Virginia Smith – Revisited

Virginia Smith left her twenty-year profession as a corporate director to launch her career as a novelist with the release of her first book in 2006. She writes in two genres: contemporary humor, and mysteries. In 2008, Ginny was awarded the Writer of the Year Award at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Age before Beauty is her seventh book.

Welcome back to Novel Journey!

Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here.

You published many (editor adds: wonderful!) books since the last time you visited Novel Journey. Has continued success made writing easier, or more difficult?

(Thank you!) Writing isn’t any more difficult than it was before. It’s one of the great joys of my life. But since my first book came out, the career has definitely become more challenging. Don’t get me wrong – I’m enormously grateful to the Lord for blessing me with a measure of success. But writing is only a small part of the career. (Yes, I know everybody says that, but I’m living it, which makes it hit home harder!) Juggling multiple deadlines, marketing, promoting, studying to improve my skills, trying to carve out a smidgen of time for a personal life – all those things have proven to be really challenging. 2009 is the year of scaling back for me. I’m being forced to prioritize every task I undertake.

Your debut novel, Just As I Am, met with wonderful reviews. What impact did this have on subsequent books?

I’ve received so many wonderful letters and emails from people who wanted to tell me how Just As I Am touched them in a personal way. That brought home a fact that I had never truly realized before – the words I write as I sit in front of my computer can act as conduits for God’s grace and love to those who read my books. What an amazing and humbling thought! It literally brings me to my knees as I write.

Many authors struggle with only writing in one genre. Having been multi-published in different genres, what are your thoughts on this?

My personal reading tastes are varied. I read books in a variety of genres, and I enjoy writing in a variety of genres, but there are some things a writer should consider before deciding to do that. There’s a lot to be said about focusing your efforts on one genre in order to build a recognizable ‘brand.’ I see why in my communications with my readers. The people who read my mysteries and romantic suspense titles don’t necessarily read my contemporary novels, and vice versa. There are a few cross-overs, but for the most part when I release a contemporary humorous book like Age before Beauty, the people who want to read it aren’t necessarily the same ones who have enjoyed A Taste of Murder. So it takes more work to keep in touch with two sets of audiences. (Which is one of the balancing acts I mentioned before!) But I’m lucky enough—by the grace of God and my wonderful husband—to be a full time writer, so I have more time than someone who is holding down a day job and trying to establish a career as a writer.

How much marketing do you do? Do you market all of your books at once, or concentrate solely on the newest release?

I think marketing is one of the most important things an author can do. First, of course, is writing an awesome book. But what’s the good of writing the best book in world if nobody knows it’s out there? So with every book, I create a marketing strategy that includes a variety of avenues. Online promotion is a huge part of every plan, because readers hang out more and more on the Internet, and there are so many ways to promote a book at little or not cost. I have a website and an online newsletter with a large subscriber list, and I use those to communicate to readers about multiple books at once.

But every book deserves its day in the sun. When a new book releases, I give that one my full attention. At book signing events I do usually have my other books available, but if I’m reading or speaking, I talk about the newest book.

So, tell us a little about your latest release:

I’m really excited about Age before Beauty, book 2 in the Sister-to-Sister Series. Here’s the description back cover:

What will she give up to have it all?

Allie Harrod is ready for a new career. She doesn’t want to go back to full time work and risk missing her baby’s first smile. But she does want to contribute to the family income, and a home-based business seems like the perfect solution. Sure, she dropped out of Girl Scouts because she was lousy at cookie sales, but selling makeup is different, right?

Still, the challenges Allie faces seem to be rising as fast as her credit card balance. None of her clothes fit, her mother-in-law is driving her batty, and her husband only leaves the couch to go help his beautiful–and single–coworker with her home repairs. What’s a working girl to do?

How did you come up with this story?

The Sanderson sisters were introduced in the first book in the Sister-to-Sister series, where three twenty-something sisters are coming to terms with their father’s absence as they try to establish lasting relationships of their own. In Age before Beauty, Allie is a compulsive overachiever, an insecure wife, and a new mom. I know from personal experience how we carry baggage from our past into our marriages, and how having a child causes us to reexamine our goals and our relationship with our own parents. So I took a close look at those traits and Allie’s situation, and the story really did flow from there.

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

Allie is a typical older sister, used to controlling everyone and everything. Okay, I admit it – I’m the oldest of three sisters, so a lot of Allie’s struggles came straight from my own life. Also, my middle sister gave birth to a baby right before I started writing Age before Beauty, so of course some of her thoughts and feelings had to show up in the story as well. I had a lot of fun blending characteristics and experiences from both of us.

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

It’s been a long time since my kids were infants, and even though I had my sister as a current role model, I had to dig deeply into my memories to relay the feelings of a young mother believably. I really enjoyed reviving some of those memories. There’s a scene in Age before Beauty where Allie becomes convinced that her baby is suffering from a terrible disease and rushes to the doctor’s office, where she’s lectured about all the phone calls and emergency visits she’s made since her daughter’s birth. Many of those incidents came directly from me. I really had fun laughing at myself twenty-five years after the fact.

On the other hand, Allie faces some pretty tough situations. She has to go through a lot of pain while she’s trying to save her marriage, and realizing that she isn’t as guilt-free as she thought she was. That came from me, too. It’s tough to dredge up unpleasant memories and pour them into a book. But then it’s really cool to realize how far you’ve come, and how God has brought about healing and growth in some tough situations in your life.

All this sounds like Age before Beauty is an autobiography, and it really isn’t. But I have used elements of my life as a starting point, and then let the fiction take over from there.

What does your writing space look like? (Insert picture if possible)

It’s cluttered! I have an office, and on the walls I’ve hung science fiction and fantasy artwork. I have all my books lined up on the top of my hutch, and they encourage me when I’m struggling because I can look up at them and say to myself, “See? You can do this. It’s going to come out okay.” I tend to create piles of paperwork. Unless I’m having company, and then I clean it up. As you can see, I haven’t had company in a while.

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

I’d go from one vacation to another! My husband and I love to scuba dive, and I’d go back to all our old favorite sites – Cozumel, Honduras, Belize, Grand Cayman – plus I’d try some new ones. At the top of our list is the Great Barrier Reef. Plus, I’d travel around Great Britain. I love England and Scotland, and a few years ago I spent a couple of days in Dublin. It made me want to return to Ireland so I could dig in to the history and culture there.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Constantly! There’s a piece of me in every character I’ve ever written. I think when an author puts elements of herself into a book, that’s when a character resonates with readers. I mix elements of myself with personality traits from other people in order to create a truly unique character. When Stuck in the Middle came out, both of my sisters told me they saw pieces of themselves in each of the three Sanderson sisters. And my daughter told me she saw me in every one of them, too.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I honestly didn’t set out to write a book with a message. I wanted to write an entertaining story with realistic characters that people can identify with. But I’m a Christian and I write from a Christian worldview, so the hope we have in the Lord comes through in all of my books. In Age before Beauty, I hope readers walk away with a renewed sense of assurance that God is in control, and that no problem is too tough for Him to handle.

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

This spring I have two romantic suspense novels being released. Murder at Eagle Summit is my eighth novel, and the first book set outside of Kentucky. It takes place at a ski resort in Park City, Utah. Then in June, Scent of Murder hits bookstores. That’s a mystery involving a scented candle factory in an artist colony in Indiana. Both are fun books. And of course I’m working on the third book in the Sister-to-Sister Series now. Last but Not Least will come out in February of 2010.

The last time you visited Novel Journey, you told readers to, “Let Him (God) be in charge, and let Him delight you with what He has in store.” Do you have anything you’d like to add to this?

Over the past couple of years God has been teaching me a ton about the deep peace that comes from being satisfied. For years, when I was collecting rejection letters instead of contracts, I thought, “If I could just publish a book like those other writers, I’d have it made!” Then I did, and it was really, really cool. But you know what? There’s always somebody who’s a little (or a lot) farther ahead of you on your chosen path. It’s so easy to succumb to Comparitis. But when we waste our time comparing ourselves to others, we’re not focusing on the blessings He’s given us right now. Comparitis sucks the joy out of your life. Don’t let it! He’s in control. Relax, and focus on enjoying the blessings He’s showered on you.