Sunday, January 29, 2012

A New Week, Another Terrific Author!

Minions, today please welcome Dina Sleiman. Dina is a writer by choice, a dancer by nature, and someone who's very special to me. Today we find out what makes her writing life tick:

DK: When you’re not writing, what do you like most to read? Tell us what are your reading genres of choice. What are some of your favorites?

DS: When I am writing, I try to read great books in the genre I’m working on. Right now that’s historical romance, which is probably my very favorite. But when I’m not writing my reading is much more diverse. I actually enjoy all sorts of genres. Literary fiction is high on the list, but I also adore sci-fi, fantasy, and spec fiction. Cozy mystery is fun. I even read some thriller novels. My least favorite is suspense, but I still end with some of those too.

DK: You’re smart to “stretch” by reading outside your chosen writing zone. If you didn’t write in your chosen genre, which would you write, and why?

DS: In addition to romantic historicals, I’ve also tried my hand at contemporary women’s fiction and creative nonfiction. I actually have smaller publishing companies interested in both of those books right now. I’m a very organic sort of writer, and for the first few years of my career, I wrote rather impulsively. The contemporary women’s fiction came from my experiences teaching college and traveling in the Middle East. I’m glad I wrote it, because I think it meant a lot to my Lebanese husband. The nonfiction sort of exploded out of a collection of poems I’d worked on years ago when I discovered that format.

At this point I’m growing more focused and intentional about my career. I do think my niche will end up being in the historical/historical romance area.

DK: Where do you think the Christian fiction market might head in the near-term?

DS: I’m really in no position to predict, but I have noticed that Christian fiction is growing more realistic. A lot of topics that were taboo even a few years ago have become more common. Tattoos, Christians who drink in moderation, etc. This is huge for me, because I personally have no desire to be a religious, outwardly focused Christian. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that my dance emphasis (found in all of my books) has been so readily embraced, even by older readers. Not long ago, a number of Christian publishers didn’t allow dance to be mentioned. I’ve noticed recently that several Bethany books have depicted dance in a very positive light. And Zondervan has a novel featuring a ballerina and the whole dance world.

DK: What has been your biggest challenge since you decided to seek publication?

DS: My first few books were not very marketable. I was turned down by a number of agents and editors who loved my work but didn’t think they could sell it. My personal interests didn’t match well with the current state of Christian fiction, and I didn’t do enough research on the subject in advance. I’ve managed okay considering. And DANDELION has received wonderful reviews.

Right now, I’m focusing on correcting the marketability factor. I feel God has put a new desire on my heart to be more of a career writer and to help my children through college. It took some time and prayer to come up with an idea that I loved and that would fit the market, but I think the book I wrote this fall fits the bill. I hope it will be the start of something new and exciting for me.

DK: We'll await good news, then! Who are a few of your favorite authors?

DS: Francine Rivers (of course), Lisa Samson, Julie Klassen, Siri Mitchell, and Roseanna White are at the top of my list. Three out of five are now personal friends, which is pretty cool. In some other genres, I also really admire Tosca Lee, James Rubart, Steven James, Karen Hancock, and Kathy Tyers.

DK: Care to share a writing habit you cannot do without?

DS: Not exactly a habit, but I didn’t start writing seriously until I got my first laptop. In college I wrote a lot, but I hated all the time spent tied to a desk. For years I didn’t write anything longer than a skit or a poem. But once I had a laptop, I could curl up on a couch or a bed. That’s how I do all my writing.

Dina, thanks for sharing what makes your writing Dandelion dance!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Janet Butler Tells All!

All, that is, about her new Desert Breeze release VOICE OF INNOCENCE. I wanted her to interview here and tell something about how the germ of an idea became the story it is today. And a horking good one, too.

Deb: You’ve always called this book your “400 lb. gorilla.” What made you fall in love with this story?

Janet: Interestingly enough, the thread that made this the “book of my heart” isn’t even in the book now: it was the first scene I envisioned, one that takes place before the book begins. In this scene a young woman, in unrequited love with her older professor, is getting ready to leave a party at his house. She’s in the bedroom, about to pick up her coat, when she pauses and gazes longingly at his wife’s things on the dresser—you know, the hand mirror, the elegant brushes and perfume bottles—and thinks to herself that she’s just a fool, “a fool in a cheap little jacket,” longing for things she can’t have. I knew once I met that young woman, I needed to write this story, as much as the characters seemed to need it told.

Deb: Eeeenteresting! Lachlan is a multi-dimensional character with a heavy load of baggage. How did you make him so appealing?

Janet: Lachlan has always been a polarizing character: people either loved him or they hated him. He was stiffer, more pompous, in previous versions of the book; I’ve loosened him up considerably so we see more of his humor, more of the brightness that wants to come to the surface. He’s actually a fun guy, once he’s past all his troubles. But one thing has never changed with him: at the core, he is a mystic, a poet, and a romantic. What’s not to love?

Deb: Amanda’s struggling under a heavy load as well. How did you make her seem so sane when she was hearing voices almost from the first page?

Janet: I had to give Amanda a much firmer personality to deal with the voices, which did her a big favor. In earlier writing, she was much like Lachlan—more sensitive, more reticent, etc. Then I realized I had two people whose personalities were too much alike. So Amanda and I sat down and talked about it, and she told me she really didn’t have much time for nonsense; she has three brothers, so she had to be practical (and quick, to get her share at the dinner table). You’ll notice that she’s both pragmatic and decisive when confronted with the voices. She resists the urge to fly off into “what ifs” of the type Lachlan would be more prone to, and she’s feisty enough to tell off a (very unwelcome) ghost. Three brothers’ll bring that out of a girl.

Deb: I’ll say they would! And another matter – Carlyle College almost takes on the life of another “character” in VOI. What techniques make this fictional setting come real?

Janet: This is especially flattering to hear, since my intent was to write a very Gothic-toned story with VOI, and one of the keys to good Gothic literature is that the setting becomes a pseudo-character in itself. If Carlyle College, with its red brick and flower beds and manicured green, speaks to you…that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to evoke “traditional ivy-covered halls” in the imagination…while hiding deadly secrets and mysteries beneath its surface. Carlyle plays such an important part in the story as well because it represents so many things to so many people: it’s Amanda’s beginning, her first big break; it’s Lachlan’s last chance, the only thing that means anything to him; it represents status and solidity to other characters; and so on. I thought it the best backdrop to my characters’ drama, and in the process, it became the linchpin. (Besides, I love academic settings!)

Deb: I’d love to try one, too, but I’ve never dared. My memories of college are -- shall we say -- a bit misty by now. But how early in the writing of the book did you sense it needed to be a romantic suspense?

Janet: From the get-go. It started out as a “revenge” story in its earliest form—a young woman going to confront the man she thinks responsible for her sister’s death (with all the possibilities for danger that that implies), only to fall in love with him at the end. It morphed through various other plotlines, various other scenarios, but there was always an underlying mystery, a budding and somewhat forbidden romance, and the threat of danger to the heroine. Only recently did it become more fully developed romantic suspense with the additional “woo-woo” element that incorporates elements of danger and attraction for both Lachlan and Amanda. But it was always a “whodunit” with the underlying theme, “Nothing is what it seems to be on the surface.”

Deb: I’ll say you had to “go deep” with this one. During the writing, was the identity of the villain in chief a surprise to you, or did you know it was that person beforehand?

Janet: My VIC (villain in chief)’s identity has changed dramatically from the original! The plot originally had a totally different character involved with Lachlan in the beginning of the book, a letter that explained everything (and which a character brought out at a crucial moment), and even a confrontation between Amanda and the first Mrs. MacAndrews which was rather…interesting, to say the least. It wasn’t until this latest version that I realized who had the most to lose if the hero and heroine win…and why…and what that person would do to stop that from taking place. Then, I had a real villain in chief with a scenario that would make perfect, psychopathic sense (to them). Most of all, I’m thrilled when people have read this in manuscript and said they were surprised at who the “nasty” was; that’s another touchstone of Gothic fiction that I tried hard to get right. I hope I did!

Deb: In spades! Janet, thanks for shedding light on your creative process. Readers, go and get this book – you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I did.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Great New Read

And I must say I do love this book. Here's its cover:

Its author is my Blindingly Brilliant crit partner, Janet Butler. And can she do more than crit? You bet your scarlet rosebuds she can.

Here's some "get acquainted" info straight from Janet.

Deb: When you’re not writing, what do you like most to read? Genre, favorites, etc.

Janet: What do you mean, when I'm not writing? When am I not writing? J Oh…okay. I read suspense and mystery, some chick lit, romantic comedy, the occasional Regency historical, and "gentle" fiction of various types, including Christian fiction.

Deb: If you didn’t write in your chosen genre, which would you write? Why?

Janet: If I knew which genre I've chosen, that'd be an easier question to answer. J Actually, for all my "serious" writing career, I've wanted to write Harlequin Romances. The sweet little books. I've yet to figure out how to do one, however, since every time I sit down to write, some dark villain taps on my shoulder and says, "Hey, I could make these people's lives a whole lot more interesting, if you just let me." So…I tend to let them. You don't argue with villains.

Deb: Where do you see the fiction market going in the near-term?

Janet: Frankly, I don't like where I see lots of fiction going. I see a lot of despairing fiction: dystopian, nihilistic, stuff that deals in grit with no redeeming light, or authors who feel like they have to be obscene, depraved, or coarse simply "because they can." I'd like to see more books that don't make you want to jump out a window, or feel like you need to take a shower, when you're done with them. As far as where the markets are going? Who knows? I suspect it's all going electronic, or at least largely so. I like paper books, so this is not comforting to me. And I really dislike the notion of "enhanced" books. I'm a fiction writer; I like imagination. It seems to me that putting too many bells, horns, and whistles in a book is a fundamental violation of that imagination, and an intrusion upon the magic. Sorry. Not for me.

Deb: What has been your biggest challenge since you decided to seek publication?

Janet: There have been two: First, fighting the "impostor syndrome," that absolute conviction in the dark places of your writer's soul that you're really a fake, you really can't write at all, and one of these days, someone's going to rip away the veil in front of Oz and you'll be revealed in all your duck-tape-and-twine weakness. Second, trying to attract an agent; I've probably queried 100+ of them over the past few years, with only a few even requesting partials. Of course, with the way the industry is moving now, maybe that issue is moot, anyway.

Deb: Name a few of your favorite authors.

Janet: Mary Higgins Clark, Rochelle Krich, Diann Hunt, Sophie Kinsella, Jan Karon. How's that for a potpourri? I keep discovering new authors as I go, though, so stay tuned.

Deb: Care to share a writing habit you cannot do without?

Janet: Mwah hah haaaaah…you know what's coming: the Dreaded Synopsis! There. I've said it. Don't hate me because I synopsize!
Seriously. I have tried writing without an outline, and I've tried writing with one. With one is better. Years ago, I discovered that if I wrote by the seat of my pants, I had a lot of fun, but I lost the story in the process. Now that I'm older, I don't have the energy to chase down my characters and/or a plot clear to Abu Dhabi to figure out where I went wrong (Besides, airfare's just too darn expensive.). I also freeze up if I don't have SOME idea what's going to come in the next few pages. Mind you, nothing in the synopsis is carved in stone; stories can, and do, change from the first outline. But I need to have SOMETHING to work from.

So I synopsize.

And I also believe in a wonderful, well-chilled bottle of champagne… at the appropriate time.

Deb: A total delight, don't you agree? Except that champagne gives me a headache. You can have my share.

Janet's VOICE OF INNOCENCE releases January 15 from Desert Breeze Publishing. Go get this book! You'll like it.