THE CRAFT OF WRITING – FEBRUARY 2021
I’m excited that author James L. Rubart appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.
Jim Rubart is not just an award-winning author. He has won so many Christy awards that he’s been inducted into the Christy Awards Hall of Fame! What better person to learn from than someone who is incredibly successful?
Rather than pick one of his Christy Award-winning books, I’ve listed four of them here, and we’ll let Jim tell us about his favorite.
James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on mind-bending journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories.
He’s the best-selling, Christy Book of the Year, Carol, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award winning author of ten novels, co-owner of The Rubart Writing Academy, and an audio book narrator. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington.
Welcome James L. Rubart and thank you for joining us!
Thanks much for the invitation!
Tell us about your journey to becoming an award-winning writer.
It started in seventh grade when my mom bought The Chronicles of Narnia for my sister and me for Christmas. I devoured the books and decided I wanted to someday try to do for others what Lewis had done for me. Open up new worlds and new ways of thinking and show them God in a way they might have never seen him before.
So in eighth grade I took journalism, fell in love with writing and at the end of the year tried out for the school paper. Didn’t get accepted. That rejection broke my little 12-year-old heart and I buried the writing dream for a long, long time. In my immaturity I thought that rejection was a clear message I had no talent for writing.
Fast forward to 2002. My wife went on a fast. When I asked her why she said she didn’t know, but the Spirit had definitely led her to do it. After 24 hours I asked her if she’d heard anything from God. Nope. After two days I said, “Remind me, why are you fasting?”
“To get the answer.”
“What’s the question?”
“I don’t know.”
Halfway through day three the Spirit spoke to me and said, “I’ve given you the desire to write and the ability. When are you going to step into your destiny?”
I turned to Darci and said, “I know why you’re fasting. I’m supposed to be a novelist.”
She frowned and said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been hungry for three days and YOU get the answer?”
It was pretty funny. The next day I got serious and started working on my first novel.
Four years later I finished that story, went to a writing conference (in 2006) and started meeting people in the industry and learning about publishing. And my first novel, Rooms, came out in the spring of 2010.
I listed four of your Christy award-winning books at the top of this post. Can you give us a brief synopsis of each of them?
Soul’s Gate – My first novel, Rooms, is the story of a man who inherits a home that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul and heart. I always thought someday I’d write a sequel and that’s kind of what Soul’s Gate is. Except instead of going inside your own soul, it’s the story of four spiritual warriors going inside other people’s souls to fight for their healing and freedom.
The Five Times I Met Myself – For a long time I’d wondered what I would say to my younger self if I had the chance. In this story my protagonist gets that opportunity. Through lucid dreaming he meets his younger self, tells him how he messed up and what he should have done differently. It’s cathartic in the moment, but then he wakes up to find his present day world has changed because of what he told himself in the dream.
The Long Journey to Jake Palmer – Such a fun story to write. When my sons were young we used to take them to the end of this lake in eastern Washington and swim through a huge swath of cattails and then push through thick trees to get to this open meadow. I’d tell the boys we’d entered a magical land where anything can happen. So Jake is about the search for a legendary lost corridor, that if you can find it, and get through the other side, you’ll get what you want most in the world.
The Man He Never Was – I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller about Romans chapter 7 and he mentioned that Robert Lewis Stevenson’s father was a pastor, so he would well know about the evil inside each of us. Keller surmised that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was likely influenced by that chapter in the Bible. It struck me like a flash of lightning. What if I were to take that story and modernize it and tell it from a Christian perspective? With that, The Man He Never Was, was born.
Which is your favorite? What made you write it? Please tell us about it.
Of those four I’d have to say The Five Times I Met Myself. Probably because it’s so personal. I was going through an incredibly challenging time during the writing of that story. A 130 foot 20,000 pound tree had crashed into our house earlier that year—almost killing my wife and youngest son—and the stress of that situation, Darci working through severe PTSD, dealing with the contractor, the insurance company, the bank, a son graduating from high school … it was a nightmare. And through the process the Lord showed me that too much of my worth came from being a bestselling, award winning author. He showed me that the only true validation is from Him. So that book is my story of learning that lesson. Like I said, very personal. I even use the story of how Darci and I met in the novel.
Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?
When I first got into writing, one of my early mentors was Randy Ingermanson. He’d won a Christy Award and I was dazzled by that. It was (and is) the Oscars of Christian Fiction and I was captured by the idea of someday winning one. In my heart of hearts I thought it was a pipe dream, but in the end I figured, “Why not try?” So to now be in the Christy Hall of Fame is quite surreal.
How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?
It’s probably not fair for me to say this given the fact I’ve won a few, but I’m going to say it anyway. How concerned should authors be? Very little. Remember, contests are just a few people’s opinions, good or bad. I entered a contest before I was published and one judge gave me 97 points and the other gave me fifty-five. It’s subjective. What really matters is our readers. Are we giving them a powerful emotional experience? Are we making them laugh and cry and think deeply? That being said, it’s quite nice to win awards, I just don’t want authors to think it’s the end all.
Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?
Yes. And that’s one of the best reasons to enter contests. Awards will get the attention of editors and agents. And that’s a good thing if you want to be traditionally published.
There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?
- Make sure they’re legit. There are scammers out there so go through the process of vetting the contest thoroughly.
- Decide why you’re entering the contest. Are you wanting feedback? Some give feedback. Some don’t. Are you wanting recognition? Make sure it’s a big enough contest that people will recognize it as significant.
- Is it for your ego? C’mon, let’s be honest. That’s why many writers enter a contest. And that’s okay. We writers are fragile, neurotic folks; getting recognition for a job well done, and gaining confidence from placing in, or winning a contest is a legitimate reason to enter.
What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?
If you can afford it, get a really good pair of running shoes. Put them on. Look writing the face. Say goodbye. Then turn and sprint as fast as you can in the opposite direction. I’m kidding. Kind of. I’d just want them to know writing is a challenging path. Why? Because you’re putting yourself on the page. I talk about Voice simply being an expression of your personality on the page. So when someone rejects our writing, it’s really hard not to think they’re rejecting us.
That being said, writing has been one the most rewarding journeys I’ve ever taken. So my heart-felt advice to beginning writers is very simple, but very powerful if taken deep into their soul. Do. Not. Give. Up.
I play guitar. I could entertain you for half an hour or so and at the end you’d probably say, “That was nice. I enjoyed that.” But there’s no way you’d buy any of my music. I’m just not that good. To get that good I’d have to work hard on my music for years.
Yet beginning writers think they can work on a story for a few years and be ready for publication. Nope. Just like the guitar analogy, it takes years of dedicated labor to bring our skill to the point where people will pay for our writing.
But that’s the good news. Most people aren’t willing to put in the time and effort. They give up. Which means there’s more room at the top than we realize.
I believe talent plays a role in becoming an author, but far less than we realize. The greatest characteristic of my successful authors friends is one thing: persistence.
What are you working on now?
A really fun project. It’s a series of six books called The True Lies of Rembrandt Stone. This series was a long time coming. Ages ago (probably around 2012) my friend Susan May Warren and I were on a short plane ride together from Asheville, NC to Atlanta. We started talking about someday writing a book together and our shared loved of time travel stories.
Then in mid 2016 Susie came up with the idea of Rembrandt Stone, called me asked, “Are you in?” I laughed and gave the only appropriate response: “Are you kidding?”
Susie asked her son David to join the team and in February of 2017 the three of us gathered at my home in eastern Washington (after Susie and David battled a Seattle and eastern Washington snowstorm) and brainstormed all six of the stories. So yes, it took a while from conception to release, but it turned out to be the perfect timing!
The first book in the series, Cast the First Stone, just released. You can check it out here. And I voiced the audio version which was great fun.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
There are a number of places. The Rubart Writing Academy (click here) which my son and I own where we teach authors how to do what I’ve done, my website, jamesLrubart.com where folks can sign up for my newsletter, and social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and MeWe.
Thanks again, Jim, for being with us.
Thanks so much for having me!