Where Readers & Writers Connect
I love the adventure of it all! There’s a tremendous exhilaration in getting to know the characters and then see how the story develops through their choices which are so often flawed. They are just human, after all! Anyway, I feel more like the reader than the writer when I’m working, so if I become bored with the story, then I know someone or something has to change.
What genre do you write?
I write contemporary inspirational fiction that is character driven. The books’ plots will always develop through the characters. I am most validated in my choice to write when readers tell me that they feel like they really know the people in the books or that they can identify with the feelings of a character because of living through similar circumstances in their own lives.
Life is full of the most fascinating people and situations, and experience has taught me that there is nothing—absolutely nothing—no matter how dark and hopeless, that God cannot rearrange and bring glory to Himself. Truly, I don’t believe I could write any other type of fiction and do it well.
How do you get an idea for a book?
When I started writing my first book, “Stolen Legacy”, I had a very specific story I wanted to tell about the consequences of certain wrong choices. However, as I wrote, the single story line became two, and characters turned into their own people who drove the book in unexpected directions. I started writing in 2003 (although I didn’t publish until this spring), and much of the mainstream Christian fiction market at that time did not deal with a lot of reality. That has changed! And that’s a good thing. I really believe that the growth of independent publishing has enhanced inspirational storytelling.
But I’m starting to digress!
I get an idea based on real life situations, and then I ask the Lord to “write” the story in a way that will touch the hearts of those whom He knows will be reading the book and to whom He wants to give hope. My stories are about people faced with all the issues of life that one would not want publicized over the internet, issues that are becoming more and more common within the body of believers.
As I was writing the third book, “Glorious Legacy”, I grew bored with the story. So on one of my morning power walks—that’s when I seek counsel from the Lord and ask Him to show me what to write that day—He put an idea in my mind that startled me. In fact, when I shared it with my husband, Michael, he asked if I really wanted to go there. So, I asked the Lord to guide me and then just plowed ahead. It was stunning how He worked through that idea to reveal His way of handling an “impossible” dilemma. I assume that He has at least one reader somewhere who will gain hope from the story.
I am working on my fourth book now, and it is not part of “The Legacy Series”. Again, I am dealing with a topic that I never would have imagined writing about. It’s challenging, and yet it is extremely relevant. I am on the prayer team at my church, and on Easter Sunday I was approached between services by a woman whose prayer request was one I never would have expected to hear in a vibrant, Bible-teaching church. Her request led me to ask myself how God would deal with her situation, and now the book is in progress.
My desire is to learn as I write, all in light of Biblical truth. I once heard Francine Rivers say (my paraphrase) that she starts a book with a question and then lets the writing answer it. I didn’t fully understand what she meant at the time, because I was just beginning to write. Now I get it!
How did you get your books published?
What an impact e-readers have had on self-publication! I published all three on Kindle this year, and now they are available on Nook and in paperback through Amazon. When I first started writing, the only hope was for a traditional publisher to pick up one’s work. And for a first-time author . . . well, you know the likelihood of that happening.
However, I went to a couple of Christian Writers’ Guild conferences—in fact, I think it was their first or second one where I met Francine Rivers—and an editor from Tyndale liked the storyline of my first book. She asked if I could get three books out of it, because they could only consider taking on one unknown author each year and wanted to make sure there were two books ready to follow the initial launch. Although she asked me to send her a proposal, nothing happened with Tyndale, but that is what motivated me to write the three books of “The Legacy Series”. Don’t you just love the way God works?
Where did your encouragement to write come from?
It has been a desire of mine for most of my adult life, but I was extremely occupied with a career in corporate sales management for thirty years. I’m just not one of those people who can get up two hours early to write, then work a ten-hour day, eat dinner and then write another couple of hours before bed. Whew! I get tired just thinking about that kind of schedule.
I was fortunate enough to retire early, and my husband of only seven years at the time, encouraged me to “live my dream”.
Once I started writing, I received encouragement at the two major writers’ conferences I attended and from friends who agreed to read my work as I wrote. Also, my mother-in-law, who was still alive at the time, was legally blind, and she loved “reading” by listening to audio books. When I would read my initial drafts to her, and she’d say something like, “Oh, that Ben! I could just strangle him!” I knew that the story was going in the right direction. One night she said she woke up and was thinking about what she thought was the Danielle Steel book she was listening to and then remembered that it was mine. Who wouldn’t be motivated by that?
What one piece of advice would you give to a beginning writer?
Just write what’s in your heart, and don’t try to imitate anyone else. Pray, write, read, pray, write, read . . . you get the picture. Especially for anyone who wants to write for God’s glory, ask Him to show you each day what to write. He is the Counselor, so He knows who will be reading your work and what He wants to come from it.
Stay in His word every day so that anything you write is in alignment with His truth. People are greatly influenced by what they read, even if it’s fiction. I realized the enormity of responsibility I have as a Christian writer when someone told me that they emulated one of my character’s prayers, because they didn’t know how else to pray about their situation at the time.
What books have you used to improve your writing skills?
I read “Stein on Writing” by Sol Stein and “The Elements of Style” when I first started writing. Also, I always have “Grammatically CORRECT” close at hand. My work is far from flawless grammatically, but if there is little else that will detract from your story more than poor grammar.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
As I mentioned earlier, I love to power walk for exercise and time with the Lord. No iPod or any other distraction allowed.
Movies! I’m a complete movie addict and love watching them any way I can. One of my favorite things is to have a movie date with Michael, get the free popcorn that comes with our Harkins’ Theater shirt and settle in for a good laugh or hand-moistening adventure. I watch lots of movies on my iPad, too . . . through Netflix.
Cooking and sewing are big with me. When I was younger, I tried my own dress designing business. Love creating with food or fabric! I just finished a skirt for my stepdaughter in Georgia. It was copied from one of mine that she liked, and I sure hope that it fits!
And reading. Lots and lots of reading.
My favorite time, though, is with Michael (even if it’s just going to Costco), my darling stepdaughters, son-in-law and five unbelievably amazing grandchildren. I was never able to have children of my own, so being a grandma through marriage to Michael is God’s bonus to me.
How do you like to serve aside from writing?
Michael and I have been facilitators for DivorceCare for ten years. Each of us has experienced divorce, and we know that God can do incredible things through the wreckage of broken families. Every time we lead a class, we stand in awe of the privilege of witnessing His miracles in individuals’ lives. Although we have to revisit the pain of our own divorces each time, it’s worth it. 2 Corinthians 1: 3 & 4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Trials can be a gift! How else would we ever witness the magnitude of God’s power through Jesus Christ?
Do you have a website?
My Amazon link is: www.amazon.com/author/janetshoaff.
Facebook is: www.facebook.com/janetshoaff and I am on Twitter @JanetShoaff.