Miralee Ferrell interview

» Posted on Oct 3, 2007 in Blog | Comments Off on Miralee Ferrell interview

1. Tell us a bit about your first sale: who is the publisher? Which book? Genre, etc.

The Other Daughter is women’s contemporary fiction that’s set in the North West, and is being published by Kregel Publications, a well known Christian publishing house.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

An editor friend and I were brainstorming about what I could do for my first book, and she suggested using something I knew, possibly from my own life. That triggered the idea of using an episode from me and my hubby’s personal life—we received a letter from an 18 yr old girl a number of years ago, claiming to be my husband’s daughter. After investigating and meeting Trisha, we accepted her into our lives and hearts, and have continued a relationship with her. The basis for the book came from that episode, but the balance of the book is fiction, other than the setting—I live in the Pacific N.W., in the area where the book takes place.

2. How did you get the call?

It was rather unexpected. My agent submitted the manuscript to six different houses, then a few weeks later, I requested that she ask each to wait on completing their review, as I decided to make several major changes to the first few chapters. Five of the houses replied affirmatively, but we didn’t hear from Kregel. We assumed they hadn’t started reviewing it yet, and I moved forward with my revisions. Just as I was finalizing my changes the publisher from Kregel contacted my agent and made the offer.

3. What was your reaction to the news that your first baby had been purchased?

Stunned and a bit worried at first. I know that sounds strange and I should’ve been bouncing around the house, but my first thought was, Oh no! They read the old version and I’ve made all these changes! What if they don’t like what I’ve done and want to keep the old one? I knew the new version was much stronger, as did the editor I’d been working with on the first 1/3 of the book, so I prayed and my agent asked Dennis, my soon to be publisher, if they’d take a look at the changes. They did, they liked what they saw, and the offer extended to the new book. THEN reality set in and the explosion of joy and incredulity hit me. It took several weeks before I really took in that it was sold.

4. Did you have an agent?

Yes, Tamela Hancock-Murray from the Hartline Literary Agency. The Lord put us together and I feel tremendously blessed to have her for my agent. She’s been a joy to work with and goes the extra mile in working for me.

5. How long did it take from first word to sale? What were some of the steps along the journey?

It took me five weeks to write the first draft, then the next six months of revising, editing and polishing before it was presentable. This was such new territory for me. I’d written several non-fiction short stories that were published in magazines just prior to starting off in fiction, but I had no clue what I was doing when I began to write this novel. I’d never read a book on writing, had no teaching on structure, plot, POV, characterization, dialogue, or anything else. It wasn’t until three months before Kregel made their offer that I discovered ACFW and joined. My sister, who has done some professional editing, and a friend who is an editor and author, both helped tremendously, mentoring and supporting me through the first two drafts, or I wouldn’t have made it this far.

The Lord brought Tamela (my agent) into my life in a series of miraculous events that only He could have orchestrated, and seven months later I received the offer from Kregel. When the book is released, it will be two years since writing the first draft, and nine months since signing my contract. Kregel graciously put The Other Daughter on the fast track to publication, beating the usual 12-16 months for publication by quite a bit.

Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Yes, in the final ¼ of my second book, Past Shadows, I stared at a blank screen more than once when I sat down to write. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I skip ahead and start writing what I DO know, then I’ll come back and link the old and new together. I’ve found that if I can just get writing again, even if it’s several chapters ahead, the rest will come in time. Sometimes I simply need to step away for awhile and not push too hard. Prayer is also a key…ask the Lord to unlock the block and stir up a new creativity in your heart and mind.

6. Any advice for those of us who are still dreaming of that first sale?

I know what I wish I would’ve had, when I started out. Critique partners…they are invaluable. I didn’t belong to a group until well into the writing of the second book in my series. Through ACFW I was able to get connected and our small group of four is a perfect fit for each of us.

Don’t be too shy to ask for help and don’t be too proud to take constructive criticism of your work, when it’s offered. You don’t have to change everything that’s suggested, but if more than one person points out something that’s wrong, take it seriously and be willing to learn. And most of all, don’t give up. If you believe that God has given you the gift or desire to write, then be obedient, even if it’s never published. When I started out, I thought the best I’d attain would be publication in magazines….having a book published didn’t seem possible. I knew the Lord gave me this story and it needed to be written, and the rest would be up to Him. My responsibility was to write it, then keep moving forward in whatever direction He pointed out.
7. Any exciting things happening before or during the time period while the book is releasing?

Yes! I’m so excited! I received a Four Star review from Romantic Times Review Magazine. I assumed that Five Stars would be the top rating, but I was so blessed when I found out Four and a half was the best you could get, making Four Stars quite good indeed. I’ve also gotten some very good reviews, including a glowing one from Novel Journey, one of the top Christian review blogs. The Other Daughter is also climbing it’s way up the best sellers list on CBD…at the four week mark prior to release (when this was written) it had hit #28, very respectable for a book not yet released. I’d love to see it reach the top 20, but am leaving that in the Lord’s hands.

8. Which fiction book on your shelf has been read the most times? What keeps pulling you back to that story?

I have several authors that keep pulling me back…I discovered Gene Stratton Porter and Harold Bell Wright in high school when I first read Freckles, Girl of the Limberlost, and Shepherd of the Hills. I love anything these early twentieth century authors wrote and own first editions of several of their works. The writing in the early 1900’s had so much more depth than much of what’s being written now. The descriptions were exquisite…that’s the only way I can describe how they wrote. The stories were unusual and you knew the characters personally, and cared about them deeply. H B Wright especially had thought provoking messages woven through his fiction that would stay with a reader for days, if not weeks to come.

9. What else are you working on?

I’m working on Past Shadows, the sequel to The Other Daughter, and hope to have it ready to turn in to my editor in early November. I’ve also started something new for me, an 1880’s novel set in Washington state…I’m hesitating to say it’s a romance, but it looks like it might be heading that direction. I’m playing around with another idea for a stand-alone women’s contemporary with an unusual twist. I’m hoping to start it as soon as Past Shadows is finished.

10. How did people help you along the journey?

There have been several people who influence and helped me this past two years. My husband has been unwavering in his support, even when he felt I was being unfairly treated, LOL—He didn’t like the initial rejections I was getting and couldn’t understand why publishers weren’t happy with it, after all the work I did. I’m so blessed that he believed in me and kept encouraging me.

I’ve mentioned my sister and my author friend Elizabeth earlier, but they were a tremendous help with initial editing and suggestions. They both taught me so much about POV and believability. Writing dialogue came very naturally to me, but I struggled at times with other aspects of plot structure and tension.
My pastor and small home group prayed and encouraged me, and my mom loved everything I wrote, of course…family and close friends are rarely a good source for reliable feedback, and I was so thrilled when I found ACFW a few months before my book came under contract, and joined a critique group a couple of months later. They brought another layer of accountability and learning to my writing that I hadn’t had before.

11. How can we pray for you on the next stage of your writing life?

I so need to be able to stay focused on my writing. Life has a way of distracting me and steering me off my intended writing course. We’ve just completed a year long project of building a new home and are in the process of moving in, so I’m hoping things will settle down and I can get back to some serious keyboard time soon.
Also, at the time of this writing, I’m awaiting the verdict from a major motion picture studio concerning the acquisition of my book as a potential family movie. The studio rep read the book, stated she really liked it and felt it had a strong plot and very memorable characters. She requested a lengthy summary of the book showing how I would soften the faith elements to make it acceptable for a family, rather than Christian, movie, as their studio is not faith based. I’ve done so and she’ll be reviewing the summary over the next few weeks. This isn’t something I or my agent sought—the studio rep came to us when she saw a short summary of the book in a publishers newsletter—so I’m not counting on it or expecting anything at this point. It’s in the Lord’s hands and I’m trusting Him that if He wants to use the book to touch lives in the secular world by making it into a family movie, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too….my book is being published, which is more than I dreamed would happen two years ago.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I’m very blessed that I have two areas to write, depending on the noise and traffic level. We just completed building our new home and moved in early July. I have my lap top in the kitchen area on a desk for easy access when I want to jot a few notes, do some marketing, check email, etc. When I want to do serious writing and close a door, I go to my new office/library to work. It has a wonderful view of the woods out any of the four windows, and a spacious work area, so is very conducive to writing.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

I’m afraid I’m not that organized. I have to work my writing into my very busy life, and often find myself writing late at night. If I’m behind schedule, I’ll push myself to stay put till I’ve written a few thousand words to catch up on a couple of lost days, but it’s rare that I get to write every day. Since my first book is nearing release, I’m also spending quite a bit of time on marketing, and of course, just got all the edits, revisions and proofreading behind me.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There really is no typical with my hubby and myself. He’s semi-retired, but still involved in a large project/invention that’s going to market soon, so he’s in and out a lot. I’m involved at our church, but much less than I used to be, and also involved with family. This past few months was taken up with finishing the interior trim in our new home, putting in flower beds, packing and moving, keeping up on the yard work on the old house that hasn’t sold yet, and fitting in writing and marketing when I’m able. Thankfully, I’m not under a strict deadline with the second book.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

I’m more of a seat-of-the-pants writer…I get an idea, decide who the main characters are and start writing. I don’t follow a lot of rules, and tend to get better acquainted with my characters as I go. I have a basic overview of the story line in very simple outline form…I’m talking, a few sentences that might fill one page, at most, with very few details.

It does make it a bit more time intensive, in that I probably have more revisions than an organized writer, but I’ve found I can be more creative if everything isn’t mapped out along the way. My characters have more room to grow, change, and make some of their own decisions…I’ve had things happen in my story line that weren’t planned, but that fit beautifully and strengthened the plot. After writing the rough draft, I’ll submit it to my crit group a few chapters at a time, as well as having an editor I trust review the first third to half of the book for plot holes and inconsistencies, then start revising and editing.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

This is a hard one, as I’m still very early in my writing career, having only started writing seriously just over two years ago. I’m growing and learning constantly, and in all honesty, I haven’t had a lot of frustrating times since beginning this journey. I’d have to say that the issue of timing probably stands out more than most other things. I was in too big of a hurry, at first, to send my ‘baby’ out into the world when it wasn’t ready. Had I taken the advice of an author/editor friend on some of the changes she gave me that would have strengthened my book, and not been so sure it was fine the way it was, I probably wouldn’t have had some of my early rejections. Of course, rejections are part of the growing process, and I learned valuable lessons there, too.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I’m one of those rarities in the writing world who actually enjoys the marketing part of writing. A lot of authors I know prefer to hole up in their office and write and not mess with promotion and marketing…not me. I love it. In fact, I probably spend too much time on it, and not enough on writing. Currently, I have a blog, web site, ShoutLife profile and moderate a marriage group there, as my book deals with marriage issues, a My Space site, a 60 second book trailer on God Tube and My Tube, an email campaign, free book drawings, and try to stay active on a couple different writer’s groups.
Do you have any parting words of advice?

Keep your priorities in order…God first, family next, ministry and others (including your writing) third. Write for the Lord, and yourself, rather than to be published. It will cut way down on the disappointment and frustration level, and bring a deep sense of joy and accomplishment.