Lynn Austin’s writing space. Love the old typewriter on the shelf.
One of the best parts of my job as a freelance writer and literary agent is meeting writers and talking to them about their books and writing lives. I’m delighted to share that information with you as an occasional feature on this blog. I offer you this discussion with esteemed novelist Lynn Austin (www.lynnaustin.org) as the first edition of The Q&A.
Lynn is author of a dozen standalone novels and one nonfiction book, Pilgrimage, as well as three series: Refiner’s Fire, Chronicles of the King, The Restoration Chronicles. She has been inducted into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. Her newest book, Waves of Mercy, came out earlier this month and is set in Holland, Mich.
Q: What inspired you to write Waves of Mercy?
A: I grew up in the area of New York State that was originally owned and settled by the Dutch, and I visited Holland, Mich., for the first time when I attended Hope College. I was immediately impressed by how proud the community was of their faith and Dutch heritage. My husband grew up in Holland, so when we decided to move back here two years ago from the Chicago area, I began researching Holland’s history to see if it would make a good novel.
Q: Are the characters based on actual people?
A: The only “real” person is Reverend (Dominie) Van Raalte, who led the Dutch immigrants to America in 1846. When researching the book, I read a collection of memoirs written by the first settlers, so I combined a lot of their stories when creating my characters.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
A: In a way, this was a fairly easy book to write because I live in the community where it takes place. I could easily walk to the site where the Hotel Ottawa once stood if I needed inspiration. Everything I needed to research Holland’s history was readily available. But there was so much information—including an entire Van Raalte Research Center at Hope College—that it was difficult to do a thorough job and not be overwhelmed. I knew I was leaving out a lot of good information but I had a story to tell, first and foremost. I hate reading novels with too much history tossed in. Keeping the history and the story in balance was challenging at times.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I begin a new book by reading everything I can find on the topic, going down rabbit trails, gathering information, visiting the book’s setting if possible. Pretty soon, I begin to envision characters in that setting and historical era and they start “talking” to me. Next, I develop their personalities, collecting pictures, writing “resumes” for them until I know them thoroughly. Then I start writing, making up the plot as I go along. I write every day, five days a week when possible, and aim for a goal of five pages a day.
Q: How did you start writing?
A: I was a stay-at-home mom with three kids and I loved to read, but I got tired of reading books that offered no hope. So I sat down one day when my kids were napping and decided to try to write the kind of book I loved to read. Writing turned out to be so much fun for me—creating characters, making up plots—that I’ve been doing it ever since.
Q: What have been some challenging aspects of being a writer? What are the most rewarding?
A: Being a writer involves a lot of self-discipline. I have to make the very best use of my time and energy so that I can get the job done on time, and to the very best of my ability. I takes me a year to write each book, and during that time I have very little feedback. I’m essentially working alone. That’s hard at times. And lonely. The most rewarding part is when I hear from readers, telling me how my book has influenced their lives. That makes it all worthwhile!
Q: Do you have any writing must haves?
A: I must have my daily quiet time for prayer and Bible reading—or else I don’t get anywhere at all with my writing.
Q: What is the least favorite phase of the publishing process?
A: The part I hate the most is getting the first editorial review of my finished manuscript. I just want to be done with the book (and of course I’m convinced it’s perfect) but my editor always has a few suggested changes.
Q: Do you have a favorite author?
A: I have quite a few, including Maeve Binchy, Chaim Potok, and Rosamunde Pilcher.
Q: Do you partner with other authors?
A: I have never partnered with anyone to write a book, but I would never have gotten where I am today without the faithful women from my writers’ critique group: Jane Rubietta and Cleo Lampos. They are also two of my favorite authors.
Q: What words of encouragement can you give to aspiring authors?
A: Don’t quit. Yes, it’s a hard road to publication, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve been called by God to write, then write—and trust Him for the outcome. A successful writer isn’t the person who is published—it’s the person who keeps writing.
Q: How do you recharge your batteries?
A: I go out and play! I love to ride my bike, walk in the woods, and play with my granddaughter. My husband is a professional musician so going to his concerts recharges me, too.
Q: What about your current work in progress?
A: It’s about two wealthy sisters who live in Chicago in the late 1800s. They love to travel the world and seek adventure.
Would love to see pictures of your writing space! I’m in the long process of moving into a new office, and am posting periodic pictures on Instagram of my progress. So far I’ve bought a new chair that is sitting in my bedroom for the moment. Lynn Austin’s writing space is pictured above; send along your pictures and we’ll all compare notes.