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.

The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with Danielle Stammer is Trish Jorgenson! Please email my assistant Christen with your mailing address. (ckrumm@litfusegroup.com)

This week Dave and Neta Jackson are in the Spotlight! To win a copy of their book, Lucy Come Home  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?

Some people accuse Dave and me of being joined at the hip. I guess that’s because we’ve not only been married for 45 years, but we’ve also been a writing team for most of our married life! It’s a good thing we like hanging out with each other, because we pretty much spend all day 24/7 together—and we’re still talking! (grin) We live in Chicago, have two grown kids with families, and enjoy being grandparents (we get to spoil them and then send them home!). We both work from home in a second floor office with a large picture window that looks out over our wonderful multi-cultural neighborhood—one of the best things about the writing life!

And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…

Dave and I have done a little bit of everything—non-fiction about Christian community and racism and marriage-and-family and reaching out to gangs … co-authoring books with expert resource people (e.g. with a doctor writing about medical ethics) … then we moved to writing historical fiction for young people about great Christian heroes (The Trailblazer series—forty titles in all) … and now we’re writing Windy City stories—adult novels set right here in Chicago. These include The Yada Yada Prayer Group series, House of Hope series, and now SouledOut Sisters by me, as well as the Harry Bentley novels by Dave, which parallel my House of Hope series.

How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?

We came at writing from different directions. I drew pictures and wrote stories about my fantasy life as a kid—and one of my stories won first place in a Scholastic Magazine contest. With the prize money I bought a typewriter and marched off to college with the dream of being a writer. Dave, however, got pulled into writing by working on the student newspaper in college—and liked it so much he changed his major to journalism. What’s cool about being a writing team is we each bring different strengths to writing, so we’ve been able to help each other a great deal.

After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?

We paid our dues, that’s for sure! Both of us worked as editors for Christian publications for several years, then began writing articles and curriculum and columns … but our first book (which we wrote together) was called Living Together in a World Falling Apart about the growth of Christian communities, published in 1973. (Yep, last century!) Together we’ve written well over a hundred books since then.

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?

Actually, that’s good ol’ English tea with milk and sugar that gets us going in the morning. We keep regular writing hours (have to—if we don’t work, we don’t eat), which is basically all day from 10 a.m. till 6 or 7 p.m. In nice weather, we take our laptops to the front porch, and every now and then we get to go to a cottage in Michigan for 4-5 days. One of the big pluses of both being writers is doing a lot of brainstorming together, even when we’re writing separate projects. Seems like at least once a day one of us says, “Can I bother you for a few minutes? I need to brainstorm about . . .” We also get to do a lot of research around Chicago for settings for our stories—our favorite “research” is checking out the restaurants our characters go to in our novels, ha ha!

What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?

Both of us learned a lot “on the job” when we worked as editors for various magazines and Christian publishers—which also gave us a lot of opportunities to write articles and columns and get to know people (editors, publishers, writers) in the industry. So when we were ready to quit our day jobs and start freelancing in 1986, we had a good background and a good network of contacts. But since we’ve been writing on our own, our biggest source of encouragement and nitty-gritty learning the trade has been a group of Christian novelists we belong to called ChiLibris. We keep in contact during the year with an email loop, and then once a year have our own writers retreat. I’ve learned so much from these brothers and sisters! And it’s so good to know you’re not the only one with self-doubts or struggles along the way.

What are your biggest distractions?

Email—even though we know correspondence and the business end of writing has to be done. But sometimes it takes so long just to take care of correspondence and business, that it eats into actual writing time.

What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?

Our reader mail is absolutely the high point of the writing life. Once a book is published, we might never know who reads it or how God has used something we’ve written in their life. But when a reader takes time to write . . . wow, what encouragement! We answer every letter we get, and it’s very humbling to hear how God has used the stories we write to literally change lives—but that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the little boy who gave what he had to Jesus, those five loaves and fishes, but it was Jesus who fed others with it. We just have to give what we do to Jesus . . . He does the rest. Oh, the worst moment: for me, the time I totally forgot a phone interview, and when I remembered I frantically called the number I’d been given—and found myself apologizing LIVE on the air! Haven’t lived that one down yet. For Dave, I think he’d say a period of time when he was throwing his heart into some really fantastic story proposals—none of which (for a while) found a publisher. It was a very dark time and hard to understand. But God saw us through.

What is the role and importance of an agent?

For many years, because of our extensive network of contacts, we were our own agents. But when we wanted to totally change genres (from kid lit to adult novels), we knew we needed an agent to help us make the leap. The industry has really changed and almost every writer needs an agent today. We’ve been with ALIVE COMMUNICATIONS for the past ten years or so, and have a great relationship with our agent. He knows “the industry” a lot better than we do and gives us good, solid advice. We especially appreciate that he handles the “sticky stuff” of negotiations with publishers about contracts and other stuff. He’s also been a great encourager, and even helps us brainstorm sometimes! Finding the right agent is important, someone who believes in you and whom you trust to be in your corner.

What advice would you give to new writers?

• Test your book idea—especially if it’s non-fiction—by writing some articles about the subject first.

• Be willing to get your feet wet, doing anything that gets you writing. Most of us don’t begin by writing the Great American Novel.

• Writers conferences are a great way to meet editors, test your ideas, and keep learning the craft. None of us have “arrived.” It’s a journey.

• And don’t get discouraged. If you write, you’re a writer—but becoming a published writer can sometimes take a while.

• Don’t try to copy someone else—what do YOU have to write about that’s unique to you? And hang in there.

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.

The Bible says we need all the different parts of the Body of Christ. O really? Then why are some of them so annoying! But . . . sometimes the person you need most is the one least like you—which is the theme of Stand By Me, book #1 in the SouledOut Sisters series.

Or . . .

Every homeless person has a story—and Lucy Tucker is no different. What happened that sent a teenage girl from a migrant family back in the 40s on the run with a carnival kid—and why, after all these years, won’t Lucy go home? Try Lucy Come Home, a book by Dave and Neta Jackson.

What’s on the book horizon for you?

I have one last book in the SouledOut Sisters series, called Come to the Table, coming out the end of 2012. But Dave and I are already at work on a new series of “parallel novels” called THE NEIGHBORHOOD—stand alone stories that overlap in time and place, with the lives of various characters intertwining and impacting one another. Dave is working on one, I’m working on another—but it takes a LOT of brainstorming and coordination of story plots!

Last question, how can readers find you and your books?

You can find us on our web site, www.daveneta.com for adult novels, and go to www.trailblazerbooks.com if you’re interested in our books for young people. And we’d love to hear from new readers! You can write to us at daveneta(at)daveneta(dot)com.

Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)

Thanks for inviting us to share with your “bleaders,” Suzanne!

Signing off . . . Neta Jackson and Dave Jackson Chicago, Illinois

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