Editor Andrea Richesin Interviews NYT Best-Selling Novelist, Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound , and she commutes to her writers’ group in a 17-foot motorboat. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists. The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at www.susanwiggs.com and on her lively blog at http://www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com/.

Andrea N. Richesin is the editor of four anthologies, Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; an as-yet-untitled father-daughter collection (May 2010); the forthcoming Crush: 30 Real-life Tales of First Love Gone Wrong by our Best Young Adult Novelists; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her books have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Daily Candy, and Babble. Andrea (Nicki to her friends) lives with her husband and daughter in northern California . For news and updates, visit http://www.nickirichesin.com/

The new #1 on the New York Times bestseller list FIRESIDE by Susan Wiggs
is blazing off bookshelves. Nicki Richesin, editor of the mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER, spoke with Susan- a contributor to the collection- about her daughter, writing, love, keeping secrets, music, and more….

Nicki Richesin: Susan, you are a serene queen bestselling writing machine. Congrats on your latest FIRESIDE. I was in a bookshop yesterday buying a last-minute birthday gift for my hubby, when I noticed a woman in the check-out line clinging to a copy as if it were a life-preserver. How does it feel to have legions of readers breathless with anticipation for your next book?

Susan Wiggs: I totally love it. This is exactly what I hope for—the chance to share my stories. By the time the book hits the stores, I’m several months removed from it, so it’s fun knowing that for some reader, she’s meeting the characters and story for the first time. I always hope like crazy that she’ll like it.

NR: Thank you so much for contributing your remarkable essay to my mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER. I already confessed to you that of all the essays in the collection, yours resonated with me the most because I too have an only daughter and know all too well that peculiar sinking feeling when the quiet becomes too quiet and you suddenly fear the worst. You beautifully depict the frustrations and joys of raising a child while working from home. Now that your daughter Elizabeth is all grown up and engaged to be married, do you still dispense advice and are you helping with the wedding planning?

SW: Absolutely. Elizabeth and I have always been close, and planning the event of her life together is mad fun. She’s turned into a big-hearted, fun-loving and bright young woman and I’m incredibly proud of her. She is my work-in-progress. For those who want to see the happy couple, I posted them on my blog here. It started out being a post about Jackson Browne but then I realized how much like the groom he looks! I’m terrible, I post everything on my blog.

NR: In a recent interview, you mentioned that you stole your sister’s boyfriend and married him. Then (much later?) you apologized and laughed together about it. Now there’s a story, do tell…

SW: There’s a whole novel about it! HOME BEFORE DARK, which came out in 2003. But the real-life version is much less dramatic. He was her New Year’s Eve date one year, but at the end of the night…um…we pulled a switch on him. We were all really young at the time so there wasn’t much drama involved. Jay and I have been married twenty-nine years this year.

NR: As an epigraph to your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you included the last words of Roald Dahl’s last book The Minpins that you loved to read to Elizabeth :
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
What secrets have you discovered and where did you find your magic?

SW: I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Honestly, I love that excerpt from the book, because it reminds us to look beyond the obvious. Think about all the times in your life you’ve taken the time to look at something deeper or through a different lens. You’ve probably found the magic. I know I have.

NR: You often offer recipes on your blog and to accompany your books like gougeres in SNOWFALL AT WILLOW LAKE and caponata from SUMMER BY THE SEA. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and more importantly, what would you serve?

SW: What a fun fantasy. I’d invite my parents, and Malachy and Diana McCourt, because I know they’d have a grand time together. Tiger Woods, so Jay would have someone to talk to about golf. Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life,” because I love his laugh, and the Obamas, of course, and Jackson Browne to play piano and sing to us. Oh, and Nancy Pearl because no party is complete without a librarian. There. That sounds like a nice group, doesn’t it? Food? Anything prepared and served by Amy Sedaris. Her book, I Like You, is the best book on entertaining ever.

NR: In JUST BREATHE, Sarah Moon had a high school crush on Will Boon (love this character’s name!), but he ignored her. Years later, when they’re reunited, Will and Sarah fall in love. Have you ever had a secret crush or unrequited love?

SW: I’m horrible at keeping secrets. When I like someone, I let them know. But I’ve definitely had a crush or two that’s a one-way street. Ouch! I tend to remember moments like that and use them in my books. Might as well do something constructive with them.

NR: In your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you write that Elizabeth “self-published” a book just like you did with your A BOOK ABOUT SOME BAD KIDS you wrote at age 8. Did you ever imagine you would one day be writing full-time and successfully publishing novels? Over thirty novels later, do you feel you have exceeded your wildest dreams? Is writing your greatest accomplishment?

SW: I was so convinced I was a writer that I never imagined any other career for myself. I’m so grateful to be doing what I love. Writing isn’t my greatest accomplishment—that would be my marriage and my daughter—but it definitely rates high on the list.

NR: Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to play on your cello while staring out at your breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier ? Seems like a scene from movie…

SW: Sadly, I had to hock my cello during the lean years, and I never replaced it. I took bluegrass fiddle lessons until I gave myself tendonitis practicing. There’s always music on in my house, though. I put together a playlist for every book. Here’s a link to the one I made for JUST BREATHE.

NR: In BECAUSE I LOVE HER, I loved your description of your mother teaching you how to type on an old manual typewriter while you sat by her side on a stack of encyclopedias. As your first writing teacher, she would write the words you dictated- stories about a child up a tree with scary things coming after him. You wrote that to this day, that’s pretty much what all your books are about. What did you mean by this?

SW: In today’s books, the tree and the scary things are metaphoric, but the theme is the same. My books are all about a woman who reaches a tough place in her life, and how her journey takes her to a better place.

NR: I also read in one of your interviews, that you read romance novels aloud while nursing Elizabeth as an infant, because you were trying to teach yourself the craft while bonding with her. Then you sold your first book, and everything changed. Do you think motherhood made you hungrier to pursue you art?

SW: Definitely. Becoming a mother brings on a whole new dimension of emotions. I was more motivated than ever to put my stories out there. Also, writing was a way to stay at home with my daughter, so that was a huge source of the drive to succeed.

NR: Which books are currently sitting on your nightstand?

SW: ALMOST HOME, a memoir by Dr. Christine Gleason, one of the pre-eminent neonatologists in the country. It’s very moving and beautifully written. There’s also a novel called THE BROKEN SHORE, an edgy crime drama set in Australia . And pages from an unpublished manuscript by Elsa Watson. She’s in my writers’ group, and her book is wonderful enough to qualify as bedtime reading.

NR: My five-year-old daughter Lily would like to know how many trees you have in your garden. And one last question, do you really kickbox?

SW: Tell Lily there are too many to count! My favorite is a sequoia. They’re very rare around here and it looks stately in the yard. Lily would like the juniper trees, because they are filled with birds’ nests. I learned to kickbox for fitness but I would never be able to defend myself! Nicki, I loved writing my essay for the anthology, and I can’t wait to read them all. The mother-daughter bond is so compelling to me.

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Christian Speculative Fiction panel — Pt. 2

Speculative fiction titles, whether science fiction, fantasy, or horror, are wildly popular in the general market. The Christian market, however, is another story. Why is this? Do Christians not read spec-fic, or is Christian spec-fic inferior to its secular counterparts? In Part One of our series, Frank Creed, Jeff Gerke and Rebecca Miller, helped us work through the complexities and nuances of Christian Speculative Fiction. Part Two, here, continues that discussion.

In addition to our interview (and as a means of highlighting Christian Spec-fic), we will be giving away three free eBooks (downloadable PDF’s) of the latest (and much-anticipated!) Coach’s Midnight Diner to three lucky commenters. If you leave a comment and an appropriate means of contact (website, email, Blogger profile, etc.), you’ll be entered into a drawing for a Diner eBook. Sounds like a deal to me!

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4.) There is much discussion about what distinguishes Christian Fiction from the general market. Is it recurrent “redemptive” themes, the absence of language, God / Christ figures? How explicitly “Christian” must a speculative work be if it is published by ECPA houses? What strictures must a Christian spec author recognize in aiming for the religious market?

JEFF: I think if you’re aiming for traditional CBA houses with speculative fiction your Christian content had better be blatant and overt. You have to be more Christian than Christian, if you will, to overcome the obstacles I spoke of in the previous post.

When you come out to the Wild West that is indie publishing, the question becomes more pertinent and subjective. For Marcher Lord Press, I have to 1) know that the author is coming from the Christian worldview and 2) see that this book–or this series–is going to have a solid Christian foundation.

You can see that’s pretty subjective. All I can say is that when I’m reading these manuscripts, I know when I see it and I know when it’s lacking.

BECKY: My guess is, few of us aim for the religious market. Some do. I assume Sharon Hinck is, with her Sword of Lyric series. In my efforts to find a publisher with an ECPA house, I hoped that the religious market would be a starting point, but that my books would branch out from there.

Speculative fiction lends itself to doing so much more than other genre or literary fiction, in my view. Christian science fiction can explore the ethics and spiritual implications of future technology. Supernatural suspense can explore the interplay between the spiritual and the physical. Fantasy can explore the nature of God, of evil, of good, and man’s capacity to face adversity. So, no, I don’t think Christian fiction requires recurrent redemptive themes, though I don’t see that theme as tired or over done. Any theme can appear to be tired or over done if it is treated the same time after time.

As to how explicitly Christian a speculative work must be for ECPA houses, I think you need to ask someone published by an ECPA house. Or better, ask an editor in an ECPA house.

Language? I hate that question—unless you’re talking about the absence of lyrical language. (LOL) Here’s the thing. If someone is going to submit to a publisher with clear guidelines that say No romance, that writer would be foolish to send in a manuscript with a love scene in the first chapter. Guidelines are guidelines. If a writer doesn’t like the guidelines, they send their work elsewhere. Publishers are free to set whatever guidelines they want, and writers are free to submit within those guidelines. If publishers’ guidelines prohibit the use of swear words or cussing, then a good writer can write around that using suggestion, or if all else fails, by telling.

I find it sad that we writers take up so much time grousing about whether we can or can’t use certain words when we talk very little about how we can more accurately, completely show who God is.

FRANK: There’s certain piousness, a sense of spiritual propriety and taste demanded by Christian readers—a line that cannot be crossed. Ted Dekker expressed this idea in his Where the Map Ends interview with Jeff: “Christian bookstores are sometimes afraid to give readers honest choices for fear of offending a few. A comic book of mine was recently pulled due to violent content. I showed a bad dude being clocked. He bled. I showed the blood.”

Some Christians fear that big houses and corporations buying-out smaller Christian houses will result in a loss of proper Biblical theology in Christian fiction. Publishing companies are in business to make money, and free market profit motive will keep them honest. Anyone gaining a reputation for poor theology will be boycotted by organized religion and readers alike. This issue reminds me of a question reportedly put to Martin Luther by his Catholic priest: what if there was a Bible in every home for everyone to interpret? Luther replied that we might have more Christians. Luther also said Sola Scriptura.

It’s one thing to enforce Biblical theology. Extra-Biblical censorship that interferes with the rules of good literature is another. Every publisher has its own submission guidelines, and standards. Mandating a certain number of saved characters, or telling rather than showing in cases of intimacy and action, or outlawing characters from cigarettes or alcohol use means the real sinful world in which we live cannot be reflected in Christian literature.

Again the free-market rides to the rescue. This line of propriety is tested and pushed by the Indies, and shifts toward realism in bigger houses. In recent years I’ve been continually surprised by controversial content that’s been allowed. Barbour Books allowed my favorite living Christian novelist, M.L. Tyndall, to show dueling pirates run-through opponents with cutlasses in her Legacy of the King’s Pirates trilogy. A decade ago that would never have happened.

Gratuitous sex and violence will never be desired by many readers, let alone Christian readers. I don’t want my own children reading certain things. For Christian spec-fic artists, the market has never been brighter for either publication or realism. A sense of propriety demanded by our audience is simply part of the challenge to us Christians who find ourselves driven to write novels.

I wrote Flashpoint for an audience who’d been raised churched. Readers say my gang-leader and government agent protagonists are realistic, yet they don’t curse. My weapons are non-lethal, and the sexy anchorwoman who sells lies to the public is clothed—all this in a gritty 2036 setting. Again, believers don’t want to read that stuff, so it’s up to authors to make such things believable and entertaining.

5.) What effect do alternative publishing ventures — specifically, small independent presses and royalty POD publishers — have on the genre? Do they increase interest and build readership, or undermine its potential expansion in the mainstream market?

BECKY: I’ve pretty much changed my mind about POD publishers. When Jeff first unveiled his ideas for Marcher Lord Press, I was disappointed it would be POD. But with the changes publishing is experiencing, I think MLP might be on the cutting edge. The question will be, Can writers make enough money via this format to keep writing? If POD can develop an in-store presence, as I think Thomas Nelson is aiming for, I think there’s a big future there.

I think all the different enterprises help the genre. There are far more writers than there are open slots in traditional publishing houses, even if they published nothing but speculative fiction. From what I see online, more and more young people are lining up with fantasies they want to publish too. I think we mostly write what we want to read, so this many speculative writers can only help bring more attention to the genre.

Of course, if my theory is accurate, it also means we aren’t finding enough books on the shelves to read, which is why we’re writing so much!

FRANK: The current state of business is what it is, for all of literature’s genres. Major houses sign new authors infrequently—they sign proven established names. It’s simply more profitable, working smarter rather than harder, to use small Indie presses and royalty POD publishers as the minor leagues. Slush piles are a thing of the past for the big boys. Once the smaller companies have risked establishing new successful authors, along comes the MegaCorp with the standard rich-and-famous contract, to steal that author away. The Shack is a case study. William P. Young submitted his manuscript to large houses and was rejected for the same reasons spec-fic authors hear—too Christian for mainstream and too controversial for ECPA. Young and a couple of friends established Windblown Media, their own publishing company, and ordered 10 000 copies printed.

After The Shack exploded, publishers, including houses that had rejected him, began calling. Young’s Windblown Media signed a distribution and marketing contract with Hatchette Book Group (once Time-Warner Books); there are now 6 million+ copies in print and it still holds #1 on the NY Times Best Sellers list. The more one knows about business and marketing, the greater one’s odds of publication.

If there are dollars to be made, big companies board meetings result in phone-calls to the William P. Youngs of the world. Christian artists may have literary fiction-ministry visions, but in the end, it’s about the mOnEy. Sad, but at least our art form thrives. Those poor Christian sculptors!

JEFF: What effect do alternative publishing ventures have on the genre? Very little. Oh, the major houses say they’re watching Marcher Lord Press and pulling for me, but until one of these ventures takes off like crazy I think it will just validate the hesitations these traditional houses already have.

I’ve actually given up trying to change the industry. After working within it for 12 years and meeting with mostly frustration, I’ve decided to just go off and try to build something new out in some pioneer state.

Indie houses like MLP are trying to reach people the traditional CBA houses have already written off, after all. And they’re trying to succeed with books that traditional CBA houses know won’t fly with their core market.

The reason I did MLP is not to do anything to the publishing industry, but to get these incredible writers hooked up with these amazing fans of Christian speculative fiction. Let the big cruise ship that is CBA publishing steam along on its way. We’re going to do something fun all on our own.

6.) What advice would you give to Christian authors who write Speculative Fiction? Continue aiming mainstream CBA / ECPA and hope for change? Forego the big houses and go the independent, small press route? Or forget straightforward religious themes altogether and write to the general market?

JEFF: Well, you have to write the books of your heart. If you can do that and go for (secular) houses, try it. But don’t think that things are easier in the ABA. It’s much more difficult to get noticed there, much less published. Much more competition.

I think writers of Christian speculative fiction ought to try to get their books published through the traditional CBA houses. If they get in, they’re almost guaranteed to sell more copies of the book than most indie presses can move. And that’s a good thing for the writer. There’s always the chance that the book will go big.

At Marcher Lord Press I tend to attract two kinds of authors: 1) frustrated first-time authors who see a possible outlet for their writing and 2) seasoned, multi-published authors who are tired of playing the CBA game and just want to write the book of their hearts–which happens to be speculative. Both groups love speculative and are frustrated to discover that no one else wants their off-the-map stories.

So give the big CBA houses a try if you’d like, but don’t buy the new yacht yet on hopes of landing a big advance. If that route doesn’t work out, consider the advantages of going with a small house that loves what you write and knows how to get it to the people who can appreciate it

BECKY: My advice is to write the story God puts on your heart and mind, then trust Him to show you where to go. ECPA needs good books. The general market needs good books. For some writers with good networking, they can get their books out without the backing of a larger publishing house. The independent publishers provide that avenue, but they also need good books. Nothing hurts the reputation of Christian speculative fiction, no matter who the publisher, more than a poorly written book.

So my second piece of advice is for all of us to be perpetual students of fiction.

As to forgetting “straightforward religious themes” I would say, why would you do that? Of course, God hasn’t called everyone to write “straightforward religious themes,” but if He has, then it would be a huge mistake to forgo those.

If by “straightforward religious themes” you mean didactic themes, however, then I say, there’s no place for those in any book for any publisher in any market. That’s not good fiction.

FRANK: Writing, like any art, is a journey. I’ll never stop wondering how there can be so few musical notes and so many songs. So few colors and so many paintings. Literary artists have distinct styles, voices, purposes, preferences, and forms. Every writer’s sojourn is as different as their approach to the craft.

Authors have a first piece. Mastering the craft may be a personal waypoint on one’s trek, but one never stops learning. Similarly, the day comes when a writer researches beyond craft. One may encounter business success for their art, and is then able to spend more hours of fiction word-count. In business just like in craft, there are only individual journeys—too many different paths from point A to point B for anyone to say this is how you find success. Individual victories are measured in too many different ways. I will say one must bring the Boss one’s best effort. All one can do is spiritwalk the Parable of the Talents. Show up every day in faith, and let His will be done.

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Thanks once again to Frank, Becky, and Jeff, for their participation and terrific insights. We’re blessed by you guys and appreciate your hard work! And don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d liked to be entered into our Midnight Diner eBook giveaway… or if you just want to add to the discussion.

All We Have to Do

Marcia Lee Laycock is a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caregiver to two golden retrievers and a six toed cat. She is also the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for the novel, One Smooth Stone. Her devotionals have been widely published.

The voice coming out of the speaker was clipped and rapid. “What kind of muffin would you like? We have carrot, fat wise carrot, blueberry, fat wise blueberry, cranberry and fat wise cranberry.”

My husband and I fell into a fit of giggles. Fat wise? As we waited at the second window for the goods to be delivered, he joked. “I wonder if it talks? If it’s wise, it must be able to talk. What do you think a wise muffin would say?”

“I only care about the fat part,” I replied. “A nice plump muffin. Yup, that’s what I want.”

The muffin was, in fact, small, heavy as a stone and decidedly mute. As we pulled away from the fast-food restaurant, my husband continued his banter about fat wise muffins until my daughter groaned and asked him to quit. He shook his head. “I feel sorry for people trying to learn English.”

Sometimes the way we use words makes no sense. This seems to be particularly true in advertising. For instance, consider the expressions – “jeans your skin,” and “my bottoms are tops,” or “lips that don’t quit,” and “two thumbs fresh.” Our culture speaks in slogans and metaphors, not to mention anagrams.

It’s no wonder we laugh at the poster that reads, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Words can obscure understanding even when intentions are pure. Words can twist meaning when intentions are evil. There are, however, words which can be trusted, words which are meant to heal and bless, words which will never die.
Psalm 12:6 says, “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.”

Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What words does the Lord speak to us? Words of assurance and comfort, words of challenge and sometimes reproach, words of guidance and warning, words that nourish and heal. Our culture lives by the words of advertisers and slogan writers, words meant to spin the coin out of our pockets. God’s words are meant to bring truth, life, peace.

As writers we are charged to do likewise, to imitate Christ is this, as in all things. This can at once free us and bind us. The responsibility can sometimes overwhelm, but the good news is that we are not alone. He is guiding our minds and our hearts and when we yield to Him the outpouring will be words of life and blessing. The good news is that He has purpose for our words too, and those purposes will be accomplished by His Spirit, to His glory.

The good news is, it’s not up to us. All we have to do is write.

Interview With Don Hoesel

Don Hoesel is a Web site designer for a Medicare carrier in Nashville, TN. He has a BA in Mass Communication from Taylor University and has published short fiction in Relief Journal. He lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with his wife and two children. Elisha’s Bones is his first novel.

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

Hunter’s Moon is scheduled to come out in Spring 2010. It’s about a writer living in the south who returns to his Upstate New York home for the first time in almost two decades, and who has to finally deal with the family’s dirty little secret.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

I came up with the idea for Elisha’s Bones over dinner with a friend. We were actually discussing how writers come up with story ideas, and I’d made the comment that just about anything could be turned into a story. By way of illustration, I mentioned a recent Sunday school lesson about the passage in 2 Kings, where a man rises from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones. And once I said it, I realized I had my next story idea.

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

I started writing my first novel in middle school and got about two hundred pages in before giving up. And then I really didn’t write much until a few years after college—1995. Even then, I didn’t try to pursue publication seriously. That didn’t happen until 2004. That’s when I signed with my agent, Les Stobbe. For the next few years, Les sent out manuscripts, and one finally stuck at Bethany House. So the approximate time between actively deciding to pursue publication and hearing that Bethany House had accepted Elisha’s Bones was a little over three years.

As far as hearing about the book’s acceptance—if I recall correctly, Les mentioned that BHP was interested in the manuscript but I may have actually received the official notice from Dave Long, acquisitions editor at BHP, via email. And I’m not entirely sure what went through my mind, except that I know it was some combination of relief and excitement. Because while I’d only spent about three years in active pursuit of publication, I’d been writing for a long time, so I guess it felt like a much longer process. And the next thing that went through my head was that I hoped the contract came before Dave changed his mind!

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

I rarely get writer’s block, but I can spend a very long time working over a single paragraph because it just doesn’t sound right. When that happens, I can rewrite that paragraph thirty to forty times. I guess that may be a form of writer’s block, but at least it’s the kind in which I feel like I’m at least doing something, even if it’s just throwing words at the page to see what sticks.

On those few occasions when I do get real writer’s block, I either start work on something unrelated (like a short story) or take a break and read a book. The more you read, the more likely you are to find something to steal—er, I mean, pay homage to. What’s the most difficult part of writing this story and how did you overcome?

I know this is a terrible answer, but I don’t think there was a hard part. I was pleased with the story, and happy with what BHP let me do with it.

Show us a picture of your writing space.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up at 5:30 AM and drive forty-plus miles to work. I manage the communications department for a Medicare contractor. After work, I drive the forty-plus miles home, then help with homework, ballet practice, baseball, dinner, and baths, etc. Once the rest of the family is asleep (9–10 PM) I write, usually calling it quits around 1 AM or so.

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

I start with either a character or an idea. Once I have that, I try to let the story build organically around them. It’s usually a pretty linear process in that the story unfolds itself for me. I self-edit a lot as I go, which means that by the time I’m done with my first draft, I feel pretty good about it. So when that draft is done, it’s rare that I’ll do a wholesale revision, although in the case of Elisha’s Bones, my editor suggested some changes that proved to be substantial.

In your opinion, what’s the best novel ever written?

I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’ll list a few that mean a lot to me:
The Sun Also Rises
Nobody’s Fool
The Risk Pool,
Joe
Father and Son
One Hundred Years of Solitude; the list could go on for a very long time.

What writing advice helped you the most?

The best advice I received was to read. Even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. You get to see how other people approach writing—and it’s just fun.

What advice hindered you the most?

Outlining. I know outlining works for some people, but I don’t much care for it. I prefer to start with a character or two, and a basic plot, and see what happens.

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 would have spent more time early on really studying the craft of writing. It would have saved me some of the trial and error—a lot of the stuff that was just too bad to ever show anyone. Although there’s probably something to be said for that process, too.

As far as publishing, I really don’t have any complaints. While it may feel as if it took a long time to get a book deal (three years) I’ve heard that’s actually pretty quick. I was lucky to sign with a great agent (I can’t overemphasize the value of a writers’ conference), and he just kept at it.

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

Since this is my first book, I’m still getting my feet wet in marketing. So far, what I think I’ve learned is to make use of your family, friends, and business contacts, etc, and not to be shy about letting people know you have a book out there. Then, try to do as many book signings as you can and take advantage of all interview requests, even if you don’t think you’d be good at them (I’m a perfect example of that!).

I think if you do the basics, you’ll be in a good position to think of more innovative ways to market. But I’m still looking for some of those, so let me know if you have any ideas!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Go to a writers’ conference. In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing I did to get published. After that, get sleep wherever and whenever you can.