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 book. FUN.
Welcome Dave & Neta Jackson, authors of Penny Wise to Author Spotlight! To enter to win a copy, 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?
Neta & Dave: We are a “writing couple” . . . which means neither of us has a job with a salary (we’ve got calluses on our prayer knees!). But that also means we have the joy and companionship and support of writing together (or “writing separately together” as the case may be, depending on the project). We have two grown kids with families of their own, so we have four delightful grandkids whom we can “love ‘em, spoil ‘em, and send ‘em home!” We’ve been writing freelance for almost 30 years (yikes! Has it been that long?!) which has been a challenging but thoroughly rewarding journey! It sure helps that we not only love each other (been married almost 48 years) but we really, really like each other too!
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
Neta & Dave: We write contemporary urban fiction, and most of our stories are set in Chicago (our web site is called “Windy City Stories”). Years ago God challenged our hearts about racial reconciliation, and we have been blessed beyond measure by the relationships God has given us in the multi-cultural churches and in-home Bible study groups we have been part of for years. Most of our novels have grown out of experiences and relationships God has brought to us in this exciting city, enlarging our understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ with many equally valuable parts.
In spite of living in the city, Dave is a country boy at heart and loves to “farm” his big vegetable garden in the back yard. Neta keeps family diaries and photo albums, and loves to dream up projects and games for the weekly “grandkids sleepover” on Friday nights. We enjoy camping, fishing (well, Neta reads in the canoe while Dave fishes), and Dave enjoys cooking the vegetables he grows!
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
Neta had an active imagination as a kid, which eventually took the form of stories she wrote just for herself. But when one of her stories won first place in a Scholastic Magazine writing contest for teens, she bought a typewriter (what’s that??—ha ha) with her prize money and set out for college wanting to be a creative writer.
Dave, on the other hand, never thought about being a writer (though he loved to read). But in college he worked on the school paper under a great journalism professor, and decided to get his BA degree in journalism.
For many years both of us worked as editors for various publications—but what we both really wanted to do was write stories. And so eventually we took the leap . . .
After you started writing seriously—how long was it before you were published?
Neta’s short story, “The Sacrifice,” which won first place in the Scholastic Magazine contest when she was still a teenager, was published first in Scholastic Magazine and then later in a Scholastic Book titled Discovery, which was a compilation of some of the “best from recent writing and art awards.” After college graduation in 1966, I had many magazine articles published until our first book was published in 1973.
Dave: After college graduation, I had many opportunities as an editor to write articles, columns, and curriculum until . . .
Dave & Neta: Our first book (written together) was Living Together in a World Falling Apart, published in 1973, about the growing movement of Christian communities across the United States.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well?
o Reading good books.
o Watching good movies.
o Brainstorming ideas with each other.
o Our bright sunny upstairs office that says “Get to work.”
o Knowing that if we don’t write, we don’t eat.
Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
Neta & Dave: We follow a usual routine every day: Devotions, Exercise at the Fitness Center, Breakfast and Chores (e.g. starting the laundry, watering the garden, etc.), then we “go to work” in our office about 10 a.m. and work till about 6 p.m. We take turns cooking supper. We don’t go back to work in the evening if we can help it, and we generally go to bed about 10:30 (taking a good book to read). We have found it important to keep to this general schedule if we want to pace ourselves.
Note: “Work” not only involves writing, but the business side of writing too: correspondence (mostly email); promotion; paying the bills; etc. which we often do first, then settle down to writing 4-5 hours a day.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
o Each other. We bring different writing strengths to our writing and have helped each other grow. We function as each other’s “first editor” so that when we turn in a manuscript, it’s clean and has already gone through a first edit and rewrite.
o Yes, writer’s conferences.
o Yes, our writer’s group of Christian novelists, which not only shares information and encouragement online during the year, but holds an annual retreat where we learn from one another.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Neta & Dave: Not sure either one of us had any fantasy about what it would be. We had a lot of experience in the publishing world as editors and had published many articles and about six non-fiction books before we took the leap to be fulltime freelance writers. But maybe it’s harder than we thought it would be . . . and also more rewarding than we imagined.
What are your biggest distractions?
Emails to answer (both personal and business).
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
A couple of the best moments:
o When Bethany Publishers gave us a contract for a multiple-book series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes for kids (the TRAILBLAZER series)—and then kept renewing it until we had 40 titles!!!
o When Integrity Publishers jumped on Neta’s proposal for The Yada Yada Prayer Group—which became a 7-book series, and the launching pad for four more series!
o When readers began telling us the Yada novels had inspired them to begin their own “Yada Yada prayer groups” across the country. Blessed our socks off!!!
A couple of the worst moments:
o When a new publisher pulled the plug on a six-book contract after only the first novel had come out! We were stunned (especially since Book #2 was about to be released and we had already written Book #3 and #4!).
o When our beloved agent died of brain cancer right in the middle of the above disaster—both a personal and professional loss of major proportions.
What do you least like about being a writer?
o Being “unemployed” every time we finish a project. (That’s why we love multiple-book contracts!!!)
o The creative process. The excitement of seeing a story take shape.
o Not having to deal with office politics and meetings.
What is the role and importance of an agent?
Neta & Dave: Years ago we functioned as our own agents, and that was before agents were common in the CBA market. But when we wanted to switch from writing non-fiction books and books for young readers, an agent was very valuable in expanding our horizons, shopping our proposals to markets we were not yet familiar with, and giving us sound professional advice. But it’s important to find a good “match” with your agent—someone who is totally on your side and who believes in you.
What advice would you give to new writers?
o Keep writing. Write anything: articles, a blog, Sunday school papers.
o A writer is always learning and improving his or her craft. Always.
o Attend writer’s conferences and learn from other writers, editors, publishers, agents. Learn from others, but develop your own writing voice.
o Realize that most successful writers do not write a best seller the first time out.
o Develop a thick skin when you get critiques. If a reader doesn’t “get it,” you haven’t communicated well yet.
o Meet your deadlines.
o Be someone an editor enjoys working with.
o If a reader writes to you, write back!
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.
Have you ever “tested” God? You might enjoy Michelle Jasper’s “penny test” when her very ordered busy life starts to fall apart in this novel about a typical American neighborhood in the Windy City, where the neighbors are starting to come out of their isolated lives and become a real community . . . for better or worse.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
Neta & Dave: POUND FOOLISH, Book #4 in the Windy City Neighbors series, will be released this fall (2014), and we’re hard at work on the final book in the series, tentatively titled SNOWMAGGEDON.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
Neta & Dave: You can find our Windy City Stories web site at: www.daveneta.com.