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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Author Interview ~ Lorena McCourtney

Born and raised in eastern Washington, Lorena went to Washington State University and graduated with a degree in Agriculture (yes, agriculture). Always an avid reader (isn’t that how every writer starts?), she made her first “professional” sale when still in high school. After writing in numerous markets, she switched to Christian fiction. She wrote several Christian romances, but is now doing what she like best, Christian mysteries. Married with one son, two stepdaughters, and one granddaughter, beachcombing on the Oregon coast is one of her favorite activities.

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

I have two books coming out in October.

YOUR CHARIOT AWAITS is Book #1 in my new Andi McConnell Mysteries series from Thomas Nelson. This is a fun, lighthearted series about a woman who is nicely surprised to find she now owns a limousine. A less-nice surprise is the dead body she soon finds in the trunk. Andi has never had any interest in being a sleuth, but with her own name high on the list of suspects, she knows she’d better do something before the murder is pinned on her. Enter Keegan “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, former TV detective, very interested in the case – and in Andi. Working together comes down to a dangerous point: is that bulletproof glass in her limo really bulletproof?

THE BLUE MOON is part of a Guideposts series called The Sparrow Island Mysteries. The series was available earlier but only as part of the Guideposts book club, but with this new edition they're making the books available in bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. The main character is an older woman, a bird expert (ornithologist) on one of the San Juan Islands off Washington state, and in this mystery she finds a valuable blue-diamond necklace – and way too many dangerous people trying to claim it.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

Many of my stories have no defining point of origin. They just kind of evolve. But YOUR CHARIOT AWAITS jumped into my head when I read about a new limousine service being started in our small town, and I thought, what a wonderful opportunity for a sleuth!

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

My publishing journey has been so long and drawn out that the beginnings are kind of lost back there in the mists of time. I started with children’s short stories, mostly for the Sunday School publications, went into women’s short fiction, then had a friend who said her agent needed a romance writer. (This was back before romances were the Big Business they are today.) Anyway, my thought was, he needs a romance writer, I’ll be a romance writer.

Through that agent relationship I had some twenty-four secular romances published under several different names for several different publishers. But the Lord finally reminded me (none too gently) that I’d promised to get back to Christian writing someday. So I abruptly ended my secular romance writing career and switched to Christian romances. From there I’ve gone on to Christian mysteries, where I finally feel, yes, this is where I belong.

Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

The only time I’ve struggled with real writer’s block was during this decision-time switch from secular to Christian writing. And I think it was simply part of God’s message to me that it was time to change, because it was the secular writing that was blocked, and the Christian writing flowed.

Sometimes I get what I’d call more “writer’s procrastination” than actual block. I’m writing, but I just can’t seem to make any progress. Which usually means I need to go back in the story and figure out where I went wrong.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?

Right now, I can’t say that any one part is any more difficult than any other part. It’s ALL difficult, and, for me at least, it doesn’t get any easier. Somehow I thought it would, but it never has. In mysteries, I find the most difficult part is figuring out the murderer and walking the fine line between revealing too much or too little to the reader.

How did (or do) you overcome it?

Mainly I just muddle along until something works, until the story kind of comes to life.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

Yes, I have an office of my very own, and have had for many years. I really admire writers who manage to write without having this, who write under all sorts of difficult conditions. I have papers scattered over every flat surface in this office, and I’m not sure I’d ever get started again if I had to put them away every day.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

No, I never have had. Basically, I think, because I’d fail to meet it so often that I’d get discouraged. But I’ve – so far anyway – never missed a deadline on a book contract, so it all gets done somehow. But I don’t turn out as much material as many writers do. Not more than a book in 9 months to a year. So maybe I should set a daily goal, and I’d get more done. Hmmm.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Oh, dear, I wish I had something glamorous to report. “Arising from my bed canopied in velvet, breakfasting on quail’s eggs and caviar, glancing out the window of my penthouse, etc.” But the reality is an ordinary breakfast with my husband, taking care of some bills and other tedious household chores, a time of Bible study and prayer, check my e-mail, then to work about 9:30 or 10:00.

Lunch break at noon with my husband (he’s retired), another e-mail check, finish up somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30. Definitely not much later than that, because my brain turns to mush by 5:00. Although not all my day is actual writing, of course. There’s research, staring at a blank computer screen, trying to do some promotional things, etc.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

I’ve been writing for a long time, so I have Files. Lots of files. When I get an idea, it goes in the Ideas file. If more thoughts about that idea come, I give it a file of its own. Eventually there’s enough there to think about doing a book. So I sort my scraps of paper into various piles. For me, I need something in these piles:
When I see what I have in my piles, I can also see where there are holes, and I start filling them in. No title? I start trying to think of one, because I feel it helps give the story focus. (Although publishers so frequently change a title that this is probably that well-known “exercise in futility.”)

For characters, I’ve tried to do a complete character chart. You know, everything from favorite food to biggest fear. But I found this doesn’t work for me. What I need are the basics: a name, physical characteristics, whatever is important about the character that affects the book. Then I build details into the character as the work progresses. Otherwise I get a bunch of facts and characteristics about some person that just don’t work together.

Sometimes I have kind of an outline. Somewhere in the story, when I’m panicky about where this story is going, if anywhere, I usually wish I’d done a lot more thorough outline.

I don’t use the first draft, second draft, etc. system. I write some, go back and revise, and repeat many times. I don’t think it’s the best system, but I’ve never been able to manage the system where you rush through a first draft and then go back and do more drafts. I’ve tried to do that, but the whole thing feel likes a wobbly skyscraper without a solid foundation. And then it tends to crash and burn.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

I think I like authors more than specific books. Among secular authors, Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Sue Grafton’s series that start with a different letter of the alphabet each time. Some of Dean Koontz. Among Christian authors – oh, too many to name there!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Some form of “persistence counts more than talent.”

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

One thing I did with romances was write under several pen names (required by the publishers at the time). I wouldn’t do that again – or at least I’d try a lot harder to avoid it. Unless there’s a compelling reason for using a pen name (such as you write in two totally different genres, or your own name is very difficult to spell or pronounce), I’d stay with my own.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

Marketing. Groan. I want to be a writer, not a marketer. So, basically, I don’t do nearly enough of this. It isn’t possible for me to go long distances for conferences, so I miss out there. And being a shy introvert is not helpful in these days when a writer really needs to be out there promoting. I do send out announcements to my lists of both e-mail and snail-mail readers when I have a new book out.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Read, read, and read some more. Analyze why you like, or don’t like, what you’re reading. Then try to apply the techniques to your own writing.


  1. Thanks so much, Lorena, for sharing your journey with us.

    Reading is how I ended up a writer. I read somewhere around 160 books a year. My husband got so tired of me buying books he suggested I write one. And voila! I did. LOL

  2. thanks for the great interview. i love lorena mccourtney's books. looking forward to her new one!

  3. Wow, Lorena! After writing four romances, I decided to step off into mysteries, too. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with that "panicky about where this story is going, if anywhere" feeling.

    Best wishes on the mysteries. I'm looking forward to reading!

    DeAnna Julie Dodson

  4. I love your books and I'm looking forward to both of your October releases.

  5. I've only read about Ivy. But I so love her. You have a way with words. Thanks for sharing some more with us.

  6. Oooo! I can't wait to read the new releases!

    Thanks so much for your advice on writing. Love the quote about persistence!

  7. Thanks so much for this interview. I'm a big fan of Lorena McCourtney. I am still mourning the fact that I will not get to read any more Ivy Malone mysteries. :)
    God bless,

  8. I tried to post a comment earlier to thank everyone for their lovely comments, but apparently it's bouncing around out there in cyberspace somewhere. I'm sad about Ivy's demise too. I'm going to miss her as much as my readers do.


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