent her from leaving work on time, I’ll skip the gym too (ANY excuse to skip the gym!) and keep writing until 5:30 or 6:00. I can usually write between 2000 and 2500 words during that time, as long as I don’t get sidetracked answering e-mail. The most words I’ve ever written in a single day was 5000, but that sure doesn’t happen very often!
6. Are you a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer or a plotter? Or do you possess a blend of both?

I’m still trying to figure that out! Just As I Am was written SOTP. The sequel to that book (working title Pierced to the Heart) was started SOTP but mid-way through, I got stuck. So I made a high-level scene-by-scene outline and finished by working from that. When I was invited to submit a cozy mystery to Steeple Hill, I knew I had to plan the plot at a much more detailed level than I had ever done. It’s so important in a mystery to know when you’re going to drop clues and things like that. So with Murder by Mushroom I wrote the first chapter and then developed a detailed outline. The book I’m working on now is also a cozy, so I’m using the same process. But I have another chick lit series in proposal format at the moment, and that has only a high-level synopsis and three chapters – no detailed scene-by-scene plot.

7. 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 think it’s critical, for several reasons. Obviously we all need to continue striving to improve our craft, and groups like ACFW offer many opportunities to do that. Making contacts with agents and publishers is vital if your goal is publication, and professional writing groups make that possible. (Example: I pitched Murder by Mushroom to Steeple Hill at last year’s ACFW conference, and got the good news that they were issuing a contract the following January.)

But perhaps the biggest advantage of a group like ACFW is the fellowship with other writers who understand our desires and dreams and goals. Writing is a solitary profession, but for the most part writers love people. We need to surround ourselves with others like us to keep us sane!

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

Murder by Mushroom will be released next summer from Steeple Hill. Here’s the pitch:

A kitchen klutz decides to bring something other than potato chips to the church potluck. She knows she’s not a great cook, but nobody’s ever died from her cooking … until now.

9. Anything else you wish to share?

I tried for so many years to publish – almost twenty! – and could never break through that publication barrier. I collected almost 150 rejection slips, so I call myself the Queen of Rejection. (I’m also the Queen of Excel, but that’s a different story!) Then I finally realized that I had been using the gift God gave me to satisfy myself instead of offering it to Him. When I gave it all back to Him and promised to write only books that honored Him directly, I made my first professional sale. The mailman started bringing acceptance letters instead of rejections. I started selling articles to Christian magazines, and even sold a Christian science fiction short story that was anthologized. My novel sold within 3 months after I finished it. I may have a hard head, but that message came through loud and clear! God wanted me writing for Him, and not for myself.

During a radio interview last month the interviewer asked me a question that made me think. She asked if I could have written Just As I Am 20 years ago. The answer is no, absolutely not. All those years of rejection were spent learning the craft. And they were also spent growing in spiritual maturity. Every single experience I have had in my life, personal and professional, has made me a better writer.

So my advice to aspiring writers is this: keep trying! Don’t give up. The same God who formed the universe is forming you into the writer He wants you to be. Embrace life, and let Him mold you.

Monday, June 26, 2006


And the moment all of you...okay, the handful of you...have been waiting for. The announcement of the FREE BOOK DRAWING winners.


Please contact me privately to send me your mailing address, so I can forward it to the authors for sending out your autographed books. Thank you to everyone who read and commented on the interviews. Tomorrow, we'll have VIRGINIA SMITH in the spotlight. See you then!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

FREE books!

Come on, you know you want to post a comment on the author spotlight interviews. I've got not 1, but *TWO* of them here and there's only been one comment. These authors have FREE BOOKS to give away, and they're waiting to hear from those who want them. Don't let them give your book away to someone else. Check out Susie Warren's spotlight and Elizabeth White's interview. They also both shared a personal blog post as well.

Two interviews you don't want to miss.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Anybody out there?

Where did everyone go? Up until about 2 weeks ago, I was getting some nice traffic around these parts. Now, everyone seems to have disappeared. I'm sure I put on my deoderant every morning, and I take regular showers and wear clean clothes. Can't be me. *winks*

Maybe I'm not interesting enough. Nah, that can't be it either, cuz I know I knock the socks off y'all with my wit and wisdom. LOL!

Hmm, I need to figure out how to attract more people and come up with ideas like Brandilyn did on her blog to invite participation. Shame I don't write suspense or scifi or fantasy. Just romance, historical, women's fiction and romantic comedy. Doesn't exactly provide an opening for much involvement from others.

In fact, I've been spending more time reading the blogs for Donita K. Paul's "dragon" tour this week than I have anywhere else. And of course, I always visit Deeanne's and The Den and Dave Long's. Gee, look at all those D's.

Looks like I need to get published to have more readers. Ok, so why am I still here writing this blog and not working on my WIPs?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Do You Like Me? Check Yes or No

Something that’s on my mind at the moment—as I struggle through the dead center of a book due in just six weeks (okay, I really did not need that self-inflicted pressure)—is how to make my protagonists believable and yet appealing. See, those are the two sides of the main character coin for most commercial fiction. When we talk about writing a “hero” and a “heroine,” particularly in a romance novel, I acknowledge that the reader comes to the story with certain expectations.

First, if I do my job well, the reader becomes (or at least deeply identifies with) the hero/heroine of the story. So if I want the reader to stick with me for the ride, that character had better be somebody admirable. Not perfect, but the kind of person you’d want to spend several hours getting to know. I ask myself some of the following questions:

• Does this character demonstrate a hunger to know God? He or she may not be a full-blown believer at the beginning of the story, but there should be some evidence of openness to God’s presence and love. For example, in my May Zondervan release, Fireworks, Susannah isn’t a Christian, but she is definitely curious about what makes Quinn different from other men she’s known.

• Does the character have a warm way of responding to others? This is the one that sneaks up on me sometimes. Because I write with a sometimes snarky sort of humor, characters in my first drafts often come across as hard or unsympathetic—particularly the heroine, for some reason. If I have to go back and soften her, usually it’s a matter of tweaking dialogue.

• Does this character respond to difficulties in a mature fashion? No pouting, whining, or excessive anger allowed. Internal and external dialogue is critical. Self-deprecation—humility—is an attractive quality. So is humor.

Second, if I want the reader to identify with my main characters, I’m careful to make them vulnerable—i.e. flawed. This is where it’s tricky, because flaws can go too far and step over into “unappealing” land. My husband and a couple of other trusted critique partners help me diagnose when I get into trouble. What makes a character vulnerable? Here are some thoughts:

• Sometimes a physical flaw leads to just enough vulnerability to temper the “too perfect” syndrome. One of my Tyndale novellas (in Sweet Delights) that has been a favorite with readers is “The Trouble with Tommy.” Tommy is colorblind, which leads him into some pretty goofy mistakes regarding the heroine’s catering business; but it also lends a sort of endearing sweetness to him, because he’s so apologetic about his flubs. He’s also disorganized, and compensates the best way he knows how—lending him some unique character traits. I think that’s what satisfies readers the most: feeling like they’re getting to know someone wholly unlike the rest of the world.

• Character flaws regarding honesty or personal integrity in the hero or heroine are problematic. Susannah of Fireworks is an undercover agent and doesn’t mind deceiving the hero through the first half of the book—but I don’t think this would have worked if she’d been a Christian.

• Shyness is an endearing vulnerability, because probably half the human population struggles with it, as does Fireworks’ hero, Quinn. Also, guilt and regret for past mistakes is something most people can identify with. I’ve had great response to Bernadette--the heroine of my April Steeple Hill/Love Inspired Suspense release, On Wings of Deliverance--because she has a hard time releasing her extreme regret for her past as a prostitute.

• One of my favorite themes is grace and forgiveness, so I love to torture my characters with difficult relationships. God is able to heal those, and I’m looking forward to response to Fair Game, which releases in October from Zondervan. There’s a scene where Jana, the heroine, has to face her mother-in-law, who reminds her of her tragic first marriage. First Jana has to recognize she’s got a problem, then she has to confront the woman herself—in love. And what she finds is a complete surprise. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.

Well…interestingly enough, I find myself ready to tackle my problematic heroine of the Work In Progress—a brainy, ambitious, socially competent woman who has a hard time being soft! Let me go through the above list and see what I can come up with…

Spotlight on Elizabeth White

Ok, it's Tuesday again, and you know what that means. That's right. It's Author Spotlight time. This week, I have multi-pubbed Elizabeth White with me to chat about her writing journey and share some insights into her life.

Read on and enjoy. And don't forget to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a FREE copy of FIREWORKS! Elizabeth will be stopping by later to respond to your comments and share a post of her own. Stay tuned!

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 ), but you cannot believe the amount of research required to write about a veterinarian, a bow hunter who used to be an engineer, a judge, and a reporter. I have been writing way outside my comfort zone for some time—in fact, I don't think I've ever written about music teachers or pastor’s wives. ZZzzzzzzzzzzzz

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."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Back from CA!

Hmm, you go away and no one visits your site or comments on your blog. A gal can get a guilty complex from that, ya know. And poor Susie. No one left comments for her either, so we don't have anyone entered to win a FREE copy of her book. :(

Not sure where all I can promote and announce, as I've utilized all resources I have available. Guess I simply need to visit more blogs by others and leave witty comments. Perhaps that will encourage others to visit. Good thing my primary purpose isn't to attract visitors. LOL! It's to share the light of God and insight He's allowed me to gain from my life's experiences.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. I'm back from sunny, southern California and wish I wasn't. LOL! Beautiful temperatures, lots of sun and fun and a refreshing breeze that made each day a true delight. Here? 90's and HOT! Blech.

I'll have a few photos added this week, and if you're fortunate to be a part of my close network of friends, you'll get the link to my full photo album where you can view and print your own pix of what I took. Not a member? I am always accepting new applicants, but you'll have to ask very nicely and I might require a little groveling. (winks)

Until next time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Me! Me! I Wanna Try!

I did something most writers aren't supposed to do. I jumped genres. Yeah, I know I've written a lot of different stuff, but mostly it boils down to contemporary and historical romantic suspense. But well, I got sucked in. I started read chick lit and fell in love the genre and deep inside the chick lit writer stood up, arms waving, and said, ME ME, I wanna try!

There's just something about the chick lit genre and voice that woos me. Maybe it's the humor. Maybe it's the characters. Maybe it's just that when I read it, I discover truths that go beyond a story. As I studied the craft of chick lit, I found three foundational elements that every story had – three elements that I tried to incorporate into my own chick writing. So, from the pages of my personal writing craft book…

Susie May Warren’s Hints on writing chick lit…

Be authentic. Chick lit is about diving deep and telling the truth about the world through the eyes of your character. It's about being willing to laugh at your character, and letting your inner humor bubble forth. My favorite moments in chick lit are birthed out of real emotions….

This excerpt comes from chapter one of Josey, where Josey is lamenting over the fact that her little sister is marrying Josey’s ex…

It's a beautiful day out, waves from the lake lapping the shore, the smell of summer in the breeze. The sun, of course, is totally on Jasmine's side. Okay, I admit it! Evil me did walk in the smallest of circles this morning saying, under my breath of course, "Tut tut, it looks like rain." But Jasmine must be much holier than I, because God heard, and answered her prayers.

Of course Jasmine isn't holier than Josey, but it sorta feels like that, and allowing her to admit this hurt hints at the spiritual conflict that weaves throughout the book.

Make it personal. All of us have quirks…and issues we struggle with. For some people, it's their unruly hair, for others, it's the tendency to speak before thinking. For Josey it's her addiction to comfort food. But instead of trying to fix it, or hiding it, a chick story admits to it, and even delves into the character's crash and burn moments.

This is Josey, giving into the pull to need comfort food while talking to her sister in America. She misses home and life ain't so great right now in Russia…

"Good. Now, how’s life?"
Hmm. Not sure how to answer that as I sit here in my wool socks, my needing-a-wash jammies, eating something called "Padushkie" which is sort of like Shredded Wheat cereal filled with chocolate. It's my latest culinary find, right after "Nutella," which is a chocolate, hazelnut spread. I eat it straight from the jar (because, well I can’t figure out how else to eat it…?).

Letting Josey wallow in her pain and illuminating where she goes for comfort not only lets us see her dark moments but also causes us commiserate with her. The reader can identify…and is invested in her struggle, and hopefully the story.

Be Relevant. Chick lit is about taking a slice of life and looking at it from all sides. It's revealing the messiness of the Christian life, as we are confronted constantly with choices and challenges. We don't always land the right side. But God does offer hope, and answers, even if that answer is simply…Trust Me. Let your character ask real questions and grapple with big issues. And resist the urge to tie up your story in neat, boxed answers…

Josey and her best friend H have snuck out after the wedding and are pondering life (and Josey is pondering H’s attire and the fact that she's smoking…something….)

I guess I shouldn't be too hard on H, especially since I'm sitting here in poppy flounce, pretty sure I have "pathetically lost" written all over me. I might have found the eternal answer, but I still have earthly questions.

Josey admits that being a Christian doesn't mean that she has all the answers…which is pretty on target, if we are to be honest. (Which brings me back to point #1). Yes, we have the eternal answer, and the big picture answer, but sometimes applying that to our daily lives can be a challenge. And that's when the humor, the authenticity, the relevance of chick lit is at its best.

Writing chick lit, for me, is a bit of a therapeutic experience. A time for me to take a hard look at the life of my character, and see what God is up to. And just maybe I might learn that He's at work in my life too.

Spotlight on Susan May Warren

Ok, so I'm out of town and internet access is quite limited. So, I wasn't able to get to this until now. Technically, since I'm on the other coast this week, it's still Tuesday. It's just a bit later for y'all on the East Coast. Our spotlight lady is all ready and waiting for her follow-up post as well. So, I'll get right to this.

I'm sensing a theme lately with the authors. Seems I've shifted into a "chic lit" trend now. *g* But, I go with who returns my interview questions. And this time, it was Susan May Warren.

Now, some of you might be familiar with her from her romantic suspense books, although I know her best from the Heirs of Anton series co-authored with Susan Downs. But, now she's shifted gears a little and tried her hand at chic lit. And done it with great success. Everything's Coming Up Josey hit the bookstores 2 weeks ago, and now Susie is here to share a bit more. She'll also be chatting later today, so feel free to comment here or on her post.

Every comment will be entered for a chance to win a FREE copy of the featured book. So, be sure to share your thoughts and tell others to come and visit too.

1. This is your first Chick Lit book. What led you to decide to try this genre and how did Everything's Coming Up Josey come about?

I've always been a fan of chick lit – a look at the quirky slice of life of a girl just trying to get it right. And, I love the first person voice – it's so authentic, and can draw a reader right into the world of the character. I didn't realize that I could write chick lit, however, until a visionary editor at Steeple Hill challenged me to write it. I had always wanted to write "my story" – a fresh, first person look at the reality of being a foreign missionary. Rising to her challenge, I crafted a story about a nice Minnesota girl who goes to Russia to teach English – and found myself laughing out loud. (Which I'm not sure is a good thing or bad thing…is it schizophrenic to find yourself laughing at your own foibles, dressed up in another character?) Writing Josey felt natural…and frankly, sorta cathartic!

2. Since this *is* a new genre for you, what was your most difficult part to write? Your favorite?

I think I struggled with wondering what was genuinely funny and what was just me remembering it as humorous. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor, so I sorta passed around select scenes to my friends, just to make sure it wasn't in my own head. My favorite part was finishing the book and reading it without the editor in my head, and really enjoying Josey's story for what it was.

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

Josey goes into the story thinking she's "all that." She clings to the Super-Christian Label of Missionary and sets herself apart because of this label. As she gets deeper into her work in Russia, she realizes how far she really is from the perfect missionary and that is when she begins to learn why God might have sent her to Russia. I hope that readers see that they don't have to be perfect for god to use them…in fact, it's better if they’re not! I hope the book encourages readers that God is at work in their lives to bring them from one season to the next.

4. In addition to this, you've also written romances and romantic suspense. How easy was it for you to switch gears and do you intend to continue writing both genres?

I have a little bit of "chick" voice in my Romantic suspense…a sorta of tongue in cheek way that my characters look at things. Writing chick lit has only accentuated that "chicky" voice. I really enjoy writing different things – I've written historical novels, historical romantic suspense, a contemporary mystery, a contemporary romance, and a thriller as well as a number of suspense romance novels and chick lit. I know that publishers like to keep their writers in one particular genre…so I like to think that each story is defined by it's adventure, romance and spiritual depth – Susan May Warren style. I do have another book coming out this year – Sands of Time (Steeple Hil), another thriller set in Russia, comes out this fall.

5. You've recently received the great news that your novel, In Sheep's Clothing, was selected as a Christy Award finalist. Where were you when you found out? How does it make you feel to join the ranks of the other authors who have reached this landmark in their writing careers?

How did I find out? My nine-year old told me. I arrived home from running errands in town and he said, "Hey mom, somebody called about an award." I was thinking…that Ed McMahon, he tracked me down! But no, I got online and found an email from my editor at Steeple Hill. Chaos broke out and for the next hour or so, things got pretty loud! I am really humbled by this…especially since Sheep is a different kind of book – about a missionary, set in Russia. I am grateful that the Christy Award judges are open to different types of stories. Two years ago, my first novel, Happily Ever After (Tyndale) was a finalist, but I have to say I'm even more humbled by this nomination because of the nature of the story and how near and dear it is to my heart.

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 am a horizontal organizer…everything has to be out and around me for easy access when I write a story…so I have a comfy chair and a huge ottoman on which I spread my characters and other pertinent information. And, during the creative phase, I leave it all out and just get up and walk away from the mess, closing the door. I try and write 1 chapter/day…whether it's 2000 words or 5000 words. That way I finish the rough draft in about a month or two (depending on how many days I write per week). I usually write in the afternoons, between 2-6 pm. I find it takes my brain that long to warm up! And sometimes, if I'm stuck, I'll get up and take a walk and sorta work it out verbally. (Good thing I live in the woods in a secluded area or people might think I'm looney!).

7. Are you a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer or a plotter? Or do you possess a blend of both?

I'm a meticulous plotter – with reams of notes, and chapter by chapter summaries. BUT, once I sit down to write the chapter, knowing my parameters and what I hope to accomplish, I let the characters take over and do their thing. So I'm a little of both, I think. And, I also let the story grow, so if, in the middle of the book, I realize it can’t happen the way I've plotted it, I let myself change it. Just as long as I end up basically where I'd hoped.

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?

Oh, I think this is absolutely essential. Without ACFW I don't think I'd be published today. My fellow writers taught me how to hone my craft, and if it weren’t for contributions by authors like Brandilyn Collins, and Lynn Coleman, and Deb Raney, I would still be in Siberia, wondering what GMC was! Most of all, my ACFW family gave me support during those days when I wondered what I was doing, trying to write something. Writers are a rare and strange bird…we don't come out of our nest often, so we need to have friends willing to perch with us as they’re tapping away in their own nests. Writing groups do this.

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

I have a book hitting the shelves in October – Sands of Time (#2) in the Mission:Russia series (In Sheep's Clothing, is book #1). The idea of this story was birthed years ago during the bombing of Yugoslavia when the Americans in Russia were told to stay in our homes and pack a bag and be ready to leave on a moment's notice. I wondered…what about the missionaries serving in the remote regions? If they didnt leave, would they be arrested as spies? And what if a FSB agent (and this is my sinister author's brain at work) was in love with said missionary and set out to rescue her…only to discover that she refused to leave? And what if the time period for her to leave ran out and he, as an FSB agent was required to ARREST her? What would he do? I had a lot of fun writing this story – I love Roman, the hero, and Sarai is my kind of girl – strong, holding onto her beliefs. It deals with the idea of picking up your cross and following Christ...regardless of the cost. And I got to put snowmobiles in it. *grin*

10. Anything else you wish to share?

I want to say thank you to my readers who encourage me and make this writing life such a blessing. I take my writing ministry very seriously, and the fact that people would spend their valuable free time reading my books is quite humbling. I'm so blessed be to doing what I love for the God I love – and my readers make it possible. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Out-of-Town Experience

Well, there aren't many who read this blog anyway, but just in case...wanted to send out an update and say that I'm not going to have my contests or blog-of-the-week this week. I'm almost out the door for 10 days of vacation. Will get into the swing of things and a routine when I return.

BUT...Susan May Warren will be with us on Tuesday, June 13th, next week. She'll be in the spotlight here and will also be sharing a blog post about writing chic lit. It's one you don't want to miss. If you're interested at all in chic lit, stop back by.

Until then...arrivaderci! Or, as they say in CA (where I'm headed)'s up, dude!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sharon Hinck's Blog Tour Locations

If you are interested in traveling with Sharon on her June blog tour, here is where she will be for the rest of the month:

June 1. Becky Miller
June 2. Amber Miller
June 3. Valery Sykes
June 4. Janet W. Butler
June 5. Camy Tang
June 6. Mary Griffith
June 7. Sharon Hinck¹s Home Blog
June 8. Lisa Harris
June 9. Julie Cariboni
June 10. Tricia Goyer
June 12. Violet Nesdoly
June 16. Melanie Dobson
June 17. Donna Fleisher
June 20. Mary DeMuth
June 25. Lena Nelson Dooley

Be sure to read her interview below and comment there or here to enter the contest for a FREE copy of her debut novel, The Secret Life of Becky Miller. Ironically, she began her tour at Rebecca Miller's connection whatsoever. *g*

Interview with Sharon Hinck -- aka Becky Miller!

Thank you to everyone for your patience in the delay getting this interview posted. I know it's part of a blog tour, and I don't want to be the cause of making anyone late for the next stop on the tour. *g* So, without further ado, it's my pleasure to give you insight into The Secret Life of Becky Miller!

Don't forget to comment on the interview for your chance at a FREE copy of Sharon's debut novel.

1. You have entered into the grand world of publishing with a big splash! Kudos of your book, The Secret Life of Becky Miller, are being heralded in a wide variety of places. What made you decide on mom-lit?

Mom-lit is fun, contemporary fiction with a heroine who is juggling the pressures of parenting and her other roles. They say "write what you know" and that's something I understand deeply. I also love that mom-lit has a humorous edge, but is still grounded in the authentic issues of feeling overwhelmed, undervalued, and confused about purpose. I've read a lot of general market mom-lit, and wasn’t seeing many mom-lit novels in the CBA yet (although some great ones have released since the time I wrote my book) and I felt it was a niche that needed filling.

2. How much of your book is based upon real-life experiences and how much are you using real-life as a springboard for the experiences you depict in your novel? What other inspirations influenced this book?

Becky has a life of her own, but I have great empathy for her struggles. Her character was definitely formed from the life experiences of the other moms in my small group Bible study, and my own. Her dream of doing "Something Big for God' is certainly drawn from my own past, warped understanding of what it means to serve God. Her drive to do it all, and do it all perfectly is also a neurosis I share with her—as do many of my friends. I've had readers tell me that after reading about Becky's life, they thought I must have had a hidden camera in their home. That's what I love about Becky. She's universally relatable. We've all been there.

3. The Secret Life of Becky Miller is a charming and witty look into the life of a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM as it's also known). What was your favorite part to write? Your most difficult?

I loved writing the vivid daydreams at the beginning of each chapter. It's a glimpse into the subconscious way Becky feels about her life — and let's face it — writing film noir detective scenes, pirates, ninjas, Alaska sled-dog races, and secret agents saving the world is a whole lot of fun. *g* The hardest part for me was letting Becky suffer. I grew to love her so much that I had a tough time letting other characters be mean to her, leaving her problems unresolved for longer than a chapter, and pulling the props out from under her as the story progressed.

4. What themes exist in The Secret Life of Becky Miller that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

Central theme – it's not about our efforts to do Something Big for God. But God can do amazing things in the small choices of our ordinary lives.

New insights that I gleaned while observing Becky's journey – sometimes our efforts to solve problems can get in the WAY of the blessings God is trying to send. AND (I hate this lesson, but it's SO true) God can often do more through our weaknesses than our strengths.

5. You have served in a variety of positions within the church and have also worked a lot with youth or children. How much has this experience helped you with establishing your voice for your fiction novels and will we see any specifics from those experiences appear in your future stories?

In my sequel, RENOVATING BECKY, I touch lightly on some of the challenges that the emergent church is facing. As a sometimes church worker and frequent volunteer, I've been troubled to see the church move toward a "corporate" model of operation at times. There aren't easy right and wrong parameters – just questions to raise. Becky asks some of those questions in her second book.

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 am blessed (now that my eldest is grown and out of the house and I could take over one of the bedrooms) with a genuine office – and a window looking out at a pond behind our house. I'm SO spoiled. Yet because being in the house means phone-calls, emails to answer, and laundry calling my name, I actually try to write in other locations at least a few times a week. Our local library has great private study rooms. I shut myself in there with my laptop. Now that the weather is nice, I treat myself to a hike on a local nature trail, and write under a tree. Or I go to a coffee shop and get a big cup of tea and sit and right with innocuous chatter swirling around me. I aim for 1000 publishable words per day, five days a week (with time off for book launches, conferences, and key family events). That's rather modest compared to many of my friends, but I'm learning not to compare my puny efforts to others. *g* I generally spend the morning writing and the afternoon editing, doing p.r. Work, answering emails, and all the other "stuff" of being a writer.

7. Are you a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer or a plotter? Or do you possess a blend of both?

I LOVE being a SOTP writer. I have an arc in my mind, but no detailed outline. However, I'll generally stop occasionally and plan out the next several chapters ahead. I MUCH prefer selling a manuscript that's finished. It drives me crazy to submit a synopsis, when the story might demand to go a different direction once it's written. I admire detailed outliners – it just spoils the fun of discovery for me and I begin to feel like I'm doing a school assignment if I have each scene planned out in advance.

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?

VITAL! I wouldn't have written my first novel if not for the encouragement of my local writer's group. I wouldn't have known how to navigate the crazy world of publishing if not for Minnesota Christian Writer's Guild, ACFW, Writer's View, and conferences such at Mount Hermon. I wouldn't have survived this journey without the wisdom, prayers, and support of dear writers farther along the road.

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

March 2007, RENOVATING BECKY by Bethany House. Becky and Kevin decide to pursue a simpler life and buy a run-down farmhouse to remodel. Ha! Becky's mother-in-law has health problems and moves in with them. Becky's part-time job at a church threatens to consume her. And Becky reverts to trying to fix everything in her own power. She's no longer obsessed with doing Big Things for God, but she still shoulders some burdens that aren't hers to carry – especially in the realm of people-pleasing.

10. Anything else you wish to share?

As a new author, having a publishing house take a chance on my writing is a tremendous privilege and a responsibility I take very seriously. There are BRILLIANT writers who deserve this chance much more than I do. I deeply appreciate prayer that this story will find its way to readers who need a reminder of God'’s grace in this high-pressure, driven culture. I also appreciate prayer for my sanity. (I'm only half-joking! This writing life is very overwhelming sometimes!) If you'd like a free monthly e-zine with a devotional thought, behind-the-scenes news about the writing life, updates, and prayer requests, please visit my website at and go to the "contact Sharon" page and sign up as a Book Buddy. Your partnership through prayer is hugely appreciated.

Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog today! I'll stop back later to answer any questions anyone may have for me.

Come Meet Sharon Hinck!

Although I don't have the interview just yet, I wanted to whet your appetite for the author and highlight of her new release...The Secret Life of Becky Miller, already receiving rave reviews.

Had some bad storms here last night and today which caused a power outage and a delay on getting the interview up and running. Now, I have to run to work but will get right on the feature spotlight as soon as I get home this afternoon.

Thanks for your patience. And Sharon is waiting in the wings to post a little about herself as well. So, stay tuned!