THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020
THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020
This month I’m delighted to welcome debut author, Lori Altebaumer, whose novel, A Firm Place to Stand, is the story of one young woman’s journey through difficult circumstances to a place of forgiveness.
I had the great pleasure of being one of the beta readers for Lori’s book, and I highly recommend it.
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Lori Altebaumer and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her to the Craft of Writing blog.
A life-long Texan, Lori lives in a small rural community not far from the rugged West Texas landscape she loves to write about. The mother of now grown twins, she has learned the secret to survival is a well-developed sense of humor. After years spent working in the insurance business, Lori now uses her time to educate, inspire, encourage, and entertain through the written word.
A Firm Place to Stand is her first novel.
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Welcome, Lori, and thank you for joining us!
First, give us a short synopsis of your book.
A Firm Place to Stand is a book about finding forgiveness in a world where things aren’t always black and white. A long list of poor choices has driven Maribel Montgomery to the rustic (and fictional) Texas town of Turnaround. Blaming herself for the death of a teenager, she wants nothing to do with other people and the responsibility of caring for them. Unfortunately, a young girl who is lonely and scared and an elderly woman dying of cancer take up residence in her heart. When Maribel finds the dead body of someone connected to both of them, she’ll have to risk trusting herself again in order to protect them. But can she trust herself with good-looking born-again believer, Conner Pierce? He wants to help and may be the only source of help she can find, if only she didn’t think he was stalking her.
What made you decide to write A Firm Place to Stand?
I always dreamed of writing a book. I have also always believed that was all it was or could be—a dream. But as I neared my fiftieth birthday, I found myself at a turning point. I had worked in my husband’s business for years, but when we decided to sell so he could pursue another opportunity I found myself needing to decide what I wanted to do with my time as well. My children were teenagers about to go away to college and I was about to have a lot of time. I needed to figure out how it was meant to be used. My dear husband told me that after all these years of working for him, he wanted me to do what really made me happy. He encouraged me not to just find a job, but to take a leap of faith and write (did I mention he is my #1 fan?). And I knew he was right. If I really believed God had given me a desire and passion to write, then now was the time to take it seriously.
As for the story itself, the original idea that started me on Maribel’s journey came about in a dream. After writing and rewriting, fine tuning the plot, and exploring the characters, the final story bears little resemblance to the dream that started it all. But the dream was the match that lit the tinder. The breath of God just blew the fire it started in a different direction than I expected. The end result was a journey and message of forgiveness that was as much for me as for my readers. God is so good like that.
How did you get interested in writing?
I have apparently loved stories for even longer than I can remember. My mother tells me that when I was a child, my great grandmother kept a stack of children’s books beside her rocking chair and in the evening she would set in that rocking chair next to the wood burning stove in her kitchen, and with me in her lap, read to me. That kitchen was one of my happy places growing up.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I became interested in actually writing, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t formulating some sort of story in my head. Probably from the moment I learned to turn letters into words and words into sentences, I have loved expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing. The love of story is wired into my DNA. I see story in everything around me—old houses, tall trees, park benches, city sidewalks, and gravel roads. Perhaps that is what it means to understand that we, too, are a part of the greatest story ever told—God’s story.
What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
You say that as if there is might be only one! For me there were a thousand things, and on any given day it could be a different one. Of course, just the commitment and perseverance to finish is a challenge. It takes a long time and often feels like you are trying to walk through wet cement–you don’t see very much forward progress but you sure are making a mess.
For me though, I’ll say the overall most difficult thing was to be fearless. To write thoughts that were raw and real, and then to let others into that private place in my head. It felt very vulnerable and I don’t think many of us really like feeling vulnerable.
Describe your path to publication.
My path to publication looked a lot like the crazy wandering path you see in the Family Circus cartoons. There are so many options for authors these days and finding the best one for you can involve some trial and error, especially as you are just getting started.
I set out with the intention of finding an agent and going the traditional route. I won a few contests and got some really good feedback from agents on my work. But I soon learned what the word “platform” means and the effect it can have on which path you take. Marketing is something that an author will have to do whichever publishing route they choose, but learning the ropes of marketing and platform made me slow down and really consider my purpose in writing. What were my goals? My strengths and weaknesses? Why did I even want to write in the first place. Once I understood who I was as a writer, I made the decision to indie publish my first novel and my first book of devotions. There are still many options and choices to make in how and where to indie publish. It is an ever-evolving process for me in which my absolute goal is to do a bit better every time.
What lessons learned can you share with our readers?
While writing this book, I really had to think about and consider how the consequences of the things we do don’t always match the intent of our actions. Often those consequences bring pain not just to us but to others we never intended to hurt. Working through this forced me to think about people I had trouble forgiving. I had to look beyond their action and the result, to see why they might have done what they did. What I learned is that I can trace the root cause all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me now that I understand this, to hold onto a grudge for something that was set in motion so very long ago. It has changed my perspective on how I view others and what I allow myself to believe about their actions towards me.
What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?
The power to change your life, and indeed the world, lies in forgiveness, not bitterness, shame, or regret.
What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?
If you believe you are called to write a book, then write the book. Don’t wait until you feel you know enough about writing a book to write a book. So much of the craft of writing must be learned by writing. For years before I started writing, I read books about writing. But sitting down and actually working through the mechanics of completing a novel taught me more than all the books I’d read combined. Studying the craft is important, but applying it to your own active process of constructing a novel is crucial to mastering those teachings. Going through the process gave me understanding of what the books were teaching. Don’t worry if your first attempt looks like a big nasty mess. If you’ll stick with it until the end, you’ll be surprised at how much more clarity you have when you start the next one.
A bonus piece of advice (since the question asked for just one) … I received this gem of wisdom from a publishing industry veteran and author. He told me to always be mindful of where I am seeking validation. Am I looking for validation from being published by a traditional publishing house, winning awards, achieving a sales rank, etc…? I try to ask myself that question every time I’m faced with a decision concerning my writing.
What are some of your favorite works of fiction?
Ughh… one of the hardest questions I’m ever asked to answer. We live in an amazing time due to the richness and availability of reading material now. Invariably, I’ll remember others I wish I had mentioned. Reading is a major love of mine, so the list is quite long. However, I think A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers always ranks well toward the top. The entire series is great, but that first book pulled me deeper into my relationship with God than just about any other novel I’ve read. The Mitford Series by Jan Karon holds a special place in my heart. Recently I fell in love with A Vast and Gracious Tide by Lisa Carter and The Love Letter by Rachel Hauk. A Love Restored by Kelly Goshorn was a surprise debut novel that I’ll never forget. And The Jealous Son by Michele Chynoweth made me a fan of her work as well. Okay, should I stop now…?
What do you do when you want to get away from work?
I don’t view writing as work, and since I write full time, I don’t know that I ever truly want to get away from work. Let’s be honest, as a writer I am constantly harvesting material from the world around me and concocting scenarios in my head (which is admittedly where most of them need to stay). I haven’t figured out a way to turn that off. Also, for me writing is a time of exploration and creation in the presence of and with God. I’m constantly asking things like: Okay God, what would you like me to say about this? How should I express this thought or feeling? What is true about my characters, their world, their faith, and how they see each of those things? What are you revealing to me in this?
Therefore, it’s not something I necessarily want to get away from, but sometimes I do need to take a break so I can let God speak to me. I can get so caught up in the story it becomes a distraction to what He is trying to say.
Sometimes my characters can drain me emotionally, especially when writing a serious scene and going through the emotions with them. That usually does require some downtime afterwards.
When that happens, the best thing for me is to go for a walk. I enjoy being outside and watching the seasons come and go. Sometimes reading a good book helps me recharge. And of course, sometimes a good old-fashioned nap is just what I need to get things going again.
And when I really want to recharge and refresh, I go to the mountains.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on the second book set in Turnaround, TX. In it my protagonist is learning that keeping secrets can be as damaging as telling the truth. She’s built a new life based on holding it all in, but she’ll find it just might be worth letting go of the secrets she keeps in order to have the life she really wants.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can visit my website, www.lorialtebaumer.com to find out more and sign up for my newsletter. You can also follow my Facebook page Lori Altebaumer Writes. I enjoy hearing from others so feel free to reach out and just say howdy.
Thank you, Lori, for sharing your expertise with us!
Good morning, Lori! Thank you again for being here. I have a different kind of question to start us off: How are you dealing with the Covid-19 situation? Has it affected your writing? In what ways?
Hi Kay! I’m so excited and thankful to be here. You’re stuff is always such quality and rich in content that I’m just flat out honored that you include me. As for your question on Covid-19, it hasn’t affected my day to day writing routine much. I live in a pretty rural location so going to a coffee shop or other such place to write is not something I normally do anyway. Staying at home in my little office, just me and the dogs, not much has changed there. Here’s the interesting way it has affected me though. Not getting out and being exposed to the sights and sounds of life bustling about slows down my creativity. I have noticed how much more of a challenge I’m having right now in expressing my character’s actions and emotions on the page. It’s like I need the stimulus of interacting with, or at least being able to observe, humanity to shake loose fresh ideas. How about you?
I’ve been fortunate. I have found more time to write during the “stay at home” situation. Before Covid-19, my days could be fragmented with meetings, classes, services, etc. Although some of these are ongoing through Zoom, I don’t have to travel, so that’s a time-saver.
But I know what you mean about creativity. I find much of my creative thinking occurs when I’m out running and listening to audio books, podcasts, or Great Courses. Although I’ve replaced my outside running with treadmill time, it’s not the same. (But I’ve found some good mysteries to watch on TV while I run!)
Good morning, Kay & Lori!
Lori, I was so excited to read about your journey writing and publishing A Firm Place to Stand. (I have my Kindle edition queued up and ready!) There’s such depth in your responses to Kay’s questions and in your most recent blog post that I’m eager to read more from you. I loved so many of your observations, such as this one about writing novels, “…you don’t see very much forward progress but you sure are making a messI” Writing is messy, isn’t it?
I love that you launched out as an Indie author, and I could not agree more that we all have to push our work into the world, regardless of the path it takes to readers. In fact, I’ll share something I heard in a writing class earlier this year. The instructor told of a friend who got a $250,000 advance for his novel. There were changes at the publishing house prior to the book’s publication, and it fell through the cracks as far as marketing, despite that huge advance. But I feel we Christian writers have very good reason to push our work into the world, and I wish you Godspeed with your book babies.
Like Kay, I’m curious how shelter in place looks for y’all in rural West Texas.
Hi Lisa! So good to hear from you. I appreciate your comments. And I am enjoying your book, although I’ve had to put it on pause for a moment to do two beta reads I had already committed to for others. I love the way you describe things.
Launching as an Indie was a step of faith, but I haven’t regretted it. You are right in saying that as Christians we are called to get our work out there. I think the thing to remember is that traditional publishers aren’t judging the message so much as the economic viability of the work. Just because something doesn’t meet their parameters for potential profit doesn’t mean God is still able to use it for His glory.
Am I correct in remembering that you live somewhere in the Metroplex (DFW area)? Well things in rural Texas here don’t look too different from our normal. When I go to town I can’t really tell much difference other than more empty parking lots and a lot of people wearing masks. So much of the rural communities is agriculture industry related that there’s still most of the same activity going on. I do miss the occasional trip to a good Mexican food restaurant, however!
Oh my goodness, I think we all miss good Mexican food restaurants!
I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when they open back up the Mexican food restaurants in Texas! I hope they’re ready!
Interesting conversation, Kay and Lori. I agree that we must move forward on what we’re being shown in answer to prayer, and it may mean our path will be totally different than what we thought it would be to start. It takes a lot of thought, prayer and careful listening before that becomes clear too. I’m glad you found the right method for you to publish and promote your work.
It seems that you and Kay, published your books in tandem with a well-thought marketing plan. This marketing phase is often the the most daunting for new writers, so much so, many publish with no plan in place other than that it “appears” on Amazon with the millions of other new books. You described your journey to publishing, Lori, and in this struggle, you had to decide that self-marketing was essential, and it came as you decided what you wanted to accomplish with this book. What would be your greatest advice to someone stuck in the pre-publish phase who’s dreading the fact that they have to promote their work? Did you, and Kay as well, reach a point where this decision settled into peace and action, rather than dread?
Hi Judy, Thank you for dropping by. Your question about book promotion is so important to writers! I certainly did not have a well-thought-out marketing plan when I got to the point of publication. Through my publisher, CrossLink Publishing, I was advised to seek endorsements for my book before publication so the endorsements could be added to the back cover. I hate to ask for help, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find anyone willing to endorse the book. However, I took a deep breath and sent the ms to people I knew in the writing community, one of whom was YOU! I will never forget the sense of surprise and satisfaction that published authors would actually write kind words about my first effort. And I would never have sought endorsements if I hadn’t been pushed, so I’m grateful for that.
I was also encouraged to build out my platform, and I’ve spent time putting together my website and a social media presence. I’m certainly not at the top of that game, but I continue to do what I can.
As far as marketing, I’ve learned a lot in a field that I am unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. Likewise, I dread doing the dishes after dinner, but it has to be done. May as well get on with it.
Yes to everything you said, Kay! I was too afraid to seek endorsements on my novel and I regret that. I did however, get some for a devotional I Indie published callled Walking in the Reign: Thirty Reflections from Seeking God’s Will, and I totally understand the sense of surprise and relief that people I respect are willing to read and endorse my books. I’ll be braver on my next novel!
Great observation on the need for thought, prayer, and listening in everything we do as writers. Thanks so much for joining us. I’m glad to have you in the conversation. You ask some great questions too.
I’ll confess that I didn’t really have a super detailed and busy marketing plan in place. Kay probably did a much better job and can speak into this with more wisdom than I can. I mentored with a bestselling author and she has spreadsheets upon spreadsheets detailing and tracking every aspect of her book marketing campaign. It starts months before the book is even launched. I broke out in a cold sweat just looking at her spreadsheets. Now here’s why I didn’t use them or follow her model (although she is super successful and knows what she is doing). It was too much for my first book. Quite frankly, it overwhelmed me to the point of freezing me in place. I’m in my fifties now and learning is a slower process for me (maybe not for you!). I knew I could learn some things, but if tried to learn it all at once… well let’s just say that wasn’t good for my mental health or the health of my family. It made me a crazy person. Instead, I picked out the pieces I though I could do well this time and left the rest for something to grow into with the next book. I would have made a mess trying to do it all instead of just focusing on what I felt I could do well.
Here’s what it has looked like for me so far. I had beta and advance copy readers who were willing to share a review. This works fairly well, but don’t be discouraged by the number of reviews that people post but Amazon rejects. It happens, so you gotta let it go. Ask them to post on other sites like Goodreads as well. I put my book up for pre-sale to help build launch day numbers, but that can be a short lived boost. I still think it was worth it, because it gave me an extended period where people were talking about it. The most beneficial thing I did was to have a launch party here where I live and then a book signing in the town where I grew up. That worked for me because I grew up in a small town where everybody knows your name and keeps up with you for the rest of your life (or theirs…whichever comes first). These were helpful simply for the fact they helped build my confidence to get out there and talk about my book more.
Okay… too much information? I love to talk about all things book related. My biggest advice is to know (through prayer and practice) what is going to work the best for you, and recognize where the line is that just feels like too much. If you can, look at book one like a first born child. It’s the one we practice on so we’ll handle the next one even better. Don’t let the stress of trying to do it all just because everyone says you should steal the joy you have in creating something beautiful with God.
And feel free to reach out to me any time through my website if you have a question I might could answer.
Lori, I agree with your sentiments. The best thing is TO DO IT. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed and intimidated by the ton of information that’s out there. And there’s always the mistake of comparing ourselves with others and what they’re doing. But getting to work is a great way to engage the mind and soothe the soul. There’s so much to learn just by doing.
I just downloaded your book, Lori. Congratulations!!
Marion, Thanks for stopping by. I see you have a couple of books on Amazon. Care to tell us about them?
Hi Marion! It’s so good to see you. Congratulations on your books. I’m with Kay when I say I’d love to hear more about them. Is this the one I got a brief taste of when we were in an ACFW critique group together? And thank for checking mine out. I do sincerely hope you’ll share me your thoughts–what you liked and didn’t like–after you’ve read it.
My two books are based on the lives of children I work with in Juarez, Mexico. Proceeds help fund my ministry Love and Literacy which encourages kids to read and stay in school. The first book, Grit in Juarez, could be read by upper elementary to adult. It follows the lives of two different families as they struggle to survive just across our Southern border. The second book, Araceli’s Path, is a prequel which tells the story of the mothers of the children. Although it alludes to more adult themes, this book is not graphic and would be appropriate for high school and up. My hope is that as the reader gets to know these families, he/she will have a compassionate response to real world situations.
Well, your ministry sounds like something we’d like to know more about. I just ordered “Grit” (great title), and I look forward to reading it. Congratulations and best wishes on your work.
Thank you so much!! I look forward to your thoughts
Marion, that’s awesome and exciting. My reading list just got bigger. I love that you are doing this as a part of your ministry. What a blessing you are. May God continue to use you and bless you and others in and through this ministry.
So I’m thinking the book I read a bit of was not in this genre. I remember bits and pieces and it was very good. I hope you’re still working on it.
It was called Social Justice. I havent worked on it in a while, but you have given me the push to go back to it. Thanks!
Grit in Juarez was wonderful, and the story had the effect Marion described, at least on me.
thank you, Lisa!
Very informative interview, Lori and Kay. I am curious about the dream that planted the seed of your novel in your fertile mind. In addition I have to agree with your observation that you learn more from writing a novel than from reading writing books. Of course, both are helpful. I’m now in the final stages of readying a manuscript for submission to publishers. And it’s only now that I’m getting comfortable being a writer.
Best of luck in the future!
Thank you F DiBianca (may I call you Frank?). I appreciate your comments and thank you for joining the conversation. How exciting to be completing your book and stepping into the submission phase. Congratulations on the extraordinary accomplishment and best wishes!
I’ll tell you this about the dream–it involved a ghost (a friendly ghost from the 1860’s). He was watching over my shoulder as I wrote in a journal while sitting on a riverbank and he struck up a conversation because what I was unknowingly doing was writing a story about him. It was a fun little adventure for me, until I spoke with a respected agent in the Christian publishing world who told me no ghosts. I liked the setting and my other characters so well that I just reworked the plot to remove the ghost. I now question that decision, but maybe I’ll go back and tell his story one day.