All writers dream about signing with their dream agent, who helps them break out with their first novel to become a NYT best-selling author.
Success rarely looks like that, though. For most authors like Penny Zeller, it takes more work and effort than that, but she has some tips and suggestions to help authors make the most of their long (sometimes frustrating) journeys.
What do you write? How did you pick your genre?
Thank you, Karin, for inviting me to be here today. I primarily write Christian historical romance. I first started writing this genre with my Montana Skies Series and found that I loved spending time in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It was a simpler and more wholesome time and, as someone who loves to read historical romance, a good fit.
I have also written two contemporary Christian romances, which I really enjoyed, and my agent recently encouraged me to also pursue writing romantic suspense. I love to read this genre, and I’m excited to see where God leads me regarding writing it.
No matter what genre I add to my list, I know I will never be able to stop writing historical romance as that is my first “love”, no pun intended.
You’ve written multiple books. Which was harder: the first book or the following book?
The first novel I wrote for publication, McKenzie, was written during a particularly difficult time in my life while I was recovering from a car accident and back-to-back bacterial infections. The words flowed easily, for which I’m grateful, because it took my mind off of my situation. In that way, the first book was much easier.
Sometimes subsequent books are harder, especially if it’s the start of a new series, simply because I’m starting from scratch. At the same time, sometimes they are much easier because I’ve learned so much (and still have so much to learn!) about the writing process.
What writing book do you want to read next? Why?
I just noticed that volume two of The Conflict Thesaurus is out. I have the entire collection of these helpful books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi and can’t wait to add this one to my writing library.
What’s your writing day like?
On my writing days, after Bible time and breakfast, I launch into checking my social media, emails, calls, and other messages. Then I begin working on my current project. After lunch, I exercise, then return to writing. One of the things I do that I find very helpful is to punch in the number of words in my WIP into my desk calculator and set the timer. How many words can I accumulate in that time? This holds me accountable if my mind starts to wander or I’m tempted to check social media. Many times after dinner and my family is in bed, I return to the computer. Some of my best writing has occurred in the late evening hours.
How do you combat writer’s block?
That is a really good question. Writer’s block is tough, and it can hit at the worst and most unexpected times. I have found the more I force the words, the harder it is. Instead, when writer’s block makes its entrance, I take a break for a few days and give my mind a rest. I take the opportunity to dive into a book I’ve been wanting to read or tackle neglected chores.
Before long, a scene is begging to be penned and I’m back to writing.
How do you prepare to write your books: pantster, plotter, both, something completely different? Describe your strategy.
I am a pantster. I rarely write all of the scenes in order and I never outline when I write fiction. I actually watch the scenes play out in my mind and attempt replicate them somewhat on paper.
I do keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand so I can take notes because ideas always seem to arrive at the most inopportune times (like when I should be sleeping!).
What advice do you have for new authors?
I would tell them to persevere. I know that sounds cliché, but it is so critical, especially in those moments when the obstacles mount and it seems like our writing is going nowhere beyond our own computer file. If God has called you to write, He has a purpose for that writing. We may never be best-selling authors, but our writing can still make a difference to those who read it.
God calls us all to do different things for His Kingdom. If He has called you to write, seek His guidance. Never give up, even when you feel like it or when someone has unkindly criticized you. Seek to please and honor Him in whatever you write, whether it be for the secular or non-secular market; whether it be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, song lyrics, or a screenplay. Find a mentor and be open to ideas and suggestions from one who’s “been there, done that”. One final note: join forces with other Christian writers. After all, we all work for the same Boss.
What does your revision process look like?
Editing is my least favorite thing when it comes to writing a book (I’m sure I’m in good company!). I usually wait several days before embarking on editing because my eyes become too accustomed to the story and I find that I have a tendency to miss things. I print out the manuscript and find a comfortable location, usually in my outdoor office at the picnic table, or curled up in my recliner. I go line-by-line and read through it, marking it up with my bright pink pen. Then I go back and make changes and repeat the process. Usually, there are a million arrows where I’ve added scenes and asterisks indicating where I need to insert the added scenes. If someone were to find my notes, they’d never be able to decipher them!
Some memories are best forgotten…
The Wyoming Territory is rife with lawlessness and disorder, something Annie Ledbetter and her parents discover when their wagon train is robbed. Seven years later, Annie settles into her lifelong dream as a teacher in the small town of Willow Falls. When she meets handsome rancher Caleb Eliason through a humorous misunderstanding, she is quickly drawn to his kind heart and charming smile.
Former outlaw Caleb Eliason embraces his chance at a fresh start. Gone are the days of robbing stagecoaches and wagon trains. When he falls in love with the new Willow Falls teacher, he doesn’t realize they’ve met before—under much different circumstances. When his past comes to light, will it put the growing love between them at risk?
Can forgiveness and redemption heal two broken hearts or will the past keep them from sharing a future?
Penny Zeller is known for her heartfelt stories of faith and her passion to impact lives for Christ through fiction. While she has had a love for writing since childhood, she began her adult writing career penning articles for national and regional publications on a wide variety of topics. Today, Penny is the author of over a dozen books. She is also a homeschool mom and a fitness instructor.
When Penny is not dreaming up new characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters, camping, hiking, canoeing, reading, running, cycling, gardening, and playing volleyball.
She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency and loves to hear from her readers at her website www.pennyzeller.com and her blog, random thoughts from a day in the life of a wife, mom, and author, at www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com.
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