Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! I love having guests on my blog — and I love it even more when the guest is a friend. I’ve known Betty Owens for several years and have been a guest on her blog more than once. My husband published her Christian Fantasy books, and I serve with her on the board of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference. It’s always fun to be able to hear the voice of the interviewee – and get excited about reading the answers! I hope you fall in love with Betty like I have. Make sure you read to the end of the interview — Betty is giving away a copy of her current release and the form to enter is at the end of the interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I’ve been writing for thirty years! That amazes me. I never set out to be a writer, it never occurred to me. I had about a half-dozen other plans for my life. The only one I followed through on was to marry and raise a family. I worked as an office manager/bookkeeper for fifteen years and during that time, wrote several novel-length stories. I self-published two of them (inspirational fantasy). I later made a few improvements and re-released those through Sign of the Whale Books, an imprint of Olivia Kimbrell Press. What a rush! I was hooked. When I finally sold the first story to a publisher, it was invigorating for a moment, until I realized I’d just sold stories I hadn’t written yet.
Tell us about your current release. Sutter’s Landing, Book 2, Kinsman Redeemer series—After losing their husbands, widows Annabelle and her daughter-in-law Connie Cross have survived the first winter on their own. Southern fiction set in the mid-1950’s, the story centers on their struggle to overcome their past and adjust to the changes that are coming. You don’t have to read Annabelle’s Ruth, the first book in the series, but Sutter’s will definitely be a bridge between book one and book three, when I hope to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion for both women.
If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? I absolutely would. My main goal as a writer is to inspire and strengthen believers. If I can inspire one, I’m happy. Still driven to get out there and do it again, but I’m happy.
What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? The Kinsman Redeemer series is a sweet love story—it’s very polite and nice, like some of the people I grew up around, whose faith was an important part of their lives. There’s a place (and a need) for such stories, to remind us that it’s okay to be polite and respectful of others. But it’s also okay to write about the underbelly of life, because many grew up in those circumstances. They need to know there’s a way out of it—that there’s hope, even on the darkest days. Hope for the child who endures daily abuse at the hands of the people who are supposed to love and protect them. I don’t necessarily like to read the edgiest stories, but there is a place (and a need) for those—in Christian fiction—as long as they show the hope. Make it a testimony of the power and strength of love. A lot of Christian fiction is glossed over and watered-down. It loses strength. Someone may need that full-strength, tell-it-like-it-really-was. But finish on a high note—give them hope. Give them Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
With all those characters in your head screaming to get out how do you write fast enough to get it all down? No! I can never seem to write fast enough. I’m a slow writer—a plodder, not a plotter! I want to write fast and furious, like when I wrote those fantasy books (Jael of Rogan series). It’s just more fun. Maybe I’ll do that again someday, just to silence a few of the voices in my head.
How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher (or agent or audience if you self publish)? This is/was hard for me, because I’m such a big chicken. I will think of forty ways to get out of it. But in my heart, I really wanted to be published. When you want something badly enough, you’ll go for it. Even when it means you’re sticking your foot in a door that may be slammed on said foot. You risk making a complete fool of yourself. When I was trying to sell the fantasy stories, I was told there was very little market for inspirational fantasy. I was told the story needed a lot of work and had very little chance of success. I loved that story so much, I took a chance on it, and self-published. Before it was really ready. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I did go back and improve it, then re-released it. I know I did the right thing, if just for the experience. Agents and publishers can smell hesitancy the way a predator smells fear. You have to overcome the hesitancy and believe in yourself and your ability. You can’t believe in yourself fully unless you’ve done your homework. Preparation is key.
What’s the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I was sitting in my fifth-grade classroom in Milan, Tennessee when a boy around my age opened the schoolroom door and shouted the news. We were stunned. My teacher began to cry. We could hear people crying throughout the school. A few minutes later, the principal spoke over the intercom to try to calm us. It was unbelievable and something I will never forget.
Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? Ha ha! I love this one. It was Kurt Russell—in an ancient Disney movie called the Littlest Rebel (or something like that). You won’t find it listed in his credits, but I will never forget.
Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? I have an idea of where I want to go with the story. The characters tend to lead me in different directions, so I write down a quick timeline before I start and try to stay with it. I’ve never been good at outlines. I’ve tried that, but I can never stick with it.
Do you have pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? Not usually, but Annabelle’s Ruth was on the shorter side, so I tried to maintain that in Sutter’s Landing. I like reading shorter fiction.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? First: approach writing with prayer. Is it a hobby, or a calling? Do you just want to tell your story, or do you want to lift and inspire? Then work hard. Train hard, so you can believe in yourself enough to sell your work.
How did you make the initial step into writing your first novel. What were some of your major roadblocks and how did you overcome them? The initial step was to sit down and start writing. I wanted to see if I could do it. Could I effectively convert my dreams to stories? They were rough at first, but my friends and family encouraged me to continue. The major roadblock was doubt, and second to that, ability. I learned pretty early that just writing a story is only part of the journey. You have to learn the craft. I’m still learning. Writing is art, but it’s precise, and readers are often quite judgmental. They have a right to be, since they’ve usually paid for the book. And their criticism often helps you grow and improve your work. It hurts, but the pain drives me to be better. The best way I found to overcome these obstacles—I joined a critique group. And I ventured out of my comfort zone to attend conferences. What you gain at a good conference is knowledge and camaraderie with other writers. It’s not free, but definitely worth the investment.
What is your inspiration for writing? I started writing for release from stress. I was in the midst of homeschooling three young boys. So I guess you could call “stress” my inspiration! The Kinsman Redeemer series started with Annabelle’s Ruth, which was directly inspired by the Biblical book of Ruth. I’d read and studied that book many times. I thought it was a beautiful love story, but also a story of redemption and restoration. I’d just finished reading it when the idea came, to write a modernized version along the same lines. And it seemed the perfect opportunity to use another story I’d heard all my life—my mother’s early life—of how she left her home in Seattle, Washington to go and live with my dad’s family in West Tennessee. I intertwined the two stories to create Annabelle’s Ruth.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? (Book series, maybe?) Dr. Seuss, when I was very young. His books were fun to read aloud. Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) were all-time favorites. These were unforgettable stories that spoke to my heart and inspired me.
Which of your characters most reflects your personality? I think Jael of Rogan, because she was an unlikely hero who had a strong foundation of faith in her life. I’ve always been kind of an underdog, the least likely. But God often chooses the least likely to accomplish His purpose. I hope to accomplish what He has called me to do, however humble that may be. I’m still striving for that, by the way.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock and have NO idea what to write? Take a break from writing. I think we have to not be afraid to do that. And we have to realize, we can’t do this on our own. Sometimes we need to spend time away, seeking God’s face. What does He want?
What is one thing that you “never saw yourself doing” and either do it now or have done? I never saw myself writing books. Never. Sitting at a book table, signing autographs? Never even dreamed such a thing. Does it puff up my ego? No, it’s actually quite humbling to sell my stories, knowing that the buyers are taking a chance on me. They’ll either love it or hate it. I hope they’ll love it and come back for more.
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Betty is giving away a copy of her latest release, Sutter’s Landing! See below to see all the different ways you can enter to win!
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