Virginia Smith interview

» Posted on Feb 12, 2008 in Blog | Comments Off on Virginia Smith interview

Don’t forget to email me at by Sunday evening if you want to be entered in the drawing for Stuck in the Middle. Margaret

1. What made you start writing?

Actually, it’s a little embarrassing. I started writing on a whim. I’ve always been an avid reader and I read a short story that I didn’t think was very good. I thought, “I could do better than that!” So I sat down and wrote a short story that I thought was pure genius, definitely Pulitzer material. I sent it to the same magazine that had published the other story and sat back to wait for the accolades to roll in. Predictably, my story was rejected. And there began a long and painful lesson, that writing well is a lot harder than it looks. But that short story did accomplish one thing – I fell in love with the process of writing. I’ve never stopped.

2. How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?

That short story was written about twenty-five years ago. (Gosh, has it really been that long?) And I just sold my first book three years ago, so the road to publication was a long one for me. But I sure have learned a lot along the way!

3. How do you handle rejections?

Actually, rejections don’t really bother me much anymore. That’s probably because I’ve become immune to the pain. ☺ I received 143 rejection letters before my first sale – I know, because I kept every one. I used to think (though not consciously) rejections reflected on my worth as a person, and I would be devastated for weeks after receiving one.

Now, I realize that a rejection is directed toward the project I’m pitching only, not against me. It still stings, but I figure if an editor doesn’t want that story, that just means the project isn’t right for that particular publisher at that particular time. If the Lord wants the project done, He’s going to get it into the right hands. And if He doesn’t, then I don’t want to work on it anyway! So what I feel is frustration more than anything. I’m frustrated that I can’t figure out what He wants me to work on next.

4. Why do you write?

I write because I can’t NOT write. Writing has become an integral part of who I am. When I am between books, I start getting that itchy, unsettled feeling like something isn’t right, like I’m missing something. I’ve come to realize that’s the urge to write, and when it isn’t being satisfied, I’m not satisfied. Plus, I am so aware of the Lord’s presence as I write, like when you and your husband roll up your sleeves and work together on an involved project, only even more intimate. So writing time, for me, is also a time of fellowship with the Lord. I can’t give that up!

5. What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?

I’d be doing more speaking and singing. I enjoy speaking at ladies’ retreats and church group luncheons and even on the occasional Sunday morning as a guest speaker in various churches. And I used to be a very active singer. I even sang with a traveling contemporary Christian group for three years.

6. What are you working on right now?

I’ve got two books going at the moment. I’m working on LAST BUT NOT LEAST, which is the third book in the Sister-to-Sister Series. It’s a fun story because it brings the series to a close for the Sanderson sisters, and because I’ve got a few surprises in store for readers. And I’m also working on another romantic mystery, though that one is still in the plotting stage. In other words, I’m still trying to figure out ‘who dun it’!

7. Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Oh, yes. I don’t create characters that are completely me, but elements of my personality and history show up in almost every character I’ve ever written. The three sisters in STUCK IN THE MIDDLE are coming to terms with their parents’ divorce when they were younger, as I’ve had to do, so a lot of their feelings and thoughts as they try to build lasting relationships are directly from my life. Joan battles feelings of insecurity because she’s the quietest of the three sisters. My two sisters are lively and energetic and fun, and at times I’ve felt like a wallflower around them, just like Joan.

On the other hand, I’ve never had a flirting lesson like Joan gets from her big sister. And I’ve never paid $250 for a pair of jeans, as Joan does. So some pieces of Joan are all her own!

8. Tell us about the book you have out right now.

Stuck in the Middle is the first book in the Sister-to-Sister Series. It’s about the middle sister, Joan, whose life is stuck. While her siblings are off building families and careers, Joan is stuck at home with her mom and aging grandmother. Then a hunky doctor moves in next door, and the fun begins. Nothing heats up a romantic interest more than a little sibling rivalry!

I think readers are going to be surprised, though. The story isn’t all fun and games. I tackle a couple of tough issues, like the difficult decisions we face as our parents and grandparents age. And the ripple effect of their parents divorce on young adults who are trying to build relationships of their own. I even touch on an issue that causes a lot of heated arguments in churches these days: the difference between contemporary and traditional styles of music.

I am one of three sisters, and our parents did divorce when we were young (though not for the same reason). So naturally as I wrote this book I found myself replicating my relationship with my sisters in the story. Not that the Sanderson sisters are us, but elements of each of our personalities do show up in the characters. That was a lot of fun to write.

9. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Learn how to write. You wouldn’t go down to Home Depot, buy a hammer and a box of nails and expect people to hire you to build their house. You have to learn how to do it first. Writing is the same – you have to get the tools and learn how to use them before you’ll publish your books. So join a critique group, go to conferences, take classes, attend workshops, anything to help you learn how to write. And don’t give up. It might take a while, but if the Lord has given you the desire to write, He has plans for your writing. Trust that He’ll work it out in His time. (Which is probably the most frustrating piece of advice, because we don’t understand His timing, but what other choice do we have?!)

10. How important is faith in your books?

I write for a Christian audience, and I publish with Christian publishers, so obviously all of my books have a faith element. I absolutely can’t stand books where the religious content is ‘tacked on’ just to make the book fit the label ‘Christian.’ So I never want to write a story like that. But the spiritual element isn’t always obvious to me when I first start working on a book. I typically get the idea for the characters first, then the setting, then the plot. Sometimes I’m surprised at the way the Lord weaves in His truth, because it isn’t obvious to me at the outset. But I do write about Christian characters, so God is as much a part of their lives as He is of my life. So He always ends up naturally being a part of the story.

11. What themes do you like to write about?

Lately I’ve written several books about learning to trust Jesus as Lord, not just as Savior. The heroines have been headstrong women who want to do things their own way, and end up discovering that the Lord’s way is better. I’m sure that’s a recurring theme in my books because it’s a recurring theme in my life!

12. What is your favorite book you’ve written and why?

I really like Stuck in the Middle because there is so much of me in the characters. I really poured myself into Joan Sanderson, which is strange because I’m the oldest of three sisters, not the middle. But Joan’s feelings and thoughts and struggles are mine.

On the other hand, the viewpoint character in Just As I Am also has a lot of me in her. The sequel to that one, Sincerely, Mayla, comes out next month, and she has to learn a couple of tough lessons about letting God be in control.

On the other hand, the heroine in Murder by Mushroom … oh, I can’t pick a favorite book. I love them all.

13. What is your writing schedule like?

I try to keep a regular schedule as a writer, just as I did when I worked in the corporate world. So I tend to start working around 8:00 or 8:30, work for several hours, take a break to go to the gym (if I’m being good, that is!) and have lunch, then go back to my office and get back to work. When I was a corporate director I was something of a workaholic, and I have to be really careful not to fall into the same trap now. I don’t want to risk burn-out. So I force myself to stop writing at 5:00 or 5:30. Of course, there are exceptions, like a pressing deadline or a promotional blitz, when I have to work later. But I try to plan my schedule so I don’t have to put in many 12-hour days, like I used to! I do work six days a week, usually.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Margaret! I enjoyed ‘chatting’ with you!