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JAN: I am excited today to interview one of my new friends from the Mosaic Collection of Authors. Her name is Stacy Monson, and she hails from Minnesota. Stacy, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

STACY: I’ve been writing my whole life; well, since I could spell anyway. But while my family knew I loved to write stories, there were few others who did as I got older. I dreamt of publishing a book but didn’t think it would ever actually happen. Then, about 10 years ago, I was home early from work having picked up my Dad from cataract surgery, and he was watching Oprah while I worked nearby on a story. The show was on midlife opportunities (as opposed to midlife crisis), and by the end of it I KNEW God was calling me to step beyond my comfort zone and start writing for him. That was when I started my professional writing journey.

JAN: That’s cool. An unforgettable moment. Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

STACY: Aside from Oprah? 😊God put just the right people in my path at just the right time. A woman from church wrote for Harlequin, and she invited me to a local RWA (Romance Writers Assoc.) meeting. From there I learned about ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), and began meeting more people who encouraged, taught, critiqued, and walked alongside me. Then the Mosaic Collection began to form and again God put just the right people in place to form the group. It’s been amazing.

JAN: As a recent fellow member, I concur! What’s your preferred genre?

STACY: To write, it’s definitely contemporary. While I love reading a variety of genres, I know I’m too lazy to write historical because all that research would squash my writing!

JAN: And here’s the cover of your newly released contemporary novel, When Mountains Sing. See my last week’s blog for a review. Stacy, how and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

 STACY: I started out as a total pantser; didn’t have the patience to be a plotter. I’d just dive in and write, and then end up rewriting and rewriting. Now I’m what I called a plotting pantser. Creating an overall outline, and doing some character interviews helps me know who I’m writing about and the general direction of the story, but then I let it unfold as I write.

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

STACY: I’m a character-driven writer and reader, so my stories always start with a character idea. Something in the news or a story I hear from someone can get my “what would happen if…” wheels turning, and pretty soon I’m building a story around that specific character. New characters and events pop up as I write (suddenly the main character has a brother or sister I didn’t know about, or something happened in their past I hadn’t considered) so I adjust to that as the story unfolds.

JAN: Fascinating. So, even contemporary stories need some research. How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

STACY: For When Mountains Sing, I definitely researched what specific tools/equipment were called, how they were used, etc. And while I’ve visited Winter Park, CO a number of times, I had to research the names of areas, where there was water, etc. Usually I’ll check several sources and if the information I’ve found is consistent, I know I can trust those sources. If not, I keep looking. Gotta love Google for that!

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

STACY: What I like most is the satisfaction of seeing a story unfold and how characters react to the issues that crop up. And especially how they come to understand who God is and what that means for their life. In some stories, the characters have had a basic faith/understanding of God and that has grown. In others, they had no knowledge of God and it was a game changer as they met people on their journey who introduced them to Christ, shared their faith, and helped the character get on the right track.
What I like least is writing the first draft. I much prefer the editing process, so I really have to force myself to get the story on paper in an absolutely rough, ugly draft, then I happily edit from there.

JAN: I’m with you there. What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

STACY: Word of mouth and reviews are always the best ways for books to be discovered by new readers. It is very, very difficult to be noticed in today’s overcrowded world of books being released every single day. And as an indie author (self-published), I cringe at some of the very poorly written/edited indie books out there. Those books give the world a bad impression of indie authors. Those of us who put the time, effort, and money into making our books as professional as possible are impacted negatively by others who just wanted to “write a book.”

JAN: Yup, yup. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

STACY: A mix of Facebook and Amazon. I’ve found spending money on the ads doesn’t really generate much interest, while interacting with people, putting the book on sale occasionally, and posting other people’s impressions is far more effective.

JAN: Good to know. How do you balance professional time with personal time?

STACY: Now that our kids are grown (we have 4 grandkids now), I have a lot more time to write, so it’s not so difficult to balance the two. I can write late at night or early in the morning, or whenever I want, and still have space in my day for personal time.

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

STACY: I’m reading the 2ndMosaic Collection book to release, Unbound by Eleanor Bertin. I much prefer print but sometimes digital is easier (if I’m traveling, or find I have unexpected free time but don’t have the print copy with me).

JAN: Just for interest sake, what are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

STACY: Not sure about what makes me unique, but my favorite things are good books, good chocolate, and spending time with family (especially our grands). Favorite season is autumn (followed by my very, very least favorite, winter). Favorite color is purple. And I love creating new characters, new worlds, and new ways for God to show up.

JAN: What keeps you going in your writing career?

STACY: When I’ve gotten worn down or discouraged and decided to put writing on the back burner, God has provided just what I needed to recharge (a nice review, encouragement from friends and other authors). It’s a lonely process so it’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, comparisons to others who seem much more successful. Spending time chatting with other writers, encouraging them, and celebrating the milestones and goals of dear friends always cheers me up and sends me back to the keyboard.

JAN: You feel better when you cheer others on. I like that. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

STACY: I’m a follower of Christ whose main desire is to illustrate how much God loves us and longs to be in relationship with us. My stories always seem to have an element of identity in them–people searching for theirs, or the way they perceive themselves has changed. Always, it comes back to being grounded first and foremost in our identity as a child of God. He is what defines us, not the world around us, and that weighs heavy on my heart as I listen to people around me who struggle with understanding who they are and what their purpose is. When we follow the world, we will always be left wanting, and lacking in comparison to what the world says we should be/do/act, etc. When we follow Christ, we may still struggle but we can always come back to the foundation of our identity and start again.

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

STACY: I think identity is a theme in my stories because it’s something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. When I finally understood that I’m the beloved of God, even in my daily sins, it changed how I view the world. Each story unveils a new layer to that knowledge and understanding. It’s a process!

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

STACY: Is dying at my computer a goal? Just kidding (sort of). I hope I never stop writing, and that God continues to speak to others through the stories He gives me.

JAN: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

STACY:  Know that this is not easy, no matter what anyone says. You will not (unless you’re one of those very, very few people who gets “discovered” early) become an overnight sensation. Never stop learning and growing, encouraging others and letting them encourage you. And compare yourself only to what God is calling you to do. Your journey will not look like anyone else’s and that’s okay! As long as you stay on your unique path, God will continue to unveil new things and lead you forward.

JAN: Thanks so much, Stacy, for taking time to answer these questions and let us get to know you better.

Readers, see below for Stacy’s photo, bio and social media links.

Author Stacy Monson

 

Stacy Monson is the award-winning author of The Chain of Lakes series, including Shattered Image, Dance of Grace,and The Color of Truth, and also Open Circle. Her stories reveal an extraordinary God at work in ordinary life. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the MN Christian Writers Guild (MCWG). Residing in the Twin Cities, she is the wife of a juggling, unicycling recently-retired physical education teacher, mom to two amazing kids and two wonderful in-law kids, and a very proud grandma of 4 (and counting) grands.

 

 

 

Let’s Connect!

For news about upcoming books, contests, giveaways, and other fun stuff – stop by www.stacymonson.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter. You can find information about her speaking ministry there, as well.

Facebook         https://www.facebook.com/stacymmonson/

Twitter            @StacyMonson

Instagram        https://www.instagram.com/stacy_monson

Pinterest          https://www.pinterest.com/stacymonson/

Goodreads       https://wwwgoodreadscomstacy_monson

Books by Stacy Monson

When Mountains Sing, Book 1 in My Father’s House series

Open Circle

The Chain of Lakes series:

Award-winning stories of loss, redemption, love, and truth.

Shattered Image

Dance of Grace

The Color of Truth

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My walk this morning reminded me of the indie publishing journey I’ve been on for the past few years, as I saw tansy and thistle growing along the fence line.

After much research and many trials, I created Tansy & Thistle Press…faith, fiction, forum. I already had a website, but I wanted to use create my own logo, describing the content of the site and the blog.

The creation of the independent business was a steep learning curve for sure, but I expected the choice of a name to be fairly simple, to think of something that portrayed what I write, and to polish it.

It turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as every name I tried was already used by at least one of the millions of people who have websites. I like the thistle idea, because we have thistles here, but it needed something more. It must have been my husband who suggested tansy, another type of invasive weed that grows heartily in our area. The tansy is yellow, the thistle purple, and I liked the sound of them together: Tansy & Thistle Press.

For the subtitle, I wanted to include fiction, because that is mostly what I write, and my faith always seems to come out in it, whether I plan it or not, which is also what I want to offer. But I also have a blog, and how does that fit in? Again, it was my brilliant husband who suggested the word forum, as a place to discuss faith and fiction and other topics.

I registered the business name and logo January 6, 2016, using the image above that a business on Fiverr created, and have enjoyed using it since. I continue to write, working on the third book in my In Search of Freedom series, and hope to have it available either for Christmas or shortly afterward. If life would stop interrupting, it would be easier, but I am enjoying this summer with family and friends, so at times, the writing is pushed back. But I will pursue it in order to tie up this series with Far Side of the Sea, as soon as possible.

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I recently read an article in “The Writer” magazine (July 2017) about creating characters “that are not secretly you.” It was one of those revelations that came to me a little late, but resonated nonetheless. Here’s my take on it.

When we are young—I’m talking babies and toddlers and young children—oh yes, and teenagers—the world revolves around us. Or, at least, we think it does. We are naturally selfish and needy, and expect others to put us first and fulfill our needs.

Most of us outgrow this eventually. Or do we?

What was the main character like in your first novel or short story? Did he or she at all resemble you? Good chance your answer is yes. We often create characters that think like us, respond like us, even look like us. Through them, we are able to work through our thoughts, feelings, struggles, dreams and hopes. Non-writers may not realize how much of our hearts and souls feed into our characters.

But, as Susan Perabo suggests in her article in “The Writer,” it’s time we got over ourselves and started creating other kinds of people, freshly imagined folks who are nothing at all like us.

This is what happened when I started writing the first draft of my current WIP: I had invented a young woman passionate to know who she was, but after a couple of scenes, I was looking into a mirror of sorts. Diana was a “fraidy cat.” She didn’t like challenge or risk or danger. She was naïve and passive and, frankly, boring. I’m not putting myself down; I’m being honest. But I didn’t want Diana to be that way. Too easy. Too much like some of the characters I’ve written in the past.

So, what to do? I rewrote the first scenes (I know, I know. You should never edit until you finish the first draft. It’s not the first rule of writing I’ve broken.) and for my every inclination to make Diana respond like me, I stopped, listened, and allowed her to be herself. And do you know what I discovered? She is nothing like me. She’s rebellious. She adores the limelight. She is sometimes disrespectful. I’m not sure I even like her very much. But she’s interesting. I want to know why she does these things, what she really wants, how she is going to become her own worst enemy as the story unfolds.

Two specific takeaways for me from the article:

1) Often we don’t realize what we’re doing until someone points it out (thanks, Susan Perabo)

2) It’s helpful and wise to consider the truth of the matter and make the necessary changes

So, let’s get over ourselves and bring into being brand new, fascinating fictional characters that inspire and spark our stories.

©2012 DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI. URL: INKYGIRL.COM

 

NOTE: This post was first published on the International Christian Fiction Writers blog on August 7, 2017.

 

 

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Voice is, essentially, the sound of a story. It’s an innate, recognizable part of who we are. We can’t create it or force it. Our voice just is. Of course, we can temper or encourage it, but only as far as our experience and personality allows.

Author Lisa Carter, in a recent blog for Novel Rocket, suggests that “Your voice is defined by what you have to say and how you choose to say it.”

About six years ago now, I wrote a blog on the subject of voice. Here’s the essence of the article:

“While visiting my newly born grandchild back in 2009, I snuck away to the bedroom with him so we could talk privately. After all, a grandma has to get to know her little ones. I lay on the bed with six-week old Jordy and began to talk to him. He fixed his eyes on mine, connecting with my soul. He watched my face, and my mouth, and then his mouth began to move. He struggled to make a sound, and when he did, we celebrated. He had found his voice.IMG_0080

I made a similar connection with my granddaughter, Sydney, born two weeks after Jord. She also wanted to express herself to me, and when she was successful she wiggled with pleasure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs writers, we talk about “voice” and wonder what it is. Is voice something we create or something we discover? Jordy and Sydney taught me that “voice” is who we are. Jordy’s cry was squeaky and pitiful (it has since developed into a confident and continual chatter). Sydney’s was loud and demanding (I now interpret it as determined. She is the fourth sibling in her family, after all.). Neither baby decided what he or she would sound like. They are who they are. We each have our own voice, are born with it in its raw form. This is the voice we eventually use for speaking and writing.

Voice is not something we create; it’s in all of us. It’s who we are, expressed in words, or the equivalent of words for the pre-speech set. We all have thoughts and feelings and ideas that long to be expressed, but they do not always come easily. Consider how varied the stages of development are from baby to baby. Some, very early in their lives, jabber in an alien tongue. Others refrain from speaking until they are older and then launch out in full sentences. Neither is right nor wrong; each is unique.

Once we discover our voice, we are responsible for developing it by using it. Find some of your earliest writings and read them over. Unless you were especially gifted, the early writings seem weak and unformed. As you grow and experience life, as you struggle to express yourself, your voice, both spoken and written, grows stronger.”

Just as I will not mistake Sydney for Jordy when I hear their voices, so we would not confuse writing by Mark Twain with that of Edgar Allen Poe. Not only are their content and method vastly different, but their approach to life and writing, their “worldview,” if you will, is at polar opposites.

As Lisa Carter states in the above-cited article, there are several considerations that affect voice, including our chosen genre, our expected audience, and the culture/country we have grown up in.

Authors open themselves up to vulnerability when they write. Our voice will be revealed as our story unfolds. Allen Arnold, in an article written for Novel Rocket, suggests that we need to remember to live in order to write, and I believe our voice will change and grow as we adapt to our circumstances, just as Jordy’s voice will someday break as he adjusts to adolescence.

I find that as I continue to read and become aware of other voices, my own writing voice may take on the accent of an author whose work I especially admire. Then, as I write, that voice will blend with mine. It’s not copying; it’s emulation, and that’s perfectly acceptable. We must allow ourselves to be who we are, to write what we are passionate about, to discover and develop our own recognizable and distinctive voice.

 

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Why do you write what you write? Read what you read? How do you sort your ideas and decide what your focus will be?

Each of us has a set of filters through which we see the world. It depends where we come from, what our childhood was like, pleasant or traumatic experiences we may have lived through and what we have learned of life. This is called our worldview.

KNOW THYSELF

Our worldview also affects our voice, our style of writing, even the mood of our story. Our personality shows through our characters, through their responses to obstacles and challenges in their fictitious lives. Life-experiences color our composition.

Wikipedia says “A comprehensive worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point of view.”

When we identify what we believe and why, our writing will reflect this understanding of the world around us. Who am I? What do I believe? What difference has my set of beliefs made in my life?

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As writers, we put ourselves out there for the world to see, in fact, we want as many people as possible to read our work. If we look at writers who have had a major impact on society, they are people who have /had strong beliefs (not necessarily positive or uplifting but personally affirmed).

For example, study this quote by Ernest Hemingway [1929 – A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner’s]: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Hemingway’s words give us a good idea of what he believed based on his experiences as a war correspondent.

Mark Twain wrote humorous stories colored increasingly by sarcasm and satire. One of his famous quotes is: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Besides having your own worldview set in your mind, you must also make sure your characters know what they stand for. This will strongly affect their development. I recently forced myself to read more than half a light romance before giving it up for lost. The problem: the characters’ actions and responses were inconsistent. Why? Because, in my opinion, the author didn’t know them well enough to guide them in consistent behavior in the world she had created for them.

Whatever your experiences in life, make sure you contemplate how they affect your worldview and that of your characters. It may make the difference between being read or being set aside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, a variety of genres can refresh our writing. I’ve always considered myself to be a fiction writer. I live and breathe story. If I’m not reading a novel, then I’m snatching minutes here and there to follow an e-book on my iPhone Kindle app. And if I need to be in hands-free mode, I plug in my earbuds and listen to an audiobook or watch a story on TV. That is, if I’m not writing a story of my own.

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Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve committed to writing a weekly blogpost on my website, as well as a few guest posts for others, so I’ve been challenged to pen some non-fiction. What surprised me is that I enjoy writing inspirational and how-to articles. Whoda thought?

In the midst of creating and editing my novels, both historical and contemporary, I’ve had to consider how I might connect with readers non-fictionally, outside of story.

 

 

Here’s how I’ve done it.

* Devotional / Inspirational Articles

The first week of each month I write a devotional thought or comment. I love finding a spiritual parallel to ordinary everyday events.

Example: I notice people’s shoes and their corresponding personalities and how we are all uniquely made.

* How-to Articles

Mostly, these are directed toward fiction writing. The second week of each month I offer a continuing mini-course on fiction: Fiction Writing 101. This past year I have considered such topics as theme, research, editing, submission, social media, etc. I pick my own brain to uncover all I already know of the topic, then search for more information, cite it, and add live links to helpful articles.

The third week of the month I post another writing column titled Tools of the Trade, where I analyze various concepts like time management, resource books, ideas and where they come from, public speaking for promotion, etc.

* Book Reviews

This has been a favorite writing form for years. In the past, I reviewed a book a month for the newsletter of a Canadian Christian bookseller, Living Books Inc. Lately, I’ve incorporated a review a month into my blog. Last year I also interviewed authors and posted these interviews once a month.

* Thankfulness

I have a theme a week, four in total, for each month, but when a month has a fifth Tuesday, I write an off-the-cuff list of things I am thankful for. It’s encouraging for me and I hope also for my readers.

I encourage you to try some of these types of writing to broaden your scope. If you normally write long fiction, try a short story, or vice versa. Try non-fiction to capture ideas that float through your head from time to time. Use these ideas and writings to help and motivate others. The end result will always be beneficial to you, just like the fact that a teacher always learns more in preparation than the student learns in class.

And besides all this, you can probably use bits and pieces from all of the above for your fiction!

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Marketing requires research. In order to put together a publication package (which I recommend for traditional or independent publication), we need to categorize our stories.my library photo

Comparison

What other books or writers does your writing resemble? I’m talking style more than genre here. Do you write like Stephen King? Or perhaps Kate Morton? Or Alice Munroe? Is your style flowing and epic or minimalist? Is it straightforward or flowery, filled with figurative language? What is your worldview? Is this book a stand alone or part of a series?

Here are a few key questions that might help in finding comparative stories:

* Genre

The concept of genre, while not specifically under scrutiny here, helps us to make these choices. For example, if you have written a cozy mystery from a Christian worldview, what other authors have done the same?

* Mood

If you read Stephen King, you know the writing is full of tension, fear and dread. If you read Kate Morton, you will need to unravel layers and layers of backstory and motivation to find the heart of the story, rather like a treasure hunt. Is your story lighthearted or serious? Witty or sober? What other authors write in a similar mood to what you write?

* Worldview (this will be examined in more detail next month)

We all see our world through a unique set of filters. It’s unavoidable. It’s who we are. For example, because I’m a Christian I write from a Christian worldview. Also, since my home life was loving and nurturing, that filter finds its way into my worldview. As writers, we are vulnerable people, and we allow our vulnerabilities to show in our writing. What other authors write from a worldview similar to your own?

* Purpose

Do we write to entertain, to inspire, to teach (through story), to motivate? What other authors do the same?

While our publisher, or our readers, want to know where our book falls in with others, they also want to know how it stands out among these others.

Contrast

Perhaps my book resembles Jan Karon’s Mitford Series. That gives readers a comparison. But what makes mine stand out? Why should they buy my book in addition to or instead of Karon’s?Unknown-1

Does my book offer more or less of a spiritual focus? Are the characters more or less quirky? Is the ending of my story sometimes sad instead of happy? Is my setting in another country instead of the U.S.?

I suppose the most telling questions to ask regarding contrast are:

* Can I identify a subgenre that extends the categorization?

* Is my book witty rather than just silly? (I’ve started reading a few of those silly ones)

* Is my series chronological or is it a Nancy Drew it-all-happened-when-she-was-sixteen idea?Unknown

* Is my setting unique yet believable?

Once you’ve answered these further questions, you can make a shortlist of books that compare to yours as well as a list of those that contrast. This will also help you focus on your marketing tactics. Every refining of category, style and purpose helps us as authors to define our ideal target market.

Note: Although this topic came up late in this series of blogposts, it is something that can and should be considered at all times from the novel’s conception to the final marketing stage.

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