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Archive for the ‘Fellow Author Feature’ Category

JAN: Today I am interviewing author Sharon Hamilton, who writes as Sharon Plumb. Thanks for joining us today, Sharon. How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

SHARON: My earliest memory of writing is at a child-sized table in our kitchen when I was in kindergarten. I have always written stories, although I stopped for a while when I was studying computer science at university. When my children were young, I decided to try again. I enrolled in a course in writing for children, and I have been writing ever since.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

SHARON: My grade 7 English teacher liked my stories and told me I should be a writer. Other teachers gave me good marks on my writing, and my parents enjoyed reading it and kept copies. More recently, the members of my writing groups and encouraging comments from a few editors and publishers have kept me going.

I try to encourage others as well. Writing is a tough, lonely business to be in, and we can all use some kind words!

JAN: That’s the truth! What’s your preferred genre?

SHARON: I have written picture books, a middle grade mystery adventure, young adult fantasy, poetry, songs, children’s plays, and a full-length Easter musical, so I don’t actually stick to one genre. My religious writing has mostly been dramas and songs, often together. I also write children’s Sunday School curriculum, and enjoy illuminating theological concepts through story.

In my secular stories it seems that whatever I set out to write turns into fantasy—not swords and wizards, usually, but the broad category of things that couldn’t actually happen in the real world. My YA novels have dragons on another planet. Another has a farm of giant vegetables. A work in progress has creatures that live underground in the Earth’s upper mantle. My picture book is about a bear that shovels snow off his roof. But I also like to know how things work, so I often end up with a kind of science fiction-fantasy blend.

JAN: Very diverse. Why do you write?

SHARON: That’s a really good question. The quick answer is compulsion. If I don’t write, I become sad. Although I love putting words down, I often get tongue-tied when I speak. Writing helps me figure myself out. [I agree! sez Jan.] The process can feel difficult, frustrating, and endless, but I’m never happier than when I’m doing it.

The answer to the deeper question, what do I hope to achieve by writing, is one that I have been asking myself for a while now. Obviously, I want people to read what I write, and I hope they will take away something of value. Through my religious writing, I hope people will understand something about God in a new way, and desire Him more. But what are the secular stories for? Entertainment, yes. The main goal must be to write a compelling story that someone will actually want to read. I also hope they will learn from my research and find new delight in the natural world: the tagline on my website is “Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.” But is there more?

Writing is how I process thoughts about the world and faith and how they interact. My stories, though not overtly Christian, do contain Christian themes. I hope my Christian readers will find them. The non-Christian readers may or may not notice them, but I hope the ideas will resonate. As Jill Briscoe said, “When you are a writer, what you are is written all over a plain white sheet.” I hope that what I am and what spills out through my stories will be magical to someone.

JAN: Excellent thought. I just read that our “job” as Christians is to abide in the Vine, and Christ’s part is to bring fruit from our faithful abiding. So, as we write, honestly and transparently, our light is visible and powerful.

How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SHARON: I write at my desk, at my treadmill, and some mornings at a table with a friend or two who are also writing. I am a plotter. Before writing anything, I figure out the world, the characters, and the basic plot by filling notebooks with ideas, questions and possible answers. As scenes spring into my mind, I jot them down too, and eventually the story takes on a nebulous shape. When I’m ready to write, I outline each scene as I get to it with the following questions: What does each character want to achieve in this scene? Where is the conflict? What will be the outcome?

Of course, things turn out quite differently once I start to write. I discover details I didn’t know, or characters do things I didn’t expect, and I have learned that this is when the story comes alive. I still outline as I go because I find it hard to write pleasing sentences and generate ideas at the same time. But I expect my outline to change. As the story gets more involved, I make charts to keep track of how my characters are thinking, planning, feeling, and interacting about the various things that are going on.

I recently purchased Scrivener, and am experimenting with outlining on its corkboard. I like being able to see the story at a glance, but because I go down a lot of rabbit trails at first, I suspect I will still use notebooks for pre-writing and go to Scrivener when I have a pretty good idea of what the story is.

JAN: This sounds like an efficient plan, but a lot of work, as is any approach to writing. By the way, I use Scrivener and love it.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

SHARON: I never know where an idea will come from, so I try to be open. I read different kinds of books and magazines and pay attention to things happening in the world at large and around me. I have several projects in progress, and sometimes I will notice something that could be used in one of them.

Often I get ideas from reading the Bible or related books. For example, one of the main ideas in Draco’s Child  came from Jesus’s words, “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” I wondered what it would be like to physically become a small child again. So some of my characters do this.

The world is full of ideas, and I am realizing that it is important to write about things I care deeply about—even if the shape they take is fantastic and seemingly far from the original inspiration. It takes a long time to write a novel, and there has to be something that calls to me from a deep place or I will lose interest. Sometimes the deeper ideas don’t become apparent until late in the process. It is a kind of dance to follow ideas and see what shape they will take. I have to trust that there is more there than I can see at the start.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

SHARON: I do internet searches and follow a lot of links. I look for several different sources to see if they agree, and also try to choose sites that look reputable, by people who look like experts.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

SHARON: Most: Creating a world and characters to live in it and following their story. Finding the right words. Revising the story once all the elements are there—like icing a cake to make it beautiful.

Least: Querying publishers. The process can be so discouraging and take so long that any excitement about the story dries up. I am considering self-publishing in the future so I can be in control and don’t have to do this anymore.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

SHARON: I have a website and I’m on Facebook, but I’m not actively promoting any books right now. I write blog posts occasionally and plan to do it more regularly once I make room in my life to do it. I will have to look at this more seriously once I have something to promote again.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

SHARON: It is very easy to put aside my writing in favour of the multitude of urgent things that always need to be done, especially when they have tangible outcomes that help people, and my writing usually doesn’t. I struggle a lot with valuing my writing enough to give it priority.

My husband told me that whatever he does first thing in the morning is what gets done that day, so I try to start the day with writing and not even look at email or my job list until afterwards. Writing with friends is helpful because it is time set aside for that purpose. Having a critique group is also helpful because it provides deadlines and encouragement.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

SHARON: I just finished reading A Recipe for Bees, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. The author gave a writing workshop here a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things she recommended was to interview people to get insights into their situations and their ways of looking at the world. The character in this book is wonderfully alive, so I think she is on to something. I also recently read Kristine Scarrow’s new novel, 11thHour. It’s a chilling look at mental illness in teenagers. I also read Kirsten Britain’s Green Rider, the first book in her fantasy series. The book I am most waiting for is the third one in Patrick Rothfuss’s series that began with The Name of the Wind.

Usually I prefer print books, but at times it can be lighter and handier to read digital. You can’t easily share digital books. But they’re cheaper. Libraries are wonderful for both kinds.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

SHARON: I like gardens with fresh strawberries and rhubarb, but not mosquitoes. I like singing and making music. I like books that make me forget where I am. I love riding my bike. I like seeing fields of grass wave in the wind, and I like mountains up close.

JAN: You sound like a poetic soul, certainly a creative one. What keeps you going in your writing career?

SHARON: When I’m writing a Christmas play for our church or when I have a critique group (or blog interview!) deadline, I produce because I have to. Most times, the motivation has to come from within. If I’m in the middle of a story and the words are flowing, or if they aren’t but the stumbling point feels like a puzzle to solve, the project itself drives me. I have a goal and a direction and know what needs to be done. Or I can’t bear to leave my characters in their predicament and have to slog forward until they are out.

Other times, especially if I’m between projects, or I’m facing a string of rejections or being ignored by publishers, it is hard to muster the enthusiasm to write anything. I wonder if I’m wasting my time and should find something more obviously useful to do. At these times, I have to remind myself why I write at all. I love the process and it makes me happy. I have some combination of talent and learning that makes me able to do this. Jesus said we should use our talents and not bury them. Here, I have to trust. Trust that if God gave me the talent and this overwhelming desire to tell stories, and I offer the gift to Him, he will make my work bear fruit. That somewhere, sometime, someone will read it and be inspired, or encouraged, or helped.

Sometimes, someone does tell me they like my stories—maybe a teacher or a student when I’m doing a reading, or a friend who emails, or an editor. Recently, someone I don’t even know put a nice comment about Draco’s Child  on Goodreads. That kept me going for a long time.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

SHARON: In my Sunday School plays and songs, pretty directly because they teach Bible stories and illustrate concepts about God. In my fantasy stories, much more subtly. In the Draco’s Childworld, the characters are colonists on a new planet, but the planet is hostile and it becomes apparent that they will not survive unless something changes. It turns out that what has to change is them—only when they become small children again can they grow into a form that will allow them to thrive. This comes directly from “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” The whole story can be read without recognizing this analogy, but it is there. The novel I just finished is about a young dragon who needs to save his people from destruction by an incoming comet. But it is also about walking by faith when you don’t know what to do.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

SHARON: I have learned humility. It is REALLY HARD to write a good novel with well-formed and evocative prose, relatable characters with believable motivations, a plot that makes sense, an ending that satisfies and fulfils the promise made by the opening, and an inspiring message. There is always a better way to write. I have also learned to listen to my characters. They need to behave according to who they are and not according to what I think the plot needs them to do.

JAN: Well said, Sharon. What is your ultimate writing goal?

SHARON: To write good stories that will resonate with readers. I would also like my stories to draw people closer to God, whether that means understanding something in a new way, feeling his joy, or just appreciating in a fresh way the marvelous intricacies of this world he gave us to live in.

JAN: Any advice for a beginning writer?

SHARON: Read a lot of good books. Write a lot, and expect to do a lot of revising. Keep learning about the craft because there will always be ways to improve. Find a critique group. Write about things that you care deeply about. Enjoy the process and try not to fret about the outcome. I’m still working on this one. And the others.

JAN: Thanks so much, Sharon, for telling us about yourself and your writing. There is deep insight in many of your responses that makes me want to further consider the questions for myself. I wish you many blessings as you continue on your literary journey, and in your personal life as well.

BIO: Sharon Plumb grew up writing stories in a small town that no longer exists, in the mountains of northern British Columbia. Then she moved to the flat prairies, where she  writes stories about people and places that don’t exist. She has written picture books, novels, poems, songs, and plays, most of which she has also directed. Her picture book Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof was published by Scholastic Education.  Draco’s Child, a young adult fantasy novel, was published by Thistledown Press. She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Check out Sharon’s Facebook page and her website.

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JAN: Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a writer from Australia, Narelle Atkins, who I met (virtually) through International Christian Fiction Writers. Thank you, Narelle, for taking time to share about your writing life with me and my readers.

How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

NARELLE: I’ve always been an avid reader and dreamed about writing and publishing a book. Twenty years ago, I started writing romance fiction. After a long writing apprenticeship, my debut book was published by Harlequin Heartsong Presents in 2014 as part of a six-book contract.

JAN: I suppose that could be exciting and frightening at the same time, to be offered such a deal, but you’ve obviously followed through and done well. What is your preferred genre?

NARELLE: Contemporary Christian Romance.

JAN: Why do you write?

NARELLE: Because I can’t not write, lol. I have characters in my head who won’t go away or shut up until their stories are written!

JAN: An active imagination is a great motivator. How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

NARELLE: I can write a first draft anywhere. I wrote a large portion of Solo Tu, my latest release, using the Notes app on my phone. For the editing stage, I prefer to work at home where I can be left alone to focus on the story. I’m a plotter and I typically start my stories with a robust outline in place. The outline is fluid and I make minor adjustments as I write and learn more about the characters and the story.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

NARELLE: Life inspires me. I feed my creativity by being out and about and meeting people.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

NARELLE: An author newsletter has become an essential way to connect with readers. I also enjoy blogging on my group blogs and connecting with readers there and in the Facebook reader groups.

JAN: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

NARELLE: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the social media platforms where I spend the most time.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

NARELLE: It’s not easy. I have work-a-holic tendencies, and I find it’s always a struggle to balance family, day job, and writing responsibilities.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

NARELLE: The faith element is an organic part of my stories. I like exploring the spiritual journey of my characters. This may be subtle or a bit more overt. I personally don’t like reading preachy Christian fiction books, but I do appreciate reading stories with a strong and compelling faith element.

JAN: Yes, it’s a fine line. What is your ultimate writing goal?

NARELLE: To keep learning and growing as a writer.

JAN: Good advice for any of us. What advice would you give a beginning writer?

NARELLE: Take the time to learn your craft and resist the temptation to publish too soon. Don’t give up. Enjoy the journey!

Narelle Atkins

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle’s contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

How to get in touch with Narelle:

 

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JAN: Today I am sharing an interview with Alison Lohans. Besides being an accomplished author of more than 26 books, Alison is a lovely person I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of times. Alison, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

ALISON: I’ve been making up stories since early childhood. The first time, I recall, was at age 5, telling myself stories to entertain myself while lying in bed. I remember my first case of writer’s block at age 6 when I didn’t know how to spell “squirrel” for a story I was writing at school, and was too shy to ask the teacher.

My mother definitely was a strong encouraging person as she had hopes of writing for children herself, and found ways to open my way throughout, including a trip to the library when I was 10 to check out a copy of Writer’s Market, suggesting that I try submitting my short stories to children’s magazines. She also encouraged me to attend a community college creative writing class with her (I was 14 at the time, and had already published two short stories).

JAN: Wow, what an amazing mom to encourage you in such practical ways. What’s your preferred genre?

ALISON: For decades I’ve written for young people—a variety of works ranging from picture books, early reader chapter books, middle-grade novels, and books for younger and older teens. The age/genre within the spectrum of work for young people hinges upon the nature of the question that triggers a story—and since we are all complex beings, with multi-layered interests, thoughts and concerns, my work gravitates toward a specific age niche accordingly.

One genre I’ve always found a lot of fun to write is the chapter book for early readers, with its concrete, often humorous, stance—but the market is very limited these days. The picture book is the most challenging to write, as a complete story, with all its ingredients, needs to be fit into a package of under a thousand words, executed in tight, beautiful language. The YA novel provides an ideal avenue for digging into deep, complex issues. Since the 1980s I’ve also been interested in writing romance novels and, at last, have a novel in that genre approaching completion.

Picturing Alyssa by Alison Lohans

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

ALISON: The “how” is kind of tricky to answer as I’ve slowed down considerably during the past few years, in part due to confusing changes in the marketplace. One publisher (of seven of my books) closed up shop; my agent was laid off because the agency was closed; and another publisher changed hands and orphaned all of their YA fantasy titles (that included two of my books, which had literally taken 30 years to develop, from riveting idea to published book). In many ways it’s like having to start all over again, with fewer open doors and very different submissions practices.

All of this said, I migrate between two laptops in different rooms (partly for postural reasons). These days I “get into it” most quickly during pre-arranged joint writing times—i.e., sitting down at the same table with other writer friends, our common objective being to work. I also enjoy writing retreats very much. While there’s a cost involved, I love the collegiality of being immersed in silent writing times, with others, away from home…and find these retreats enormously productive.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. I “live” my books through my protagonists, both in the pre-writing stages and during the writing. I get stuck when I don’t know my characters well enough.

JAN: You’ve experienced a number of setbacks due mostly to marketplace changes, and I thank you for sharing them with us. It helps to know these things happen to others too. What do you like most / least about writing?

ALISON: Most: To “live” and puzzle out interesting life questions through my protagonist, and in the process, to hone my craft to create evocative, precise, efficient and beautiful language that invites the reader in with vivid, living images.

Least: It took a few decades to reach this point, but there’s that aspect of slamming oneself against the wall repeatedly, with works I utterly believe in that might receive one glowing rejection after another—OR—which fall in a black hole after they’re published. And the monetary aspect? It simply doesn’t do to think about that in terms of the massive amount of work and soul that go into a book—sometimes decades for various stages of the completion process. We need to have a really thick skin, and sometimes that gets incredibly disheartening.

JAN: Very true. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

ALISON: Facebook has always worked better for me than any other social medium. It’s great for getting word out about new releases, and sometimes has garnered a few sales in places where readers would have almost no access to my work. I use both my regular profile page, and my author page, to highlight my work. I have a website, but really am not sure how effective it is, other than for occasional queries from readers far away (primarily New Zealand) who are studying my New Zealand-published books for class assignments.   https://alisonlohans.wordpress.com/

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

ALISON: I used to write all the time, and gems from my personal time slipped into my creative time. These days my life is primarily personal time, with my writing always there on the side, to dip into. Having less intrinsic motivation than I once did, I find that social time with other writers always gives me a welcome “kick” back into my writing.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

ALISON: I’m reading Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy, which I happened upon thanks to a review in the paper. Its quirky premise and unpredictable humour quickly drew me in.

In terms of preferred reading mode, print always wins. I don’t read digital unless I have to.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things?

ALISON: My favourite non-writing activities include my love of music, which has always been a twin passion throughout my life. At the moment I play cello, cornet and recorder in quite a few local amateur groups, and also sing in choirs. These music activities plunge me into the midst of creating something beautiful with other great people who share the same love of music. That rewarding social realm nurtures me in ways that solitary writing cannot. On occasion, I’m able to work music into my fiction and I love the synergy when that happens.

Another favourite activity is international travel, which is an incredible privilege that’s opened up during the past 15+ years. I really love seeing other parts of the world, catching glimpses of how people live there, with their different mind-sets. More and more, travel has been nurturing my fiction. Some books and short stories couldn’t have even been conceived, if not for the travel. My nearly-completed novel, an experiment in the romance genre, is set on a tour of Egypt much like the one I took five years ago. And my first visit to Scotland yielded a riveting idea that still needs to find its right shape and approach.

JAN: Ooh, sounds intriguing. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

ALISON: Aspects of my faith sometimes work themselves into my YA novels, through characters’ inherent beliefs. Additionally, in my two orphaned YA novels being re-released this coming December as a single novel, Timefall, the spirituality of the primitive society a thousand years in our future reflects some of my deeply-held beliefs.

JAN: Do you have some advice for beginning writers?

ALISON: I used to have lots of handy advice for beginners, but with so many changes in the commercial marketplace, advice is harder to come by. However, five things still jump out:

(1) READ exhaustivelyin the genres that pique your interest! Read not only for enjoyment, but also to study how these writers have handled their craft.

(2) Give yourself permission to write that sloppy copy, rather than trying to get it right the first time around. By staying loose we are more open to additional nuances that might not have immediately occurred to us. Likewise, by expecting perfection the first time, we also cramp ourselves into a space where the story may not be able to breathe.

(3) REVISE! It’s through coming back again and again that we find the rhythms and images that work best together. Try reading your work aloud—the way words fall off the tongue can be a better editor than simply using our eyes.

(4) Write about things you truly feel passionate about. That energy will creep into your work and make it come alive in ways that can’t happen if you give yourself an assignment to write about something that you think would fit well in the marketplace.

(5) Keep the flame alive by finding  joy in what you’re doing—that sense of discovery that can happen not only when characters confront a dilemma, but also the self-discovery that can happen when you’re writing. It’s all about growth, and sometimes when working through characters’ challenges in this craft, we end up slightly changed as people, through having written a book.

JAN: Excellent thoughts, Alison. Thanks again for sharing with us today; you’ve informed and inspired me. I wish you joy as you travel, make and share music, and write.

For more information about Alison, check out her website, her Facebook page and the Amazon book list page. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Alison is also a member of CANSCAIP: The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.

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Today I’m pleased to introduce you to friend and fellow author, Darlene Polachic. As a long-time journalist/columnist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in Saskatoon, SK Canada, Darlene has featured many local Christian authors and writing events in her columns. Thank you from all of us for the exposure. Now it’s my turn to interview you!

JAN: Darlene, welcome to my blog and thanks for your willingness to do this interview with me. To begin, how long have you been writing?

DARLENE: I’ve been an avid reader and writer all my life, but I began writing for profit about 25 years ago. I’d read a book by Dennis Hensley entitled You Can Write Magazine Articles and Sell Them and I thought, I could do that. When my first two stories sold, I took that as God telling me: “This is what I want you to do now.” More recently, I have branched into fiction writing.

JAN: What is your preferred genre?

DARLENE: I’ve always enjoyed reading a good romance, and for me, in today’s culture and market, a good romance has to be a Christian or inspirational one. I prefer contemporary settings and characters over period, historic, or Amish genres.

Not surprisingly, contemporary Christian romance is what I enjoy writing. My tagline is: From the heart for the heart.

I am currently working on the Ever Green Romance Series, having published Books 1, 2 and 3 on Amazon in e-book and print book formats. The first two: To Have, To Hold and For Richer, For Poorer, came out in 2017. Book Three, To Love, To Cherish, was recently released. All being well, Book Four, From This Day Forward, will come out this summer. I plan to begin work soon on a Christmas romance to be released around November (no title yet).

JAN: Wow, Darlene, you are obviously a determined and self-disciplined author. Congrats on your achievements and all the best in the future. Now tell me, what do you like most and least about writing?

DARLENE: Most? I love writing description and dialogue. I enjoy putting myself in the scene and imagining a realistic give-and-take conversation.

Least? Definitely marketing. Creating is a strength of writers and other artistic types; putting yourself and your work out there isn’t. Marketing is definitely my weak spot.

JAN: For interest sake, how and where do you write?

DARLENE: I have a bizarre system for writing my novels. I do my preliminary writing in longhand, on recycled paper, sitting by a sunny window (whenever possible) in a coffee shop. Then I go home and transcribe the day’s writing into a computer file, editing and polishing as I go.

My very first step in writing a novel is to find an on-line image of what I envision my lead characters to look like, print it off and keep it close at hand as a reminder. [Jan says, “I’ve done that too, and find it very helpful.”] I also fill out a detailed character profile for each of them using a questionnaire posted by Becky Wade in one of her blogs—which leads to the next question:

Who is my favourite author?

Inspirational romance writer Becky Wade. Hands down.

Others include Denise Hunter, Nancy Rue, Ruth Logan Herne, Katherine Reay, Melissa Tagg, Irene Hannon, Kara Isaac, Hillary Manton Lodge, Jan Karon…

JAN: That’s quite a list. Do you prefer reading digital or print?

DARLENE: I read both. If it’s a book I’m marginally interested in or curious about, I’ll buy the e-book version. If it’s an author I really like, and whose work I know, I’ll buy the print book. I still like the feel of a book in my hands. (Also, you can’t really read on a Kindle when you’re soaking in the tub, now can you?)

JAN: You’ve got that right! Would you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser?

DARLENE: I am a plotter and outliner, though my plots and outlines don’t always end up where I’ve headed them. I divide a long sheet of paper into segments to know approximately where and when key elements and events need to take place. As the scenes are written, I chop off that part (kind of like crossing things off my To-Do List). Very satisfying.

JAN: How do you balance your professional time with personal time?

DARLENE: Having to meet magazine and newspaper deadlines for many years has disciplined me to write daily—except on weekends. It also taught me not to panic when unexpected interruptions come. I rarely experience writer’s block, perhaps for the same reason. Self-publishing on Amazon eliminates deadline pressure except for what I impose on myself.

JAN: As a writer with a Christian worldview, how would you say your faith is reflected in your writing?

DARLENE: My overarching goal in all I do is to honour God, and that includes my writing. I do a lot of praying while I’m writing, and have found that when I’m stymied, God is always faithful with fresh inspiration and ideas when I ask. He is, after all, the Creator of creativity. My hope is to incorporate nuggets of spiritual truth in my stories in a way that is natural and unobtrusive, but which may encourage, enlighten, or speak to readers.

JAN: A great reminder. As a last question, what advice would you give beginning writers?

DARLENE: One way I’ve found to improve one’s writing is to read good writers. Look at their work analytically. Figure out what you like about it, and why. What makes it stand out above others? Study the pace of the story. I have a couple of books that bristle with Post-It notes that I go back to frequently for fresh insight.

Also, once you’ve finished your novel and proofread and edited the manuscript (maybe more than once), don’t be in a hurry to submit it until you’ve had at least three other readers go over it for errors. I learned this from unhappy experience. Yes, it takes extra time, but it might save you a lifetime of embarrassment.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

I have a Facebook page, though I confess I’m not very active on it, other than announcing the release of my latest book. My novels are available on Amazon. I can be contacted by email at: polachd@sasktel.net.

 

 

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Happy Tuesday to you all. Today I have the pleasure of sharing an interview featuring Australian author, Ian Acheson. Since the names IAN and JAN are so similar, I will highlight IAN’s name in RED.

Hello, Ian. Thanks for joining us today. Let’s begin with a simple question: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

IAN: I wrote as a kid but didn’t take it up again until about 15 years ago. I had taken a sabbatical from Corporate life and my wife encouraged me to write that book I’d been talking about writing for the past ten years. So I did.

There had been a series of “God-moments” that had encouraged me to step away from the Corporate world for a season to see if I had a story in me.

JAN: What’s your preferred genre?

IAN: Speculative fiction with a sub-genre of supernatural fiction. My novels explore the thin veil that exists between the natural and supernatural worlds. No, there are not any weird creatures, simply angels and demons from a very traditional Biblical perspective that Frank Peretti brought to life in his “Darkness” series of the late 80s, early 90s.

JAN: Interesting approach. Tell me, why do you write?

IAN: To answer questions the Lord has put on my heart. So with Angelguard, the first in the series of the Angelguard Chronicles, I simply explored the question of how our prayer life can impact heaven. And in the sequel, Wrestling with Shadows (not yet published), I explored how the light and dark exist side-by-side in our lives.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

IAN: I’m definitely a pantser. I’ve tried being a plotter using a few different methods but my characters keep insisting they’ll tell the story and not me.

For Angelguard I was very diligent. Having read Stephen King’s book On Writing, my key takeaway was he wrote 2,000 words a day. So I adopted the same strategy. Incredibly, I generally managed to stick to that discipline when writing the first draft. However, I’ve found since those early days it’s been significantly harder to write so prolifically.

JAN: Yes, there’s this thing called life that interrupts our best laid plans. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

IAN: Ideas come from being widely read and keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world. Angelguard is a very global series with scenes in many different countries.

As I mentioned previously, I’m inspired by seeking with God to answer a question. It’s so mind-blowing having the Creator of the universe sitting alongside helping me to explore a question while writing a story.

JAN: That is mind-blowing. It’s something we need to remember as we work. How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

IAN: I mostly use desk research, ie, the internet. But I will use publications like TIME and the like to give me certain insights. I typically will seek multiple sources on a topic so it serves as a form of self-validation.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

IAN: Once again, I enjoy the experience of writing with Jesus. I also love research. I’m a Learner by nature so I am always seeking to learn things. I love hanging out with my characters and discovering more about them through the writing process.

I struggle with the “craft” side of things. The really basic stuff of making sure I use the correct sentence structure, showing not telling, etc.

JAN: We all have our stronger and weaker areas. What are some of the best methods you’ve found for promoting your work?

IAN: I’m not very good at this but the best promotion is, firstly, writing a great story. Secondly, having a tribe of readers that love your story and share it with others. Thirdly, allowing the Lord to guide your efforts. We need to remember He’s the best marketer ever.

JAN: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

IAN: My favourite is Twitter because it feeds my Learner trait and now that it’s 280 characters, yippee! I suspect Instagram is pretty effective at present and definitely one needs to explore both Amazon and Facebook ads.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

IAN: This is challenging for everyone. Having a schedule is important, blocking out work vs writing vs personal time.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

IAN: I read multiple books simultaneously. I’m presently finishing When Angels Cry by MaryLu Tyndall, which a supernatural-based story. It’s a lot of fun. Then I’m reading a bunch of Christian-living type books by AW Tozer and Heidi Baker, plus I’m teaching myself Lectio Divina Bible reading using Jan Johnson’s excellent “Meeting God in Scripture.”

I will always prefer reading print books but digital are so affordable that when you read as many books as I do you simply must buy ebooks to save money.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

IAN: Like most Aussies, I love sport. These days it’s more about following it rather than playing. Liverpool Football Club have been a passion of mine for over 40 years and continue to bring me great joy and frustration in equal measure. I’m now a grandfather (of Moses) which adds a whole new dimension to life.

I love the theatre and movies, eating out with my wonderful wife, and I actively participate in a couple of ministries at church.

What makes me unique? Well, God has made us all unique. It’s really our entire makeup that brings about the uniqueness not just individual facets.

JAN: Well said, Ian. What keeps you going in your writing career?

IAN: Two things: the Lord keeps challenging me with questions and my characters keep taking me on new adventures.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

IAN: Prayer is central to my stories, but most of my non-Christian readers say they skipped those sections. Ha.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

IAN: The latest story is always the hardest one to write. Fortunately, some writer friends, one of whom has sold millions of copies of his books, confirm this is the same for them.

Nothing happens if you don’t show up to the keyboard. Don’t wait for inspiration. Something magical happens when you start writing.

Always leave some crumbs from today’s writing to start the next day as it helps motivate you to start writing next day.

JAN: Great writing advice. What is your ultimate writing goal?

IAN: To keep sharing the stories my characters bring to me to write.

JAN: Advice for beginning writer?

IAN: All of the above plus 2 other tidbits:

  • read a lot and write a lot
  • just because you have a story on your heart doesn’t mean anyone (outside of family and friends) should read it. Having judged many writing competitions, I’ve discovered some stories (especially memoir-style ones) need to be written but don’t need to be read by a wide audience. Why? Because the process of writing the story is where the fruit is to be found.

JAN: Interesting observations. Thank you, Ian, for taking the time to visit with me and my readers today. All the best as you continue with your Angelguard series and other writing.

Author Ian Acheson

Ian’s Bio

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney, Australia. Ian’s first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian’s website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter

 

 

 

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JAN: I am pleased to be able to interview another of my fellow Canadian authors today. Sandra Orchard, welcome to my blog.

Sandra Orchard

How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

SANDRA: I started writing my first novel in the autumn of 2006. I’d been contemplating the idea for a while, then my husband, in desperation over the books piling up around our bedroom, suggested I write my own and so my journey began.

JAN: What’s your preferred genre?

SANDRA: I enjoy writing both mysteries and romantic suspense.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SANDRA: I write on my laptop sitting in a gravity chair. I actually prefer to write longhand and used to when my daughter was still at home and would type out the pages for me. I’m a plotter, although I have “pantsed” the ending of several novels, when the villain didn’t turn out to be who I’d planned.

JAN: That’s fascinating. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

SANDRA: Ideas come to me from anywhere and everywhere—while reading articles, watching the news or a movie, during conversations, while driving, hiking, kayaking and more or less minding my own business. I might see a detour sign and imagine what my heroine would face at the other end. My Serena Jones Mysteries were initially inspired by an article about a Montreal art crime detective.

JAN: I’ve often wondered where that unique idea came from. How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

SANDRA: I do extensive research. Over the years I have connected with trusted advisors in law enforcement, the fire department, the medical fields, the FBI and in occupations pertinent to the characters I am creating. For my Serena Jones Mysteries, I traveled to St. Louis to explore the city where Serena lives and to visit the FBI headquarters where she works and to interview her “colleagues.” I explored numerous art museums, read countless books on art crime, authored by the founder of the FBI’s art crime team, and top art crime detectives in the UK, NYC and California, and even a couple written by art thieves. I like to have a strong sense of the motivation driving both my heroes and my villains after all.

JAN: That sounds like a lot of work; it makes the story more credible when I know you’ve done your research well. So tell me, what do you like most / least about writing?

SANDRA: I love brainstorming new stories, especially with fellow writers and specialists. And I love the research, which inevitably spawns lots of potential directions and rabbit trails for the plot to take. I even enjoy editing. It’s a wonderful feeling to know the story is done and to be able to polish it until it really shines. My least favourite part, ironically, is the actual writing. It didn’t used to be that way. It is a side effect of having to write to deadlines and be creative and productive on a schedule.

JAN: Yes, creativity and deadlines are sometimes at odds. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

SANDRA: I love interacting with readers on Facebook. I don’t really participate in other venues. I have a presence on Pinterest and Goodreads, but I don’t hang out there.

JAN: It obviously takes a lot of time to research, write and market. How do you balance professional time with personal time?

SANDRA: Much better than I used to. I used to write and/or work at marketing as much as twelve hours a day. After my young grandson’s near fatal accident in 2016, I took five months off to be with him and the family in the hospital through his recovery. Since then I’ve been writing cozy mysteries for Annie’s Attic, which are only available through mail or e-book subscription, so no marketing is required on my part. This gives me much more time to spend with my young grandchildren.

JAN: Life has a way of highlighting priorities, doesn’t it? I didn’t know about Annie’s Attic. Must go there. What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

SANDRA: I am currently reading a Mary Conneally historical romance novel. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a historical. It’s a nice change of pace. I prefer to read on my old kindle that reads like paper (not backlit), because I can enlarge the print and comfortably read for hours.

JAN: What keeps you going in your writing career?

SANDRA: The encouragement of my loyal readers to keep writing.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

SANDRA: As I work through the goals and motivations, flaws and epiphanies of my various characters, I inevitably examine and work through my own perspectives on what they’re learning. I’ve also learned to seek the Lord’s inspiration daily. A metaphor he inspired for sea glass in Over Maya Dead Body is a good example of a nugget of truth that really resonated with me:  the sea glass “had once been an ugly piece of broken, useless glass that nobody wanted. But in being pushed around by the waves and roughed up by the rocks and sand, it was transformed into a beautiful, sought-after treasure.”

JAN: Lovely and inspirational. What is your ultimate writing goal?

SANDRA: To write stories that both entertain and inspire. I am continually amazed at the smallest thing in a story that might speak to a particular reader. Recently, it was the fact one of my older secondary characters felt comfortable enough in her own skin that she didn’t feel the need to dye her hair. It made a reader decide that she didn’t need to either.

JAN: That’s cool. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

SANDRA: Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Enjoy the journey.

JAN: Thanks so much, Sandra, for taking the time to share your journey with us. I wish you God’s rich blessings as you continue on your way.

More about Sandra Orchard

Sandra’s Books

Some of Sandra’s stories

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Today, I’d like to introduce you to a writing friend who also lives in Saskatchewan, Canada. We haven’t known each other long, but I’ve already come to appreciate her enthusiasm and encouraging attitude. Say hello to Donna Gartshore, who writes for Love Inspired, the faith branch of Harlequin.

Donna Gartshore

JAN: Welcome, Donna. Tell us, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

DONNA: I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I was about five or six when I proudly gave my dad, a journalist, a story I’d written about two girls on a picnic who saw a squirrel. I’m sure it had no punctuation! But the thing that stands out for me was how seriously Dad took my efforts. He didn’t just say, “Oh that’s so cute.” He read it carefully and told me what he liked about it, but also how to improve it. I’ve never forgotten that. So, I’ve believed I could be a writer ever since then.

JAN: Who are some people who influenced your decision to be a writer?

DONNA: I guess I partly answered this in the previous question. My dad always treated my writing goals seriously. I have a lot of creative people in my family – playwrights, marketing experts, etc.; books and words are important to us. I also had elementary school teachers who liked my stories and encouraged me. And every time I read a book that contains a descriptive phrase or a moment of revelation that takes my breath away, I think THIS is what I want to do.

JAN: What’s your preferred genre?

DONNA: It might be faster to talk about what I don’t read! I don’t like horror or true crime. I worry enough without bringing that into my life. I read Christian fiction and romance (obviously!). I love Alice Munro’s and Mavis Gallant’s short stories. I love mysteries—Gail Bowen’s are favourites of mine. In general, whatever the genre, I don’t like things that are too preachy or overly sweet. I like to see characters with genuine struggles, so when they find their answers, it’s that much more rewarding. I’ve gained some of my greatest inspiration from the strength of characters in books that aren’t traditionally inspirational.

JAN: Why do you write?

DONNA: I believe in using the talents we are blessed with. I want to show my thanks to God, share ideas, inspire people, help myself understand my views on the world … mostly it feels impossible to imagine not writing.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

DONNA: I like to say that I’m a plotser. I use chapter beats a lot. I have to get down some kind of outline as far as what I hope to accomplish in each chapter and what needs to happen to each character to move forward. But, it’s very fluid and exactly HOW things happen can change a lot as I’m writing. I write at the kitchen table.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

DONNA: I think I’m inspired by what I don’t know and by what troubles or challenges me. Writing about those things is a way of making peace with myself and with God about things that I don’t understand.

JAN: That makes sense. What do you like most/least about writing?

DONNA: I like most being able to express myself and the feeling of fulfillment it gives me. What I like least are the self-doubts. I was telling my writing group that I’ve actually been experiencing more of those since I got published and I don’t know if anyone but other writers would understand that. I want to try to focus on the joys of the process, rather than being overly worried about when I’m going to get published again.

JAN: Yeah, we think we will have arrived when publication comes, but actually, it means we have lots of work to do, and we’re not always sure we’re up to it. What are some the best methods of promoting your work?

DONNA: I use Facebook and Twitter a lot. The authors with Love Inspired are very good at promoting one another’s work. I was also fortunate to do TV interviews with CTV Noon and Global Morning shows.

JAN: That’s excellent. How do you balance your professional time with personal time?

DONNA: I don’t get enough sleep! I try to do writing early in the mornings. It’s never easy to get out of bed but I know myself well enough to know that I feel less motivated after work than I do before. Right now, I am writing mornings and evenings because I’m trying to get a project done by the end of the month. But I still try to wrap up by 9 pm so I have time for other things before bed.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

DONNA: I just finished an oldie but a goodie: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. I prefer print; no contest.

JAN: What are some of your favourite things? What makes you unique?

DONNA: Hmm, I don’t know about the unique part. I love family time, especially hanging out with my daughter. I like church, I enjoy doing personal Bible study. I like to visit with friends and share chat and laughs. I probably watch too much TV.

JAN: Yes, me too. What keeps you going in your writing career?

DONNA: Probably coming to understand and accept that it’s not always going to be a straight road, that there will be a lot of bumps and ups and downs. I personally like to keep focused on writing because I love to write and not getting bogged down with the career aspects of it. It also helps to share honestly with other writers and to benefit from their experience. We all look “perfect” on Facebook but I know that we all experience challenges in writing and I like to be honest about that.

JAN: That is so true. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

DONNA: As I said earlier, I don’t like things that are too preachy or make faith look like it’s a magic solution to everything. In my books, I try to show how having faith can help people through difficulties and challenging times but they still having to go through the process of getting through and the pain in doing that is still very real.

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

DONNA: I truly just want to keep writing, and keep learning and growing as a writer. If I can do that and show my faith in God in the process, that would be great. On a more secular level, of course I do hope to continue to publish with Love Inspired and also hope to find other avenues to share my work because I also like to write short stories, poetry and devotionals.

JAN: Advice for beginning writer?

DONNA: WRITE! I know so many say that but it’s so true. It always amazes me how many people say they want to write but also say they don’t have time. I will insist that we always make time for the people and things that are truly important to us. Also, I would say, trust yourself, enjoy the process and be true to your own voice.

JAN: Donna, thanks so much for taking time to answer these questions and let us know more about you. Blessings as you continue in your writing career.

DONNA: Thank you, Jan! I had a great time doing this and really appreciate the opportunity.

 

 

 

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