Blog Archive

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Bringing American History to Life: Author Interview with Joan M. Hochstetler

You’ve now published several books, but what inspired you to write that first one? What made you decide to write your
American Patriot Series
The first book I wrote was inspired by a dream I had one night that intrigued me so much I knew I had to write the story to find out what in the world those people were doing! The story turned out to be a medieval epic tragedy—which I’m determined someday to update and publish!

The American Patriot Series was inspired by the 1982 TV movie “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, starring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellan. The characters were fantastic, the story so full of pathos, romance, improbabilities, and rolling-on-the-floor-laughing hysteria that I knew I had to write my own version. You might call it early fan fiction. Anyway, the characters resonated with my adventurous and romantic side, and my imagination ran wild.
The movie was set during the French Revolution, an event I had no interest in at all. However, it occurred to me that we here in America have our own Revolution! The twist was that I wanted my Sir Percy to be a woman and Marguerite’s character to be a man. The first worked out perfectly in Elizabeth Howard. As for the second, I quickly realized that the hero had to have a much stronger role in order to be a suitable counterpart to the heroine. In fact, he essentially had to be Ian McKellen’s character, Chauvelin. With a twist. And that’s how Jonathan Carleton was born.
How do you go about doing research for your books? What’s one of the most unique facts you’ve discovered in doing your research?

When researching I consult as many historical sources and bios as I can get my hands on, both printed and online. I especially look for the qualities people of the particular social and economic status I assigned them would have and how they would realistically act. Of course, I also consult the best resources on the historical events themselves so I get the facts right. Then as I write my characters, they begin to take form through their reactions to the historical events I immerse them in and the obstacles I put in their way. They always surprise and delight me as unexpected aspects of their natures surface.

I came across a unique or, more properly, unexpected fact when Bob Hostetler and I were working on the Northkill Amish Series. I had no idea of the extent to which the Moravians were involved in the French and Indian War. Some acted as emissaries and translators between the Indians and the British and Americans, particularly Christian Post and David Zeisberger. Their ministry to and advocacy for the native peoples was sacrificial and truly admirable.

You’ve also co-authored The Northkill Amish Series with Bob Hostetler. What made the two of you decide to write about your Hochstetler ancestors?
Bob and I are both direct descendants of Jacob Hochstetler, who immigrated to this country with his wife and children in 1738. The family settled in the Northkill Amish settlement at the base of the Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania on the border between the English settlements and French and Indian territory. Then in 1757 they were caught up in the French and Indian War when a band of Indians raided their farm, killing three members of the family and carrying Jacob and two of his sons into captivity.
The story is very well-known among the Amish and Mennonites. It’s considered an outstanding example of nonresistance because Jacob refused to fire at the attackers or allow his sons to do so. Our ancestors’ experiences resonated deeply with both Bob and me, and we separately became very interested in expanding their story into a fictionalized form. Ultimately we ended up joining forces to write it. As you can imagine, the scenes in which we portrayed what they must have gone through during and after the attack evoked deep emotion.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Writing is solitary work, and the feeling of isolation can be challenging to deal with. The friendship of fellow authors who’ve become dear friends and lovely reviews from fans are the best encouragement for me. They remind me that I’m not alone and help me to keep on writing the stories God lays on my heart even when the work feels like too heavy a burden.

Marketing is the biggest key to making sales. What is the best marketing source you’ve used that has produced more sales rather than just clicks?
My book promotion budget is unfortunately small, so I depend heavily on networking and social media. I also use online book promo sites like Ereader News, which I’ve had good results with in getting not just clicks, but also sales. I also have accounts with Written Word Media and BooksGoSocial that run effective promotion at a reasonable cost. For creating professional graphics, I use BookBrush, which is a bit pricey but allows you to create some very nice promo images. You can even create book covers, business cards, and other materials on their platform.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?

How difficult it is to find an audience, and how hard writing a novel worthy of one really is. This business isn’t for the faint of heart. Competition is fierce, and each author is just one little grain of sand in a very large ocean. It takes all the skill, ingenuity, and marketing savvy you can develop to hook readers and make them fans.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
Write where your heart is. Research intensively using the best, most accurate sources. Strive to create compelling characters who will grip your audience, and then allow them to speak and act naturally as they reveal themselves to you. Seek God’s guidance in your work. It’s He who called you to it.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
I’ve learned not to try to force my characters to do what I want them to. That may sound strange, considering that they’re fictional! But every author knows that characters develop a life of their own and at times insist on veering dramatically away from the path you want them to follow. I’ve found that it’s always more entertaining, not to mention more realistic, when you allow them to behave impulsively and inconsistently just like real people do.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?

My current project is titled A Season for the Heart, which is set in the summer of 1945, at the end of WWII. It releases in November 2024.
Ellie Hershberger is sick and tired of her plain, nonresistant Mennonite life. Having graduated from high school, with World War II almost at its end, she longs to be a part of the wider world, unrestricted by the boundaries of her conservative farm community. Then without warning her dreams are shattered, and she's forced to question everything she thought she believed in.
Refusing to be baptized and join the Mennonite Church he grew up in, Judah Mast enlisted in the Marines and ended up in the South Pacific. Now, battle-scarred and crippled, Jude is forced to return to the last place he ever wanted to be. Yet in this most unexpected of places, where he believes he'll never be forgiven or accepted, he discovers a grace he never conceived of.
Can they find their way home to the land, to the Lord—and to each other?

Sounds intriguing. If you'd like to learn more about Joan's writing, here are a few links to get you started.
Author website:
American Patriot Series:
American Patriot Series blog:

And here's a special bonus for my readers... Leave a comment below and next Wednesday, we'll pick one winner to get an ebook copy of Daughter of Liberty, Book 1 of The American Patriot Series.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Engaging the Middle-Grade Reader with Fun & Adventure: Author Interview with John Krause

What made you choose writing books for middle-grade readers? 

I love middle-grade fiction because, as an author, I can really do anything (within reason for the age group, of course.) For instance, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory simply wouldn't work if the finders of the golden tickets were grown-ups. In my favorite book, The Phantom Tollbooth, the story's hero, Milo, is magically whisked away to an enchanted land of words and numbers. This story only works because Milo is a kid.

How did you come up with your lead charact, Pudge Amazon's  name
When my kids were younger, and it was time for bed, I would say, "Time to get ready for bed. Get your pajamas on. Puh-jamaz-on. Pudge Amazon. Hey, that would be a great name for a character!" That name stayed in my head for years until I was ready to write the book. Pudge Amazon just happens to be an 11-year-old in fifth grade, which means his adventures had to be written for the middle-grade reader.

How do you get in the mindset for that age group? 
My youngest child has given me story ideas and helped shape plot points. They were an early reader of my first Pudge novel, but have since grown out of the middle-grade reading level. I suppose I'll need to find a new 8 to 11-year-old coach.

Author David Farland says that middle-grade stories must have the following five elements: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, and mystery. The Goosebumps and Harry Potter books have been so successful because they perfectly blend these elements. I have not yet found that perfect formula, but keeping these elements in mind helps me include settings and characters that readers will enjoy and helps me weed out things that don't meet those five criteria.

Is Pudge your alter ego?
Yes, Pudge Amazon is my alter-ego. Pudge is spontaneous, adventurous, and loud. He dives in without first checking for rocks. I am introverted and cautious. The only thing we share is our sense of humor.

You are an indie author. Other than writing, what other parts of the process do you personally do? What do you hire others to do?

I've learned how to do interior formatting using Adobe InDesign. Although the software has a steep learning curve, I do love the flexibility that InDesign offers, and I'm satisfied with the final product. There are other book formatting softwares on the market, and I may try them in the future. However, for the Pudge Amazon books, since I want the interior formatting to be consistent across all the books in the series, I'll be sticking with InDesign.

I've also designed my own "sell sheet" for each book - a one-page info sheet with the book's cover, blurb, ISBN, page count, etc. that I use to pitch to schools for author visits.

I do hire out the editing and cover design. I do a considerable amount of self-editing, and I am a member of two writing critique groups that help tremendously with story development. However, I wouldn't dream of releasing the Pudge stories out to the world without the guiding hand and critical eye of my professional editor.

I may be an artist with words, but I am by no means an artist with brush and pen. I was lucky to find cover artist and designer Nathalie Kranich to bring Pudge and his friends to life on the book covers.

What do you know now about publishing you wished you had known sooner?
I do wish I had created more pre-publication buzz before I hit the publish button. I did a few things to generate interest and excitement: a website, a newsletter, and a launch party. My first novel, Pudge Amazon and the Ugly Ostrich, didn't launch to crickets - I had a few buyers - but I could have done more to generate a larger following beforehand. Now that I have three books published - a series - my focus over the next few months will be marketing my books.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?

It's not writing advice, per se, but the best advice I have received is from author Seth Godin in his book Linchpin: "If you want to produce things on time and on budget, until you run out of time or run out of money. Then ship."

"Ship" for an author means "publish." My books will never be perfect. I can self-edit, proofread, and agonize whether or not the story is "good enough." Instead, I set a publication date, work as hard as I can on the book until that date, then publish it and move on to the next book.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Perhaps the second-best writing advice I've received is from author Jeff Gerke, who says that the number-one objective of a novelist is to get readers to keep turning pages. There are myriad writing craft "rules." Yes, I strive to continually improve my writing craft. But even if I follow all the "rules" of grammar, syntax, and plot structure, if I don't have a compelling story with interesting characters that keeps you reading for "just one more chapter," then all those rules are meaningless.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
I have three more stories planned in the Pudge Amazon series. The next book is titled Pudge Amazon and the Caribbean Cruise Caper, which may still be a year away from publication.
Pudge's mother wins a Caribbean cruise in a contest. Pudge is enjoying the pool and buffet until his grandmother's priceless diamond necklace is stolen. With the help of two new friends he meets on the ship, Pudge embarks on wild misadventures in search of the necklace before the ship returns to port.

That's all for today's interview. Thank you for all your great insights on writing and publishing. Hope you will check out his website and Amazon page to discover all of his books.
Amazon sales page:
And here's a bonus tip for my readers... Sign up for his newsletter on his website and get a FREE eBook story,  Pudge Amazon and the Lost Lunch