Shirley loves to read, write, sing harmony with her son, play the piano, and guitar, and do needlework, all in her spare time, of which she never has any. She also enjoys spending time with her animals, because when she is not writing historical romances, she is writing devotionals that sometimes involve allegories having something to do with the life of her animals, and how God teaches life lessons through being with them. Traveling is another favorite hobby, and moving furniture around in her house (not at the same time). Shirley and her husband Tom, love watching HGTV, and learning new ways to redo homes. They also love having their kids over for family night, cooking together, fellowshipping in the Lord. She and Tom serve in the ministry and have three grown children, and three grandchildren, where they live on the coast in Southern Oregon. You can visit Shirley anytime at her website at http://shirleykoinonia.tripod.com/.
Plug time. What new books or project do you have coming out?
On the non-fiction side, I have a three-book light-hearted devotional series in the works right now, through Vintage Spirit, which I’m very excited about: I See God in the Simple Things,
I See God in the Thorns n Thistles, and I See God on That Narrow Road. (Simple Things will be a reissue).
On the fiction side, I have Flame From Within, my first historical-romance, which will be released in February 08 through Vintage on their Vintage Inspiration Line. I’d like to talk about that today.
Flame From Within is about the enchanting, Amethyst Rose Lebrún, who is about to wed…but after losing her betrothed mysteriously at the altar, she becomes inflamed by the war, and now must flee her beloved Vicksburg, only to discover herself entangled on a riverboat with not one, but two passionate Yankee warriors determined to steal her heart.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
There was, Elizabeth. The thought came to my mind back in the mid 70s, when I used to share romance novels with my friend Patti. We shared romance novels as young mothers, when we were not watching soaps. (That was back in the olden days!) I had read one of hers, about a heroine, from New Orleans I liked, and about that time, Patti had given her heart to the Lord. I wanted to see an historical romance I could share with her that was inspirational, but there weren’t any, I knew of at the time.
About 1985, I got the courage to attempt to try to write one. I managed to complete about fifty pages. They were terrible. I got as far as, the name of my heroine, the basic plot, the setting, and part of an outline, but the guts were pretty iffy. My POV attempt was a disaster, so I shelved it.
I have always loved reading historical romances, but back then, I had to be careful what I read. I often had to skip paragraphs, since some got a little steamy for my comfort taste. I also began reading the work of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, back then. I loved her poetic use of words. I learned so much from her. I appreciate good use of the English language.
That story I started, which later became Flame From Within, I filed somewhere in a deep dark space far away in a trunk, where the pages turned yellow, with the determination, I would someday pick it up and start it again, and next time do it correctly. The rest is history.
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?
My journey goes back, into my childhood, as with many other writers. I published for my high school newspaper, then with my husband later, who went into the ministry in the 80s. There, I wrote as a pastor’s wife, staying busy publishing articles and several Bible Study Series for women’s groups; I organized retreat packets, and began speaking at conferences. I created children’s musicals and plays for Christmas functions. You name it.
At the same time, I took a correspondence writers’ course, Institute of Children’s Literature, thinking, perhaps, Children’s ministry was where, I was headed. In, 2002,I founded the online international women’s team ministry organization, http://www.heartsforchrist.org/, and a large international Koinonia Community, which began functioning as a large group bible study, devotional, prayer, and fellowship group where women could come together from all over the world and grow together in Christ online. This kept me quite busy, and yet, at the same time spurred me back to return to my love for fiction writing from the past. My prayer was to subtly witness through my writing in a way that would bring encouragement to both the saved and the unsaved without being preachy.
In 2005, I picked up another old story I had attempted to write back in the 80s. After blowing off a few cobwebs, I decided to send it off to an online publisher. Much to my surprise, that one was actually, published! (To this day, I honestly cannot count that one as my first book, but it was all I needed to give me the boost I needed to get me going.) Ane, it is what gave me the confidence I needed to get me started again. We all need something.
After that, I went to that trunk, and picked up that old historical of mine and begin rewriting it from scratch, to see if I could not make it right. That’s when Flame From Within was born again (in simple terms).
When it was ready, I sent it off to Vintage at the editor’s request. She liked it and gave me a call. The night I received my call, I could have leaped through the ceiling! And now, that I’m about to release that story as a published author, I have to say, I am only beginning to understand, what it feels like, to truly, be an author. In truth, when it comes to fiction writing, I am one of the new kids on the block.
What makes your book a good crossover story?
Flame From Within is a story that deals with an unsaved woman, who is in need of repentance, like the majority of the people, who live in this lost world, Ane. One reviewer’s comment might help me best offer part reply. She wrote, “The inspirational aspects were not overdone, but instead were threaded seamlessly throughout the story as it unfolded.” I share her words perhaps, because, my story is one of those that will reach some people who would not normally step foot in a Christian bookstore or church. I like that she said, “The inspirational aspects were not overdone.”
I prayed hard, for balance, and that I would maintain a strong value in my writing. When we all get to heaven, we will be accountable for what we do. In this day, and age, too often, it is difficult to get the world to be open to the Lord, outwardly, but they will still pick up a book. If I can reach them through the words written in a book, I will certainly try.
It is so important to reach a variety of readers, and not just the Christian segment of society. I want to go both places if I can. None of us has any idea, who will read our work, once it is published. The truth is, God is whom we should write for ultimately. He is in charge of where our writing goes and in whose hands it will end. So I write for Him, and ask Him to send it out.
Since, I write in the ABA, both through fiction and nonfiction, with my historical romances and devotional journals, I try, through a subtle way, to be a strong witness. I believe it is possible. God did it in the Old Testament with a prostitute, and with a widow named Ruth. He can use us as well. I tried to do it in Flame From Within also. Titus 2:11 tells me in part, “… the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all….” That’s my motto too.
God can discover the romance of the heart between any two people who are very much in love; then He can do wonders with their lives. All I have to remember is my own testimony of many years ago, where I met my husband before we were saved (a couple of young people in a beer bar). God saw the potential in us, and made my husband a pastor a few years later, much to our surprise.
Come February 08, Flame From Within will be placed in God’s hands to do with as He wills. He will fit it on both sides of the aisle, and allow it to accomplish the purpose, for which He intends it. You know the old saying, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven?”
Maybe, just maybe someone, who reads this story will find themselves somewhere in one of the subplots. Maybe it might even help them in some small way realize God loves them just the way they are. My prayer is that Flame From Within, will become a work of evangelism for them and a blessing to the Christian. Either way, I will then have then done my job.
Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
You mean where absolutely no words come to my mind—I have to laugh at that question a little. (You can probably see by my wordiness today, I am seldom at a loss for words.) I am one, who loves the power of any written word. I used to sit with my kids, and we would play a game we called, “Word Association,” just to think of any new words, we could come up with. It was a good brain exercise.
As I got older, I would think of book titles. I could come up with a book, before I even came up with the book. Then, I would start working on the book, regardless of what it was.
When I think I might even begin to get “writer’s block,” I just brainstorm, and words begin to flow from my head like crazy. Pretty, soon, I am back on track. It is the fastest remedy I can think of for any writer, who has problems with WB. If I am in the middle of a chapter or ready to start a new one, and I am stumped, I just print up the last two or three chapters and do some editing. By the time I finished, my writer’s block is gone.
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? How did (or do) you overcome it?
POVs, hands down. It has been my greatest struggle from the beginning. Even when I took my three-year writing course years ago, I struggled with the correct usage of POV. Even more, reason we need to hone our craft. We never stop learning. I overcome it with the help of my wonderful editors and with the assistance of all my fellow writer friends at ACFW and FHL, who have gone before me.
Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?
I have a personal secretary set up in my parlor. I write every morning for about three hours there. After a small break, I try to write again there for another couple of hours a day. I do my reading and research in my bedroom at night, or at my other computer in the guestroom.
Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?
No. I want to have a word and page goal, but I cannot…not yet…probably, because I do both nonfiction and fiction, and have to work both sides of my brain. Ugh. I always have more than one project going on at the same time. I do what I can. (I do have a calendar to tell me which to work which day to remind me.) Sometimes, I am not physically able, either. Now, when I have a deadline in front of me that is a different story. During those times, I get stricter with myself, and stay firm to my convictions until I am finished.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Weekdays after prayer with my husband, I start writing and editing around 7:30 until 10:30 AM. During that time, I also have to get up to feed my chickens and gather eggs. I return later for another couple of hours and move along until I cannot keep my eyes open anymore. Somewhere in there, I do laundry, clean house, and have women over I teach for Bible Study, once a week. (Somewhere in there, I prepare for that BS lesson.)
I do research on the internet to keep my historical facts accurate for my stories as well. If I can get perhaps half a chapter done in a day, I am praising the Lord. If I cannot, I praise the Lord anyway, and shrug my shoulders and figure God knows. He will make things work out for me on the morrow. I always have to remember, I am also working on my nonfiction devotional I am in the middle of that time! I wear a bazillion hats at the same time. All I know is it will all be done…eventually. And somewhere in all that I must get dinner ready for my husband. (Thankfully he likes to cook too.) By the way, where is that cup of coffee I just poured myself an hour ago?
Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.
Just refer to the question above for this question. It really looks about like that, except when it comes to revision time, and I know I am under the gun with my editor. During that time, I don’t get much sleep. I am at my computer constantly, and I eat an awful lot of red licorice and drink a lot of coffee with real cream. (I’m still looking for that cup of coffee I lost.)
What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?
Here are a few…many for style—some for content:
Mark of the Lion Series, By Francine Rivers; The Enchanted April, By Elizabeth Von Arnim; Not Quite a Lady, By Loretta Chase; Gossamer Wings, By Anne Whitfield; Shanna, By Kathleen E Woodiwiss; Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen E Woodiwiss; Courting Trouble, By Deanna Gist;
Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard (To name a few)
What is the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Don’t be afraid to take risks– Believe God will give you the strength to do it, and you will—Research, research, research, but not at the cost of your creativity– and Kristin Billerbeck, author said, among other great things, “Humility is crucial in this business.” I could not agree with her more.
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?
The importance of checking better into who your publishers are before you send to them! I knew nothing about Predators and Editors. I knew nothing about those that could take advantage of new authors. My frustrations came not because I was charged for my publishing; I’m thankful for my early books, but neither of my early books were properly edited and both were overcharged, therefore could never sell.
As a newer author, was it worth it just to get my name on the byline? My frustration came in seeing my friends and loved ones have to pay too much to buy my books, when I knew they could not afford them. It hurt, when I could not do anything about it.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
We are an online society. I am all over the email, involved in groups…getting my name out there. It is the best way I know how to travel these days. I visit authors often, introduce myself as a guest. I make myself as available for interviews whenever asked, and I thank you, Ane, for inviting me here. It has been a real pleasure being here with you and sharing with you about my February release, Flame From Within. May God richly bless you and the rest of your staff at Novel Journey!
Do you have any parting words of advice?
At ACFW we were asked our thoughts about writing once. Some of us called our list our Bill of Writes. Something I wrote in part:
If you want to succeed as a writer, successfully in the Lord, you need to remember, He is the one who needs to get the glory for all you do; not you. It is not about money and fame. It is about Him. If you can remember your focus, God will honor you in the end, even if you never make a dime.