Today's interview is with an author who has definitely found "her voice" and her twelve published books are the proof of that. Read on and find out what clicked for her and what keeps her motivated.
What made you decide to write your first story?
My best friend shamed me into it. I thought myself too “serious” of a Bible student to write frivolous fiction. So she asked, sarcasm dripping from her tone, “So you’re a better teacher than Jesus? Because He often used stories to teach.” Ugh! I signed up for my first fiction-writing course days later and am still honing this difficult craft called story-telling.
How long did it take you to write your second book? Who helped you with the editing?
Can we talk about my first published book instead? I wrote it in eleven months, got very few revisions from my editor, and it won the only award I’ve ever received.
The first book I WROTE was the second book published (long story). It took twelve years to write. Went through two complete rewrites. My editor Vicki Crumpton (Executive Editor at Revell, a Division of Baker Publishing) told me later, she thought she might have to cancel the contract at one point, but somehow the Lord brought us both through the grueling process—and we still like each other!
The lessons she taught me through those first four books have been invaluable. My current editor, Shannon Marchese (Executive Editor at WaterBrook/Multnomah, a Division of Penguin Random House), has also become both mentor and friend. I’ve found the Lord places us in just the right place, with just the right people, at just the right time.
Are you active with any writing critique groups?
Not currently; however, I’ve been a part of two in my publishing career and found my writing much improved through both experiences.
How did you go about finding an agent/publisher? Did you go to conferences?
I’m a HUGE proponent of writer’s conferences. I attended my first conference, Sandy Cove in Baltimore, MD in 2001, while living in Indiana. I was certain I’d have to disappoint dozens of editors who would want the ONE BOOK I wanted to publish—a Bible study on the Song of Solomon. WOW! Guess whose fantasy bubble got popped in Baltimore! I threw that manuscript in a bottom drawer and didn’t look at it for seven years.
In the meantime, I attended Mt. Hermon in 2005 because a kind woman in Baltimore recommended it. That woman became my agent at that conference. For the next three years, she knocked on every publisher’s door to sell my devotionals, but we parted ways when it became clear my non-fiction wasn’t going to sell.
What was your next step?
In 2006, I attended Write-to-Publish in Wheaton, IL—a little closer to home (still living in Indiana). Good feedback on my non-fiction and I began writing for a few low-profile magazines. In early 2008, my heart turned to Song of Solomon again, and my best friend humbled me with her comment about story-telling. I decided to hang up my non-fiction efforts and completely switch tracks. I signed up for Mt. Hermon’s fiction mentoring clinic with Gayle Roper, who I still consider my publishing mama to this day.
It was her gentle and creative insights that helped transform a Song of Solomon Bible study into a novel contract. During that Mt Hermon conference, I met with Vicki Crumpton, who happened to be looking for biblical fiction manuscripts. My proposal was awful. I didn’t even know what POV meant. But she said she could see that I knew how to tell a story—and I knew it had to be Jesus who gave her eyes to see. When I say it’s the Lord who provides book contracts, I mean it with every fiber of my being. But attending writer’s conferences sure helps.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog?
I HATE the first draft—with a passion. Creating a new story for me is like pulling teeth. I can edit all day and night, but the craft of creating believable characters, who work through emotions in a plausible succession of hours, days, and processes is excruciating. I want them to hurry up and learn the lesson so we can get to the biblical principle! Sort of like I do in my own life, unfortunately. I’d rather skip the feeling parts, the hard parts, the messy parts and just apply a spiritual band-aid. Thus far, I haven’t found an editor who lets me do that—for which I’m grateful!
My characters tend to be manic. One minute they’re soft and gentle, the next they fly off the handle. My editors help me settle everyone down into a more consistent, believable representation. In my last release, Isaiah’s Daughter, one of my editors said every time she read a scene with Isaiah in it, he screamed his message, marched out of the room, and slammed the door. “Does he have a medical condition?” She asked on our revision phone call. After I stopped laughing, we talked about how to make the poor, dear prophet a bit more like the beautiful poetry he’s written in God’s Word.
What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Awards are always nice. My debut novel, Love Amid the Ashes, won the 2012 ECPA Debut Novel of the Year, and Miriam was a 2017 Christy Award Finalist. But awards don't keep me writing when I’m discouraged or inspire new book ideas. READERS do that. The best encouragement comes when readers tell me one of my books has somehow clarified their understanding of Scripture or piqued their curiosity to read the Bible more.
Those are the reasons I write. God’s Word is my passion. I want others to experience the life and breath in it. When I receive those emails or notes or reviews, all the late nights, deadlines, and time away from family is worth it.
We have all experienced writer’s rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write past it.
Like so many people, I struggle with low self-esteem, so when I was told at that first writer’s conference, “You should stick with teaching because you’ll never be a writer,” it pretty much gutted me. Like I said, I put that manuscript in the bottom desk drawer for almost seven years! But I didn’t stop writing. If you’re called to write, you CAN’T stop writing.
I shifted my focus and began writing devotionals. During those years, I learned the discipline of writing every day. I learned how to blog, how to develop a mailing list, how to intro a blog with a short STORY. Though I had no idea, even then the Lord was preparing me to write the flow of the narrative. Perhaps the best thing rejection taught me was to let go of MY dream and try something new.
What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? What frustrated you the most?
I’ve been most surprised at how small the Christian publishing world is. After attending a few conferences, I began to recognize editors and agents, and they began to recognize me. It’s not as massive and terrifying as it once was. Which I suppose is the answer to the second question.
It’s frustrating to write solid Christian content and have very few markets in which to sell them. Amazon, of course, is a wonderful platform that reaches gazillions, but our little books can get lost in that sea of books. Christian bookstores have dwindled to LifeWay (which I LOVE) and a few fabulous independents that set themselves apart (Y'all are uh-mazing!).
The “Religious” section in big-box stores like B&N and others are shrinking, which means Christian authors must either adapt their content to the crossover market—making it appealing to both Christ-followers and those who care nothing about spiritual matters—or win a spot in the small Religious section through local accolades.
BEWARE: I’m about to step on a few toes… When Christian readers refuse to purchase any book at full price, waiting until all are free or $0.99, it’s like a thousand little cuts to the Christian market. Don’t get me wrong! I LOVE great book deals. I publicize them on my FB page. But I also support my favorite authors by occasionally purchasing their books at full price. I figure a year of their hard work is worth $14.99. (Ouch! Sorry, but being honest.)
What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I’d known how much I loved to tell stories! Jesus had this teaching with parables thing figured out! The joy of creating a story that can make readers think and apply principles to their own hearts and lives—working in concert with God’s Word and His Holy Spirit—is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done (besides raising my family).
I’m so grateful to be doing what I love. And I’ll always do it, whether published or not. Sometimes just writing it is the important part because I’m the one that is supposed to learn it.
What writing advice would you like to share with my readers?
Be open to change. I’ve been given repeat contracts with publishers, not because I’m the best writer my editors ever worked with but because I’m teachable. I’m not threatened by their suggested changes, and I always want to make the story better. Most of the time—because they’ve been in the industry a lot longer than I have—the changes they suggest reflect a general knowledge of the readers at large, and I need to listen.
Once in a while, I’ll hold tight to a particular aspect of my story or plot line. When I do, I invariably see something in a review at which a reader (or readers) took offense or called me out. Editors/Agents know our readers. Listen to them!
Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
Write for an Audience of One. Only when I stopped writing to get published did I actually get published. When I began writing for only the One who made me creative, I didn’t need to have others read my work. I didn’t need strokes for every blog post or encouragement to keep going. It became an offering to the God I’m writing for.
My next book releases August 1st and is part of a multi-author series called The Psalm Series. And my release with The Psalm Series feeds into my next full-length novel on Daniel’s life, Of Fire and Lions, releasing February 2019
The epic tale scans the spectrum of Daniel’s life and Judah’s reformation from captivity to life in Babylon, culminating at the end of Jeremiah’s prophesied seventy years when the exiled remnant returns to Jerusalem. Experience the wonder of Yahweh, the God who controls the power Of Fire and Lions.
Thank you, Mesu, for your inspirational thoughts on writing. You’ve got me reconsidering my own writing path. Now if you’d like to learn more about this new release, The Psalm Series, here is the link for all the details: https://psalmseries.com/
To learn more about Mesu’s writing, go to http://mesuandrews.com/ to order free bookmarks, download Bible studies or group discussion questions.