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: 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.

 

 

Sticking Point: Staying with Your Writing Dream

Sticking Point: Staying with Your Writing Dream

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There is no doubt about it: Writing is hard work. Perhaps the hardest part is sticking with it through discouragement and juggling writing and the life you live. Your day job, children young and old, elder care, housework and volunteer duties all can sap the strength you have.

But you write in the cracks—those few minutes between other responsibilities—and late at night or in the early morning. You say no to the extras; lower your standards regarding house cleanliness; turn off the television or Netflix a couple nights a week.

That perseverance pays off bit by bit, step by step forward. And every step helps. Sometimes it’s encouragement from a friend or a positive word from a publishing professional. Perhaps increased social media numbers; the promise of an endorsement by an established author; an agent makes you an offer.

For Jennifer Lamont Leo, it was receiving a contract for her novel You’re the Cream in My Coffee from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She got her first box of books in the mail recently and cried a little. What a huge step forward! Don’t you just love the cover?!

Rest assured, however, that Jenny took lots of small steps first. She persevered through writing the book; the search for an agent; waiting to hear from publishers in a tough climate for Christian fiction. She was patient throughout the publishing process, building her reach into her readership with blog and Facebook posts, self-publishing novellas featuring her main character, and planning book launch events. She knew that each small step was still a step and just one more in the long process.

Writers like Jenny deserve our admiration for sticking with what can be a discouraging and difficult process. From the outside, getting a book published doesn’t seem that hard. Just write it and publishers will come. Just put it on CreateSpace and buyers will come.

Wrong. Any writing project, whether a short devotion, magazine article or book, is a series of small steps that become a bigger project. I encourage you to take those small steps, find encouragement in each one, and stick with your dream.

What are your best small steps? Would love to hear what has encouraged you.