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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Keeping Your Readers in Suspense: Author Interview with Taylor Jaxon / Deb Gardner Allard

I’ve been a fan of suspense novels for a long time, especially those that give you pause to think at the end. That’s what drew me to this author who wrote this YA novel called Before the Apocalypse. Now read on to learn what motivates this writer.

What made you decide to write your first novel?
Like many authors, I’ve wanted to write since I was in grade school. I read voraciously as a child, devouring every book I could get my hands on. My mother took me to the library every Saturday and enrolled me in a book club. In the fifth grade, I won a Daughters of the American Revolution award for a story I wrote about the wagon train that met its demise at Donner’s Pass.

As an adult, I studied with the Institute of Children's’ Literature, first tackling the magazine writing course then the novel writing course. Before the Apocalypse was my second novel.

Who are your favorite suspense authors?
I have always enjoyed Frank Peretti’s books, especially This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. His books are edgy and suspenseful. I also enjoy James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, and Dan Walsh’s Jack Turner suspense series—especially his book, Remembering Dresden. As far as humorous writers, I enjoy Mark Twain and Eddie Jones. Eddie’s books crack me up from start to finish.

Was there any particular author you read who made you think, I could write like that? 
I don’t think I’ve ever read an author’s book and thought that I could write like them. My thinking is along the lines of plot and story. I have many ideas circling my brain at any given moment. Great stories inspire me to put my own ideas on paper.

How long did it take you to write your book?
Writing my book took about three years. The first year, I read everything I could find on prophecy, starting with the Bible, and then biblical commentaries. I also attended a year-long prophecy Bible study on the book, Footsteps of the Messiah, which is the hallmark commentary on Bible prophecy. Many prophecy scholars today started their journey with The Footsteps of the Messiah.

In addition to the Bible study, I attended a 3-day Bible prophecy conference online, since we weren’t able to travel the distance in person. The conference included most of the current prophecy scholars and started around 9 am and ended at 10 pm daily. I’ve attended three more prophecy conferences since then. 

I also watched every prophecy show on television and YouTube every week—Prophecy in the News, Prophecy Watchers, Joel Richardson’s The Underground, Derek Gilbert’s Skywatch TV, Jan Markel’s Olive Tree Ministry and Understanding the Times, and many others. I still watch them today. My favorite prophecy teacher today is Amir Tsarfati from Israel.

How many rewrites did you do?
I’m not sure. I wrote an outline before I started. I ended up adding to the outline as I went along but I continued the sequence for the story as planned.

Who helped you with the editing? 
My instructor from the Institute of Children's’ Literature was a multibook published author. She did my first edits chapter by chapter as I turned them in. Then when finished with the book, I paid two other editors for developmental and line editing, just to make sure nothing was missed. I ended up removing things that might seem stereotypical or politically incorrect. 

Most of my rewrites involved character tweaking. I wrote Jayden as a sweet, meek Christian girl, but was advised to create her more feisty because that would make her real, and Sam started out more snarky and I tamed his tongue.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Outlining? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
When I first started writing, dialogue was hardest for me. But after reading a great book on dialogue, I enjoy writing it. Dialogue delivers much more than meets the eye. The next hardest thing for me is working on an outline. It takes me forever to write one. I have to mull the story over in my mind for weeks before jotting it in outline form. But it does make sure I see the whole picture and include twists and turns.

It also keeps the goal for the ending in my mind as the scenes take shape. That way, I make sure they move the story forward. It’s easier to spot wayward material that needs to be cut, too. I cut several scenes from Apocalypse and sobbed over each one as I laid them to rest. It’s so hard to kill those precious pages.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
While I was writing Before the Apocalypse, I kept a folder containing newly printed chapters on my desk. When my teen grandchildren came to visit, they’d disappear in my office. I’d tiptoe by to see them reading the next chapter. That kept me writing. Knowing kids are interested in what I write makes all the difference in the world. I also belong to a critique group and encouragement from fellow writers is helpful.

Give me an example of how you learned to write past the dreaded rejection letters.
Rejection is just plain hard, but form letters are so much better than no response at all. I’ve had plenty of rejections, but after a few years, they began to suggest I submit any new material. Sometimes a few personal lines were added. Those made me smile.

Also, I can be devastated by a bad book review to the point of it paralyzing my writing. But ironically, bad reviews on others’ books make me desire to read their books more. When I read a bad review, it strikes a nerve in me, and I’m determined to see if the reviewer was right on or biased for some reason. Often, I find that I love the book. So, I remind myself that bad reviews can spark sales.

I know many writers don’t want to go the indie-route because of the cost to publish. They don’t have a minimum of $1000 to $2,000 to pay for a good cover design, editing fees, formatting, copyright set-up, and basic marketing. What made you choose the indie route?
When I published, Before the Apocalypse, publishers weren’t and still aren’t seeking prophecy novels. I know because the rejections told me so. I spent six months reading everything I could find on how to publish a book. I created my own publishing company. I paid editors, two book cover designers, and a book formatter to make my book professional.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Taking writing courses, reading books on writing, attending conferences, and belonging to professional writing groups makes all the difference in the world in fine-tuning our writing. I belong to American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International.

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
We hear many authors say to read and write daily to become better writers, and that truly is the best advice ever. Reading helps us to pick up on character and plot development as well as grammar. Writing daily helps us to write better and faster as we go along.

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
Writers truly must develop a thick skin. We need to be willing to accept constructive criticism and heed it if we want to succeed.

Why did you write this book under a pseudonym?
I write humorous stories under my real name Deb Gardner Allard. Before the Apocalypse is an edgy story so I used a pseudonym so that anyone looking for more light-hearted material wouldn't feel like they didn't get what they paid for. 

Do you have another book in progress?
Currently, I’m writing an adventure story under my real name, Deb Gardner Allard.

Can you give me a short synopsis?
Here’s a short synopsis: When six boys with different personality quirks meet at Camp Coyote for the summer, they have no idea what awaits—an adventure beyond their imagination—with twists and turns along the way. As they attempt to uncover what the military is guarding in a desert cave, they must learn to get along with each other and put their character flaws to good use if they want to survive.

That’s all for today’s interview.  I’m impressed by the thoroughness of Deb’s research and study to make sure the storyline rang true in the eschatological sense and gave the readers something to ponder. Hope her thoughts on writing intrigued you to the point of buying her book and finding out about upcoming novels as well. Here are some links to get you started: 

FB author site: @dgardnerallardauthor, @authortaylorjaxon
FB: Deb Allard, Deb Gardner Allard
Twitter: @debbie_allard

Instagram: debbie.allard.35

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