I first met Gina Holmes through Penwrights, an online Christian critique group that I joined in October 2004. At the time she was a relative unknown, a peon like the rest of us. But that was about to change. Shortly thereafter, Gina started a blog entitled First Novel Journey, which she recently renamed to Novel Journey. Novel Journey has fast become one of the premiere Christian writer’s blogs on the block. Averaging 5,000 visitors monthly, Gina’s site features author interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, publishing news and market watch. It’s also a great place to network with other novelists. If you’re looking for consistently great insights and inspiration about the craft of writing from a Christian perspective, you’ll love her site. Plus, no one I know is brash enough to sit on the shoulders of a famous author. I always promised I’d be the first to interview Gina (eat your heart out Michael Snyder), and here it is.
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MIKE: What prompted you to start Novel Journey and how has it changed since its inception?
GINA: I began my blog on the advice of author/editor Terry Whalin . I can’t recall what his post stated exactly but he encouraged writers to have a blog. So, I began Novel Journey. I figured it might get my work looked at by an editor or two. The original format was me chronicling my road to publication, thus the name.
The problem with that was A.) Everyone and their sister seems to be trying to get a novel published, and B.) I really couldn’t reveal anything of interest. It’s not the wisest thing in the world to kiss and tell with agents and editors. The power of suggestion is huge. If Westbow rejects me and I share that rejection letter with the blogosphere, and say Warner Faith editor reads the letter and that other editor’s opinion subconsciously becomes his opinion of my work. And who wants to buy a book rejected by someone else?
Besides all that, I was getting something like three readers a day logging on — and one of them was me. So, I thought of either closing up shop or using the blog to somehow serve others. It dawned on me that I spent a lot of time surfing the web in search of author interviews to learn from. I figured if interviews interested me, they’d interest others. So, I asked Deb Raney to launch the interviews, she agreed and people responded.
MIKE: What is the overall purpose or objective of your site? What are you hoping to accomplish with Novel Journey?
GINA: The overall purpose of Novel Journey is to get the word out about Christian fiction. Until the Left Behind books came out, I had no idea there was such a thing as Christian fiction. I think a lot of people don’t know there’s an option of reading good books that won’t compromise their faith.
Also, there’s a big misconception out there that Christian fiction is substandard. Yes, there are poorly written books in the CBA, (and in the ABA). But we also offer books that are every bit as good as anything the ABA has to offer. Francine Rivers, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Robert Liparulo, Jack Cavanaugh and so many others.
People need to hear about the really good Christian fiction out there.
MIKE: You’ve interviewed a lot of big names in the business. What are some of your personal favorites? Is there a particular interview or exchange that has touched you or affected you in a special way?
GINA: I think there might only be one or two interviews that I didn’t glean some piece of invaluable information from. A few of my favorites (there are too many to list) would be:
Robert Whitlow because he was just so funny. It was a joy to chat with him. Jack Cavanaugh-perhaps the second sweetest man in the CBA (right behind my buddy Alton Gansky). Not only was Jack fun to talk to but I could write a book from what I learned from him alone. I thought Athol Dickson gave a great interview. I was thrilled to have Ted Dekker’s ear and Walter Wangerin Jr. was a real treat as well. The man is just so intelligent!
The interview that touched me the most was my buddy Don Brown’s. I remember at the time I was in a lull wondering if I was fooling myself writing. And then I read his interview. I asked him to name some of his favorite books and he named my second novel, The Demon Chaser. That was touching. Though it would have been more touching had he actually read the thing.
MIKE: When you interview an author, you usually ask them to describe their journey to publication. Of course, everybody’s journey is unique. But have you seen some similarities in how God leads a person to publication? What are some of the things that published authors appear to have in common?
GINA: I think Randy Ingermanson said every journey is unique. Every journey is the same. Some authors get published with their first manuscript, never had a rejection, yada, yada. Others write ten books before one sells. It amazes me the spectrum of publication stories.
It seems to me, though there are exceptions to this, that no matter what a writer does to sell themselves, if their writing isn’t ripe, it isn’t going to sell. Like I said though, there are exceptions. There are some poorly written books that prove me wrong. If you want to get to publication, you can have a great web-site, a popular blog, an acquisitions editor for an aunt, but if your writing isn’t publishable, that stuff isn’t going to make it so. Writers (myself included) spend way too much time looking for shortcuts. You want your name on the front of a traditionally published novel? Become a novelist who is publishable. It”s as simple as that.
The writers I admire most whom I’ve interviewed continue to be teachable. They read how to books, good novels, bad novels, CBA, ABA, NBA (I got carried away). They are humble. They are humble, gracious and grateful.
MIKE: You’re a big advocate of networking amongst fellow writers. In fact, your site contains at least 40 links to writing blogs and writing-related sites. Why are you so passionate about networking? What are some reasons why Christian writers should seek to network and live in community?
GINA: I am an advocate of networking. Before I went to my first writer’s conference, I spent years alone spinning my wheels. I sent out queries to magazines, agents, children’s book publishers, you name it, whether they fit what I wrote or not. Then I attended my first writer’s conference. I met one of my writing partners, Ane Mulligan who introduced me to my first critique group. That group and the subsequent ones I joined, have grown me as a writer beyond what I could have achieved on my own. I also met great author friends like; Alton Gansky, Don Brown, Gail Martin, Deb Raney, Kathy Mackel, who have given me so much encouragement I’ve been diagnosed with macroencephaly.
I think Bill Myers in his interview said he is a firm believer in keeping an open hand. Give freely and get freely. I absolutely agree. You never know who in this business will be able to help you one day. Your critique partner today may be the publisher you pitch tomorrow.
And who understands writers? Only other writers. My husband can only take so much shop talk before he runs away. (He can move pretty fast when I get into a grammar discussion.)
MIKE: Your site deals with the intersection of faith and craft. A common tension faced by Christians in the arts, has to do with artistic integrity versus getting the Gospel out. Where do you see that balance? Is the first objective of the Christian artist to get the message out or be true to the craft?
You know, interviewing great artists like Walter Wangerin Jr. and Ted Dekker, among others, really changed my mind about this issue. In my own first novel, I laid out the Gospel. My philosophy then was, if you had the cure for cancer, would you paint a picture of a rose or would you tell people? Christians have the cure to a far more detrimental disease.
However, having read CBA books that have preaching, endless scripture quoting and conversion scenes, I’m thinking, who is this speaking to? Not to me, a Christian, in many cases. I know the Gospel. And a non-Christian doesn’t want to read what they call propaganda either.
I think our duty as Christians is to write a great story, not put out garbage, infuse some scripture in it and call it good. I’m not saying you can’t have a conversion scene or some witnessing and still have a great story. It can and has been done.
I thought Leif Enger’s, Peace Like a River did an excellent job of representing faith in a story. The biblical element didn’t come across as preaching. It was a natural part of the story. He really nailed it. Every Christian writer ought to read that book just to see how it’s done. I feel that way about Redeeming Love and Safely Home as well.
I think it was Walter Wangerin in his interview with us, said our job as Christian writers is to raise the questions, get people thinking. Not necessarily answer them. I like that.
Craft wise, Christian writers should hold themselves to a higher standard than secular authors. We are, after all, working for God not man. The parable of the talents comes to mind. When I go to heaven, I don’t want to hand Jesus my dandelion bouquet, I want to give him long stemmed roses. I want to give him my best. I think that’s what most of us strive for, and we just have to put the work in to make that happen.
MIKE: Novel Journey has become a wildly popular site. You’re a wife, a mother, a writer and now you’ve got a celebrated blog to administrate. This must make for some hectic days. Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life, and how you manage to juggle all these responsibilities?
GINA: Ha. You must have taken Alton Gansky’s “How to Schmooze” seminar. I’m blessed in that my husband’s job allots us enough of an income that I don’t have to work full time. I do work as a RN two days a week. The other days, I wake around six am. Make coffee. No coffee, no function.
I post the interview for the day. Editing it takes about a half hour. Then I move on to my emails and edit a little of my novel. Get the kids off to school and then do some more writing/editing. Some days I’ll spend hours setting up interviews or updating the blog. Most days about an hour or two all in all.
On days I have a telephone interview, this eats up my entire day pretty much. After researching the author for questions, then doing the actual interview, I have to transcribe the tape and then edit it. I try not to schedule more than one of these a week. Now if Stephen King and Francine Rivers both wanted their interview in the same week, I’d make an exception.
Nights are for family. Though often I’ll sneak some editing in. My husband thinks I spend too much time at the computer. I think he spends too much time telling me that I spend too much time at the computer. (Actually, he’s very supportive.)
MIKE: Do you have a dream for the future of Novel Journey? Anything special your readers can be looking forward to?
GINA: I’m so glad you asked! In May, two of my friends and critique partners, novelist and scriptwriter, Ane Mulligan and publicist/novelist Jessica Dotta are coming on board to help manage the work load and offer more variety.
We have a great niche among CBA authors and aspiring novelists. But our goal really is to get the word out about Christian fiction and I’m not sure how much of that is happening outside the choir. So, we’ve made the decision to include ABA authors and book reviews alongside CBA.
The rationale is to draw the ABA readership and writers in so that they will discover Biblical worldview authors. We’ll be walking a fine line. We don’t want to promote erotica, or anything obscene. But at the same time, we feel our readership are adults who can handle making their own decisions about what they want to read.
Most CBA readers are also ABA readers. We want it to be vice versa and are doing our part in making that happen. So Mike Duran’s excellent novel, What Faith Awakes, is read by the masses and not just his church group.
Another more selfish dream for the future of Novel Journey for me personally is to be able to promote the fantastic novels by my critique group. These folks are amazingly talented. I look forward to being able to showcase them!
Thanks for the opportunity to take a break from interviewing to be interviewed for a change. This was fun!
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She’s a natural, isn’t she folks? Thanks Gina! You’ve been a blessing to me, and to a lot of others. Keep the torch burning! And if Alton Gansky has a book on Schmoozing 101, I’d definitely be interested…