by Bernadette Sukley
Daughter of missionary parents, Jeanette grew up in the mountains of Colombia, subsequently has lived in 6 countries and traveled in more than 30 on five continents (she's now based in Lancaster). But her unique experiences gave birth to 16 international intrigue titles, including bestselling Tyndale House Publishers release: Veiled Freedom, a 2010 ECPA Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist and sequel: Freedom's Stand, a 2012 ECPA Christian Book Award and Carol Award finalist and 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year finalist.
Q: You use the phrase "living joyfully on earth's wild side/storms" on your blog. How do you do that?
A: I can live joyfully in the midst of earth's storms so long as I do not lose sight of where and Whose I am. I belong to the Almighty Creator of this universe, King of Kings—and a heavenly Father who loves His children passionately. Whatever tempest is shaking my world does not call for cowering and fear, but joy and expectation. I will admit there are times when I forget that truth. Forget where I am and let my focus be caught by the storm, instead of its Master. But the truth does not change for my losing sight of it. Nor does the loving, powerful hold of my heavenly Father's hand. And that's reason to dance!
Q: Practically speaking, with so much evil in the world, how does a spiritual writer sell books? For example, horror books/movies (i.e., Stephen King) often draw a larger market than inspirational movies.
A: The reality is that CBA (Christian Booksellers Association ) sales are in general proportionate to the target market group, which is considerably smaller than the secular ABA (American Booksellers Association). But inspirational titles are also one of the fastest growing segments of publishing, the reason so many major Christian publishing houses are being snapped up by ABA giants. And while fewer than in the ABA, there have been numerous inspirational titles ranging from the Left Behind series and The Shack to Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life that have sold in the millions. Of course, whether ABA or CBA, the average published book sells under 10,000 copies. Bottom line, regardless of genre or field, in these days it is left to the authors to market their own titles, and just what happens to propel the occasional title to bestseller can be the most unpredictable of mysteries—above all to other authors who sometimes shake their heads in disbelief at what does become the next big thing.
Q: You are also a freelance book editor--can you tell us the biggest mistake writers make when submitting manuscripts to you?
A: Actually, there are three specific mistakes that are so universal to virtually every manuscript I receive that if all three are missing, the book is a strong candidate for publishing. So let me share them in brief.
1. Exposition: This is the setting of story and POV character in time and space. The two rookie extremes are to either a) offer an information dump, driving away potential readers through boredom, or b) not give enough information so readers can quickly place themselves in the time/place/mind of POV character. The latter is by far the most common mistake under guise of rousing suspense by keeping key details from reader. Instead, it simply leads to frustration with reader spending time and energy trying to figure out where and who they are, rather than enjoying the story.
How does a writer find the balance? Very simple, Since the reader becomes the POV protagonist, what isn't a secret to the POV protagonist shouldn't be to reader. On the flip side, what the protagonist doesn't know should be the mystery that reader and protagonist will figure out together. Without an entire information dump, the reader should be filled in as quickly as possible on the who, what, when, why, how that the POV character knows, at least enough to sit back, relax and just enjoy the story to that point instead of trying to figure out who everyone is and what is going on. This process will repeat all through the book.
2. Flashback Details: These are references are made to people, setting, happenings after the fact as though the reader already knows them, rather than introducing those same details to the reader as part of real time forward action of story. Actual example: "As the blue-tailed rooster chased the three hens across the courtyard again, she directed a kick that did not alleviate her frustration." Except that story has never mentioned rooster or courtyard. Real time alternative: "She stepped out into the compound's courtyard. As a blue rooster chased three hens into her skirts so that she almost tripped, she directed a kick . . . "
I mark these by the dozen in virtually every manuscript. As above, this doesn't create suspense/mystery to reader, but annoyance because they then have to stop living the story, figure out reference, and match it to past hints, rather than simply moving forward through the story. General rule: every time a setting or character detail is first mentioned, unless there is compelling reason otherwise, it should be presented in "real time" narrative vs. "flashback".
3. Data Not Entered into Evidence (DNEE): Even more difficult are references to details or people that the POV protagonist knows, but that haven't been introduced to the reader. An editor’s term I use is actually a legal term: "data not entered into evidence". In a trial, you can’t present to the jury any data not entered into evidence. Actual example: "Her uncle held up the letter. 'We're going to have to move back to Berlin. Opa's textile factory is failing due to war shortages and the Jewish crisis. He needs our help.' Horrified, she grabbed her bike and headed for the Lake Michigan beach front. No one was going to force her to move again." Except the story hasn't yet mentioned a prior move, that the family comes from Germany, identified time period as WW2, or even mentioned an uncle. Real time solution: "She knew what her uncle meant. Her earliest memories were playing among the looms of her Opa's factory back in Germany where she was born."
Obviously one can't introduce everything POV protagonist knows to reader without overwhelming information dump. So how does one find a balance? Again, very simple. One doesn't have to give reader all necessary information up front, just enough to understand the story to that point. But at ANY point a new detail is introduced, that is the point at which it needs "entered into evidence", rather than referenced as though reader already knows.
Q: You have written across all genres--romance, political thrillers, YA, christian--how did you do it? (It seems to go against the advice of sticking to one thing and doing it well.)
A: In truth, there is little in my writing and publishing career that fits into the industry box, perhaps a consequence of beginning my publishing career and writing my first half-dozen books overseas (Bolivia), where I knew no other writers nor the rules of the game. I simply wrote the stories burning in me, beginning with a children's international mystery series. When the canvas of juvenile fiction became too small for the stories I wanted to tell, I wrote a teen novel, then found myself expanding my story canvas to adult international suspense novels. But however booksellers choose to categorize my titles, I would say my writing voice is actually quite consistent in that all my novels--children, teen or adult--transport readers into a vast, troubled, dangerous, exciting world filled with fascinating human beings, complex issues, but also great hope, courage, and light well beyond safe boundaries of any North American suburban neighborhood.