Author/Road Pastor Nigel James ~ Interviewed

Eight years ago, Third Day, winners of 22 Dove Awards and 3 Grammys, extended Nigel James the invitation of a lifetime: the offer to tour with them as the group’s road pastor. Since that time, Nigel has been the group’s spiritual mentor and companion. In his new book, Lessons from the Road, he gives readers the chance to know the real Third Day—a bunch of regular guys who happen to be brilliant Christian rock musicians.

Nigel is a native of Cardiff, Wales and the founder of IGNITE, a UK-based youth discipleship initiative, and he is also a frequent speaker on American college campuses. Prior to his tenure with Third Day, he travelled as a speaker with the Newsboys. Having toured with the likes of Michael W. Smith, Max Lucado, and, of course, Third Day, he knows all too well the challenges of life on the road.

Tell us a little about your book.

Simply put, it’s an opportunity for the readers to join Third Day in the dressing room and on the tour bus, and to sit in on our devotional life together.

There are people who don’t think the words “Christian” and “rock” go together. How do you handle controversy? What tips do you have for others who may face similar criticism?

If the words ‘Christian’ and ‘rock’ don’t go together then I’m amazed God uses Christian rock music so powerfully! My contention would be that the words ‘Christian music’ and ‘industry’ don’t always sit easily together, but even then God still touches people’s lives through the music. I completely believe that the Lord uses CCM for evangelism and discipleship, perhaps sometimes despite the flawed people involved. There will always be criticism of Christian rock, my simple advice after a number of years of trying to answer that criticism is to not evne enter the debate. Let the music and the power of it’s ministry speak for itself.

Do you struggle with the inner critic or the voice that calls you a fraud? How do you silence or muffle it?

Absolutely! That voice questions my position as a writer, a pastor, a leader, a father, a husband. But thankfully, my identity in Christ is stronger and louder than that inner critic, so I choose to believe Jesus.

Has any event or person changed the way you write? How or why?

Not specifically, but I tend to write analytically and sometimes without enough fire or passion, so I enjoy reading other authors and learning from them. Current favorites- Max Lucado, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Eldredge, and Erwin McManus.

What would you do, who would you be if you weren’t touring with Christian rock bands?

Pastoring a church, leading a mission organization, or earning a living as a sports journalist.

What surprising blessing has come out of being on the road/ working with musicians?

Traveling to almost all of the US states, meeting lots of great people (some of them famous), plenty of free CD’s and Tee-shirts!

What does it cost you, personally, to live a life that some only fantasize about?

I think it’s hardest on my family because I’m away so much. The traveling life is getting harder as I get older- physically, mentally and spiritually. This year I’ve been on the road and missed my wife’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday, my mum’s birthday, my dad’s birthday, and the birth of my first grandchild. Now that’s an extreme set of circumstances but gives you an idea of the sacrifice involved.

What advice would you give the “beginning” Nigel James as he embarks on his writing journey?

Being a preacher, I’ve always preached most of my books before I’ve actually written them. It’s a good way of operating. The real key is that you have to completely believe in the subject you are writing about and enjoy unpacking it.

Parting words…words of wisdom…random thoughts….the answer to the question you wish I had asked.

I’ve learned that in order to give out you have to take in. So personal study, leisure reading, Biblical devotions, are all vital. I’m studying for a Master’s degree in Theology at the moment, and I’m looking at it as giving me more ballast and stability under the water line. Too many of us look great above the water, but there’s no foundation below.

Author Interview ~ Sandra Robbins

Sandra Robbins, a former teacher and principal in the Tennessee public schools, is a full time writer and adjunct college professor. She is married to her college sweetheart, and they have four children and five grandchildren. As a child, Sandra accepted Jesus as her Savior and has depended on Him to guide her throughout her life.

While working as a principal, Sandra came in contact with many individuals who were so burdened with problems that they found it difficult to function in their every day lives. Her writing ministry grew out of the need for hope that she saw in the lives of those around her.

It is her prayer that God will use her words to plant seeds of hope in the lives of her readers. Her greatest desire is that many will come to know the peace she draws from her life verse Isaiah 40:31—But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

My first book Pedigreed Bloodlines has just released from Barbour in their Heartsong Presents Mysteries line. It is the first book in the Leigh Dennison series. Leigh finds herself propelled into the role of sleuth as she tries to find out who murdered Addie Jordan, the woman she loved like a mother. Added to her problems is the fact that she, who knows nothing about dogs, has inherited Addie’s kennel of champion show dogs. As clues unfold, so do her suspects which include a homeless Vietnam veteran, a young high school dropout, the owner of a rival kennel, and the man Leigh finds herself falling in love with.

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

When I found out that Barbour was starting this line, I wanted to write a story that would fit. I started brainstorming by listing things that I liked or understood. As I narrowed my choices of what to include in the book, the story grew off the page and took on a life of its own. I incorporated personal experiences that have influenced my life and tried to make sure the Christian principles I included were easily recognized.

There were many ‘what if’ moments as I wrote the story. I think every good writer wants to up the stakes for her characters, and my love for Leigh was no different. I kept saying ‘what if’ as Leigh stumbled into one situation after another. In the end she handles everything well and comes to a new understanding of her abilities.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

Having worked as a teacher and principal in the public schools for many years, I was very familiar with Attention Deficit Disorder and thought my heroine would be loveable if she suffered from ADD. I gave her my love for antiques and sprinkled in my interest in dogs to round the story out.

My nurturing personality which served me well during my years of working with children was something I wanted to pass on to Leigh. At the beginning of the book she doesn’t have concern for others. By the end of the book she has grown in her knowledge of how Jesus told us that when we do something for our brother we have done it for Him. I really liked watching her change.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I enjoyed the fact that I could plot and write a mystery. I thought I would only write historical romance until I wrote this book. The process of putting this story on paper reawakened my love of mysteries that I’ve had since I read all those Nancy Drew books when I was growing up. I like trying to plot something that is going to make the reader think and try to figure out the puzzle that’s been laid out in the story.

The thing I liked least was second guessing myself. I’d write something and then want to change it. I think, though, that every writer does this. We revise until the last minute and then read the published copy with a critical eye. Such is the life of a writer.

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What made you start writing?

I’d thought about it ever since I was in college and had planned to write a book someday. One day it occurred to me that life was passing by and I hadn’t fulfilled the dream of writing a book. So I sat down and began to write. I had no thought that I would ever be pursuing a writing career as actively as I am. God has blessed me beyond what I had envisioned for myself. I find He often does that.

What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?

I’m sure I’d be doing something, but I have no idea what. I might still be a school principal. Or I might be working as an educational consultant. I’m sure I’d be involved in something.

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

When I first started writing, I had trouble showing the action. I did a lot of telling. Thankfully, I had a great critique group that helped me see what I needed to do to place the reader in the story. I keep a watchful eye out for telling passages now.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I think I do. Friends who’ve read my first book say they can see me in the character of Leigh. I think as Christian writers we want our characters to have Christian principles very recognizable in their lives. In writing for my characters I think I’ve grown in my own faith because of how their lives have changed.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I hope they will see the need to put their trust in God. I’ve never been a fan of roller coasters, and I tend to think of life without God as a runaway one that is careening down the track at top speeds. God is the calming influence that whispers to us that He is with us and will lead us through those hills and valleys of life that we all experience. If I can help one person understand that, I will be successful.

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

I begin with the glimmer of an idea. I know where I want to go and have to decide how I’m going to get there. Next I develop my characters. I give them names, descriptions, jobs, strengths, fears, etc. and begin to develop a time line. I like to show my characters in their safe world which is about to be threatened, and then I throw in an incident that tells them life is about to change. From there I plot the story toward the climax which I usually plot first. My method is to know where I’m going and move the characters toward that point. After the novel is written, I go back over it revising it several times until I’m ready to submit it. I think I could go on revising forever, but there comes a time when you have to let it go.

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

In my recent reading, I really enjoyed The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. One of my favorite books from years ago is Exodus by Leon Uris. Another that stands out for me is Truman Capote’s true-life crime novel In Cold Blood.

These books are different and yet share the similarity of their characters. Hosseini’s description of life in war-torn Afghanistan and Uris’ account to build the nation of Israel after World War II both tell the stories of strong individuals facing great obstacles to make life better for those they love. Capote’s work explores the lives of two weak individuals whose insecurities and lack of guidance and love in their lives propel them on a journey of murder and destruction.

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 had understood the time it takes to get a novel ready for publication. I think I had the idea some editor would scoop up my manuscript and it would be in print within a few months. I had no idea how long it takes to get a novel edited and tweaked before the manuscript is finally ready to be published. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but the Lord has certainly led me to a new understanding of how a writer must possess this characteristic if she doesn’t want to go stark raving mad waiting to hold that book in her hands.

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

Marketing is something else I didn’t understand about the business of writing. And, yes, it is a business. I have a website and a blog where I try to keep readers informed. I have to confess my poor blog does suffer a lack of attention from me at times. I am more of a people person and really enjoy book signings and speaking to writers’ groups and other organizations. I recently participated in the ACFW book signing at the Mall of America in Minneapolis and had a great time. I have spoken to numerous groups in northwest Tennessee where I live and enjoy the interaction with readers. I have also found that networking with other authors is a great way to get the word out about your writing and have recently joined the Christian Authors Network. This is a group of published Christian authors who work together to market their books.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

There are two more books in the Leigh Dennison series. Murder in Small Doses and Rock Around a Murder will release in 2009. I’ve just sold a romantic suspense to Steeple Hill. Its working title is A Riddle to Die For and is slated for release in August, 2009.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I always hesitate to offer words of advice to writers. I’ve always believed that each of us is a lifelong learner, and I learn something new everyday. To new writers, though, I would tell them to sit down at the computer and write the story God has given you. Then find a critique group to read your work. Join a professional organization like American Christian Fiction Writers, and go to at least one conference each year. You will be amazed at how your writing will improve as you work on developing your craft.

Megan DiMaria ~ Guesst Blogger

I participated in a book signing the other week, and another author congratulated me on finding a unique niche. I wish I could say that it was marketing genius or literary savvy that led me to write about characters experiencing midlife. But to tell the truth, I just lucked into it. As I began to prepare my book proposal and started to research the market, I realized just what an open, emerging market I’ve stumbled on: fiction written by and for Baby Boomers.

The main character in both my novels (Searching for Spice, 4/2008 and Out of Her Hands, 10/2008), Linda Revere, is a Baby Boomer with teenage/young adult children. She is active, thoughtful, optimistic, healthy, curious about life, and still sees herself as an attractive woman with a lot to offer. In short, she’s a compilation of us—women born during that period in history categorized as Baby Boomers.

The reader feedback has reinforced that I’ve struck a chord among Boomer women:

“I . . . am . . . Linda!”

“It’s extremely relatable.”

“Are you following me around with a video camera?”

“This is exactly what I’m dealing with now in my life.”

“Any parent of a teen will identify with . . . ”

“. . . rings with truths today’s working wives/mothers can understand.”

“. . . and along the way you just might feel, as I did, that you’ve found a “sister” in Linda Revere.”

“This was just the type of book that I needed to read as a baby-boomer.”

There are over 78 million Baby Boomers in America today. This generation of Americans has been aggressively engaged in cultural and political trends since coming of age. Remember that, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” statement of the 70s? That came out of the mouths of Boomers, young adults who wanted to grab onto life and affect their world.

Guess what? They’re not going quietly into the twilight. They’re here and they’re still fighting for what they believe in and what they have to say. From health issues to anti-aging cosmetics to active lifestyle opportunities, Boomers are still pushing their agendas.

And those 78 million Boomers include a huge chunk of today’s reading public. According to a 2005 article in Adage.com, the amount of time spent reading relates directly to age. People age 45-54 read nearly two times more than people in younger age brackets. It only makes sense that Boomers would be interested in reading fiction that reflects their lifestyle.

Other statistics prove that there is a great potential to marketing toward mid-life women. More and more, media attention is being focused on mature women, portraying them as hip, attractive and active.

In a 2006 article titled Hollywood vs. Women (Entertainment Weekly) urges Hollywood to pay more attention to women over thirty—referring to that hugely profitable demographic as “that great untapped market, grown-up women.” The article also states, “After all, somebody bought $241 million worth of tickets to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and it wasn’t high school boys. And Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give didn’t earn its $125 million because comic-book geeks love Diane Keaton.

In light of that information, I believe that publishing might also follow those trends.
I don’t know if there is a magic formula to placing your novels in the hands of your target audience, but I’ve tried to market in ways to that might expose my books specifically to Boomers as well as the general audience. I’ve joined most of social networks most writers belong to as well as those outlets that cater to age-specific demographics such as classmates.com and eons.com. As a result, I’ve gotten almost 900 additional hits to my profile from Boomer-age people.

In a local campaign, I’ve been allowed to display my ARCs and distribute bookmarks in my community at a compounding pharmacy and my optometrist’s office. From personal experience, it seems a large number of women over 30 often frequent both of those businesses, either purchasing for themselves or running family errands.

Another way I’ve brought my book to the attention of my target audience is simply to introduce myself and offer them a bookmark. I do this in line at the Post Office, the grocery store, the shopping mall, or anywhere I find myself standing near a woman who looks approachable.
On another note, a friend of mine who is a public-health professional was given free tickets to a James Taylor concert last year. It turns out the concert was sponsored by a company that makes heart defibrillators. What a clever tie-in that was to reach that demographic! That’s the kind of ideas I’m striving for.

My most current marketing campaign includes searching the Internet for bloggers who may represent my target audience, sending them an email to introduce myself, asking if they would be interested in reading one or both of my books, and requesting they spread the word about my novels in their sphere of influence. The response so far has been great. These are women who are not the usual influencers, and they are flattered and enthusiastic to be a part of my marketing efforts.

I think most writers should consider casting a wide net in their marketing efforts, but it never hurts to try to reach out to readers who might specifically identify with your topic. I’ve been fortunate to have received great feedback from women of all ages. And when I get email from younger readers who enjoyed my book, they often say they’re passing the book on to their mom. How cool is that?
NJ: Megan doing a promotion on her website that involves FREE books. Be sure to visit today!

In this second novel by Megan DiMaria, Linda Revere is back and continuing to struggle with the turmoil of contemporary life. Linda has been praying for her children’s future spouses since they were very small. Confident that her prayers will be answered, Linda is not prepared for the young woman her son brings home. But Linda soon learns that while everything she once controlled is out of her hands, God is still in control. Megan uses her trademark humor while dealing with issues to which her readers will relate.