Elizabeth Winthrop is the author of over sixty works of fiction for all ages. Some of her award-winning titles include THE CASTLE IN THE ATTIC, DUMPY LA RUE and COUNTING ON GRACE. Her recent picture book, MAIA AND THE MONSTER BABY, is illustrated by Amanda Haley. Her short memoir piece for adults, published under Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop, is called DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING: Growing up in Cold War Washington. It is available on all the electronic platforms. (KINDLE, NOOK, & SMASHWORDS) For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What is your worst scar? How did you get it?
A hole in my left side. One of my five brothers was chasing me through the kitchen and I ran into the metal corner of the counter. I bled profusely and reveled in all the attention.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
Doing something other than writing… one of my other creative addictions which include photography, gardening, cooking, knitting.
Visit a museum and sketch.
Go to a dance performance, rejoicing that there are no words.
Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?
I’ve been working on it for about three years. It’s the story of my parents’ love affair during World War II in England. Imagine the Roosevelts are invited to dine at Downton Abbey. My parents met at Allerton Park, an enormous castle in Northern Yorkshire. My father, a cousin of President Roosevelt’s, had been turned down by the American Army, so he enlisted to fight with the British. My mother, a dazzling 16-year-old was training to be a decoding agent with MI5, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The day my parents met, my mother’s only brother was killed in a battle in what is now Libya. It’s the stuff of movies, almost unbelievable which is what makes it so difficult to write.
Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?
This latest project is inspired by and filled with the letters my father wrote home from the war as well as the interviews I did with my mother before she lost her memory. But it comes from my point of view and is filtered through my imagination.
Most of my books are a mixture of real life feelings, if not experiences, and imagination.
How many words have you written in one writing session?
1000. But not daily. I’m happy if I put in three solid hours on the creative work before I turn to the business of being a writer.
Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?
Yes, if I can’t get my husband to do it.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
In those days, I worked as an editorial assistant in the Children’s Book Department at Harper Collins (then known as Harper and Row). Before I took the job, I’d had a number of manuscripts turned down by the editors there although they always wrote me encouraging letters. So, I thought, let me get inside the industry. I found the notes from my readers in the files and began to read manuscripts myself, so I could begin to see where I’d gone wrong. Every week, I would take my latest manuscript off the bottom of the pile on my boss’ desk and put it on the top. Finally, one day, she called to me in my cubicle that she’d read Bunk Beds and had decided to publish it. I almost fainted.
What is your very favorite part of the day?
The late afternoon when I’ve done my writing and can start to play outside.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“You really should give up writing, dear. You don’t have the talent for it.” From an aunt who was angry that I’d portrayed her in a play.
How did you celebrate your first book being published? Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?
I did a celebratory jig in the mail room of my apartment building.
The excitement NEVER wears off.
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
From my famous journalist father. Here’s a selection from my new ebook about growing up in Washington during the Cold War. It’s called DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING.
“When I announced I wished to make my living as a writer, my father took me seriously. He only lived long enough to read Walking Away, my first novel, but he did me the honor of going through the manuscript with a red pencil. I’d made all the usual mistakes of a first novelist. He advised me to choose a simple word over a fancy one, and he gave me the seasoned writer’s warning against the excessive use of adverbs. On a certain page, when I described in excruciating detail how my main character moved from one place to another, Daddy wrote this note in the margin. “Unless Emily crawls bleeding from the room, I suggest you say Emily left the room. We all leave a room in approximately the same way.” Not long after, I hung a sign above my desk that read simply, EMILY LEFT THE ROOM.”
If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?
Give them to my son. He loves opera. I love plays.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Yes. Two books just out.
For 4 to 8 year olds, MAIA AND THE MONSTER BABY, illustrated by Amanda Haley. About a little girl whose mother is pregnant and whose best friend, an imaginary monster, is also getting a new sibling.
For adults, an original memoir piece, under my pen name, Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop. DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING, Growing Up in Cold War Washington. This one’s about my life with the Alsop brothers, two famous journalists who happened to be my father and my uncle.
From the virtual front flap: In Washington, information is power, and in those days, reporters and sources passed stories back and forth over cocktails and around the dinner table. Nobody noticed the children listening at the top of the stairs.
What is your worst personality characteristic?
How did you learn to ride a bicycle?
With two of my five brothers running along next to me.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Three years ago.
What was it?
Took a watercolor class called WATERCOLOR PAINTING FOR THE ABSOLUTE BEGINNER. I loved it.
If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
Become a landscape painter.
What is your definition of a productive day?
A 500 word day followed by only an hour dealing with social media demands followed by a swim and a delicious dinner made with local produce.
What is your definition of a relaxing day?
A day spent outside reading in the shade with all electronic devices turned off.
Have you ever jumped out of a plane? If you knew you would survive, would you do it?
Funny you should ask. I’ve just finished the section of my book where my father parachutes into France behind enemy lines. For the first time, I’m thinking I might like to experience that.
Can you share your journey from writing to author?
To put it crudely, ass to chair.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I’m a grammar grump and hate the bastardization of our language. Words are the only tools a writer has in her toolbox. We should take better care of them.
Examples: There were a big amount of people in the crowd. (What happened to the proper use of the word number?)
She was laying in the road. (What? An egg? Is she a chicken?)
Misused pronouns. “Me and him went to the store.”
And I truly would be happy if I never heard the word “like” sprinkled gratuitously through a sentence LIKE salt and pepper. “I like wanted to go, but I like decided not to.” I used to charge my kids a nickel for every useless like.
If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?
Eddie Jones is the author of eleven books and over 100 articles. He also serves as Acquisition Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. He is a three-time winner of the Delaware Christian Writers’ Conference, and his YA novel, The Curse of Captain LaFoote, won the 2012 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and 2011 Selah Award in Young Adult Fiction. He is also a writing instructor and cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries. His He Said, She Said devotional column appears on Christian Devotions.US. His humorous romantic suspense, Bahama Breeze remains a “blessed seller.” When he’s not writing or teaching at writers’ conferences, Eddie can be found surfing in Costa Rica or some other tropical locale.
Let the conversation begin!
Tell us about your upcoming release, Dead Man’s Hand, with Zondervan.
First, it’s a fun, fast read aimed for middle school boys, but we’re also getting nice reviews on Goodreads from teachers and mothers. But my aim is to give boys a book they can enjoy, one taps into today’s fascination with the occult. This is the first book in the Caden Chronicles series and each story involves one element of the supernatural. Book one explores the concept of ghosts, spirits and what happens to our souls when we die.
Zonderkids is a Christian publisher, so the paranormal aspect is surprising.
I added the paranormal aspect because I want parents and youth to struggle with eternal questions. We’ve created such a culture of blood-letting through books and movies involving vampires, zombies and survival contests, that the reality of death doesn’t carry the sting it once did. In high school my youngest son lost several friends to driving accidents. When another friend recently died, we asked how he felt and he replied, “I’m numb to it.” I fear that’s what we’re doing with our youth: desensitizing them to the horrors of death. In Dead Man’s Hand, Nick and his family discuss spirits and ghosts and the afterlife because I think it’s important for teens to wrestle with these questions before they’re tossed from a car and found dead on a slab of wet pavement.
You’ve spent the last few years dedicating yourself to helping others get published. Tell us a little about your publishing company and what motivated you to take on such a huge endeavor.
We started the publishing arm to publish devotional compilations for Christian Devotions Ministries. We wanted to give some of our devotional writers their own byline in print. Part of mission is to launch new careers for first time authors. We wanted to create a publishing house where writers who were happy selling from 2,000, to 5,000 copies of their devotional book. There is a big jump from unpublished author to “three-book contract” author and we wanted to serve as a stepping-stone for those writers.
My problem is I hate telling people no, especially when they have a solid project. When it comes time to reject a manuscript, it pains me because I’ve been and continue to be on the other end of rejection. I will delay saying no as long as I can in order to rework the e-mail. I try to give authors good advice for how they can improve their writing. The problem is, if I’m too nice, then they keep coming back and asking to resubmit the same project. My advice to those authors is, improve your writing and send me something new.
We currently have forty authors under contract, have published over thirty books and distribute around four thousand dollars a month in royalty checks. We pay our authors monthly, not quarterly, because we want them to feel like writing is a real job. In fact, I teach a class on how, if an author will write five books a year, they can make over twenty-five thousand dollars. And these are large books. Most are under thirty thousand words. The goal is to have five books that sell 125 copies, (print and ebook combined). a month.
I get jazzed when one of our books launches or sells well. I know what it would feels like to see your book growing legs and garnering positive reviews so I get excited for our authors. Sometimes I think that’s how God feels when we’re doing the thing He’s called us to do. When we’re in our zone, doing the thing we love, we feel His joy. That’s what is great about working for God: sometimes you get paid for playing.
But the only reason I’m able to publish books and write full time is because four years ago I told God I’d work for Him full time. I figure if I was working for God I’d never be out of work. I may not make a lot of money, but he says there’s plenty of work and not enough labors so to me, that meant job security. I took a blank sheet of paper and signed it one day during my devotions and said, ‘Okay, God, I’ll do whatever it is you ask me to do, because I’m tired of working for other people. I want to work for You.’ Making up stories for boys, writing devotions, creating humorous romantic novels for adults, I get to do all this plus make dreams come true for other authors all because I agreed to work for God full time.
You’re passionate about getting boys interested in books. Why do you feel it’s so important to get boys reading fiction at an early age?
I fear we’re on the verge of losing the male reader. I don’t mean men and boys won’t learn to read: they will. But the percentage male who read for leisure continues to shrink and this could be devastating for our country. We can’t lose half our population and expect America to compete on a global level. Reading forces the mind to create. With video the scene and characters are received passively by the brain. There is very little interaction; it’s all virtual stimulation, which is different from creation. When you read, you add your furniture to the scene, dress the characters, add elements not mentioned by the author. This is why readers so often complain, “the movie was nothing like the book.” It’s not, because the book is your book. The author crafted the outline of the set but each reader brings their emotions and expectations to that book, changing it forever.
In general, boys would rather get their information and entertainment visually. This is one reason books have such a tough time competing for male readers. It can take weeks to read a book, even one as short as Dead Man’s Hand. Meantime, that same story can be shown as a movie in under two hours. So in one sense the allure of visual gratification is robbing future generations of our ability to solve problems. I believe Americans only posses one true gift, creativity, and it’s a gift from God. Other nations build things cheaper and with fewer flaws. They work longer hours for less pay. But the thing that has always set America apart is our Yankee ingenuity. We have always been able to solve our way out of problems. That comes directly from our ability to create solutions to problems we didn’t anticipate. If we lose male readers and fail to develop that creative connections necessary for the brain to conceive of alternatives, then we will lose our position as the world’s leader.
What advice would you offer to parents to get their children interested in reading at a young age?
Watch for clues. If your child shows any interest in reading, reward the activity with trips to book fairs. I remember in grade school how excited I got when we were allowed to order books. All we had to do was check a box, (or so I thought), and wham! A few weeks later boxes of books showed up and the teacher began dealing them to the students. I didn’t learn until later my parents had mailed the school money for those books. I still have most of them.
But not all children like reading and you can create an anti-reading environment if you push too hard. An alternative for boys are comic books, graphic novels, or simply cartoon books. I read a lot of Charlie Brown cartoon books and still remember the plot: Lucy has the football. Charlie wants to kick the ball. Lucy promises she will hold the ball in place but at the last moment… We know this story because it’s repeated, not in a novel, but in a cartoon.
Okay, we’re going to be really nosey now, you’ve been married a long time. Tells us a little about your family, how you and your wife met and your family.
I met my wife at a stoplight in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was in the backseat of the car behind us. The driver honked and I crawled out the passenger window, a brown Pinto. The door didn’t work so it looked like I was a NASCAR driver getting out on pit road. The car behind us was full of girls from Meredith College. They asked where I went to college and I told them I went to Meredith, too. “It’s a girl’s school, you dork,” one of them said. I told them I was taking Old Testament that semester, can’t remember the professor’s name, now, and one of the girls yelled, “Hey! You’re in my class!” I explained when been surfing all day and didn’t have a place to stay and needed to hose off and asked if we could borrow their showers. They led us back to their hotel, my buddy and I washed off and left. Driving home a week later we came upon the same car in the slow lane of I-95. The girls were afraid we’d fall asleep driving home, my buddy couldn’t drive at night, so they agreed to put one girl in the car to keep us company. She’d get in, tell her life story and at the end of the hour, another would get in the car. Our last passenger was this cute girl wearing a funny Gilligan hat. She never said a word, not for the whole hour. We put her out, the girls drove off and I finally got home, exhausted. The next week I invited that shy girl to a Warren Zevon concert. Four years later, I married her.
You’ve freelanced writing newspaper columns for the last few decades on boating. Do you have an interesting boating story you can share?
All my boating stories are interesting. I collected the columns into two books, Hard Aground and Hard Aground… Again. The column began in the late eighties when an editor read a couple of essays I’d written about trying sail a boat with my wife. He seemed genuinely amused someone of my limited boating experience would think a woman of my wife’s refined nature would enjoy peeing in a bucket in the cockpit of small sailboat. He informed me that I had correctly spelled the minimum number of words to meet his editorial standards and since someone on the staff had mistakenly sold one ad too many for the next issue, the publication was in need of some copy to balance out that page. I didn’t know this at the time. I thought he was genuinely impressed with my writing abilities. I’ve been told I still suffer from this delusion.”
The editor told me the column needed a catchy name. I purchased a few sailing publications and knew all boating columnist were subject matter experts. The only thing I was an expert on was running off the boat ramp, running aground on clearly marked shoals and running into the dock. I decided I would become an expert on making the best of tough times. When you run aground in a boat – in life – you have two choices. You can cuss and complain or you can grab a good book, kick back and wait for the tide to float you off. It’s all a matter of perspective and pennies and I’m cheap so I usually wait for the tide.
Tell us about your ministry, Christian Devotions. How it got started, what you all are up to these days and what your plans are for the future.
Cindy Sproles and I started the ministry years ago to help authors publish their devotions. We’d go to writers’ conferences and on the last day find all these writers in tears because no one wanted their work. I had a web business and knew how to build web sites so I put up a home page and invited contributing writers. We figured we could at least give new writers a byline, even if it was only on the web. Cindy had been writing devotions every day for two years, partly because of something Alton Gansky said at a Blue Ridge Conference and partly as a commitment to God. The odd thing was, Cindy I didn’t know each other at that first conference but we both wrote down Al’s words. It was like God spoke to each of us separately to work together. Weeks after that conference I was under my willow tree doing my devotion when I heard God whisper: ChristianDevotions.com. I meant to register the domain but by the time I got to my upstairs office, I forgot. A few weeks later God spoke again. Once more, I forgot. Few more weeks past and this time I wrote it down in my journal and marched upstairs only to find that ChristianDevotions.com was taken. I registered ChristianDevotions.US, instead. The dot com domain is worth over ten thousand dollars, now. Procrastination has a price.
For months Cindy and I were the only writers on the site, then slowly God grew the readership. Now we have thousands of readers, a ton of subscribers who get the devotions daily in their email and Kindle subscribers who receive the daily devotion on their Kindle eReader (99 cents a month). We have a teen’s ministry, iBeGat.com, kid’s web site, DevoKids.com and last year we purchased InspireAFire.com. That’s our mission-oriented web site. We have a radio ministry, prayer team, finances ministry and of course the book publishing. We didn’t set out with a marketing plan to do what we’re doing. We simply responded to a need in the marketplace, walked the mountain with God and asked how we could help. Find a need and fill it.
What’s one thing you wish I wouldn’t ask you and pretend I asked you that question.
How I became a writer. I started my sophomore year of high school when he told my English teacher I wanted to write for Cat Talk, Millbrook High School’s newspaper. Mrs. Hough said, “Eddie, you can’t spell and you’re a terrible grammarian.” But I wrote a couple of articles, and she seemed to like the way I could put words together, so I won a spot on staff. My senior year Mrs. Pollard begged not to major in English. In fact, she was shocked I would even consider going to college because I’d never be accepted. She was right. NC State rejected my application. A few days later I made an appointment with the admissions office. The day of my interview I wore a pair of red and white checkered polyester pants my mom made me, white shirt and a red tie. State admitted me into Industrial Arts, which I thought would be pretty cool since I though Industrial Arts meant I’d get to paint buildings. I flunked English 101 twice before passing with a D. I graduated from N.C. State four years later with a degree in English/Journalism and four years of writing experience for the Technician. I’m still a lousy proof-editor but I learned long ago storytelling trumps grammar.
You’re writing for children right now with Zondervan. Besides the upcoming Cadence Chronicles Series, what are your dreams for your writing future?
Each day I walk around my yard reciting the Lord’s Prayer. This is my conversational time with God. Part of that prayer time is me putting on the armor of God. When I’m about halfway fitted out I say, “Lord place across my chest your breastplate of righteousness that my thought may be pure, honorable and good and my dreams secure: my dreams of sailing around the Caribbean, writing a best selling novel and surfing reef breaks.” Beyond that I don’t have any grand writing goals.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write devotions, don’t focus on the praise, book sales and reviews. Forget about trying to find an agent and editor. Once you’re successful, they’ll find you. Explore the wounds in your life and minister to others through your writing. If God allowed you to be hurt, you can speak to that with authority. The rest of us, cannot. Ask yourself where your passions lie. I love surfing. If I could do anything, be anywhere, I’d be in a hut on a beach surfing a point break alone. I love playing and hate work. This is reflected in the types of books I write. I love pulling for the underdog, this comes out in the ministry God gave me. Only you can write the stories God dropped in your lap and if you do not, they will die.
Jennifer Nielsen was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; of The Underworld Chronicles, beginning with ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR; and will write the sixth book of the Infinity Ring series. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Anything you’d like to share with your readers?
Aside from my absolute gratitude to those who have read my books, I think this is a very important time to share my conviction that we have mealtime backwards. Seriously, why isn’t dessert first, when we’re still hungry?
How did you choose the genre you write in?
When I first started writing, I was in adult suspense, and I thought it was the right place for me. My stories were okay, but not publishable. One day I happened upon a fan fiction contest that challenged writers to create their own version of the final Harry Potter book. I was a huge fan of the series and the challenge appealed to me. So I wrote furiously for two weeks, barely coming up for air. It was awful, little more than a first draft shell of a story. And yet I’d never had more fun writing. That challenge awoke something in my imagination, and once I’d finished, I knew I’d be spending a lot more time with fantasy writing.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
Chocolate. Several hundred calories later, if I’m still in a funk, it may be that I just need to step away for a while, go on a run to counteract the chocolate binge, and then delve a little heavier into reading, watching movies, or listening to favorite songs until I touch on an emotion, or an image, or a phrase that gives me just the prompt I need.
Planner or a procrastinator? Example?
I procrastinate yard work, grocery shopping, and potentially awkward phone calls. With most other things, I’m a planner. If I’m managing an extra heavy load, I also tend to create lists. A little OCD, I know, but it keeps me sane.
Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?
There comes a point when the covers are so twisted that making the bed becomes mandatory. I may have reached that point this morning.
What was the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t know that it was advice anyone gave me, but early in my career I was really focused on the rules: proper grammar and sentence structure, show don’t tell, don’t begin with a dream or with your character waking up, etc. The rules were important to know and understand, but they also made my writing bland and my characters rather generic. One day I decided to write something solely for my own entertainment – to not care about any rules and just write for myself. That was the day I found my voice as a writer. It’s voice that sells a novel, not one’s adherence to writing rules.
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Ignore the failures who say success is impossible.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Book 2 of The Ascendance Trilogy is called THE RUNAWAY KING will release next spring.
Any advice to share with aspiring writers?
I think it’s really important for all writers to keep their eye on their goal. Our time and creative energies are limited, so we have to be choosy. In this industry, it’s very easy to become distracted by easily obtained goals that are distractions from the things we really want. There is no single path to success, nor one definition of success. But whatever your goal, make your career choices based on what gets you closer to where you ultimately want to be, not what is easy in the moment.
When was the last time you went bowling? Was it fun or total disaster?
I never bowl without thinking of a date I went on as a teenager. I was paying more attention to flirting with the boy than to the ball. My arm swung back with the ball, I looked back and smiled, then swung my arm forward and um, failed to release the ball. It dropped, and I went with it – my jaw dropped directly on top of the ball. He didn’t ask for a second date. I don’t blame him for that.
What is the easiest part of the writing process? Hardest?
I don’t know if any part if easy for me, but the most fun is in the planning, when I’m creating scenes in my mind that I can hardly wait to write. The hardest part is hitting “send” to my editor for the final manuscript. I hate letting it go, knowing I won’t be making any more corrections, that it’s done.