Betsy St. Amant
WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
BSt: Thanks for having me, Winnie! It's an honor. I was born and raised in Louisiana, so being a southern girl is all I know! My stories are set in New Orleans, which is a special city to my husband and me. I grew up ping-ponging between public school and homeschooling, for various reasons, and actually liked homeschooling better, so I chose to graduate early that way. I went on to community college before transferring to Louisiana Baptist University and getting my BA in Christian Communications. I've been married for coming up on six years and we have a beautiful toddler I refer to as Little Miss! She gives me quite the material for future stories, let me assure you. In my spare time, which is pretty rare these days, I enjoy reading and playing on the park slides with my daughter and drooling over new shoes.
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.
BSt: Absolutely. Robin Jones Gunn had a huge influence in my life as a young teenager. I first read Secrets, the second in her Glenbrooke series, when I was about 13. I found it accidentally in my sister's room and wondered what a book was like that wasn't Sweet Valley Twins or Saddle Club. I started reading and couldn't stop. I was ready to read "up", out of my age group, and devoured all of Robin's books including the Christy Miller series. God used her novels to show me that my own dreams included writing Christian fiction. I'd been writing poems and short stories since I was 7, but that book really confirmed it in my heart. And the rest is history! ::grin:: Once I got serious about pursing publication when I was 18, I attended a ClassServices conference by Florence Littauer in Texas, and met fiction author Gayle Roper. She was eventually the one who pointed me to the ACFW, and again, the rest is history! I've been an ACFW member for I believe five years now and attribute a large part of my success to their fellowship and teachings. It's a wonderful organization that has done so much for writers literally world-wide.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
BSt: I answered some of this in the above question, but once I got serious about writing, it took several years to get an agent and get published. I met my agent through an ACFW conference in 2007, and she contracted my first traditionally-published novel in 2008, which was released in 2009. At this moment, I have one novel through The Wild Rose Press, a POD small press, and three published with Steeple Hill Love Inspired. I also have a Christmas novella coming out in October as part of a Steeple Hill compilation book with fellow LI author Marta Perry. And many more things still in the works! God is good!
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
BSt: Not counting the novel that was published with the small press, I wrote two other full length novels that still haven't sold. I've rewritten them several times and they are all getting great feedback from conferences, but nothing has hit a homerun yet. I still believe God as a plan for those books, though, so we'll see what happens in the future. One is a women's fiction and the other a romantic suspense.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
BSt: When my agent called me about the contract for my first Love Inspired novel, I was at my day job as a receptionist, and hollered pretty loud in the lobby before I caught myself. ::grin::It was super exciting and I proceeded to blink back tears while calling my family to tell them the good news. We went out to dinner that night to celebrate at my favorite steakhouse!
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
BSt: Oh, it's changed my life, for sure. It's naturally given me fresh motivation to write, and has also taught me a lot about discipline, time management, priorities, and goal-setting. Also, it's kept me even more aware of the fact that God is a dream planter. He will eventually harvest those dreams, even if it's not in our desired timing!
WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
BSt: At first, I was surprised because while it changed my life, in another sense, nothing changed. I wasn't suddenly super confident. It was always "if I could only get an agent then I'll be set." Then that happened and it was "if I could only get published, then I'll be set." There is always something for a writer, published or unpublished, to be insecure or worried about, which is good in a way because it keeps us humble and keeps us trusting and depending on God instead of in our own ability or lack thereof.
WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
BSt: HAHAHA! Sorry. I wish. I'm such an organized, detailed freak that I truly do wish. But my life as a wife, young mother to a toddler, new part time employee to an oil and gas company, and a freelance writer to my local newspaper does not merit much routine. It's more like "frantically do everything you can when you can and learn to multi-task" kind of schedule. But you know what? It's working. My house is clean, my family is fed, I work outside of the home three days a week and spend the rest of the week at home writing and spending quality time with my daughter. So far she's happy, I'm happy, and the deadlines are getting met. But prayers are always appreciated! ;)
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
BSt: Because I don't have a set schedule, it's hard to set word count goals. Again, it's just more like a simple goal of getting as much done in an available time period as I can, whether that's a paragraph, a page, a chapter, an article, a blog, etc. during my lunch hour or during my toddler's nap. Before I went back to work part time, my mother gave me one day a week to write all day and she kept my Little Miss. But since my husband's lay-off from the fire department and I went back to work, that isn't possible anymore. Still, I believe God is blessing my time and I make an effort every day to make sure to spend some of that time with Him.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
BSt: I'm a planner! Since I'm selling by proposal now, I have to have a synopsis of the story before I contract the story. Which is nice in a way, because then I have a solid outline to go by as I write the book, and can write it that much faster. Like I said, I'm a detailed, organized freak! ::grin::
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
BSt: I'm a character-driven author, for sure. I actually struggle with stakes. My characters, from what I hear, anyway, are relatable and well rounded and all those good things but sometimes I struggle with the actual story. I've got the internal conflict down for my characters, but the external often needs work before contracting. My first novel, RETURN TO LOVE, I started with a setting and occupation, then went from there with the characters. I knew the story needed to be in New Orleans, and the character needed a job in or near the French Quarter, and boom. There it was! Penguin Keeper at Aquarium of the Americas.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
BSt: Actually, I do. It seems like a theme of parental conflict is reoccurring, which is completely unintentional. In MIDNIGHT ANGEL, my small press novel, the heroine had a bad relationship with her workaholic father. In RETURN TO LOVE, the hero had issues with his pastoral father, of lies and pretense. And in RODEO SWEETHEART, the heroine is struggling to please and honor her father even after his death. This is actually pretty strange, when you psycho-analyze it, because I have such a blessed relationship with my own dad. None of that even remotely begins to stream from real life! Go figure! Haha.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
BSt: I'd like to think I have a pretty good handle on tight POV (point of view) and on showing vs. telling, both common issues that writers struggle with. But as I said earlier, I struggle sometimes with getting enough conflict into my external plot, and getting those "stakes" up!
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?
BSt: I hinted on this earlier � being a young mother and now working part time outside of the home while selling books and freelancing to a local newspaper. My plate is full but I like it that way, and while I get stressed and overwhelmed sometimes, I also work well under pressure, and can get more done with looming deadlines than without. I've always been that way! And am really utilizing that skill now, to be sure. So time is my only enemy but in a way it's a friend, because it forces me to get creative, to get prioritized, and time manage in a way I've never done before. I'm learning a lot!
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
BSt: I have an unpublished romantic suspense and women's fiction that I would like to see published one day. Outside of that, not really. I would like to attempt a historical but I know better. I don't have the patience or time to accurately research time periods, but I LOVE reading them! I'll continue to let all these amazing historical authors (like yourself Winnie!) do that for me and I can just enjoy them ::grin::
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
BSt: Don't give up! I've been hearing a lot of writers lately struggle with self doubt and near-depression because their dreams haven't come true yet. They talk about quitting because they are spending money and time in something that hasn't paid off yet. To them, I say, don't you dare! If God put writing in your heart, He will see it to a fruitful end, even if that definition of fruitful isn't what we originally intentioned for ourselves. No, not every writer will be traditionally published but that doesn't mean God can't use their work. God has no limits! He can do anything with our words and I believe in most instances, the more willing our heart is to be content in HIS plan and not our own, the more quickly He moves.
WG: Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
BSt: Chocolate chocolate chocolate. Haha. Just kidding. Not really. It's pretty true. Chocolate, diet coke, and a long talk on the phone with my best friend who reminds me that its their loss and God is teaching me something through this and all that good stuff. The exact stuff I would say to someone else in that position, she tells me, and then I go "oh yeah". We've worked it out to a clockwork routine by now. ::grin:: Seriously, though, we have to remember that while this business is business, and not personal, it still feels personal, so it's okay to vent and gripe (privately) and comfort yourself a little with something fun. Just don't forget to go to God, because He truly does have Jeremiah 29:11 in mind for you. "For I know the plans I have for," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." God will see our dreams through the end. We just have to be flexible about the particulars that aren't in our control.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
BSt: Not specifically, but I do want to say that I think it's easy to listen to the crowd and get paranoid. Ultimately, it boils down to you and God and the path He is leading you on. And at that point, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. There will always be voices out there saying this agent is better than this one or this publisher is better than this one or you should write this genre or should or shouldn't have this aspect in your story...yadda yadda yadda - but its nothing more than opinions. Go with your own instincts, your own heart, and the dreams God gave YOU.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
BSt: Nothing beats the first glimpse of your printed novel, fresh out of the UPS box on your front doorstep. It's magical every time, and so humbling. I hope that never, ever gets old. I think one of the hard parts of being a writer is the lack of money. Some people naively assume that your earnings are just like that of Nicholas Sparks or Stephanie Meyer and you have to laugh in their face. People don't understand how hard we work, for so little financial reward. A lot of writers maybe even most, have part time or full time jobs in addition to writing. But that's the price we pay for living our dreams and getting paid to do what we love, even if it's not a ton of money. Maybe I'll get a huge advance one day like some of the big authors but for now I'm happy and content with where God has placed me, doing what I do and getting by and most importantly, sharing His gospel. It's all in His capable hands!
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
BSt: Reading, of course, and also shoe shopping! Not so much lately since my husband's lay off, but it's a favorite pastime. Nowadays, I hang out with my daughter, who is so incredibly fun. We take wagon rides, pick wildflowers in the front acre, watch cartoons and snuggle, and eat goldfish crackers and Smarties (candy) practically all day long. Life is good around my house!
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
BSt: I did kickboxing pretty seriously for several years. This would be surprising because I'm so girlie and fragile looking. But I really loved it, and had to stop when I got pregnant. Time wise, its not practical for me to start up again but one day, I hope! We have a punching bag in our barn but again, it's a time issue. Maybe when my kiddos are a little older I can get back into it. Right now, all my time is precious and I have to prioritize. Writing wins over kickboxing!
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
BSt: I'm totally addicted to Gilmore Girls. I watch the reruns on TV and my mother and I own the entire series on DVD. It's a girl thing, and a mom thing, and we really love the shows. I have special memories of when my baby girl was brand new and my husband was working late shifts at the fire department... I'd hold her in the living chair at night and she'd snooze on my shoulder while me and my mother watched hour after hour of the show! Good times. Movie wise, I love The Notebook, The Lake House, Pride and Prejudice, etc. Romantic comedies are a favorite around here, too. How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, Meet Tad Hamilton, etc.
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.
BSt: "I write for the same reason I breathe, because if I didn't, I would die." - Isaac Asimov. It's just so, so true. If I go a long period of time without writing, I get grumpy. Cranky. Grouchy. Irritable. Frustrated. I don't feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be, like something is just slightly off with my life. Writing keeps me balanced.
BSt: RODEO SWEETHEART's release date is April 1st, 2010 and will be available at your local Walmart during the month of April, and your local chain bookstore like Barnes & Noble or Borders. You can ask them to order it for you if it's not on the shelf!
Here's the back cover blurb: To save her family ranch-and her father's legacy-Samantha Jenson reluctantly runs a dude ranch on the financially strapped property. Among the greenhorn tourists in stiff jeans and shiny cowboy boots: handsome businessman Ethan Ames. Ethan makes Sam remember her own dreams-of love and marriage. But surely he'll ride out of her life-in his fancy car-when his vacation is over. Until she learns that Ethan isn't on vacation at all. He has a very big secret. One that just might destroy her dreams of being his rodeo sweetheart...forever.
This novel was a little hard to write. I was in the middle of it when we decided to visit my mother in law in Alexandria, Louisiana. She owned several horses and I thought it'd be fun to get a picture of me on one of the horses for promotional purposes when the book released. After my husband and I rode for awhile, my mother in law wanted to ride with my hubby. They took off and had a great time-until the trip back to her house. Her house veered off the road at a full gallop and slammed her into two trees. She was in a coma for months and is now technically out of the coma but is still in a very vegetative state. Can't talk, can't hardly move her limbs at all. Physically she's in good shape, now. It's just all mental. She severely bruised her brain. Needless to say, after that, I wasn't interested in writing about horses. But I pressed on because I knew she would have wanted me to, knew she would have gotten back up on the horse after her fall if she could have. I dedicated this story to her and have hopes that one day maybe she'll be able to read it. The prognosis is very grim, she hasn't gotten any better in almost 6 months now, no forward progression at all mentally, but we refuse to give up. God is still in the miracle business and even if he heals her by taking her to her new Heavenly home, that's just as good. We know we'll see her again one day.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
BSt: I've always loved horses growing up, and after setting two novels in New Orleans, I decided it was time to venture to the country and try something new! I gave the story a spin from the typical by reversing the roles - this is a tale of a wealthy, pampered city-boy falling for a feisty, overworked cowgirl!
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
BSt: II grew up with a horse, so I didn't do have to do too much research. I remembered a lot of technical details from my own horse-crazy stage when I devoured every fiction and non-fiction book on horses I could find. As a tween, I used to eagerly wait with my 5 dollars in hand for the next release of the Saddle Club series! Haha. I did have to look up how to properly throw a horse shoe, and a little bit about fence repair and bull riding techniques. I think it all came together well!
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
BSt: My next novel will actually be a novella, titled THE GINGERBREAD SEASON, which will be part of a Love Inspired compilation book with fellow author Marta Perry. Look for this set of heartwarming Christmas stories in October, 2010!
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
BSt: I love hearing from my readers, and they contact me at my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org or my website: www.betsystamant.com or my blog, which I post new five times a week: www.betsy-ann.blogspot.com
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!
BSt: Thanks Winnie! You too! It was an honor.