You’ve now published several books by large publishing houses. What was the first thing that you wrote that got published?
My very first publication was a devotional compilation…and I totally don’t remember the name of the book. I know my mother has it proudly displayed on her book case, though!
When did you decide to start writing a novel?
My initial desire as a writer was to have a column in a Christian magazine, taking on family topics, etc. Then I learned I’d never have a column if I didn’t have a history as an article writer. Well, free-lance article writing is way too complicated for me! Deadlines and queries and follow-ups and such. No, no.
When I won a copy of Eve’s Daughters by Lynn Austin at a writers conference. I’d never read a Christian novel before, and I knew halfway in that I wanted to pursue writing Christian fiction. I had no idea such a thing existed. I started my first novel, Ten Thousand Charms, and had an editor request it the following year.
Unfortunately, my confidence didn’t match his, and it would be 3 more years before I would finally finish writing it. I’m so glad Rod Morris (now at Harvest House, but then with Multnomah) didn’t give up on me!
You now speak at conferences, but what encouraged you most about being an attendee at a conference? Is there any one person you met who really inspired you to write?
Oh, my goodness. Rod Morris, as I mentioned earlier, was a huge source of encouragement. And James Scott Bell. I remember weeping with him at a breakfast table, and his pep talk to me is now featured in The Art of War for Writers. (I’m the “young woman” referenced on page 50.) And then, of course, my agent, Bill Jensen, who is such a risk taker! He’s signed some very exciting new writers, and I really think we’re in for a beautiful new wave in CBA fiction!
What advice do you have for someone who is attending their first conference?
I think the best advice for someone attending a conference for the first time is this: listen. Don’t be afraid to sit on your comment or question in a presentation—you don’t want to be the person who gets the conversation off-track. Wait until the end, and if you issue hasn’t been addressed, follow up with an email to the presenter after the conference. I know that sounds harsh (and, you know me…I’m a pretty blunt person!), but I honestly believe in the power of absorption.
Listen close, and you’ll hear the Holy Spirit filling in those silent places, showing you exactly where this information fits into the plans the Lord has for you.If you’ve submitted your work for a critique, listen. You’ve paid for this advice, listen to it. Now, listen doesn’t mean heed, necessarily. But don’t waste time arguing and defending. Listen, absorb, apply what works for you and toss what doesn’t.
You write Christian themed historical romance. How would you describe that genre?
Of my nine novels, I only have a couple (Ten Thousand Charms, Lilies in Moonlight, and my fall release All for a Story) that are technically romances, meaning, the establishing and growing the romantic relationship between the two lead characters is the main focus of the story—taking them from strangers to Happily Ever After, and so on. I’m much more drawn to the historical element, and a woman’s place within that time period.
Is there any specific time frame you like to write about?
Not really. In my first series, The Crossroads of Grace books (Multnomah), I had these women in my head, and I had to decide which would be the best setting for their story. Then, I latch on to things…I went on a historical baseball binge, and realized there were no books featuring baseball players, and set out to fix that. The third book in that series, Lilies in Moonlight made me fall in love with the 20’s, and launched the idea for my current series. Tyndale approached me about writing a novel set in the early Mormon church, and Camilla and Nathan Fox (from For Time and Eternity) were born.
What type of research do you do for these stories?
It varies. I did get to go to Salt Lake City for a week to do my Mormon research, and wandering among the Pioneer Women’s museum was heartbreaking and enlightening. But, I’ve found so much available online. I took a lovely virtual tour of the hotel featured in All for a Song. I’ve stumbled upon travel blogs that give me great ideas for details. Now that I’m working largely in the 20th century, I love looking at vintage advertising to get a feel for what these people saw in the most ordinary of circumstances. I like ordinary, real, private sources. Letters, journals, yearbooks—real people, never realizing they would ever be a part of history.
Tell me a specific book you've used?
I bought a 1912 math book for $3 in a basement used book store. That kid—she never knew how it would be featured a century later in a novel about a girl her own age sent to prison for… well, that book’s coming out next year!
How long does it take you to write a book today as opposed to your first novel?
The first novel took years, because I had no deadline. I sold it as an unfinished manuscript, though, and had to write like the Dickens to get it done! Which, I have to say, pretty much sums up my writing style now. My contracts usually allow about 8 months. And I need every minute of every day.
How many times do you rewrite a chapter or do a full edit?
I never rewrite a chapter until an editor tells me to. Part of why I’m a slow writer is because I totally don’t subscribe to that notion of getting it down and going back to make it pretty. I agonize over sentences. I’ll write half a page in half a minute and then spend 20 minutes on a line of dialogue. I wait for the perfect word to come.
When I do my edit before turning it in, I clean it up, of course…looking for repetition (usually missing it…), or discovering gaps I need to fill in. Inconsistencies, things like that. I add, but I don’t change or delete much. I don’t trust myself. I’d never declare it finished. I’ve been blessed with the best editors who will say, “um…you need to cut this” or “hey! Let’s add a scene where…” and I’ll go along with what they say, with a heart full of gratitude.
How long does it take for a writer to write exclusively and not hold down a second job?
That depends entirely upon how attached they are to a roof and food. Seriously, if you’re talking about “writing exclusively,” that can’t really mean writing your fiction exclusively. It would mean writing articles and blog posts for a paying market to not only supplement your income, but to constantly grow an audience. In the world of traditional publishing, advances are getting smaller and royalties are getting rarer. With self-publishing, you’ve got to be prepared to be a professional marketer to move your books either off the shelves or onto e-readers.
The thing with writing? It’s not always dependable. Like, I’ve had great ideas that I loved and my agent loved and my editor loved…but someone in Sales, not so much. So, months after writing my proposal and tentatively planning the luxuries I would buy with the advance (Nutella, a fancy spiral, maybe socks…), I find out it’s not a go. Or, you write a couple of books that are fabulous enough to be finalists for CBA’s highest award, yet they don’t sell through.
Bottom line: you cannot, cannot go into this business thinking that your reward will be of the monetary world. This is something you do to glorify God in the way that He has gifted you. You trust Him to meet your needs, and He will not fail you. However, His way of meeting your needs might be by getting you that part-time job at Panera Bread. Which would be awesome.
How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
Oof! I. am. the. worst. As my publicist will no doubt testify. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all over facebook letting the whole world know what I’m making for dinner, or what my cat just did, or what people should and shouldn’t do with their money or their bodies or their time…but then it’s like, “Oh, yeah…Hey! Buy my book!” I have wonderful friends who are such strong supporters and promoters for my books, and I cherish them!! I really can’t think of anyone worse to give advice in this area. Let me just say, follow Michael Hyatt on twitter. @MichaelHyatt Seriously. It’s everything you need to know!
What do you know now about writing, that you wished you had known sooner?
Wow… that is a fabulous question. I think for me, it comes down to the fact that, since I had a relatively easy time selling my first novel, I figured everything after that would be just fine. Like, if I wanted to write it, then somebody would want to publish it. Every rejection I’ve ever had came after my first sale. So, I wish I’d had a more realistic outlook, maybe? I also wish I’d had a better handle on passive voice. And, I wish I hadn’t used the character name “Delano” on my least-read book.
What is the best advice you’re been given about writing?
What is the best advice you’re been given about writing?
It comes back to that conversation with James Scott Bell. He illustrated the writing industry like a pyramid. At the base is every “Wannabe” writer out there—those that think that maybe, someday, they might sit themselves down and try to write a story. At the tippity-top is the person who, like your earlier question, makes a living by writing. A.K.A. Max Lucado. “Your job…is to keep moving up the pyramid. Each level presents its own challenges, so concentrate on the ones right in front of you. As you move up, you’ll notice there are fewer people, not more.” (James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers, Writer’s Digest Books, 2009).
I think that Christian writers need to write out of a sense of obedience. God has given you a voice and a story and the means to put them together. The act of writing is a miracle. Practice it.
Great words from Allison on her life and inspiration as a writer! I personally know her from one of the writing groups where I am a member. If you are not a member of a writing/critique group, find one. It's a great way to interact with other writers and improve your writing.
To learn more about Allison and her writing, here are two links...