This week I read a statement that claimed last year more e-book sold than regular books. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I thought I’d see what we’re buying.
by James Landis
Several years ago I sat down one morning at my computer and wrote the words, “I meet Jesus on the day I get home from the war.”
Up until that moment, all I knew, in sitting down that morning, was that I wanted to try to write a novel about Jesus in a contemporary setting.
I also knew the title of that novel.
Jesus in the Air.
That title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem. I had quoted from that same poem in my previous novel, Artist of the Beautiful. There, my narrator (a young woman) calls that poem “a prayer to end all prayers.”
Indeed, I trace the inspiration for The Last Day to my near obsession with those words of Emily Dickinson:
At least to pray is left, is left.
O Jesus in the air
I know not which thy chamber is,
I ’m knocking everywhere.
It was not until I began to think seriously about writing my new novel that, in my research, I came to realize that Emily Dickinson must have come upon her image of Jesus in the air from 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Jesus in the Air. What a great title for a novel! I loved that title.
So I wrote the novel, starting with the line I put down that morning several years ago: “I meet Jesus on the day I get home from the war.”
About two years later I wrote the final words of that novel: “The couple will honeymoon on the Isles of Shoals.”
It took me almost another two years to find an agent who wanted to handle the novel and for her, bless her, to find a publisher, bless him, who wanted to publish the novel.
The novel now published and known as The Last Day.
Too many people—too many knowledgeable and important people—had said, “You can’t publish novel with Jesus in the title. No one will read it. Or too few people will read it. And no one will want to carry it around.” One person said, “A big audience for your novel will be young men, and young men will think the title means that Jesus is flying around on a skateboard!”
I still loved my title, and I fought and I fought. But finally I had to give in. And after several other (frankly) peculiar titles had been put on the book, one of my own alternative titles (I always have other possibilities among my notes), The Last Day, gave “the shivers” to an enormously influential person in the book business.
And so–reluctantly at first, most gratefully now–I learned to live with The Last Day as a title.
What didn’t change were those first words I wrote those several years before: “I meet Jesus on the day I get home from the war.”
I knew nothing about where this book was going when I wrote those words. I didn’t know who was speaking. I didn’t even know I was going to be writing in the first person. I didn’t know I was going to be writing in the present tense. I didn’t know I was going to be writing about the war, any war.
All I knew was that I was going to be writing about Jesus and that Jesus was not going to be in the air but that he was going to be on earth and that he was going to be dressed not in robes but like you and me.
In this, I was inspired by words written by Father William J. O’Malley in a book called Why Not: Daring to Live the Challenge of Christ:
But the real Jesus, when he came the first time, looked just like any other ordinary man. Today he looks just like you….Jesus did not go beyond the farthest star. He didn’t go any spatial distance. He went into another way of existence—and yet remained here.
“Remained here.” So I had always pictured him. On the earth he loved. In the place where, as Jesus says toward the end of The Last Day, “God walked in the body of his son. And where we walk in the image of God. Male and female, as God created us. And blessed us. And named us Man.” It is not the Second Coming. It is the Remaining.
“I meet Jesus on the day I get home from the war.”
How unusual, for me or any other novelist, to have the first words written of a novel remain the first words of that novel when it is finished and published, however many years later. (I count in my Last Day folder eighteen drafts of this novel. All of them begin with these same words.)
As I said, I knew nothing about where this book was going when I wrote those words. And most important among all the things I didn’t know was that Jesus, in the course of my writing this book, was to emerge not as a fictional character—not as a product of my imagination—but as a reality.
I mean, I had nothing to do with his creation. All the other characters–Warren, the narrator; Bethie, his girlfriend; Dodie, their daughter; Warren’s father; his dead mother; Ryan, his best friend—all of them came out of me.
But Jesus—I don’t know where he came from. He sprang wholly from…well, let us say, from the air. Jesus in the air.
And so he became a reality. For me. I can’t speak for how a reader might consider Jesus. But I would love to know.
James Landis lives in New Hampshire.
Hi, Sandra. Welcome to Novel Journey. Why don’t you start by telling our readers what made you start writing?
The hardest part of anything is getting started. Getting started with a new book, a new chapter, a new page, or just sitting down at the computer and staying there till I’ve done my word count. Once I get about 300 words down on paper, I’m on a roll and I can stay in the zone. Those first 300 are hard, though.
Those are tough for me, too. Especially when I’m struggling to get the story idea down on paper. So, at what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
I have a pretty well-established process: I think through the concept and ask a few questions of my focus group, which consists of likely readers. Then I outline and then I write. I send the manuscript to the focus group and when it comes back I make corrections. My rule of thumb is that if one person suggests a change I may or may not do it depending on how I feel about it. But if two people mention something, I clearly need to address it, whether I feel like it or not.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Piece de Resistance is the third novel in the French Twist series. Having earned her chef’s hat, Lexi Stuart bids au revoir to her glamorous and deliciously satisfying pastry mentorship outside of Paris and returns to her hometown of Seattle, Washington.
I was sorry to leave Lexi and all the rest after three books. But I believe I’ve left all of the characters in a good place, so I can peacefully move forward knowing they are okay. 🙂
Sounds like a great book! Your main character is struggling to find some direction for her life. Did you put yourself into this character, and can you share a time when you found yourself facing some of the same struggles?
I think we each struggle with this from time to time. First – what to study in college. Next – what career. Marriage? Kids? Career change? I always wanted there to be one, big gut wrenching decision in life and then be done with it, have everything settled. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ve had to return to the Lord time and again for wisdom as new situation crop up. And I’ve come to have peace with that process. Part of the trick is to be careful about making a decision, but once you do, don’t second guess.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
I’d been writing for teens for years and many of them kept in touch and shared with me their “quarter life crisis” moments. I felt for them, and identified with them. I melded that with my love of baking and love of France et voilà! A series is born.
Much of this story revolves around food. Do you like to cook? What kind of research did you have to do while writing this book?
I do like to cook and bake! I got my first serious cooking instruction book, by Jacques Pepin, when I was 17 years old. La technique. My first “real” job was for a caterer, and I’ve been a home cook and baker every since.
For the book, I went to France, of course. You feel bad for me, don’t you? I also job shadowed a baker at a French bakery here in town. And I visited a baking school for a day. It was great fun, but I also so how very hard they work. The physical endurance required of bakers and chefs is amazing. Something we lay people don’t often think about.
Now that’s research. Maybe I need to write a book set in France…:-) Tell us what you enjoyed most about writing this book? Least?
I loved everything about writing this series – France, baking, testing recipes at home (over and over again!) with my family. I had an amazing editor who helped the books be the best they could be. Least enjoyable was that I was very sick for months, even in bed for weeks, while writing Piece de Resistance. It took my OWN endurance to finish on time. But I did!
This book is geared toward the Chick Lit crowd, right? So what message do you hope this target group of readers takes from your novel?
I’m not sure it’s geared toward Chick Lit crowd, though it definitely has many elements that would qualify it for that. I hope women of all ages take away that God has planted dreams in your heart, prepared good works in advance for you to do, and HE will fulfill them if you’ll rely on faith and not fear. I want them to see that life is fun. Enjoy it!
What does your writing space look like?
Just reorganized, with a little help from The Unclutterer. I have one big, bare wall that is eagerly waiting for my trip next spring to London. I’m going to bring something back for it.
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
I tend to work in pulses. When I’m writing, I’m really writing, and I write fairly fast because the story comes so quickly once I’m ready. I don’t like to step away from it for too long because I drop the threads. But then I take a couple of weeks to rest : cook, read, garden, spa, hang out with my husband and my kids and my friends. Then I start in again!
I listen to music while writing, too. It both soothes and energizes. I’m glad I live in the ipod age!
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I dream for a few months and let things knit together in my head and heart, jotting down notes as necessary. Then I throw some queries to my focus group readers and close friends. Then I outline – religiously. Next, I write, a word count per day, every day, till the first draft is done. I send it off to the focus group readers and beg them not to give me any comments for at least a week while I gather my marbles back together and take a long nap.
When the comments come back, I tweak the manuscript. Then it’s off to my editors, where I await round two!
What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?
I read the Bobbsey Twins books at about age 6, I think, and loved them. I read all of the Little House on the Prairie books as a girl, too. When I first earned some royalties, I bought all of the Little House books in the first edition. It was a real treat to myself!
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?
That most writers aren’t rich. And most writers aren’t going to get rich. That writing is emotionally difficult and intellectually challenging but satisfying in a way that nothing else ever will be. You have to be, as Eugene Peterson once said, ready for a long walk in the same direction.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
My next series, London Confidential, is for teens and tweens and will debut next spring. After that will be my new series for adults, Ladies in Waiting. The books each take place during the Tudor Time period, are historical fiction based on fact. The first book is about Anne Boleyn and her best friend, from childhood till just after Anne’s death.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Here are some lyrics from a song my kids called “Remember The Name,” by Fort Minor (clean version, of course!). They were written about a kid who writes rap, but honestly, I think the same percentages are true for all writers. Of course in the case of Christian writers, the Name we’re interested in people remembering is not our own.
You ready?! Let’s go!Yeah, for those of you that want to know what we’re all aboutIt’s like this y’all This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skillFifteen percent concentrated power of willFive percent pleasure, fifty percent painAnd a hundred percent reason to remember the name!
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish has been featured on ABC Nightline. Her ability to authentically capture the heart of her characters comes from her real-life connections with Plain Mennonite and Old Order Amish families.
Cindy is the mother of three sons and two daughters-in-law, and she and her husband reside in Georgia. Visit her Web site.
Interview Tips I Wish I’d Known Beforehand
I love writing! I love long days and nights in my home office with the window open and research books all around me.
I’m an introvert. I’ve heard that most fiction writers are. Being introverted is not the same as being shy, although shy people are introverted. An introvert draws strength from quietness and solitude. An extrovert draws strength from get-togethers and other people-oriented events.
The first time I realized how much of an introvert I am, I was seventeen and on a first date. I was young and athletic, and had taken the time to straighten my lengthy hair, do my nails and make-up, and had even bought an especially nice-looking outfit. Our plan was to meet up with a group of friends at someone’s home and have pizza. When my date asked if we could go to a drive-thru for dinner instead, I felt RELIEF wash over me. Right then I understood something about myself; I was a true introvert.
Until then I kept thinking that I avoided going out because I wasn’t “pulled together” enough. But it became clear that even when at my best, I preferred quiet seclusion. After going to the drive-thru, we went for a long, quiet stroll in a nearby park and tossed bread crumbs to the ducks. The only way I would have enjoyed that night any better was if I’d been alone with a pen and journal. (Too long ago for laptops to have been a part of the scene, man.)
So writing sounds like a good career choice for me, right?
Well… so far this year I’ve done segments for ABC’s Nightline and Fox 5’s Good Day Atlanta, plus multiple interviews for newspapers. I’ve done numerous live radio and television interviews. I spent about eight hours with a journalist from the Wall Street Journal and four hours in my home with a journalist from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Live interviews are especially difficult because you often don’t know what the person is going to ask, and if your mind goes blank, you still have to say something.
At this point you should feel sorry for my husband, who loves my quiet temperament, especially during football season. If I can’t sleep because of an upcoming interview, or I’m walking around mumbling to myself because I’m displeased with how an interview went, he’s the one who has to deal with my angst and try to help me through it.
Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, interviews are part of being an author. I’ve been doing them for the last thirty-six months, two weeks, and eight days. I’ve had some truly great interviews and some really embarrassing ones. Here’s the good news: I survived. And along the way I’ve learned things that are equally valuable to both personalities. These tips will help the introverted prepare for things that are as tough for them as a month in solitary confinement would be for an extravert.
There are many things that can cause an interview to go badly, but here are some tips that will help you be as prepared as possible. I don’t get it right nearly as often as I’d like, but following these suggestions helps me focus on my goal.
1.) Write out the most likely questions to be asked and write out several answers—keeping in mind that the response needs to be less than thirty seconds. Practice giving an answer with a timer in hand or your eye on the wall clock’s second hand. If your answer is too long, rework it.
2.) Remember that the transition from the interviewer’s question to your answer is the most important part to get right. Your first sentence that follows the interviewer’s question is your topic sentence for that question. Remember topic sentences from your days in high school and college? You need a topic sentence, even for a thirty-second answer.
3.) Practice the questions and answers before every interview. A live radio show does not allow time for searching your thoughts. Know the answers, but then lay your notes aside and talk as if you’re on a live stage. The idea is to give responses in a fresh and energetic manner. So study like it’s a test, and then trust that you’ll know enough to sound spontaneous. Practicing for radio interviews will not only help to prepare you for television interviews, it makes your voice sound real and personal as well as professional.
4.) Write out the questions you hope an interviewer never asks. Think of several questions you absolutely do not want to be asked, and plan for how you’ll respond if the interviewer asks those questions. Practice answering the unwanted questions in a succinct manner and with the most positive view possible.
5.) Use nouns instead of pronouns. As you do interviews, you’ll discover all sorts of issues about your speech patterns that you weren’t aware of before. For example, I hadn’t realized how much I overused pronouns. I would say “the Amish” at the start of the interview and then use the word “they.” That can be confusing for those who come in during the middle of an interview or when I’ve also spoken about the non-Amish. Don’t be afraid of using a noun too much.
Most interviews are brief and listeners don’t want to feel lost during what should be a clear and concise talk. Using nouns as much as possible is especially important during an interview that is being taped. Most producers cut out certain parts. If they find a great line they’d like to keep but you used a pronoun instead of a noun, they’ll have to either toss that segment or hope the audience can follow.
6.) Practice good diction all the time. I used to have great pronunciation of words. I even won recognition for it once. But that was thirty-something years ago, before the ways of my beloved new home in the Deep South took over. Now I often forget to put the g on the end of an –ing word. I’m not sure when that little colloquialism became my friend, but after I spoke at a women’s event, one lady approached me and brought that quirk to my attention. I sincerely appreciated her telling me that. Now I put effort into adding that elusive g and listening to my speech patterns.
7.) Practice agreeing with statements you don’t agree with. During one of my first interviews, moments before going live on a television broadcast, an interviewer heard something about me from her producer that piqued her interest. The issue was not related to my writing at all, but at the top of the show she tossed out a statement, expecting me to agree with her. I didn’t. I could either say I agreed with her and go against what I believed, or I could disagree with her on air, which would probably embarrass her and would certainly start the interview off on the wrong foot.
Unsure of what to do, I shared that I’d seen wonderful successes come out of the public school system. She felt affronted, and needless to say, it wasn’t my best interview. I don’t know that we ever talked about my books. After the interview, I asked my publicist what would have been a better way to respond. She told me to fashion a sentence that would start out with affirmation for the interviewer and end with an “on the other hand” statement. In this case, I could have said, “Yes, homeschooling has merit, and I enjoyed years of it with my own children, but I’m thankful we have the right in this country to choose what’s best for our children, because many times public school is the best route to go.”
8.) Practice getting an interview back on track. Sometimes an interviewer, like the one above, will start off on a topic unrelated to your book, expecting to bring it back around later, but that doesn’t happen. Think about phrases you can use that will help accomplish what you’re there for: to talk about your book. Using the example above, after I made my statement about homeschooling versus public school, I could have added something like this: “You know, it’s interesting that we’re talking about schooling, because the Old Order Amish have school in a one-room schoolhouse with grades one through eight, and the children begin school not knowing the English language.” With that transitional phrase, I would’ve agreed with the interviewer, shared my personal sentiments, and moved on to talking about what I came to the interview to talk about: my book.
9.) Use key phrases to turn a conversation back around. “You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned (use a word or phrase the interviewer just used), because in my (name of the novel being promoted) there is a character who is struggling to…” Or, “I love the concept of (use a word or phrase the interviewer just used), because in (name of the novel being promoted) there is a real sense of…” Or, “That reminds me of…” Or, “That’s a great point. It’s similar to (mention a character or plot thread in your book)…”
The above devices may sound too self-promotional, but I believe the audience and the interviewer will appreciate your getting to the real topic: your book. Just don’t be too quick to use them. If the interviewer is at the top of the show and wants to mention the weather, give him or her a chance to bring the topic back around to your book before you step in with a “key phrase.” If the interviewer doesn’t bring it back around within the first few minutes, be prepared to jump in. This will not only ensure that the interview goes well, it will also increase your chances of being added to their list of authors to invite back on their show. Sorry, introverts, but our aim is to do as many interviews as possible and to end with the interviewer saying, “Let’s do this again for your next book!”
Keep in mind, interviewers want their shows to go well and be entertaining to their audiences. So ask them beforehand what types of things they would like to know (request a list of questions if they have them). Ask about their demographics (if you don’t already know) so you can structure your interview to their audience. I haven’t had much success with a request for a list of specific questions. I think that’s due in part to the spot interviewers are put in. They don’t have much prep time and they want to keep things fresh as opposed to sounding well rehearsed and staged.
As much as interviewers may want a few minutes to prepare, they usually don’t get that luxury. Many don’t even have the chance to read your book. As the person with the most at stake in this interview, you need to help them be prepared. I once heard that I should prepare a fact sheet to send the interviewer beforehand, listing facts about my books and me. But by the time the interviewer thinks about needing one, it’s often too late. I’ve found a better answer is to have a well-organized, easily maneuverable Web site. You may even want to dedicate a page of your site specifically for interviewers. List the books you’ve published, any awards earned, personal information about yourself that you’re willing to share with the audience, a brief synopsis of your current book, and a list of sample questions.
With practice using tools that connect with your audience, it won’t matter whether you’re a nervous introvert who’s uncomfortable in a crowd or a nervous extravert who loves crowds but feels unsure of yourself in an interview.
Authors usually spend six months to a year writing a novel that will connect with readers, but that connection often begins with an interview that lets people know there’s a new book on the market. Being prepared for an interview is as important as writing the book.
If you have an interview that goes badly, console yourself by watching televised interviews of politicians—local or national. Look for their bobbles, losing a train of thought, and poor word choices. Those things happen to even brilliant people, so of course it’s going to happen to regular folks like us. Knowing you’re in good company is guaranteed to help put your own interviews in the right perspective.
Loneliness echoes inside Beth Hertzler from the life she once had. Children’s whispers and laughter call to her from a life she only dreams of. A gifted carver holds the answer to both within his hands—but can Beth step beyond yesterday in order to embrace tomorrow?
The Sound of Sleigh Bells is a heartwarming Christmas novella where lack and abundance inside an Amish community has power for good when it’s tucked inside love.
Romantic Times 4 ½ stars for The Sound of Sleigh Bells ~ This is a wonderfully written, transformative story of two Amish families at Christmastime. It will bring sleigh-riding memories to life as readers vicariously join in this jolly and exciting holiday tradition.
To read a review of Sleigh Bells, click here.