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Interview with Novel Journey

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started my first novel when my eldest son was five (he’s 16 now!). It was pretty bad, a meandering plot of scenes from my favorite novels strung together like mismatched beads on a necklace. But it was a crash course in novel writing, and I was so proud to have finished it, all 120,000 words! Knowing that it wasn’t good enough to try to publish, I began my second novel. Snow Angel was born on a frosty night in an old farmhouse in Fishers, Indiana, where the cold floor gave me plenty of motivation for the snow scene. After the first chapter, I knew I had something good, something special. A couple of years later, armed with my jewel, I sat out to get it published.

And so began some of the hardest years of waiting that I have yet endured. When I look back on it, I can hardly believe all the crazy things that happened. (I feel the need to insert a graph or table, some timeline or something to explain it all:). I began my search for publication by doing the conference thing, meeting with editors and learning the submission process, studying the publishing houses and markets for romance novels. Then I sent out several query letters to both ABA and CBA publishing houses. It took months and sometimes years to hear back, but each one was a rejection letter. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so just kept researching and waiting.

My first break came in 2000 when Time Warner started an online writing group called iPublish. There was a lot of talk at that time about ebooks and how big they might become, so TW thought to tap into that market with an online community of writers providing the content for these ebooks. I signed up to be a beta tester for the website (praise God for the internet!) and within a couple of months got a call from an editor with Time Warner.

They LOVED my book and felt that in this new format they could stretch out into something on the inspirational side with little risk on their end. Now, I wasn’t crazy about the whole ebook idea, but by that point, I was pretty desperate, so I signed the contract, hoped that my book would be so successful that they would eventually print it and looked at the whole thing like a possible springboard for my career.

After 9/11 I received the news that Time Warner was shutting down the ebook division and letting all the ebook authors out of their contracts. One of the editors went to bat for my book to be traditionally published in trade paperback because she loved it so much. These were months of living on gut-wrenching hope, but it was determined that it was too inspirational.

I sank into a minor depression for a couple of months after that and didn’t write anything. I kept praying and asking God what was going on, wondering what His will was for my life.

It felt horrible to think of letting my dream go, but I wanted to prove to Him and myself that it wasn’t bigger than He was to me.

(I went through this process several times during the ensuing years!). But my desire to write soon surged through me so strong that I was back at the keyboard. By this time I was knee-deep into homeschooling my two boys which lead to various writing opportunities with our co-op (skits, poems, short stories, teaching writing, etc.) and doing some newsletter work for my church. But I wanted to write novels and decided to begin another one and send out queries again.

Now I could at least add my Time Warner experience to my cover letter which I hoped would give me some credibility. In 2002, I got a letter requesting the full manuscript from Avalon. Their blub said they were the “family channel” of romance novels and I thought it might be a good fit. The only problem was that I had a 110,000 word novel and Avalon only wanted 80,000 words. I started cutting like crazy. Anything that wasn’t “jump off the page” good was cut. At first, this was really hard to do. But after awhile I noticed something. The story gained pace and emerged stronger than I could have imagined. Like a diamond being cut, it really began to sparkle and shine. Excited, I mailed it in.

That was the beginning of two harrowing years of next to no communication from the publisher. I called, I emailed, I begged, they just kept putting me off. Finally I threw up my hands (probably railed at God about how unfair life was) and sent it off to a few more publishers.

If you’re wondering if I was looking for an agent during these times, the answer is, of course! But I had always heard that getting an agent was even harder than getting a publisher on a first time book, so I had little hope there. But I did try hard. One day, I was online looking up agents and came across an agency that I had never seen before. They had an online form (Praise God for the internet, again!) so I thought I wouldn’t have to wait quite so long to hear back and . . . why not? I was shocked to get a call from one of their agents who had just relocated to Indianapolis. Within minutes of talking, he asked if I would like to meet him somewhere with the manuscript. With my five year old son’s hand firmly clasped in mine (I’d had a third son by then) we walked around a Boarders book store in search of my new agent.

I was a nervous wreck as I handed it over to him, believing he was my ticket to publication. He read it and loved it. So again, I signed the papers without knowing very much about him. Now this man was a really wonderful person, but he had never sold fiction before, only non-fiction in the technology field. He was able, however, to get the editor at Avalon to finally give me an answer (I think he sent her chocolates – really). The answer was “no.” It just didn’t quite fit their list.

During the next ten months, I continued to have great hope that my agent would sell my book. At the end of the tenth month with him, realizing he hadn’t sent out more than two proposals, I decided to take a leap of faith and part ways. This terrified me, because now I was back on my own, but I honestly thought I could do a better job myself, and I kept hearing that still, quiet voice say, “I’ll be your agent.”

“Really?” My slacker-faith self asked.
“If I am for you, who can be against you?”
“Really?” I whispered as tears began to flow down my cheeks.

Armed with fresh faith, two novels finished and the beginning of the third one, I set out to query every possible Christian and non-Christian publishing company that had ever published a romance novel. I poured over each word and sentence in that query letter. I used a sample proposal from a well-known agency as a template and polished my 40 page proposal until it glared it was so bright.

Then, in November 2005, I sat at my kitchen table and looked at the giant stack of brown envelopes. A part of me felt hope, a part of me felt fear, but a big part of me said, “This is it Lord. If this doesn’t work, I’m going back to college, getting a degree in advertising or something creative. I have too much creative energy inside me not to be doing something with it. Then, surprisingly, my sister dropped by on her way to work. Jennifer is something of a prayer warrior and we laid hands on the stack and prayed over it, asking God to bless each proposal.

Within two months I had a bite from Bethany House and B&H Publishing. Bethany eventually bowed out due to the fact that they had an “A-list” author already doing a series on Alaska. B&H gave me a call. I took the call out onto the deck where it was quiet.

“We want to publish your book.”

Long, deep breaths. Was this real? Would it work out this time? I was excited but wary. “I would love that.” I said simply. And, in the months that followed, I found that I would. God even provided me with a wonderful agent to help navigate the contract! His timing is perfect, but it was hard to wait for the fruition of that.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

There are two sides here. The side of self and the side of faith. Self says, I can’t do it. I’m not worthy in any way. Faith says, God created me for a purpose and part of that purpose is writing. Self says, why would anyone care what you have to say? Faith says, where I lack, He fulfills, where I am weak, He is strong. Where I doubt, He will fill up, where I am not, He simply . . . is. The I AM. The great I AM. On my good days, I am filled with this faith.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I don’t know that I made any mistakes. The road to publication looks so different for each of us. My road was hard. I felt like I was pregnant for about eight years and at times I thought I was going to have to give up or lose my mind. But in that, I learned so much . . . am still learning so much. It’s in the journey that I think, I hope, I will have something to give back to others trying to live their dream. Dreams are like vapor. Making them real is like the straining of flesh and bone. I don’t have any regrets. Only hope.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

“Cut your wrists and bleed into the work.” Whenever I try to be superficial, super-Christian, or anything false, God always brings me back to my humble rib beginnings. And I’ve learned to accept that a rib can be a beautiful thing when it’s God-breathed. Our weaknesses are His glory when we trust Him with them.

The other really good piece of advice I’ve gotten is, “it’s all about relationships.” People don’t buy into products and services. They buy into people. I tend to easily closet myself in the solitude of my writing world. But I have to get out of my own head long enough to care about those around me – my family, my friends, my co-workers, my readers. They have so much to teach me!

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

Learn what the markets want and try to replicate what has been successful in the past. If you are bleeding into your work, you don’t much care what is currently selling. God knows the future, the next month, the next year. If you are seeking him and listening to your heart and the experiences He has given you, you will write something that is “relevant.”

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Don’t be so afraid to check into things. This business is slow. I was so terrified of offending an editor that I sat around and waited for years for things to happen when I should have been a bit more proactive. If you value your work, you owe it to yourself to check into agents, publishing houses, writing groups, etc. Make sure they are the right fit before diving in.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

There were so many setbacks. It’s been a grinding time of patience, long-suffering, faith when there was no reason to have any, and love for this work that I just couldn’t stop doing. I learned that perseverance is indeed the winning factor. I thank God for the faith He gave me, otherwise, I would have quit long ago. And also, I’m so grateful for the prayers of my family and friends. There were Bible study groups along the way that prayed with me throughout the journey. I can honestly say, to my knowledge, every single one of us has had answers to the prayers we prayed together. I’m so thankful for those people and those prayers. They carried me.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Laura Kinsale’s “Flowers from the Storm.” Laura writes historical romance, but my goodness, I’m breathless at the prose. She strikes a perfect balance of plot, characterization, dialog and setting. I’ve studied her books at length. Other than her, I have lots of current and then fading favorites, but really, the Bible has everything we need as writers. If it was the only book on the planet, we could learn everything we ever needed to know from that one book.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I’m really proud of Snow Angel. I love chapter one – the snow scene. I rewrote it so many times, pouring countless hours over each phrase, and now, I still tear-up every time I read it. I also love the climax at the end of chapter 17. I am undone when I read it. God gave me that scene, pure and simple. Then, there’s the end, the last few pages. I pretty much sob over it each time; it’s so full of beauty.

I am also proud of a couple of short stories and poems I’ve written. It’s such a different feel to write in these other forms. I love it. Turning brisk and gutsy for a short story, or leaning into the feel, the mood, the single caught thought of a poem or a lyric. There is great beauty to all the twists and turns of this thing called writing.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Not so far. I’ve worked and wished so hard that I am nothing but full-bodied, arms outstretched grateful to get to do this thing. I only hope that the readers love this story, are as blessed core-deep by it as I was by writing it. It’s a love letter from God to me and then from God to His creation. I feel so privileged to be doing something like this, an interview.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

Ah, the outline vs. fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants debate. Well, Snow Angel and the one I just finished, I call it Isabelle’s story for now as we’re still working on the title, has been rather gut-wrenching. I outline, then I change the outline as I write, then I re-outline, then the characters take over (blast them!) and then I have to outline again! But I know when a scene isn’t working and then I’ll stop, take a breather and go back to it. If it’s flowing, I let it run until it runs dry.

Plotting is probably my greatest challenge because if I let the characters have “their heads” they soon run me in the ground and leave me wondering what’s happening next. On the other hand, I have to let them breathe and be real; I just have to know when to rein them in. The second book, Serena’s story, also yet to be titled, was completely different. My outline went like clockwork and the novel only took five months to write. I love it when that happens.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

When I walk away from a powerfully impacting movie or novel, I often say to God, “I want that. I want to give people that same inspiration that I’m feeling from that.”

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

At this point, I am loving every aspect. There are challenges yes, but I’ve wanted this career for so long that the challenges are welcome. I love deadlines! I can’t wait to sign books and talk to readers. I hope to pray with them and hear their dreams too. More details to come on my website at

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’ll do anything they tell me to do and anything this crazy, idea-filled brain God gave me can come up with! I do believe once Snow Angel gets out there, that it will sell itself (yea, it’s that good:) but I love a grand adventure and that’s what this journey is to me . . . a very grand adventure. My advice? Walk through any door God opens. Do it afraid, even. Walk on some water!What does a “typical” writing day look like for you?

I wish I could answer that I am completely disciplined and have a schedule that would make people think I’m amazingly organized. But alas, I cannot. I love to write at night, in the dark, with my headphones on. I try to write in the morning or even early afternoon, but end up doing the other side of this business – researching, emails , marketing, networking, and generally fooling around until that moment where I make myself sit down and get started. Then I just write until my eyelids can’t stay open any longer. 7:30 a.m. (when I have to get my son ready for school) comes really early.

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