1. Are you always thinking about story ideas?
Almost! Sometimes it’s intentional, like on road trips when I pull out a notebook, read the signs, and let my mind wander into a world of “what ifs.” Other times there’s a news article or a movie or a picture or song that sparks an idea.
2. How sick of a book do you get before completion?
The first draft is fun, mostly. Reading through that draft alternates between being embarrassing and amazing. Each subsequent revision becomes a little less fun until I definitely need a break from the much-beloved characters before I blow them all up.
3. Do you ever do something crazy to get the creative juices going? Like sitting up and immediately writing out the contents of your dreams?
I’ve written down my dreams before. There was one that sparked the-story-that-never-gets-finished—the story closest to me that I can’t seem to find the courage to write The End on. Most of the others are just amusing.
Every once in a while, if I feel stuck, I’ll pull out paper and do that brainstorming circle method from Freshmen English class. Or I’ll read loglines and use those to start the what-if process.
4. Do you write in a scattered format or do you try to write things basically from start to finish?
Typically I write the scenes that play in my head the most vividly first, regardless of where they show up in the timeline. Sometimes I don’t know where exactly they fit, but writing this way helps me to see more clearly what happens between each of those scenes, so I can go back and fill in the gaps. This means my story calendar might get a little messed up, or the emotions of the moment may need to be adjusted to fit what came before, but it’s what has worked for me so far.
5. How often do you base various story lines or character personalities on something or someone you actually know?
There’s always at least a little bit of true-life tinting my stories or characters. A personality quirk, a location, a description, a food preference—they show up in the small things and usually make me smile when I write them. Little pieces of my loved ones (not literal pieces, in case the suspense writer version of me needs to clarify) or favorite memories are left there on the page to share with the reader. It makes me happy, especially when the loved one is no longer around. It’s nice to re-read something I wrote decades ago and see a little glimpse of my mom in there. It makes it feel like a part of her is still here.
6. Do you know how a story will end or does it evolve?
Beyond a happily ever after, I rarely know exactly how it will end. Even when I’ve written a somewhat detailed plot summary for a book proposal, the characters have a way of changing things up to varying degrees. That’s half the fun of writing, although it can be quite nerve-wracking, especially if I’m on deadline!
7. How long does it take to write a book?
It depends on the story—and by that, I don’t necessarily mean length. Some stories just flow, others are harder work. Some require more research. Some require a break to work out the villain’s motivations, etc. But I am definitely more of a slow and steady girl at this point in my life. Right now I probably average seven months for a full-length novel, two or three months for a novella. But that depends on the factors above, and, well, my kid and my fixer-upper. I do hope to improve those numbers as time goes on…like when I have fewer walls to paint, and my son hits kindergarten.
8. Do you ever feel creatively blocked? How do you overcome it?
If I’m blocked on a particular story:
Sometimes I just need to put it down for a while. Go for a walk, listen to music…or close the file for several months while I work on something else. Sometimes I brainstorm with my husband or a friend. Sometimes I research or write long-hand. Sometimes I interview the characters, or list as many different scenarios as I can come up with for that particular element that I’m stuck on. Sometimes I read parts of novel-writing how-tos. Sometimes I give up and start another story, hoping at some point I’ll be able to come back and save the original one.
If I’m feeling blocked in general:
If I come to an end of a project and don’t know what to do next, it’s usually a matter of having too many story ideas or works-in-progress to choose from. I become indecisive as they all call my name, showing off their merits, and at the same time stumping me with the sheer work involved to get them right. When that happens, sometimes I ask a few trusted friends what they think, throwing a few short summaries at them. In the past, that saved me from pouring endless hours into one story to find out later that a best-selling author already covered that same story line. Sometimes I narrow it down and just try to write a scene for each option and see which one flows best. And it’s always a good idea to talk to my agent. She knows the market and knows what editors are looking for.
9. Who’s your favorite author?
I have too many to pick just one, and even a larger number of favorite books.
Charles Martin—his style creates such vivid pictures in my mind, and I love the steadfast loyalty his heroes always have for their love-interest. If you like Nicolas Sparks, try Charles Martin. You probably won’t look back.
Tracy Groot—Madman. One of my favorite books ever. Read it, even if the first couple chapters are a little harder to get through. It’s worth it.
Kristen Heitzmann—She is the creator of my favorite character ever (besides my own creations, of course). Morgan Spencer. Kristen has a way of making the characters not only come alive, but live on years after you close the book.
Tamara Leigh—Tamara writes in a few different genres, but I think I like her medieval stuff the best. Dreamspell should be a movie. Just saying.
There are more. So many more. Susan May Warren, Beth Vogt, Melissa Tagg. Dee Henderson’s early stuff. Great Divide by Davis Bunn. Katie Ganshert‘s The Gifting series. Some old, old books like Mary Johnston’s To Have and To Hold. And on the list goes…
10. Who do you think you write like?
I’d love to say I’m a complete original. Ground-breaking. Ha! However, I’d be quite thrilled if people compared me to Kristen Heitzmann and Susan May Warren. While I’ll probably never have Kristen’s incredible vocabulary or Susie’s amazing speed (She once wrote a Love Inspired Suspense book in 10 days. Yes. 10.), I hope my characters come as alive as theirs do.
11. Advice to unpublished writers?
Go to writers conferences. (ACFW is a great one. Realm Makers is smaller but with great classes as well. And zombie apocalypse nerf-gun wars. So there’s that…) Make writer friends—good ones. Learn to take criticism and improve. Most of all, keep writing. The more you practice, the better—and maybe even faster—you’ll get. (Plus you’ll have more options if you need to pull something out and bring it back to life quickly, which is awesome.)
12. How supportive is your family?
I’ve been blessed in that area. Growing up, my parents encouraged me and believed in me. They read my stuff, paid for a long-distance writing course, and cheered me on. My brothers bragged on me and helped send me to my first writers conference. My husband challenged me to see if I could actually finish something, and once I did, he jumped fully on board. He’s helped me brainstorm, sent me to several conferences, allowed me to try writing full-time from home even when money was tight, and so much more. I’m very grateful for all my family’s support and the sacrifices they’ve made to help me grow as a writer.
13. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I plan road trips or explore small-town South Carolina with my little family. I shop yard sales and auctions for “project” furniture and accent pieces that may or may not ever be completed. I sit on the porch swing, chatting with my brilliant husband and enjoying the flowers, birds, and breeze. I peruse Pinterest and Instagram for decorating ideas, character research, and parenting advice. I stain countertops and paint and paint and paint in my fixer upper. (Seriously. 12 foot ceilings are great and all, but when you have to do 3 or so coats, and more on the trim… ) I work at a church part-time. I’m in a book club for the first time ever. I pretend to be a bird or a horsey, or play trains or watch trains or talk about trains with my little man. I bake my mom’s famous sourdough bread, a mean chocolate cake, and addictive oatmeal sandwich cookies. And that is pretty much my life.
14. Favorite verse
Since high school, my favorite verse has been Proverbs 16:20b – Whose trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.
Simple. No matter what comes my way I can find joy, because I can let go and let Him lead, knowing He’s got a plan.
15. What’s your favorite part of writing?
The new story smell. That initial excitement with endless possibilities and potential. Or maybe when THE END is typed out and the much-edited story sent off to my agent. Or those moments when my fingers type out something I didn’t see coming, and I get to be surprised along with my characters. All those things are great. But actually, my favorite is probably when things click into place—not necessarily how I planned, but in a way that points to the true Creator. Then my eyes get a little wet, and I feel like He’s speaking to me, just a little, through these beloved characters He has put in my heart. Yeah. That’s the best part.