March 2014 AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT
(To view Author Spotlight archives, Click here)
SPECIAL NOTE: This month, Debbie has agreed to give away a copy of her book, Journey of Hope, to one of my lucky newsletter subscribers.
Check out my CONTEST page for details.
WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
DK: Hey, Winnie! So excited to be here this month and want to thank you and your readers for letting me hang out. These days, I am mom to four and grandma to three. I share our Georgia household with my amazing husband of thirty-six years, our youngest child (a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl adopted from China), and our two "old lady" dogs.
Originally, I'm from Louisville, Kentucky, where I lived for over twenty-five years. I'm a former English teacher, but these days my work life consists of writing, building websites, and copy editing for other authors. When I take time off, I love to indulge my passion for haunting estate and yard sales. Lately, I've had some fabulous finds from a 1920s silk covered box of chocolates (empty!) to a two-dollar teapot that I ended up being worth far, far, more than I paid. I also love to dabble in jewelry-making and use those projects for reader, friends, and family gifts. (Don't miss the pic of what I'm giving away to your readers :)
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?
DK: I feel like I've always had stories in my head, Winnie. Not to be all "doom and gloom," but my early life was a little rough and retreating into the stories in my mind or reading voraciously was a coping mechanism for me. That's probably why I am such a romance fan-who doesn't want a happily-ever-after?
Just two months ago, my second book, Journey of Hope was released. But it was less than ten years ago that I first tried putting a story on paper. Okay, it was a word processor, but a very, very, limited one, LOL! I wrote twenty-five pages, discovered how hard it was, and doubted my ability to do it. At regular intervals, my supportive husband would say, "When are you going to finish that story? I want to read the rest." Finally, he gave me a membership to RWA (Romance Writers of America) and the rest, as they say, is history.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
DK: My journey to publication was relatively short, less than five years from starting to learn to publication of my first book, The Doctor's Mission, with Love Inspired Historical. Along the way to publication, I won a few contests: The Maggies, Chicago North's Fire and Ice. And I finaled in several others: The Maggies. The Daphnes, and others.
But, I would literally not be where I am today if it wasn't for the wonderful mentors in my local RWA chapter. The first person to greet me when I walked into a Georgia Romance Writers meeting was Haywood Smith, the NY Times bestselling author of the Red Hat Club series. She later did a critique for me and taught me so much. The next was Sandra Elzie, now one of my closest friends and the person who first put all that red ink on some pages of writing that I showed her. Then there was Mae Nunn, one of our award-winning Love Inspired authors and Dianna Love, another NY Times bestselling author who helped me put the final polish on The Doctor's Mission. This is what I love about being a romance writer, Winnie. It's a supportive culture of authors who encourage each other, mentor aspiring authors, and form lasting relationships with readers.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
DK: The Doctor's Mission was my first sale and I had completed a romantic suspense right before the sale. The two stories were neck-and-neck for which one would sell first when I got the email from Melissa Endlich, Sr. Editor for Love Inspired. Melissa said she had read the first three chapters and hoped I hadn't sold the story elsewhere. I sent her the full manuscript and figured I had about 60 days until I heard back.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
DK: "The Call" was a total shock. Eleven days after sending The Doctor's Mission to Love Inspired, my phone rang and the caller ID said Harlequin. Tina James, my current editor was on the phone. The rest was a fog. People talk about screaming, doing the happy dance, etc., but I was just in shock. It was as if someone had hit me in the back of the head with a two-by-four. The next day I walked around with that silly grin on my face, and by the third day, I was totally choreographing my happy dance.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
DK: Writing has changed my focus in life a lot in the usual ways-deadlines, writing schedules, and learning promotion. But, one of the biggest impacts has been the relationships I've formed since I started this journey, both with other writers and with readers.
WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
DK: Oh, my! It never ceases to amaze me that people write and email me to tell me how my books have touched them. I hope your readers know just how much a supportive letter from a reader means to an author. We sit in front of a computer screen struggling over our characters, their problems, their romance, their relationship with God, and sometimes we have to wonder if we're having any effect on the world. One letter, one email, one positive book review is often enough to sustain me and keep me going when I have those moments where I wonder if I'm making a difference in anyone's life.
WG: What about your writing process. Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
DK: I often make a schedule, and I write best in the mornings. However, I think that sometimes God looks at my plans and chuckles, because He knows exactly what life has in store for me on that day. And, LOL, it isn't always writing. This month, for example, I will spend a week or more away from home while my granddaughter undergoes a major surgery, I just returned from a marriage workshop retreat because my husband and I are training to minister in that area, we survived the Georgia ice storm and its power outages, and, well, the list goes on.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
DK: Yes, my goal this year is to complete two books instead of my usual one!
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
DK: My biggest writing ritual is to go to a local coffeehouse and find a corner to work. They serve me tea and muffins and I love it! I also have a CD of harp guitar music that a friend put together for me. I use it when I am distracted and it tells my brain that it's time to write.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
DK: Although it is subject to change, I plot a lot before I start writing. I also must know my characters' issues with themselves, God, and others before I get words on paper.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
DK: A combination of the two, really. I usually "see" my characters in a setting and what is happening around them. From there, I figure out who they are and what is going on in their lives.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
DK: Absolutely! I find that my personal belief--that things are never about what you were handed to deal with in life, but about what choices you make about those things-comes through a lot. All of my character, like real people, are redeemable, even the villains.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
DK: Far and away, I hear people say that when they read my stories, they feel like they are in the jungle with my characters. I have always had strong reactions to places and I guess that comes through. The other thing I hear is that the people and their issues seemed real and relatable.
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?
DK: Wow! There's a long list there, but I'll try not to bore anyone with the details. We've had a long season of family crisis, mostly medical, in my family. And just when it began to clear, I had a medical issue of my own come out of "remission." No, not cancer, but a rare neurological issue called idiopathic hypersomnia. Yeah, I know, no one really knows what that is when they read the name. The Wikipedia article on it is very well informed, if someone is curious. You can also google "Sleeping Beauty Syndrome and Dr. Rye" for a more extreme case.
But without all the medical jargon, it comes down to this: Imagine going through life while someone was pumping IV sedatives through your body 24/7. No amount of sleep, sleep schedule changes, or any normal thing people think of as helping you stay awake works, because it is a "brain" issue and not a normal sleep-deprived issue. For awhile it got so bad that I was unable to drive, couldn't safely watch the grandchildren, and wondered if I would ever have a life again. Fortunately, my docs found meds that have made it possible for me to be alert again and I've returned to a functional human being!
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
DK: I subscribe to the oft-quoted, "Good writing is all about the rewriting." Get it on paper, fix it later!
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
DK: As a writer, I love to dabble in suspense. As a reader, I read most every genre. For me a good book is about the author's voice and the characters, and neither of those things is confined to only one genre.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
DK: I plan to publish my suspense one day, and there is a Christian allegory that I've been plotting that fits the "fantasy" category.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
DK: Yes, two things: 1. Find a writing group with good mentorship, RWA or ACFW are excellent choices. 2. Be willing to learn and makes writing changes. No one's words are sacred.
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
DK: I think my "ah-ha" moment came when copies of my first book hit my doorstep. Holding it in my hand made it all seem real.
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?
DK: With rejections or negative reviews, I allow myself to be human and to be upset for about five minutes. Then, the "pity-party" is over and I get back to writing!
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
DK: Not really. I pretty much ignored conventional wisdom when I started writing missionary romances in the jungles of Africa. I can't tell you how many editors before Love Inspired Historical asked if I could set that book somewhere else. But I just couldn't see my cannibals in the Old West or even New England, LOL!
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
DK: The reader letters and meeting readers at author/reader luncheons are the most rewarding aspects of writing for me. I struggle with promotion the most. After all, who wants to come off sounding like the only thing out of your mouth is "buy my book?"
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
DK: I love sitting on the sofa with my husband and watching Castle, Bones, or Marvel's Agents of Shield.
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DK: A doctor. Obviously that didn't happen.
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
DK: Well, I used to run a small airport with my husband when we lived back in Kentucky. A lot of folks find that surprising. Of course, a few people know a deeper, darker, tidbit about me: I got kicked out of Sunday School when I was ten. Being a guest of a friend, and never having been to a church before, I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to ask the teacher, even innocently, when we were going to stop gluing macaroni and learn about God. I didn't mind the craft, I just really wanted to know. Apparently she was so offended the family was asked not to bring me back. So, basically I've been a troublemaker from an early age, LOL!
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
DK: Besides the TV shows I mentioned earlier, I love Burn Notice, Nashville, Scandal, and just about anything with strong characters. Movies? Adventure-based, like an Indiana Jones, always wins me over. And who didn't like the Die-Hard series, Pretty Woman, or Casablaca?
DK: With Journey of Hope just released and wrapping up a bit of the action I started with The Doctor's Mission, I've started another Liberian missionary romance, but in different part of the country. My working title is "The Exiled Bride," but I have no idea what the editors will eventually name the story. I found it fascinating that, even in the early 1900s, slavery was an issue in Liberia, Africa. My newest missionary has been burned in the past when he involved himself in "social justice" issues and is determined to stick to preaching the Gospel and let that bring about change. He meets his match in a spunky little suffragette who ends up on her uncle's rubber plantation after a protest march back home caused a huge scandal and left her jilted at the altar. The two love-birds have to find a balance between action and faith if they want to save a dear native-friend from being sold as slave labor and shipped out of the country.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
DK: The inspiration came from an international inquiry in the late 1920s that brought the world's spotlight onto a situation that had been ongoing for decades in Liberia. It was a problem that a lot of missionaries at the time had been trying to get public attention to solve.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
DK: I have a huge paper file, personal library, and lots of Google books on my play list that deal with the history and the missionaries of this time, but this issue is one I've been working toward writing. While this is a serious subject, I have loved absorbing facts about the people and the culture of Liberia. The "talking drums" that could send messages for great distances fascinate me. I'd love to actually hear them. I also love the rituals of greeting and friendship that took place as a part of each tribe's hospitality.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
DK: Right now, I am busy still promoting Journey of Hope, which released January 2014. I am close to sending my next story off to my editor and then it will be cross-my-fingers-wait-for-a-sale time while I write the next one!
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
DK: The easiest way is to use the contact form on my website. I read each of those personally and try to respond. www.debbiekaufman.com Or readers can find me on FB (www.facebook.com/debbiekaufmanfanpage ) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/debbie_kaufman And for those less social media inclined, I get mail at: Debbie Kaufman, P. O. Box 444, Griffin, GA 30224 And I absolutely love hearing from readers!
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!