Author Interview ~ Debra White Smith

Debra White Smith’s books, include: Romancing Your Husband, Romancing Your Wife, the Jane Austen Fiction Series, The Sister Suspense Series, and It’s a Jungle at Home: Survival Strategies for Overwhelmed Moms. Debra has over a million books in print.

The founder of Real Life Ministries, Debra has been featured on a variety of media spots, including The 700 Club, At Home Live, Getting Together, Moody Broadcasting Network, Fox News, ABC Radio, Viewpoint, and America’s Family Coaches. She holds an M.A. in English.

Debra lives in small-town America with her husband of 23 years, two children, and a herd of cats. For more information, visit
http://www.debrawhitesmith.com/.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

Book #5 of the Jane Austen fiction series is just releasing. It’s titled Amanda and is hitting stores now. This book is a contemporary re-telling of Jane Austen’s Emma. Like Emma, Amanda is a matchmaking meddler who can’t seem to keep her nose out of everybody else’s love life and can’t seem to get hers straight. The book is set in beautiful Tasmania, Australia.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

When I sold my first novel, I simply received a contract in the mail. I had only been writing about 1 1/2 years. I was the ripe old age of 26. I was so excited, I started hopping around the room, screaming like crazy. I was wearing high heels at the time. I kicked them off, up into the air, and hopped around some more, screaming like a maniac…like I’d won 5 million bucks!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

One of the things that was hard for me as my exposure grew was readers posting negative reviews on websites and slamming my work. Yes, it was hard not to take it personally. Every author receives the occasional negative letter. But that’s private. You can throw that away and no one sees it. But, when a reader posts a negative review on a public website, it’s a different matter. After I got a few of these, I started surfing other well-known authors to see if I was alone in this. I found out I wasn’t. I saw that most well-known authors have readers who have posted negative reviews. Once I realized this it helped tremendously.

But, I still have to really talk to myself anytime anyone slams me. I’ve learned that many people think that well-known authors are celebrity types who have no feelings, won’t read the review, and are open for target practice. There’s nothing further from the truth. Most of us are just people who live in an ordinary world and who are trying to do their best to write their best. So, it’s hard when readers take shots at you, and it can breed self doubt if I’m not careful.

What I have started doing, though, is examining the slam for any grain of truth and seeing if I can improve the area they slammed. Sometimes, the negativity is so ridiculous, it’s funny. Sometimes, it’s like iron sharpening iron and you can become a better writer because of it. So, I guess God uses everything!

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Hang in there. Don’t quit, no matter how many rejections you get. One of my series got over 30 rejections, then was bought by an editor who’d previously rejected it. It came out as a 4-in-1 novel collection and sold over 100,000 copies.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

“Maybe publication isn’t what God wants for you since you’ve gotten so many rejections.” I believe this is a misunderstanding of the whole writing/publication process. Sometimes, it takes years to learn the craft of writing.

Rejection is often a big part of that process. I believe it’s healthy for writers to expect rejections and roll with the punches until that call comes.

God can and does teach us through the rejection phase of the writing. He can teach us to be better writers as well as new depths of tenacity. I encourage writers to look at the rejections as a season in their writing process. It’s something most all writers have gone through–almost like labor before giving birth. It’s a given and part of the publishing experience.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Just getting published will not automatically earn you respect or recognition by a publisher. I thought that once I had a book, or a few books out, I’d get the same appreciation as some of the veteran authors did. Boy, was I WRONG!!

It can take years to build a reader-base and strong publisher recognition. Getting published is pretty much like taking your first steps in the writing industry. I think I would have saved myself a lot of frustration if I’d fully understood this.

I’m at about 50 book sales now with nearly 9 years of steady publishing, and I’m just now beginning to sense the respect that I naively thought I’d get at one, or a few book sales. It takes many years and lots of blood, sweat, and tears. If I’d understood all this, I probably wouldn’t have taken the lack of regard so personally and been hurt much less. But this thing called publication is a very challenging and sometimes difficult process for everyone. I think a lot of us probably need therapy by the time we’ve gotten established! Ha!

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

My favorite chapter in the whole Bible is Psalm 103. I keep that passage in my “hip pocket” at all times and when I’ve blown it I remember that the Lord is patient and kind and slow to anger and remembers that I am dust.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

After I sold my first novel, it was about 6 1/2 years before I sold another novel. Hundreds of rejections! Nearly killed me! But, I hung in there and kept persevering. The perseverance paid off. When I started selling books in 1997, they went like wildfire. Since 1997, I’ve sold nearly 50 books and have had over a million books in print. I’m SO GLAD I didn’t quit during that 6 year interval.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I love Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen but that’s fairly obvious. I think my second favorite novel of Jane Austen’s is Northanger Abbey, just because the heroine is so wacky. I love her!

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

I have no idea. But, I CAN tell you that I highly identify with Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh books and cartoons.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

As for novels, I’m very pleased with the Jane Austen series. I’ve had a blast writing those books. That series was a long-time dream of mine and it’s been very rewarding. Within the series, I think my favorite book is Northpointe Chalet, based on Northanger Abbey, because the heroine is so hilariously scatterbrained and charming.

As for nonfiction, I’ve been very pleased with Romancing Your Husband and Romancing Your Wife. We have had tons of feedback from people who’s marriages have been revolutionized by these books. My next book on marriage is releasing July 2007 and is titled Marriage Revolution.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I used to, but I’ve pretty much had all my pets peeves put to sleep. They’re very bothersome pets, take up a lot of time, create high vet bills, slobber everywhere, eat too much of my thoughts, take up too much brain space. I really just try to manage what God has given me and leave the pet peeves to other people’s care. Grins.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

It’s like a scrambled egg. I have two kids, 9 & 11, whom I’m highly dedicated to and a full-blown ministry. There’s no rhyme or reason to my writing schedule. When I’m under a deadline, I’m often up until 3:00 a.m. writing or get up at 3:00 a.m. to write. Of course, then my sleep schedule gets weird too, but it’s all a part of the package of being a mom writer.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I love the steady flow and rhythm of C.S. Lewis. Very nice reading. His voice is so smooth and distinct that you feel as if he’s there reading to you. It’s like I can hear his physical voice. Very nice.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

When I first started writing novels, I had all sorts of grandiose thoughts. I guess now, after years of doing this, I’d just like my novel readers to have a pleasant reading experience and a few hours of enjoyment while also finding truths that can help them along their journey.

Regarding my nonfiction, I’ve written on a lot of topics, but my primary passion right now is to see a marriage revolution take place in the Christian community and to see the marriage concepts that are taught come in full alignment with the teachings of Jesus Christ. If I can see that happen in my lifetime, I will know I have fulfilled my purpose in being alive and in being an author.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Yes…during that 6 1/2 year interval between the time I sold my first book and my second. Now, I think of quitting every time I’m down to the last 50 pages of a book. I’m kicking and screaming and repenting of ever becoming a writer!

Ha! Then, I finish the book and I’m THRILLED to be a writer, so it’s all this neurotic insanity that’s part of the writing process.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I hate the last 50 pages of my books because I’m tired and I want to be through. My favorite part is receiving a new book and knowing my “baby” is now with me in all its glory.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I have a high-impact website that draws views from all over the world. If you develop a snazzy website, it draws readers and you don’t have to do anything but keep it updated. It’s a great perpetual marketing tool. I do quite a bit of cross-marketing. In other words, if I’m given a publicity opportunity, I milk it for all its worth for other books as well.

Since I’m a speaker, I also use my speaking engagements to promote my work. If your publisher doesn’t provide you with publicity material, I say connect with a company who can. I hand out thousands of postcards and book marks with my book covers on the front. Think in terms of re-investing your first earnings into your writing career, as you would with any business. You can’t be obnoxious enough when it comes to promoting your own work. Go out there, hit the pavement, and blow the horn about your books!

Parting words?

Being a recognized author and speaker is a lot of hard work! But it’s worth it when you know millions are impacted and finding truths that are making a difference in their lives.

To read a review of Amanda, click here.

Author Interview ~ Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris is a wife, mother, and author who has been writing both fiction and nonfiction for the Christian market since 2000. She and her husband, Scott, along with their three children, live in northern South Africa as missionaries.

Lisa’s sold over fifty articles, short stories, and devotionals as well as three novellas, and five full-length books. Lisa was voted one of the favorite new authors of 2004 for the 12th Annual Heartsong Awards. She’s also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the co-moderator of the online Christian Writer’s Group South Africa.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

This month, I have book two of my Massachusetts series with Heartsong Presents coming out. From the windswept Boston seacoast to the lush Connecticut Valley, Massachusetts in the late 1800’s was a place of unparalleled beauty and rich history. This series follows the Johnson family on a journey of discovery, as they struggle to face life’s challenges and in turn find renewed faith and love worth keeping. Rebecca’s Heart is about discovering that sometimes God’s plans are not our own, but when we follow Him with all our heart, we will be able to discern what his will for us is. I loved writing Rebecca and Luke’s story because they taught me so much about love and trust.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started writing shortly after we adopted our first son in 1997. He was the perfect baby who slept most of the time. My husband worked while I stayed home (without a car), so for the first time in my life I decided to do what I’d always dreamed of–write a book. After finishing several manuscripts and learning a whole lot about the craft, I sold my first novella to Barbour in the beginning of 2003. When I got the email I knew it was the beginning of a dream come true.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

I think all writers do from time to time, but I really try not to let those thoughts take root. I think that’s the key to not giving up because the writer’s journey isn’t always easy, even after you’ve sold that first book.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Make sure you do your research when searching for a publisher or agent. I actually received my first contract about a year after I started writing. I cried when I read the letter, until I realized that they wanted me to pay a percentage up front instead of my receiving royalties upfront. Thankfully, I did my research and turned down the contract, because I later found out that these publishers ended up in jail. There’s plenty of good routes to get published, but there’s just as many ready to take advantage of a desperate writer.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I’m not sure that I’ve been given much bad advice, but one thing that come to mind is the advice that many people have told me throughout the years–write what’s on your heart. While this is in reality good advice, the truth is that you also have to write to the market.

I have a series I’m hoping to get published that’s set in Africa. This is where I live and my heart’s connected to this fascinating country, as I yearn for them to know more about God. But no matter how interesting I find the setting, for the most part publishers that I’ve talked to are not interested. So I continue to write other things that for the market, finding ways to incorporated what I love into these stories.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

The first few stories I wrote at first without knowing anything about proper form, query letters. . .I didn’t know anything. If you’re new at writing, join a group like American Christian Fiction Writers, join a critique group, find a local group, take a writing class, or go to a conference. It’s definitely worth the time and effort and will put you ahead in the game.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” This verse reminds me that I don’t have to be the next Francine Rivers or Dee Henderson. God has made me to write for Him using the talents He’s given me. If I stay focused and write the message He’s given me with all the passion and love I have within me, then I’m doing what God wants of me!

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Where do I even begin? Recently I’ve enjoyed Ted Dekker’s The Circle Trilogy, Kristin Billerbeck’s Ashley Stockingdale novels, Rene Gutteridge’s Boo series, Brandilyn Collins Eyes of Elisha. . .I could go on and on!

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

I’d say the tin man, because I long to have an even deeper heart for God and His people. And I pray that through my writing and ministry in South Africa, many people will come to know of God’s love for them. To me, that’s what makes all the hard work worth it!

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

You’re limiting me again . That’s a tough one, so I’ll just have to choose one. One of the biggest accomplishment for me was learning how to weave in a strong spiritual message without sounding preachy. I love Strong Currents (not yet published) because for the first time I felt like I figured out how to balance the romance, with the action of the story, and manage to weave in the spiritual message–which isn’t easy.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I’d have to say the waiting. In this business you wait, and wait, then wait some more.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

As hard as it is at times, I do try to keep to a schedule. I get up about 6:30 and get my kids off to school. After straightening up the house, I check my email and have my quiet time. (I’m trying to get exercise into this time frame, but that hasn’t been working to well. ) By 8:30 or 9:00 I’m ready to start writing until my kids get home at two. Depending on my deadline schedule I like to limit my writing to the morning, but there are many other aspects like marketing, critique for my writing buddies, that have to be fit into the schedule as well, so I often take my lap top to the school and watch my kids ride bikes while I catch up on things.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I’d love to have the gift of weaving in a powerful spiritual message like Francine Rivers that stays with the reader for years to come.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I want to write a romantic comedy script that makes the big screen. And if I don’t ever get around to doing that, then I’d love to have one of my books made into a movie. I’m a very visual person and see all my stories in my head as real as a movie, music and everything, so to really have that happen would definitely be the frosting on the cake.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Toward the beginning, yes. I now realize just how hard it is to write and that writers have to learn their craft just like any other profession. When I started I didn’t know anything about point of view, or how to set a stage, or beats, etc. Now I know how much work is actually involved, but I’ve had to decide that it’s worth the effort as well as the rejections letters that still come.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I just love to write. I love the fact that I’m in control of the story and can push the delete button when I want or let the words just flow is so much fun!

On the other hand, I don’t like the marketing part at all. My dream was always to live in a cabin in the woods and write to my heart’s content and let the publisher worry about selling my books. Today, you have to be a part of the entire process.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

Living in South Africa makes book signings difficult, though I’m a working to schedule them in this country as the readership base for Christian fiction is growing. I have a website and a blog. (www.lisaharriswrites.com & www.myblogintheheartofAfrica.blogspot.com ). I give away a lot of books and am starting now to do interviews like this one.

Parting words?

If you want to write, then WRITE. And never give up. Before I was published that was one thing that kept me going. I knew that even if I wrote dozens of books there was never any guarantee that I would be published. But I also knew that if I quite, that was no way that I’d ever hold a book of mine in my hands. Reach for your dreams, no matter what they are!

Looking back

I thought we’d take the day off from interviews and reflect.

I’ve done close to a hundred interviews in less than a year, counting the many yet to air. It’s hard to believe!

The amount I’ve learned has surprised me. I feel so amazingly blessed to be able to pick the brains of fiction’s brightest and then to share it with you all.

Each interviewee has taught me something. A few interviews stand out, (the telephone interviewees have an unfair advantage), though I appreciate them all for different reasons.

Interviewing Ted Dekker was a definite highlight. I mean, c’mon, it’s Ted Dekker. I think I still have “Theodore Dekker” on my caller id. (I’ll never wash that phone again.)

The funnest interview hands down was Robert Whitlow. The man is just so easy going and funny.

My favorite email interview was Athol Dickson. I’m a fan for life even without reading his books. (Though I intend to in the coming weeks).

Our most informative interview, in my opinion, is an upcoming one with Jack Cavanaugh. He taught me so much and seemed to hold back nothing. Again, I’m a fan for life now.

(He has a new release out next month, Storm, and it is AWESOME. If you’ve read Safely Home, that is what I’d compare it to in regards to the great story, charecterization and take away message. I was entertained, convicted and inspired! Gushety gushey gush.) I can’t wait to share that interview with you and book review.

Of course Bill Myers and Karen Kingsbury were great to talk shop with also.

Some of the newcomers were great fun too because of their zest for the business and freshness they brought to the table. And any day I can interrogate author friends like Alton Gansky, Don Brown, Deb Raney, Gail Martin, BJ Hoff, TL Hines, Ron & Janet Benrey (etc.) is a good day.

Another highlight was an interview I just finished via telephone with Walter Wangerin Jr.–National Book Award winner. (The Book of the Dun Cow). This guy is legendary. I felt in awe listening to him speak with great passion about Christian fiction.

I hope I keep that kind of fire. Speaking of Mr. Wangerin–he has been recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of Cancer. I asked how we might pray for him and his request was for peace.

Will you take a moment right now and send that prayer up to our Father on our brother’s behalf?

I’d love to hear which interviews stand out to you. What take aways (to quote Kelly Klepfer) you’ve received and if there are questions you wish I’d ask these authors that I haven’t been.

I appreciate you all stopping by, leaving comments, encouraging me and authors who have taken time out of their lives to encourage us.

Stay tuned, some of our best is yet to come.