Jenny Cote (pronounced Co-tee) is an award winning author, speaker and producer. Her writing compares to the style of C.S. Lewis and is a blend of her love for God and history.
She has two Christian, fantasy fiction series, The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz ® and Epic Order of the Seven ®, which include these books and more on the way.
The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud (2009 Gold Award in the Readers Favorite Awards for Children’s Chapter Books)
The Dreamer, the Schemer, and the Robe (2010 Reader’s Favorite Gold Award for Children’s Chapter Books)
The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star (2011 Reader’s Favorite Gold Award for Christian Historical Fiction)
The Roman, the Twelve, and the King (2012 Readers Favorite Five Star and Bronze Awards for Christian Historical Fiction)
Earning two marketing degrees in the state of Georgia, Jenny continues to live there with her husband Casey and son Alex.
We are blessed that Jenny will be teaching two workshops for the 2014 teen track at Write2Ignite: Create and Chairs. Also, she will present a workshop for adults titled, Get Caught Skipping Out of Class. You can connect with Jenny on her website www.epicorderoftheseven.com and on facebook: Jenny Cote. For now, enjoy the interview.
Jenny, share with us how your writing journey began.
I started writing when I was 8 years old! I wrote stories about talking fruit, and told Phil Vischer that I wrote “Fruity Tales” long before he wrote “Veggie Tales.” J But I didn’t know I was called to be a writer as a profession until I was an adult and self-published my first book, Now I Sea!, in 2003. It was a devotional book that bubbled up out of me – once it was in print I was hooked and knew this was the path God had for me. That book led me to my agent who helped me get published with my Christian fiction series, The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz, and the rest is history.
Why did you choose to write for the Christian market?
God called me to it, to write his stories. The cool thing is I have crossover to secular readers who are reading my books.
Will you share with us what book you are currently working on?
Novel 5, The Wind, the Road, and the Way is in production and to be released Feb 21, 2014. I’m currently writing The Fire, the Revelation, and the Fall (2015), and researching for The Voice, the Revolution, and the Jewel (2016), and The Professor, the War, and the Muse (2018).
How do you balance your work with your family life? How did you manage it especially when your son was younger?
It was a juggling act, to be sure! It still is, even with my son off to college. I have “seasons” of work as an author. Winter is writing season. Spring is editing/mini-book tour season. Summer is research/have a life season. Fall is book tour season. It took a while to figure out the rhythm of how to manage authoring with family life, but my husband and son are so supportive and have been patient as I figured it out. I do not write on Sundays, but you may find me writing, editing, researching or marketing on any other six days of the week.
Having earned two degrees in marketing yourself, you must have seen the benefit of hiring your own marketing manager. Share with us how this works for you.
Indeed. There are three parts to being a successful author: writing the book (easiest part), getting published, and marketing. I tell aspiring authors that if you do not have a good grip on each of these three areas, it will be difficult to achieve your goals. 80-90% of titles fail because one or more of these parts are weak. Thankfully, God was preparing me all along with my marketing education and experience and I LOVE to market! I hired a marketing manager to help set up my speaking venues and fulfill my website orders, but recently she has had to take a full-time position so I am my own marketing manager for now! I hope to locate another individual to assist me as it frees up so much time for me to concentrate on the research, writing, and travel.
You frequently travel abroad to conduct research for your books. What a blessing that you’ve been able to visit England, Ireland, France, Rome, Israel, and Egypt! Are there one or two places that are your favorites?
Normandy, France is by far my favorite place as I’ve been there five times, and will be heading there in June 2014 for the 70th anniversary of DDAY, which I’ll cover in The Professor, the War, and the Muse. I’m blessed beyond measure to be able to travel like I do. Of course, I love going all over Virginia researching Patrick Henry and the Revolutionary War. Having been raised in Virginia, it’s a joy to frequently return to my Old Dominion.
According to an interview with Christian Devotions’ SPEAKUP, you said in order to ensure Biblical accuracy; you read almost fifty books for every book you write. That’s amazing! With all the research you do, about how long does it take you to write one of your books?
I will research a given book a minimum of two years, but I actually write them on average in four months.
How do you handle distractions and stay on task?
I function best under tight deadlines, as I know that distractions will be deadly to me! So I shut myself in during the winter months and become a writing machine. I have to be very disciplined and anti-social for a season, and my friends understand why.
I heard you were able to stay two nights in the former home of C.S. Lewis. As a big C.S. Lewis fan, what was that like?
Indescribable! I was given the privilege to stay in the home of MY writing hero and mentor. Just to walk around the house, the grounds and imagine him doing the same as he wrote is incredible. I also sat for three hours in the Eagle and Child pub interviewing Walter Hooper who was Lewis’s secretary and who attended the Inklings meetings with Lewis and Tolkien. It was magical and I’m still pinching myself! Walter will be my technical advisor for The Professor, the War, and the Muse, about C.S. Lewis and WWII. I “posed” a picture sitting at his desk (not his original) with my books there, just as he had posed by this same window:
That is awesome! Thanks for sharing the photos with us.
Some other exciting news is you’re working on your first movie. Tell us about that.
I am partnered with Lori Marett and Irma Torre and we have formed Seven Winged Productions (www.sevenwinged.com). We are working to turn The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud into a full-length feature film, but God has led us in a new path over the past four months to produce an animated TV/DVD series first. We have been blown away by the people God has brought our way for these projects, including animation legend Phil Roman who will be our Executive Producer. Phil’s credits include How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Charlie Brown, among others, so we pray he will make the Epic Order of the Seven become an instant classic as well. Right now, we are securing our funding and hope to get production underway in 2014.
The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud will be fantastic as an animated movie! I checked out the website for Seven Winged Productions and was pleasantly surprised to see another Write2Ignite Conference speaker (Torry Martin) as one of your cast! How cool is that?
Jenny, thank you for carving time out of your busy schedule to share with us. You and your words are a blessing to us all. We look forward to hearing more from you at the conference in March.
In conclusion, what three nuggets of wisdom can you give to aspiring writers?
1) Write about what you love and are passionate about.
2) RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH – you cannot write about what you don’t know about.
3) Publishing moves at the speed of molasses, so if you want to be a published author, be prepared for a long journey. But sit back and enjoy the ride! When you give your project to the Lord, trust where he takes you. And WHEN you get rejected, remember that it’s not them rejecting you, but God rejecting them for your highest good.
Angry men bent on death. She broke the law, and she must die. The scene has been repeated in Pakistan, Indonesia, and the eighth chapter of John. What Jesus wrote and said in John 8 saved a woman’s life. Could he use our writing to do the same?
In countries around the world, Christians break the law by sharing the hope of Jesus with someone trying to live without him. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Darcie Gill, who serves with The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). VOM is a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization founded in 1967 by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who spent many years imprisoned for his faith.
Reaching Our Audience
According to their website, www.persecution.com, VOM assists persecuted Christians by encouraging them, providing them with the tools they need for evangelism, providing for families whose loved ones have been imprisoned or killed, and delivering aid. They also bring the Church together by sharing stories of persecution and perseverance. Darcie has what she calls the “neatest job in the world.” She meets with Christians in hostile nations. Then, she brings their stories back to the free church, being the “person uniting both.”
Is there a way we can be writers who unite both? How do we connect a story about a mother in a foreign place to a soccer mom in suburban America? The first step is realizing our persecuted brothers and sisters are just like us. They must choose every day to grow to become more like Christ, just as we must. We all face the same issues, such as forgiveness.
Darcie shared the story of a widow in Colombia. The woman’s husband had pastored for a few years in a guerilla-held area before he was killed. VOM helped her and her two-year old daughter with basic needs and employment. When they asked the woman what her future plans were, she answered that “she wanted to go back and share the Gospel with those who had taken her husband.” She realized she “could give them something even her husband couldn’t give. She could forgive them. This woman realized the greatest gift she could give was forgiveness. And it would open an opportunity for the Gospel with them.”
Reaching Our Brothers and Sisters
Darcie also shared about the ministry of Prisoner Alert, a way individuals can become involved in the life of an imprisoned Christian. Prisoner Alert provides all you need to write and send a letter to a brother or sister in jail.
But I asked her if writing a letter can really make a difference. She quickly answered, “My goodness, yes,” and told me the story of an imprisoned pastor who had been beaten so brutally he faced kidney problems. Christians responded with thousands of letters. The guards stopped beating him and got him medical help.
What about times the prison officials don’t deliver the letters? Someone still reads them, and God uses them to change hearts.
Ways to Reach Out
Writers are by nature, storytellers. We share stories with everyone who will listen. We need to hear the stories of the persecuted Church and share them with the audiences God has blessed us with. Here are ten ways to do it:
Reaching Our World
As we read the stories of our brothers and sisters who are suffering, we take to heart the command in Hebrews to remember the persecuted. As we share their stories with our readers, we may see hearts changed. What Jesus wrote and said changed an angry crowd ready to stone a woman into men who put down the stones and walked away. His words saved a life. My prayer is that God will use ours to do the same.
For more information on Voice of the Martyrs, Prisoner Alert, or requesting a speaker to address your church or writing group, please visit www.persecution.com.
Edie Melson is a prolific writer, publishing thousands of articles over the years, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. Edie is a regular contributor on the popular Novel Rocket and Inspire a Fire websites, as well as social media mentor for My Book Therapy and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine.
Known as one of the go-to experts on social media, Edie helps writers learn how to plug in.
She will be conducting a Social Networking Track at the 2014 Write2Ignite Writers Conference. This hands-on practicum will take students step-by-step through setting up major social media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. The sessions will emphasize how writers can actually use social media without spending all of their time doing so.
Meanwhile, we’ve caught up with Edie for an interview!
Edie, share with us how your writing journey began. Have you always worked in the writing industry?
I think I’ve always written. I actually wrote my first novel in 8th grade – longhand. I still have yearbooks from junior and high school where friends told me they looked forward to reading my published books. I began in the industry in the early 80s as a technical writer, writing instructions for the craft company, Leisure Arts. Then I took some time off to begin a family and start raising kids. I didn’t get serious again until the late 90s.
How did your path lead you to serve as a social media advisor to writers?
I got started in social media because I got my dream job. I was hired as the managing editor of an online magazine. It was a magazine for college-age Christian young men. It took me less than a day to figure out the ONLY way these young men communicate is through social media. And I had trouble with email…much less anything like Facebook or Twitter. So I had to either come up to speed fast enough to lead this team or quit. And I’m not one to back down from a challenge. So here I am. I think it gives me a unique perspective to have come into this new paradigm without any kind of a marketing background.
Indeed, it is a unique perspective. You can relate to many writers’ apprehensions about social media. What are some practical steps novice writers can take now to build their platform?
The most important thing is to start small and stay consistent. Small, consistent steps will get you much farther, much faster than trying to do everything at once. Give yourself permission to experiment, but don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do it all.
For our pre-published writers—what might they post on their website/blog since they have no published books?
One thing many writers miss is the fact that their audience isn’t writers. Most people in the world who read have no urge to write books for a living. I recommend finding something you are passionate about and sharing that with your readers. As authors – even pre-pubbed authors – we have a certain ahhh quality about what we do. It seems glamorous and courageous. People want to get to know the folks behind that writerly mask.
You co-direct the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. Tell us a little about this conference. What does it offer to those interested in writing for children and young adults?
The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference is one of the largest Christian conferences in the nation. We offer instruction in many writing disciplines, from freelance writing to devotions, Bible studies, non-fiction, writing for children, adults, even writing for the film and television industry. We have publishing professionals like editors and agents who are specifically looking to acquire material for children and writers who write for children. I think though, the most valuable aspect of the Blue Ridge conference, and any conference, is the chance to network with other writers.
By January 2014 you will have three books out that deal with the military: Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle; While My Son Serves; and While My Husband Serves. Have you considered writing a book for children? Perhaps While My Daddy Serves is your next project!
I am actually in discussion with the publisher about that possibility. I think it’s a book that’s needed badly!
I agree! I hope that discussion develops into a book contract for you.
Your latest writing ventures into steampunk. Define steampunk and tell us what led you to write for this genre.
Steampunk reaches beyond a specific genre and is an actual movement. It’s a unique mix of past, present, and future. It’s a juxtaposition of Victoria-era mannerisms, steam-driven gadgets and gizmos, and science fiction world-building. Because it’s more than a genre, it’s influence touches everything from home décor to current clothing trends.
The foundation of this movement can be found in the literature and architecture of the late nineteenth century, but it’s so much more. It’s dirigibles, Jules Verne, and the music of Abney Park. And they’re all wrapped up in bustles, top hats and goggles.
I’ve always loved Jules Verne and the Victorian era and science fiction. I sort of feel like my whole life has led up to writing this type of fiction. As a matter of fact, during my research of this current series, I was digging through my own library—I also collect antique books—and discovered I’d purchased a book on physics from the late 1800s. It’s perfect for the research I’m doing.
Can you share a little with us about the steampunk book series you are working on? Have these books already found a home with a publisher?
These books don’t have a home yet, but there are some publishers who are interested. The series is based on classic fairy tales and fables. The tag line for the series is:
Grim reminders that happily-ever-after doesn’t come without a price…
Of course, that price is the one Jesus paid for us and is a recurring theme throughout the stories.
Edie, these books sound captivating. I bet your agent loves them. How did you find your agent?
I found my agent through contacts I made at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I pitched my ideas to Blythe Daniels and while she wasn’t acquiring fiction clients one of her agents, Jessica Kirkland was. Jessie and I met at the ACFW conference a few months after I talked to Blythe and she offered me a contract. She is a perfect fit for me and I feel like God choose her just for me.
Last question, as a writer, what do you wish you had learned earlier?
Quit looking for short-cuts and magic formulas.
Writing is hard work, but if you put in the hours, success will come. It may not always look like what you thought, but when God is involved it is ALWAYS better than you could ever imagine!
Thank you, Edie, for taking time to visit with us. It is always a pleasure talking with you. We look forward to learning more from you in March, 2014. Connect with Edie at her blog, The Write Conversation, and on twitter.
Edie’s bestselling eBook on social media has recently been updated, expanded, and re-released as Connections: Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers. I highly recommend you check this eBook out. I have found it extremely helpful.
When I first began writing for publication I think I worked with a vague notion of it being always fun, like skipping through fields of flowers, picking the rosiest bunch and then holding them out for the world to see. 13 years and 18 books later I’ve found the reality of being a writer much more challenging, tiring and emotionally draining than I’d ever bargained for. It’s not just the rejections that are difficult to take, and I believe all writers have their fair share of mandatory rejections, it’s the hard slog to sell a book once it makes it into print. It’s the always stimulating, but also wearying task, of continual editing and revising. It’s the weighing of motivations and self doubt against the potential future of a project, and the occasional time when, despite the hours of work you put into a project, you acknowledge it’s best place is tucked neatly in a folder on your shelf and NOT out in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a writer. There’s nothing I’d rather do – but sometimes it feels like a darn hard slog, uphill, in the mud and pouring rain, pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire.
But this November I stumbled across something new (new for me, that is). PiBoIdMo. It’s an online challenge to come up with 30 new picture book ideas (that’s the Pi Bo Id part) during the month of November (that’s the Mo part). I suppose it’s the picture book cousin of the popular National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I signed up on a whim, following a fellow children’s writer/illustrator’s lead and wondered if I’d regret doing so.
But I HAVEN’T regretted a single day.
I know I could have chosen to write down 30 new ideas independently of the official PiBoIdMo challenge, but I think there is something extra motivational about doing a challenge with some 1000+ other people. As I post this blog I’m up to 27 ideas, and I’m loving it. Why? What’s so exciting about thinking up a new idea a day?
Well, for me, it’s been a huge reminder of the fields of flowers I first fell in love with when I decided to write for children. Each evening, despite the daily juggle for writing time that is natural for a writer/mother of 3, despite the pressure of a picture book deadline, despite the impending speaking events, the weekend book sales, Facebook publicity disasters etc I sit on my bed and allow my creativity free roam. My ideas may not be brilliant, but they are arriving. Creativity remains, even when it feels like the hard slog of being a writer has squeezed it out. At the idea stage I don’t even have to think about marketing. I don’t have to edit ideas, polish them, redraft them, sell them or anything … yet. And it’s refreshing to my tired writer’s heart.
So if you are feeling the writing journey is a lot tougher than you bargained for when you set out, if the submissions are draining you and the rejections almost crippling. If the Self-Promotion-Monster feels like it’s about to swallow you whole and leave barely anything left to work with – don’t worry. Your creativity and love for this thing called writing still remains. It might just be time to sign up for next year’s PiBoIdMo, or do your own version, or go on a frivolous creativity weekend (just you, a notebook and the world), or borrow that novel you’ve been wanting to read, or write a piece of poetry (you know, the kind you wrote in high-school when no one was looking) or…
You might just get more than you bargained for!
Penny Reeve is the Australian author of more than 15 books for children. She writes picture books, junior novels and non-fiction and loves to explore themes that help children respond through faith to the world around them. You can find more information about Penny, or her books, at her website or by liking her facebook page.