Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Interview Time

I decided to spend many more hours than usual on this month's post so I made a video interview.  There is a transcript below.

Let’s begin with... Do you have a favorite author?

There are some names that come to mind, but I’m not going to say any of them because I’m afraid that would invite comparisons.  Either I would come out on the wrong end of that comparison or... just because I enjoy someone’s work doesn’t mean I’m trying to write the same sort of thing, and I wouldn’t want to raise incorrect expectations.

Have you ever based a character on a real person?

I think I’ve answered this question before.

You have.  You said, “No.”

Well, it’s a good thing it’s come up again because I have a different answer.  In They See a Family, there is a character named Michael, a very minor character, who is mentally disabled.  I thought the safest way to avoid accidentally veering into stereotypes as I wrote him would be to have a particular person in mind.  I was definitely thinking of my uncle as I wrote him.  Michael is still a fictional character though.  He is not intended to be my uncle.  It was more like... how do I think he would act in this situation, not what has my uncle done in the past that I could put into a book.

Many of your books are Christian fiction.  Just how preachy are they?

First, I just want to say I think it’s too bad that preachy has become kind of negative.  And I know that I have been guilty of using it to describe other books in a negative way.  But preachy isn’t always a bad thing.  I think, like a lot of things, there’s... there’s a time and a place.  And with fiction... it can work.  It has to fit into the story.  I’ve read a lot of books where it felt like the author was kind of taking a break from the story in order to start evangelizing.  And that is a turn-off, even for myself as a Christian.  As far as how preachy my books are... I think the level of preachiness varies in my books.  I am first and foremost telling a story.  But all of my main characters are Christian.  Sometimes they mention saying a prayer or they mention going to church.  But I think in most of my books the characters don’t really sit down and have deep, meaningful discussions about their faith.

Can you rank your books on preachiness for us?

Oh, that would be really hard.  I think I would have to go back and read all my books with like a preachiness journal rank them and I... I’ve never done that.

How about a few examples?

Said and Unsaid was the only book where my main character was a convert, and it’s just been my personal experience that converts tend to be a little more excited.  Since the faith is new, they want to talk about it a little bit more.  I don’t remember exactly how detailed any of those conversations were.  I hope it was more about her experience and never sounded like she was trying to convince the reader of anything.

I don’t remember a lot of preaching in Collecting Zebras.  I feel like that was one of my more lighthearted ones.  I don’t think there were any big catalysts for discussion in that book that I can remember.

There may have been a little preachiness in A Perfectly Good Man.  The main character in that one had a bit of a... not really a crisis exactly...  but at one point she did kind of realize that she’d become a little lukewarm in her faith so there was a little discussion.

Let’s talk about your covers.

Oh, boy.

You’ve mentioned repeatedly being bad at covers.

Repeatedly?  Have I talked about being bad at covers too much?

Depends who you ask.  Some people might say yes.  Most of us think it’s great that you are humble about your limitations and have a sense of humor about it.

Humble and funny?  Now that is a positive spin on a lack of artistic ability.  I guess I’d like to say though that I have not been complaining and doing nothing.  I’ve tried to make up for some of what I lack in natural talent by reading and... there are some things you can learn about design.  Hopefully, I have made some improvements over the years.

Unfortunately, the process is still largely trial and error.  I can look at a cover and see that it’s not working.  I see that it’s maybe unbalanced or maybe the colors are wrong.  I know it’s bad, and I don’t know how to fix it so I usually end up making lots of covers until something... Trial and Error is kind of a frustrating way to do anything.

What else is frustrating?

Sometimes just typing my books can be frustrating because I can’t read my own handwriting.  I write everything out first and my handwriting had not gotten better.  You would think that with context I could figure out all the words... that’s not always the case.

Your bio mentions pen names.  Are you willing to talk about those?

Well, I’ll talk about one.  This was an experiment.  I prefer contemporary romance, both to read and to write, but historical romances seem very popular, particularly there seems to be something about mail order bride stories that people enjoy.  I wrote a four novella series using the name Charlotte Thorpe.  My goal for those stories was to try to capture some of the things that people enjoy about mail order bride stories without actually having a mail order bride in any of them.  Those books have been some of my most popular works and that is... interesting.  When you are outsold by your own alter ego, is that success?  I don’t know.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  Do you have any final thoughts?

I guess my final word would just be thank you.  If anyone has read any of my books, thank you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Looking Back and Looking at the Pages

I’m going to risk sounding arrogant and admit that rereading my own books is fun. I don’t mean reading a book I’m currently working on. I don’t mean editing or proofreading. I do enjoy that – I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t enjoy it – but I wouldn’t call it fun. I mean going back to reread something that is published, released and done. Why do I do that? It’s not because I pick up one of my own books whenever I’m looking for something to read. If I was that arrogant, I wouldn’t admit it. Probably.

Most of my books have a story. Not the story within the pages. Since I write fiction, that story is a given. I hope. I mean most of my books have a specific struggle that comes to mind when I remember writing them.

The story of Said and Unsaid is me yelling at myself as I tried to type it. That one had the roughest rough draft. The notebook was littered with arrows pointing forward and backward through the pages, paragraphs crossed off so many times I wasn’t sure if maybe I was trying to uncross them, and writing so scrunched up in the margins that I had to guess what half the words were. At one point, I was trying to follow symbols that I invented to help myself. I was so confused it wasn’t helping.

The story of Jealousy & Yams is the looooong list of titles I rejected trying to name it. They See a Family has a sad story. A minor character is loosely based on my uncle, who passed away while I was writing it. Andrew’s Key changed the most from my original concept. Berries, though only a tiny part of the book, are central to the story of Beyond Wisherton. The kids eat wild berries in the story. There are yellow and green ones on the bushes and because they are foreign, the kids don’t know which are ripe. In the end, (teeny tiny spoiler) the berries they’ve been complaining about tasted yucky because they ate the wrong color. I screwed that up in the first draft. The ripe color changed halfway through the book. I went back and fixed it, including at least one mention that was already right. Then I had to fix it again. I couldn’t seem to keep those berries straight for anything. The last thing I did before I released the book was find every mention of yellow and green to make sure it stayed consistent.

Writing a book is work. It’s work that I love, but it is work. I remember the work. I don’t remember everything. That’s why I sometimes have to reread my books, especially if I’m working on a series. I wrote Hearts on the Window about a year and a half after I’d finished the other Hartford books so when Seth Anderson showed up in the story, I couldn’t remember what color hair I gave him. I had to find him in Collecting Zebras, then because I’m a little paranoid I had to make sure he had the same color hair in the next book. I’ve had to remind myself the day of the week something happened, a last name, the number of siblings and so on. I usually have to read a little to find these things. That’s where I find some unexpected fun.

Mixed in with sentences I could recite without looking are occasionally things I don’t remember writing. It’s fun to be surprised by that. I get to read conversations that make me smile. I find enjoyment in the writing and perhaps confirmation that all those struggles actually produced something worthwhile. And if taking a little pride in my work makes me sound arrogant, then let’s just pretend I didn’t admit it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

How I Ruined My Books

Until recently, I could say that I’d never signed one of my books. This was partly because no one ever asked. It seemed incredibly arrogant to offer my signature as though it would add value to a book. After all, I’ve never sought signed copies of the books I read, not even my favorites.

The other reason I never signed books was more personal and more deep-seated. It was also more ridiculous. I couldn’t do it because I was brainwashed against writing in books as a child.

The textbooks at my school – like most schools – were used for several years before new ones were purchased. Each child wrote his or her name inside the cover at the start of the year and nothing else was allowed to be written in that book the rest of the year. Nothing else. Period. Every single non-erasable mark found at the end of the year was worth a fifty cent fine. And each child had to stand in front of the teacher’s desk while she flipped through it checking for compliance. Being a rule-follower, I wouldn’t have considered writing in a book even without the hefty fine. Writing in books became a huge no-no. I carried this mentality to all my books.

I once found a mark maybe two inches long in a school book. It looked as though someone had carelessly turned a page while holding a pen. My 10-year-old self freaked out. I wondered if there was a list somewhere. Was there a record that someone had already been fined for the ink on page such-and-such of the book in my possession? Or would I be held responsible for what I knew I hadn’t done? I took that book home and tried to erase the line. I knew ink did not erase. Of course I knew that. Nothing erases ink! It was a crisis. The best I could do was use a white crayon to make the line fainter. And I felt seriously guilty using that crayon in a book. I was doing exactly what I was trying not to get in trouble for not doing. Panic and logic do not go together.

I ended up escaping a fine that year. I felt very lucky. What I could not escape was the lingering feeling that writing in a book is always wrong. Always. It doesn’t matter who owns it. I don’t even write in my own proof copies. I’ll have a book that I know isn’t finished, that I know will be recycled after I mark the revisions, and I still cannot bring myself to write directly in the book. I use bookmarks crammed with notes. Somehow, that feels more normal.

I show up for my study group with spare paper for notes. That’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s what I was trained to do. I cringe as others write in their books and kind of want to scream at them for doing something so wrong. My in-laws have the habit of writing in every single book they give to my kids. It’s usually something short like “Merry Christmas 2012.” It’s great that they give the kids books because books are, in general, awesome. But I always wonder why they had to ruin the book before they gave it to us.

I know.

I know I’m the one who’s weird here. Inscription is a word. Lots of people write in their books. Lots of people think it’s actually a good thing. That’s why when I was finally asked to sign copies of one of my books, I did not say, “Are you insane? I can’t ruin the books before we pass them out.” I acted as though it was no big deal. You want me to scribble in the books first? Sure. I’ll ruin them if that’s what you want. I am not willing to sacrifice my principles to gain more readers, but I will gladly sacrifice an odd hang-up. Well, maybe not gladly. Maybe there was cringing.