Our featured author today is J. M. Hockstetler and her book One Holy Night.
Obviously every writer, consciously or unconsciously, puts a considerable amount of his or her own personality, knowledge, and experiences into the characters they create. It would be impossible not to. For me, that’s really much more of an unconscious process than a conscious one, though. One of the most precious things anyone ever said to me along those lines was my husband, Jay. After he read Daughter of Liberty, he told me, “It’s very good, but … you know, I don’t really see much of you in it.”
At that point I teared up. To think that I really had been able to step back and allow the Holy Spirit to flow God’s vision and God’s words through my fingers and to keep ME out of the story as much as it’s humanly possible for any author to do lifted me up more than I can say. No one could give me a greater compliment than that. The work the Lord has given me is all about Him, not me.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Well, that would be founding my own small press! I do have twelve years of experience as a professional editor and many more years of experience as a writer, so I have a fair amount of acquaintance with the publishing industry. But honestly, that doesn’t qualify me to run a business with all that entails—especially a publishing house, which is a pretty complex beast. However, where I lack, God is supplying more than abundantly. I don’t have a single doubt that I’m not able to do this, but door after door keeps on opening, and as long as that happens, I’ll keep on moving forward in faith, both as a publisher and as an author. With God, NOTHING is impossible, as I keep discovering every day.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
Back in 1977 I had a dream that was very intriguing and just kept haunting me. I found myself wondering who these people were and why they were doing what they were doing.
Although I was a voracious reader, up till that point it had never occurred to me to try my hand at writing fiction. But in thinking about that dream, I realized that if I was going to make any sense of it, I was going to have to figure out who the characters were and what their story was, and the only logical way to do that was to write it down. At the time I had no intentions of ever submitting anything I wrote for publication, but along the way as more stories came to me, I realized that a story isn’t complete without readers.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
For fiction, I love the classics like Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin, Bronte. I’m a big fan of the swashbuckling novels of Rafael Sabatini. I especially love historical novels that are well researched and historically accurate and that delve in depth into the historical setting.
I like women’s fiction too, whether contemporary or historical—essentially character and issue-driven stories—and well-written mysteries. I really don’t read typical romance novels at all. If the story is tightly focused on the relationship of the hero and heroine and whether they get together in the end, I get bored. Just can’t make it through them. And I can’t stand bodice rippers. I look for complex characters, plots, and themes that challenge me and expand my horizons.
As far as non-fiction is concerned, I’m very interested in history, biographies, theology, archaeology, and current events. I also love to read books about language.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I’ve published the first two books of my American Patriot Series. Daughter of Liberty starts at the very beginning of the American Revolution and ends right after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Book 2, Native Son, picks up the story at that point and takes the characters from Boston to New York and into Ohio Territory among the Indians. Book 3, Wind of the Spirit, which releases in January 2009, will continue that thread and bring the story up to the Battle of Trenton. I’m planning at least 4 more books in the series to bring my characters and their love story through to the end of the Revolution. At the rate it’s going, though, I’m probably going to add more volumes than that. My aim is to write a truly comprehensive historical fiction series about our first Greatest Generation that sacrificed so much to bequeath to following generations the legacy of freedom we enjoy in this country.
I’m also working with my cousin Bob Hostetler, a multi-published CBA author, to write the story of our Amish ancestors who came to this country from Europe in 1738 seeking religious freedom. They got caught up in the French and Indian War when their frontier home was attacked by a band of Indians. Three members of the family were massacred and 3 were carried away into captivity, returning years later. We’ve titled it Northkill for the name of the creek along which the attack happened. It’s a compelling story, but progress has been slow so far. But I plan to turn my full attention to it as soon as I finish Wind of the Spirit this spring.
Very early on in my writing career I wrote a suspense thriller set during the Cuban missile crisis that I’d like to do something with instead of allowing it to just take up space on my hard drive. I have a medieval European epic tragedy that I’ve been working on for years and need to get back to and complete. In various stages I have a WWII era love story set in the Amish-Mennonite community near Kokomo, Indiana, where I grew up, and a contemporary romantic comedy set in the music industry in Nashville, Tennessee, near where I live now. A while back I also started a story based on Randy Travis’s hit “Three Wooden Crosses.” And I have notes on several other story ideas. I’m determined to find the time to get all of these written someday!
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Sanity? What’s sanity? LOL! Anyone who’s in this business has to be crazy.
Seriously, I try to keep my ears tuned to the Holy Spirit so I can determine what is the most important thing for me to do right at this moment rather than what is the most urgent thing. And that may be spending time with my family or it may be attending to a particular matter concerning my publishing business or my writing projects. Whatever it is, I try to focus on that while not stressing about all the other tasks that are nagging for my attention. Of course, how successful I am at doing that is questionable at times. But ultimately, what’s truly important for me to do will get done in the Lord’s time. The test is always: Am I about the Father’s business—or MY business?
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Most often my characters arrive with a first name, and often with a surname too. Other times I have to resort to the phone book or to other lists of names. With my historicals, I’ll check through my resources for names that were common at the time.
There have been times when a character came to me with a name attached, but I ended up not using it. The pastor, Dan Christensen, in One Holy Night is an example. Actually his name is Tim, not Dan, and I still have to be careful not to call him that. He was Tim for the longest time until I suddenly became aware that the main character in Jan Karon’s books is a pastor named Tim. I hadn’t thought about it because I don’t read her books. I guess her stories are just too “cozy” for me. But when I became aware of the issue, I wrestled with it for some time before reluctantly deciding to change my character’s name. I didn’t want anyone to think I was copying her character, which I certainly wasn’t doing.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Being a mother and grandmother. Children are your legacy to the world, and I’ve been truly blessed to have 3 beautiful, intelligent, and loving daughters and 4 delightful grandchildren.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Probably a cocker spaniel. Dogs are faithful and affectionate, and cocker spaniels are active, engaging, and beautiful.
What is your favorite food?
Oh, goodness! There are too many to mention. If I had to settle on one, I guess it would be a mild, grilled fish like salmon or tilapia. Add fresh grilled vegetables, and I’m a happy girl.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve never had what you would call writer’s block, though I do wrestle at times with how to write a particular scene and sometimes with what scene to write to deepen a character or plot point. But the greatest roadblock I’ve encountered as a writer has been getting my stories into the hands of readers. It took me over 20 years to get my first book contract … and then the editor who acquired me left the publishing house and the new editor dropped my series even before the second book came out. That was pretty discouraging because time and again every answer to prayer pointed me toward continuing to write and toward getting the stories the Lord gave me out to readers.
In the fall of 2006, I finally reached a point of frustration where I once again said to myself, as many times before in a joking manner, “Maybe I just ought to start my own publishing house.” Instantly I received the challenge back: “Well … why don’t you?” It really slapped me upside the head. Talk about the light switching on! I knew at once that was the Lord’s direct leading, and this time I wasted no time moving forward in faith.
Lesson learned: When no door opens to you even though you know absolutely that the Lord would have you to move forward, find a way to make your own door.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Never give up. If you truly believe that the Lord is calling you to write, obey His leading and write the stories He has for you to write, not what the market may tell you to write. Learn to write well. Read good books—and a few bad ones so you can tell the difference. Network with other authors and seek input from those who are more experienced and knowledgeable than you are. If possible, find someone to mentor you.
But most important, lay your writing at the Lord’s feet and submit your ambitions and desires to His perfect plan and purpose. If God isn’t in control of your life and work, anything you accomplish will turn out to be ashes. And give Him the glory no matter where He leads you.
I feel as if all my books are given to me by the Holy Spirit as a gift to God’s people, but I feel even more so about this story. It’s a modern-day nativity story—a retelling of the birth of Jesus in contemporary times. I hope and pray it will minister to many hurting hearts and bring peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation to readers who are dealing with broken families, major illnesses, or who have wandered away from the Lord.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My author site is www.jmhochstetler.com. My publisher Web site is www.sheafhouse.com, and I’m blogging the process of founding a publishing house at http://publishingdream.blogspot.com. I also put up a blog for my latest release, One Holy Night at http://oneholynight.blogspot.com. You’ll find my downloadable press kit at http://jmhochstetler.googlepages.com/home, and I’m posting a variety of downloadable articles at http://jmhochstetlerarticles.googlepages.com/home. As I have time, I’m posting reviews of all my books at http://jmhochstetlerreviews.googlepages.com. There are links to the googlepages from my author Web site, so you can access them from there as well.
I’m also on Shelfari at www.shelfari.com/JoanMarie and on Shoutlife at www.shoutlife.com/profile_view.cfm?uid=13610 . And I’m a regular contributor to the Favorite PASTimes historical fiction blog at http://favoritepastimes.blogspot.com. Plus I have an Amazon blog that you’ll find on my book pages on Amazon.
Lena, it’s been a joy to talk with you. Thank you for inviting me!
And thank you, Joan, for spending this time with us.
Readers, you have a lot of web pages to check out, but not before you leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of this book.