Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Interview with Jill Eileen Smith

I welcome Jill Eileen Smith to my Author Interview Segment this week. Jill Eileen Smith is the author of a Biblical fiction novel, Michal: A Novel, that is due to release in March, 2009. So keep your eyes peeled! Until then, though, Jill Eileen Smith offers some wonderful insite into a writer's life and surviving it below.

Q: What are your hobbies, Jill Eileen?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: Reading, baking, scrap-booking, music.

Q: Do you have any experience with writer’s contests? Do you recommend entering them?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: I’ve entered the Noble Theme Contest (3 times), the Lone Star Writing Competition, and the Genesis Contest, placing in all of them. I took 4th place in the Lone Star Writing Competition in 2001 for Michal (an early version), and won the Genesis in 2006 for Romantic Suspense. I’ve also judged for the Noble Theme and the Genesis.

I recommend entering contests but with a word of caution. My personal feeling is that a contest is good for authors who have studied the craft, are used to critiques from knowledgeable fellow authors, and are ready for the next level. As a contestant, I had my entries critiqued by my critique partners before I entered, so that I could enter my very best efforts. The result allowed me to final in four out of five of the contests.

As a judge, I saw a lot of entries that were far from ready for publication. While I tried to be as helpful as I could, and I know the authors could benefit from the critique that came with the contest, I felt as though the authors would have been less distressed about their results if they had waited until they had studied the craft longer before entering. I think writer’s contests for pre-published authors should be viewed as a stepping stone, perhaps the last step before a sale, as often happens with those who final or win. But for those who are just starting out, I would recommend they wait until they are consistently hearing good things from fellow critique partners.

That’s wonderful advice! Thanks Jill Eileen.

Q: What are your thoughts on Writer’s Conferences?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: The only real conference I attended has been ACFW’s conference – every year but one. The benefits – friendships and networking. Hands down, this is the best thing that has come out of participation in those conferences. The classes can be helpful and I’ve learned some things, but it is those interpersonal relationships, bonds that form in a face-to-face way that have made the difference in my career. ACFW is where I met my agent, Wendy Lawton, and made some lasting author friendships.

Q: In addition to writing, what other writing related activities do you do?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: As stated above, I’ve judged for the Noble Theme and the Genesis. I blog on my website (http://www.jilleileensmith.com) on a regular basis and participate in a historical fiction blog Favorite PASTimes (http://www.favoritepastimes.blogspot.com) where I interview fellow historical authors. I also do a monthly interview of an author on the Spotlight page of my website and I announce Christian fiction releases once a month – acting as the New Releases Coordinator for ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). I also have a monthly column writing Christian fiction reviews for my church’s newspaper which has a decent size (in the thousands) circulation. (I do not accept books specifically for review. Unfortunately, I do not read fast enough to keep up with reviews for current releases.)

Q: What or who inspired you to take up fiction writing?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: I wrote poetry in high school and buried any writing talent I might have had after graduation for about eight years. God figuratively tapped me on the shoulder and told me to dig up the gift (writing was His gift to me not any inborn talent). I obeyed and struggled to regain what I’d lost of the craft, but through that time, God redeveloped my love of writing. From poetry, He used a crisis in my family to push me into fiction. Writing has always been His gift to me to help me to cope when life’s stresses get too great. That He might also use it to touch someone else’s life is an added blessing for which I’m very grateful.

Q: How long did you concentrate on learning the craft of fiction writing before you received your initial offer?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: Over all about 20 years.

Q: Fiction writing is an extremely competitive industry, and as such, rejections are something writers must be prepared to endure. If you received rejections along the way, would you care to share how many you received? If so, how did they affect your writing?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: I would have to go back and count. I have several files of them, not counting the ones that are in emails on my computer that I forgot to print. I didn’t always try to market in those 20 years of writing, so my first attempts had probably dozens of rejections, maybe more. I took a five-year hiatus from marketing during the early years of homeschooling my boys, though I did complete one Biblical novel during that time. That book actually went to committee at a CBA publishing house, but I’m grateful now that it didn’t sell then. I’ve had the privilege of reworking it with my current contract and didn’t keep much of the original draft – except for some of the basic plot.

Rejections hurt. There is no easy way around that. A few of those rejections stung hard – books my agent and I thought would sell. In fact, those last rejections probably had a hand in leading me to the brink of stepping away from seeking publication altogether. But I didn’t want to give up on my agent whom I truly believe God placed in my life, and I wanted to make sure that if I did quit, I was following God’s leading, not my own frustrations.

Rejections almost always spurred me to write better, to learn how to improve, to fix what was wrong. On a few occasions I did not agree with the editor’s comments in the rejection and did not attempt to change the story to coincide with said editor’s opinions. Most of the time, if I received constructive comments, I tried to understand why and change the work.

Ultimately, rejection led me to Jesus. I carry a spiritual limp from the many times I have wrestled with His will. I’m not proud of the limp because it attests to my own selfishness, but I’m grateful for it just the same, as it reminds me Who calls the shots, Who determines my future, and Who has everything under control. My part is only to submit to Him.

Q: What helps you through the dry spells?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: Nothing comes close to helping me maintain my sanity, to keep me from giving up like prayer. I also vented a bit and shed a few tears, though I learned that an attitude of thanksgiving can dry those tears rather quickly. I often sought comfort from my family, my fellow author friends, and my agent let me call her and cry on her shoulder. I thank God for all of them. I honestly think that when we were waiting to hear from Revell (my publisher), some of my critique partners were more anxious than I was! God gave me such a wonderful support group. Their arms of prayer held me up more times than I can count!

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

Jill Eileen Smith responds: Eight full-length novels, though one combined parts of another, so 7 ½ might be more accurate. Two novellas and several more novels in various stages of development. I do not intend to try selling them all. Actually, my first two-volume epic of King David’s life is happily buried in a box under my bed, but the idea from that first attempt is what led to The Wives of King David series coming out in March 2009 with the first book Michal: A Novel.

The main reason I wouldn’t try to sell all of these books is that many of them are in a different genre. My agent advised me not to try writing in two genres when my career is about to start. Later on down the road, maybe we’ll test the waters of a second genre, but I think I’d like to stick with historical fiction. If God allows it, I could write Biblical fiction until I die or Jesus returns. But if the genre should dry up as it did in the 1980s, then I would like to write romantic suspense – both contemporary and historical. I have books in both settings and I’d like to see those sell someday. Maybe.

Q: When you first started writing, approximately how long did it take you to complete and edit a novel until you felt it was ready to be shopped around? Have you noticed a decrease in the time it takes you to complete novels to your satisfaction now?

Jill Eileen Smith Responds: When I first started writing, I didn’t know a thing about writing fiction. I just wrote what I wanted to read. I didn’t understand point of view or description and I was told by a friend that I wrote in black and white. Hopefully, I’ve learned a thing or two since then. J I rewrote David’s story in many forms over the years. When I finally tried my hand at writing Michal, it took me many tries, I’m thinking about seven rewrites, to get it to where it is today – the manuscript that sold. On the other hand, book two – Abigail – isn’t due to my publisher until December, but I finished it a few weeks ago. I had a critique partner read the whole thing and she likes it better than Michal. I did notice as I wrote it that the phrasing came much easier than it has come in times past, so yes, I think the time it takes to complete an acceptable manuscript has decreased with practice over the years.

Q: Many new writers don’t know when to stop editing and revising. How do you decide when your manuscript is ready for your editor’s or agent’s eyes?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: When I have read it through several times and still love it when I’m done. When it evokes emotion in me, which is hard to do, believe me! When I care about my characters and do not sense that the plot is contrived or comes out sounding cheesy, and when at least one or two critique partners agrees with my assessment and my agent says good things about it. (Surprisingly, Wendy does not always love everything I write!) Then it’s ready. I trust Wendy’s judgment quite a bit, so if she is excited about it, my confidence rises too.

Q: Do you have any further direction or thoughts that you care to share with weary authors-in-training?

Jill Eileen Smith responds: I wish I could hug you all and tell you to just keep going, it will happen for you one day. But I don’t know that because I don’t know the future.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Biblical characters (apart from David and his wives) – Jacob. Jacob and I share a limp, though his was physical – he knows what it’s like to wrestle with God. I suspect he did a bit of verbal grappling with his wives as well, especially when Rachel struggled with barrenness while her sister, the fruitful vine in Jacob’s house, kept bearing child after child.
One day Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I'll die!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
In a similar way, that’s how it is with publishing. Sometimes, we feel like Rachel did and want to beg God to give us a book contract. Perhaps we want it more than anything else in life, as Rachel wanted a child. But no one can promise that God will open those doors for us to achieve our dream. God may do just that, but it will be in His timing, His way, and His will, not ours.
For our part, I believe we should keep treading the path He has placed before us. Do the work He’s given us to do. Keep our dreams, however big or small, in an open hand, offered back to Him. They are His, after all. Keep our heart surrendered to accept His will even if it means our dreams die with us. Rejoice in what He has allowed and what He is willing to teach us during the whole waiting process. And when the day comes that He moves us out of His waiting room, either onto a different path or through the door to publication, never forget where we came from and what He has taught us.
And never stop learning and loving Him along the way.

Thanks so much for sharing all this, Jill Eileen. You’ve been an inspiration for sure! For more information about Jill Eileen Smith, please visit her website at http://www.jilleileesmith.com/ or her historical blog at http://www.favoritepastimes.blogspot.com/.

Michal: A Novel by Jill Eileen Smith

Releases March 1, 2009

From Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


1 comment:

Janna said...

This looks like a great book - I hadn't heard of it yet and I look forward to reading it!