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.
The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with B.J. Taylor is Judy Lynn! My assistant Amy will be in touch for your mailing address.
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
Married, kids, homeschoolers. I have a schedule that either inspires or dismays.
Most days, I get up at 4 a.m. and write until 7. That’s when the kids get up and our day dovetails into the happy wonderment of family, homeschooling, sports, and music.
Since that makes it sound like Mary Poppins lives here, I’ll give you a summary of yesterday: I woke at 4 a.m. and started to write but the dog went ballistic when the Home Depot guys arrived –early– with our new washing machine (the old one kept peeing on the floor). Hearing the commotion, my kids woke up, then began playing with the fancy dials on the washer, which might explain why the old one had incontinence. Surrendering any hope of more words on the page, I started a load of laundry, made breakfast, and went running while the kids ate. After that, we jumped into homeschooling. Math, music, history, Bible, lunch. Deep breath, cup of tea. Drive to drum lessons, play soccer in the field across the street with my oldest while waiting for drums to end, stop by the library, discover we have $21.54 in overdue fines, drive home, start dinner, and praise God for the millionth time for my elegant yet un-fussy husband has come home, tossed the wet laundry into the dryer and says he doesn’t mind hotdogs for dinner.
Those days happen — and yesterday was a mild one. But I’ve learned to surf those waves. As a writer, the important thing is not to let yourself drift. You need a compass point, and you need to get back to the computer as soon as possible.
I’m thankful that writing a novel is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Slow and steady gets me to the finish line. Frantic and frenzied will get you there, too, but everyone around you will be miserable. And no book is worth that.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
I write mysteries that feature Raleigh Harmon, forensic geologist and Special Agent with the FBI. She solves crime through mineralogy, which includes everything from the clay kitty litter to priceless gemstones to titanium dioxide in makeup foundations.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
I only dreamed of having an interesting adulthood. My parents were eccentric, and had idiosyncratic friends — bohemian artists and pro-bono attorneys and people who made soup from the fungus off forest trees (I am not kidding). Their lives looked good to me; they seemed curious and engaged with the world. More than anything I wanted a life that made each day new.
Reporting fulfilled that wish for awhile. But I grew tired of the strictures of journalism, not to mention the lock-step liberalism of the newsroom. When I was home with kids, I read a lot of mysteries and noticed that the Christians were usually twisted dirt eaters.
I decided to write the mystery I wanted to read. Something gritty yet literary, with complex and struggling Christians.
Raleigh Harmon waltzed onto the page and now the series’ third book is out, The Clouds Roll Away. The fourth appears next March, The Mountains Bow Down.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
Serious writing began with newspapers. Nothing’s more serious than having an editor screaming about a hole in the next edition — that was when papers had multiple editions. And editors.
It was a great boot camp for fiction. I worked on my first novel off-and-on for almost eight years. But once it was done, I found an agent rather quickly and he sold the book within a few months. Again, it sounds facile; it wasn’t. Plenty of days I was tired enough to quit. But if you have a passion, you ignore normal human weariness — the kind that comes when Home Depot shows up early and the dog goes ballistic and . . .
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 drink tea — black, lots of it — in the morning. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, when I don’t feel like writing or I’m tired or I’m wondering why does the rest of the world get to sleep in, I bring something delicious and salty to my office. The 4 a.m. feels less like sleep deprivation and more like a secret club of one, plus imaginary friends.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
When stuck, read other writers. Good writers, particularly those masters who swashbuckled the sleuth market. John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard. Dash Hammett and Agatha Christie. And actually Tolstoy. For some reason that Russian gets my creative juices primed.
Writer’s groups are wonderful, but personally my productivity plummets. I get too excited about other people’s work and forget to concentrate on my own. And with a deadline every 12 months, I can’t do that.
But above all this, the best help comes from God. For me, that help shows up most poignantly when I admit there is no way can I research, write and polish a 300-page novel in one year. That point of surrender is when the writing can take on a sheen not my own — in other words, better.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Yes. I’m living that engaged and curious adulthood I always hoped for. Although I would add homeschooling does that, too. The difference is I would feel the urge to write even if I didn’t have a contract from a publisher. Writing is what I do to make sense of the world.
What are your biggest distractions?
Name an activity. My idea of torture is immobility.
In fact, I might prefer waterboarding to sitting still.
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
All the best moments have tiptoed into my heart on soft paws. They’re not even tangible. It’s that sensation of discovering a scene actually works on the page. Sometimes it works because of some supernatural blessing. But more often, it’s the result of hours and days spent slogging through the word bogs, searching for a way out of the swamp. Then, on the third or fourth draft, the pieces come together. That’s the greatest feeling.
Which is why you won’t be surprised when I say the worst moments are when the writing doesn’t work. With my third novel, I hoped to avoid the usual morass of emotion and outlined the book with minute details even before I started writing. Everything was in order — and it was awful. Reading that manuscript was like listening to somebody on a diet talk about what they can and can’t eat. Gruesomely boring. With only weeks to spare, I had to rip the whole book to shreds and rewrite. Remember that “point of surrender” when I realize I can’t write the book? This episode was that, times one-hundred-thousand. So were my prayers.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
The least enjoyable part, for me, is that when deadline approaches, I pretty much have to stay inside my head. I can’t even chat on the phone because reality clouds my imagination. So sometimes I miss out on some friendships and fun events.
The best part is being my own boss. I come from a long line of people who work for themselves. Now I can see why.
What is the role and importance of an agent?
I only know about my agent. I don’t ask him to read drafts. I turn to him for solid advice. He holds me accountable, and keeps me focused on priorities, looking ahead several steps in this constantly shifting market.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Stop thinking about “making it.” Thought is imaginative poison.
Think about telling a story — the same way you would try to write a great letter home from some war-torn territory. Make the page come alive. Love the reader, love the words. And let go of any outcome.
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.
My favorite books take me inside the head of a character and make me feel as if I’m right there with them. That’s what it’s like reading about Raleigh Harmon and her adventures in law enforcement. And when I close the covers, my world looks more interesting for having been in hers.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
I’m writing the fifth book in the Raleigh Harmon series, The Stars Shine Bright. And outlining the sixth, something I’m very excited about — the girl is always on the move, always searching for God.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)
Bleaders. Interesting term. Makes them sound very tough.
I like it!