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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Debut Author ~ Missy Tippens

Born and raised in Kentucky, Missy met her very own hero when she headed off to grad school in Atlanta, Georgia. She promptly fell in love and hasn’t left Georgia since. She and her pastor husband have been married 20-plus years now, and have been blessed with three wonderful children along with an assortment of pets.

In L.B.C. (Life Before Children), Missy worked as a clinical microbiologist. Once she had her first baby, she retired to become a stay-at-home mom. She’s grateful to God that she was able to do that for 16 years and had the opportunity to pursue her writing during that time. Nowadays, in addition to her writing, she teaches as an adjunct instructor at a local technical college.

Missy is an award-winning writer and her debut novel, Her Unlikely Family, will be released in February 2008. She would love to hear from readers through her website.

I'm especially delighted to welcome Missy to Novel Journey. Missy is in my local ACFW WORD Chapter. Time to crow, my friend. What new book or project do you have coming out?

My first novel is coming out February 1 from Steeple Hill Love Inspired! It’s called Her Unlikely Family.

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

It’s been so long ago I can hardly remember! J But I do remember thinking what if? What if a stuffy blue-blooded bank owner gets together with a spunky waitress who is from a poor family? But then my brainstorming partner, Lindi Peterson, said, “What if you put a twist on it, and the waitress is actually from a wealthy family but doesn’t want to have anything to do with the wealth?” So I took her advice! Then I had to figure out how to throw the characters together.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I started writing when I got my first computer in 1995. Soon after, I started taking online writing classes and followed up by joining Romance Writers of America, then the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter. I also joined my local chapter, Georgia Romance Writers. I learned tons from all these groups, and I started submitting—and getting rejections. I also started entering contests, and eventually started finaling.

My story, Michael’s Surrender, did really well in several contests, and I sent the contest-requested manuscript to Steeple Hill. On January 30, 2007, after going through two sets of revisions with my editor, I got The Call!! I was actually in shock after talking with the senior editor. But later that night, it finally sank in, and I was so excited my toes barely touched the ground.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I recently had this for the first time ever. But it didn’t last long. It COULDN’T last long—I refused to allow it! (Yes, I’m stubborn.) I think it’s because I was putting too much pressure on myself to rush a proposal. I had to make myself chill out a little, to use my proven methods for plotting, and to trust God and the story itself.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

The most difficult part for me was, and still is, conflict. In real life, I hate conflict. I avoid it at all costs. So it’s hard for me to torture my characters. But after working with an editor, I’m learning to be “meaner” from the beginning. To find out my characters’ worst nightmares and to throw that at them. I’m also working to make sure my conflict is book-length, not a series of conflicts that get resolved along the way. This will be a learning process my whole career!

How do you climb out?

Revise, revise, revise! And even when I think I’ve overcome it, I find that I still have problems. So I’m being more alert to my flaws early on in the plotting process. I’m tweaking my writing process as I go, learning more on each book what I should be doing. Plus, reading a lot helps too. I can learn from others what a good story should be like.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

A cave?! LOL! Well, sometimes I sure wish I had one! I have three children, and I’m set up to work on my laptop, right on the couch in the middle of the family room. I tried working at my desk in the basement, but it felt like dungeon to me. I like being in the middle of everything. I just have to tune it all out. I also try to work more during the day after teaching in the mornings but before the bus arrives in the afternoon. I tend to add more writing time at night after everyone else is in bed.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Get up at 6:30, help see the kids off to school, teach an 8:00 a.m. class at the local technical college, then go to Curves (this is something new for me!). Then I go home and try to make myself write before getting online. I try to work, with a quick lunch break, until 3 p.m. when my youngest child gets home. Then I take the afternoon off except for some online time.

I figure I’ll try to fit the Internet in with the chaos of homework. I often go back to writing at about 11 pm when my husband goes to bed. I used to work until 1 or 2 am, but I’m finding that I’m getting too old for that. I usually start falling asleep around midnight.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I can only dream about writing 10 thousand words in a day! But on a really, really good (and rare) day, I can do 5 thousand. I love getting into the flow and working for hours on end. But I’ve found that real life usually intervenes, so I’m left with short snatches of time.

I’m learning better how to deal with that by making sure I work every day (except Sunday usually) so that I can keep up with the flow of the book. My dream way to write would be to go away for a week by myself and write around the clock with time for eating brownies and junk food when necessary.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I usually have a what if scenario which involves characters who are opposites in some way. Then I start thinking of their backstory. I’ve found two how-to workbooks that have helped me take it from there. One is Alicia Rasley’s The Story Within Guidebook. The other is Carolyn Green’s Prescription for Plotting workbook. These have really helped me stay on track, especially Alicia’s chapters on conflict!

Once I’ve filled a legal pad with character info, sequences for how the characters will change and grow, scene ideas, etc., I start writing. I usually plow through the first 3 chapters, then struggle a little to do chapter 4. Then for some reason I hit a wall at chapter 5.

At that point, I take some time to re-read what I’ve written and to revise it. Then I move on. Once I get to the last few chapters, the writing flies by. I love to get to that happy ending! No more torture of my poor characters. *g*

After that, I begin a long revision process. I go through the book several times on paper. Then enter changes, send to my critique partner, and then make changes according to her feedback. Now that I finally have an editor, this is the point where she would get the book. And then the revisions start over again with her input. It’s been wonderful to work with an editor! I feel it made my first book so much better.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Gosh, this is a hard one. I’ve loved so many books! One of the ones that made me cry (literally) and say, “I’ll never be able to write like this,” was Deborah Smith’s A Place to Call Home. Her books usually do that to me. But they give me something to aim for—stories that yank the heartstrings. To feel like I’ve done my job, I want to make people laugh and cry.

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

Never give up. Persistence is more important than talent. Things along those lines. I stuck with it for over ten years and finally made my first sale.

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?

Keep writing and don’t just re-write the same stories over and over. Build up a collection of work so that once you publish, you have something else to offer them immediately. I’ve spent about 2 years on each of my first 5 manuscripts. I wish I had moved quicker and had spent more time practicing from scratch.

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

Marketing isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It’s a stretch. But I do enjoy blogging and maintaining my own website. I haven’t had a book signing yet (except for a group signing for a book of short stories), so I’ll have to let you know what I think of them.

I’m so thankful for the Internet because I think that’s the way to go, and it’s very cost effective. I’m about to mail out some postcards (with the help of my family), so I’m hoping to get a good response to that for my first book signing and book launch party at my church on February 3. I am really nervous about it, though!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Trust in God’s timing for your writing career. I was so impatient while waiting to sell, but once I did, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to handle it any sooner. I was at a place in my life where I was ready, and I’m sure God knew that!

Thanks so much for having me here today! I’ve really enjoyed being with you.


  1. Thanks, Missy, for sharing your journey. I really appreciate the comment about persistence. ;)

  2. Hi to Ane---thanks for sharing a part of Missy with your novel journey readers! She is awesome and the book is awesome.

  3. Thanks for the great interview. I love to hear the stories of first time authors. This book sounds very good. I will be looking for it!

  4. Congratulations on your debut! You are so right about trusting God's timing, although it can be hard to do.


  5. Ane, thanks so much for having me! And Lindi, it's great to see you here. Lindi (Belinda) is the one I mentioned in the interview. :)

    Carrie, thanks for looking for the book!

    Tina, you're right about it being hard to wait for God's timing, especially when we're still in that waiting phase, not knowing for sure what His plan is. It's hard to trust that God wants the best for us. But isn't it nice when you have the hindsight to see how He was working all along? :)

  6. Hey, Missy and Ane. Missed yall last week. I'm further away now, so won't be too the meetings until Selah has a break. Excited about the book. I am smiling as I'm reading, because I'm visualizing the things that Ane didn't print that you all said to each other. :)

  7. Hey, Dee! Yes, I hated to miss the meeting, but my daughter had just had a tonsillectomy. She was miserable that night. But I do plan to be there next time. I hope Selah has a break soon so we'll get to see you!


  8. Missy, Missy, Missy, I talk to you EVERY DAY, and yet I keep forgetting how smart you are. Why do you think that is, huh??? :)

    Microbialigetics...okay, needed to open a word document and type that in so someone else could spell it for me.

    So, when you met your husband, I've got this great mental picture, you, white lab coat, bun in hair, glasses.
    Handsome man walks into the lab, Missy pulls the rubber band on her hair and tosses it (her hair, not the rubber band) over her shoulder, next come the glasses....

    Hello, sequel:
    "Her Unlikely Lab Rat"

    "A Passion Most Microscopic"

    What else....what else...have the hero guy be a janitor who thinks biologlistinst are educated idiots...have the microbioloogie think janitors live in the cellar under the big, big building, and are only allowed out in the dark of night because light hurts their eyes.

    This could work, Missy. You're welcome.

    I LOVED Her Unlikely Family. It was as much fun as I could have reading a book.

  9. Oh my gosh, Mary! I'm dying laughing here!!

    Thanks so much for the bestseller idea. Of course, I could be extremely generous and give you first crack at it. Yes, I think that's what I'll do. It's all yours!



  10. Great interview, Missy! And aren't we all so blessed to have Mary around to come up with these wild and crazy story ideas?

    Seriously, some terrific advice here. Patience. Trusting God's timing. Stuff I need to do more of.

  11. Does it get any better than following Tess Gerritson on a blog???

    I bow to you, Missy.

    And I came over to tell Mary to behave herself.

    I am trying to be patient, but I have a strict rule about having my first booksigning at my nursing home.

  12. Great interview, Missy! I love getting to know you better and better with each one!

    I highly recommend Missy's book to everyone.

    Thanks, Novel Journey for such great blog content!

    Cheryl Wyatt

  13. Tina, I so agree! I was amazed to see Tess was on right before me. And it was a great post.

    Myra and Tina, you'll be here doing your debut interview before you know it. Hang in there.


  14. Missy, It's fun to get a peek at your daily life! Interesting post.

    Like you, I wish I'd written more books, instead of revising and revising. Guess I felt I'd invested so much in the story that I couldn't give up on it, but maybe it was fear of facing a totally blank screen. :-)

  15. Missy,
    I loved learning about your life. I had no idea you were an adjunct instructor. You are so right about God's timing.

  16. Thanks for you kind words, Cheryl. And Janet, it is hard to let something go when we've invested so much time in it. We just have to remember that we get better with each manuscript and keep moving forward.


  17. You know, Missy, right this second, Tess Gerritson is somewhere, all shaky and thrilled because she got to be on Novel Jounrey right next to Missy Tippen.


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