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Monday, June 23, 2008

Interview with Frances Devine

Today we want to welcome another Heartsong Mystery writer, Frances Devine. In her first mystery, Miss Aggie’s Gone Missing, Aggie Pennington-Brown mysteriously disappears on the same day the Cedar Chapel bank is robbed. The sheriff assumes she was kidnapped by the robbers, and the whole town seems to agree. Victoria Storm, owner of Cedar Lodge Boarding House and her elderly boarders reluctantly come to the same conclusion. But when secrets from their missing friend’s past begin to unfold, a horrible possibility arises. Could someone they know and love have harmed Miss Aggie? Could it be one of them?

As Victoria and her elderly friends attempt to solve the mystery and locate Miss Aggie, more secrets are revealed until Victoria begins to wonder if there is anyone she can trust.

Lisa: What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

Frances: I think I screamed. Then laughed and cried. Then called everyone.

Lisa: Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

Frances: Years ago, I read a book called You Must Have Seen Me Coming by Elizabeth Goudge. It was about a housekeeper who went to work at a home for senior citizens. The book was hilarious, and through the years I thought up several story ideas with groups of seniors as major characters. When I decided to try my hand at writing cozies, Victoria Storm and her boarding house residents just came to life in my mind.

Lisa: I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

Frances: Probably all of them in one way or another.

Lisa: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

Frances: Discipline

Lisa: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Frances: For now, I want to write fun stories with fun characters. I do have some more serious ideas rolling around inside. Maybe I’ll pursue them, maybe not. I want to follow God’s leading and God’s timing in my writing as well as the other areas of my life.

Lisa: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially from someone who has just broken in?

Frances: The same two tidbits someone gave to me, I’ll pass on.
Don’t fall in love with your words. Be teachable.

Lisa: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

Frances: You are probably talking about books, but the best resource I can think of is a good critique group. I couldn’t get along without my crit partners.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Interview with Sandra Robbins

Congratulations to T Warner for winning a copy of Deadly Exposure by Cara Putman. If you'd like to be entered in the book drawing to win Pedigreed Bloodlines, post a comment below.

Pedigreed Blood Lines is the first in a series. Tell us how your book and series came about.

I began writing with a goal toward becoming published in historical romance in early 2004. I attended my first ACFW conference in 2005 and met a lot of wonderful writers who offered me encouragement. I heard a few months later that Barbour was developing a line of cozy mysteries. Although I’d read mysteries since I was a child, I’d never written one. I began to research the elements of a cozy mystery, developed the characters and plot, and was ready to submit my proposal some months later.

As I came to love my heroine, I knew her story couldn’t stop with just one book, so the idea for a series began to take shape. Now as I’m working on the third book, I think I could go on for a long time with the escapades of Leigh Dennison.

How do you keep track of the clues, red herrings, and other story threads while writing your mysteries?

I found that I had to be very organized as I began to write the book. I plotted the entire story and decided on the clues and red herrings. Then I decided where I would plug them into the manuscript. I completed a synopsis before I began. Then I drafted a chapter by chapter synopsis as a sort of road map for me to travel in the story.

Of course along the way there were some twists and turns, and some scenes had to be rewritten. At one point even the identity of the killer changed, but in the end everything was tied together.

What have you enjoyed most about writing this book series?

I enjoyed developing the character of the heroine Leigh Dennison. Quirky characters inhabit the pages of a cozy mystery, and Leigh is no exception. She is an adult who struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder and has to find ways to cope with her inability to concentrate on tasks.

How did you discover this unique aspect of your heroine?

As a teacher and principal in the public schools for many years, I had opportunities every day to observe children suffering with the disorder. However, there are many adults who suffer the same symptoms.

Many people believe that individuals coping with ADD aren’t very intelligent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are very smart people who approach life differently from most of society. I hope in showing Leigh’s skills and determination as a sleuth that I have been able to shed some understanding on this disorder.

What has been your biggest obstacle in your writing journey?

I suppose we as writers all tend to think that rejections pose the biggest obstacle in our writing journey, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Although rejections hurt, we learn from them—what the market is or isn’t buying, publishing houses where our work doesn’t fit, and whether our writing is strong enough to grab and hold a reader’s attention.

For me I think my biggest obstacle has been settling into one genre and concentrating on that. I enjoy reading mysteries, suspense, and romance, both historical and contemporary. Since I began writing, I’ve dabbled in all those genres. I wish I could write in each one, but I know that may be impossible. At the present I’m trying to hone my skills at writing mystery. I’ve branched out some and am attempting some romantic mystery/suspense. If you check my website at http://sandrarobbins.net, you’ll find my tag line—Mystery and Romance, a deadly combination.

What do you read when you’re not writing?

I read mysteries, suspense, and romance. At present I’m reading the cozy mysteries that have released in Heartsong Presents Mysteries book club. The next release will have my book in it. If you haven’t read these mysteries, you can sign up for the club at my website.

What’s next after Pedigreed Blood Lines?

Murder in Small Doses, the second book in the Leigh Dennison series, will release in February, 2009. I’m presently working on the third book, Rock Around a Murder. I have a few more projects in the works and hope that some of them will find a home.

Any advice you can share for aspiring mystery and suspense writers?

I would suggest that aspiring writers study the genre and read the books that are being published. After that, the best thing to do is plant yourself in front of the computer. Begin to develop your characters and your plot and then write.

Professional organizations like ACFW offer tremendous resources and expertise for the beginning writer. Attend workshops and conferences to develop your craft, and join a critique group that will help you polish your work.

However, all these things won’t help unless your life is centered in God’s will. Pray and ask for His guidance, and let Him direct you. Whether or not you’re ever published, you can be assured of success in life if you let Him lead.

Thanks to Sandra Robbins for a great interview! Don't forget to post a comment to be entered in a drawing to win Pedigreed Blood Lines.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Interview with Cara Putman

Since the time she could read Nancy Drew, Cara has wanted to write mysteries. For years she asked God if this dream was from Him. Her life was full. She graduated with honors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Go Huskers!), moved to the Washington, DC area, married the man of her dreams, worked in the non-profit world, went to George Mason Law School at night while working, and then started having children. While her life was far from empty, the dream wouldn’t die. Then she followed her husband to Indiana. Talk about starting over!
In 2005 she attended a book signing at her local Christian bookstore. The rest, as they say, was history. There she met Colleen Coble. With prompting from her husband, Cara shared her dream with Colleen. Since those infamous words, Cara’s been writing books.
Heartsong Presents is publishing a three book series of World War Two romances: Canteen Dreams (October 2007), Sandhill Dreams (May 2008), and Captive Dreams (September 2008). Love Inspired Suspense published her first romantic suspense in May 2008. Now she’s working on the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Law (don’t ask!) and the first book in an Ohio World War Two series. Cara is also an attorney, lecturer at a Big Ten university, women's ministry leader, and all around crazy woman. Crazy about God, her husband and her kids that is.

Beth: Tell us about your writing journey.

Cara: I’ve always loved reading and tried writing novels as a young teen. I’d always hit a point where the history or the plot would stymie me, and I’d stop. Then I started college, career, got married, went to law school, and started a family. Didn’t have much time for writing, but the dream wouldn’t die. A few years ago I went to a book-signing and after talking to an author for awhile, my husband leaned into the conversation and asked if I’d told Colleen I wanted to be a writer. That jump-started the process, and I’ve been writing every since.

Beth: When do you feel like it all began to come together for you as a writer—was there a particular moment?

Cara: I sold my first book at the ACFW conference in September 2006 – it was a quick process, and I’m so grateful for the way God has guided me and chided me when I need to spend more time with my fingers firmly attached to the keyboard. But I went to the conference needing to know that God was pleased with my efforts. And getting that first contract in front of so many friends and colleagues was an amazing confirmation.

Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?

Cara: Colleen Coble. While there have been many other writers who have become friends, for some reason Colleen took an interest in me at that book-signing in 2005. She has mentored me, introduced me to people, and been an advocate and friend. We joke that she mid-wifed my first book, by being interested and encouraging.

Beth: Tell us about the writing process for you? Does it begin with a character, setting, or plot?

Cara: It depends. Seriously. For one series I’ve proposed I started with the setting. With my Nebraska World War Two series, it started with setting and characters – the plot grew organically out of those two items. With Deadly Exposure, the plot grew out of character and brainstorming. And there was never any doubt I’d set the book in Lincoln. With a new World War Two series, I knew the setting had to be Ohio, but wouldn’t have submitted the proposal without the plot points. And those came from a couple days of intense research.

Beth: Tell us about your latest book.

Cara: In May I had two books release. Sandhill Dreams is a historical romance set at Fort Robinson, Nebraska during World War Two. With her dreams shattered, will Lainie Gardner allow God and a soldier at Fort Robinson to breathe life into new dreams that will bring her more joy than she imagined? Deadly Exposure is my first romantic suspense with Love Inspired Suspense. With a stalker closing in, will television journalist Dani Richards trust her former love and police investigator Caleb Jamison to help her and God to rescue her?

Beth: What inspired you to write this particulate story?

Cara: Deadly Exposure grew out of a desire to write a suspense story. I wanted the ticking bomb feeling to propel readers through the story. Once I knew the suspense thread, everything else had to bow to it. And with a tight timeframe of one week, it took some real thinking and praying to figure out the other threads and keep them realistic.

Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?

Cara: That God is always there – even when we feel alone and isolated. That He is a sure tower of strength when we need Him, and even when we aren’t necessarily looking for Him.

Beth: What do you think is the hardest part of writing a mystery or suspense?

Cara: Getting all the threads to come together in a way that keeps the reader racing through the pages and believing the story could really happen. With Deadly Exposure, I had the challenge of creating a realistic love story in one week. Yet the romance had to be 50% of the story. God and I really wrestled on that one. I’m very pleased with the end result, but at the time I kept asking Him if I was hearing correctly!

Beth: What are your future writing plans?

Cara: This summer I’m writing the first book in a World War Two series set in Ohio. I’m also writing the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Law – I still smile every time I write that. Yet another way those years in law school are paying off I guess. And I’ve got ideas for more suspense books simmering on the back burner.

Beth: What is the best advise you ever received?

Cara: Join ACFW (www.acfw.com). I have grown immeasurably as a writer through what I’ve learned from fellow members. And the ACFW conference has been instrumental in my career to date. So if you’re serious about becoming a writer, join. It’s well worth the money.

Thanks Cara! If you'd like a chance to win a copy of Cara's book, please post a comment below.


Contest Winners!

We have several contest winners. Sorry about the delay in announcing these. CarolynnW has won Colleen Coble's Anathema. Cynthia Hickey has won Where the Truth Lies, and ChristyJan won Keeping Her Safe. Congratulations ladies!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Interview with Cynthia Hickey

Is Fudge Laced Felonies the first book you’ve sold? Tell us about that. Your feelings when you found out you sold it.

Well, it's the first if you don't count the three POD doozies I've got out there. The feeling when I sold it was indescribable. I'd obtained my agent , Kelly Mortimer, a couple of weeks prior, then Barbour editor, Susan Downs, presented me with a contract at last year's ACFW conference. I thought they were talking about someone else, until my agent shoved me out of my chair. Susan and Kelly had cooked up the little scheme to surprise me. Boy, did they!

The name is yummy. Tell us how that came about and what the book is about.

The book was originally written under the title Buried Beneath the Midnight Blue, which is the title it won the Great Expectations contest under. After reading the titles for books two and three in the series, Candy-Coated Secrets and Chocolate-Covered Crime, Susan Downs suggested I change it to something high carb. So, Fudge-Laced Felonies it became.

Did this book idea come from any particular incident or experience? In other words, how did you come up with the idea?

When Barbour mentioned starting a cozy mystery line, my friend dared me to write a cozy for them. I didn't even know what one was, I had to ask on the ACFW loop! Then, my imagination took over.

Let’s talk about your journey. How long did you write before you sold your first book? And what is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

I've been writing since I was fifteen, but only seriously started in 2000 when I made the mistake of going POD. My writing journey has taught me to never give up. If it is in God's plan for you to write and get paid for it, you will.

Everybody who writes inspirational fiction probably has a story about God’s hand in their writing career and how He’s guided them. Can you share anything in particular about that? Any one thing that happened that was an ah ha moment—when you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was in what you were doing?

When I got my contract. I never expected to win the contest, much less sell a book. I thought it would take way longer. But the desire to write has never left me, so I know it comes from God.

Do you have any future writing plans you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish?

I have book two and three in the Summer Meadows series with Barbour now. I'm also working on a couple of romantic suspenses and another cozy series.

What is the best advice you ever received?


Any parting words?

If writing is what you want to do...write, whether your words are ever published. When my nineteen year old heard I had a contract, she said, "Wow, you're getting published before you're dead." If it's God's will, it'll happen. Hopefully, when we're alive to enjoy it!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Interview with Barbara Phinney

Susan: Barbara, it’s great to have you here. Your suspense books are real page turners. I can’t wait to read Keeping Her Safe, which releases June 1 from Love Inspired Suspense. Tell us a little about the plot.

Barbara: Thanks, Susan. I’m thrilled to be here, as well. Keeping Her Safe is a forgiveness story about a young man, Hunter, who went to prison for his mentor. Just before he’s due to be released, the mentor dies, but not before asking him to protect his daughter, Rae.

Only Rae wants nothing to do with him. In her mind, he destroyed everything her family held dear. Only after realizing the serious danger she’s in and that Hunter may well be innocent, does Rae learn to trust her life to him, and more importantly, learn forgiveness and healing. And through his growing love for Rae, Hunter learns a valuable lesson on trust, too.

As an aside, my sister-in-law knows a woman whose husband has the name Hunter Gordon, and we conspired one evening to write a story with an ex-con of that name. When the woman later heard about it she thought it was hilarious because it’s as far from her husband as possible.

Susan: Your storyline features a man who has been in prison. What kind of research did you do for Hunter’s story?

Barbara: Why, I went to prison! No, seriously, my husband works at the prison featured in the story, Dorchester Correctional Facility, and I asked a lot of questions to anyone who knew anything about the place—of which there are plenty around. My husband has learned some inside things about prison life. It can be surprisingly relaxed in some ways, and cruel and tough in other ways. The story is set in a carpentry shop, and I have been in a few in my day, so it was fun to incorporate my memories of them.

Susan: How did that story come together?

Barbara: Actually, Keeping Her Safe started as a Silhouette Intimate Moments, but got rejected. I asked to write for Love Inspired, but wasn’t ready to rework the story. Then, after my last book, Desperate Rescue, I opened Keeping Her Safe again, and all the faith elements and revisions just fell in place. I love the area, west of Moncton, New Brunswick, and that helped, too. It must have all worked out, because Romantic Times has given me 4 stars for it! I’m thrilled, too, with the write-up on it.

Susan: You spent time in the military. How did that help with your writing career?

Barbara: Sometimes I wonder if it hasn’t been a hindrance. Having worked with so many men, I didn’t really get a good feel for women’s reactions and emotions, apart from my own. I think I’ve been re-programmed to think like a man! But on the other hand, it’s really helped with time management, learning to get a job done right the first time, and accepting rejection. I’ve been yelled at enough in my career that all those nice editors can’t really hurt my feelings, unless they show up at my door to cut off my hands. Which I used to say to myself. I’d keep on writing until they did that.

Susan: Is there a character in your current book to whom you relate and who made an input on your life?

Barbara: In Keeping Her Safe, I think I really identified with the heroine. She worked in an area predominated by men, as I did in the military, and has lost her father. Since I have lost both my parents, I called upon those emotions to show how she was dealing with the grief herself. My heroes aren’t always big, strong alpha heroes, but men who get mixed up with their own emotions and make mistakes as well, and Hunter in Keeping Her Safe did that and more.

Susan: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

Barbara: By far, the number one thing is perseverance. And to give it my all. There are days when I think, “Oh, this will do”. But I stop myself and say, “No, it won’t.” It may do for right now, but it will be changed so I can give it a bit more. I’ve also learned to trust God more. I pray before I write, asking that I do His will first, then mine, and for determination. God hasn’t failed me yet.

Susan: Any future plans for your writing that you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Barbara: To hit the New York Times Bestseller List! Why not? There’s a poster at my kids’ school that says, Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll end up in the stars. That’s a great motto. But for the immediate, I’d like to be able to write more often for Love Inspired, and submit some cozy mysteries to other publishers. I have one submitted at Heartsong, but haven’t heard back. I just love that story, so I hope it’ll find a home.

Susan: Many of our readers are aspiring writers. Can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, perhaps specific to the Love Inspired Suspense line?

Barbara: I’m finding the editors at Love Inspired are real go-getters, and don’t like to wait. It kind of matches my personality, I think. But as for writing, if you love to read Love Inspired Suspense, I say study the line in depth, before you write, but make sure your characters have real issues, and these issues are logical. Editors are amazingly logical, so make sure everything makes sense.

And keep writing. Don’t give up after a couple of years, because it takes longer than that. I know we all hear stories of those who get great contracts after mere months of writing, but those people have been studying the lines and writing in other ways long before they got a contract. Most people also have to learn the hard way, by making mistakes and working darn hard.

One more thing. You have to rewrite. Remember, only one thing was written in stone, so your words can be changed. Let them cool for a while, and then go back and rework, reword, and revise. It’s amazing what even a few hours of doing something totally different can do for finding mistakes.

Susan: Which is harder for you to maintain in your books—the suspense thread, the romance thread, or the faith thread?

Barbara: Boy, that’s a tough question! It used to be the romance thread, to make sure the characters actually moved closer to each other. But now, it’s the suspense thread. As I said above, it’s got to make sense, and sometimes we have to do a lot of research. I’d prefer to just start writing, but I know I’d get bogged down sooner or later. The faith element isn’t as hard usually because I know ahead of time what kind of lesson each character must learn, and as I’m always studying the Bible, I’m always seeing how Bible characters handled things.

Susan: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?

Barbara: I allow a story to interest me first, be it the setting or the characters or one part of the plot. Believe it or not, it was the name Hunter Gordon, and going to prison, that interested me with Keeping Her Safe.

I then sit down and write a couple of chapters, just to get the feel of the whole story, then, I need to sort out the plot. Since I usually know the faith element, and parts of the other, then I have to work out a logical sequence for things to happen. The synopsis is awful at first, but I’ve learned to polish it as I go. Once the synopsis isn’t half bad, I’ll polish up the first three chapters and then bounce back and forth between the rest of the book and the synopsis, which is to a certain degree, flexible.

Susan: What is your system to keep the story/clues organized?

Barbara: I don’t! To my own detriment, I’m afraid. I have learned lately to print out a copy of the art fact sheet that Harlequin uses, to keep information handy. I take lots of notes and when my first draft is done, I return to those notes. Things like, “Check to see if he calls heroine before leaving house first morning.” Or “Villain must not say…. Thing before page….” I fix them all after I’ve finished the first draft. My editor asks for many revisions and I organize her notes the same way.

Susan: How can our readers learn more about you and your books?

Barbara: I’m getting a new website, www.barbaraphinney.com but it’s still under construction. www.loveinspiredauthors.com has some info on me. My books are on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, among other sites. As for learning about me, my husband says he knows me, and yet at times, claims he doesn’t! My sister-in-law says she knows me very well, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. And my kids call me goofy. One thing is for certain. I’m just an ordinary person who makes tons of mistakes each day, and yet, tries to reach people through books about people just like you and me.

Thank you so much, Barbara! Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Keeping Her Safe.