A Writerly Blog
This week, I turn my focus away from my debut novel, The Heart Changer, and place it on a young author also publishing with Ambassador International. Her genre is fantasy — opposite end of the spectrum from historical fiction. But, there is still value in fantasy novels, as I’m sure many readers will agree.
I’m curious, Joanna — how your writing journey begin?
When I wrote my first story, it stemmed from a desire to write a good story. Back then, I was only ten-years-old. It became a hobby for me. I loved writing in my free time and I wrote books I wanted to read. Back then, I still read a lot, but as I grew older and matured, my writing grew with me. Eventually, in high school, I decided to try writing my first fantasy novel. That book was Hunter.
At the time, Star Wars inspired me to write my own epic franchise but I was like, “What is this franchise?” I had no idea. After Hunter came the other books in the Valiant Series. Years passed and I graduated high school and chose to make writing my career. I went to college online and there I was able to continue working on the Valiant Series and even created a few of them as ideas for some of my classes. I met my husband, whom I was dating at the time and together, we added more ideas to the Valiant Series and came up with the overall plotline. Little by little, we connected the books together, adding in snippets in the previous books I had written - such as Hunter and Shifter - to tie them to the current ones.
Then, we began to plan the final two books in the Valiant Series. I realized the entire series paralleled with the Bible and that each of the previous books had a Biblical theme to them that I had never noticed before. God had been with me this whole time, working on the series with me. The last two were meticulously planned out, because I wanted to do them right. Seven years and it was over. I finished it.
I love the way your husband came alongside you in your writing — now that’s a partnership! So where did you go from there?
That thought was constantly on my mind. I had graduated college, earned my degree and somehow had to turn writing into a career. I began freelancing, writing articles online for a website called Hirewriters.com. My husband and I married and started our life together.
We edited Hunter and self-published it. The problem with that was I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to market it, so I joined a few Facebook groups and shared it there. I earned about ten dollars a month; not near enough for a person to live on.
In the meantime, I started writing full time on hirewriters and other sites. Every little bit I earned made me feel better, but it still wasn’t my dream. I kept writing books and was so focused on writing, I stopped reading. Instead, I wrote books I wanted to read. So I started another series but hit major block and stopped. I realized I’d been so focused on two series with no break that I’d never gotten to experience writing anything I wanted. So I started writing whatever projects I was inspired for, which was super fun.
During this time, I had stopped freelancing and had started working on traditionally publishing. Self-publishing wasn’t working out, but I kept getting rejections on the books I was sending in: Hunter, Shifter, Warrior, Samurai — books in the Valiant Series.
Until one day. . .
Let me guess — you received good news. No, great news. The news all authors wait for!
Yes! Ambassador International loved them and made contracts for both. The next year was spent working with them. I was able to write a short introduction to Hunter to help with marketing for its release. I decided it was best to re-read the Valiant Series and I did read the other ten books in the main series (17 total with 5 prequel novels) and edited them myself as I went on.
Now, the real work began: the book launch. . .
Hours of research ended with me learning and growing. I’m having so much fun with the entire process. It’s so exciting and it’s a dream come true!
This journey as a writer has been a hard one but it’s one I wouldn’t change. Being a writer has taught me to never give up on my dreams and it’s allowed me the chance to rely on God and put my faith and trust in Him as He takes this journey with me. I’ve matured with my writing and myself. Each of my books has seen me go from being a ten year-old-girl to the twenty-four-year-old married woman I am today.
Isnt it amazing to see how God takes us step by step towards the places He has designed for us? And, being a debut author myself, I certainly know the range of emotions an author experiences as she prepares her book launch — apprehension mixed with joy and a massive amount of hard work. That’s what I call a valiant effort!
Thanks so much for sharing your author’s journey, Joanna! I wish you God’s blessings.
Joanna White earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. The Valiant series is her first published work, which first started off being updated on a website called Wattpad. She lives in the country of Missouri with her husband, where she continues to work on her other upcoming books. Writing has been a passion since she was ten, when she wrote her first book. Ever since then, writing has become her life outside of her family, God, and being a nerd.
A reckless young woman named Averella does what no woman has ever done.
She disguises herself as a man and purposefully gets herself arrested and thrown into Zagerah. Her brother Gabriel was taken, and with his disease, he will not survive on his own. She has no idea what to expect inside the prison; all she knows is that once men get taken, they never come back.
The Hunters will find her.
Genetically altered to be faster and stronger than humans, the Hunters use their powers to find and kill every prisoner who enters Zagerah. The only ones who can defeat them, are in fact, themselves.
Jared is a Hunter. It’s all he’s known, all he remembers. He kills ruthlessly and without regret, one prisoner after another. When a new prisoner Dalex shows up, everything begins to change. Jared goes undercover to make Dalex and the other prisoners believe he is one of them, a prisoner himself.
No one knows the truth.
He will trick them.
Toy with them.
Then, he will kill them.
16 Days and Counting!
There is so much yet to do before April 26th — Launch Day! Creating memes, connecting with my launch team, getting my giveaways and prizes ready for my book signing and Facebook Live, as well as writing a steady stream of guest posts. Oh, and keeping up with my social media and FaceBook groups. Yikes! I feel as though I’m running towards a finish line. It takes perseverance! My word of the year - aptly chosen.
I am thrilled and honored to be a part of award-winning author, Lynn Austin’s Book Launch team as preparation for my own MG Biblical fiction debuting in Spring of 2019 with Ambassador International!
I love historical fiction, especially when it relates to my hometown of Chicago— and includes a bit of history and mystery. Her latest in the "Legacy" series features both, along with a peek into Dutch heritage. Lynn has graciously answered a few questions so we can discover what goes into the creation of a historical novel like "Legacy of Mercy."
So, without further comment, let’s go!
Legacy of Mercy is a sequel to your novel Waves of Mercy. How does this new book build on that story?
At the end of “Waves of Mercy,” one of the main characters, Anna Nicholson, returns to Chicago to marry her fiancé and continue her life as a wealthy, young socialite. She has discovered, over the summer, who her birth mother was, and she is naturally curious to learn more about her. She also has no idea who her birth father was and longs to solve that mystery, too. Most of all, she is eager to learn how to grow in her new Christian faith. In “Legacy of Mercy,” she explores all of these questions, which creates a host of new problems in her life.
The other main character from “Waves of Mercy”, Geesje DeJonge, is contented with her walk with God and her life in Holland, Michigan after enduring many trials as an immigrant from the Netherlands. At age 67, she isn’t seeking a new adventure. But when she offers to help Cornelia, a young Dutch immigrant, she’ll discover that she still has many things to learn about God and about herself.
Don’t we all. Tell us about Anna Nicholson - what made you want to return to her story?
After “Waves of Mercy” was published, I started receiving letters from readers who all wanted to know what happens next in Anna’s life. She is only 23 years old, and a brand-new Christian, so there had to be a lot more to tell about her—or so my readers insisted. They were also concerned about Derk VanderVeen—would he ever find true love? The more I thought about it, the more curious I was to discover the answers, too. I loved all of the characters from “Waves of Mercy” so it was a pleasure to bring them back to life and find out what happens next.
Wow. What a thought that we as readers can have an impact on what you write!
Anna's grandmother is helping Dutch immigrants adjust to America. So, what inspired you to explore the story of Dutch immigration to America?
I live in Holland, Michigan, a town that was settled by Dutch immigrants in 1847. When my husband and I moved here four years ago, I was curious to learn more about the town’s past. It has been a haven for Dutch immigrants leaving the Netherlands for a variety of reasons, including religious persecution, famine, and the poverty and hardship following World War II. The more I read about their courage, perseverance, and faith, the more I knew I wanted to tell their stories.
Being a historical fiction author myself, I want to know what inspired you to write about characters in this period and place?
I lived in the Chicago area for more than twenty years and I find its history fascinating. In a way, it’s a new city—almost completely rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871. It doesn’t have the long history of places like New York City or New Orleans, and any newcomer can start with nothing and become a millionaire in Chicago. I also love the “Gilded Age” when houses were ostentatious, and women wore elegant gowns, and the wealthy had scores of servants. It looks so wonderful from the outside, but women of that era faced so many limitations. I’ve always wondered if I would really enjoy all of that wealth and elegance if my only role in life was to be a pretty ornament on my husband’s arm. That’s what fascinates me most about this era—how does a woman find a sense of purpose in a frivolous age?
Oooh. Good question! Now, when setting out to write a novel, which comes to you first - the time, the place, or the characters?
I usually begin my novels with a certain time period or historical event in mind. As I delve into the research (including travel to the book’s setting, whenever possible) I figure out the setting for the novel. In the process, I find that my characters start forming in my mind, and I flesh them out by creating resumes for them with all sorts of background information. When the characters begin to “speak” to me and I hear their “voices,” I know I’m ready to start writing. At this point, I don’t have a clear outline of the plot in mind. I simply begin writing and see what happens next.
What kind of research did you do to get the details in Legacy of Mercy right?
I spent a lot of time reading about manners and customs among the wealthy during the Gilded Age, when the story takes place. Society demanded strict adherence to rituals, such as afternoon teas and calling cards. I had explored these details in earlier novels, such as “A Proper Pursuit,” and more recently in “Where We Belong,” so it was fun for me to revisit them. Mind you, I would have gone bonkers if I had to live with so many restrictions—especially the rules that say a married woman must turn over all of the decision-making to her husband.
When writing historical fiction, what are the challenges (or joys) of balancing historical facts with filling in the blanks with your imagination?
One of the joys of writing historical fiction is that as I research past history, I get scores of great ideas for plots and stories! I once read a true account of how women dressed up like men and fought in the Civil War—and it led me to write the novel “Fire by Night.” The true story of the Packhorse Librarians during the Great Depression led to my novel “Wonderland Creek.” In all of those instances, the historical facts fed my imagination. The challenge comes, when I have to fit my plot ideas into a historical framework. Sometimes I wish I could change the facts and the dates to fit my story! And often, by the time I finish a novel, I have trouble remembering which ideas were true facts and which ones I made up.
There you go— fact is sometimes stranger than fiction! Lynn, what do you hope readers takeaway after reading Legacy of Mercy?
One of the themes is about gossip, and how lives can be destroyed by the power of our unbridled tongues. Another is the difficult struggle that young people often face when they seek to stay true to their faith and to who God created them to be. I think there’s also a message for the older generation—that God doesn’t believe in retirement! I would be thrilled if readers found themselves pondering these themes after finishing “Legacy of Mercy,” but my primary goal is always to simply tell a good story.
Those are powerful lessons to learn. And I’m not planning to retire either! So here’s the most important question: Does your faith impact how you approach writing stories?
Every author writes from his or her own worldview, whether they are a Christian, an atheist or some other religion. Our worldview is the way we make sense of life and put all of the puzzle pieces together to answer life’s questions. I don’t have a spiritual theme in mind when I begin a story—I simply want to tell a tale about people in a certain time and place, facing a difficult dilemma. It’s not my goal to preach the Gospel message in every book I write. But because I’m a Christian, my worldview seeps through the pages of my book as the characters wrestle with the big questions in life. And it’s natural for them to find the answers to those questions from my own Christian worldview.
That's so true, Lynn. Lastly, what are your favorite ways for readers to support their favorite authors?
I think it’s wonderful when readers are so excited about an author that they want to share her books with all of their friends. Word-of-mouth is still the number one way that books are sold. Book clubs are very popular, and I love it when a reader tells me that no one in her club had read one of my books until she suggested it for their monthly selection—and then all of those new readers told their family and friends about it! It’s so helpful when readers post blogs about an author’s books and post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but when they share their copy of a book until it falls apart, that’s the best advertising ever!
Absolutely! That's the main reason I am involved in your book launch, Lynn. I love your writing and your worldview. My favorites are "Where We Belong" and "A Proper Pursuit." It's encouraging to know what I read will strengthen my faith.
I trust when my MG Biblical fiction debuts in Spring of 2019, I will also inspire others, and have a faithful team to help pass the word! If anyone is interested to follow my journey to publication, please sign up for my email list at the top of the page. It would be an honor!
I am honored to host an author’s interview with Tina Cho, a kidlit friend of mine. Although we’ve never met, I feel we are kindred spirits, as we share a common faith and educational background. Her latest book “Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans” was released August 14th, and inspired by true life events.
What a blessing Tina could not only participate in such a mission, but write about it to make others aware of the heartbreaking situation in North Korea. Most children have no idea how difficult life can be in other parts of the world. I’m sure they will be surprised, even as I was, at the full extent of their difficulties. Those of us living in developed countries have so much compared to the citizens of North Korea.
I love the storyline! The message is clear— a little bit of compassion goes a long way to ease the hardships of those less fortunate. Even one child can make a difference. The text draws children in from the start:
“Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb.”
And the illustrations are charming and colorful, just like the story. Take a look!
Well, without further ado, let’s move on . . .
-Thanks, Tina, for taking the time to answer a few questions. The life of a published author (and one who teaches full time, too) is very full, I’m sure. So, tell us what inspired you to write the story.
Since moving to Korea in 2010, I heard about the plight of North Korean refugees, especially at church. I had never heard about them before. My colleague tutored some of these refugees English and told me about the rice balloon launch. I accompanied and helped with this event. I knew I would write something about it.
-And we are glad you did! I know your faith is a strong part of your life, as it is in mine. What part does it play in your writing?
My writing tends not to be strictly for the Christian market, go figure, but I’m able to allude to Christian elements through my writing. I discussed this more in detail at the Rate Your Story blog here. I want children to have wholesome stories and of course, come to know Jesus.
-So, was authorship always a goal of yours, or did it come unexpectedly?
When I became a writer, of course, my goal was to be an author of a book. But beforehand, I was only a teacher and wasn’t writing.
-Did anything about writing/publishing surprise or disappoint you?
I think the disappointments in writing are the wait time involved to hear back from publishers and of course, rejections. The surprising part of publishing is realizing someone wants to publish my stories! I can’t get over the fact that someone wants to pay me for my writing! I’m also surprised/happy with all the book love from kidlit friends like you!
-Awwww, thanks, Tina! So what inspires you most about writing for children?
Children are our future. The Bible says to tell the next generation the good things of the Lord. I want to leave a legacy for my children and future grandchildren. Our kids need to know about kindness, compassion, and the people who lived before them who were great examples of these principles.
-Amen to that! I agree wholeheartedly. On that note, tell us a bit about your childhood. . .
I grew up in Iowa with plenty of books. I remember my mom reading to me and also I enjoyed listening to books on record albums! (that shows my age)
-Ha! I remember that, too, Tina. Now that you are a full time school teacher, when do you find time to write?
Evenings and Saturdays
-And where is your favorite place to write?
I write in my tiny office off my bedroom. It’s really a tiny room between the bedroom and bathroom and has a vanity, but it’s big enough for a small table with my laptop and little floor shelf.
-Oooh. Sounds good to me . . . I’ve always wanted a tiny house!
All writers want to know— do you have a solution for writer’s block?
Take a shower! I don’t know what it is, but taking a shower always seems to help.
-Now that’s a unique solution . . . I think you win the prize for originality!
One tidbit of advice for aspiring writers?
Join critique groups! My writing is stronger because of all my writing friends.
-I definitely agree, Tina! Do you have a favorite go-to beverage while writing?
Water, Dr. Pepper if I’m sleepy, and I like a Japanese plum juice called maeshil here in Korea.
-Mmmmm. Japanese plum juice . . .sounds inspiring! So, pantser or planner?
-Pen or keyboard?
Both. I plan in my notebook with a pen, and then move to the keyboard.
-Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Flying home to the States! But a unique vacation we took last March was to a southern island of Korea called Jeju. It’s like the Hawaii of Korea. I did research for a story.
-Aaaahhhh. I can sense another book in the making. . . What were your favorite books as a child? As an adult?
One book I still have is Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth by Lucy Bate. I also read anything by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and the Betsy Book Series by Carolyn Haywood.
As an adult, I’m mostly reading kids’ books so I can stay up on what’s out in the market. I’ve recently enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’ YA books, and I’m currently reading The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, written by a writing friend, Stacy McAnulty.
-Hmmmmm. I’ll put Stacy’s book on my reading list, too. And I do love Ruta’s books as well— especially “Salt to the Sea.” This might be obvious, but do you have a favorite genre to write?
-So, where do you get your ideas?
From my kids, my students, and from being in another country.
-Other than joining a critique group, do you have any last minute tips for kidlit writers?
Never give up! And join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
-Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you . . .
I’m left-handed. I guess this is on my mind because it was Left-Handed Day recently, and I read an awesome article about how handedness is determined as early as 18 weeks in the womb.
That’s fascinating, Tina! Thanks so much for sharing a part of your writing life with us. I trust your new book will be read around the world!
For the whole story of how Tina was inspired to write, “Rice from Heaven,” click here.
You can find a copy here. And it’s selling out fast!
Connect with Tina:
Have you read Tina’s latest book? Were you aware of the situation in North Korea? We’d love to get your help input below!
I'm thrilled for my author friend, Miranda Paul, and honored to interview her today about her latest book. It was voted an Amazon Best Book for August 2016! Miranda is a delightful, personable and creative individual, so I can't help but wish her the best in her author's journey.
So, here goes!
JDB: Amazing 5 books in 18 months! That doesn't happen to all children's writers. What was the key to your success?
Miranda: I don’t know if there’s one single key. I’m also cautious around using the word “success” — it can be a dangerous word, and can mean vastly different things to different people. I built up a body of work, and then when my agent began to query, there were a lot of manuscripts ready to go.
JDB: What was your inspiration for 10 Little Ninjas? Did the original story write itself, or did you struggle with every word?
Miranda: My own kids seem to go through phases of clever bedtime-stalling antics. My extended family is pretty large, and my husband also comes from a family with 10 kids (he’s the baby!). I wanted 10 Little Ninjas to be fun and funny, but also sweet. The original idea came quickly, but I struggled through many choices, deletions, and endings over the course of several years.
JDB: I understand you have three distinct versions of the manuscript, and went through many revisions. What were the darlings you had to kill in the process?
Miranda: The original pirate stanza rhymed “booty” and “pa-tootie”, which I loved. The book is better off without those lines, but my finger hovered over the delete key for awhile before I was able to press down. Critique partners and editors pull you back to reality and help you recognize stronger and better choices.
JDB: What was it like to collaborate with Nate Wragg, a Disney Pix animator? Any surprises?
Miranda: I’ve never met Nate, nor did we speak directly during the process. (This is often a surprise to people to know that you don’t have to illustrate your picture book or provide any art notes!) My editor and the Art Director at Knopf handled all of the communication between us. My favorite surprise is how Nate gave each character a distinct color outfit, shining-star moment, and personality. It’s interesting to see how Mom is portrayed in each scene. Some of them are particularly clever.
JDB: In that case, which ninja was the most fun to create?
Miranda: You’re asking me to choose a favorite kid?! Well...the 1 little cuddlebug sleeping on Daddy’s head was my favorite. Both of my kids (and cats) have done this—sneak all the way from their beds into ours, and fall asleep on top of our faces, etc. Basically, that stanza was written from personal experience. It’s also the “heart” of the book in a way.
JDB: Awwww . . .sweet! So, what's your secret to getting your own Ninjas to bed?
Miranda: Nowadays if they say they’re bored at any point during the day, I make them run laps around the yard. As a result, they’re always tired by sunset.
JDB: Since yours is a rhyming picture book, do you have any tips for writing great rhyme?
Miranda: Read a lot of current rhyming books, get some thick skin and a sharp editor’s eye, and read Dori Chaconas’s article, “Icing on the Cake”.
JDB: Helpful ideas. Thanks, Miranda! What takeaway do you want your readers to experience after reading 10 Little Ninjas?
Miranda: I want them to think the book was fun and that they want to read it again and again!
JDB: I'd say that's a universal goal of all writers! So, tell us about your dedication page. . .
Miranda: I wrote a whole piece on that over at Laura Sassi’s blog, so I’ll post the link here: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/a-handful-of-books-miranda-paul-and-her-picture-book-10-little-ninjas/
JDB: Which book was easiest to write up to this point, and why? The most labor intensive?
Miranda: The fastest book I ever wrote isn’t out yet - it’s called Are We Pears Yet? The book is coming out with Neal Porter Books (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) in Fall 2017. But...just because I wrote it fairly quickly and my editor loved it right away doesn’t tell the whole story. I waited nearly two years before an illustrator signed on (the fabulous Carin Berger) and then there were some significant changes I made to the text once she began, because of some style choices we made cooperatively. This just proves that all books are labor-intensive in different ways.
JDB: Well, I can't wait to read it! What drew you to writing for children in the first place? What's the most rewarding part of your career?
Miranda: My husband would probably answer this by confessing to everyone that I’m just a grown-up child, or at least young at heart (and silly). The most rewarding part of my career, hands down, are the readers themselves. They’re remarkable. I love getting the chance to meet them or hear from them through their letters.
JDB: I understand your husband, Baptiste Paul, is a writer as well. Did you ever guess when you married that this was the path you would take?
Miranda: Although we used to write, read, and attend poetry readings together long before we were married, I don’t think either of us considered it as a viable career option back then. Neither of us met an author at a young age, and are each first-generation in terms of certain life experiences. I’m glad that our lives have been rich with experience and that we were blessed with great teachers and mentors. It’s really remarkable that Baptiste and I get to do this together—I’m looking forward to a particular book we’re co-writing.
JDB: That's amazing. What an opportunity! Then, tell us a bit about your family:
Miranda: Two kids, a cat named dog, beetles, fish, a dozen monarchs (for the moment), and whatever else my son has collected for the day. We also host exchange students from time to time. Never a dull moment in the Paul Household, that’s for sure!
JDB: Well, that certainly sparks fun ideas for future stories! Since you spent time teaching in Gambia years ago, what did you come to love about the culture? Did you experience culture shock?
Miranda: I don’t know that I’m the kind of person who experiences culture shock. As someone who can be introverted, it can be difficult to transition to a new community, especially one as social as the village where I lived. But I’ve come to love so much, especially my host family and good friends. There’s also food, of course—domodaa (peanut butter stew with rice), tapalapa (stone oven baked bread), and mangoes so big they’re hard to hold in one hand. I love learning words in other languages where there isn’t a direct translation in English, because those words explain so much about a culture or place.
JDB: Okay, stop. Your making my mouth water! Since your husband hails from St. Lucia, you've embraced the culture fully. What have you found most engaging?
Miranda: Warmth, friendliness, and a life lived alongside nature, without as many “things” or “distractions”.
JDB: Sounds like a writer's paradise. Anything you can share about yourself that few people know?
I’ll leave it at that!
JDB: Wow! For our readers, check out this link for more fun facts about Miranda: http://mirandapaul.com/11-fun-facts-about-miranda-paul/
JDB: Any last words for writers who feel as though their manuscripts will never be published?
Miranda: There are so many options for printing or publishing a book today. I wouldn’t lament rejections, just focus on what you really want to accomplish and why you’re doing it. Don’t compare yourself to others.
JDB: Good point. Thanks for your time, Miranda. All the best!
Miranda Paul is a award-winning children’s author of One Plastic Bag and Water is Water, both named Junior Library Guild selections. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several recommended and “best of” reading lists. Miranda’s newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month (August 2016). Miranda makes regular appearances at schools, libraries, and bookstores, and has been a guest presenter at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center along with environmental activist Isatou Ceesay. Miranda also serves as Mentorship chair for We Need Diverse Books™ (www.diversebooks.org), volunteers for Books for Africa, and is a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers (Wisconsin Chapter). She believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more about her current and forthcoming titles at www.mirandapaul.com.
Find Miranda here:
TWITTER - @Miranda_Paul
FACEBOOK - Facebook.com/AuthorMirandaPaul
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuts Spring of 2019 with Ambassador International.