WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
JC: Hi, Winnie and friends, and thank you for inviting me! As a southerner, I love visiting-especially when the talk turns to books. A longtime journalist, my first editing job was at the Barret Banner in elementary school and I went on to become a newspaper reporter and editor, a career that taught me much about putting nouns and verbs together and observing what people are up to! I now own Judy Christie Consulting Services LLC and help businesses, churches and nonprofits with strategic planning-when I'm not making up stories.
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.
JC: Many individuals and groups helped me-including you and the NOLA Stars in Northwest Louisiana. I've found other writers to be incredibly generous in offering skills training and writing therapy. My heartfelt thanks goes, too, to teachers and librarians who taught me to appreciate books. My first newspaper column in elementary school was about the new school library. The first place I ever drove when I got my license as a teen was to the public library.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
JC: My first novel was my 50th birthday gift to myself. Having written for a newspaper for years, I ventured into book publishing with the nonfiction Hurry Less Worry Less series, designed to help busy people slow down and enjoy each day more. But I wanted to write a novel. My agent, Etta Wilson, now retired, was immensely helpful on my path, and my participation in conferences helped much. I recommend that all beginning writers attend conferences to learn the basics-even the lingo writers use. And don't worry about feeling like an impostor. You're a writer!
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
JC: I wrote a book of personal essays about life on an island in Florida that was rejected-they countered with the idea of a travel book that didn't fit my goals at that time. (I've been thinking of pulling it out and indie publishing it.) But I'm extremely fortunate that my first novel sold and led to a 5-book small-town series. I've now had 9 books published.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
JC: I danced, hugged my husband and bought some very expensive personalized stationery-because I still like to write snail-mail letters. When the FedEx guy delivered the Advance Copy of my first novel, I almost kissed him on the lips.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
JC: Great question! I've gotten personal satisfaction from being published-readers are wonderful, and my books are in bookstores and libraries. Wow! Still hard to believe. As an experienced journalist for years, it was tough to step out of my comfort zone and start a new career, and that's been a fun adventure.
WG: What aspect of life as a 'published author' surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
JC: The industry changed in the blink of an eye with e-books and indie publishing and I became a "hybrid" author with traditional contracts and started a small publishing company, Brosette & Barnhill Publishing LLC (the maiden names of my mother and mother-in-law). One unpleasant surprise is how few authors actually earn a living with their books. With few exceptions, most depend on a spouse or another job to help pay the bills.
WG: What about your writing process. Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
JC: I bought a $3 green timer at the Dollar Store and use it to keep from flitting about the Internet, so I can maintain some sort of writing discipline. However, I long for a better routine. I keep a Big Picture journal where I brainstorm ideas and plan. Half of my journal entries revolve around ways to develop a more consistent writing schedule. I block off writing time on my old-fashioned paper calendar. I'm more of a binge writer, though. No typical day, which is both exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
JC: Oh, my yes! Otherwise I would never finish a book. I keep a rolling list of writing projects and prioritize them, something I learned early-on from a literary agent. I do an annual strategic plan (hey, it's the business consultant in me) and revise it in the 4th Quarter of each year. I know when I need to have a manuscript finished and work from that. This is sort of like cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You have to know when to put the turkey in and when to put the brown-and-serve rolls in. Writing a novel is a process, and it takes self-discipline. Some days I let the rolls burn and forget to thaw the turkey.
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
JC: In my fantasy world, I put on a playlist and stare into nature at the same time each day. In reality, I try to write first thing and put my laptop on Airplane Mode to shut out interruptions. I keep a writing log, with the date, the project, the word count when I started and how many words at the end of the day. I use an hour timer and track the number of hours I actually spend writing - "research" on Facebook and Twitter don't count, although there are some awfully cute children and grandchildren out there.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
JC: I know what my beginning will be and what my ending will be and try to circle back to where the book started for the ending. I generally make a list of what could happen in the story. I recommend a book called "Save the Cat," a screenwriting book that helps me consider pivotal plot points. Note to new writers: If you want to start a heated discussion, grab a cup of tea or coffee and ask a group of writers if they plot or fly by the seat of their pants. Then ask them if they prefer a Mac or PC. Sit back, take a sip and watch the show.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
JC: I start with the storyline but that immediately leads into who the protagonist is. As part of this, I spend a lot of time thinking about who the Point of View characters need to be and whether the story will be told in first- or third-person.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
JC: Fish-out-of-water stories with strong, uncertain female protagonists. Those characters are fun to create. I write life-affirming stories where an unlikely hero makes something good happen, and I include a romance thread because love makes the novel go 'round.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
JC: Like many neurotic writers, I find it hard to identify strengths but reviewers say I create realistic, engaging Southern settings and characters. That's my goal. I hope to entertain and encourage readers. Having been a journalist, I think I'm observant, which probably helps me build unexpected plot points. I hope so, at least.
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?
JC: For many years, I've studied and taught busy people how to hurry less and worry less. That has helped me see that most of us spend way too much time running around in a tizzy. I plan and focus with my consulting business and writing projects. A writer once taught me the concept of going "underground" when I need to finish a book. One way I do this is to get away from my home office for a few days now and then. A fresh perspective helps my process! For example, this summer, my husband and I are visiting a niece in Colorado for several weeks, which stirs up my creativity as I finish a novel--and the weather is much cooler than Louisiana...
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
JC: I've finally learned to hone my log line early in the process - to have a clear idea of the story I'm telling and the characters involved. If I can't tell someone what the story is about in a line or two and hook them, I'll never capture the imaginations of readers. A great literary agent told me that a logline needs to have a little sizzle, a little magic.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
JC: I'm addicted to books on writing and have a large collection, which I recycle to other writers from time to time. I enjoy reading romance novels and Southern fiction. And I like nonfiction about whatever topic I'm into at the moment-letter art, starting a small business, running, home decorating.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
JC: I want to write a screenplay! I've taken two screenplay courses this summer and intend to have a go at this. This will be my 60th birthday present to myself.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication
JC: Your voice is unique, and your story is special. No one in the entire world will put ideas and words together in the same way you will, so trust your instincts and keep writing. Always have a good editor look at your work and be open to constructive criticism.
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
JC: Think long and hard about the genre you want to write and try to stick with that. It's harder to build your writing brand when you move around as I have - from nonfiction to women's fiction to YA.
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?
JC: Ouch! It stings. But I remind myself that every reader is not my target reader, so every reader will not love every word I write. If I get a weak review or have a project turned down, I try not to take it personally but keep trying to improve and to connect with my readers.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
JC: I wish I hadn't believed early-on that e-readers were a passing fancy.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
JC: Rewarding: The joy of creating something from nothing and then talking about it with readers, as though it really happened! Struggle: To juggle the non-writing parts of the job-such as social media and administrative tasks.
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
JC: I love used bookstores and primitive antiques and pie, and if a road trip can include all three, I'm giddy.
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JC: An FBI agent or a day-care owner. Really. I think I was ahead of the curve on Kindergarten Cop.
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
JC: I had lunch at the White House with Nancy Reagan. I've kept a journal since I was 11 and still have all of them. I write several letters a week to friends.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
JC: My husband and I see about 50 movies a year in the theater, so I have lots of favorite movies. And he tells me that watching TV together strengthens a marriage, so I have several favorite sit-coms. Movies: "Christmas Vacation" because it's funny and one of our family traditions; "Princess Bride," a wonderful story within-a-story with romance, suspense and humor, an unusual blend. Wish I had written that! TV shows: "Life in Pieces" because it has layers of humor and "The Goldbergs" because it's over-the-top and yet feels real. Plus, those old video clips at the end are such a great touch.
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.
JC: "The ancestor of every action is a thought." Ralph Waldo Emerson. I think we need to step back and consider what we want/need/are called to do. Take a fresh look. Think about it. Then act on it.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
JC: I'm in the midst of the Wreath Willis series, about a teen girl who lives alone in a junkyard until she can graduate from high school. This series is special to me because it shows how people are so much more than they seem on the surface and that we all need each other. This is classified as Young Adult fiction but I find that many older readers enjoy it, too, because Wreath and a widow learn to depend upon each other. I lived in poverty as a child and learned that education is key to making a better life.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
JC: I got the idea when driving past an abandoned trailer park many times, then beginning to imagine someone living alone there. Who was it? Why was she there? How could she stay hidden? The name Wreath, by the way, came from a friend's great-aunt. I knew the moment I first heard it a dozen years ago that I would use it in a novel one day.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
JC: I researched everything from when the sun rose and set at certain times of the year to how long it would take a girl to walk from North Louisiana to Central Louisiana. The weirdest thing, though, was figuring out which way the doors swing open in public restroom stalls-for a terrifying scene where a bad man is trying to trap Wreath.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
JC: The most exciting news for me is that, "Wreath, A Girl," has been optioned by a Hollywood producer for film/TV. "Wreath, In Summer," book 2, is out, and I'm completing "Wreath, In College" this summer. It is scheduled to release in December. I am indie publishing these books, another adventure.
WG: And before we close, tell us how readers can get in touch with you.
JC: I love visiting with readers, including speaking to book clubs and at libraries. My website is www.judychristie.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Facebook, my author page is @JudyChristieAuthor.
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!