Our interview today is with Shannon Vannatter. Thank you Shannon for being here today and for agreeing to do this interview.
Question: What do you think prepared you or qualifies you to write in your chosen genre?
Answer: I’ve read romance novels since I was a teenager. My mom used to go to the library weekly and get clean romances for me. When I first started writing, I liked watching detective shows, so my first efforts were romantic suspense. Five or six years into writing, I was at a conference and the speaker said that whatever genre you enjoy reading the most is what you should probably write. It was a light bulb moment for me.
Question: Tell us a little about your “real” (Non-writing) life — family, job, church life. Does it give you inspiration for your writing? Does it get in the way of your writing, or are there times when you get help, from people or circumstances?
Answer: My husband is a pastor, we have an eleven year old son, and our lives revolve around church. In the beginning, my husband was bi-vocational. That meant part-time pastoring and a full-time job elsewhere. His full-time job was at least 60 hours a week. Whatever time was left over went into the church and coming up with sermons. There’s really no such thing as part-time pastoring. We never had any time – especially family time. For a while, I felt like a single mom since my husband couldn’t be at school events or sport practices. Two years ago, our church was able to make him full-time. It’s wonderful. Especially for our son.
I have a great writing schedule. During the school year, I write from 8:30 – 1:00. In the summer, I try not to have deadlines so I can have fun with our son. But when duty calls, I put everybody to bed at 11:00 and stay up until 2:00 to write. My son lets me sleep until 10:00 after writing nights, so I can be fun during the day and not grouchy.
As a preacher’s wife, I hear everyone’s problems, try to give sound advice, and counsel. All of that goes into my books. Once I got published, I had to give up a few jobs at church – cleaning it, and my soup ministry. I used to make soup and take to our members when they were sick or after they had surgery. I still miss that, but other people have stepped up and filled in the gap. Since I can make my own schedule, I take days off when needed for hospital visits with my husband, church errands, and to work on our annual Christmas float for the parade. My schedule is flexible, but I can’t take off too often and meet my deadlines.
Question: Tell us about things you enjoy — what you do for fun or personal satisfaction?
Answer: I love reading of course. Most writers started out as avid readers. I don’t get to read as much as I’d like, but in between deadlines, I always read three or four books. I love watching Hallmark movies.
And I’m crafty, so I’m usually making or sewing something home decor oriented. I don’t sew clothes – that frustrates me. In the summer, I love to swim and my son does too, so we spend a lot of time in our above ground pool. We live ten miles from a tourist attraction lake, but we never go there. It’s crowded, I like being able to see through the water, and I have an appreciation for chlorine.
Question: Tell us about working with any people who help you create your books — Do you use Beta readers? Hire an editor or proofreader? How do you get your covers?
Answer: I have two critique partners I met through American Christian Fiction Writers. It took me 9 1/2 years of attending writer’s groups and conferences to get published. Harlequin owns my line, Love Inspired Heartsong Presents, so they provide me with an editor and proofreaders. The editor sends me the manuscript with her suggestions, I say yay or nay to any slight changes she made, make any changes I want, and send it back. For the cover, I fill out a form with character details and pick three scenes I think would make good covers. The form requires lots of details and asks for pictures too. I send pictures of the characters, the clothing they wear, and pictures of the settings. They send me the cover when it’s done. I don’t get to approve or disapprove or make changes after it’s done. But they do really great covers, so I’ve been happy. I recently joined Pinterest and am working on creating a board for each book that includes all the pictures I sent for the cover.
Question: Since you have several books out, tell us what you think works for promotion. What are your thoughts on ebooks versus print books and different ways to let people know about you and your books?
Answer: I’ve connected with lots of readers on Facebook and I love interacting with them. I love hearing what they think of my books. I have a blog where I feature inspirational authors with new releases. Since I write romance, I ask the authors to share their real life or character romances on my blog. I have weekly book giveaways. It’s been a great way to introduce readers to new authors and unfamiliar authors and of course when I have new release, I feature myself. I also do guest spots on other author’s blogs.
I’m a print book kind of gal. I love the smell of the book, the feel of the glossy cover, turning the paper pages. But I’m thrilled all my books are digital now. It’s a great way to reach new readers and the book lives forever.
Question: Have you done anything writing-related, but besides your books, that seemed to get a lot of positive response? Something that encouraged you?
Answer: I’ve gotten a lot of positive response with my blog. Readers love it and writers do too. I’m usually booked several months in advance and I get an average of 12,000 readers a month. I love teaching writing classes for groups or conferences. Second to writing, I love talking about writing, sharing what I’ve learned over the years, and encouraging pre-pubbed authors. Being around other writers always encourages me. When I’m stuck on a project, I go to a writer’s meeting and it always gets me going.
Question: Tell us about your newest book. Make us want to read it.
Answer: People often ask me which of my books is my favorite. That’s a hard question. I put my heart in each book, each character, each story. But my latest release, Rodeo Queen is my favorite and possibly always will be. From the time I was in my teens, I had this story in my head. It was about a girl with a stalker and her detective bodyguard. I’d tweak scenes, add complications, and change the ending–but it was always a happy ending. I thought it was a movie and I didn’t want to go to Hollywood, so I just played it over and over in my head for years.
When I met my husband, my real life romance put the story in my head on the back-burner. Then came marriage and working. After a few years, my husband got a night job. We didn’t have our son yet, so my evenings were suddenly open. I went to the library, but I couldn’t find any clean romances like I’d read when I was younger. It hit me then that the story in my head could be a book and I should write it. But I didn’t have a computer and I wasn’t that great of a typist. So I decided if I ever got a computer, I’d write the book. Three years later, I got a computer. As soon as it was hooked up, I was writing that book.
I’d never even talked to a writer, joined a group, been to a meeting or conference. I finished writing the book in three months and went to the library to find out how to get published. In the Writer’s Market Guide, I learned there was a whole Christian fiction industry I’d missed. Yes, I shopped at Christian bookstores, but I went to the music section, not books. I learned how to write queries and proposals and submitted to publishers. I got 52 rejections. Lesson learned – don’t submit before it’s ready. I wrote more books, got more rejections, but my third effort found a home with a Print On Demand publisher. I soon learned that wasn’t the route I wanted to go. I joined two local writing groups, attended two conferences annually and learned.
When I stopped learning new things about writing, I did a search for a Christian romance conference and found American Christian Fiction Writers. That’s when the real learning began – specific to my genre that took my writing to new levels. I attended from 2005 – 2008, when I finally interested an editor with the 6th book I’d written. I got my first three book contract in 2009 and my first traditionally published book released in 2010. Since then I’ve had at least two books published each year and attended every ACFW conference since until last year. The only reason I didn’t go, it was in Indianapolis – far way from Arkansas – and I had a deadline right before the conference so I didn’t have any new books ready to pitch. The conference is closer to me for the next 3 years and I plan on attending.
Oops, back to the book. I never forgot that first book I ever wrote, so when I got the chance to continue my rodeo series with Harlequin, I decided to rewrite it. My heroine became the owner of a blingy western clothing store in the Fort Worth Stockyards and the rodeo queen for the Stockyards Championship Rodeo. My hero became a Texas Ranger. I didn’t try to fix that old, horribly written manuscript, I started over. Rodeo Queen is a new version of the first book I ever wrote and my 7th traditionally published book.
Rodeo Queen Blurb:
CAITLYN WENTWORTH LOVES BEING A RODEO QUEEN
Until she starts receiving threatening letters from a stalker. The good news is, the Texas Ranger assigned to her case is none other than her former sweetheart Mitch Warren—the man who chose his career over love.
Mitch vows to focus on protecting the woman he’s never forgotten. But Caitlyn stirs up memories best left in the past. When Mitch insists on hiding Caitlyn away on his family’s San Antonio ranch, will he keep things professional or seek out a second chance?
Question: What is the “message” of your writing? (For example, is your purpose to encourage old-fashioned values, encourage romance, or do you have different purposes in different books?)
Answer: My books encourage old-fashioned values in contemporary times and relying on God for everything. Each book has a different purpose, but my overall message is always: Love doesn’t make the world go round, God does. I truly believe to have a never-ending love story, God has to be in the center of the relationship.
Question: Tell us one place you visited or person you met, that made a big impression on you, and why.
Answer: Several years ago, we visited Galveston, Texas. It was my first and only brush with the ocean. I picked up shells along the shore, ate in a seafood restaurant built on an old pier, and didn’t worry about my windblown hair or sand-coated feet.
At my first ACFW Conference, I didn’t know a soul. I was feeling very out of my league and it seemed everyone I met was published. By day two, I was certain everyone there knew more than me about writing and everyone there was published but me. I found an empty table at breakfast and sat down alone. This pretty blond asked if she could sit beside me. I said sure. She offered her hand and said, I’m Lenora Worth. My jaw dropped. I’d read several of Lenora’s books and rambled on and on about how much I loved her and her books. I couldn’t remember a single title, storyline, or character. I felt like she probably didn’t believe I’d read her books and she probably thought I was a nut. As the table filled up, I repeated over and over, That’s Lenora Worth. I’ve read her books. She was very gracious. A few years later, when I finaled in an unpublished 1st chapter of a novel contest, she was at the conference and congratulated me. Now when I see her at ACFW, she hugs me.
Question: Tell us one place you want to visit, or person you want to meet, and why.
Answer: I’d love to go back to Galveston. I’ve always loved seashells and any time my friends or family have gone to the ocean they bring me shells. It was fun finding my own. Someday, I’ll make it back. We usually go to San Antonio once a year since we have family there. We could hit Galveston on the way, but since my Texas rodeo series launched, we usually stop in Fort Worth and Aubrey since that’s where the series is set – for research or book signings.
I can’t think of anyone I’d like to meet. All of my heroes are authors and I’ve met them at the ACFW Conferences. It’s a reader’s paradise. Learning to write is a bonus of attending.
Question: Share something that makes you laugh, with just plain humor, or happiness, or because it’s so stupid.
Answer: My cat when he’s in a playful mood. I love watching him pounce on nothing, then lay on his side and kick at his own feet. He’s eight years old, so he’s not a kitten anymore.
Question: Share something that’s amazing, touching, or that makes you angry.
Answer: Every year our church puts together shoeboxes for the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas ministry. Some people fill their own shoeboxes, some buy items or donate money. Our ladies’ group uses the donated money to buy toys, then we meet and fill our boxes. Every year, we have more than last year. This year, we filled 125 boxes. Our church is kind of small – 85 or so members. It’s the highlight of the year for our ladies’ group. This year, we learned our boxes were going to Guyana, South America. The very place where 918 people died because of a cult 35 years ago. With each shoebox filled with toys and toiletries for under-priviledged children, Samaritan’s Purse provides a Bible, a Bible story book, and a gospel tract in the child’s language. It really touched me that we were helping to spread the gospel to people in that tragic place. Yes, most of the victims were American, but there were over a dozen Guyanans who got sucked into it and it warmed my heart to know that through Samaritan’s Purse, Americans are making a positive impact on the children there this year.
Question: What’s the worst trouble you ever had with getting a book written (plots, finding needed information, getting a cover done)?
Answer: My first deadline, where I actually had eight months to write a book. On top of that, I had to write the proposal before I wrote the book. I’m a seat of the pants writer. I know where the story starts, a couple of big problems, and where it ends. I fill in the rest as I write. Writing the proposal first gave me my first case of writer’s block. I thought it was a myth until then. I went to a writer’s group meeting and the speaker mentioned she was a pantser. After the meeting, I asked her if writing the proposal in advance gave her problems. She said yes, then told me she writes her proposals and puts them away until it’s completely out of her head, then she writes the book. I tried it and it worked. I still write my proposals way in advance. For some reason, the second book in each of my series gave me problems. But I seem to have it down to a science now. I usually set my deadlines so I have four months to write each book. I write my first draft in two months. Get feedback from my critique partners and let it rest for a month. Then I use a month to tweak and edit before turning it in.
Question: What’s your next project? Tell us so we can’t wait for it to come out!
Answer: My sixth rodeo title, Rodeo Song releases in April. It’s the only book I ever wrote that’s based on a dream. Many years ago, I went to a Michael Bolton concert. I was in love with his gravely voice. At the intermission, I was sitting in the nosebleed seats when I noticed a commotion in the lobby. Doors to the lobby circled the arena and I could see people running. I finally realized Michael Bolton was running around the lobby and people were chasing him. He came back in the arena and sang a few songs at the other end of the arena from the stage. That night, I dreamed I was in the lobby and he grabbed my hand and pulled me onstage and sang Georgia on My Mind to me. I lived in Georgia for part of my childhood. Back then I wasn’t writing, but I told the dream to several friends and we laughed over it. After I started writing, I decided it could be a book. In Rodeo Song, the hero is a Country Music star and the girl he pulls onstage in the first scene is his high school sweetheart he left behind to pursue his career.
Question: What is your current WIP?
Answer: I don’t have any deadlines right now, so I’ve been dabbling with a French guy who’s been in my head for several years. I haven’t had time to write his story until now.
Question: How many books do you have out?
Answer: One badly written Print On Demand from back when I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t encourage readers to read it and wish it had never gotten published. And seven traditionally published books I love. Learning the craft well enough to get published traditionally is well worth the hard work and years it requires. When I teach writing classes, I tell writers there aren’t any shortcuts – it just takes time, learning, and patience.
Question: What are your future projects?
Answer: I have something in the works, but it’s not officially official yet, so I can’t say yet.
Question: Are their characters/stories/scenes/etc based on anything in real life?
Answer: For all of my books, I’ve taken snippets from real life. Funny things that happen, touching things that happen. I’m always telling my friends and family, That’s going in a book. The ranch in Rodeo Queen in Medina, Texas is based on my father-in-law’s ranch there. My characters visit the places we visited there, eat the things I’ve eaten, experience the nature I’ve experienced.
My critique partner had a wardrobe malfunction with her hose at an ACFW Conference Awards Banquet. When it was all over, I said dibs, that’s going in my book. And it did – in Rodeo Regrets.
Question: What is your favorite book/character?
Answer: Caitlyn Wentworth – the heroine in Rodeo Queen. She’s been in my head since my teens.
Question: What is your writing style?
Answer: I try to be uplifting and positive with my writing. Even when my character’s world is turned upside down, I try to keep them seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. I’m the eternal optimist and it comes through in my writing.
Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows. Vannatter won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category, The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards 3rd Favorite New Author and #1 Contemporary Award.
Her books are available at
Christian Books http://www.christianbook.com/
Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/
Barbour Books http://ow.ly/rnLT1
Learn more about Shannon and her books at http://shannonvannatter.com
Check out her real life romance blog at http://shannonvannatter.com/blog/
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