I've decided it would be fun to find out why other authors decided to write. And, of course, I have a few more questions than that. Here's my first interview with J.B. Hawker:
Why did you decide to become a writer? – I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember; I wrote stories as soon as I could hold a pencil in my chubby little fingers. When my three sons were small, I entertained them at bedtime with original stories and created booklets for their amusement. As a pastor’s wife, I wrote devotionals and Sunday school materials. My first published writings were in our denomination’s national women’s magazine and when I became a national officer in our women’s ministry, I wrote programming materials, spoke at regional gatherings and started my inspirational blog, Power Walking with Jonna. I had written several fictional short stories, but it wasn’t until my youngest son and I moved back to northern California in 2005, that I was inspired to write and publish my first novel, Hollow. It was well-received, winning a BRAG Medallion award, and I was encouraged to keep writing.
Do you have authors who inspired you to write? Every book I ever enjoyed reading inspired me to give that same pleasure to others.
If so, whom? My reading taste has evolved over the years, but the work of Jan Karon and Phillip Gulley always struck a chord. The books of Doris Saint (Miss Read) had a strong impact, as well. [Ooh, I love Jan Karon and Miss Read, too. But thanks Jonna for educating me about Miss Read's real name.]
What genre(s) do you write and what made you choose it(them)? Hollow was written without regard to genre, but reviewers commented upon the Christian content and some described it as a cozy mystery, although a bit “darker” than most. I’ve eventually settled into the niche I call “feel-good fiction.” I write dark cozy mysteries and thrillers, from a distinctly Christian worldview; evil may be realistically evil, but my protagonists are honest, though imperfect, Christians and, as in the Eternal world, Good always triumphs in the end.
What kinds of classes, workshops, organizations, groups helped you learn the craft of writing? Every English class I ever took over the years provided the groundwork, but I’ve never taken a formal writing class. I’ve been fortunate in my professional life to have had opportunities to hone my writing skills contributing to newsletters and writing supporting documentation and training materials. Currently, I use on-line tools and webinars to continue to improve my writing. My involvement in a number of Facebook groups for writers has been incredibly valuable, both for learning tips and for the generous mutual support.
Do you belong to a critique group? No
Tell us about your first break into print experience. My oldest son met an Italian girl in college, married her and moved to northern Italy, not far from Venice. As you can imagine, I took the first opportunity to hop on a plane to visit. I used my experience there to write a piece for a Christian magazine on communication and how important it is in the church to make the effort to understand another person’s language. The magazine published my piece and the ones I wrote after that.
My first published fiction, was self-published. I submitted my manuscript to a couple of publishers and found the rejection letters so painful that I turned to CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. It was a steep learning curve, but after eleven books, I’m beginning to get the hang of it.
What’s one tip you’d share with other writers? It can be a practical how to tip or an inspirational/encouragement tip. The most obvious is to edit, edit, edit. Also, and this is hard, I know, don’t rush to publish. Take a step away from your finished manuscript (at least a week), then come back and read it aloud. You will not only find overlooked editing errors, but you will get a chance to hear your unique writing “voice” and get a better grasp of how the story flows.
If you are a Christian writer, then your writing is a ministry. Pray, remain faithful in what you write, and allow the Lord to send the increase.
Please share your most recent book title: Mrs. Thistlethwaite and the Magpie
And the opening lines?
All eyes in the grand concert hall followed the movements of the lithe prima ballerina assoluta. Her audience sighed as she whirled on the stage. With her graceful limbs extended in fluid movements, she plucked the emotions of her audience in a story without words. Music surged from the orchestra, lifting her on its strains as she seemed to float above the floor. Dressed in their finest evening wear, the enraptured watchers held their breath as this lyrical vision twirled, leaped, and soared ever higher…
BIO: J.B. Hawker loves to hear from her readers. Send comments or questions to email@example.com, for a prompt personal reply.
Currently living in the wilds of Northern California, J.B. is a woman of a certain age with a lot of living behind her, who looks forward to all the great adventures ahead. J.B. mines the richness of her history as a pastor’s wife in small communities all over the Western United States to people her dark cozy mystery/thrillers. (If you’ve ever attended a small town church, you may even recognize some of the characters.)
Writing from a Christian perspective, her stories include men and women at all stages in their faith walk, along with some truly scary villains. J.B. hopes her readers appreciate main characters who struggle with their faith, as real Christians do, and that non-believers will get a peek at Christian life beyond media stereotypes.
After twenty years serving churches from Alaska to South Dakota, J.B. Hawker returned to her California roots to start over in mid-life as a single business woman, inspirational speaker, and award-winning author.
"I've made up stories my whole life," said Hawker when interviewed. "While other children might need a flashlight to read under the covers after bedtime, I simply made up my own stories, many of which lasted multiple nights, having intricate details and characters drawn both from my life and my imagination."
J.B. has published many articles on faith and ministry. Hollow the first book in the Bunny Elder series and winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion Award, was her first published fiction.
J.B. has three grown sons. Her oldest, the father of her three beautiful granddaughters, lives in northern Italy, the setting of the second book in the series, Vain Pursuits, also a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner.
J.B's website is jbhawker.com and you may find her on twitter here: @HawkerJB.
I’ve seen dialogue from new writers that was too realistic. It included um, uh, and other fillers that we use when we speak. It rambled. Things were mentioned that no one cares about. It didn’t make sense. When I suggested cuts and tightening, the response was, “But that’s how people talk!” Yes, it is. When we talk we can all be pretty boring at times. Our thoughts aren’t always organized. We go off tangent. We use filler words. We see something that sidetracks us. Squirrel! We forget what we were talking about. We talk over others.
But writing fiction isn’t a record of what goes on in the real world. In some ways, it is better than the real world as it leaves out the dull parts. In fiction, every piece of dialogue has a purpose. It might be character development; it might be plot related. It moves the story forward. It’s intentional. It doesn’t bore the reader. We don’t need all the greetings and good-byes in a story. Nor simple pleasant chats. We want tension and disagreements. We want flirting and romance. We want questions raised that we’ve been thinking as a reader. "The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story." – Anthony Trollope
Does that mean a fictional character can never stumble or go off track? Of course not. Used judiciously these are all appropriate. Um, er, and other pauses can show a character’s nervousness or uncertainty. It might indicate lying. A character going off track might be changing the subject deliberately. A character might ramble to show tiredness or drug or alcohol influence. Or one character might be a rambler that other characters are always interrupting.
Readers will stick with characters they care about. Our job as writers is to make it easy for the reader to care. If we’re bogging down all the dialogue, it’s too easy for the reader to give up.
"Dialogue is like a rose bush – it often improves after pruning. I recommend you rewrite your dialogue until it is as brief as you can get it. This will mean making it quite unrealistically to the point. That is fine. Your readers don't want realistic speech, they want talk which spins the story along." – Nigel Watts
Many of us share our buy links* with others. But are your links clean? While doing a project for my publisher I discovered many authors didn’t have clean links. (I also didn’t myself for one site!) Or in other words, they had extraneous letters, numbers and symbols that were not actually part of the real link. How does this happen? Often, when we do a search the url shows part of the search as well as what was found.
Let me give you some examples.
For Barnes and Noble many links included this information after the real link: ?ean= followed by a bunch of numbers. What is actually needed? http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book-title-authorfirstname-authorlastname/10digitnumber. (In some cases there was a /p/ instead of the /w/.) In my book’s case when I search for “alone by sm ford” on the B&N website, my address bar shows: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307?ean=2940158495786. However, this is all the address that is needed to reach the book: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307.
Many Amazon links included /ref= followed by numbers and letters and special characters. Often, you’ll see something like keywords= followed by what you searched for connected with + signs. Here’s the url I get back when I go to Amazon.com and search for my book “alone by sm ford”-- https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. This is a search url, not a direct link to the book. By clicking on the book title itself, I get https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504655116&sr=8-1&keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. All I need though is https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0. See how it specifies the type of book?
For itunes books the extra info was much shorter. Usually it was ?mt=11. Removing those six characters made a cleaner url.
The kobo links all looked clean. They were usually in this format: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/book-title. If the book title wasn’t unique enough it had a dash and a number after the title.
Smashwords books had clean urls too usually with an id number. Here’s mine: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650072
Fortunately, most websites give clean urls. For example, I entered “how to write devotionals” in my browser. When I clicked on a choice, the url was clean and readable: http://devotional.upperroom.org/how-to-write
Are your urls for your buy links clean? Check them out. I’m off to fix my problem one.
*buy link – the direct link to a product on a site that sells the product
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.