Novel Journey’s Own ~ Elizabeth Ludwig

Elizabeth Ludwig has written a number of historical books, and two romantic suspense novels including A Walk of Faith, a finalist in ACFW’s 2004 Noble Theme Contest. Other notable accomplishments include two top ten finishes in ACFW’s 2005 Noble Theme Contest, General Historical and Historical Romance categories, respectively. Her first mystery novel, Where the Truth Lies, which she co-authored with Janelle Mowery, is scheduled for release in spring of 2008 from Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES!, an imprint of Barbour Publishing. Book two of the series, Died in the Wool, will be released in spring of 2009.Attendance at writer’s conventions like the American Christian Fiction Writers Annual Conference and active membership in her ACFW critique group have helped hone her skills. She works fulltime and lives with her husband and two children in Texas.

You and Sandra are the Novel Journey team’s first published novelists . . . so far. So tell the scoop: What new book do you have coming out?

So far is right. I’m in such talented company here at Novel Journey, I know it won’t be long before the rest of this team publish novels as well. I just happened to luck out because right about the time Barbour announced the launch of its new mystery line, my critique partner, Janelle Mowery, and I were discussing co-authoring a cozy together. What we came up with is a quirky little mystery entitled, Where the Truth Lies. It’s due for release from Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES! this April.

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

Actually, there was. I was home for Christmas and staying the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law in Michigan. He works full-time as a youth minister. We got to talking about Jacob and Esau and their rather strange, rather strained, relationship. Later that evening, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I called Janelle, and together we came up with this loosely based idea about twin brothers—one who dies, and one who lives to inherit everything.

You wrote this with Janelle Mowery. How do you divvy up the work?

Different authors have different approaches to co-authoring. Janelle and I thought it best for each of us take one character and write strictly from their POV. I believe the end result works because as readers, we often expect characters to act, think, and speak differently from the other characters in the book. With this expectation in mind, the transition from one author to the other becomes a lot more seamless. Of course, we’ve each edited one another hundreds of times, so our work is already on much the same level.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I finished my first novel in 2001. Like every other aspiring author, I sent my (VERY) rough manuscript out expecting every house I submitted to, to beg me for the right to publish my book. After all…I was an English major in college and I had read all the great works. Imagine my chagrin when every single publisher turned it down! LOL!

So, I started entering contests. I joined a critique group. I bought books on writing. All of this led me to understand how much I had to learn. Several years and manuscripts later, I sold my first novel to Susan Downs at Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES!

I’ll never forget that day. Janelle called me at work to tell me she had just finished an Instant Message with Susan. She was interested in our cozy.

“How interested?” I asked.

“They want it.”

I’ve never heard more glorious words.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I do, and it’s usually when I’m very tired. Nothing squelches the creative juices in me more than being overly stressed and exhausted. That said, the quickest way I’ve discovered for overcoming writer’s block is a good night’s sleep! Well, that and really sappy, romantic movie like “While You Were Sleeping.” Watching stuff like that makes me want to write equally sappy, romantic books. LOL!

Oh, and music will do it for me on occasion as well. Remember that final scene in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”? The one where the entire cast is in church and the pastor starts singing, “Father, Can You Hear Me?” Every time I hear that song I want to stand up and PRAISE God. That is what I want—to write something that SO inspires someone they automatically want to praise God.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?

As I stated earlier, I was an English major in college. I’d already learned the mechanics of writing—sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. It was the finer points of fiction writing that gave me trouble, things like story arc, goal, motivation, conflict, and POV.

Finally, having had my fill of hearing that my work “wasn’t quite there,” I took the plunge and hired a freelance editor to help me pinpoint exactly where “there” was and why I wasn’t reaching it. This lady not only helped me clean up some of the basic problems I was having with POV, she really helped me understand the importance of giving my characters a goal and a past history that drove them to want it.

How did you climb out (overcome it)?

Hiring a freelance editor was, of course, just the first step. I’m still buying books on the craft of writing and studying them every chance I get. I also attend writer’s conferences when I can and take notes like crazy. I’m active in three different critique groups and judge two different contests because I believe we learn the most from studying other people’s mistakes. Lastly, I read as much and as often as I can.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

My favorite place to write is on the couch, my laptop in my lap, and my dog curled up by my feet. Noise doesn’t usually bother me, but if it gets too loud, I move to the bedroom. My family understands when I really need to work. They give me space when I’m in writing mode.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Are you ready for this?

I wake up around 6:00 or 6:30. I get the kids up, feed the dogs, and get ready for work all within an hour. If I have time, I throw in a load of laundry before heading out the door.

From 8:00-4:00, I work as an Assistant Superintendent’s Secretary at a public school. I have an hour off for lunch, so I try and answer email, write blog articles, and make changes to my website during that time.

I also work part-time as a youth minister, so on Mondays and Wednesdays, I go straight to the church and start getting ready for my meetings with the pastor and with the youth. Believe it or not, both of these provide excellent fodder for character ideas.

Once I get home, I usually have two or three chapters to critique. I try and do those before starting supper, unless I’m on a deadline. In that case, I work on my own stuff first. After that, I clean up in a hurry and either cook (or buy) something for the family to eat. Then it’s back to the computer for an hour or two more.

Bottom line: housekeeping doesn’t carry the same urgency it used to.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

It depends. There are times I see a scene so clearly in my head, the words literally FLOW from my fingertips. Other times, it feels more like pulling teeth. Either way, I’ve discovered I can’t avoid the issue. I have to get past each scene, so whether it’s easy or hard, I have to force myself to sit down at the computer and put words to paper.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

Writing mysteries is so different from anything else I’ve done. No longer do I plop myself in front of the computer and start plunking down words. Now, I write a detailed timeline BEFORE I even start chapter one. I know exactly where the story is going to go from start to finish, I have all my clues and red herrings, a list of suspects, and character sketches handy. I even (shudder) write my synopsis before I start the actual story. That way, I am able to spot any potential plot problems before they get too far out of hand.

Once these items are accomplished, I’m ready to start writing, but even the first draft is nowhere near the end. After numerous rounds of self-editing, I send my book through two different critique groups (waving to Crit3 and Silverarrows) and they help me polish the finished product to a fine sheen.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

My favorite books are usually the ones I’m reading that day! Seriously, the only book I can truly say has stuck with me over the years is a tiny little children’s book I read when I was in elementary school. It’s called No Flying in the House by Betty Brock and Wallace Tripp, and I recently purchased a used copy, just for nostalgia’s sake.

That’s not to say I don’t have books that have touched me deeply. Deb Raney’s book, Beneath a Southern Sky made me boohoo for days. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers challenged me to write better and more powerfully than I’d done before, and The Prisoner’s Wife by Susan Page Davis proved it was possible to tell a full, well-developed story in fewer than 55,000 words. Each of these books helped me as an author in some way, but then again, I try and learn something from every book I sit down long enough to read. That’s what makes it so hard to say which ones are truly my favorites.

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

Get to know your characters early. It’s okay if they surprise you from time to time, but you definitely want to know them well enough to write them well.

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 wish I’d taken the time to learn the craft before I started submitting. Rejections are hard, and they hurt! I learned so much more from entering contests and getting feedback than I ever did from a form letter rejection. If you’re going to spend your money, use it for contest entry fees instead of postage. You’ll get a much higher return.

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

I don’t have nearly enough time to market like I should. I do update my website and blog regularly, though. I also contract as many speaking engagements as I can manage, and schedule blog tours, interviews, and appearances whenever possible. I’ve created a book trailer to help generate excitement for my upcoming release, and before too long, I’ll mail out the postcards, bookmarks, and newsletters I ordered informing people how they can get their hands on my book. It’s definitely work, but let’s face it, writing is a business. To make it successful, I have to invest a certain amount of time getting it off the ground.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t give up. No matter how long you’ve been at it, the real tragedy will be if you stop writing before God is ready to let you go.

Author Interview~Cecilia Samartin

Cecilia Samartin was born in revolutionary Cuba and left Cuba with her family when she was still an infant. She has lived in Los Angeles all of her life and has worked as a psychotherapist with immigrants from South America and Mexico for over twenty years. This work has been the primary inspiration for her two novels, BROKEN PARADISE and TARNISHED BEAUTY. She currently lives with her husband in San Gabriel California where she continues to see clients as she works on her next novel.

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

My latest novel, TARNISHED BEAUTY was just published by Atria, a division of Simon and Schuster on March 18th. BROKEN PARADISE, was released in hardback February of 07, and just recently released in paperback as well. I’m very pleased to have two books out on the bookshelves at the moment.

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

This is the story of a young woman who is born in Mexico with a disfiguring birth mark. She crosses the border to find medical salvation and meets an old man who tells her the story of his pilgrimage in Spain. Because I’ve worked as psychotherapist with immigrants from Mexico and South America for many years, the story evolved over many years. I walk several miles daily for exercise and inspiration, so it’s not a surprise to me or anyone who knows me that I’ve written a book inwhich the characters are also walking, mile after mile, day after day to find themselves.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

Approximately five years passed from the time I began writing my first novel to the time I was first published. And it was somewhat of an unorthodox journey in that my first publishing contract wasn’t with an American publisher, but a publisher in the UK. In fact, my first novel was published in several countries abroad before it was ever accepted for publication here. When m agent called me at my office to inform me that an offer had been made, I was in a state of delighted shock for several days. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it was to have finally reached my goal. It is a sense of wonder and accomplishment that I’m deeply grateful for.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

So far I haven’t experienced writers block in the typical sense, probably because I force myself to write through stagnant phases even if it means writing badly. The worst thing I can is to allow paralysis to take hold. Eventually I trust that I’ll find my way and often I make delightful discoveries, as long as I just keep plugging along.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

It’s important to have early readers who you trust and who understand your uniqueness and are able to read your early drafts and give you much needed feedback and advice. I’m very fortunate to have a few such readers. I begin my novels with a clear sense of what I want to say, but a more or less hazy notion regarding exactly how I’m going to say it – the finer details regarding tone, characterization and plot work themselves out as I’m writing and in this way I’m able to stay engaged in the process. Characterization comes more easily for me than plot development – creating that right balance between the two is something I constantly struggle with.

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?

I’m going to rephrase this question as, How do I get out of my own way? I meditate and pray, I take long walks, I focus on the lives of my clients, refresh my mind and soul, forgetting about myself by helping somebody else. This more than anything inspires me with ideas that are fresh and real, and not just a stale regurgitation of the same old characters, messages and voices in my head.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write in my living room in my favorite chair surrounded by windows, with my dog Tobi at my feet, and cat Julian nearby. They are my writing buddies!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up very early, about 5:30 a.m. and I go for a long walk. I’m a morning writer, so depending on my client schedule I will write in the morning until about noon, and then put on my psychotherapist hat for the afternoon hours. This is a good balance for me.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

It really depends on the story, the scene, and what kind of day I’m having. There are days when the words flow freely, but sometimes it can be arduous. Even when I’m not at the computer, I’m thinking about my characters, and some of my best “writing” happens when I’m not at the keyboard. My morning walks help me to work out the scenes in my head so that I’m usually ready once I confront the page.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

It’s important for me to begin with a working title, even if it changes later, because it helps me stay focused, and guides me towards creating a cohesive story. My early drafts are more free flowing and expansive in nature. I’m putting all my thoughts and ideas related to the core of my message out there and not worrying too much about which ones will stick. In order for this to work , I have to forget about editing or writing well. The important thing is to write honestly, about something that is real for me. If I don’t have this base early on, no amount of polish and revision later will salvage the work. Once I have this basic structure down, I edit and rewrite. When I think I’m done, I put it away for awhile, and when I look at it with fresh eyes, there’s always more rewriting and editing to be done.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Jane Eyre,
A Death in the Family
To Kill a Mocking Bird
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Madam Bovary
The Scarlet Letter

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

You have to let yourself write badly in order to write well. In other words, if you’re constantly editing yourself, you’re going to get very little done and drive yourself nuts in the process, and lose the joy of the creative process. First drafts need to be just that, first drafts meant for your eyes or for trusted first readers only. The time for editing will come later.

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?

Don’t rush, trust the process and enjoy the journey.

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

I haven’t had a lot of time to market myself, and I know little about it, but I’m very fortunate to have friends who’ve been helping me. One of my goals is to learn more about this aspect of the business because I know it can make all the difference.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Believe in your dreams, and don’t allow the discouragement you will undoubtedly encounter along the way silence them. Dreams are born of the soul and they need to be protected and nurtured because without them there is no inspiration, no creative yearning and ultimately no novel or story that’s worth a dime.

Jedi G and the Audible Omelettes

by Mike Duran

The jury’s still out on postmodernism‘s societal contributions. Yet when it comes to the arts, is there any question but that the absence of absolutes exponentially increases our creative options? Like I’m writing a story about an operatic trance band named Creamy Bubble of the Seventh Iguana when I suddenly realize how utterly liberating this postmodern vibe makes everything — especially music.

It used to be that band names like Led Zeppelin and Smashing Pumpkins were edgy, kinda cryptic. Welcome to the 21st century. Now there’s Noodle Muffin and the Pig Squints, Amputatoe, Rainbow Butt Monkeys, Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, and Crocheted Doughnut Ring. Who knew?!

So your next novel or screenplay is in dire need of a goth garage band or a mercenary posing as a dance house DJ with an inconspicuous handle. Well, look no further. Random Band Name Generators will scramble words into an audible omelette. At this site, I simply plugged in the name “Gina” (in honor of NJ’s own diva), and received the following randomly generated selections. How’s this for potential band names?

  • Jedi Gina
  • Flavor of the Gina Prism
  • Gina Identity
  • Gina’s Bad Break
  • Gina Puke And The Luminary Rin-tin-tin
  • Gina Pod
  • Almost Gina
  • Crooked Gina and the Unintended Melons

So if the writing gig doesn’t pan out Gina, you can always explore your options as an Unintended Melon.

But you’ll need a genre. The effects of postmodernism in music has not only led to an explosion of quirky, avant-garde, stylistically-inbred and musically mutated artists, it has also spawned a menagerie of morphing genres. Just take a look at this list of *new* musical styles and descriptions I’ve culled from various sources (mainly from my weekly reading of the L.A. Times Calendar section) :

August Brown, in writing for the L.A. Times, describes the White Stripes, as having a “peppermint candy-meets-Flannery-O’Connor mortician aesthetic.” Mortician aesthetic? Anyway. . . Then you’ve got Math Rock, which Epitonic describes thus:

Take the intricacy and complexity of classic weirdo hard rock bands like Rush and Voivod, then add some of punk’s hyperspasmodic schizophrenia, and you’ll have a legitimate math rock contender. Math rock bands take pleasure in being erratic and unpredictable, often experimenting with peculiar tempos and jazz-derived rhythms while keeping the rock hard and aggressive all the while. Their lyrics tend to be as cerebral and expertly designed as their songs. These bands are rock’s architects of the future, recrafting and reinventing the genre’s tired song structures.

Tired song structures? Right now, I’m tired of trying to keep up.

Perhaps the one good thing about postmodern music is that there’s something for everyone. Goths. Punks. Emos. Headbangers. Celebutants. Nerds. It’s all good. Of course, I’m still trying to find a name for the techno-punk-Gypsy-pop band with a hyperspasmodic mortician aesthetic that I so dig. Oh well. Until then, keep an eye out for Jedi G and the Audible Omelettes coming to a lounge near you…

Sunday Devotion- Big Small Things

Janet Rubin

My friend Judith and her daughter Emily recently started a ministry they’re calling KWAM (knitters with a mission.) They are knitting scarves for orphans in other countries. Bubbling with excitement, Judith told those of us gathered at our artists’ group about the new ministry. She showed us the brightly-colored scarves she’d been feverishly knitting each night and the fliers she printed to give out at church. Judith and Emily called their first project (scarves for orphans in Chile) “Chile-warmers.”
The next thing they knew, knitters were popping out of the woodwork, dusting off their needles and setting to work. Others were donating yarn or money. And soon, Judith had over sixty scarves and $60.00 to send to Chile. In an email, Judith said this:
“Nothing else is more important to me in my life right now than doing something that is what God is calling me to do. Sometimes I have been (almost) thinking…..this isn’t much. but I cut those thoughts out, because HE gave me this passion. And any passion of HIS is not a small passion. What a beautiful gift from all the wonderful people who knitted and crocheted.we had beautiful things from women 85 and 88 years old!!! they thought they had nothing left in life to do for the Lord! this has touched MANY lives… MANY ways.”
What Judith said about thinking that what she was doing wasn’t “much” hit home with me. I’m just one of those people who dreams big. I want to do BIG things. Problem is, my definition of “big” is different that God’s. My definition usually includes something that brings me glory. His definition is all about others, and His vision blesses so many. I love hearing about those elderly women who were able to knit and contribute to Judith’s project. How sweet and tender of our God to show them that, yes, He was still pleased to use them- their hearts, their hands, their prayers. He is using His vision to bless Judith and Emily, and who knows how many children, first in Chili and soon in Ukraine. Now, He is using Judith’s “little” idea to bring churches together; seems some other churches got wind of this and their people are knitting too!
Do you think your service for God is small? One time, a little boy offered a meager lunch to Jesus…and Jesus used it to feed 5,000. It isn’t the size of the offering, brothers and sisters. It’s the size of our God…and He is BIG. And like Judith said, “Any passion of His is not a small passion.” Did He put a passion for writing in your heart? Then write, and write for Him! He will use it.
Matthew 14: 17-18 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said.
Dear God, Thank You for Judith and Emily. Please continue to encourage them and to use their efforts in amazing ways. I ask Your blessing on every child who receives a scarf- that each one will feel warm and loved and will come to know You. Help us not to believe the lies of the enemy, who tells us our offerings are too small to matter. All you need is a mustard seed’s worth of faith and a heart willing to follow the passions You put there. Thank you for caring about knitters and orphans and silly writers like me, who have big dreams and a lot left to learn. Amen.