A Novel Idea with Angela Hunt & Robin Jones Gunn

A Novel Idea is a wonderful collection of teachings on the craft of fiction writing by the members of ChiLibris. It’s virtually a writers’ conference in a book. Today, Novel Journey is pleased to have Angela Hunt and Robin Jones Gunn with us.

Welcome, ladies. First, please tell our readers how this book came to be.

Angie: The book began in my car, actually. Robin and I had just driven to my house after ICRS and she began to tell me about her work with Media Associates International. She was musing about how nice it’d be to have articles on the craft of writing for foreign writing students, and I said we had lots of writer friends, so maybe some of them would be willing to contribute an article or two. Then one idea led to another, and soon we’d come up with the notion that we should collect these articles into a book . . . long story short, we ended up with far more articles than we could use! (We have lots of writer friends!)

Robin: I’d like to add that neither Angie nor I expected the sort of response we received once we put the word out to our combined circles of writer friends. We were asking them to give away their trade secrets and receive no compensation but our hearty thanks. As Angie said, Tyndale Publishers received far more than they needed for this book. Such generosity! We are thrilled with how the final book turned out. I hadn’t seen it until my copy arrived last week. I spent several hours in my favorite chair with a cup of tea and read every page. I learned new things that are helping me with my current project. This book is a treasure for writers at every stage of their career. And all the proceeds go to MAI (www.littworld.org) to assist in training writers around the world.

How did it come together? Who oversaw the project?

Angie: At the beginning I collected names, but once Janet Grant volunteered to agent the project, I knew I could relax. Tyndale House contracted the book, and we were happy to turn everything over to Jan Stob, our editor at Tyndale.

So many topics were covered in A Novel Idea. How were those subjects chosen and how were the authors chosen? At first we let authors choose the topics they wanted to write about, knowing that writers tend to have strong opinions on subjects they’re passionate about. As the work on the book drew to a close, our editorial team contacted specific writers to help cover a few basic subjects that had been left untouched.

Robin: I had to include this photo just for fun. We took this in Angie’s office late at night after the idea for “A Novel Idea” was hatched. The two of us were composing an email inviting writers to contribute to the project. Since it was late and since we were a bit punchy, Babe, one of Angie’s enormous dogs had to come see why we were laughing so much.

Have your writing friends done other projects like this?

As a matter of fact, we have. Several years ago we published The Story Tellers’ Collection, Volumes 1 and 2, both published by Multnomah. The royalties for those books go to benefit the Jesus Film Project and Prison Fellowship, respectively. Then we published What the Wind Picked Up, and royalties from that project benefit Samaritan’s Purse. The royalties for A Novel Idea will go to Media Associates International, to train Christian writers overseas.

Robin, while we have you, can you tell us how you think the YA market has changed since your Christy Miller books? Do you have any thoughts for writers interested in writing for this genre?

Over the last few years I’ve become more of a consumer than a researching writer in the YA market because I have a 13 year-old niece who has gone through a horrible stretch of life. She reads my books over and over for what she calls the “happy feelings” and “hope” and a “clear picture of God’s love for me”. But when I gave her Lisa Samson’s Hollywood Nobody she said she felt she could relate more to the main character since her parents are recently divorced and she’s trying to figure out where she fits.

The longings of a teenage girl don’t change from generation to generation. The ways that writers explore those coming of age adjustments change in sync with popular culture.

For instance, what if I told you I was reading a story about a girl who moves to a new town where she is trying to fit in and make new friends. She meets this out-of-the-ordinary guy and is drawn to him but doesn’t want to give in to her strong feelings for him. Complications come. Misunderstandings create conflicts. The main character is vulnerable and yet strong. She’s someone I’d like to have as a real friend.

Based on that summary would you assume I was reading a Christy Miller book? Anne of Green Gables? Twilight? Or am I reading about Jacob’s daughter, Dinah in the book of Genesis?

This is why I say the premise of what makes a YA story relatable and compelling has not changed throughout the generations. Only the surrounding elements of the story change in tune with popular culture.

Now, as a Christian, how do I craft tales that are relatable to young women and are “in the world but not of it”? I like how The Message paraphrases Philippians 4:8 “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

One final thought on writing YA novels that keep selling is that the characters are what make us remember the YA stories for the rest of our lives. I was surprised and thrilled when the third Katie Weldon book, Coming Attractions ended up on the ECPA as well as CBA best-sellers list in August and September. Why would a story about a girl in college fan so much interest? The mail coming in told me that readers simply love Katie as a character and wanted to find out what happened next.

What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

More novels and some non-fiction as well. Writers are told to “write about what you know.” I agree. However, as I’m about to enter the third decade of my adventure as a writer, I’ve added another piece of advice to myself: “write about what you love.”

With that in mind, I’ve begun a new three-book series with Howard Publishing called the Hideaway series. Each book is about a woman who needs to “come apart” just as her life begins to come apart. In real life I love seeing women get their heart back after life has dealt them a crushing blow. I love seeing strength and courage and joy flowing back into a woman who a bruised spirit. That sums up the sort of characters I’m writing about now.

The working title for the first novel is Under a Maui Moon and is of course, set on the island of Maui. Once again, I’m writing about what I love.

Angie, your brand is “Expect the unexpected” and you write in numerous genres. I know publishers want new authors to stick with one genre. Have you always bounced around, or did you wait until you had your audience built?

In my early years I wrote historical romance—because that’s what the market wanted. Then I was encouraged to write the stories burning within me, and I’ve been “unexpected” ever since. I always wonder if I’m alienating readers by “bouncing around,” but I have to be true to my gifts. I recently took a poll of over 1,000 of my readers, and the thing they like BEST about my books is that “unexpected” quality. I doubt I’ll be settling down any time soon

What can we expect to see next from you? In December, my first (and only) legal thriller releases—except, of course, it’s a legal thriller with an unexpected twist. It’s called Let Darkness Come, from Mira. I’m thrilled with it, so thanks for asking.

Ane for NJ: I had the opportunity to review A Novel Idea, and it’s a wonderful handbook for writers of all levels. I highly recommend it.

Christy-Award winner Angela Hunt writes for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected in novels from this versatile author. With nearly four million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of more than 100 works ranging from picture books (The Tale of Three Trees) to nonfiction books, to novels.

Three-time Christy winner Robin Jones Gunn has four million books sold worldwide. She’s a frequent key-note speaker at various events and serves on the Board of Directors for Media Associates International and Jerry Jenkin’s Christian Writer’s Guild.

Tyndale House Publishers is pleased to announce the release of A Novel Idea: Best Advice on Writing Inspirational Fiction, a compilation from a collection of premiere Christian authors including Jerry Jenkins, Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers, Randy Alcorn, Robin Jones Gunn, Angela Hunt, and many other beloved authors, that answers many questions budding writers or seasoned pros may ask.

In this guide to fiction writing you will find tips for writers block, how to market your writing, and personal stories from the authors who have been through it all before. This valuable guide also contains tips on plotting, dialogue, point of view, characterization, marketing, social networking, and more!
Sidebars on:
– The need for conflict
– Creating characters, not constructing them
– Authentic dialogue
– Research
– A characters “aha” moment
– And much more!

All proceeds will benefit MAI (Media Associates International), an international organization whose goal is to help fledging writers and publishers produce Christian literature that is culturally relevant.