Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Authors-Helping-Writers interview with Leah Starr Baker and Giveaway of The Bunko Babes.

I welcome author Leah Starr Baker to my blog today. Leah is the debut author of the chick lit novel, The Bunko Babes. But chick lit isn’t the only genre Leah Starr Baker writes. Lets hope we’ll one day see her mystery/political intrigue novel on the shelves soon too.

To start off this interview, Leah, will you tell us about your hobbies?

Leah Starr Baker: I love to read, watch movies, shop, read fashion magazines, talk to my friend’s, play Bunko, go out to lunch with my girlfriends, play with my kids, hang out with my husband, sing, watch the Denver Broncos games, and watch the Houston Rockets. I am a huge sports fan.

Sounds like you’re a busy woman, Leah. Will you tell us about how your contract came to be?

Leah Starr Baker: I actually got offered a contract with Emerald Pointe Books out of Tulsa, OK over a lunch date. I had been waiting on pins and needles for months to hear from them. When the V.P. of Marketing and Sales slid that contract across the table I thought I would cry. I had worked so hard and waited a long time to have my dreams come to fruition.

Did writer’s conferences play a part in getting you a contract?

Leah Starr Baker: I have never entered into any writing contests.

Now that you’re published, do you plan to enter any contests with your new book?

Leah Starr Baker: I did enter “The Bunko Babes” into the Book of the Year contest for the ACFW. Keep your fingers crossed.

I wish you all the best in that, Leah! Will you tell us about your writing related endeavors since publication.

Leah Starr Baker: Getting my novel published has opened a lot of different avenues in my life. I built my own website ( and when time permits, I write blogs and post them there for others to enjoy. I have recently been speaking at Writing Clubs sharing the things that I have learned regarding Point of View and Character Development. I also visit Bunko groups both locally and in other states. I read a chapter from “The Bunko Babes” and share with them some of the challenges that God has brought me through. I love getting the opportunity to talk about the value of friendships and how to find your way through the crisis of our lives.

That’s an amazing speaking ministry, Leah, thanks for sharing. As far as your fiction writing, will you tell us who or what inspired it?

Leah Starr Baker: I have an insatiable appetite for reading especially novels. You will never find me without a book in my hand or stashed somewhere nearby. That love for stories was instilled in me at a very young age by my parents and most especially by my father. I spent many evenings as a child sitting in a chair in my father’s office watching the flickering flames of the fireplace, listening to Rod McKuen and seeing my dad bent over a yellow legal pad scratching out his latest prose, story, or sermon.

As a author himself (Richard Exley has published over 30 books), my dad always encouraged me to express myself through my writing but it would be many years before I ventured out into that area. I guess you could say I wanted to find a niche of my own. A talent and career that others wouldn’t think had come about just because of my father. But you can’t outrun your calling. Like Jonah I finally gave in to God’s wooing and found a sanctuary for my soul. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

That’s amazing and so very true. Often our search for independence drives us from what our true calling is. I’m glad you decided to follow your calling after all. Tell us, Leah, what is special or unique about you or your writing?

Leah Starr Baker: In “The Bunko Babes” I found myself writing in a first person point of view for the first time in my life. The entire novel is written through Rebecca Thornton’s eyes. What makes my writing style different than others is that I write in a way that draws the reader so deeply into the moment that they feel as if they are sitting right there in the living room with these 8 amazing women. At least, that is my goal and what I hope I accomplished.

So how long did you concentrate on learning the craft of fiction writing before you received your initial offer, Leah?

Leah Starr Baker: My road was a little shorter than some others due to the fact that I had an amazing resource that I could draw upon and still do draw upon. My father has invested an insane amount of time into nurturing me and teaching me the quiet quality of the novelist. I had hours of one on one instruction from one of the truly great storytellers of our time. I am truly blessed. As a result, it was only about 4 years from first putting pen to paper (actually fingers to keyboard) and seeing my debut novel in print. It is staggering to think of that little time.

Were rejections a part of your journey? If so, how did you handle them?

Leah Starr Baker: I received two formal rejections one from Plume Publishing and the other from a highly respected Literary Agent out of NYC. But in reality, I received daily rejection (in the form of literary critiquing) from my Dad along this entire journey.

My most difficult rejection came after I turned in the first draft of “The Bunko Babes”. Most of the editor’s didn’t initially like the character of Rebecca Thornton. They thought she was crass and unlovable. As a result, I was informed that unless I made some major changes in the story and to the character they wouldn’t publish it. Boy is that difficult to swallow. Especially since so much of my own personality is similar to Becca’s.

It was at that point that I had to step back and take an honest look at what I had created and what I wanted to do. One editor did say that if what the publisher’s wanted was a “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” than that’s what they had but if they wanted a less intense read than it needed to be changed.

I reread the manuscript and went over it with my dad and decided that I could make it a stronger story involving more of the other 7 women and tempering Becca. Obviously, I had failed to make Becca three dimensional. I hadn’t gotten across to the reader all the levels that make up a person. So, I started again. The final product is something that I am extremely proud of and I am now grateful for the harsh criticism I received.

That’s so interesting. I’ve heard the softening request before, and you’re so right, it’s got to be difficult to separate yourself from the comments, but that’s what is expected of writers. Don’t take it personally, just do the work required to make it saleable. So how did you persevere?

Leah Starr Baker: Ever since I made the decision to pursue writing it has become a daily discipline for me. I once read a book (forgive me for not knowing the exact title. I can’t find the book) it laid out step by step how to complete your novel in 90 days. I followed it to the letter and within 90 days my first manuscript was complete and it was over 89,000 words. So, here’s my advice: always write at least 3 to 4 pages a day. Write for the sheer joy of writing not because you think it is going to be published. This is the one time in your writing journey that you will not have a deadline. Enjoy it. Once you are a published novelist, you will have to live on a deadline and that can be stressful and trying. Don’t misunderstand me having “The Bunko Babes” in actual book form is one of the best moments of my life but the deadlines were torture.

Leah, how many novels did you have completed before your first sale? Do you intend to try selling all of them? Why, or why not?

Leah Starr Baker: I had one complete novel and 50 pages of “The Bunko Babes”. So even though I was given a contract on an incomplete manuscript I had proven to them my ability to complete a project.

I have just recently picked up my first novel and am realizing now why it didn’t sell the first time around. I am currently working on that story in hopes to find a publisher for it as well. I love the storyline. I am also currently discussing the possibility of a sequel to “The Bunko Babes”. So watch for it.

I will! So how about actual writing time? Has the length of time required to write your stories changed along the way?

Leah Starr Baker: These are tough questions. I love them. I can tell that you are a writer yourself. Okay, I started shopping my first manuscript after two drafts. I am nothing if not confident. After receiving some interest in it after a Pitch and Shop Conference, I came home and did another draft of it. It did make it much stronger even though it was rejected. But nearly four years later and one published novel, I now see the holes in the story and the work that needs to be done to fully develop the characters. That is what I am working on right now. As for am I becoming a faster writer…no, I am becoming a more consistent writer and discovering that to write fast means to leave things out. Not something you want to do if you want to get published.

Oh, I didn’t want to hear that. I’m all for speeding this process up. But, hey, one must do what is required. I know! So tell us what a typical writing day is for you.

Leah Starr Baker: My life is divided into two areas: Summer and the rest of the year. From mid-August till the end of May, I write from 8 to 4. I do allow myself breaks especially if I’m not working on a specific project. But for the most part, I commit my days to writing or promoting. But life changes come summer. With a first and second grader, I have to revolve my days around entertaining them for the most part. At this time, my writing schedule shifts to after they go to bed. I don’t get near as much time to write but I do manage to write between 3 and 5 pages. I can’t stay up too late due to my systemic lupus or I’ll be down for days. It takes a lot of willpower and a supreme commitment to your craft.

Family balance, it’s great to see you have it prioritized. Coming to the publishing part, what does your publishing house expect of you with regard to self-promoting your novel(s)?

Leah Starr Baker: Quite a bit honestly. I work long hours writing e-mails, doing interviews, searching the internet for possible contacts, and scheduling my own speaking engagements. I also do book signings if I am fortunate enough to get them scheduled. I am constantly promoting “The Bunko Babes”. I eat, sleep and breathe promotions. It is a definite commitment and not an easy thing to do. Fortunately for me, I believe in my book and have no trouble promoting my skills and creating new opportunities for me. If I don’t promote, then sales will definitely decrease.

I ask this next question because it’s one huge problem for me. So here it goes. How do you decide when your manuscript is ready for your editor’s or agent’s eyes?

Leah Starr Baker: When your deadline is right upon you. LOLJ But it’s true. You can always find something that you can make better. Just do your best, work up until it has to be turned in and then let it go. Don’t worry, they’ll send it back to you with all kinds of comments and changes that need to be made.

Thanks for providing such wonderful and insightful answers, Leah. I wish you all the success with your book and many future ones for you too. Do you have any last words of encouragement for us wanna-be writers?

Leah Starr Baker: Don’t give up. If this is your dream or your calling, then go for it. No one can take it away from you. Keep creating, keep writing, and keep sharing it for always to experience. The only kind of bad writing is when you’re not writing at all.

But keep in mind this is a tough business and the numbers are stacked against us. Who cares? The impossible would never be accomplished if someone wasn’t willing to risk failing. It is much better to have tried and failed than to have failed to try at all.

Awesome advice! I’m holding that close right now. Thanks for all you’ve shared with us, Leah. Now comes the time to see what you’ve published.

The Bunko Babes,
Genre: Chick Lit,
Released: November 5, 2007,
ISBN: 0978513754,

"It's 6:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening and I'm rushing around getting ready for my weekly Bunko night. Picking up old newspapers and empty pizza boxes, I shove them haphazardly into the oven. Quickly, I brush the crumbs off the counter into the palm of my hand before tossing them in the sink. Glancing around, I peruse the kitchen looking for anything else that might give away my penchant for messiness."

Becca Thornton loves her thirteen year old twins, her husband Thomas, and her lovely home but she is frazzled, exhausted, and longing for some time with her girl friends. With the help of her three childhood friends, she starts a weekly Bunko group involving an eclectic group of women. Their original plan was for an evening of fun - indulging in their favorite foods while laughing and talking over a game of Bunko. Little did they know that they were embarking on a faith journey that would change their lives and perspectives forever.

Throughout the course of the year, these eight unique women come to depend upon one another in ways that will surprise them all. Beneath the surface of their everyday lives each woman is dealing with her own personal issues. In the midst of ordinary routines, a weekly game night, laughter and tears, The Bunko Babes find strength and faith as they turn to each other in crisis with the bonds of friendship.

A book that goes way beyond spa trips and beauty tips to deal with the real issues women face like infertility, loss, the heartache of infidelity, and temptation. Whether it is something as common as aging or as devastating as addiction, these "Bunko Babes" find new strength through faith and friendship as they turn to each other in times of crisis. In a society and time where role models are lacking, this is a book that teaches the value of women, mentoring women.

Giveaway Info:
Remember to leave a comment in this posting with an augmented e-mail address to be entered into the drawing to win a copy of The Bunko Babes by Leah Starr Baker. The draw will take place Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 9:00 pm Eastern time.

June 26th update: CONGRATULATIONS GOES TO CHARLENE SMITH! Charlene will soon receive a copy of The Bunko Babes by Leah Starr Baker.

Blessings and Good luck to everyone!



Anonymous said...

Great interview. Please enter me in drawing.


Edgy Inspirational Author said...

I LOVE Bunko and I don't have this book but I'd like to read it.


Cheryl said...

I would love to win this book. Please enter me in the contest. My email address is shryackmom[@]charter[.]net.

Stacey said...

I love to play Bunko. Please enter me in the contest. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

This sounds great. I'm sorry I missed her in Tulsa... Can't wait to read the book!

chelleandyg at cox dot net


ChristyJan said...

I enjoyed reading this interview with Leah and your review for THE BUNKO BABES ~ it sounds like a great read ~ please enter me.

Anonymous said...

Eileen, I used to play Bunko with some friends from my church, but we just don't have a spot in our schedules any more. I love to read, so I'd love to win your book. If I don't, though, I'll buy one. It sounds like something I would really enjoy. Thanks. Charlene Smith

Unknown said...

Please enter me in the contest. My email address is ervin[dot]beth[at]gmail[dot]com.


Anonymous said...

this sounds like a fun book! I'd love to read it :)
stampedwithgrace at cox dot net

Lucie said...

Please enter me in the contest for the book, "Bunko Babes". This sounds like a great book for our book club! Fun and interesting, I can't wait to read it!


LucieInCA (at) aol (dot) com

windycindy said...

Greetings! I sub in a Bunko group when they need me! They are a great bunch of ladies. We laugh and enjoy ourselves immensely. I think it would be fun to win this book and pass it around for everyone in the group to read. Please enter me in your drawing. Many thanks, Cindi

Leah Starr said...

Thanks ladies for your interest in my novel "The Bunko Babes" and congratulations to Charlene. I dropped the book in the mail to you on Monday morning so you should be receiving it soon. For those of you who are Bunko Babes yourself, I hope you find it as enjoyable as I did while writing it. Keep reading and keep rolling,

Many Bunko Blessings,

Leah Starr Baker