My main purpose for this blog is to share the journey of a beginner, from first picking up the pen to become a published author. With that in mind, I’m sharing this Q&A with one of my favorite authors, Jody Hedlund.
Jody, as a beginner, I’m always looking for tips from successful writers. What three tips do you have for beginning writers?
1. Write the first book for yourself without worrying about rules or publication. There’s something about that first book (or first few) that helps unleash the creative side of story-telling.
2. Finish a book. There’s nothing like the experience of completing a book from first page to the last to help a writer move out of the wannabe category.
3. Study basic fiction-writing techniques. Check out fiction “how-to” books from a local library. Take lots of notes. Then put it all into practice by writing another book or two.
I think I struggle most with number one. Maybe that’s why I haven’t arrived at number two! The third is enjoyable for me. When other writers suggest a particular craft book, I purchase the eBook and highlight like crazy.
My biggest hurdle is staying focused on my WIP with all the interruptions of daily life pulling me away. You have five children, so you must have plenty of interruptions when you’re writing. How do you handle the interruptions?
Yes, I DO have MANY interruptions each time I sit down to write. If I waited for perfect conditions, however, I’d never write. I’ve simply made up my mind to work under the circumstances I’ve been given, even if they’re less than ideal at times.
One thing that helps is that I give myself daily word count goals. I block in work time as best I can every day, and then I stick to it. I also let my family know my schedule. And while I try to minimize the interruptions, I’ve learned that I just need to attend to whatever the need is (whether it’s a child needing a snack or the dog getting into the garbage, etc.) and then get back to my writing as soon as possible. In other words, I don’t let the interruptions paralyze me.
That’s great advice. Perhaps my mistake is closing the file and shutting my laptop. (Note to self…)
Now let's talk about your latest YA release, A Daring Sacrifice.
My current WIP is my first attempt at first person, so I paid particular attention to the fact that A Daring Sacrifice is written in first person. How do you determine what voice to use, and why did you want Juliana and Collin to tell their story?
I write all of my adult novels in third person. But in the young adult genre, first person is very popular. I think first person appeals to teens because it allows them to relate a little more intimately with the main character. They feel as if they're one step closer and on the adventure right along with the characters, getting inside their heads and bodies and emotions. And let’s face it, teens are in an especially emotional time of life. Being able to connect emotionally to a character is important.
For all those reasons and more, I decided to write my YA series in first person as well. It's a little tricky when switching between the hero and heroine's POV. So my publisher decided to do different fonts to designate between the hero and the heroine's POV. So when you see that in the book, it's not a mistake. It's intentional!
I loved how you used the different fonts! It made it so much easier to distinguish the POV. I’ve not read a lot in first person, so now I’m curious as to how other authors might handle that switch.
As a Christian, I want my faith to show through my writing, but not so much it takes center stage over the story. How do you keep a faith focus in A Daring Sacrifice without becoming “preachy”?
It’s definitely tricky to keep a faith focus without becoming preachy.
One of things I try to do is intertwine the characters’ emotional and spiritual arcs, so that they are closely related. I start off by giving my characters flaws or weaknesses that they must work through as the story progresses. As they wrestle through issues, they don’t end up perfect. But by the end I try to bring about some emotional and spiritual growth with their story flaw.
For example, in A Daring Sacrifice, Juliana harbors a great deal of bitterness toward those who’ve hurt her family and her people. She’s resorted to stealing from wealthy nobles and justifies what she’s doing. Obviously, this is her flaw. As the story unfolds, she must learn some lessons about acting with integrity, even if it requires great sacrifice.
Another way that I add in the faith aspect to my stories without being preachy is by having the characters pray, go to chapel, and or draw comfort from God in a historical context. People during the Middle Ages were extremely religious and so it’s only natural to add this aspect into the story to remain true to the times.
Having a culture of religious activity would certainly make it easier to sprinkle in the prayers.
I write for a mature audience. How is writing for a YA audience different than writing for an adult audience? What are the similarities?
While many of my adult readers have enjoyed my YA books just as much if not more than my adult novels, I do get adult readers now and then who are surprised, maybe even disgruntled, with the fact that my YA books are slightly different than my adult novels. And I try to gently remind them, that they’re supposed to be different.
First, my YA books are shorter, crisper, and less historically detailed. In fact, I’d almost go as far as saying that my YA are more fairy-tale world than true historicals. They contain enough detail to give a “flavor” of another place, but not too much to bog down younger readers.
Secondly, my YA books are more plot driven than character driven. I’ve included battle scenes as well as some of the seat-of-your pants danger that appeals to the modern teen reader. I plunge my characters into desperate, life-threatening situations which, in the era of books like The Hunger Games, is appealing to modern readers.
A third difference is in how I'm approaching the heroine and the romance. My YA heroines are a bit younger and so they are more of a coming of age story where the heroine must grapple with some “growing up” issues. I’ve also tried to keep the romance very sweet and tender (as opposed to my adult novels that while clean, are more passionate in nature).
Whether my adult novels or YA, I simply want to tell a compelling story. I hope that I’ve been able to entertain and perhaps even inspire in both of my markets.
I expected your foray into YA to be quite different from your usual genre, but I’ve heard other authors say the same thing when they write a book for a different audience. Faithful readers have an expectation…
Speaking of different writing styles, in the past, I’ve shared bits from writing I did in my childhood—mostly poems. I know that you have been writing all your life as well. What was the very first story you ever wrote? Was it ever published?
The first story I wrote was probably in first grade in a spiral notebook. And of course, it’s long gone in the trash! But as far as my adulthood writing career, I wrote five novels that are collecting dust in a closet. They were my practice books, the books that helped me grow and become the writer I am today.
I think you said that Luther and Katharina was a book that you pulled off a dusty shelf. Maybe someday you will dust off one of those books and tweak it for publication as well.
As we wrap up this interview, let me ask the BIG question: Why do you write?
I write because I love telling stories. I love the quote by Toni Morrison because it sums up part of why I write: "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Essentially I write the stories that I LOVE to read! Of course there are other, deeper reasons I write too. But that's one of the main ones.
That’s a great quote. Thank you, Jody, for sharing with us. I’m sure I speak for all your fans when I say we’re glad you write.
How about you? Why do you write?