GENRE: Non-fiction devotional/memoir/self-help
When and why did you begin writing? How did you get started as a writer?
- I never planned to be a writer, but I felt God nudging me to write a book about a family experience. Then He made a way for me to attend a writers conference in 2005. I was so green, I’d never even heard of writers conferences, but while there, I met with a couple of magazine editors who were interested in publishing articles on my topic. Within six months, two of my articles appeared in national magazines. (And they even paid me!) I still don’t have a book in print, but I have published more than a hundred articles, devotionals, and short stories. Many writers think they have to publish a book to be a writer, but that’s not true. I love being able quickly to finish a project and move on to something else. Shorter pieces allow me to do that. And it all started with that conference.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
- Even after those first two articles, I still didn’t plan to continue with this silly writing business. It wasn’t until my first Chicken Soup for the Soul story that I realized I really liked writing. I had joined a writers group still looking to get that book published. One day, the group’s president, Marylane Wade Koch, emailed me to say Chicken Soup was looking for stories for a nurse’s soul book and suggested I submit something. (I had been a nurse many years ago.) I thought, “Chicken Soup is not going to publish anything I write,” and let the deadline pass. A few days later, Marylane emailed again and said, “They’ve extended the deadline for the nurse’s soul book! Why don’t you try submitting something?” I eventually submitted five stories for that book, they held three for consideration, and they chose two to publish. My nineteenth Chicken Soup story comes out this summer, and I now teach workshops and webinars on writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul. So I guess I’m a writer!
Are your writings based on someone you know or events in your own life?
- Except for one piece that finaled in a fiction contest, everything I’ve published has been nonfiction and usually based on people or events familiar to me. All Chicken Soup stories are nonfiction and drawn from my own life, many about my family. My devotionals start out with a personal anecdote and show how God worked in and through the person or situation. I wrote for a newspaper for a year and got to profile people in our community who were making a difference. For example, I love writing about a woman who started a wildlife rehabilitation center and the adventures she’s had. She can point to God’s hand in all of them. I’ve dabbled in fiction (and usually even that is based on personal experience), but nonfiction is where I’m most comfortable.
Do you have a mentor or writing group? How does that impact your work?
- In addition to the writers’ group I mentioned, I belong to a local ACFW group. Both groups have encouraged and supported me in my writing. But my critique group has made the most difference. Kathy Carlton Willis started our online group and mentored us for a while. When she had to leave in 2008, I took over as moderator. Nothing can compare with having other writers go through your manuscripts and give honest feedback. They can see what I can’t because I’m too close to my work. I felt so strongly about the importance of critique, I wrote a column about it for Southern Writers Magazine for a year. And knowing I have the critique group praying for me makes all the difference.
How do you help new writers?
- I’ve taught at a number of writers conferences across the country and love to meet with new writers during one-on-one appointments. I try to point them toward markets or resources that will help them get their writing published. And of course, I teach about writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul, which is a great market for beginning or experienced writers. In addition to the workshops and webinars I conduct through Write Life Workshops, I developed a course on writing for Chicken Soup for Serious Writer Academy. Also, my e-newsletter, The Write Life, comes out every month and includes a short article by an industry professional. We publish articles about a variety of writing topics as well as a spotlight on one of our subscribers. And finally, I’m registrar and sometimes-presenter at our own conference, the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference, which our small writers’ group started five years ago. The next one will be in March 2019 in Memphis, TN.
What are your current projects?
- I do more para-writing activities than actual writing nowadays. I still submit devotionals and short stories, but I’m doing more speaking and editing. Our next all-day Chicken Soup workshop is scheduled for September in Birmingham, and we’ll be presenting it again at the Mid-South conference in March. I proofread for the Farmers’ Almanac and just finished editing a 99,000-word true crime book for a lawyer I met at the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference three years ago. She sat at my one-on-one table and told me a fantastic tale of being kidnapped by a former client who was going to rape and kill her—until God supernaturally intervened. She and I often talk about the divine influences that brought us together and connected us with people who could get her book published. So humbling to be a part of that.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What really strikes you about their work?
- I enjoy Maeve Binchy’s books. She writes character-driven books and does a mind-boggling job of weaving all her characters’ lives together. I’ve started a women’s fiction book. If I could do half as well as Maeve Binchy does in developing her characters, I’d be thrilled.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
- Don’t give up. When a rejection comes in, just pretend it says “RETURNED—MAILED TO WRONG ADDRESS” and use the rejection as an opportunity to improve that piece and find the right market for it. Never stop learning and growing in your craft. As I often tell my workshop attendees, there are a lot of reasons a story is rejected. It’s not necessarily the quality of writing. Keep on submitting.
What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
- With a proposal in for a devotional book based on my nursing experiences, I’ve been watching my daughter-in-law’s fifteen-season set of ER. It gives me ideas I can write about. I also enjoy historical shows such as Poldark, Victoria, and Home Fires. I love old movies and even sci-fi and fantasy. I guess I have an eclectic taste. And of course, any children’s movie my granddaughter wants to snuggle up and watch with me.
Is there typically a message in your writing that you want readers to grasp?
- I hope they will always see that I love God and that God loves them, whether I’m writing an overtly Christian story or not. One of the things we talk about in our Chicken Soup workshops is the difference between testimony (which CS doesn’t want) and story. We can write about godly attributes such as love, joy, mercy, or justice without even mentioned God’s name. Jesus did that in His ministry when He told parables. What a privilege to imitate the master storyteller of all time.