Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest books. FUN.
This week we welcome author Jill Eileen Smith. To win a copy of Jill’s latest release, leave a comment on this post!
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
I’ve been married for 33 years to my beloved engineer husband, Randy, and together we have three adult sons. Two sons live in California pursuing a film career, and one lives at home finishing an English degree. I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom for 12 years so the transition to almost-empty-nester has been tough! I think homeschooling moms might struggle with this more since we pour so much of our lives into our kids.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
I write biblical fiction, which has always been my first love when it comes to fictional genres. I love to read in a wide variety of genres. Right now I lean toward historicals, anything ancient or Regency, though I love American history too. I’ve written in other genres, though those works remain unpublished. Maybe someday…I have an interest in doing a couple of women’s fiction special interest novels.
I started writing by default. I hunted for a novel on King David’s life that would satisfy me and couldn’t find it. So I sat down to write the book I wanted to read. That was 20 years ago and the journey to publication was more like a meandering trail through desert places with an occasional oasis along the way, rather than a paved highway with a straight path. But God’s leading has proved better than I could have asked or imagined.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
I started testing the publishing waters early on – twenty years ago – and received a lot of nice rejections. One rejection came from an editor at Harper & Row in San Francisco with a suggestion that I turn David’s story into one about Michal. Sixteen years later, that same editor, Lonnie Hull Dupont, now with Revell, bought my first series – the first book was Michal.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I’ll take tea instead of coffee, most of the time. I actually didn’t start drinking coffee until a few years ago when one of my characters in a suspense I was writing loved Starbucks Café Mochas. Of course, I had to try one. Coffee gradually grew on me and the Café Mocha is still one of my favorite drinks.
As for brain cylinders – they fire pretty well, most of the time. Before I write, I pray for guidance. I study the Scriptural reference and reread what I wrote the day before, then try to imagine what came next. The first draft is always tough for me – oh wait, writing the synopsis is worse! Once I know where I’m going, I just have to work until I get there. I don’t have a daily number of hours. I just do what needs to be done either with the actual novel or writing-related work. When I’m finishing a first draft, I set deadlines for myself of so many words a day. Usually 1000 a day, five days a week, but if I get behind, I aim for more. I finish a first draft well ahead of deadline, but then I go back and do more research, let the story sit a while (I’m taking July off right now) and then go back into it again. This was especially helpful with Bathsheba, as I ended up having to ditch the first 40,000 words and start over!
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
My critique partners and ACFW. My former critique partners (Kathleen Fuller, Jill Stengl, Tamera Alexander, Maureen Lang, and Meredith Efken) taught me so much! My writing craft would not be where it is today without these fine authors. (Kathleen Fuller and Jill Stengl still share critiques with me.) I might add that author Deborah Raney taught me things outside of the craft – things about the industry and protocol that I might not have learned if not for her. ACFW led me to my agent, Wendy Lawton, who found my publisher. I would not have sold to Revell if not for Wendy’s meeting with Lonnie. God has used many people to bring me to this place.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be? (Explain your answer)
Yes and no. Yes, because I learned so much from those who had gone before me of what to expect. I wasn’t looking for publishing to change my life too much – not in the sense of changing who I am. No, because I didn’t know what to expect at an experiential level. Until you walk a path, you don’t see the bumps and dips and smooth places in the road. I’m still on a journey—the road has just changed direction. The main difference I see is that now there is a sense of gratitude and a constant reminder to myself that I’m nobody special—I’m still just me. That God has chosen to allow me this ministry is more than I could have hoped for.
What are your biggest distractions?
My cats. And email. But those are good things. My family knows they can interrupt me at any time. Relationships are more important than words.
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
One of the best: Getting that call from Wendy that Revell wanted to buy my books!
One of the worst: Reading some reviews that were less than kind.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
Like least: The physical stresses related to sitting so much. I’m not a huge fan of exercising, but the older I get, the more I have to move. Carpal tunnel, tendonitis, etc…I take care to avoid recurrences of these things.
Like most: Writing fiction! I am most fulfilled when I craft a fictional scene. I can write emails, columns, blog posts, grocery lists—nothing satisfies that creative bent in me like writing fiction. I like the writer friends I’ve made most too!
What is the role and importance of an agent?
For me, an agent is invaluable. I would not have sold Michal or any biblical fiction, which was not selling, if not for Wendy. I would not know how to tell when a contract has something in it that is good or bad if not for my agency. If ever there is confusion between me and my publisher, my agent is there to help. She is a go-between, an encourager, and a cheerleader. Wendy is one of the first people I talk to when something exciting happens with the books! But I also know I could go to her if I had a concern as well.
I know the industry is always changing and roles of agents may change at some future date, but right now, I’m very grateful to be agented and to have an agent who is so enjoyable to work with!
What advice would you give to new writers?
Write what you love. If you try to write what might be popular, your chances of breaking in are weak. If you are a Christian, pray for God to direct your writing and search your heart to discover what you love most. Stories that are written just to be published will not stand out as much as those that are written with passion. When you write what you love, it shows.
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
Michal and Abigail are written to take you there, to let you experience what life might have been like for the wives of King David. These are stories I love, and I hope you will too.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
I have my first series almost completed – bestselling Michal and Abigail, books one and two in The Wives of King David series are available now and Bathsheba will release March 1, 2011. I’m contracted for The Wives of the Patriarchs to follow and a third contract for more biblical fiction is in the wings.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
My website and blog: http://www.jilleileensmith.com
The series website: http://www.thewivesofkingdavid.com (Here you will find book club and Bible study questions along with chapter excerpts and bonus features from each book.)
My books are available on Amazon, CBD, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)
Thanks for having me!