Embracing Steep Learning Curves and Other Lessons from the Writing Life of Lynette Sowell

Interview by: Kelly Klepfer
Tell us a bit about your current project.

A Season of Change is an “urban Amish” romance, set in the village of Pinecraft, in the city of Sarasota, Florida. Jacob Miller is an Amish widower visiting family during Christmas time, when his daughter is seriously injured in an accident. He must stay in Pinecraft for an extended time while she recovers, and he’s face-to-face with the world in ways he never imagined. Natalie Bennett, a former circus performer, works at a circus school and volunteers at the hospital where Jacob’s daughter is. She meets the Millers and embarks on a search to find her late mother’s family. Her mother was ex-Amish and had never told Natalie. Sparks fly between Jacob and Natalie, but there’s another woman who makes sure she remains in the picture—and she’s the logical, proper, Amish choice.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Yes, especially the self-doubts and the head-banging incidents. With every book, I try to learn something about the craft that I haven’t before. With every bookstore (online or otherwise) visit, however, I see book after book and wonder sometimes: are my stories in the making any real difference in the mix of things? There are thousands of written voices clamoring for readers. But I remind myself that God’s given me skills with writing and I’ve done my best to multiple what He’s given me and be faithful in that. We aren’t promised the outcome, but I believe hard work will be rewarded. Also, I’ve learned to be patient with myself. So, you writers out there be patient with yourselves, too. Sometimes we have to be thankful for the baby steps we make.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

For several years, I held onto a book idea that never really got anywhere. Hundreds of hours of research (in neuroscience and neuropsychology, no less!) and several versions of the same proposal later, my book never went everywhere. It was a psychological thriller, and I still think the idea has merit. But when I look back and see how much time I spent on that book and the first three chapters, I shake my head now. I’d be farther along than I am now if I’d simply just: Let. The. Book. Go. So, don’t get stuck on one book and obsess over it so much you don’t get anywhere with it, like I did.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Documentaries and/or news stories. I’m a history buff and I especially like learning about lesser-known ties of the past to the present. But I always have my ears open for something I can use in a future book.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I have some wonderfully supportive friends, and I appreciate the fact that I do. There have been times, though, when someone might ask about how the writing is going, and I tell them more than they probably want to know about my characters and their issues. That’s when I notice I’m getting the look that says: “You’ve gone a bit overboard telling me about your imaginary friends.”

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?  

Make haste—slowly. Don’t keep putting off finishing that book, but then don’t send out a book proposal before it’s truly ready. With the “ease” of self-publishing now, I think it’s tempting for some writers to put out a book before it’s ready and then get disappointed. I’m glad self-publishing wasn’t around back when I was starting; I think I would’ve been tempted to jump into something before my work was ready. And once a book is “out there,” it’s out there.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

A little more than four years ago, I sent my resume to our local newspaper because they ran an ad saying they were looking for writers and photographers. I was hired to cover local news events, from bake sales to political debates to school board meetings. I had NO experience in news writing, although I did know about who-what-when-where-how-why of reporting. It was a steep learning curve, but in 2012 they offered me a weekly column as well. Becoming a freelance news reporter has changed the way I view my characters and story lines. And I think being a fiction writer has helped me be a better reporter.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

Although my books are all dear to me for various reasons, I’m proud of the series of feature articles I wrote for the newspaper leading up to Veterans Day 2012. I had the opportunity to interview a number of veterans, from a retired Army command sergeant major who was in the TET Offensive in Vietnam and was the first (and last) man to buy me a drink at the local VFW (I had a Diet Coke), a 90-plus-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, and a firecracker of a lady who served in the Women’s Army Corps.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Just when you think you’ve guessed what the market’s doing, another curveball comes along. But then, it’s the nature of the biz. You can only make an educated guess and do your best work.

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

I would love, love, love to have one of my books turned into a movie.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course)?

When I realize that I’m getting to do something I love, and I’m getting paid to do it. I also freelance part-time for my local newspaper, so that provides a regular income. And, it’s writing also, except I get to write about real people and events.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you’d like.

I like writing in my living room, with my dog at my side. My office dress code can’t be beat.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

Sometimes—no, often—I’ll write the very last scene of the book. It can be the “gravy” that keeps me going when I’m in the thick of things.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination. I’ve tried Snowflaking—highly recommend writers to check it out—but it was too outline-y for me and started to feel too much like a school “assignment.” Come to think of it, I never liked writing the outline in school. I’ve also tried pants-ing, but if I don’t know enough about where I’m going, I get lost or sidetracked, and end up wasting time. So I’ve found a happy medium for me. And I love Scrivener.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Soggy characters, at first. I’ll get the basics of a character, and that’s a nice place to start. But if I don’t find out what they really, truly want and need, I find it’s harder to get a story line going. I keep asking my characters, “Why? Why? Why?” In the last book I turned in (A Promise of Grace), I really had to coax Rochelle Keim into sharing her secrets with me. She seemed a bit passive at first, and I had to get past that to see more facets of her character.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I love it when a reader tells me she couldn’t get to sleep or couldn’t get her housework done because she couldn’t put my book down. When I read, I want to immerse myself in the story, and I’m honored when a reader tells me she had that happen while reading one of my books.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

I’m a big fan of joining Facebook groups where readers hang out. They are just looking for books to buy, and some of those groups have thousands of members who would like a good read. And that’s free; it just takes time to post links and book blurbs.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Why did I write an Amish book? Well, thanks for asking! I’ve heard it said, “Put a bonnet on it, and it’ll sell.” Well, yes, and no. I chose to write this series because of its setting. There’s barely a buggy or a farm in the “Seasons in Pinecraft” series, but plenty of beach. And I love the beach. I found the village of Pinecraft a fascinating and endearing place to write about, and if I close my eyes, I can picture its streets and layout because I’ve walked and bicycled it. I’ve eaten its food, stayed in the neighborhood, and I call some of its residents my friends. I miss it. I would love for a reader who’s never picked up an Amish book because it’s an Amish book, to try this one out because it’s a bit different.

Thanks for having me!

Lynette Sowell is the award-winning novelist of more than fifteen titles. When she’s not writing fiction, Lynette works covering local news for the Copperas Cove Leader-Press, where she also writes a weekly column called My Front Porch. She enjoys reading, cooking, watching movies and is always up for a Texas road trip. Lynette was born in Massachusetts, raised on the eastern shore of Maryland, but makes her home in Copperas Cove, Texas, with her husband, along with a spoiled Texas heeler and a pair of cats who have them all well-trained.

Keep up with Lynette Sowell via her blog (lynettesowell.blogspot.com), Facebook page (Lynette Sowell, Author) or Twitter (@LynetteSowell).