A couple of years ago, my husband and I took a 10th anniversary trip from sea to shining sea, flying to Santa Barbara, California. I was in a zany mood and wanted to pass the time on our flight, so I combed the bookstore for a novel that hollered, “Read me. I’m good, clean FUN.” I found it. The cover featured a skinny cartoon girl walking a tiny dog, and it was published by a new Christian publisher, Westbow Press. It leaped off the shelf at me, and I couldn’t even wait until our trip to start reading it.
The title? She’s Out of Control by Kristin Billerbeck. I loved it. I didn’t even notice the airline served us nothing but a mini bag of pretzels on our 3-hour flight. So, I’ve been hanging out lately at this totally hip blog for Christian novel fans, Girls Write Out. Have you visited yet?
If you haven’t, you’ve got to meet this Fab Foursome: along with Kristin Billerbeck, you can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to be a Christian fiction writer, from the keyboards of fellow bloggers, Denise Hunter, Diann Hunt, and Colleen Coble.
Well, Colleen’s got a great publicist because she somehow found me and asked if I’d like to interview Colleen.
Would I? She’s an award-winning Christian writer who is also a MOM. You bet! I know that at least one of you is an aspiring Christian chick-lit novelist, but I won’t say WHO. (Oh, excuse me, did I let that slip?)
Let’s welcome author Colleen Coble today to Mom 2 Mom Connection.
Thanks for visiting, Colleen. I notice on your website, you’re a “Romantic Suspense Author.” Can you tell us a little about your pathway to becoming a published novelist?
Thanks, Heather. I’d known I wanted to write from the time I wrote my first story in 1st grade. I can still remember that story. It was about a horse that had twin colts. The teacher praised it, and the seed was planted in my heart.
I planned for it all through school, but got married at 19 and had my first baby at 21. I got busy raising my kids. The seed was still there, but it lay dormant. It took the pressure of adversity to crack it open.
A few months shy of my 40th birthday, my younger brother Randy was killed by lightning. It was a wake-up call that if I was going to follow my dream, I should get on with it. None of us knows how long God has planned for us on this earth.
I’m sorry to hear about your brother. That does sound like a startling wake-up call. How long did it take you to write your first novel?
It took me a year to write and then six more years to sell it. My first book, a prairie romance, sold to Barbour. Seventeen more sales followed to them, but my dream was always to write suspense. People ask why I write about murder when I’m friendly and outgoing. I think it’s because I’ve seen bad things happen in my life, and I want justice to win. I can make sure that happens in my writing.
Wow. You must really get hooked into writing the plots if there’s a murder to be solved. What advice would you give to women who love reading novels and think they’d like to write one someday?
Don’t just think about it! Read extensively in the genre you’d like to write. Join an online organization like American Christian fiction Writers and network with other writers.
Read books on writing such as Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Attend writing conferences. All these steps will increase your chances of writing something publishable.
I heard James Scott Bell give the keynote address at the Glorieta Christian Writer’s Conference last year, and I’m also reviewing his latest novel now. Do you really think it’s helpful for aspiring writers to go to conferences?
It’s VITAL! I can’t recommend it enough. At a conference you can meet editors and agents face to face, and while you may not sell your book at the first one, you’ll begin to build the networks and relationships that will grow as you meet every year at the conference.
You’ll also find other writers you “click” with who will become lifelong friends to encourage and commiserate as you tackle the writing adventure. And a really great conference has workshops where you’ll learn more about writing than you ever dreamed possible.
Also, they’re just plain FUN! No one else understands the writing life like another writers. Not your family, your best friend or your mother. Only other writers know what it feels like to put your heart into a book only to have it come zinging back in your mailbox. Only another writer knows how it feels when you finally get “the call.” I met my wonderful agent at the conference at Mount Hermon, and we just clicked. She went back to the office and read my proposal for Without a Trace and bought it, and I know it wouldn’t have happened without that conference.
Oh, I can relate to that feeling of sending something out and having it rejected. No fun at all. And you’re right — nobody else understands but other writers! Do you recommend any conferences?
For Christian fiction, there’s no better conference than the ACFW one. Virtually every publishing house in CBA has a representative in attendance. And there’s plenty of time to pitch your book to the many who are there. The workshops are stellar, and this year our keynote is Liz Curtis Higgs, a wonderful writer and amazing speaker. She’s totally hilarious to listen to.
I also think Liz is hysterical. I read her columns in Today’s Christian Woman magazine, and I’m also reviewing her novel, Grace in Thine Eyes right now. Will you be at the ACFW conference in Dallas this September?
Yes! I’m actually teaching an early bird main morning session with Deb Raney.
I notice that your latest novel is called Alaska Twilight. Did you have to go to Alaska for research?
I’m an Alaska nut. I’ve read about it, dreamed about it, and watched every movie about it 40 times. Okay, maybe not quite that many, but a lot.
So when WestBow asked me to do a Women of Faith book, that was the first setting I thought of. I also had two writer friends from Alaska who read it for me to make sure I got it right.
How do you decide on where your novels should be set?
I generally start with setting when coming up with a new story. It needs to be some place that has a certain mystique for me. I like my setting to play a role in the story where you couldn’t take that story and set it anywhere else.
I know so little about Alaska, though I’d love to go someday. I read on your website that you had a contest for one of your readers to identify the Alaskan craft mentioned in Alaska Twilight. A hoofaboo! How interesting.
I had so much fun writing that book. You can read several reviews of it on my website.
Can you tell us more about that fun blog you participate in, Girls Write Out? I discovered it through being a reader of Kristin Billerbeck’s chick-lit. How did you get to know each other?
Kristin and I have been friends the longest. We were both writing for Heartsong Presents at the time and connected online. We first met at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. Her mother-in-law was appalled she was going to room with someone she’d never met!
But we clicked as much in person as we did on email. Diann and Denise both live about an hour from me, and we all started at Barbour. The three of us get together a lot and all four of us room together at the ACFW conference. It’s our yearly girls night out.
That sounds like WAY too much fun. How did you get started blogging?
The four of us knew we’d like to have a blog but we also knew we’d never have the time to maintain one on our own so we pooled our resources. And we wanted it to be for READERS not just writers.
We wanted it to be relevant to women no matter what their age or occupation. We blog about stuff our husbands do, the perplexities of life, all kinds of things.
Well, I’m certainly enjoying reading it. I have one more quick question. Do you have a mentor of any kind?
The four of us mentor one another. We’ve been iron sharpening iron. And my editors have really helped me grow as well. Stephen King is my favorite author. He can write characters like no one else. I bet I’ve read THE STAND thirty times.
Do you have any more advice for aspiring writers?
The writing life can be tough. Friends make it more about the journey and less about the arriving, so make finding some writing friends a top priority!
Thanks, Colleen! This has been such a wonderful chat. I hope at least one of us will be able to meet you and the other writers in your Fab Foursome in Dallas at the ACFW conference. Thanks for stopping in.
Thanks, Heather! These were great questions.
If y’all enjoyed this chat with Colleen Coble, be sure and stop by Girls Write Out or her website and say hello! There’s also another great interview with Colleen at the ACFW website, where I learned that she reads 4-5 books a week!