Columnist/Entertainment Writer – Joanne Brokaw

Award-winning freelance writer and columnist Joanne Brokaw covers entertainment and current issues for dozens of Christian and community publications in the U.S. and Canada, including The Christian Examiner newspapers, The Minnesota Christian Chronicle, and The Ozarks Christian News. Her humor column, This Life, appears in The Desert Voice of Southern California and at BuddyHollywood.com; she also writes a slice of life column for the Christian Voice Magazine. She pens a column on The Writing Life each month for ByLine Magazine, and has sold humorous greeting cards to American Greetings.

Her other writing credits include Breakaway and Brio Magazines, OnCourse Magazine, ChristianMusicPlanet.com, AGreaterFreedom.com, Release and SevenBall Magazines, TrueTunes.com and Grassroots.com. She’s currently working on several book ideas, including Missions for Chickens; 101 Ways To Love Your Neighbor; and Everything I Need To Know About Faith I Learned From My Dog.

Joanne is the recipient of an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals Award, and has successfully taken her Border collie, Scout, through his good citizenship obedience class, enabling them both to walk through their neighborhood with a modicum of enjoyment.

She is the co-founder of the Ink Spots and Coffee Grounds writing group, which she hosts with mystery author Phillip Tomasso, III, and is the founder of the Wonder Dog publicity and networking group, connecting and supporting Rochester, NY Christians involved in the music industry.

Share your favorite and least favorite parts of interviewing and profiling musicians.

My favorite part: meeting new people, interviewing up-and-coming artists, and occasionally connecting with an artist and developing a friendship. I meet some of the neatest people.

My least favorite part: dealing with the occasional ego, having to work around tour schedules to get an interview, and feeling like I’m really bugging someone when I’m deadline and need information. And transcribing interview tapes. I hate transcribing interview tapes more than I hate housework.

What one interview has touched you the most?

Wow, there have been a few. But the one band that I will never forget is a long disbanded group called The Combat Junkies. I interviewed them at my first GMA. Hardcore, tattooed, totally out of my comfort zone, and they were the most tender-hearted, kindest young men I’ve ever met. When everyone else went to bed during GMA week, they’d go out on the street and sit with the homeless, just talking about Jesus. They really had hearts to minister to the unloved. Like a thousand other bands, they just couldn’t make it in the business financially, but they remain to me a shining example of what Christian music should really be about. Pray, serve, then play.

You’ve attended GMA (Gospel Music Association) Week. Do you feel that opportunity has been a valuable career booster? How?

Absolutely. You interact with other journalists, get access to the artists, learn how the industry works, and see the good (and bad) of Christian entertainment. I’ve developed lifelong friendships with people I’ve met at GMA and I’ve made industry contacts that have helped me do my job better. If you want to write about or for the Christian music industry, you really need to go. What I do during that one week keeps me working all year and the contacts are priceless.

Give our readers hints on writing humor…the best hints you’ve got. The golden eggs and all that.

Wow, that’s a whole book. In fact, if you want to write humor I suggest you check out the book, “The Comic Toolbox” by John Vorhaus, and attend the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

But a few hints? There are rules about writing humor. Here’s a link that gives more help. The comic equation is Comedy = Truth + Pain, and if enough time hasn’t passed to face the pain, then Comedy = Truth + Exaggeration. Land on the funny, which means don’t give the joke away too soon. Words that start with a hard “g” or “k” sound make people laugh more. (Don’t ask me how, but someone studies these things. “Gerbil” is apparently funnier than “hamster.”) Remember the “Rule of 3”, which is “blank, blank and blank.”

Depending on what you’re writing, the formula will be different. Cards are different than stand up gags which are different than columns which are different than a first grader’s book report.

I could give away more secrets but then I’d have to kill you, and since I faint at the sight of blood, I’d probably just maim you before I passed out, leaving you with a gaping head wound and no one to drive you to the hospital.

Where do your column ideas come from? How do you keep your columns fresh?

My columns come from stupid things I do, stupid things other people do, or stupid things I think about doing but catch myself before I do. Since I am continually doing or saying something stupid, I’m never at a loss for material.

Share some wisdom you’ve earned while working as a columnist.

Use as few words as possible. Column space is usually limited, so I can’t stress enough the importance of learning to make every word count. Remember that scene in “A River Runs Through It”, where the kid writes an essay and the father keeps telling him to do it again, using half as many words? Learn how to do that.

You’ve begun writing greeting cards. Do you find your writing style changing through the exercise of telling tiny stories? How? Has it helped in other writing?

Well, humorous greeting cards aren’t really tiny stories. They’re one line gags with very little room for the joke set up. If you were doing a stand up routine, for example, you’d do a few giggle jokes that lead up to some chuckles and pay it all of with the guffaws, because you have time to do that and the goal is to make people laugh. With a card, you have about 20 words to not only make someone laugh, but to convey a sentiment. It’s a “knock knock” joke with a message.

Has it helped in my other writing? Only in that is pays enough to keep me from having to get a real job.

Share the most valuable thing you’ve learned through writing greeting cards.

That I’m better at buying humorous cards than writing them. I actually spent a week in freelance training at a major card company and I learned that writing humor cards is very hard work. When I asked the in house writers what their favorite cards were, they opened their reject files. Only about 20% of the cards they write actually get used. If you have a problem with rejection, writing humor cards is definitely not for you.

Would you care to share details about any strange writing habits you might have?

I can go for days without seeing anyone except my husband, so I frequently talk to my Border collie, Scout. In fact, I just asked him if he had any thoughts about what strange habits I might have and, much like my husband, he’s ignoring me.

I do take frequent breaks to go outside to play with Scout. In the winter I throw snowballs and he chases them. In the summer, I blow bubbles and he chases them. In fact, he heard just me type the word “bubbles” and is now pulling at my sleeve to go out and play.

My desk is a bit strange. I have a dozen or so toys and photos on my computer top and around my desk – like my quacking stuffed duck and peeping chick, a wind up chicken that lays gumballs, my Buzz Lightyear and Prince Charming Happy Meal toys, pictures of my family, and a “grow your own therapist” toy, which I haven’t opened but am saving in case of emergency. I also have a tea bag tag that says, “If ignorance is bliss why aren’t there more happy people?” and a key chain propped up in front of me that says, “It’s amazing how long it takes to finish something you’re not working on.” So I guess that I’m surrounded by silliness, which begets more silliness.

Any insecurities when it comes to writing – expand on that if it’s a yes. If it’s no, just skip the question…

Yes. That someday everyone’s going to realize I can’t write.

Favorite authors?

I hate when people ask me this question because I could never list all of my favorite authors (mostly because, now that I’ve turned 40-something I can’t remember their names). But next to my bed are books by David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck (I just read “Winter of our Discontent” for maybe the 8th time), Alexander McCall Smith, Amy Tan, Sandra Kring, Flannery O’Conner, Maya Angelou, Jon Katz, and about two dozen more, including a humor anthology called “May Contain Nuts”, the Bible, and C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”.

Columnists who’ve inspired you.

I grew up reading Erma Bombeck, Ann Landers, and Art Buchwald in the daily paper. I enjoy Bruce Cameron’s columns and Tim Bete is pretty darn funny. I love USA Today’s Craig Wilson. When I get the paper, I read the editorial columnists like Cal Thomas; in fact, I read them all, the ones I agree with and the ones I don’t. And I like to read the My Turn column in Newsweek.

Favorite writing-how-to books.

Making A Literary Life, by Carolyn See
On Writing, by Stephen King
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lammott
The Comic Toolbox, by John Vorhaus
Those are the ones I remember reading … there are probably more …

Comedians who’ve influenced you.

Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and Lucille Ball, of course. I love goofy, funny, insecure, women. (Am I the only one who remembers when Ann Marie served peanut butter on Corn Flakes as party appetizers? My kind of hostess.) And I love Ellen DeGeneres. But growing up, I really, really, really wanted to be like Carol Burnett. When I was maybe 10 years old I dressed up like her washer woman character for Halloween and won a contest. She is the master of the comedy sketch. The “Eunice and Mama” bits still make me laugh until I cry. Yeah, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. Be Carol Burnett.

Do you think the humor market is easier to slide into or columns?

I don’t think either is easy. Like anything writing-related, they both require talent, hard work, natural ability, hard work, and God’s hand guiding you the entire way. Oh, and a lot of hard work. Humor is not easy to write. For every funny joke you hear the writer probably wrote 10 that he threw away. Most people don’t realize that.

How does column writing differ from humor column writing?

A column takes many, many forms – advice, how-to, political, opinion, Q & A, devotional – and any can incorporate humor. But an outright humor column can be a just for the sake of the laugh columns, like Dave Barry. Or you can write an amusing, slice of life columns, like Erma Bombeck. I would never put myself in the same category as Erma Bombeck, but I write more slice of life columns than outright humor.

I’m teaching a class on writing columns this fall at Writers and Books in Rochester, NY for any readers in the area who might be interested.

Do you lean toward humor writing or is it a challenge for you?

I think humorous writing comes naturally for me. I don’t write ha-ha laugh out loud, Dave Barry, aliens are running the IRS kind of humor. I write mildly amusing takes on everyday life. I tend to say things other people only think about, and a lot of my humor comes from admitting my flaws and goof ups. Most people comment on things that strike a chord with them, like when I admitted that I wouldn’t go on a mission trip because I didn’t want to be without my hair dryer for a week. (Apparently I’m the only one willing to admit to being so shallow.) And one column I wrote, “Mind Reading Mommy,” really resonates with moms who are being systematically driven insane by their children.

Writing jokes or stand up comedy? I don’t know if I could do that.

You also freelance for several well-know publications. What is your favorite thing to write about?

I love to tell people’s stories, especially when they might be stories that are otherwise overlooked. At GMA, I tend to interview unknown artists, who have all the time in the world to talk and who have interesting stories that have nothing to do with music. Those are the artists who will hang out with you for hours and that’s always when you find the story. I love writing about missions and serving God, and also about my dog and my cat. I would write more about my husband and daughter but they might never speak to me again, and while the dog and cat are great listeners they don’t give much feedback and I still need someone to tell me when my pants make my butt look big.

Who would you most like to see interviewed at Novel Journey? And do you have any questions you’d like us to ask them?

OK, here’s one. I know he died in 1984, but I’d ask author Philip Van Doren if he liked what Frank Capra did with “It’s A Wonderful Life” and if he ever felt jealous that no one knew the film was based on his short story, “The Greatest Gift”.

Welcome Guest Blogger ~ DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills does some of the most intensive research of any author I know. We sat down at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last May and chatted about this book and her trip to the Sudan. I asked her to tell us about it.

Experiencing Sudan

Excitement with a twinge of apprehension settled in my spirit as the plane from Kenya eased onto the runway of Juba, the southern capital of Sudan. I glanced out the window to a mass of rolling dust and desolation and an airport that more closely resembled a metal warehouse, except for the camouflaged-clad soldiers with MK7s slung over their shoulders.

This was the site of my research for When the Nile Runs Red.

I took a deep breath. What have I gotten myself into? Lord, this is going to be an adventure I’ll never forget.

Someone said “TIA.” This is Africa. I smiled and tugged on the straps of my back pack, more for security than a need to adjust its position. My little Bible was inside and about to be covered in Sudan dust.

Several moments later, after soldiers had gone through my baggage, and I was on my way to the ACROSS compound, an interdenominational, international Christian organization. I was thankful to be staying within the walls of a compound, knowing that otherwise I’d be crammed into a tent along the Nile River. I didn’t want to think of the possibility of encountering two-legged or four-legged predators. Taking in every bit of my surroundings, I realized the days ahead of me would stay in my heart forever.

What I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, touched, and intuitively sensed would place the reader in the heart of Sudan – right where I wanted the reader to be. On this research/mission trip, I planned to take pages of notes, snap photos, and conduct personal interviews with the people I met. More importantly, I wanted them to know that Jesus loved them, and I would take their plight back to the States so others would know firsthand about their critical needs. The burden of the job ahead settled like a heavy yoke on my shoulders. Could I do the job entrusted to me?

The sights moved me, sometimes to almost tears. I saw poverty that I will never forget: women drawing water from the Nile and using it without the benefit of boiling it, a lack of sanitation, and thin bodies. I saw a mixture of hope and pain in the eyes of the Sudanese, children at play, and colorful African clothing. A weathered sign indicated an Islamic children’s hospital where before the war ended, boy babies never left the building alive. I saw more goats than I ever wanted to see again.

I heard children laughing and the pop of a gun firing at night. I heard praise and worship to God and witnessed frustration in the voices of those who wanted more for their country. I heard government officials talk of their commitment to southern Sudan and their faith in God. I asked questions and listened to stories of survival and dedication.

I smelled a city with little sanitation, and I longed for them to embrace fragrant flowers and the sweet scent of true freedom. I witnessed men and women pounding goat dung into the ground of their “church” so they could hold services.

I tasted the dust and dirt and noted the Sudanese diet of ugali (cornmeal), vegetables, goat, and fish. Malaria was a part of life, and cholera broke out in the more poverty stricken areas.

People touched me with their joy and their sorrow. I once heard someone say: talk to me and I will get to know you; touch me and I am forever changed. For me, this meant brushing my finger across the vegetation, petting an animal, or embracing someone different from myself. The power of touch pulled me outside of my comfort zone and into the world of the Sudanese. Sometimes it was difficult, but it was never without reward. Instead of my ministering to them, I was blessed beyond imagination.

True research meant giving of myself to benefit others. Sudan will always be a part of my heart, and I look forward to a return trip. I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and beyond the page to ensure your manuscript receives the research it deserves. Experience your story – and lift your readers above their world into an unforgettable story. And you, like me, will be forever changed.

To view a promo clip of When the Nile Runs Red, click here

Author Interview ~ Christy AwardWinner Cathy Gohlke

Cathy Gohlke’s writing has appeared in a variety of publications. She lives with her husband in Elkton, Maryland, where she has worked as a school librarian, drama director for adults and young people, and director of children’s and education ministries. Cathy is the mother of two grown children. “William Henry is a Fine Name” is her first novel.

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

“William Henry is a Fine Name” won the Christy 2007 Young Adult Award. It is the story of thirteen-year-old Robert, who in 1859 is torn between loyalty to his abolitionist father and his mother’s slave-holding family.

After his best friend, William Henry, is trapped in a deadly scheme to protect secrets of the Underground Railroad, Robert vows never to get involved again. But when he discovers his grandfather’s plan to sell his own son, born of a slave woman, Robert must decide whether to stand by or risk everything to help him escape.

“William Henry is a Fine Name” is a coming-of-age story, a tale of friends, a family, and a nation caught in the chaos of slavery, forced to take a stand.

I’m currently working on a Civil War sequel to “William Henry is a Fine Name.”

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

From the moment in childhood that I learned of the Underground Railroad I’ve been fascinated by that daring race to freedom and inspired by the courageous runners, conductors, and stationmasters. I’ve wondered if I would have had the courage to step up to the plate, to help others when the risks were so high. Writing this book helped me explore that, and count the costs in saying “yes” to whatever the Lord calls me to do.

The “what if” moment came when I imagined two boys—best friends, one black and one white, caught in the chaos of those times.

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’d written features for newspapers, periodicals, essays for two books, poetry, short stories, and several skits and dramas for years before I attempted to write a novel. Once I completed the novel I submitted chapters and synopsis copies—whatever each publisher required—to several publishers. One publisher asked me to rewrite the book for a younger audience—which I tried, but neither of us was happy with the shortened, younger audience story.

So I listed the manuscript with “The Writer’s Edge.” Within a few months three publishers contacted me, asking to see the manuscript. I signed a contract with Moody Publishers on my 50th birthday—which felt like the gift of the century and the start of a brand new life!

Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Some days new writing flows. Some days it reads like a travelogue. Some days just getting a paragraph on paper feels like I’m pulling teeth with a wrench but no Novocain. I persist because I know that once I have words—any words—on paper I have something to work with. I love rewriting, cutting, honing and polishing—if it makes my work better. So, even if I must throw today’s work out tomorrow, writer’s block is not an option.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?

Plotting was/is my most difficult part of writing.

How did (or do) you overcome it?

It is something I struggle with in each new piece. Outlining the plot helps tremendously, as long as I allow my characters to tell their own story, and as long as I don’t feel married to my outline.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I write wherever I am. I am blessed with a wonderful home office with windows that look out into woods and down along the banks of the Laurel Run. I do some writing and most of my writing business there. But I often find I need to leave home to write new material—just to get away from the siren song of laundry, dirty dishes, floors that need mopping, closets that need cleaning, phones. . . I can write in the midst of a noisy restaurant or seated in my car in a parking lot or at a table in the park by the river—anywhere I feel no responsibility to interact or do anything else at the moment.

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

A good day is 5 manuscript pages or a scene.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Prayer and Bible reading come first. That is the only typical part of my day. I usually write as long as I can before and after breakfast, then attend to the business part of writing later in the day. Sometimes I write late at night when the house and my mind have stilled. Some days are dedicated to outlining or writing new work, some to research, and some to preparing talks. Some days are slated for volunteer work or for the needs of my family and friends. Some days are dictated by deadlines. Most days are a combination of these.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

Something intrigues or fascinates me: it could be a snippet from history, the expression on someone’s face, a conversation I’ve overheard, that morning’s Bible reading, or a twist on something I’ve read in the newspaper. I explore that picture in my mind and people it with story characters. That exploration might include research, people watching, or relaxing enough to watch the mental movies my characters create.

I see parts of the story as movie scenes or stage dramas in my head, and sketch scenes or dialogues from those. Though I don’t know the entire story, I begin a flow chart, and imagine how those scenes might link together. That is when I begin to see the story as a whole, form a general plot, and create an outline. I’ve written with and without a chapter by chapter outline and have found that an outline keeps me on task.

Now I’m ready to write the story. If I get stuck I go back to my outline. If I’m really stuck I’ll skip ahead to a scene I see more clearly in my head and pick up there. I can always go back and fill in what I’ve missed. I read over what I’ve written for the day before I go to sleep at night. My mind sometimes resolves problems as I sleep.

Each new writing day begins with prayer, then editing what I wrote the day before. Editing allows me to dip my feet into the story and regain momentum.

Once the first draft is written I read the entire manuscript, cut, revise, rewrite, and hone. I tighten each chapter’s beginning and ending, edit line by line, working with the arrangement of words, and make certain my characters remain in character and maintain their voices.

When the manuscript is as polished as I can make it I give it to a group of critical readers. I take their comments into consideration, rewrite where I think best, polish, and send it to my editor. That is when the editing process with the publishing house begins, and I realize how much I don’t know.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

“The Holy Bible”
“In His Steps”–by Charles Sheldon
“To Kill A Mockingbird”–by Harper Lee
“The Mitford Series”–by Jan Karon
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”–by Mark Twain
“Ahab’s Wife”–by Sena Jeter Naslund

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

Don’t quit. Write. Write. Write.

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?

Believe that your book will be a success and prepare accordingly: Plan your next book and begin writing it as soon as you send your first one out. Create a website with appropriate links and updates. Prepare notes for book and related talks. Simplify your life because you will be busier than you’d ever imagined.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I’ve done several blog and some media interviews. Book signings and related talks are my main form of marketing. Being willing to speak to various groups: schools, libraries, clergy, youth groups, writing or book groups, storytelling, Scouts, re-enactors, etc., builds community relations and readership. Those talks lead to other invitations and almost always include opportunities to witness for the Lord.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Give back. Encourage and help other writers. Don’t be afraid of competition. There will never be too many pen warriors to bear the light of truth in this world. Ask the Lord to guide your mind, surrender your desires to Him, and make yourself available and open to His leading. Faithfully hone the gift you’ve been given. Write. Write. Write. Rejoice that you can do the thing that makes your heart sing.

Interview with NYT Best-Selling Novelist, Sandra Brown

(Photo credit: Andrew Eccles)

Sandra Brown is the author of fifty-five New York Times bestsellers, including RICOCHET.Brown has published sixty-eight novels, most of which remain in print.

Ms. Brown now has seventy million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages.

A lifelong Texan, Sandra Brown was born in Waco and raised in Ft. Worth, attending Texas Christian University, majoring in English. Before embarking on her writing career, Sandra worked in television – including weathercasting and feature reporting on the nationally syndicated program “PM Magazine.”

Sandra and her husband Michael Brown live in Arlington, Texas.

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

“Play Dirty” goes on sale Aug. 14. It’s about a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who’s just been released from prison after serving a five year sentence for racketeering. (He threw a game.) He gets a very unusual job offer from a multi-millionaire, which has the potential of getting him into even more trouble.

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 andwhat went through your head.

I’d been writing for a little over a year. I’d submitted manuscripts that had been rejected. Then I met a bookstore owner who offered to read my next manuscript. She liked it, and on my behalf called an editor at Dell who was launching a new line of romances, Candlelight Ecstasy.

Upon the bookseller’s recommendation I sent the manuscript to this editor, who was watching for it. About a week later she called and offered me a contract on “Love’s Encore”. She asked if I’d written anything else. I had written another romance, about the same length, in the same style and the same level of sensuality. I sent her “Love Beyond Reason”. Thirteen days later she bought it, too.

When you started out, you wrote under several pennames (Rachel Ryan, Laura Jordan, Erin St. Clair). Why?

I was writing for several different publishers. Each had a pseudonym.

You write one book a year. Is this by design and if so, why?

Writing one book a year is a comfortable pace for me. If I had a couple years to write one, I think I’d get bored before I was finished. I’d get lazy, and still probably do the work in the same amount of time. If I wrote more than one a year, I’d feel rushed and pressured. Also, it’s a good schedule for my publisher. They have one new hard cover each year, along with the paperback edition of the previous year’s book.

You’ve hit the NYT bestsellers list over fifty times. What in your opinion are the key ingredients for this type of success?

If you study the bestseller lists, you’ll notice that the only thing the books have in common is that they’re on the lists. Every author on there has found a niche for him or herself. They write their “thing” and they’ve found an appreciative audience for it. I think success relies a lot on tenacity and just plain hard work. To be a success at anything, you’ve got to work at it. So far, I haven’t found a shortcut to writing a book. It can only be done one word at a time.

What are your thoughts on branding? Does it hurt sales to write in multiple genres?

I can only speak to my own experience. In the early 90’s I made a career decision to pursue the suspense market, so I stopped writing genre romances. It was a tough decision because that was a very comfortable arena for me, but I’ve never regretted it. It enabled me to devote all my time, energy and creativity to the bigger, more mainstream market. It was a matter of focusing on where I wanted to go rather than where I was.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I once tried to follow a publishing trend. It wasn’t a good fit for me. My editor at the time advised me to follow my impulses and gut instinct, to write with my voice and not try to adapt to a fad. It was excellent advice.

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

Read, read, read everything. And write, write, write every day.

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

“There’s nothing wrong with popular fiction, but you might want to try to write a real book some day.” That’s not exactly “advice,” but it’s the most condescending, obnoxious statement I’ve ever had said to me — by a man who confessed that he doesn’t read because he doesn’t have time.

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

[From time to time we’ll be holding back particularly insightful answers to bring to you in our Newsletter, along with other great stuff. (This is one of those times). You will sign up to the left to read Sandra’s eye-bulging, heart-twisting, bone-grinding answer … er, you SHOULD sign up to the left … um, COULD sign up? Pretty pretty please with a leather-bound thesaurus on top?]

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

“Testimony of Two Men” by Taylor Caldwell
“Magnificent Obsession” by Lloyd Douglass
“Mila 18” by Leon Uris
“Resistance” by Anita Shreve
“The Flame and the Flower” by Kathleen Woodiwiss

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

Well. . . I liked the Texas! Trilogy: Lucky, Chase and Sage. I liked “Envy.” It’s impossible to say because I can’t be objective. A book that I don’t like so well is the favorite of the next fan who writes me.

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

Authors who talk trash about other authors, especially in public.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

I get the idea and work with it until it lets me know it wants to be a book. (Some ideas don’t.) Then I write a 10-15 page synopsis for my editor, in which I let her know who the main characters are, what the big problem is, how that problem is going to get worse, and how it will be solved.

This is a road map, nothing more. I know where I’m going, just not how I’m going to get there. After I begin writing, I rarely consult the synopsis again. I put the characters in place, get them into big trouble, and then let them show me where this scene or that scene will take place. Some of the best plot twists, even I didn’t see coming until it was right there. Some of the best characters weren’t even in the synopsis.

I do four drafts: the first is the plotting draft, the second is the crafting draft, the third is for pacing and to make sure all the loose threads are tied up, the fourth is for polishing.

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

I’d love for each book to become #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I’d love a feature film done right and with a great cast.

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

My favorite – writing the books.
Least favorite – the business side of it.

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

It varies from year to year. Sometimes I do a lot, then I taper off. In my opinion, the best you can do for your fans is to sit your butt in the chair and write the best book for them you possible can.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

The letters I receive from service men and women are especially touching. They tell me how my books provide escape from the danger they face daily. These letters never fail to bring tears to my eyes.