About Katie Robles

I like to garden with my husband and pet chickens and sneak vegetables into baked goods for my four sons.

Author Interview with Susan Baganz

DSC_0524Susan Baganz is the author of 12 novels and 3 novellas including the new Christmas romance The Doctor’s Daughter. She is also an editor for Pelican Book Group. She was kind enough to let me interview her not only super close to Christmas, but super close to her wedding. Congratulations, Susan! And thank you.

You write lighthearted contemporary romance and Gothic Regency romance. What attracts you to romance in general and these subgenres in particular?

To be honest – I was in a difficult, abusive marriage for years. I think I started reading romance because I still believed that true love and godly, honorable men still existed. I started writing that genre as a way to give my characters the love I lacked. That’s sounds so depressing doesn’t it? But the reality is that the greatest romance is between God and us. I also wanted to write books that my daughter, if she read them, could see a better standard for her to strive for should she seek a husband someday.

I started writing Regency because it was one of my favorite genres to read but there is little out there in the Christian marketplace. Other than my Christmas novellas, my Black Diamond Gothic Regency series has more suspense to it, a bit more darkness that my characters have to fight. We are all in a spiritual battle whether we realize it or not. I put a person for my characters to battle, even though at the beginning of the series they didn’t really know who it was.

baganz viscountI started writing in 2009 with National Novel Writing Month – and wrote The Virtuous Viscount. Then I wondered if I could write without the challenge of the 50,000 words in 30 days that NaNoWriMo presented. So I tried contemporary, Pesto & Potholes, as a way to put a psychological concept into a metaphor. I have a master’s degree in counseling psychology so it seemed a fun challenge. That book was the first that was published. Both of those first books were the ones I cut my teeth on as a writer and underwent complete re-writes and revisions. Pesto & Potholes has far more of “me” in it than I realized, however, so it is near and dear to my heart for that.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Why?

Writing the rough draft is my favorite because I start with my main characters, a title, concept and inciting incident. I know I will have a happily-ever-after ending but have no idea how I will get there. I liken it to riding a roller-coaster. I strap myself in tight and hold on tight for the wild ride and enjoy most of the ride. It is bittersweet when I end the story. I never write “the end” because in my mind the story only stopped there but the lives of my characters are still going on. They become very real to me.

What is your least favorite part of the writing process? Why?

About the second week of writing I hit what I call “the wall of fear.” This only happens in full-length novels, not novellas. But I get to a point where I believe that what I have written is drivel, the worst thing ever. I think I’ve written myself into a corner I can’t figure a way out of and believe it to be boring. I’ve recognized it is fear. I pray, sleep on it, and then force myself to write. I’ve written 14 full length novels (12 of those are published) and could not tell you now where that spot was.

 

You are an Editor for Pelican Book Group. What is your greatest joy as an editor? What is your greatest challenge?

baganz potholesMy greatest joy: I love helping another writer reach their publishing dreams. I’ve met and made some wonderful friends in the process which is a delight to my heart.

My greatest challenge? Divas. Authors who get demanding and sometimes even insulting. An editor is your champion. When I contract a book, I want the very best for that novel and not every author treats me like that. I’ve been insulted and slandered. Not a wise thing to do in this industry. There are a few authors that have gone elsewhere now for future products and it might seem mean to say, but I’m relieved they are not people I have to work with anymore. They were amazing writers but difficult to work with which takes the joy out of the process.

Any editor pet peeves you’d like to share?

Authors who are divas. Some that fight the house style rules or argue about internal dialogue. I love internal dialogue but it should be used sparingly (much like an exclamation point!). I don’t get much push back on exclamation points but sometimes I do when I remove and change too much internal dialogue. Some publishers won’t accept it at all.

I really hate first person present tense and personally I won’t publish it. I’m not a fan of first- person past tense but for mysteries or suspense it can work if it’s done well so I have published some of those.

What is a writers conference like from the editor’s perspective?

baganz bridgesFirst word that comes to mind is: Exhausting but fun! I love teaching so that’s fun and I enjoy meeting authors. The hard part is when I have to be honest about issues or problems that an author needs to fix for their writing. I never want to crush an author’s dreams but there’s a fine line in how to communicate that with love and encouragement as I have been a writer coming to conferences and more than anything I want that author to walk away, maybe not with a promise of a contract but at least hope that they CAN do this if they persevere and do the hard work. Because of that I always pray with every person who sits down with me – because even if I never publish them, they are still my brother or sister in Christ and I want them to know that love that goes beyond getting published. Our worth cannot be tied up in that, but it can be hard because our writing is an extension of who we are.

You have a seminary degree in counseling psychology and a background in mental health. How does this knowledge and experience influence your writing?

As I mentioned, my contemporary series does delve into deeper emotional issues that my characters have needed to face. I hope I can be more authentic in not only exposing those hurts of my characters in such a way that the reader will resonate with, but also in helping them find healing throughout the story. I don’t write psychological thrillers though. The love of another person isn’t the cure, but a healthy relationship can help with healing as I’ve found in my own life.

Remember I started writing because I lacked love in my personal life– but this year, God blessed me with scripting my own real-life romance. Not perfect, but definitely better than anything I could have dreamed of or hoped of for myself. And definitely not without conflict from outside forces either! I look forward to seeing how that impacts my future romance novels!

What particular advice do editors typically give that authors typically ignore?

baganz captainNot giving due process to preparing a manuscript for publication. Write, let it breathe, go back and revise. Get a beta reader or two. Revise again. Use tools like autocrit.com or prowritingaid.com to evaluate overused words and phrases. (Or do it yourself and look for overuse of the following words: feel/felt, hear/heard, know/knew, have/had, then, than, just, see/saw, look, watch are just a few!). Let it rest – then read it again critically. However, having said that, it took a good friend to tell me that you can edit and revise forever, at some point you need to dip your toe in the publishing pool and submit!

Not submitting when I ask for a manuscript is huge. The majority of people I ask to send me a story never do.

Every author has to decide what advice to accept or reject because much of what an editor does is subjective. As an author myself I’ve had to weigh that kind of feedback too. I have a novel right now that got torn apart and I had to question: was the editor right? I even went to another author/editor/friend to give me a second opinion. Kind of like going to a doctor for another opinion. She generally concurred and now I have some serious work do to and thankfully that friend was able to be brutally honest with me and tell me they thought I had been lazy in writing that story. I had to think and pray about it and say I think she was right. So now I have some hard work to do to fix it and make it publishable.

What do you look for in an author beyond the quality of the writing?

I’m more about story than I am about platform. However, if I have an author who I work well with, who does the work I ask and has a good attitude about the process, then that is the kind of author I would want to continue working with. We always hope that an author will continue beyond that first book as the relationship becomes a valuable part of the process.

Thank you, Susan!

Check out The Doctor’s Daughter

TheDoctorsDaughter_w5489_750Miss Silvia Burnett is left without a home after her father, a local physician, passes away unexpectedly. She appeals to a friend from boarding school, Mrs. Katrina Tidley, who resides in the same area where her father’s mentee set up practice. With a calf-love on her part, they’d once agreed to wed each other if she remained unattached at a certain age. But are youthful promises meant to be kept? Would the handsome physician want her now?

Dr. Bruce Miller has watched all his friends from university marry and begin their families. Living in the village of Didcot did not provide him with a wife. When a letter from the daughter of the doctor he interned with in Bristol arrives at his door, hope soars within that maybe this woman is the answer to his lonely nights.

As influenza spreads and Silvia uses her talents in medicine to aid the doctor, will he find her competition or a viable companion? With Christmas dawning, will dreams be shattered or fulfilled?

 

More about Susan:

Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits and is a native of Wisconsin. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.

Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. Her favorite pastimes are lazy…snuggling with her dog while reading a good book or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.

You can learn more by following her blog susanbaganz.com, her Twitter feed @susanbaganz or her fan page, www.facebook.com/susanmbaganz.

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Best Rough Draft

gravel(Book sale! Info at the bottom.)

I’ve finally learned to rough it. My first drafts have always been pretty refined: spelling correct, sentences complete, action described in detail. They were like sand paper: a little rough but recognizable as paper.

I’ve just finished the rough draft of my seventh novel (don’t be too impressed, I write short novels) and it’s rough like gravel. It needs a lot of work to become sandpaper, but I think this gravel kind of rough draft is my new way to go for two reasons: it’s faster and more efficient.

gravel sandpaperFaster: It normally takes me six months to a year to write a novel, but I finished this one in less than three months. I focused on getting the bare bones of the story down, spending time on the dialogue and emotional highlights, but rushing through the description and action bits. I wanted to include the necessary information (ex. they fight pirates)  but not waste time on details (ex. does the pirate punch or kick him) that will probably change by the final draft.

rough draft 2Efficient: I’ve lost count of the number of paragraphs, pages, and whole scenes I’ve written and then had to cut because they end up being unnecessary. If I have to cut gravel paragraphs then I’ve only wasted  minutes, but if I cut sandpaper paragraphs I’ve wasted hours. Once the gravel draft is complete, I go back through and make sure the story makes sense and the bare bones are all in place. Then I can put meat on those bones.

What I’m trying to say is that taking two passes at a story to reach the sandpaper level is working better for me. This rough draft is so much rougher and sloppier than I’d previously thought possible, but also so fast and helpful.

If you’d like to give gravel a try, pick a scene and set a timer. Start typing and don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t analyze until the timer goes off. See if you can discover a whole new level of roughness and efficiency for your writing. Once you know a scene will stay in the story, it’s extra satisfying to polish it up.

 

I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16b

 

SALE! My books are on sale for only $10 today and tomorrow (Nov 25-26)! Autographed books make great Christmas gifts.  Visit Katie Robles Books to order.

 

Images courtesy of 123RF.com (sandpaper), Dreamstime.com (gravel)

Gingerbread Author

gingerbread womanI am feeling victorious this month. I started a new job in September and one of the perks is a 45 minute break which I use for writing. Forty five minutes of uninterrupted typing as fast as I can.

Type type type as fast as I can, can’t stop me I’m author-on-her-break woman!

To make these breaks more productive, I take my 3×5 plot notecards with me to work and read the cards for the next scene before work starts. My job involves small pockets of time throughout the day when my body is busy but my brain is not. I use those pockets of time to imagine the scene, think through the conflict and character motivations, and even script lines of dialogue.

Type type type as fast as I can, come plot with me I’m brainstorming, man!

Doing the thinking part of writing ahead of time allows me to hit the ground running when my break starts. I set a timer, open up my laptop, and type. I’m already mentally in the story and ready to go.

gingerbread typeType type type as fast as I can, no warm up time, I’m author woman!

Maximizing my break by mentally preparing the scenes beforehand is making me feel unstoppable. I’m sure my daily word count is pitiful compared to other writers, but for me it’s very satisfying. If you have limited writing time, don’t despair. Find those pockets of plotting time during the day when you can mentally prep for your focused writing time later.

Type type type as fast as I can, can’t stop me I’m a writing woman!

 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8

 

Images courtesy of Fotolia (typing) and Shutterstock (gingerbread woman)

When to Get Fresh Eyes

jupiterThis month I have struggled with the beginning of my work in progress. I fear that it’s not interesting enough. Yes, the characters are in space and someone has gone missing, but will it grab and hold the attention  of the reader? Will they stick with the main character until his hair turns yellow and he blows things up? Or will they give up while he’s sitting in class?

I’ve tried several solutions. I added a new conflict to the first scene to amp up the friction, but that forced the appearance of a side character sooner than planned which made the scene crowded. I tweaked and shuffled and then I realized that the new conflict I chose was superfluous to the story so it wasn’t helping in the long run and I cut it.

I tried adding a whole new scene to the beginning, but making the beginning longer didn’t necessarily make it better, it just got me further from the inciting incident (the thing that lights a fire under the protagonist’s metaphorical butt). I cut it.

cartoon-eyes-1Then I thought maybe it’s not the action I need to worry about in the beginning as much as the like-ability of my protagonist. After all, if the reader doesn’t care about the protagonist, the story is over. I’ve stopped watching shows (or reading books) in the middle of exciting action because I literally didn’t care if the main character lived or died. On the other hand, I’ve stuck with characters through some very mundane conflicts because I liked them. So maybe the way to fix my beginning is to be sure I’m introducing my readers to a wonderful young man they want to go on an adventure with.

I’ve tightened the writing of the first scenes, analyzed the plot structure, and clarified the conflict. I’ve done all I can. Maybe it’s time to give the first scenes to some trusted friends and ask: Do you like this guy? Why or why not?

Has there been a time when a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work helped you fix a scene or move ahead?

 

friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

 

Images courtesy of socialunderground.com (Jupiter), Jooinn (eyes)

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

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 😉