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.
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.