Stephanie Landsem ~ a Visual Writer

Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves
adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient
ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is
equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three
fat cats.  When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde,
avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in
person or on the page.
Some say a writer is born and
others say anyone can learn. What say you?
Some people are born with a love for words, others with a love for movement,
numbers, or other gifts. Those of us that love words have to learn how to use
them effectively. If you want to write, it’s not enough to know a well-turned
sentence when you see one. It takes diligence to be able to use those words we
love to craft a plot, characters, and ultimately a gripping story.
Was there a specific ‘what if’
moment that sparked your latest release story?
Yes, I
was sitting in church, listening to the gospel reading from John about the
Samaritan woman at the well. I started by wondering about her, then about the
people around her. I wondered what effect five husbands would have had on a
daughter. The name of her daughter, Mara, which means bitter, came to me, and I
knew that I wanted to write Mara’s story.
Do you have a full or part time
day job? If so, how do you balance your writing time with family and work?
I have
four children ages 19 down to 12, and I’m lucky that I don’t work outside the
home. Just keeping food in the house is a full time job! I try hard every day
to balance work and family. Some days I manage better than other days. With one
book releasing, another in editing, and another due in 9 months, I often feel
like I’m twirling several plates in the air and wondering which one will come
crashing down. Thankfully, I have a great husband who helps out and those four
kids are learning to cook and clean like pros.
Did anything unusual or funny
happen while researching or writing this book?
One of my characters turned into a completely different person on me. When I
first started writing The Well, Shem was just a wayward Samaritan with a chip
on his shoulder. But as I continued to do some research into Samaritan history
and what Biblical scholars say about Samaritans, I discovered something
surprising. This bit of research completely changed the way I looked at Shem
and took his story in an entirely new direction. I won’t say any more, but
you’ll understand when you read the book.
Do you consider yourself a
visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
I’m a
very visual person. I need to see things in print to learn them, and I love to
see historical places in person to really get the feel for them. Unfortunately,
I’ve never been to the Holy Land. I use lots of pictures, most of them are on The
Well board
on Pinterest. To get an idea of my upcoming books, The Thief,
you can look check out this
Are you a plotter, a pantster,
or somewhere in between?
When I
wrote The Well, I didn’t even know the
difference between a plotter and a pantser. With my second book, The Thief, I tried a little bit of both,
but I think for my third book I’ll turn to the dark side: I’ll be plotting it
all out before I ever put a word on the page.
Have you discovered some secret
that has helped your process for writing?
despair. It always looks terrible right after you write it. Sometimes, I just
want to highlight the whole chapter and hit delete. But it never fails that the
next day, when I look at it again it isn’t nearly so bad. Sometimes, there are
even bright little nuggets of gold that I hadn’t seen before.
What are your thoughts on
critique partners?
I don’t
know what I’d do without them. I have several and they have saved my life and
my sanity. After a book or two, they know your weak spots better than you do
and point them out with gentle but brutal honesty.
Do you prefer the creating or
editing aspect of writing?
have to say I like editing a better. As I mentioned, I write a terrible first
draft. I wouldn’t let my critiquers, my best friend, or even my mother read my
first draft. It’s that bad. But when I sit down to it again, at least I have
something to work with, even if I must completely rework a page and it ends up
looking nothing at all like what I began with.
What’s the most difficult part
of writing for you ~ plotting, setting, characterization?
When I first wrote The Well, I hardly
described anything. After doing all my research, I could picture the places in
the story so well that I just completely forgot to describe them. My first
readers said they couldn’t SEE the story. I looked at it again and realized
that they were right. Now, I’m careful to describe the setting before jumping
into action and dialogue, which are my favorite parts to write.
What’s your strength in writing
(characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?
The Well is my first book, I’m still not sure what my strength is. I do know
that I’m most comfortable writing what I like to read. So, I’d rather write a
sword fight, a chase scene, or an argument than describe a scenic vista or
delve into my characters thoughts.
Did you have any surprising
discoveries while writing this book?
By the
time I turned the final draft of The Well in to my editors at Howard Books, I
felt like I never wanted to see that book again! I knew it backwards, forwards,
and sideways. So when I got the final line edits a couple months later, I was
sure that reading through the whole book again would make me crazy.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t so. By a few pages in, I remembered how much I liked
Mara and Shem and was glad to see them again. I actually enjoyed reading it
that last time.

Where do you write: In a cave, a
coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

husband worked at home while I was writing The
. He’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert. He talks a lot and listens to
music, I like complete quiet. Therefore, The
was written mostly at my public library or in the car while I waited
for kids. But, about a year ago, my husband started working in town and I got a
whole office just for me! It’s lovely and quiet and has plenty of room for
bookshelves, a big desk, and a lovely couch for napping . . . I mean, for
reclining while I do my research. This is the winter view from my office.
What’s the best writing advice
you’ve heard?
just no other way than BIC HOK. Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It’s the only
way to get it done. Then revise, revise, revise.
Do you have any parting words of
half a pound of peanut butter M&Ms won’t actually help you get that scene
written. Trust me on that.
The Well
Could he be the one
we’ve been waiting for?
For the women of
the Samaritan village of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—the place
where they gather to draw their water and share their lives—but not for Mara.
Shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava, Mara struggles against the
constant threats of starvation or exile.
Mara and Nava’s
lives are forever changed with the arrival of two men: Shem, a mysterious young
man from Caesarea, and  Jesus, a Jewish
teacher. Nava is transformed by Jesus, but his teachings come to late and she
is stoned by the unforgiving villagers. Desperate to save her dying mother,
Mara and Shem embark on a journey to seek Jesus’ help—a journey that brings
unexpected love and unimaginable heartbreak.