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Monday, December 22, 2014

A "Love Inspired" Christmas: Author Interview with Jolene Navarro

What made you decide to do a Christmas themed book?
Christmas is just a special time and really pulls on the heartstrings when it comes to home and family. I love those themes. I’m excited to share with you that I just turned in another Holiday book to my editor that will be out October 2015 (you’re the first to get that news, so shhh. Don’t tell anyone)

Could you give me a short synopsis on the story for my readers?
Lone Star Holiday: Twelve years ago, Lorrie Ann Ortega left the tiny town of Clear Water with stars in her eyes. Now she’s back home-trying to find purpose in her life and put her mistakes in the past. Even so, she knows she’ll never be the kind of women who would make a good wife for the handsome widowed pastor, John Levi. When she agrees to watch his two daughters she starts spending way too much time with him. To the small towns surprise and her’s, she just might be the Christmas miracle the beloved pastor needs.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? 
Oh, there are so many, decorating the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving; Setting up all the nativities I’ve collected including the ceramic pieces my mother made; hanging the hand painted stocking of my now almost grown children; reading Christmas stories and drinking hot chocolate; Gathering at my Aunt’s ranch to celebrate Christmas Eve with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and all the cousin and now great grand cousins. The Tamales and chili we eat. Oh I could go on and on.

You write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. What drew you to write for this specific genre?
Faith is an organic part of my life and many of the people in my life. I also have strong ties to small town life which is a big part of Love Inspired. I love heroes and heroines that are a bit messed up but still want to do the right thing, to find a deeper purpose in their everyday life. I wanted to write about people that struggled, failed and got back up and tried again. I also love the dynamics in small town life.

One of the unique aspect of the Love Inspired books is the questions for discussion at the end of the book. Do you put together those questions? Or does the publisher?
The author writes the questions and I used the point of conflict, the choices my character made or have to make. Going forward there will not be discussion questions. They have been cut from the books to save space. 

Were other books started and stopped along the way? 
At one time I had about six different stories bouncing around at different levels of completion. I heard Jodi Thomas speak and she said, “You have to finish the book and you have to get it out there. Then you have to finish the next book. Rejection is part of being published don’t be afraid of it.”

How long did it take to write your first book?
It took me about a year and a half and a great deal of rewrites to finish it. I focused on finishing my small town story. It was the easiest to finish because I know small towns.

How did you go about finding an agent?
After completing my book, I signed up for a regional conference and made an appointment with Pam Hopkins, an agent that works with the New York houses. I gave her my pitch with the hooks lined up and she requested a copy of my manuscript. I was told for the most part agents at these conferences will ask for a copy but it didn't mean they would represent you, so I didn’t get my hope up.

I did take what I had just learned from Alex Sokoloff and reorganized the whole book before I sent her the full manuscript. She took me on as a client and in about six months I had a contract with Harlequin. I love my agent. She made calls I wouldn’t have been able to, but I do think you are better off by yourself than with a bad agent.

Did you submit to other publishers before you sent the full manuscript to your agent?
Pam, my agent was the first person I ever submitted to. She said the story Lone Star Holiday was a perfect fit for Love Inspired and I agreed. She made a call to Emily an editor at Love Inspired and Emily was interested. So she was the only one we sent the story to. That was my target publisher for that story.

What do newbie writers need to understand about submitting a manuscript that they may not consider?
Number one advice: Know your hooks (also called troupes) and the conflicts. Editors want to see the development of layered conflicts.

I haven't heard the term "troupes" except for a troupe of actors. Can you define that for me?
A troupe is the same has a  hook - Some publishers use that term. Entangled Publishing will always ask which troupes you are using.  Reunion Story, Enemies to Lovers, Mistaken Identity, Secret Baby, Single Dad are just a few. Harlequin calls them hooks. The themes romance readers love to read. You always want to stick with well known hooks but add your unique twist.

What do you think you learned from writing your first novel that helped you in the second one?
What I did learn from book one, get the rough draft done then rewrite. Each book is a learning process.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Character development? 
When I first decided I wanted to write for publication, I thought you just sat down and wrote, that the story would flow. Ugh, yeah it flowed – all over the place. I bought books, went to workshops, joined critique groups and started learning the craft of writing.

Then I went to listen to Alex Sokoloff. She changed my writing career. I learned about story boards and story elements and how to use them to create deep character driven story that keeps the reader turning pages. So now I have my characters and I play with them until I know their secret, their deepest fear and the lie they believe about themselves. Once I know that I can do a basic story board that moves them through their story – from the false identity to their true essence. It might change along the way as I get to know them more but it works like a road map. Sometimes there is construction or an accident or just a prettier route but I know where I’m going. 

What suggestions do you have for making the most of social media?
Don’t get swallowed up in the whirlwind of social media. You need a website and from there pick what you like. Don’t try to do everything and don’t go on there just to promote your book. Ugh, no one wants to see that over and over again. It’s all about building relationships and promoting who you are as a person/writer.

I don’t think people find a new author because of social media, but when they look for you give them a reason to stick around. What is your brand/image what kind of story do you tell. Let that be the face of your social media.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
Truthfully, I haven't done as much as I should. Being with Love Inspired is a gift, because they have a large book club that buys the book before it hits the shelves. I love Facebook and connect with other Love Inspired authors and readers on social media. I just did a reader conference in North Texas. That was fun.

What has worked best for you in generating sales?
What works? Getting new books out there for the readers to find, connecting with readers and word of mouth. It is hard, and you can feel like you’re talking to yourself at times, but then you get a message of how you touched someone and you know you did what you set out to do. 

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Keep writing, on the days it feels like everything is corny, or boring or just plain trash, keep writing. Your tired or sad or full of doubt, just keep writing. If you want to be a professional writer you have to write even when you don’t feel like it. It becomes a habit like anything else and you can train your brain to create if you practice.

If I take too much time away it is harder to start back up, like exercise. Uhm...let’s not talk about exercise. My sister is a yoga instructor and tells me the same thing about exercising – you have to do it even if you don’t feel like it. One thing at a time, right? 

What’s next? (future books, novellas, special appearances you want to mention)
I just turned in book three to my editor, so I’m going to take this time to work on ideas for another series. Maybe look at branching out to another publisher. In today’s market I think it is important to diversify.

That's it for today's interview. If you'd like to know more about Jolene and her books, here's two options for doing that.

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