What made you decide to write a historical fiction book?
I’ve been writing all my life. But after a long hiatus, I began The Bonfires of Beltane as a short story about a girl on a mountain island, writing the first pages in a hotel room in Cancun, Mexico. Somehow, the island moved itself to the coast of ancient, Celtic Ireland, and I realized this was a much bigger story.
Then the idea of having my main character connect with St. Patrick came along, and I started over. Then what do you know? It became a novel, and my protagonist became a young man leaving his love behind while he followed Patrick. The story of St. Patrick is one few people really know.
Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that?
I’ve always wanted to write like Graham Greene. His writing is so crisp and engaging. I have also greatly admired Tolkien, Stephen R. Lawhead, Orson Scott Card, Robert Heinlein, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the characters of Dickens. But I’m not sure I write like any of them. I think Tolkien has influenced me the most.
How long did it take you to write your book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
From start to finish, the first draft took about nine months. As to the number of rewrites, I’ve lost count. The rewriting and revision phase took much longer.
Who helped you with the editing?
My first editor was Deirdre Lockhart of Brilliant Cut Editing whom I hired on my own. After Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas offered me a contract, I worked with Amerlyn Dwinnell, their Heritage Beacon Imprint editor. So it’s been through a couple of hands.
What type of research did you do?
I wrote the first two chapters with little research. Then I set the book aside to search the internet. I also ordered a number of books about St. Patrick and Celtic culture and history. The history of the era, circa AD 432, is scant, but we do know something about the culture of the Celts. And Patrick himself wrote his “Confessions.”
After I pitched my finished novel at the Write-to-Publish Conference, my wife and I went on a tour of Ireland where I conducted post-book research. (You could call it, “Ready, fire, aim.”) It was on that trip that Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas offered me a contract. When I got home, I corrected geographical errors and added interesting cultural and historical tidbits before their editor started work on it. Research for the book was a patchwork affair.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
Without a doubt, the hardest part is the first chapter. The Bonfires... had many different first chapters until I ended up with the one we published. The first page has to hook the reader, introduce the main character, make the reader care for him or her, introduce the setting and era, and show your voice. You have to end that chapter—and every one thereafter—with a hook. After that, the ending is the hardest. That last scene is what stays in the reader’s mind, what they remember, and you hope it will give them a reason to buy the next book.
What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Probably having my book become a semi-finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest. They only look at the first fifteen pages, but that honor gave me something to take to agents and publishers. After that, I would say the monthly meetings of the Minnesota Christian Writer’s Guild and some of the writer’s conferences.
What was the most challenging part about putting together the book?
Finding a publisher and then marketing it. Marketing is simply not my forte. I want to spend my time writing, improving my craft, creating new stories. But today, the world authors live in requires me to be a marketer.
We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write past it.
Before I wrote The Bonfires of Beltane, I wrote two novels, both fantasy, that every publisher and agent rejected. I also wrote two dozen short stories that I fired off to science fiction and fantasy magazines. Every one of those was also soundly rejected, often with form letters.
In the end, it’s the desire to write, the pleasure of creating worlds, populating them with interesting people, and putting those people through trials that spur you on. You have to persist and do so in the face of everything and everybody telling you you’ll never get published.
Tell me about your route to publishing. Did you go to conferences? Did you have an agent? Did you send your manuscript through the "slushpile"?
At the Minnesota Christian Writer’s Guild’s monthly meetings, I learned about American Christian Fiction Writers. I entered my book in the ACFW’s Genesis contest and became a semi-finalist. Then I learned about the “Write-to-Publish” conference in Wheaton, Illinois. Before I went, I learned how to make a “One Sheet”, give a five-minute elevator pitch, and create a proposal.
With those in hand, I pitched to several agents and publishers. Most of them weren’t interested. But then about a month later, on our trip to Ireland, I received emails from Leslie Stobbe, my agent, and from my current publisher saying they were both interested in working with me.
What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Take your work to writing conferences. Thoroughly prepare before you go. Also, enter writing contests.
What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
The best thing a writer can do is to write and to finish what you start. That sounds trite, but it’s true. Too many beginning authors will dither away at one piece, spending all their time at it without moving on. Too many also start a project and never finish it. It’s only when you have completed manuscripts, a completed body of work, that you know what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve.
Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
I’ve started several novels that went nowhere, where I wrote myself into a corner and didn’t know how to get out. My problem was that, when I started, I had neither a theme nor an ending. Now before I start on a months’ long project like a novel, I need to know where it’s going and what message the book should send. I’m about half-way between “pantser” and “plotter”. I outline, but then I let the characters take the plot where they will. I let new characters show up in the story of their own accord. So my “outline” keeps changing.
What is the next book that will be coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
The Amulet tells the story of the son of the protagonist in The Bonfires of Beltane. It just came back from my editor and will soon be on its way to my publisher. “Only Ty can save his clan from the druids rising again on his island home. But something—is it God?—calls him to distant Gaul to look for a sister whom everyone knows is dead. He believes she’s alive, and he’s driven to find her. But who then will save his clan?”
I am also working on a Christian, high-fantasy trilogy. The Scepter of Elyon, the first book in the series, is finished, and we are looking for a publisher. “The prince who was prophesied to retrieve the Scepter from the Deamhan Lord and save the world has been killed. Can his double, the lowly blacksmith’s nephew, take his place?”
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