Virginia Smith is the author of twelve Christian novels as well as dozens of articles and short stories. In 2008, she was named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Stuck in the Middle, book one in her Sister-to-Sister Series, was a finalist for ACFW’s 2009 Book of the Year award, and A Taste of Murder was a finalist for the 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Ginny’s website was listed in the top ten writer sites of 2009 by Writers Digest. She and her husband divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for “research trips” (or so she says) to scuba dive in the warm waters of the Caribbean. http://www.virginiasmith.org/
Welcome to A Pen for Your Thoughts, Virginia. What books or project are you hoping to tell us about this week?
VS: My newest book is Third Time’s a Charm, the funny and heartwarming story of a professional young woman struggling to balance career, church, budding romance, and a personal crisis. As if that weren’t enough, a couple of matchmaking sisters crank up the tension and the fun. This is the third book in the Sister-to-Sister series, following Stuck in the Middle and Age before Beauty, but you don’t have to read those books before this one.When I created the Sister-to-Sister series, I modeled the characters after my relationship with my own sisters, so the books are very close to my heart. Plus, I drew heavily on personal experience to write this book. Third Time’s a Charm is lighthearted in places, but it confronts some tough issues, too.
SKC: Sounds really good. They all do. What special something inspired you to come up with your very first book?
VS: My first novel was Just As I Am, the story of a purple-haired young woman who becomes a Christian in her mama’s country church. She doesn’t change her hair color, or remove her nose ring or lip stud, even though the conservative congregation thinks she should. Instead, God’s changes happen on the inside, and soon they overflow into the world around her. The inspiration for that story was a visiting singer in my church several years before facial jewelry became a common sight in churches. I wanted to explore how a contemporary young woman like her lives out her faith, but I really didn’t want to pierce my nose to find out personally. So I created a character who did.
SKC: Isn't it great how we can make our characters do what we want. Describe your writing genre and sub-genre, and why you chose what you chose.
VS: That question isn’t as easy for me to answer as you might think, because I write in several genres. I have published six mysteries in the sub-genres of cozy, modern, and romantic suspense. I’ve published two chick lit novels, one romance novel, and three contemporary novels. I choose to write in multiple genres because I enjoy reading in multiple genres. I figure other people do too.
Third Time’s a Charm is contemporary, though it does have a strong romantic element as well as many humorous incidents. In this case, the story itself dictated the genre. The main character tackles an issue that many women in our society today experience – overcoming the ripple effect of her parents’ divorce and her father’s subsequent desertion. How can you establish a lasting relationship with a man, or with your heavenly Father, when you feel rejected by the most important man in your life? There are some major self-esteem issues to overcome. But as my character discovers, our Father is the One who heals all wounds and binds up the brokenhearted.
SKC: Not everyone can write in numerous genres. Tell us about some of the authors who have given you insight on how to express your own voice, and have taught you the most about development of style.
VS: One of the most helpful writing classes I’ve ever attended was taught by Deborah Raney at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in 2005. She is an amazingly talented author, and she presented tons of techniques for deepening characterization and maintaining tension. I took pages of notes that I still refer to, even after twelve published novels.
Another author I’ve learned a lot from is Brandilyn Collins through her book, Getting into Character. The whole book is terrific, but she has a section in there on writing realistic dialogue that gave me one of those light bulb moments of, “Aha! So that’s how you do it.”
SKC: I'll have to get Brandilyn's book. I haven't read that one yet. When you are in the middle of series and deadlines, Virginia, does it cramp your creativity, or enhance it, and why or why not?
VS: Oh, deadlines definitely enhance my creativity. I think that comes from spending over twenty years in the corporate environment as a computer project leader. I learned how to develop a plan and lay out the steps in order to accomplish a project by a specific deadline. And I learned the importance of never missing a deadline, because to miss a date can mean huge cost increases for the project. And if you come in ahead of schedule, that can mean significant savings. Now that I’m a full time writer, I still find myself motivated by deadlines. I lay out the tasks I have to accomplish in order to get a book finished, just like a project plan, and work toward the final deadline. I still work hard to bring a project in ahead of schedule. So far I have never missed a deadline, and on most of them I’ve been early.
SKC: Those deadlines can be murder, I know. Many authors are often asked how they deal with writer's block. How do you overcome it?
VS: I know this sounds strange, but I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Oh, I know there are times in every writer’s life when they don’t feel the creative juices flowing. But you know what? There are times in every computer programmer’s life when they don’t feel the technical juices flowing. There were times when I was a corporate director that I didn’t feel like going to work and dealing with employees. You know what I did? I went anyway. And that’s what a writer has to do. When I feel “blocked,” I write through it. Sometimes I can’t think of anything to write except a letter, or an email, or a blog post. But I write. And for me, it is the act of writing that produces inspiration. I think it was Anne Lamotte who said, “A writer does not write when inspired. A writer writes until inspired.” I love that, and I’ve adopted it as my motto.
SKC: A great motto to live by. What for you is the KEY to writing a good book?
VS: The key is to let the story and the characters come alive in your mind, and then apply every skill you’ve ever learned toward the task of making that story as alive in the minds of your readers as it is in yours. Of course, that means you have to work hard to develop those skills. And you have to work hard to create a compelling story, and realistic characters. So I suppose the real key is to put forth lots of hard work!
SKC: That hard work always shows itself in the end, doesn't it. After you finish your present project what plans outside of writing do you have?
VS: I do a bit of speaking in addition to writing, and at the moment I’m looking forward to several speaking engagements. One is a lecture at a university, which will be a first for me. And on a personal level, I’m looking forward to becoming a grandmother this summer. My husband’s sons from a previous marriage have given us five beautiful grandchildren already, but this will be the first from my side.
SKC: As we close please let us know which book you plan to donate to one of our readers, and don’t forget to share a reflection question that deals with reading material, or writing techniques, or whatever else comes to your mind. I enjoy getting the followers and responders of A Pen for Your Thoughts to share their views about various issues. It will be from their answers we will draw a name for a winner of one of your books.
VS: I love the idea of a reflective writing exercise. Since I’m going to give away an autographed copy of Third Time’s a Charm, the reflection question has to do with one of the struggles the main character encounters: how can we show our faith in the workplace without appearing overbearing to our coworkers?
SKC: Great question! I look forward to seeing what people write in. Thank you so much for coming here to visit and for being a follower of A Pen for Your Thoughts, Virginia. How can our readers find you and also locate your books?
VS: Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and the readers of A Pen for Your Thoughts! I invite everyone to click over to my website to find out about me and my books. www.VirginiaSmith.org You can also get to know a more personal side of me by becoming my Friend on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/ginny.p.smith
Okay, readers. It is now your turn. Check out the reflection above and send in your answers. We will draw the winner's name in a few days.
CONGRATULATIONS TO EMMA MICHAELS OF WASHINGTON! BE WATCHING FOR YOUR NEW BOOK SOON IN THE MAIL.