WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
DF: I live in Denver, Colorado with my husband, children, dog, chickens, and toilet fish. I have a bachelor's in history and political science, and I used to joke about never being able to use those degrees unless I went back to school so it's kind of cool that I'm now using that history degree to write historicals. Except I'm writing a different time period and place. Oh well, I guess it's a good thing I like history. I've spent the past ten or so years working as an online moderator for a publisher's community, so I've spent a lot of time in the writing world. I really love books. I also love travel, knitting, and art journaling. Actually, I've found that art journaling has been such life-changing activity for me that I'm starting a coaching business using art journaling. And no, I'm not an artist in the traditional sense. I can barely draw stick figures. But I really love making stuff.
WG: Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
DF: That's kind of a crazy, long story. I've been a writer and wanted to write books since I was a little girl. But I never imagined it as a career because I knew it was hard and you didn't make a lot of money as a writer unless you're Nora Roberts or someone like that. So I figured I'd do that when I retired. It was not on my radar until I was a stay at home mom with a baby and I was bored. So I decided to write a book. I've always loved Harlequin books, so I researched writing for Harlequin. I found the online community at Harlequin.com and I've been writing ever since.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
DF: This is going to be pretty inspirational to those readers who've been trying for a long time and not succeeding. I started writing for publication when my now 14 year old was a baby, so it took me 12 years to sell my first book. I really thought when I wrote that first book, that it would be a sure sale. Ha! I tried and failed- a lot. I have dozens of rejections that all basically say, "You're a good writer, but this isn't quite what we're looking for." The trouble was, no one could tell me how to bring it up to that level, so I struggled for a long time. I mean, hey, if they'd said, "Wow, you really need to learn grammar," I could have fixed that. But no one could tell me what to fix. I had personal conversations with editors who told me they wished they knew, because I was a good writer, but there was just something missing. I did well in a few contests, but mostly my feedback was, "I love this book," or "I hate this book so much, you should never write again." Totally not helpful. So I stopped entering contests.
I got an agent, and fortunately, he liked my work and believed in it enough to stick with me through several rejections of different books. He kept bugging me to write a historical because he knew how much I liked them, and I kept saying no. Historicals are my candy, and I didn't want them to turn into work. Plus, I love research so super much, I was afraid I'd never write a word. Finally, just to get him off my back, I wrote a historical. I pretty much said that at the end of our little experiment, one of us would say, "I told you so," and that if it was me, we would never speak of my writing a historical again. If it was him, well, I'd have sold a book, so I could eat a little crow. I had given up on this book, and was working on requested revisions on a contemporary when I found out this one sold. I guess my agent knew what he was talking about, huh? ;)
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
DF: Well, that's a funny question. I've got about 15 completed unsold manuscripts. At least that many more that are about halfway done. But, since this was my first historical, they're just gathering dust until I can write both historical and contemporary. Fortunately, when I sold, I had already completed book two, just in case, and that one has sold and will be out in July. It's called The Lawman's Redemption.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
DF: Actually, when my agent called, I was expecting him to say we'd gotten another rejection, so it took a while for it to sink in. I was pretty much in shock. He told me to be prepared to squeal, and actually, I didn't. Later, when my editor called, I was at my girls' riding lesson, so I was talking to her and recording my daughter riding, so I have part of that call recorded. I am the queen of multi-tasking!
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
DF: In some ways, it's been great to have that validation, however, I've learned that when you seek validation from external sources, it's not as satisfying as you think it would be. I think that's why I started on my art journaling journey and learned to find my validation within and with God. I still feel very blessed to be published, and I hope to continue that for many, many years, but it's no longer my ultimate thing.
WG: What aspect of life as a 'published author' surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
DF: How hard promotion is. I've spent almost 12 years promoting other people's books, yet promoting my own is a lot harder than I expected. On the flipside, it's been really humbling to see how many people have been so supportive and encouraging.
WG: What about your writing process? Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
DF: To be honest, I'm still figuring that one out. I don't have a typical day. I work what amounts to a full time job, I have a very active family, and I'm starting my own business. Writing tends to be done in chunks when I can steal them, and I have to do a lot of multitasking. I edited my last book sitting in an auditorium during my kids' play practice.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
DF: Yes. I think goal setting is important. That said, I've had to completely scrap this year's goals and revise what I was thinking due to my art journaling business. It's not a bad thing, and I think I'm doing the right thing. So it's important to remember that yes, you need goals, but it's also important to be flexible and measure those goals and whether or not they're serving you well and the end you seek.
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
DF: Not really. Because I've had to do a lot of my writing on the go, I've learned to be flexible. Some of my best writing happens in cars, airplanes, in coffee shops, and pretty much anywhere I have the ability to write. I actually do not like writing to music, because if it has words in it, I get more caught up in the song than I am in my own work.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
DF: I do a little of both. I know my general direction, and then I write a few chapters, and then I plot it all out. I need to know the characters before I know the full plot.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
DF: It's a combination. I usually have an idea of the storyline, but then I need to write and get to know the characters to fully flesh both out.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
DF: Not intentionally, but as I'm working on my third book, I realized that I have a lot of kidnapping going on. It makes me wonder if there is something subconscious I need to deal with. :) That, and I'm really drawn to unlikeable characters. That was the only cited reason for some of my rejections, and even now, my editor has to tell me to tone something down in a character. I really love the characters, who, at face value, seem like they're not very heroic or are kind of a mess. There's something really beautiful buried inside them, and I want to help them reveal it so they can live fully in the beauty of who they were created to be.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
DF: I tend to write fast and clean, so I get a lot done in a short amount of time and don't have to fix a lot of mistakes when I go back through it.
WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?
DF: Definitely the challenge of having a busy life and family is a big one. The best way to deal with it is to be flexible. I know a lot of writers who stop writing because of a family crisis or situation, thinking that when it's over, they'll have time to write again. More often than not, I see another crisis hit shortly thereafter, so once again, they put off writing, until eventually the writing goes away and gets really hard to get back into. There will always be a crisis or a tough situation. You think your kids are at a tough age? The next age just presents a new and different challenge. So rather than letting circumstances get to me and being trapped by the thinking that when X happens, I can get more writing done, I just find a way to make it happen now. I've had to learn to write, regardless of the circumstances.
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
DF: My process has evolved and changed over the years. I used to not be able to write from a synopsis, and now I need one once I get past a certain point. I used to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning to write and then sleep in because my kids were little and they could entertain themselves. Now, I have to go to bed by midnight because I have to get up in the morning to be with my kids. I still write better in the middle of the night, but I've had to adapt as my family has changed.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
DF: As a writer, I'm finding that I enjoy writing historicals more than I thought I would. I still like writing contemporaries. I'm pretty happy no matter what I write, as long as I'm writing. As a reader, I prefer historicals, and Regency is my absolute favorite. They spend the shortest amount of time on my ever-growing TBR. I actually don't think I have any on my TBR right now.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
DF: Last year, for Christmas, I wrote books for my girls. So I have a middle grade and a YA written. The girls would love to have me get them published someday, but right now, there's too much on my plate for me to think about it. And of course, there's 15 books sitting on my hard drive that I'd love to do something with. But again, I have too much going on to deal with them. In time…
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
DF: I'm going to tell stories on one of my best writing buds- Cheryl Wyatt. I met her when she was just starting out and we were both expecting our now ten year old daughters. I remember her first submissions. Seriously, they were horrible. I'm not being mean in saying that- you can ask Cheryl and she'll laugh. I can even remember thinking that she would probably never publish because her writing was so bad. At the time, I was what other writers, and even editors said was, "close." My writing was great, I just hadn't found the right story. Guess who sold first? Cheryl. She's gone on to sell a bunch more books while I struggled. But the reason Cheryl sold is this: She was teachable. She studied every writing book and read every writing article she could find, and SHE PUT IT INTO PRACTICE. Yeah, I just shouted there, but it was for good reason. So many people read the books, but don't do the work. She did the work. Even now, Cheryl is constantly asking, "how can I improve?" I know so many writers who ask that question, but then they won't listen to advice. I can list a bunch of people who started out back when Cheryl and I were starting who are still trying to sell the same manuscript with the exact same mistakes.
I used to judge contests, and I can't tell you how many times I'd see a submission in a contest, I'd give honest feedback and correct spelling errors, and a year later, I'd see the exact same mistakes, including spelling! That's not how you get published! To contrast that, Cheryl would get back contest entries and really consider what people were saying. Sometimes she'd come to me and say, "hey, I got this feedback, and I'm changing this, but I'm not sure about this, what do you think?" She honestly wanted to learn, and I really credit that to her success.
My personal biggest struggle in that area was that I didn't know what I needed to learn. I was willing to be teachable, but people honestly couldn't tell me what it was. The exception to that was my agent saying I needed to write historical. I fought him for a long time on that one, and I really shouldn't have. We all have our stubborn moments, but I think, looking back, those are the ones that end up costing us the most.
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
DF: The biggest one goes back to art journaling. I've learned that my brain really does need a break, and even though it sometimes feels like a waste of time when my plate is so full, when I take time out of my busy schedule and work in my art journal, I end up getting more done. Your most important asset as a writer is you. If you don't take care of yourself and nourish your soul, your writing will suffer.
WG: Rejections, less than stellar reviews and notes from unhappy readers are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
DF: Well, I am the rejection queen! I think you have to remember that it isn't personal. Some of my rejections were because the editor had recently bought a similar book. When I finally sold, all of the editors I'd worked with were super happy for me. They wanted me to succeed, but I just hadn't found the right vehicle. I haven't yet received bad reviews or notes from unhappy readers yet, but I know they're coming. It's part of the business. Fortunately, I've had close writing friends share their bad reviews and reader letters with me, and the takeaway I got was the same I found with my book rejections. It's not personal, even if they make personal attacks. We can't make everyone happy with our work, but there will be the people who are really touched by my books, and those are the people I'm most interested in connecting with.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
DF: Wow, that's a hard one. The only thing I can think of is that there were a couple of times more established authors pushed me to write a different story than what I was writing. They were well intentioned, so this is nothing against them, but they also wrote for different publishers and in different genres. So when I wrote the book their way, it was rejected, usually because of the one item they pushed me to include that I didn't want to include. That is not to say, don't listen to advice from more established authors. They're really wise, and they really do want to help you. But consider your source. Writing for Love Inspired Historical is very different from writing for a more mainstream line, so when you are looking for someone to help you or you are paying a professional editor, make sure they have experience in the specific market you're targeting.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
DF: The most rewarding thing about being a writer is that I get to tell stories all day. How cool is that? The thing I struggle with most is all the other stuff you have to do besides writing, like marketing, paperwork, and all the busy work that's not as fun as just sitting down and writing a book.
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
DF: Art journaling, but you probably guessed that already! I also like to travel, play in my garden, and watch my chickens. In terms of self-indulgence, nothing beats a nice long bath with a good book!
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DF: A lot of things! Everything from one of Barbara Mandrell's sisters, a truck driver, a scientist like Marie Curie, President of the United States, a mom, and a lawyer. Like I said earlier, I figured I'd give writing a go once I retired!
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
DF: My degree in History and Political Science had an emphasis on the Middle East, so I spent some time traveling there in college. It's actually a beautiful place, and I'd love to go back someday. Preferably when there aren't fanatics out there who want to kill me for being a Christian.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
DF: I've had to really cut back my TV time so I have time for everything else. I still watch Once Upon a Time, Castle, and Covert Affairs. I catch up while I'm sitting around doing laundry. As far as movies, that's a hard one because I have not watched a movie in a long time. The last movie I watched was Frozen, when we got it in DVD a few months ago. I never tire of any of the movies based on Jane Austen books, so I'll pop in one of those if I don't have a TV show to catch up on. Seriously, if we got rid of our TV, I would not miss it.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
DF: My friend just posted this on Facebook, and it's my new favorite. I may have to do an art journal piece on this one.
"May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us."
~ Teresa of Ávila
DF: Here's the back cover blurb:
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
HIS SURPRISE SISTER
The last thing Joseph Stone expects to discover upon arriving in Leadville, Colorado, is a newfound little sister. Hoping to find his late father's silver mine and hopefully keep his siblings back home out of an orphanage, Joseph needs an ally. The preacher's lovely daughter agrees to care for the little girl. She's just not as willing to trust the prospector….
Annabelle Lassiter has seen what men do in pursuit of riches. Yet for all the hardship he's known, Joseph still shows tenderness and warmth. Annabelle's plan has long been to leave Leadville far behind. But Joseph's quest for silver could cost them a more precious dream-one of family, love and new beginnings….
Rocky Mountain Dreams is available now!
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
DF: When I took the challenge from my agent to write a historical, I knew it would be in Leadville. My husband's family is from there, and I really love the town and its history. As I was reading through old Leadville newspapers, I came across an ad for a debate between two pastors about whether or not miners were beyond salvation. I thought it was really interesting to see how, back then, certain classes of people and their occupations made them undesirable. I decided (because of my love of the underdog) to write a story featuring a ministry to the undesirables, knowing that my hero would have to be one of the undesirables (a miner), and the more I thought about who my heroine needed to be, I couldn't let go of the idea of a preacher's daughter who'd lost her faith. And so, my story was born.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
DF: I already knew a lot about Leadville and its history. But I did do some research, and I think what I found most interesting was how very modern of a city it was. For example, it was one of the earliest cities to get telephone service. Which makes sense, due to the amount of money the mines were producing each day.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
DF: My next book, The Lawman's Redemption, is out in July 2015, and it features the story of Mary, Joseph Stone's (the hero in Rocky Mountain Dreams) sister and Will Lawson, a disgraced lawman looking to clear his name and take down the real culprit responsible for the crimes he's accused of committing. The only thing standing in his way is Mary Stone, who harbors some secrets of her own…
I'm currently working on revisions for book three.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!