Author Interview with Sarah Loudin Thomas

bridgeSarah Loudin Thomas writes Christian fiction set in West Virginia. Her books, such as the Appalachian Blessings Series (Bethany House, 2014-2016) and The Sound of Rain (Bethany House, 2017), celebrate the people, the land, and the heritage of Appalachia. (Her novella Appalachian Serenade is free on Kindle right now. Check it out!)

Sarah grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV, the seventh generation to live there. She currently oversees fundraising and communications for a Christian children’s home and she and her husband Jim live in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Sarah is active in her local church and enjoys cooking and–you guessed it–reading.

Let’s find out what makes Sarah tick, shall we?

How did you choose your genre?
I didn’t really set out to write a specific genre and I’m still trying to figure out what I do write. The Appalachian Blessings series begins in the 1940s and ends with a contemporary story that includes flashbacks. And while there’s a romantic thread in each, that’s not really the focus. I’m aiming to write “historic fiction” these days which is basically a way of saying books about people set in the past!
How does your faith affect your writing process? How does it affect the stories you write?
I like to think my faith shows up naturally in my stories. Hopefully, it’s such a basic part of who I am, it just appears. I do pray over my stories and I write to share the wonder and beauty I’ve discovered through my faith. Sometimes a reader will share a quote from one of my books that I don’t even remember writing. That’s when I know the Holy Spirit stepped in!
sarah louden thomasYou grew up in Appalachia and your books are set there. Do you think you’ll ever run out of Appalachian material or choose a different setting?
I’m pretty sure I’ll NEVER run out of Appalachian stories and I SO love writing them. I think it’s just the best place in the world with the most amazing people. Whether I’m dipping into family stories or researching Appalachian history for ideas there’s a seemingly endless supply of material. Right now I have a backlog of stories I want to write simmering in my head. I have to kind of push them down so I can focus on my current story!
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, especially with a big name publisher like Bethany House. Is that true?
Glamorous. Oh my. I’ve done book events where one person showed up. Any notion of glamour gets shut down pretty quickly in publishing these days! I did get to go to Bethany House’s headquarters and tour the full operation–that was pretty cool. And it’s fun to dress up for award ceremonies. It’s lovely when I meet someone who’s read and enjoyed my books, but if I were in this for the glamour and fame I’d have quit a long time ago 😉
How did you celebrate your first book contract?
My husband and I celebrated my first contract with champagne and a special dinner!
Your Appalachian Blessings Series covers several decades and many characters, yet the characters are all connected. Did you have those connections figured out before you started the series? Or did you figure it out as you went along, one book at a time? 
I rarely have my stories figured out before I start writing. The biggest reason I write is to tell myself a story. If I knew what was going to happen in advance, I wouldn’t need to tell it. I have a basic structure and story points I’m writing toward, but all the stuff that happens in between is a journey of discovery. Which is why writing is so much fun for me!
heirloom coverWhat project are you working on now? and/or Will you have a new book coming out soon?
I have a novella that’s a sequel to The Sound of Rain releasing October 2 in The Christmas Heirloom collection. Kristi Ann Hunter, Karen Witemeyer, Becky Wade, and I each took a generation of one family and wrote a story centered around a piece of jewelry that’s passed down from mother to daughter. It was so much fun to collaborate on that one!
I’m currently working on a story I describe as the Hatfields & McCoys meet Jonah & the whale. It’s set in 1930s West Virginia and involves a feud, illegal liquor, trains, and a female lead who is AWFUL which makes her all kinds of fun to write. It’s not a romance, but there is a secondary romantic thread. I’m hoping to see it released in early 2020. If you want to keep up with my stories, check out my website and blog at www.SarahLoudinThomas.com. I love hearing from readers!
Sarah, thank you so much for chatting with us today!
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. Psalm 72:3
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Best Fix for Writers Block

2015-headshots-white-clay-creek-044.jpgWhen writers block hits, the best thing you can do is get moving. Stand up and do a few jumping jacks or squats. Jog up and down the stairs. Get on the floor and do some crunches. Just two minutes of movement improves thinking and helps clear away those writer-ly cobwebs.

If you’re really stuck, go on a brainstorming walk. Take a small notebook or a smart phone. Let your mind wander and play with the story you’re writing. When inspiration hits, jot the ideas or snippets of dialogue down in the notebook or dictate them into the note taking app on the phone.

Why does exercise help break writers block? Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients and carries away trash and toxins, leaving your brain fed, clean, and ready to write.

For more on the brain/exercise connection, read Move it or Lose it Brain Cells and Magic That Makes the Brain Work.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1

Firstborn Beta Reader

europa space dot comA dream is coming true for me this month. I finished writing a middle grade sci-fi novel (Hooray!) and my first beta reader this time around is my firstborn son. When my boys were little, I wrote and illustrated a few pictures books for them and I loved it when they asked me to “read it again, Mom”. When they got a little older, I’d watch them reading a novel and  dream of them reading a book that I wrote. That dream is coming true because I printed out my novel, put it in a binder, and I’m watching my son read it.

I’ve had wonderful beta readers (mostly my parents, sister, and a few friends) for my other novels, but this is the first time one of my boys is reading one of my books. (They’ve all skim read the Sex Soup and Two Fisted Eating books looking for my cartoons, but this time there’s no pictures so it counts more.)

20180618_113306_HDRMy eldest son is 12 years old: he is my target audience and he’s painfully honest with me so I know I can trust his opinion. (Example: “No offense, Mom, but this dinner doesn’t taste good.” Any time my boys start a sentence with “No offense, Mom…”, I brace my ego.)

I might ask my son if I can reach out to some of his friends and get their feedback as well. Can you get in trouble for peddling unpublished novels? “Come on, kid, try it, you’ll like it.”

Here are a few things I ask my beta readers:

What did you like about the book?

What did you not like?

Did you like the protagonist? Why?

Were there any parts that confused you or knocked you out of the story?

Are there any story lines that I didn’t wrap up? Any promises made (hints of things to come, ideas planted, conflicts set up, etc) in the beginning that I didn’t follow through on?

I’m working on the sequel, so I’ll also ask a few questions about what they would like to see happen next.

 

Are you writing for someone special? Who are your beta readers and how did you find them?

 

Image courtesy of: space.com and myself (you guess which photo goes with which source 😉

Author Struggle – So Hard to Sit Down and Write

I love to write. I can write for hours. I dream about writing full time, eight hours a day. I have many, many ideas and with more time, I could write them all.

The reality is that I usually have one hour to write each day, sometimes an hour and a half. I love to write and yet I find it difficult to ignore distractions and just sit down and do it. Once I start, I’m fine. I quickly get into the groove and the hour flies by and I don’t want to stop. So why does it take me so long to get started?

distraction king quote.jpgI’m not alone in this struggle. On podcasts and blogs I’ve heard professional, full time writers confess that they, too, struggle to sit down and focus. They’re living the writing dream and yet it sounds like it never gets easier to get started.

Why is it so hard to sit and write?

#1 Writing is hard. Writing takes effort, concentration, problem solving, empathy, research, and creativity. You have to pour your subjective heart into something and then critique it objectively, push your imagination to the extreme, keep hundreds of  details straight, and build an emotional connection with characters who only exist in your mind. It’s fun, but it’s hard.

#2 Guilt. I have a family, a home, and responsibilities. Is it okay to take time away from those to play at my writing hobby? Shouldn’t I be cleaning bathrooms or bonding with my children or planning meals? Maybe. But when I stop writing for days to be responsible, I miss it. I get antsy and crabby. Writing makes me happy and I’m a person, not just a mom. I need to take care of myself, love myself, blah blah blah, sit down and write.

distraction zole quote#3 No hurry. It’s amazing what a deadline does for your focus. When the sequel to Sex Soup and Two Fisted Eating was only half written, my publisher asked to see it, and could I have it to him in three months? Sure, absolutely. It took me one year to write the first half of More Sex Soup and three months to  write the second half. When something is due, you get it done.

What if you have no deadline? Writing (and publishing) takes a long time and it’s hard to keep up a sense of urgency for something that won’t be complete for a year or more. If I don’t write today, no one cares but me. Sounds a bit sad, but it’s true.

distraction deadlineYou have to make your own deadlines, your own urgency. Submit to contests because they have deadlines. Put your writing on a blog and commit to posting every week or every month. Even if you only have four followers, it gives you a sense of accountability to those followers. Set goals for your work in progress and attach rewards or consequences to those goals. For example, reward yourself for meeting your goal by buying a new book or dinner with a favorite friend. Conversely, if you don’t meet your goal, no TV until you do or dust the baseboards in the whole house.  You can even challenge a writing friend to see who can finish 100 pages first. Loser buys coffee. You get the idea.

When you want to write but find yourself wasting time with distractions, know that you’re not alone in your struggle, but you do need to sit down and start. I’ll race you!

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24

 

Images courtesy of AZ Quotes (Stephen King), iz Quotes (Wole Soyinka), Boost Media (deadline)

Author Interview with James Watkins

watkinsJames Watkins is an award-winning author of over 20 books and 2,000 articles. He is a writer, speaker, and editor with more than twenty years of experience in the publishing world. He is also a really nice guy and a lot of fun to talk with. (I met him at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference a few years ago.)

You can read more about Jim and his books on his website. He even gives out writing advice! In order not to repeat what’s already on his site, my questions will focus on his latest book The Psalms of Asaph which deals with the tough questions of unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil.

 

watkins psalmsJim, what’s one thing you learned (or re-learned) about writing from Psalms of Asaph?

God is good and I’m not. Next question, please. Well, maybe I should elaborate just a bit. Let me quote a bit of my book as the answer:

 My daughter, Faith, cleverly scheduled a doctor’s appointment for my one- and four-year-old granddaughters’ vaccines on a day she was working. 

 “Dad, can you take the girls for their shots?” 

 I love hanging out with my grands, so I immediately said, “Sure. I’d love to.”

Then—after I hung up—I realized the implications. That realization burst full force as I held the one-year-old kicking and screaming—with sheer terror, looking me right in the eyes—as the nurse stuck her with two shots. Her older sister made a run for the door, knowing she was next to endure this humiliating torture. “No, Papaw!”

 I scooped her up in my free hand and held her tight as both girls screaming bloody murder—obviously at the hands of their once-loving, protective papaw.

 All the time, I was thinking, Well played, Faith. Well played.

 Despite my attempts to explain to the girls that measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are a thousand times worse than a pin prick, for the rest of the day I was grandpa non grata. And all the ice cream at Culver’s could not convince them that Papaw really did love them, despite terrorizing and torturing them.

 If you’re a parent, you know that sickening feeling as you forcefully hold down your beloved child for shots, stitches, and other painful medical procedures. You feel like a terrible parent—and your child screams that you are, indeed, terrible. But you also know that your love for your child forces you to do things that now are painful, but will ensure a healthy future.

 God loves me to death—literally on Calvary—but in my limited, human perspective, I can’t see how the painful pokes of life can possibly for my good. My granddaughters are now 10 and 12—and my daughter still sends them to the doctor and dentist with me, but over the years, they’ve learned that Papaw loves them more than life itself and only wants what’s ultimately best for them. I’m slowly learning that with my heavenly Father.

What’s one thing you learned (or re-learned) about God from writing Psalms of Asaph?

Oops! I think I already answered that, but it’s really the same lesson.

watkins cartoon 1

Psalms of Asaph had some delays during publication due to flooding in Texas and wildfires in California. How do you handle the unpredictability of publishing?

Not very well. It took five years of sending out the book proposal to editors and having it come back rejected to finally secure a publisher. It’s like being pregnant for 60 months!

 And, this was probably the hardest of my 20-plus books to write. First, because I knew the questions were so important and the answers needed to be theologically sound and not simplistic clichés. Second, it meant being totally honest about my own struggles. I took encouragement from Asaph, King David and other Bible characters to confess that sometimes I drive past cemeteries and think Lucky stiffs! The publisher wanted to delete that line, but I convinced them that was nothing compared to the Bible’s honest characters screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

 I think I’ve finally learned that God is never late . . . but he sure is slow. He doesn’t own a watch. I’m not even sure he has a “Year At a Glance” calendar. He seems to work in increments of 40 (forty days and nights of rain; the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years), 70 (seventy years of Babylonian captivity), and then 400 years of the silent treatment between the Old and New Testaments. Nope, he’s not in a hurry! 

 I’m glad for godly delays because I couldn’t have written this book 40 years ago in college at my first job as a writer and editor at a Christian publisher. I had to go through cancer, clinical depression, broken and betrayed relationships, months of unemployment, a daughter’s divorce to a serial adulterer, and four surgeries in three hospitals in two months to get to the point of writing with compassion and comfort to my fellow bruised, beaten and bloodied readers (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

 So, I’m learning that God is always right on time. It just doesn’t fit my human deadlines. In fact, he loves to ignore human deadlines. I think it’s during that time—often a long time—between our deadline and his deliverance that our faith grows.

watkins bookMany writers are advised to “write what you love” but “write what sells” also holds strong appeal for those wanting to make a living writing (or just earn extra cash to buy more books). Is there a balance between the two? Is one more important than the other in your experience?

Wow, I thought questions about unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises and unpunished evil were tough. This one’s a head-scratcher!

 Yes, write what you love!

 But here’s the problem with writing “what sells” today. It won’t be selling tomorrow. So I advise writers to ignore fads and write on timeless themes. I wrote six books about sexuality. Sex sells anytime! I’ve written a humor book on suffering. Everyone loves to laugh and everyone goes through a time of suffering. I wrote a modern edition of The Imitation of Christ, which is second only to the Bible in sales. It was written nearly 600 years ago, but it deals with a core Christian commandment—to “imitate Christ” (Ephesians 5:1). And now this book on three issues that believers have struggled with since the book of Job—which was probably written before Genesis.

 So write what you love and write on timeless subjects that will be relevant until Jesus returns on his white horse.

 

Thank you, Jim. It’s been a pleasure!

You Really Can Tell a Book by its Cover

book cover moressMy second book is coming out soon (squeal!) and I learned something about cover art this go around. When the publisher sent me the cover, I couldn’t get excited about it. It was a beautiful cover, so what was my problem? It finally hit me: it wasn’t funny. Imagine trying to sell someone a funny book when the cover isn’t funny. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy or a liar. “It’s not a cookbook, I swear! I mean, there are recipes in the back, but it’s not a cookbook, it’s a book book, a funny one, I promise…”

I asked the publisher if we could change the cover and explained my reasoning and he listened. And now I’m excited.

The cover tells the reader what to expect from your book. If you’re not sure what I mean, try this simple test. Go online and look at a list of “top sellers” or “recently published” or whatever. Try to guess, just by glancing at the cover, what kind of book it is. Is it serious or funny? Romance or adventure? Fiction or non-fiction? Adult or Middle Grade?

When choosing a cover for your book, try to look at your cover (or cover options) objectively. If you came across that book without knowing anything about it, what would you guess it’s about? What would you expect from that book when you read it? Make sure what your cover promises matches what your book delivers.

Publishing Victory: Racing Snails

Publishing is like racing snails.

An author writes as much as she can as fast as she can as best as she can. She works hard every day, striving to produce quality work in quantity, and she waits a loooooong time to see the results of her effort. It’s racing snails.

snail 1The slow pace of publishing can be discouraging. Writing takes time and writing well takes even more time. When you’ve been patient with yourself and your process and  finally have a snail ready for the racetrack, you release him, you cheer, and then you wait. You wait to get a response after a submission, you wait for accepted work to appear in print or online, and then you wait to see the response of the readers.  It’s racing snails.

It’s hard to wait, but when you see your snail cross the finish line, all the effort and slime trails are worth it.

Here’s a recent example. Two years ago I submitted an article to a magazine. My snail was on the track. For a year and a half I heard nothing. Not a peep, not even a rejection letter. I thought my snail had left the track. But after one and a half years, I received an email from the editor. She had stumbled upon my submission as she cleaned out her inbox and she wanted to publish the article, can I please send photos.  My snail was not dead after all! He had quietly sprinted across the finish line while I looked the other way.

snail 2Racing snails is not for the feint hearted; it’s a long term game. But victory is extra sweet when you’ve waited for it. Don’t give up. While you wait for one snail to finish his race, train another snail and place it on the track. Keep racing, keep writing, keep trying, and when your snail wins, savor your victory. Slimy victory is still sweet.

 

Images courtesy of: imgflip.com (snail cartoon), depositphotos.com halina_photo (racing snails)