Author Interview – W. Dale Cramer

W. Dale Cramer is a husband, father, electrician, and author of the acclaimed novels Levi’s Will, Sutter’s Cross and Bad Ground as well as several published works of short fiction. His second novel, Bad Ground, was selected by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2004. He and his wife and two sons make their home in northern Georgia. Visit his Web home at dalecramer.com




What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

I just finished my fourth novel, a story about a reluctant stay-at-home dad who gets educated by his kids, his neighbors, and the Man With No Hands. The title is Summer of Light, and it’s due out next spring from Bethany House. Early readers are saying it’s a feel-good book— honest, engaging, and funny. I drew heavily on things I learned while staying home with my own kids.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I started writing short stories in ’96, began a novel in ‘97 and got a contract in early 2002, so about five years. I spent three years writing my first novel, learning by doing— a novel is a very different animal from a short story. I spent a year finding an agent and rewriting, and another year marketing before getting a contract. That was an instructive year.

We gave an exclusive to an editor at a major publishing house (who shall remain nameless), who sat on the manuscript for six months without reading it. After that, my agent proposed the manuscript to three publishers at the CBA conference and all three expressed an interest. But the capriciousness of the business reared its head when the full novel landed on their desks the week after 9/11. Two of them stopped all acquisitions pending a rethinking of policy based on current events, and the third held onto it for several months.

Right before Christmas 2001 they rejected it in committee, deciding to put their money into their existing stable of authors. My agent sent out another round of proposals in January ’02, and Bethany offered me a contract almost immediately. But between concept and contract was an endless series of small steps punctuated by setbacks and promising rumors, a slow and incremental process. Becoming a published author just sort of crept up on me. There was never any one great blinding moment, but it always seemed to me that the biggest hurdle was getting an agent. After that it just felt like a matter of time.

You’re a Christy Award finalist. How was that process? How did you find out about being a finalist?

It’s all fairly low-key. The publisher submits the book; I don’t really have anything to do with it. The first I heard about being a finalist was when I got an email from Bethany House. The Christy people keep it under their hat until they’re ready for everybody to know, then they send out emails notifying the publishers, who notify their authors.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Every day.

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

Every day.

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

I honestly don’t think I made any mistakes there. Everywhere else, but not there. I thoroughly studied the market as I neared completion of my first novel, and I trusted my instincts. All the how-to books said not to bother with an agent in the CBA, but certain indicators in the market guides led me to believe publishers were getting flooded with manuscripts at an unprecedented rate.

The problem was slush piles. It seemed reasonable to assume that the same amount of effort it would take to get the attention of one editor could net an agent, who could pick up a phone and bypass half the slush piles in the country. I researched agents, made a list, sent out seven proposals, and ended up with an excellent, well-respected agent, Janet Kobobel Grant. Not only does she find a home for my books, but I trust her with all the business/career decisions, all of which helps me concentrate on writing. She’s also a very astute editor.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Diana Gabaldon, when asked by an aspiring writer what was the best way to get published, said, “Write a good book.” Actually, that was the best publishing advice I ever heard. The best writing advice was, “Study writers you admire and take their work apart to see how they do it.” My real breakthrough as a writer came from studying Steinbeck.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I never really faced a lot of frustration or rejection, I think mainly because I took it very seriously from the beginning. I read a lot about what makes writing good and focused almost entirely on craft rather than marketing.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

I wouldn’t call it a setback, but when I wrote my first book I failed to grasp the importance of Point of View. I think POV is one place where novice writers would do well to pay closer attention. It’s a red flag to an editor. The wake-up call came when Janet read the manuscript and wrote back saying she would consider representing me if I could straighten out the POV issues. I bought several books on the subject, gave myself a crash course, and spent six weeks in intensive rewrite. Apparently, I got it right the second time.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Cannery Row, East of Eden (anything Steinbeck), Jayber Crow, The Memory of Old Jack (anything Wendell Berry), Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird (my son thought it was a how-to book), Silent Victory. I really liked Life of Pi, but wasn’t crazy about Lovely Bones or Secret Life of Bees. I’ve read a lot of classics and bestsellers and a little of everything else, both fiction and nonfiction.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

I’m proud of Levi’s Will for a couple reasons. First, I think it’s my best work from a literary standpoint. It’s loosely based on my father’s life, and when you do something like that you tend to put a little more shine on it. Second, I’m astonished at the impact the book has had within the family.

My father was actually banned by the Amish. For as long as I can remember, many of his family refused to eat with him, ride in his car, or accept any gift from him, but when they read Levi’s Will it opened up a lot of new discussion. In the end, as a direct result of the book, the ban was lifted. I was with my father last fall when he sat down for Thanksgiving dinner at his only sister’s table for the first time in sixty years. Sometimes, when you see what God does with the work of your hands, it makes you proud and humble at the same time.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

Proverbs 16:9— The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Most of my daily angst comes from the tension between those two things.

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I get up at 6:30, put on coffee and oatmeal, wake up the wife and kids. After they’re gone off to school and work (on the rare occasions when I don’t have to go do something else) I get down to writing. I work until about two in the afternoon, when I break away and start doing chores.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

Not really, but I consider it a decent day if I get 1500 words or more. That may seem a low total for some, but I spend a lot of time going over it. At the end of the day it doesn’t usually require a lot of rewriting.

Are you an SOTP writer or a plotter?

Seat of the pants, unfortunately. I wish I could plot. I wish I could sit down and write out an outline and paint by the numbers, but I just can’t do it. I can’t tell you what a character will do until I get to know him, and even then I mostly know what he won’t do. I’m never quite sure where a book is going until I get there, which in the end I believe produces a less predictable experience for the reader.

What author do you especially admire and why?

I’ve always admired Steinbeck’s economy. He can pack more image and experience in a sentence than most people can in a page. When I focused on that economy I found a couple of his secrets, and it vastly improved my work.

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

My favorite part is the commute. I walk into the living room and I’m at work. There’s very little traffic. My least favorite part is deadlines. Taking your own experience and shaping it into (hopefully) meaningful and vibrant stories is hard work. I know of nothing that requires more faith than sitting down in front of a blank page with the intention of producing something good and true. A deadline, at least for me, can sometimes hang like a Damocletian sword over the whole process.

How much marketing do you do? What’s your favorite part of marketing?

I really don’t do much marketing. I enjoy meeting with groups like book clubs, and I do the occasional signing, but for the most part marketing has been unproductive and discouraging for me. I’m no salesman. I have always believed word of mouth is a writer’s best marketing tool, and word of mouth advertising is a byproduct of the quality of a book. Consequently, I feel my energies are far better spent making sure I produce a book readers will recommend to their friends.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

For new writers? Read. Study.

Who is your favorite writer, and why? What is it they do that makes them stand out?

If you’ve found a writer who captivates you and pulls you immediately into her world, take her apart and see how she does it. It’s like listening to a great pianist: while the effect may be magical, producing it is a discipline.

Ane: Blogger is being blogger and won’t upload photos this morning. I’ll keep trying throughout the day until I can get Dale’s photo and his book up. Sorry!

Cover Story by Deborah Raney


AUTHOR BIO
Deborah Raney is at work on her thirteenth novel. Her books include A Nest of Sparrows and RITA award winner, Beneath a Southern Sky (WaterBrook Press). Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired World Wide Pictures’ award-winning film of the same title and will be released June 1 in an updated and expanded format from Steeple Hill. Coming in January 2007, Remember to Forget from Howard/Simon & Schuster.

With a bit of advance planning, the cover of your book can go to work for you long before the book hits the bookstores or the binding is even on the book.

As soon as your publisher has a cover design for your approval, request that they print 3-500 extra cover flats when they go to press. These overruns cost the publisher a pittance, but are worth their weight in gold when it comes to promoting your book.
Ask your publisher to ship the covers to you flat and trimmed, but in one piece. (If your cover will be embossed, request they not run these promotional sheets through the embosser.) Using a paper cutter or craft knife, cut each cover into three pieces––front cover, back cover, and spine. A professional printer can also cut these for you at minimal cost.

Here are some ways you can use each piece to allow your cover to pave the way for your book’s upcoming release.

Front Cover:

• To make an oversized postcard, run the front covers through an ink-jet or laser printer, printing an intriguing “blurb” about your book on the back, left-hand side. Address the right-hand side, stamp, and send these announcements to your mailing list of fans and readers.

• Print a short bio, a list of your books in print, and your web site information on the back and use as giant business cards to hand out at book signings, speaking engagements, etc.

• At book signings you can autograph or personalize these cards for people who plan to buy your book when it comes out. Readers can post this on their refrigerator or bulletin board to remind them to watch for your book’s release.

• After your book comes out, it’s nice to have these overrun covers on hand at book signings to autograph for shoppers who already own your book but forgot to bring it to the store with them, or who want to buy the book, but can’t afford it until next payday.

Back Cover:

• The back cover usually includes a short synopsis of the book, endorsements by other authors, and a photo of the author. Get permission to put a stack of these ready-made promo pieces on the desk at your local bookstores and libraries. It’s a great take-home incentive to remind people to pick up your book the next time they are shopping or browsing the library. If you are available for speaking engagements, you can print your contact information on the back side.

• This also makes a perfect piece to include in the promotional packet you send to organizations where you will be speaking or signing books.

Spine:

• The book’s spine makes an excellent bookmark to give away at book signing parties, to make available to libraries and bookstores, or to hand out when you speak at an event.

• Depending on the layout and design of the spine you may be able to cut it into traditional business card-size stock and print your contact information on the back. (Hint: It’s easier to print this information before you cut the flats apart.)

Whole Uncut Flat Covers:

• These are handy to have available to give to newspaper reporters, interviewers, or bookstore owners when you are promoting your book. Besides providing a convenient written synopsis of the book, I’ve found that many times, when I’ve made a cover flat available to them, newspapers and magazines will run a facsimile of my book’s cover alongside my photo in the article.

With some creative inspiration, you can put your book’s cover to work for you long before it serves its intended purpose––to cover the pages of your book.

A VOW TO CHERISH was Deborah Raney’s first novel. Library Journal calls this award-winning classic novel “a startlingly honest portrayal of love, commitment, and redemption in the midst of tragedy.” When his precious wife of thirty years receives a devastating diagnosis, John Brighton is torn between doing what he knows is right and doing what his heart tells him can not be wrong. But John soon discovers that the heart can’t be trusted where true love is concerned. Now updated and expanded for a new generation, A Vow to Cherish was the inspiration for World Wide Pictures’ bestselling film of the same title.

Author Interview ~ Deanne Gist

As a journalist and member of the press, Deeanne Gist, has written for national publications such as People, Parents, Parenting, Family Fun, Houston Chronicle and Orlando Sentinel. She also has a parenting line of products called I Did It!® Productions that is available nationwide. These products reinforce family values, teach children responsibility and provide character building activities. Her debut novel, A Bride Most Begrudging, hit five bestseller lists and has been nominated for a 2006 Christy Award.
Her latest release, The Measure of a Lady, hits store shelves June 2006.
Gist lives in Texas with her husband of twenty-two years, her four teenagers and two dogs.

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

My new release, The Measure of a Lady, has just been released. Rachel Van Buren reaches San Francisco in 1849 to discover she is the first “real” lady to establish a home in this town full of adventure-seeking, rowdy men. Cloaking herself with a mane of respectability, she takes on the task of civilizing them.

A Bride Most Begrudging has been nominated for a Christy Award in the “Best Romance of the Year” category. The winner will be announced at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver this July.


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 began reading secular romances at age 16. At that time, the moral fiber of the heroines was quite high. Over the ensuing years, that bar began to lower. By the time I had children of my own I began to worry that my daughters would read these romances and think that the moral liberties the heroines were taking would not only be acceptable, but would be something to strive for.

So, the Lord challenged me to write a secular romance where the two protagonists were Christians. There was no big evangelical message, but instead was a story about two Christians who were trying to overcome adversity. I finished that manuscript (A Bride Most Begrudging) in 1997.

A top New York agent picked the manuscript up and shopped it around, but none of the secular publishers took the bait. Meanwhile, the Lord impressed upon me the desire to manufacture and produce a line of parenting products that promoted traditional family values (www.ididmychores.com).

Over the next five years the parenting product line took the driver’s seat in my career. Until the Lord sent a third-party publisher to my doorstep. They licensed my parenting products, freeing me to go back to my writing. That was in 2003. I reworked Bride for the inspirational market and sent it to Bethany House in 2004. On my blog (www.deeannegist.com/blog) I took my readers on an 8-day “Journey to Publication” in July 2005 that give all the particulars of this journey (http://www.deeannegist.com/blog/2005/07/in-beginning.html).

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

All the time. Most of these center around producing novels on demand. Bride took me three years to write. I am contracted to write a novel for Bethany House every year. So writing a quality novel in a timely manner was intimidating, to say the least.

Compounding those feelings of self-doubt were the expectations of the publisher and my readers to produce a novel as good as (or better than) Bride. But that’s what’s so great about being a Christian. I just spent a lot of time on my knees telling the Lord I wanted so very much to use the gifts and talents He had given me to bring glory to Him. I thanked Him for this opportunity and asked Him to guide me, give me inspiration and to fill me with His peace. I cannot imagine doing something like this without Him. Blessed be His Name!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

The first manuscript I wrote was horrible, but I didn’t know it. I thought it was great. I basically sat down at the computer and went from Prologue to Epilogue without any knowledge of the craft. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers. They all said the same thing in their rejection letters: “You can definitely write, but you need to learn your craft.”

I decided then and there that I would never again get another rejection because of craft. I spent the next three years doing everything I could to learn the art of writing fiction. Which leads me to your next question.

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

Learn your craft. You can be the best athlete in the world, but unless you know the rules, you can’t play basketball. Same with writing. Read how-to books, go to writing conferences, enter contests, join a critique group, listen to CDs, read author blogs, join writing organizations, take workshops. And keep doing this not only on the road to publication, but after publication. Never think you have “arrived.” Everybody has room for growth.

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

Nobody cares whether the facts in your novels are accurate or not, they just want a good story. **NOT TRUE** Nothing puts readers off more than a book that hasn’t been well-researched. And I’m not speaking just of historicals. I read a contemporary novel set in Houston where the heroine drove on an expressway. The author immediately lost credibility in my mind. Had he done the barest minimum of research, he’d have known we don’t have expressways in Houston. We have freeways.

Never underestimate your readers.

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

I wish I had known how valuable writer’s organizations were. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. They are hugely responsible for giving me what I consider the equivalent of a degree in writing fiction.

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

Oh my goodness. I think I’ve highlighted my whole Bible, just about. This morning the verse I highlighted was Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you each admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” It reminded me of the importance of memorizing Scripture (which I really struggle with. My favorite memory verse? He wept. Yep. Shortest verse in the Bible. I’m telling you, memory is not my gift.) Colossians 3:16 also reminded me of the importance of worshiping and praising God with a community of believers and with a grateful heart.

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

It is imperative that you are well-read in the genre in which you write. In 200X, the Lord took my secular romances away from me. He showed me that I had become addicted to them. I would go on binges where I read one after another, after another, after another. When I read them, I would ignore all else. I didn’t clean; I didn’t cook; I didn’t do laundry; I ignored my husband; I ignored my kids.

Instead, I lost myself in a world of fiction. Not good. While watching a Beth Moore video during Bible study, the Lord convicted me and said it was either Him or the novels. You would not believe how I cried and carried on. It was ridiculous when I think back on it. But cry I did.

Beth was talking about how Christ had come down off His throne to humble Himself and live as a man on earth. I kept telling the Lord, “I know. I know. But not my romance novels!” (Ugh!)

Before Beth was through speaking, I knew what I had to do. I had to remove all romances from my shelves. Please, please understand, I do *NOT* think there is anything inherently wrong in reading romance. I have many, many dear friends who write romance. The problem was with me.

Anyhoo, the only romances the Lord did not make me get rid of were the ones I had written. Everything else had to go. For the next two years I did not read or own a romance.

When I sold my manuscript to Bethany House, the Lord lifted my quarantine. I have found, though, that my taste for romance is not what it used to be. Now, I read all kinds of genres. But none of them have a stronghold on me.

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

My favorite book of all time is To Kill A Mockingbird. My favorite romance is Years by LaVyrle Spencer.

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

I remember typing “The End” on that first manuscript (awful though it was). That night I told my husband. He nodded and said, “That’s nice.”

I smiled, thinking he was kidding. Then realized he was serious. So I tried again. “Honey, I said I finished the book, not a chapter.”

He immediately froze. “Oh! I’m supposed to say something, aren’t I?”

Yep. It was a big moment for me. 😉

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

Folks seem to have a hard time taking what I do seriously. Friends will phone and say, “I thought I’d call now because I knew all you were doing was writing.”

My kids will ask me to take them here, there and everywhere, because after all, I’m only writing.

My husband will send me to-do lists via email, because after all, I’ve got time.

I would imagine this is something a great many people who office out of their homes experience. My family is learning. My friends leave messages.

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

First thing in the morning I do my Bible study. On MWF, I work out. On Tuesdays I have breakfast with my newly widowed father-in-law. On Thursdays I go to Ladies Bible Study. So, even though I get up early, my work day starts pretty late.

Once I am in front of my computer, I read, answer and generate emails. I post on my blog. I return phone calls. I take care of any administrative duties that need to be done. Then, I hunker down and write.

I get into a real groove around 2:00pm. My high schoolers start arriving at home around 2:30. The first thing my son does, without fail, is work on whatever song he is writing.

Have you ever been around a song writer? They play the same thing over and over and over and over, adding a stanza here, adjusting a line of melody there. Then he goes back and adds the bass. Then the lead guitar. Then the drums. Our music room has great acoustics.

My “groove” doesn’t last as long as I’d like it to. 😉

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

Patti Hill, Christy award nominee and author of Always Green, is a master at using descriptive metaphors and poetic prose. I am in awe of her gift for making moods and settings come alive for the reader.

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

My goal is to use my gifts and talents to glorify God. Anything beyond that is gravy.

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

For a few years I launched a line of parenting products called I Did It!® During that time I pulled my manuscript from circulation. A few months after the first product, I Did My Chores!, was released, a third party publisher licensed it. This allowed me to return to my writing.

As far as quitting goes, I try to be very open-minded. I wanna go where God goes. If that’s writing, I’m all for it. If it’s not, than that’s okay, too. Just so long I’m doing what He has for me to do.

Right now, looks like writing is where He wants me be. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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

My favorite part of being a writer is working out of my home and hearing from my readers. My least favorite part is having a deadline–or due date–for my manuscripts.

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

Bethany House does a superb job of marketing their titles. This allows me to devote more time to writing. Still, I do some as well. Since time is so precious, it is imperative to make the biggest bang with my time and resources. I have found the 80/20 rule that Bethany House has taught me very helpful: A few (20%) have the greatest impact over the many (80%). The value of this rule in marketing is that it reminds you to focus on the 20% that produce 80% of your results.

Were you surprised at the phenomenal success of A Bride Most Begrudging?

The Lord has truly been amazing throughout this entire process. Through Bethany House, He gave me awesome editorial support, cover art that was over-the-top, a marketing department that came out with both guns smoking and a production department that runs like clock work. He blessed me with enthusiastic sales reps and booksellers who have graciously placed Bride face out and in key spots in their stores. I am humbled and overwhelmed and thankful.

In a market where historicals seem to be a tough sell, what is it about your book do you think that offered such great reviews and sales?

Golly. That is a question better suited for my readers than me, I think. How ’bout I give you an excerpt or two from some email I have received from my readers? Would that work?

“I appreciate having a Christian fiction author who seems to take such great effort at being historically accurate.”

“Thank you for creating passionate, REAL characters. I felt like I could feel their emotions and understand their journey together. I also wanted to thank you for not shying away from the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship. So often, Christian writers just ignore that aspect all together, but it is a real part of life and love in a marriage, so I just wanted to say thank you for including it and not acting like it doesn’t exist.”

“I loved your in-depth insight into your characters and the way you delicately, but effectively wove the religious faith aspect into the fabric of your story, as well as the deep redemption-theme of Drew toward the end.”

“I enjoyed the humor threaded thru the story line. Lovely characters.”

What makes for a good historical?

Since I allow my characters to have good hygiene and all their teeth, I try to make up for that by being meticulously accurate with all my other historical details. The balance, however, comes in weaving it into the story (as opposed to dumping a bunch of historical info in all at once).

Is there a key difference in writing a historical for the CBA as opposed to the ABA?
There is definitely a difference in writing for the CBA vs the ABA, but not necessarily in the historical arena. From a historical standpoint, readers of both industries expect the historical facts to be accurate. (The length of novels vary from publishing house to publishing house no matter whether you are writing for CBA or ABA. Some like ’em short; some like ’em long; some don’t care either way.) The readers in those two industries, however, differ in their tolerance levels as far as how strong the Christian message can be, how much drinking takes place (if any), how much swearing takes place (if any), and how much sensuality occurs (if any).

You can visit Deanne and her blog at: www.deeannegist.com

I-CAN Publicity

I cannot think of a better prerequisite to publicity than that of becoming a published author. Strange? You betcha.

But think on it. Consider how many proposals a year hit an editor’s desk. Although I’ve never actually seen a slush pile, according to rumor, we can safely assume it is a huge, never-ending monster capable of permanently swallowing your precious manuscript.

But you did it! You succeeded, despite the odds! You managed to crawl out from amongst all the other 1″-doubled spaced-Times New Roman or Courier- non-widowed-non-orphaned manuscripts and become noticed. Not just noticed, but read. Not just read, but contracted.

How?

Well, while it might not be the same for everyone, most have followed a similar path. By now you have mastered the following:

· The query letter—which means you’re pre-groomed to write the pitch letter in your press kit.
· A well-written manuscript—you know your story so well that Q&A for your press kit should be a breeze.
· How to write a proposal—which means the prep work for your bio, endorsement page and one sheet, is already done.
· Networking—You can try, but you will never convince me that it’s more intimidating to approach a bookstore owner, radio station, magazine editor, or book reviewer than it is to stop an editor/agent during a conference to pitch your novel.

Getting media attention is a lot like getting your book published. The skills you’ve learned to break into this industry will now serve you well in your new small business. Whether you can afford a professional publicist or not, publicizing your book isn’t out of your reach, and with a little knowledge, there’s plenty you can do. Perhaps the hardest part about publicity, just like becoming published, is learning the system.

From this point forward, we’ll start on that path. Next week, we’ll discuss working with your publicist, and what you can do if you have no publicist and can’t afford one.