Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. In writing Snow Melts in Spring, the first book in the Seasons of the Tallgrass, a contemporary romance series for Zondervan, Deborah hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.
Tell us about your new release:
A short blurb for Snow Melts in Spring: Mattie Evans, a young veterinarian in rural Kansas, saves a horse injured in a terrible accident. But she also finds herself tending the wounded relationship between a prodigal son and his ailing father. Love, conflict, forgiveness and renewal drive this first book of the Seasons of the Tallgrass series.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
I don’t recall anything specific for the story other than knowing I had to write a story (or set of stories) in the Flint Hills. Years ago, I took a Flint Hills Folklife course at Emporia State University that was taught by Dr. Jim Hoy. Along with classroom study, we took field trips into the heart of the Flint Hills and visited with old-time ranchers, schoolmarms and post-mistresses. It was such a delightful experience, especially our drives into the pastures. We would get on these back roads and drive over pasture guards into the open range. We would travel for miles without seeing another car or even an electric line—just pure, native prairie. That summer, I fell in love with the Flint Hills and it has stayed with me all this time. I’m so glad I have this chance to share this place with my readers in this book and in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series.
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
My male lead character, Gil, is a retiring professional quarterback, so learning more about football was essential. Having never cared much for the sport before this point, let’s just say, I had a LOT of learning to do. I remember spending lots of time pouring over library books about the game and watching hours of college and professional games on television. My daughters didn’t necessarily care for my “newfound interest” in the sport, but my husband enjoyed it! LOL
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
I wanted to be a writer since high school, but it wasn’t until 2002 that I began taking serious steps to get to the goal. I joined a local writer’s group and ACFW, and from there I joined a critique group, read writing how-to’s and started attending writing conferences. I met my first agent at the 2005 ACFW Nashville Conference. We hit it off at our meeting, and she gave me some tips on making my book series “bigger.” I did that and several months later I submitted my proposal & first book to her. She took me on, and we shopped my Seasons of the Tallgrass series for a year and had a few bites (one of them Zondervan) but no sale. In the end, she released me, which was a real heart breaker. However, we don’t always see the big picture like God does, and six months later I signed with agent, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary. We had an offer from Zondervan three months after that. When Rachelle received the offer, she called me and asked if I was sitting down. I remember doing a LOT of giggling. 😉
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Yes, yes, yes. LOL. I’m still learning to overcome it. Not sure if you’d call this writer’s block, but my biggest challenge is staying off the internet and email. If I can do that, I find the writing comes MUCH easier. I like to start where I left off the day before and go over the last chapter or so. That seems to be the best way to get me back into the story so that I’m able to move forward.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
Yes, very much so. Before I begin writing a new story, I create a storyboard on a large cork bulletin board, using pictures of my characters found in magazines or on the internet. I also like to have pictures of their houses, pets, vehicles — anything that seems important to the story. It helps me to have these pictures in front of me when I sit down at the computer each day. Another visual I like to use are documentaries of the setting. I found a delightful film that I’ve used in my current series called The Flint Hills of Kansas that has helped me when I needed a scene boost. I also like to use movie soundtracks to help get me into the story. Some of my favorites are The Horse Whisperer, Legends of the Fall, and A River Runs Through It.
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?
So far, I think the most difficult problems I’ve had are getting over plots that don’t seem to be working. It’s a matter of trying to figure out how to make the plot work or scratching it entirely and figuring out something else. Another thing that seems to cause me problems is when I think a scene or series of scenes stinks! When this occurs, my creative juices shut down completely.
How do you overcome it?
I turn to my critique partners—who may either suggest alternative ideas or may pat me on the back and encourage me over the hump.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
When I first began writing, I wrote in my kitchen on our main computer. A few years ago, I bought a laptop, so now my office is in a corner of our bedroom. This allows me to shut the door on noise or activities, which really helps when I’m on deadline. Note in the picture my storyboard and other items that help me prepare to write such as candles, a favorite pen, a cup of herbal tea—all things I use to get myself ready to write.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m a stay-at-home mom, and my girls are in school through the day so I try to use those hours for my writing. I spend the early morning putting the house in order and having my devotion time. Then I check email and try to get to my writing desk between 9:30 & 10 in the morning. I’ll take a late lunch around 1:00, check email again, and then go back to writing until I reach my goal for the day. Some days that might not be until 6 or 7 in the evening. I try to save my marketing and blog updates for the evening. And I should add that all of this is on a perfect day. There are many days when my schedule gets all jumbled with appointments or activities, and I’ll just have to work what I can into the day.
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?
I’m a SLOW writer, and I’m thrilled to reach 2000 words in a day. Some scenes come easier than others. I’ve tried to turn off the editor when I write, but as of yet, haven’t figured out how to do that. Not sure I ever will.
Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?
I think I prefer the editing portion. It’s much easier for me to face work that I’ve already written vs. a blank screen. And I could probably edit till I’m blue in the face—just ask my line editor. LOL
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
I first fell in love with Christian fiction when I was introduced to the writing of Janette Oke and Jan Karon. I enjoyed their simple, yet vivid stories. Since then my favorite books include: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and Color the Sidewalk for Me by Brandilyn Collins. These books drew me in with their captivating characters and beautiful phrasing. I especially liked how expertly Brandilyn managed to weave the spiritual thread through that book.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Read terrific fiction and try to write every day.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in your journey to publication?
I’d like to think that if I’d had the resources available to me now when I first began this journey that I would have been published sooner—but I wonder how much of the journey comes from life experience and wisdom. That wasn’t something I wanted to hear as a youngster, but as a 43 year old woman who’s gone through her share of ups and downs, I can see how those life experiences color my writing now, making it all the more richer.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Yes, for those who are struggling to be published, cry and scream if you need to but don’t give up. Keep dreaming and studying the craft, and reading. Stay tuned to what God wants for you and let scripture keep you afloat. Learn to depend on God for everything—every step of the journey. Just knowing that He is in charge and knows what is best for you, helps to alleviate the pressure so that you’re able to ENJOY the journey AND life.