Friday, October 10, 2008

Author of the Week: Alison Strobel

Today we welcome Alison Strobel, an up and coming author whose book Violette Between was nominated for a RITA.

Thanks for stopping by, Alison!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I have two books published, both with Waterbrook Multnomah: "Worlds Collide" and "Violette Between."

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

I didn't even try to get my first book published! I knew how hard it was to get to that point, and I wasn't writing to get published, just to prove to myself that I actually could write a full-length novel. I had my manuscript printed out in a 3-ring binder and sitting up in my closet collecting dust when a Waterbrook editor asked to see it. Definitely a God thing.

What has been the best part about being published?

Seeing my dream of being a published writer come true. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to even try to get published, much less actually be published!

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

God puts little ideas in my head, and makes things stand out. I start thinking about them, teasing them out and thinking "What if..." and "Then what?" The kernel of the idea for "Worlds Collide" came to me while driving through Hollywood for the first time. For "Violette Between" it came to me while listening to Norah Jones' "If I Were A Painter." The kernel idea for "Reinventing Rachel" (releasing in 2009 with David C. Cook Publishing) came to me while reflecting on one of my oldest friendships.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I'm an outliner. With my first three books I figured out a general outline of all the major plot points. With my fourth, which I'm working on right now (releasing in '09, I think, with Zondervan) I used Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method, and WOW, what a difference it made! I highly recommend it to every novelist.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Any tips or suggestions for writers?

I'm a naptime writer. :) Whenever the kids sleep I try to get a scene done, or at least work a little on one. Ideally, I'm an early afternoon writer, but I don't have the luxury of being picky anymore.

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

Yes. I'd tried writing novels for years but never outlined them, so I didn't know where or what I was writing *to* and I was never able to finish them. *How* the ending comes about often changes as I write, though, even though I outline.

Do you have a process for developing your characters?

I used to just think up the basics--name, age, general personality--and then let them form themselves as I wrote. But after using the Snowflake method's characterization approach, I much prefer knowing all about my characters before I start writing. It takes the guesswork out so I'm not in the middle of a scene going, "Now how would she react to this?"

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?

Grace in "Worlds Collide" is very much me, personality-wise. So much so, in fact, that a lot of my friends in California who didn't know much about my life before moving here kept thinking Grace's past was my past! (It didn't help that Grace moved to California from Chicago just like I did!) Violette in "Violette Between" was a little bit me, but not much. I'm finding there's less of me in my characters with each book I write. I think I sort of got it out of my system with Grace. But when it comes to dialogue, I tend to put a lot of my words and sayings in. I really have to work to make my characters sound different from each other.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?

I want readers to feel as though they've read truth--truth about life, about love, about God. I want them to be able to apply to their own lives the principles the characters discovered.

Do you have plans to write another book?

I'm contracted for four books right now, and have at least a few more ideas past those--hopefully the contracts will keep coming!

What are your dreams for your writing? Where do you see yourself in five years both as a writer and as a person?

I want to be a much better writer in 5 years. Not that I think I'm a bad writer now--but I want to make sure I'm always improving. I'd love to be Jodi Picoult caliber someday! Personally, I'd love to be more patient (I know, scary thing to hope for!) and less lazy. I waste a lot of time. The internet is both my favorite thing and the bane of my existence!

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

You need time away from your manuscript to edit effectively. I've started figuring in two extra months in my writing timeline for a book--a month away from my manuscript after I've finished it and a month of doing my own edits before turning it in to my editor. I need that much distance to be able to let it go and not hold it so precious. It's a lot easier to scrap an entire scene, or rewrite whole pages, when you didn't just work on them last week. That and using the Snowflake method to outline. Seriously, that method changed my entire writing approach.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I'd known how to edit well. "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" has been invaluable. I look back at my first book and just cringe! I edited 20,000 words out of that story and simply couldn't find a single word more to get rid of, but now I look at it and think, "Man, I wish I had another shot at that one!"

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I've been incredibly blessed in my publishing journey. God has brought me together with some amazing people. My agent is the best in the business, I've made friends with some editors that are just great--there have been a few bumps, but overall it's been a wonderful experience.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

My first two books were contracted together in 2002. "Worlds Collide" came out in spring of 2005, and "Violette Between" released in spring of 2006. If all goes well, "Reinventing Rachel" will release in sumer of 2009, and I contracted that one in December of 2007--a much shorter amount of time!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it's necessary to have one?

Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary is my stellar agent. I didn't have an agent when I signed with Waterbrook, but that was a fluke. I think it's imperative to have one--a lot of publishing houses won't even speak directly to a writer and will only work with agents, save for editors who meet with writers at conferences.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Bribing Oprah to have me on her show! :)

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is absolutely imperative, especially for first-time novelists. Publishing houses often struggle with the best way to market fiction, and when you're a first-timer, they aren't going to put the big bucks behind your project unless they somehow know it's going to be huge. So that leaves you to spread the word!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Any bookstore should be able to order if it they don't have it in stock already. You can also go to my website and click on the links there to find them on Amazon. Amazon often links my books, so you can buy them both at a discount. :)

My website is and my blog is I also distribute a free bi-monthly newsletter where I share a myriad of things--book news, book reviews, articles on Christianity (I'm doing a series right now based off the Scripture songs composed by Rick Altizer), and there's always a contest with awesome prizes! You can sign up on either my website or blog.

Great advice, Alison! Thank you so much for taking time to share with us your journey. I know it's going to inspire many writers!