Saturday, January 09, 2010
There’s a little bit of me in all of my characters. For example, the main character of my first novel Thicker than Blood works at a used and rare bookstore. I’ve been involved in the antiquarian book industry for over a decade. Many of the book collecting tidbits I include in the novel come from my own experience---either directly or something I’ve heard from another book dealer. Sometimes I’ll give some of my own quirks or preferences to a character. But overall, these characters are NOT me. I’m glad to say that, actually, because some of them have pasts they wish they could forget.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I had to ask my sister, Tracy, what she would say to this question because I couldn’t think of anything! I’m kinda boring. But here’s one thing . . . when I was a teenager my sis and I would give all of our stuffed animals voices and put together a radio program we called Solid Rock Café. We pretended we were doing a radio show and had commentary, music and segments like “The Milk Update” (done by a stuffed cow named Suzanna), or the weather report by Spotty the Leopard. My two specialties were Kisa, the big Teddy Bear, and Phil, the blue rabbit. They would often get into arguments with each other, and I would voice both of them. It was a lot of fun! We recorded over 50 of these 90 minute shows, and we still have them on cassettes lying around somewhere.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
There was never a Eureka! moment where all of the sudden I knew I was supposed to write, but I’ve been writing little stories since I was a kid. I do remember when I was around twelve I started to imagine what it would be like to have a book published someday. I had no clue how you did it. I thought you had to print up and bind a copy of your book to submit it to a publisher.
When I was fifteen and starting to have all those teenage thoughts of, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” I began writing a story about two estranged sisters. I had no idea that fifteen years later that story would become my first published novel. Now mind you, it went through MANY revisions and changes, but the essence of that original story still exists in Thicker than Blood.
It wasn’t until I was sixteen and discovered writing how-to books and magazines like Writer’s Digest and The Writer at the library that my apprenticeship as a writer began. I devoured everything I could on the craft. I was so excited that you could actually learn to write. Being homeschooled taught me how to teach myself, so it was a no brainer to teach myself how to write better. I learned so much from those books, but I learned the most from reading other novels.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read almost exclusively in the Christian fiction genre. I love not having to worry about being surprised by an author with swearing, sex and gore. Not that there isn’t some great stuff in the general market, but there’s so much in the Christian market---I’ll never exhaust it!
My favorite genre is suspense, which is interesting because the novels I’ve written thus far fall into the contemporary category. But I usually find a way to add some suspense elements in my novels. I also love a good YA book. Some of my favorite authors are James Scott Bell, Sibella Giorello, Jenny B. Jones, Frank Peretti, Tim Downs . . . I could go on and on!
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
This is such a challenge for me. I am probably not the best person to ask this question as I feel like I fail at this almost every day, but . . . one way I’ve found to work (if I just implemented it more often!) is to write out a schedule for my day the night before. AND STICK TO IT.
A big, big time waster for me is e-mail and the internet. It’s so much easier, and more fun, to check e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, etc. rather than sit my butt in the chair and write.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Well, let me give you some examples. The name of the main character in Thicker than Blood is Christy. A childhood friend of mine actually came up with that one. The whole premise of the novel is based around games my sister and this friend played as kids. We would role play different people and act out stories. One of the characters we role played was named Christy.
The other sister in the novel is May, and I came up with that one because I liked Louisa May Alcott’s books. I try to pick names that I personally enjoy. Even for the bad guys. I also have a baby name book I refer to often. Sometimes I’ll really struggle with the name of a character. I know I’ll be living with this person for months on end, so I want it to be a name I like.
The name of the main character in my next book is Roxi. But she wasn’t originally named Roxi. Her name was Rossi. I wanted a tough sounding name, so I flipped through my gun and revolver encyclopedia book for the names of gun manufacturers. Rossi caught my eye. But my first readers didn’t like the name. So I had to go back to the drawing board. By that time the character had become “Rossi” in my head. I decided to pick a name for her that sounded like Rossi but was a little less, shall we say, imaginative? :-)
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Having a book published has been the highlight of my life so far!
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Seriously? Ha. Wow. I think I will have to say a dog living in my house. We treat our dogs like children, and they basically have anything they want. And they just lie around all day and eat and play. A dog’s life for me, thank you!
What is your favorite food?
Pretty much anything that has eggs and cheese in it. But if I had to pick one thing . . . cheese soufflé. Then again, I love pasta. And ice cream! Does coffee count as food?
Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
It all started with that story I began when I was fifteen. Of course, as a teen my writing stunk. But through how-to books and magazines I learned how to perfect my craft (and I’m still learning). When I was eighteen I decided to get more serious about writing. I gave myself five years to finish the novel, and I hoped I’d find a publisher at that time. Yeah. The dreams of youth!
Then I saw an ad in Writer’s Digest magazine for the Christian Writers Guild’s very first Operation First Novel contest. The prize that year was $50,000 and a publishing contract with Tyndale. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I decided to use the contest as a deadline. It would get me to finish the book. And it did. I submitted Thicker than Blood and waited. Found out a couple months later I’d placed as a semi-finalist, but I didn’t make it into the finals.
I was about to throw in the towel and toss the manuscript into a drawer. But late one night as I was in bed staring at the ceiling a thought hit me. I think it was the Lord prompting me now, but at the time it just felt like a flash of inspiration. “Wait a minute,” I said to myself. “I have a completed novel that’s better than when I first submitted it. Why don’t I try sending it to this year’s Operation First Novel contest?” I wanted to use the contest as a test of whether the manuscript was publishable. Now that it was better I hoped maybe to place as a finalist. If I didn’t, then that would be okay, too. I would then know whether to keep searching for its publishing home.
But in November I found out it did indeed place as a finalist in the contest. In February of 2009 I attended the Writing for the Soul writers conference in Colorado Springs where they announced the winner of that year’s Operation First Novel. I was completely amazed when my novel won!
I love that story. God works in various ways in all our lives. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest roadblock was, and still is, my own doubts. Am I really a writer or just a hack trying to tell stories? Am I fooling myself? I think feeling that way happens because it’s just the way writers are wired. We’re more in touch with our emotions and deep thoughts and feelings. Almost every writer I know feels self-doubt at one time or another.
But here’s the thing. It’s important that no matter where we are in life, whether you’re a writer, teacher, mother, lawyer, scientist, bank teller, waiter, actor or whatever---you remember that you are your worst critic. Are you going to let your doubts rule you and keep you down?
Another more technical aspect of writing that’s hard for me is plotting. I will often labor over what happens in the story for days on end. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself when it comes to this and just let the words flow. I don’t outline the whole book ahead of time, so I’m learning to give myself a little more free reign.
Oh, yes, we all have our doubts from time to time. What advice would you give to others who are trying to get their first book published?
Don't worry about marketing and promotion too soon. You need to focus on writing the very best story you can--first. Yes, build your network when you can. Yes, make connections. But ultimately, if you don't have a great story, there won't be any product to promote! Word of mouth sells books more than anything else. I've worked for years to develop my contact base and network. But ultimately they meant nothing in getting my book published. It was story alone.
Second, as a Christian writer, trust the Lord above all else. He knows exactly where you're supposed to be and when you're supposed to be there. I look back now and see the Lord's hand in my writing journey, but I didn't see it as well when I was actually going through it. Know that He cares about you and your writing, and He wants to help you. He wouldn't have put that desire in your heart to write if He didn't have a way to fulfill it. You can be called by God to write. I'm learning this still myself, but once it sinks in it makes all the difference in the world.
Tell us about the featured book?
Here’s my working summary of Thicker than Blood:
Christy Williams finally has her life on track. Her career as an antiquarian book buyer at the renowned used bookstore Dawson's Book Barn is taking off. Hunter Dawson is teaching her the fine points of purchasing collectible books, and so far she's been able to keep her drinking problem from interfering. But when she discovers her ex-boyfriend, who also works at Dawsons, is stealing valuable books right off the store's shelves, she's unable to stop him for fear he'll expose the skeletons in her closet.
Things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn't commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged family, especially her younger sister May, who she abandoned in their childhood after their parents' untimely deaths. Now the owner of a failing cattle ranch, May couldn't possibly want a relationship with her, the big sister who didn't even say goodbye all those years ago. Could she?
Soon Christy's fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could the Triple Cross ranch be the safe haven she's searching for, or will May's new-found faith give her sister even more reason to reject Christy? Will they realize before it's too late that each possesses what the other desperately needs?
Please give us the first page of the book.
THICKER THAN BLOOD
Christy Williams didn’t see the cop until his red lights spun in her rearview mirror. By then it was too late. He was tailing her, and she had no choice but to ease her Honda Accord onto the snowy shoulder of the freeway and let the cruiser slide in behind.
Jerking up the emergency brake, she threw herself back into her seat with a curse. She hadn’t been speeding. She was sure of it. Christy forced herself to focus on the cruiser, squinting to see past its blinding headlights. She could barely make out the cop’s silhouette behind the wheel. What was he doing?
At last the burly officer emerged from the patrol car, approaching slowly, his hand resting on his holster.
Christy put down her window, and a blast of frigid night air hit her face and rolled across her lap.
“Turn the car off, ma’am.”
“I need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
“What’d I do?” She fumbled for the items, then handed them to the cop. His name tag read T. Jones in black lettering across from his gold Colorado State Patrol badge.
Jones glanced at them with a smirk. He gave one back. “License. Not grocery card.”
Christy flushed as she flipped through her wallet again. Real smooth. She finally found her license and passed it to the cop. He took it with the other cards to his patrol car. What was this was all about? Had she been swerving? She quickly crunched down on two fresh squares of peppermint Dentyne Ice. Deep breath now. Chew. It’s just a routine stop. My taillight’s probably out. No need to panic. He doesn’t know.
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