Welcome to the Writer's Alley, Jocelyn! Tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
My husband Rob and I have two active kiddos- Elsa is 6, and just started first grade, and Ethan is 3, and going to preschool. We live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. People sometimes ask me what I do in my free time, and I usually give them a blank stare. I don’t really have free time, between my family, basic homemaking, and writing. But if I did, I would like to scrapbook again and play the piano again and cook more.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, even as a child, so I majored in English at Taylor University, and minored in mass communications and public relations. My first job out of college was writing public relations materials for my alma mater, then I moved to Washington, D.C., to be the editor and writer for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. After serving in that role for two and a half years, I married my husband, who was a Coast Guard officer at the time, which meant quitting my job and moving six thousand miles to a small town called Homer, Alaska.
This seemed like a good time to give freelance magazine article writing a try. So I pursued that, and was able to freelance full-time for a few years. It was also during this time I was inspired to write my first book: Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives. But it took my agent three years to find a contract, and by that time I had a one-year-old (Elsa) and had assumed my writing days were over. Then I got that first golden book contract, thankfully, and Faith Deployed was published by Moody in 2008. Since then I’ve written/co-authored three more nonfiction books, and written a novel. So if any of you mommies think being published must wait until your kids are grown, think again!
How did you decide to switch from writing non-fiction to writing fiction?
I never thought I would write fiction because I think the competition is so fierce. I wasn’t convinced I had the slightest chance of making it beyond the slush pile. But I think the real hesitation was that I hadn’t yet come up with (or discovered) a fictional story that really cried out to be written.
And then I did. I visited the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, PA, in the fall of 2010 to do some research for a nonfiction book that also just released this summer: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front. My research there led me to read diaries, letters, and newspaper articles written by women civilians who were thrust into the drama of war, rose to the occasion beyond anyone expectations, and affected the course of history. Reading their words on a rainy day in Gettysburg, the stories really came to life for me. I kept thinking, “This would make a great novel! Somebody really ought to write this story!”
Then, a week later, my editor from Moody called me and said they were looking for more fiction to publish. So I put my doubts aside and worked feverishly on a book proposal for a four-book series on unsung heroines of the Civil War. They liked it, and now we have the Heroines Behind the Lines series! Wedded to War is Book One.
What are the differences in the writing process for each?
They are very different. Before I wrote fiction, I mostly wrote magazine articles and devotions. Those were all short, between 400 words and 2500 words. And usually, I didn’t create the story, I just followed it, and then told it. Now with a novel, I’m writing 100,000 words, and creating not just the story, but the characters too, plus weaving different subplots together.
Setting up the story world was also a new experience for me. For instance, I wrote almost 200 short stories of women and their contributions to various American wars, but they were very focused just on what the women did and said. When I began writing Wedded to War, I couldn’t’ stop there. I had to find out what the women wore, ate, did for fun, what kind of plumbing they had, etc. I had to know how they would have gotten from one part of town to another, and how long a train ride from New York to Washington would have taken (including the stops in Baltimore and Philadelphia). What newspaper did they read? How much did it cost? What colors were most popular for formal ball gowns, and how on earth did they get dressed with all those layers? The story world has to be accurate and vivid if the reader is going to be immersed in the novel, so it’s not something we can skimp on.
What I did find useful from my journalism background, though, was that I knew how to research, and I knew how to interview people. So before I write my novels, I interview the characters pretty thoroughly. And I will admit it’s nice to be able to put words in their mouths. Sometimes I wished I could do that for my magazine articles!
Just from your descriptive detail in the first chapter, I can tell you put in a lot of research hours. How long did you research before you started the first draft?
I spent nine months researching before I started writing (not including the first 50 pages of the book proposal). That left me with about two months to write the book, which was really hard. I told myself I wouldn’t do that ever again, but here I am on the second novel, and it’s déjà vu!
Do you have any advice for writers who have a passion for both non-fiction and fiction writing?
Study the conventions and rules for both genres, because they are quite different, but also look for ways they can complement each other. For instance, there are some fiction techniques that can make nonfiction more gripping emotionally, and there are nonfiction techniques that can strengthen fiction, too.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting out on this journey, what would it be?
Just one piece? Learn the craft. Now to expand on that: There are no shortcuts in becoming a good writer. Read books on how to do it. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine, or something similar. Go to as many writers conferences as you can afford to go to. Join associations like American Christian Fiction Writers to get some great networking and professional development. Also, the most fun piece of advice: read! Read what you want to write. If you want to write inspirational romance, read really good inspirational romance. If you like mystery, read really good mystery. Some things about writing are taught, and some are caught. (For more specific advice, see http://www.jocelyngreen.com/on-writing/)
Great tips, Jocelyn! Thank you so much for visiting today. I can't wait to read the rest of Wedded to War. We hope you will come visit the Alley again soon!
Thank you! I’d love to come back!
Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and CEO of a family of six.