I'm happy to feature a long-time ACFW friend with her debut novel. Welcome, Jill. I love your photo and your cover. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I suppose there is a part of me that comes through in all of my characters, though for my male characters I draw on my experience of living with all men (one husband, three sons). But the spiritual journeys of my characters, their emotions, their prayers—I would say that I’ve probably been in a similar frame of mind, though not necessarily a similar life experience.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I’m not sure I’d call it quirky – embarrassing maybe – but I remember my first ACFW Conference, back when it was ACRW, in Kansas City. Karen Kingsbury was our keynote speaker, and I’d been invited to her room to watch a movie on her DVD player. I thought I knew the room number and went to the door and knocked. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t opening and continued to knock. Another author in our group joined me, so I wasn’t the only one sure we had the right place. But all we heard was a gruff male voice telling us to go away! Come to find out later, I’d been knocking on the door of an airline pilot who was trying to sleep! (I hope he drank a lot of coffee before flying out the next day.) Karen smoothed things over by leaving some of her books as a token of apology and we laughed about it later. I don’t know how we got the wrong room. I was already out of my comfort zone going to Karen’s room in the first place – being such a rooky and feeling like I didn’t belong in a room with all of those famous, published authors! But it made for a quirky memory in the end. :-)
I remember that. Thankfully, I wasn't one of those doing the knocking. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
When God figuratively tapped me on the shoulder and told me to dig up the gift of writing I had buried for eight years. I used to write in my teens but put it all away after high school. In my twenties, God worked in a number of ways to get my attention to dust off my pen and put it to use once again.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I like many genres – mainly in the Christian market. Right now I’m favoring historicals, but I like contemporary women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, chick lit, and most eras for historical and biblical fiction. I’m not into sci-fi though I like some science fiction movies. And I’ve critiqued some unpublished fantasy works that I enjoyed. My favorite books have romance in them but aren’t necessarily straight romance. I like complicated plots with a thread of romance that pays off in the end.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I seek time with the Lord and say no if need be. I have always been careful with new commitments because I know my limits, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to overwhelm myself. That said, I’ve started taking on more commitments than I’m used to, so we’ll see how well I handle that as deadlines approach. I maintain my sanity by spending time in God’s Word, reading, and writing fiction. I’m happiest when I’m creating fictional scenes, so I have to make time for that and would make time for it even if I didn’t have a deadline. I’m also working at developing time for physical exercise, something I’ve never enjoyed all that much but find necessary to balance sitting at a computer so much.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Well, in Biblical fiction many of them are already chosen for me. If not, I seek names that fit the times either used elsewhere in Scripture or in ancient literature. For my contemporary suspense, I look for names I like but where I don’t know anyone by that name on a close, personal level. For my historical suspense, I used a name finder for names popular during that era. Baby name generators are great for ideas and for meanings, which can be significant.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I hesitate to use the word proud because my accomplishments are blessings by God’s grace more than anything I have done. But if I had to pick one, it would be my family – marriage to one wonderful man for 31 years and raising three sons who love the Lord and bring me great joy. But again, I really can’t take credit for what God has done and has allowed. I’m just grateful for the blessings.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A cat. We have two cats and I love how physically flexible they are. Can you just imagine being able to sleep with your head turned sideways and upside down? Plus they have an independent streak that keeps them mysterious, yet they are dependable and needy when only those closest to them are looking. :-) I’d want to be lovable and huggable like my Tiger.
What is your favorite food?
Oh goodness – there are too many to name! I like most things – really good yeasty cinnamon rolls, baklava, dark chocolate, fresh dates, cherry pie, juicy apples – I see a sweet trend here…
And they all sound delicious. I'm getting hungry. Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
How much time do you have? :-) I’ll give you the short version. Back when God told me to dig up the gift I began my journey writing poetry and music. A few years later, I graduated to writing fiction and started with a two-volume epic on King David’s life. Sixteen to twenty years and about nine unsold books and dozens and dozens of rejections later, that epic became a three-book series on the Wives of King David, which finally sold to Revell. During that waiting process, God’s refining work continued not only on my writing but on my heart. I carry a spiritual limp from wrestling with Him over this publishing desire, and came mighty close to quitting before He brought it all to pass. He had a plan, but it was in His time, not mine.
And His timing is always perfect. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I learned to write fiction in the biblical fiction genre. The disadvantage to this was that since the plot and characters were framed in for me by the Bible, which I kept close at hand, adhering to it as my strict guide, I hadn’t really learned the craft. I knew little to nothing about plot or character development or goals, motivations, or conflict. I just followed the Bible and tried to fill in the blanks by lots of study and research. The problem was that when biblical fiction wasn’t selling and I tried to write in other genres, I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember trying to plot a romance novella for one of Tyndale’s contests and getting frustrated to the point of tears. My oldest son sat me down with You’ve Got Mail and walked me through plot development. That was the start of my real education into the craft. From there I studied books on writing and other films and books while I continued to practice by writing about five books in other genres. I think I understand craft better now. :-)
What advice would you give to others who are trying to get their first book published?
Hold the desire for publication in an open hand. Keep seeking the Lord’s leading. Keep writing. If God places the desire to write within our hearts, we have no choice but to obey Him and use the gifts He gives to us. We are entrusted with certain abilities and will give an account to Him for how we use them. But our successes—published or not, are not up to us, but up to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” Wrestling with His will must lead to absolute surrender – we can do nothing less. And then trust the Lord with all your heart because those who trust in Him will never be put to shame. Then see what God will do!
What would you like to tell us about the featured book?
Michal, A Novel is the first book in The Wives of King David series published by Revell.
In love with her father’s worst enemy, will it cost her everything?
Michal longs to marry the harpist, David. But when her crazed father grows to hate him, her beautiful sister catches his eye, and she begins to understand the commanding political future looming before him, she wonders if there is any chance of capturing his heart. Determined to win David's love, Michal manages to convince her father, King Saul, to give her sister to someone else. Her plan succeeds, leaving her free to marry David. But before their life together can even begin, King Saul’s madness sends David into hiding. Michal knows David will one day be king, but will she be the one to rule beside him or will her resentful spirit forever estrange her from David…and from Adonai?
Thanks, Lena, for the opportunity to be featured on your website!
And thank you, Jill for spending this time with us.
Readers if you can't find the book in a store near you, you can order it using this link:
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