Posted by Sally Matheny on Feb 25th, 2013 | 14 comments
Gleaning Gold: The Weaving of a Writer
Interview with Author Joyce Hostetter
by Sally Matheny
Ever feel like your work is trivial? Do you question if writing for a newsletter or for a non-paying market is productive for your writing career? Consider each writing opportunity as a thread in God’s weave of a writer.
A heart-felt thank you note, an encouraging letter, even a published helpful hint in a magazine may first appear as mundane as cinder gray yarn. Where is the vibrant blue of a feature article and the dazzling red book deal?
It’s difficult learning all the ins and outs of the writing business. We get impatient. Rushing ahead produces halting snags causing us to pucker.
Eventually, we learn to wait on the Craftsman to build us, one strand at a time. One day we notice how the cinder gray beautifully frames the colors within. We understand how the intertwining of each thread made our work stronger.
Our featured author has allowed God to build her into a writer one thread at a time as she weaves history into fiction.
Joyce Hostetter is a multi-award winning author who will be presenting three workshops at the Write2Ignite Writers’ Conference: Telling the Truth through Fiction; Writing That Sings; and Let Your History Do the Plotting.
Joyce, share a little about your writing journey. How long did you write before publishing your first book?
I started in 1991 – writing Sunday School lessons and later Vacation Bible School curriculum.
I soon started writing a column and features for a newspaper.
* My first book, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, a story of friendship between an American Mennonite and a Ukrainian, Orthodox girl was published in 1995.
* Eleven years later, in 2006, I published BLUE about a feisty girl affected by polio and war.
* In 2008, I published HEALING WATER, about a teen boy banished to Hawaii’s leprosy settlement.
* COMFORT, a sequel to BLUE was released in 2009. It deals with the after-effects of polio and war.
You mentioned writing a column for the newspaper. What was your column about? How did your work for the newspaper help your writing career?
Ha! The editor wanted me to write a gossip column, which was totally not my style so I tried to honor good deeds, highlight new businesses, and drop names of ordinary people. I’m not sure I ever included enough high profile people for the editor’s happiness but he tolerated me because he was a really nice guy! I also wrote feature stories about local people I discovered along the way. Since I always had a word limit, I learned to pare down my articles to the essentials, to make every word count, and to write each sentence in the most concise way. Essentially I learned to edit myself.
What does a typical day look like for you (when you are not traveling)?
I start with coffee and some quiet time and then conversation with my husband, Chuck. I try to write in the mornings when my brain is actually working.
By mid-morning, I am drawn into all sorts of life events – household, family, ministry etc. Hubby and I usually take a brisk walk in the late afternoon. I write in the middle of all this and at the library one morning a week.
Family means a lot to you. How have you balanced writing, working, and your family over the years?
I’m not sure how balanced I’ve been but I’ve chosen not to work at another job. I prefer less money and a lesser house to the stress of two jobs. So I write from home and I venture out for research and school visits.
Helping with the grandchildren, taking care of an elderly parent, etc. can definitely reschedule my writing life. But I’ve learned from godly parents to make faith and family my priorities.
I do get frustrated about postponing writing for yet another day. Balancing it all is an ongoing struggle. But as a Christian, I think it will always be that way if I respond to needs around me – as I think I should.
I’m sure you use a wide variety of resources for your historical research. What favorite resources for writers (of all genres) would you recommend?
My favorite resource is experts – people who are intimately familiar with the subject I’m writing about. I interview them and read their memoirs.
* Old magazines and newspapers are excellent resources for finding out about life back in the day.
* I do use websites, especially those associated with professional organizations, universities, or experts in a particular field.
* I search out bibliographies in all the books I read. They lead me to other resources.
Do you hire an editor prior to sending out a manuscript?
I’ve never hired an editor but I attend writer retreats where I work one-on-one with them. When getting a manuscript ready for publication, I do think it pays to either hire someone or attend a workshop that includes intensive editor time.
Of course, before sharing with an editor, I always seek feedback from my writing friends.
Does your publisher help with marketing your books? Do you have any marketing tips for writers?
My publisher does limited marketing when the books are released and submits them to awards committees. But, like most authors, I have to promote my own books. Marketing is not natural but I’ve learned a few things:
* Observe writers who promote well. Emulate them or at least their methods that feel most compatible with you.
* Social Media is invaluable for exposure and especially for building writing friendships. Friendships lead to more exposure.
* Develop a brand, but avoid portraying it as an obsession.
* Offer something valuable, like information, connections, and giveaways.
* If you’re a good speaker (or willing to become one), develop an engaging book related program. Charge a reasonable rate. Be negotiable.
* Set a goal to carry out X number of marketing behaviors per week.
How has your faith affected your writing?
Faith influences the topics I write about – tragedy and compassion, war and peace. I incorporate faith as it emerges naturally from the story and try not to speak a foreign language to people who don’t share my faith. I feel called to those readers. I may get to meet them someday so I don’t want to turn them off with a sermon that they’ve probably tuned out in real life – via, you know – Facebook, political conversations, etc.
Have you always been able to write about what you love or did you have to write about a variety of topics before delving into historical fiction?
I think I’ve always loved what I was writing about – except maybe the gossip column but I mostly managed to enjoy that, too. Before working for the newspaper, I wrote Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curriculum, which I loved at the time. The curriculum writing actually helped me to realize how much I love history and research. Once I discovered that, I quit dabbling in various genres and began to focus on hidden stories from history.
If you could, what would you have done differently as you grew into a writer?
Maybe I’d attend a wider variety of conferences and connect with more editors and agents –just to become more well-rounded and learn as much as I can!
Joyce, thank you for sharing some of your history with us. It is encouraging to see the weaving of different writers. See you at Write2Ignite!