Please share some information about your new release.
10 Digit ISBN: 1926712560
Publisher: Torn Veil Books (Winnipeg, Canada)
Lexa Clarke signs up for a short-term summer mission in San Antonio with TeamWork Missions, hoping to make a difference in the world. TeamWork director Sam Lewis has a job to do and can't afford to be distracted by the petite, feisty blonde. But when she tumbles into his arms from the top of a house they’re rebuilding, Sam suspects his life will never be the same. A God-fearing man. A God-seeking woman. A combustible combination.
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Why did you become a writer…was it a dream of yours since you were younger or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
I’ve been an avid reader my entire life and ideas for novels simmered in my imagination for years. However, it wasn’t until I was a young, stay-at-home mom in Philly that I tried my hand at penning one. I love creating characters and their stories, and making them so real they jump off the page and into the hearts and minds of readers. After writing a few stand-alone novels, I put my writing aside for a decade to raise our three children. But the Lord blessed that time with valuable life experience, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that publication will happen in God’s timing. He will open the doors (and close the doors) of His choosing, in His timing, not mine.
My debut novel, Awakening, was published by Canadian publisher, Torn Veil Books, in late 2010. I write what I call contemporary romantic adventures. Romance is my first love, but as both a reader and an author, I also need more than romance for a novel to be fully-developed and emotionally satisfying. Throw in humor and some witty banter, dramatic conflict, a moving plotline with adventure and a hint of intrigue, and you’ve got my kind of book. That’s what you get with Awakening! It may be a cliché, but I write what I like to read. Following your passion as a writer does make a better book. One of the most precious things in life is that first blush of love, that rush of adrenaline at a glance, a touch, a kiss… I love the hope and joy to be discovered in an uplifting romance.
What was the inspiration for your latest work of fiction?
This particular story is precious to me because it was written more than a decade ago and is loosely based on my own love story with my husband, Jim. Awakening is set in Texas (one of several reasons for the beautiful yellow rose on the cover), and Jim and I met in Dallas. Sam and Lexa are uniquely special to me and become my core characters and mentors in a continuing series as they minister and interact with volunteers in Sam’s TeamWork Missions organization.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Most of my story ideas, and some of my characters, are inspired from newspapers, magazines, television or radio programs, my kids, church sermons or Sunday school lessons, snippets of conversations in the grocery store…you name it. Practically anything is fodder for my fertile imagination. I find people absolutely fascinating and sometimes play armchair psychologist in trying to figure them out – what makes them tick, motivates them, excites them or saddens them. One of the things I tell my family and friends is to look out because they never know when something they say might end up in a book! A lot of the strength of character, unwavering faith and goodness in Sam Lewis is based on my Jim. Some of the feistiness and stubbornness in Lexa Clarke (yes, Lewis and Clarke – they are adventures, after all) is based on yours truly, but I choose to believe I also share my heroine’s resourcefulness and resilience. When Lexa talks about her grandmother in Awakening, she’s describing my grandmother.
What was the most interesting research you had to do for any of your books?
One of the books in this first series features a NASA shuttle commander, Will Lewis, the younger brother of Sam Lewis, the core character introduced in Awakening. I’ve never read a Christian romance with an astronaut for a main character. I needed to do enough research to make it interesting and exciting – and correct – without going overboard with the technical aspects. My research of NASA and the shuttle program, in particular, was fascinating. The internet is a marvelous resource, and so timely and expedient! After my research, I have even more respect for our astronauts – their intelligence and selfless service to this country. At the end of the book, I quote Ronald Reagan’s speech about our lost Challenger astronauts, the fallen star sailors. After writing Will’s story, it makes me cry every single time I read that poignant speech and how Reagan said that every one of the Challenger astronauts encouraged the program to continue should they perish. Awakening, the first book in the series, takes place in 1997, and because the NASA shuttle program was scheduled to end in 2010 (now in 2011 with Congresswoman Giffords’ husband scheduled to command the shuttle’s last mission), I had to watch the timeline carefully for all the books (yes, they’re all written, but I’m not revealing how many there are).
I love Will because he undergoes the most dramatic personal transformation of all my characters. He is a geeky scientist and can’t talk to a woman to save his life. To his immense surprise, he unexpectedly falls in love with the girl next door. Before his scheduled mission to the International Space Station, he risks everything he’s ever wanted, and everything he’s ever trained for in the space program, all for the love of this woman. And that’s even before his mission lifts off, and yes, Houston we have a problem. But God’s ways are powerful and mighty, and I did a ton of research to find a loophole with a particular situation when a shuttle is in peril upon reentry.
Even with Awakening, I made a phone call to a certain office, shall we say, in San Antonio to make sure I had the facts straight for a particular scenario that would have happened in 1997. I spoke to a lovely supervisor named Sylvia, and she confirmed that I had my facts straight. Again, I found my loophole. You’ve gotta love them when you can find them, and they fit seamlessly and beautifully into your plot – surely it must be by God’s design! It’s one of the most thrilling aspects of writing for me.
How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
Each story is different, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it before the actual writing begins. I’m what is termed a SOTP writer, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. What I love most about the creative process of writing is sitting in the chair in front of the computer screen and seeing where my imagination and the Lord take me. It’s fascinating and awesome. Getting the story down on paper first is the primary goal. Then I can go back and rewrite, edit and tighten it. What’s odd is that I rarely change much of what I initially write. Sure, there are revisions and rewriting, but the basic story always stays the same. Of course, that could change down the line when an editor tells me I need to delete something. I don’t have a problem filling the required number of words. If anything, I’m too long-winded. And, yes, I realize I’m an anomaly in that I write quickly once the manuscript begins to form and take shape. For example, I wrote Awakening in less than two weeks, but I wasn’t working outside the home at the time. Other books can take a few months, but at least for me, it’s thankfully not a shortage of ideas or inspiration that slows me down, but a lack of time.
Are you currently working on any new book projects?
I’m always writing something. I’m actually two-thirds of the way through the seventh (yes, seventh!) book in the second series, but have been stalled since March when the contest season began, and then with the contract from Torn Veil, the editing process began. I miss the creativity of writing. About two months ago, I started something totally new (and a stand-alone) simply because I had to write. No matter how I work it, this one is a romantic suspense. I have intrigue in my other novels, but this one is different. It’s good to stretch as a writer and try different things. It might work, it might not, but I’m following the Lord’s leading and my instincts. I’m hoping I can continue with it, but I really need to finish that seventh book first. Normally, I write chronologically, but with this one, it’s the first time I’ve already written the ending and need to go back and fill in the blanks. I know where it’s going, but it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it that I have to read it from the beginning again to get into the story again so all the details work and it’s cohesive.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to write a book? Do you have any advice for them regarding promoting that book once published?
My best advice is simply to write. Like anything else, practice and experience do make you better at it. You learn to cut out the extraneous and develop your own unique style. Read other books, especially in your genre. Learn what works and what doesn’t for you as a reader, and that will help you as you write your own stories. Another tip? Read your work aloud, especially dialogue – it will help you know what’s natural and what sounds stilted. Infuse your characters with personality quirks, mannerisms, words and habits that will endear them to your reader. Think of beloved characters in movies and on television. What makes them special, different, and draws you to want to spend time with them? Another piece of advice is to be passionate about your characters. If you love and care about them, your story will shine. It’s all that more interesting to the reader when the author is enthusiastic about the story.
Especially working with a new, small, Canadian publisher, I’ve learned that a large part of the post-publication marketing process rests squarely on my shoulders. I understand that’s often the case now even with the big, major CBA publishers. I never guessed the amount of time it takes, but it helps that I’m a born marketer. I always said I missed my calling in my daytime job, even though I’ve always loved working in the legal field. But the Lord knew the best marketing job for my heart – telling others about my characters and my books. As far as advice for new writers, try to accomplish the following in order to promote your book, according to your own timetable:
*Pray, and commit your writing, health and efforts to His will, first and foremost
*Establish a website
*Join the ACFW, CWG or other national or local writers’ groups – attend workshops and conventions, if possible
*Find critique partners
*Start writing blogs – either create your own to develop a following or join a website where you can write a blog on a regular basis
*Schedule guest interviews on blogs
*Make acquaintance with local bookstore owners
*Talk with people in various local civic and charitable groups, etc. to possibly arrange speaking engagements
*Spread the word about your book in your workplace, church, groups, wherever you see people on a regular basis
*Join social networking sites with which you’re comfortable (I went on Facebook kicking and screaming, but I believe it has helped in certain ways, and it’s easier to send messages via Facebook than e-mails)
*Be willing to give away a few books to blog winners or for basket giveaways at events
*Have bookmarks/postcards printed – mine is glossy and features a miniature version of the book cover on the front and has a mini-synopsis, my tag line (Awakening the Spirit of Romance), my photo, website and where to buy information on the back. I hand them out anywhere and everywhere and believe they’re a great marketing tool.
What’s your writing schedule like? When do you find time to write?
No question – finding the time to write is my biggest challenge, especially with a full-time job, a part-time job (I actually just gave my notice – something had to give), and a busy family. The only way I can write is generally to do it between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. It helps that I’ve always been a night owl. I was literally one of those girls under the sheets with the flashlight, devouring the latest Nancy Drew mystery (my $5 weekly allowance would buy three hardback books – it was the highlight of my week!). So, it’s not so much a question of balancing as whether or not I’m feeling creative during those hours. If I can’t sleep and feel the inspiration, I’ll crawl out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to write. Writing keeps me sane. Seriously. It’s my solace, my peace and my time to connect with the Lord. Thankfully, the words just flow. The slogan, “I’d Rather Be Writing,” was made for someone like me.
JoAnn, I definitely agree with that slogan and your sentiments. I'd rather be writing, too!
How did you find your publisher? What was your journey to publication like?
Believe it or not, it was rejection from a big-name agent and a multi-published author that spurred me on to keep striving toward publication. I’m tough and don’t like being told I can’t do something. Where others might throw in the proverbial towel, I kept going. After all, they only reviewed the first three chapters of my story. I knew if that one entity of God’s choosing could review the entire manuscript, they’d see the value in the work as a whole. The second part of the equation in my journey to publication was rejection of another kind – being laid off from my paralegal position; the Lord gave me the gifts of time and a generous severance package in which I enjoyed four months to make the necessary contacts in the writing world and for the Lord to connect me with my publisher, new Christian romance publisher Torn Veil Books of Winnipeg, Canada.
One night, I googled “Christian Romance Publishers” and came up with quite a lengthy list. I visited each website on the list. Some were out-of-business, some didn’t publish my genre, but maybe 10% of publishers on that list were possibilities for my type of manuscript. Plus, I didn’t have an agent (and still don’t), so that eliminated a few of the publishers. Then I sent out e-mail queries, including to Torn Veil Books, and the rest is history. What I find significant is that Torn Veil was the first entity who looked at the entire manuscript (as opposed to only the first three chapters) – and this was after I couldn’t get an agent to take me on or other publishers to look at a full based on the first three chapters! The first three chapters are the absolute hardest to write and polish, but by the time it was published, those chapters sparkled! Another interesting thing is that my manuscript was the last one Torn Veil reviewed before cutting off submissions. Literally, the day after they acknowledged their receipt (which I appreciated), they posted on their website that they were no longer accepting submissions. The publisher confirmed that Awakening was, in fact, the last one they received for review – proving again that in some circumstances, it does help to be last!
What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you? ~ POV issues; using too much passive voice and not enough active voice; trouble creating active and engaging dialogue; using too many similar words in starting sentences; or something else?
I’m most frequently guilty of the sins of repetition and omission. It’s like I get a word stuck in my head and use it several times within a short section – even sometimes in the same sentence! It drives me crazy. And since the mind’s eye works faster than the human eye, you sometimes “see” a word that’s not really on the page. Sometimes I leave out the articles like “the.” No matter how many times I look at something, it seems there’s always something I miss. That’s why a second, or seventh, or fifteenth pair of eyes is always a good thing as a safety net.
College journalism and English courses taught me the mechanics of writing, but it wasn’t until I joined the ACFW and attended conferences and workshops that I truly learned how to write. POV was perhaps the most difficult thing for me to learn, and I’m still working on it. I don’t write first person, mainly because I don’t especially enjoy that perspective. But I do like that deep inner POV where you feel like you’re inside the mind of the character. I had a scene in Awakening where I was guilty of hopping between Sam and Lexa’s heads in the same scene. It worked for me, and no one who read it was confused as to which “head” they were in at the time, but I learned that, as a writer, we should never do that. You need to separate sections by line breaks or chapter breaks. I have a scene in the third book where I get in both the hero and heroine’s head at the dinner table, and I love it. I’ll hate to give that up!
Natural dialogue is a real strength for me, I believe. And, for some reason, I especially love writing from the male perspective. It’s more fun than writing from the female POV. Getting deep “inside” a character makes them all that more real to the reader and brings them to life, so much so that they can almost jump off the page and into the mind and the heart of your reader. That’s what will keep them riveted to your book and what will help them remember your characters and their stories for a long time after they finish the book. And that is quite an accomplishment to which we should all strive.
JoAnn, thank you so much for stopping by today. I loved learning more about you and your books and love of writing!