Author Talk: Q&A with novelist Mesu Andrews

Author Talk: Q&A with novelist Mesu Andrews

Mesu Andrews (pronounced mee-sue) is well known for her fiction based on biblical figures. Her novel Miriam was a Christy Award finalist and her newest novel, Isaiah’s Daughter, will be released in February. This accomplished writer talks about her fiction and her writing life.

Q: What do your readers say they like about your biblical fiction?

A: From what I’m hearing from my readers, they enjoy the fact that the characters they read about in Scripture become real people to them. When I put clothes on them, give them brown eyes, have them stub their toe, all of a sudden they have flesh and blood and a heartbeat.

My goal is to put readers in the story so they can smell and taste it, and the people are real to them. These people were real; we’re reading history, not a story book.

Q: How do you get yourself into the chair in order to write consistently?

A: I don’t have an issue with starting to write or keeping my nose to the grindstone. My issue is stopping. I tend to be a workaholic. When I have trouble thinking of the word “the,” it’s time to stop.

Q: How do you connect with your readers?

A: In the past I haven’t done a lot of release events. I do online things like Facebook parties because I tend to be a homebody. This year the North Carolina ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) is a new chapter, so the weekend before the release of Isaiah’s Daughter I’m doing a one-day workshop in Raleigh.

Q: How do you do your research?

A: I have a significant library thanks to my husband being a pastor and college professor, and I’ve been doing this a few years so every time I write I buy a few books. We recently moved to Boone, North Carolina, home of Appalachian State University, and I’ve found a lot of resources there on the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures. Children’s books also have been a great source, often full of pictures of houses and dress and other things.

The Encyclopedia Judaica is one of my favorites. Rabbinical texts have a lot of information on Jewish traditions, and there is so much legend in Jewish literature. I also have copies of the works of Josephus and Herodotus. Before I began writing books, in 2000 I visited Israel. I remember that trip like it was yesterday.

Q: What kind of criticisms and roadblocks have you faced, and how do you deal with them?

A: I went to my first writers conference in 2001 and I wanted to write one book: a Bible study on the Song of Solomon. Someone looked at me and said, “Wow, you really need to stick with speaking.” I kept writing anyway.

I had been speaking as a Bible teacher at women’s events and as a pastor’s wife. I was teaching 4-5 times a week, and traveling once or twice a month to retreats. But my body decided it was done with that. I got a virus in 1997, then in 2004 my body gave out again and I was in bed for six months.

Since 2005 I’ve had a daily migraine. I stay home, am quiet, and don’t do much. But the Lord has given me an incredible gift to be able to write. I teach with my writing. I absolutely love it.

Q: Tell us about your new book and your next project.

A: Isaiah’s Daughter (Feb. 2018) is the story of Hephzibah, the wife of King Hezekiah who was one of Judah’s best kings. Hephizabah means “the Lord’s delight.” I’ve always been fascinated by her, who was married to one of the most righteous kings in Judah and who mothered the most evil king in Judah. I love to think about her faith journey.

The next book is tentatively titled Of Fire and Lions and is about Daniel and his wife and is due out in February 2019. After that I want to write another book about Hephzibah and the second half of her faith journey, that of raising Manassah and up to her death.

The Q&A: Karen Kingsbury

The Q&A: Karen Kingsbury

Karen Kingsbury / Key Author PhotoBestseller author Karen Kingsbury is known and loved for her Baxter family books. She’s written 24 in the collection, the most recent “The Baxter Family Christmas.” Another title, “Love Story,” comes out in June 2017 and a third next fall.

Kingsbury knows how to wring the emotions out of every character and scene. She’s been known to shed a tear while writing, and her readers certainly do too.

Q: How do you write fiction that touches readers so deeply?

A: I try to write people who are real and who readers can relate to. They see themselves or family members in the characters. I would be so disappointed if someone read my books and didn’t cry.

Q: Describe the point-of-view (POV) in your books.

A: I write from an alternating, deep POV. When I write that way I can go very deep and readers become emotionally engaged early on.

Q: How can fiction be a teaching tool?

A: A story can go through the back door of the heart like a teaching book cannot. When Jesus wanted to touch a heart, he told a story. Readers don’t just get caught up in a good read; their hearts become involved too. They realize that maybe they should make that phone call or that apology.

Q: How do you connect with your readers?

A: I connect vial an email newsletter and Facebook. I also have a live book club after each book launches. For four to six weeks, we meet for an hour. Readers post questions and I answer them. It’s a virtual living room with 60,000 people attending.

Q: What is the book club like?

A: We look at a number of chapters each week, and I have a video presentation at the beginning. This is prerecorded so I can concentrate on the readers. At the end of the hour we all say goodbye. People have become friends.

Q: Why do you think the Baxter family books are so popular?

A: The characters have faith and flaws. Through all of life’s ups and downs, they have stayed strong together. I think people see themselves, either the family they had or the family they wish they had.

Q: Do your books reach general market readers as well?

A: Thanks to our partnership with Simon & Schuster, which owns my publisher Howard Books, there are possibilities that wouldn’t have been there before. Half my readers probably don’t realize my books are Christian fiction. They are drawn by the story and it touches them, which they maybe haven’t experienced before. Christian readers expect to feel hopefulness; other readers are surprised by it.

Q: Any other news for the Baxter family?

A: Yes! Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are making a television series based on the Baxter family with MGM Studios. The screenwriter is just finishing up the pilot, and it will be on air at the end of 2017 or early 2018. No network yet, though.

 

 

 

 

Things I Like About Christian Fiction: Variety

Things I Like About Christian Fiction: Variety

fabric-637785__180I may have ranted about a few things I dislike about Christian fiction. Lest you think I’m a misanthrope, there is plenty I like about the genre as well. One of the big things is the variety of authors, topics, time periods, heroes and heroines available in the vast pool of books out there.

In the mood for love and a really great first kiss (in a book of course)? Read Denise Hunter.

Want something super scary because it’s Halloween? Steven James.

Gritty World War II? Tracy Groot.

Romance set in World War II? Sarah Sundin.

Luscious Regency? Julie Klassen.

Medieval mysteries? Mel Starr.

Culinary romance? Hillary Manton Lodge.

Bawl your eyes out? Karen Kingsbury.

Literature and romance? Katherine Reay.

Amish? Suzanne Woods Fisher.

Art and mystery? Sandra Orchard.

I could go on for 50 inches listing all the variations of topic and theme available for eager Christian fiction readers.

That’s the point, of course. There is so much to choose from! And when readers have choice, they also have discernment. Readers can choose what appeals to them, the authors they like, the writing style they like and even the publisher they like best.

Readers benefit from all the options, and so do the authors writing in the genre. With a few obvious exceptions—porn, obscenity, devil worship, undue gore, etc.—authors can write the books they have on their hearts. Good for them and good for readers.

Here’s my advice: read widely. Read books in subgenres you haven’t tried yet. Read authors you don’t know yet. Dip a toe in, take a small sip, nibble a new book.

And here’s my challenge: read one Christian fiction novel on a topic or by an author you haven’t tried yet. Let me know how it goes. If you’ve recently discovered someone new, let me know that too.

With all that variety out there, let’s share it with one another.

The Q&A: Lynn Austin

The Q&A: Lynn Austin

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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.

lynnaustin_hi_08Lynn 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.

 

 

Lots of Us Are Annoyed with Christian Fiction—Part 3

Lots of Us Are Annoyed with Christian Fiction—Part 3

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In the last two entries posted here, I might have offered an opinion or two on what annoys me about Christian fiction (“I’m fine” and endless zings). Turns out a few other people are annoyed as well. Their comments here and on Facebook were interesting, funny, and pretty much spot on.

This is the last in the three-part series on the topic. Lest you think I hate all Christian fiction, my next couple of posts will be about what I like about the genre. There is plenty to like, and I’m naming names.

Read on for comments from readers about Christian fiction.

—I don’t like it when the author makes the good characters so good that they don’t make any wrong moves.

—The protagonist is almost always teeny tiny skinny and amazingly beautiful. Yes, there are skinny people out there but are they the only ones we can write about?

—All the zings simply get nauseating to the point I don’t want to know any more about the characters. Then reading time is done … SLAM!

—Zings, in real life, are rare and precious things! Twice a page makes them ordinary.

—I had to stop reading much Christian romance (especially shorter novels) because it annoyed me to no end that these people were always meeting, falling in love, and getting engaged in less than a week.

—It’s not only a “show, don’t tell” failure but also a lack of faith in the reader’s perception and imagination. We need not fill in all the blanks!

—As a single/never married, I would like to see a strong single not always get her man. I know that may not make for a good romance novel, but not everyone gets married. There should be a strong female character who wants to get married but who wants God’s best more!

—I hate books that publishers and writers try to pass off as having a strong female role and in the first five pages she meets a guy and the only thing we hear from her the rest of the book is how great he is. Are females only strong if they have a guy?

—I hate when a woman has great goals and dreams for her future, but none of them matter once she meets “the right one.” And really, do we believe (or even want to believe) there is only ever one right one?

—As an editor, the health of characters is something I pay attention to (food, rest, bodily functions, etc.). They don’t have to happen “on stage,” but there has to be time for them. I’ve been known to leave a note like, “btw, gangrene is setting in about now . . .”

—Why the heck does every character under stress forget to eat? Or simple forget to eat (fill in meal or meals here) when busy. Some of us eat more when stressed and we never go for a 10-mile run to relax. Can writers please find a different way to relieve stress besides running?

—Another pet peeve? How beautiful someone’s eyes are. Okay, so you want to keep it clean, but does every love interest have to have the deepest (insert eye color) we have ever seen?

—Am reading my second “Christian fiction” series and I wish they would leave all the beautiful women and handsome hunks of men out on the prairie. Of course it was the late 1800s and maybe they were all that back then.

—Sometimes the characters need to be more human and not super human.

There you have it. Editors, take note. Authors, take more notes.

FYI: Last week’s blogging was preempted by the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. I help plan this event held in Grand Rapids, Mich., and I couldn’t be prouder. We set a record for attendance; no crises occurred and attendees had lots of positive comments. Check us out at www.breatheconference.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Next year’s Breathe is Oct. 6-7, 2017, with keynote speaker Leslie Leyland Fields.

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part Two

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part Two

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Romance is a wonderful thing. It’s great to experience and fun to read. Romance is the backbone of many Christian novels and many times is done quite well thanks to fine writers out there creating great books.

Writers need to crank up the lovefest to keep readers titillated and eager for that first kiss or marriage proposal. I get that. What I don’t get is why there needs to be at least one “zing” per page, if not two or three.

By “zing” I mean the man getting a twinge when he touches her hand or sees the sun gleam off her hair or sees the twinkle in her eye. The woman feeling her heart pound, her nerves tingling, or her pulse quicken. Don’t forget the pupils widening, quick intakes of breath, staring unabashedly or surreptitiously, being surprised at noticing her dress, or breathing in his musky scent.

This happens page after page after page. I get more and more and more irritated. Where’s the plot? Buried beneath the zings! Recently I got so irritated during the first 30 pages that I slammed a book shut and threw it down. I’d enjoyed this author’s previous books and looked forward to the start of a new series. Until the zinging started and didn’t stop.

That afternoon I picked up two Oprah Book Club novels for 25 cents each at a garage sale and dove right in. I enjoyed them both, experiencing not even one zing.

The bigger issue is why authors and editors feel the need to tell me time after time that the protagonists are attracted to each other. Do they think I’ll forget after reading half a page?

I took a driving trip recently, going from my home to western Pennsylvania, then to Cincinnati before heading home again. My phone’s GPS kept me informed about where I should go—ad nauseam—from the second I left the driveway.

While I appreciated not getting lost, I couldn’t have gotten lost if I tried. The voice would always direct me back to the right place whether I wanted to go that way or not. It was relentless in its direction-giving.

Finally I turned it off once I knew where I was going, just like I threw down that book with all its endless, romance-pointing zings. Two months later that novelist’s book is still sitting on my office floor, the bookmark stuck at page 30.

Share your little annoyances with Christian fiction. I’ll gather them and put them in a new blog post. Don’t worry, though. There will be posts on what I like about Christian fiction, too!

 

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part One

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part One

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“I’m fine.”

These are two of my least favorite words in the Christian fiction I’ve been reading lately.

A diabetic forensic scientist hasn’t eaten in 12 hours. “I’m fine.”

A former Special Ops soldier-turned detective hasn’t slept in 48 hours. “I’m fine.”

The strong-but-silent, uber-tough cop struggles with over-protecting the homeless woman he’s coming to love. “I’m fine.”

The stunning detective is at the crime scene for hours in her high heels. “I’m fine.”

The beautiful cop is captured and nearly killed by a psychopath. “I’m fine.”

Really? Nobody in those scenarios is “fine.” Each one is traumatized in some way or needs medical attention or even a visit to a counselor. None of them, however, are “fine.”

I realize that being “fine” ups the drama, ratchets the suspense, makes the characters vulnerable—all that good stuff that makes a novel a page-turner and, hopefully, a bestseller. But are the authors really obtuse enough to make their characters “fine” and let them go forward and really be fine, as if nothing at all had happened?

Recently I attended the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference. A woman there wore a shirt that said “I’m fine.” I began having a small fit until I saw the huge, gaping, bloody wound pictured below those two annoying words. I laughed instead, getting the humor (and the pathos) of that shirt.

We love to say “I’m fine” when people ask, while inside we’re a mess. I understand why we do so, and do it myself. But there is good reason to share our struggles and worries with friends who care and with those who can help us. It’s healthy and healing to do so. That’s real life.

Using those two words constantly as devices to drag on a novel’s emotional drama? I’m not fine with that.