DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have since won the RITA Award, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. After All, the newest book in her Hanover Falls Novels series, releases in May from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. They have four children and four grandchildren, all of whom live much too far away.
And now, Deb has offered to share some wisdom about her writing process, advice for writers, and more. Read on and learn from this author of almost 20 novels!
JOANNE SHER: Thanks for joining me, Deb. How/where do you get ideas for your books?
DEB RANEY: Everywhere! When I first started writing, I really worried that I’d run out of ideas, but I’ve learned that ideas truly are everywhere. I just needed to discover how to “mine” them. Now every newspaper or magazine article, every movie, every book I read, song I listen to or conversation I overhear sparks an idea.
JOANNE: Those ideas really are everywhere, aren’t they? How did you first get published?
DEB: I finished my first novel, sent it to some friends and readers I respected, did some editing based on their comments, then started sending it out to publishers (this was in the day before publishing houses closed their doors to unagented authors.) Within about five months, I had three different publishers offering me contracts. And two years later––almost to the day I started writing––my first novel was in bookstores. I took for granted how unusual it was for a first-time author to sell a first book. Most of my successful author friends have three or four “practice” novels in their closet. Nowadays, my recommendation to aspiring writers is to finish the book (usually a must for first-time authors to be considered by an agent) and attend as many writers conferences as you can afford to attend.
JOANNE: How do you improve your writing? Do you have a favorite/well-loved writing craft book? Class you’ve taken? Some other method?
DEB: I attend four or five writers conferences each year, usually on faculty, but I do my best to make time to attend several workshops––as a learner, not a teacher––while I’m there. Organizations like ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and the Christian Writers Guild are also great ways to improve your writing skills, through their online interactions and their publications––ACFW Journal and WordSmith.
Probably one of the best ways I’ve grown as a writer is through working with my critique partner, Tamera Alexander. She and I have been critiquing each other’s work for over ten years now and we truly feel like we have an iron-sharpening-iron thing going on. Writers get so close to their own work that it’s virtually impossible to be objective about it. Having another set of skilled eyes on my work makes it exponentially better. As for craft books, Stein on Writing is my all-time favorite, followed by any of James Scott Bell’s book on writing. There is a whole list of great writing craft books on my website in the lefthand sidebar under FOR WRITERS.
JOANNE: What advice do you have for new writers?
DEB: My best advice for aspiring authors is something I wrote a few years ago for a collection one of my writers groups produced called What the Wind Picked Up:
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about the writer’s life is that it is full of ups and downs. In your own eyes, you will never, ever “arrive.” Some months you’ll be on top and feel wonderful about how things are going; other months you’ll be sure your career is over. The sooner you accept that this is normal––and just show up at your desk anyway, day after day after day––the more likely you are to start having more ups than downs. Besides, it’s not about you anyway. Though the act of writing may be therapeutic for the writer, a book doesn’t really come to life until it’s read by someone else. If God uses your story to bring joy or comfort or reproof or wisdom to even one other life, you are a success in the eyes of the only One who matters.
JOANNE: What is your favorite part of being an author? Your least favorite?
DEB: My favorite part is interacting with readers. I’m an extrovert, so being cooped up in my office alone isn’t always my first choice. I love meeting readers––and fellow writers––at book signings and conferences, on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else I can connect. I also love that being a writer allows me to set my own hours and take time to have lunch with my sisters or take a day off in the middle of the week (even if I have to make up the time later.)
My least favorite part of being an author is the bookwork and anything involving math. I hate keeping track of all the expenses and sales tax and other not-fun-but-necessary business aspects of writing.
JOANNE: SO glad to hear about your favorite part – I thought I might be the only extroverted writer! How do you handle writer’s block?
DEB: I’ve rarely had what I would truly call writer’s block. Yes, there are times it’s like pulling teeth to get to my desk and start getting words down, but usually once I discipline myself to get there, the words do start to flow. Nothing motivates like a deadline closing in. Making appointments to write and treating them like any other important appointment helps a lot.
When I do sit down and the words just aren’t there, I’ve learned several tricks that work, including writing “gobbledygook” (it’s always easier to edit bad writing than face the blank page) and taking a break to do something mindless like fold laundry or load the dishwasher, letting my mind work on my story all the while.
JOANNE: What does your writing process generally look like?
DEB: I’m mostly a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I don’t do a lot of plotting or planning, but as I’m researching my novel, I’m getting to know my characters and setting, and when I finally start putting words on the page, I’m always surprised how much I know about my story.
I write with a “leapfrog” style, starting each day by editing what I wrote the day before, then moving forward (usually 1000 words a day) and when I’m a third of the way through, I go back to the beginning and read through the manuscript before diving in again. It may not be the most efficient process, but it works for me.
JOANNE: Is there anything in your writing journey you wish you had done differently?
DEB: In one sense, I hate to ever say I’d do anything differently because I’ve learned from even the mistakes and trials along the way. But yes, I do wish I’d been less concerned with success and more concerned with whether I was following God’s path and plan for my life. I’m very grateful that I’ve always written for the Christian market. Researching and writing a Christian novel is a bit like going through a Bible study as I explore whatever topic my characters are dealing with. But early in my career––and even now sometimes––I spent too much time comparing myself to other authors, worrying about my sales figures, wasting time on things that really don’t matter. That’s time I can never get back. But as Paul says, “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”
JOANNE: What role does the Lord play in your writing?
DEB: Because I mostly write about characters who are already Christians and who are going through a growing time, it’s very important to me to have my characters come to biblically sound conclusions. Yes, they are human and will make mistakes, but when the theme of the book reveals itself, I want to be sure my hero won’t lead my reader astray by the conclusions he or she draws (and yes, I DO know my characters aren’t real! But sometimes they feel pretty real to me!).
JOANNE: What is your latest book about? Anything in the works?
DEB: My work in progress (to be published by Howard/Simon & Schuster next spring) is called Face of the Earth, and is an exploration about what commitment in marriage really means. It’s a topic I’ve explored in several of my novels, beginning with my first, A Vow to Cherish. But it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve been blessed with parents and grandparents, siblings and in-laws who have weathered many trials in marriage and gone the distance. My parents and both sets of my grandparents enjoyed well over 50 years of marriage. My wonderful in-laws were married for over 40 years before my father-in-law’s death, and my husband’s grandparents celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary before they both passed away this past year, both at the age of 101. I have a wonderful legacy of long, happy marriages that is such an inspiration to me, and a goal I want to achieve in my own marriage––till death do us part. Almost 38 years down, but 43 yet to go if we’re to match Grandma and Grampa’s record! (That blows my mind to think about it!)
Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog today. It’s been a pleasure “chatting” with you! I’d be delighted to hear from your blog readers, and would love for them to find out more about my books on my website, blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
JOANNE: Thank YOU, Deb. Some wonderful advice!