She writes contemporary humorous novels for the Christian market, including her debut, Just As I Am (Kregel Publications, March 2006) and her new release, Murder by Mushroom (Steeple Hill, August 2007). Her short fiction has been anthologized, and her articles have been published in a variety of Christian magazines.
An energetic speaker, Virginia loves to exemplify God’s truth by comparing real-life situations to well-known works of fiction, such as her popular talk, “Biblical Truths in Star Trek.”
Beth: Tell us about your life, where you grew up, your interests and hobbies.
Ginny: I was born and raised in central Kentucky. I’m the oldest of three sisters, and my Mom is remarried to a man who has two daughters, so we’re a real “yours & mine & ours” family! My passion as I was growing up was music, and I still love to sing. I also really enjoy scuba diving. My husband and I go diving in the Caribbean several times a year. And we love snow skiing, too, which is why we live in Salt Lake City part of the year. Some of the best skiing in the country is within minutes of our home there!
Beth: Tell us about your writing journey. Did you always want to be a writer?
Ginny: No, not really. I never even thought about writing until I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve always loved reading, though, and one day I read a published short story with a HUGE plot hole in it. I thought, “I could do better than that!” So I did. I wrote a short story – a brilliant work of utter genius, in my and my mother’s opinions – and sent it to the same magazine. The rejection letter arrived in something just short of the speed of light. And there began a very painful lesson, that writing well is a lot harder than it looks.
But as I wrote that first story, I discovered a passion for writing that I didn’t know I had possessed. I kept writing, and kept submitting, and kept falling deeper and deeper in love with the process of writing. And then finally I received a book contract – twenty years after that first rejection letter!
Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?
Ginny: Different people have influenced me at different times in my life. I love science fiction and fantasy, and one of the classic masters was Isaac Asimov. That man was an absolute genius at the short story, and back when I first started writing I got a great deal of inspiration from reading his work. Then several years ago I read a book by Deborah Raney, and I thought, “Now THAT is great characterization.” I learned a lot about creating characters from Deb’s books. Just recently I’ve been trying to learn how to instill more suspense in my stories, so I read Brandilyn Collins’ Crimson Eve. Man, what a terrific book! The suspense starts in the first chapter and doesn’t stop until the end.
Beth: What is your favorite movie? Favorite book?
Ginny: I really don’t have favorites, because I enjoy so many! I love fiction in almost any form, so my tastes really vary. Some of my favorite movies are Notting Hill, 28 Days, Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home, and Stardust. As one of my friends said recently, asking me to pick a favorite book is like asking me to pick my favorite child! I can’t possibly choose! But the book that has impacted me the most in my life goes back to childhood – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Mom read it to me before I could read myself, and that book painted vivid pictures in my mind about Jesus. When Aslan gave his life for Edmund, I put myself in his place and I got a glimpse of the sacrifice Jesus made for me.
Beth: Can you share about your newest release?
Ginny: Bluegrass Peril is my second mystery, and it’s my husband’s favorite. It’s set in Kentucky’s elite thoroughbred industry, and I had so much fun doing the research. We visited thoroughbred breeders, and went to the races, and went to a thoroughbred auction (I almost bought a cute little filly, until my husband threatened to tie my hands behind my back to keep me from bidding!). I interviewed a man who works for the Jockey Club, which is the organization that registers thoroughbreds. And I also had dinner with a guy who does a lot of betting… uh, shall we say ‘under the table.’ But the biggest influence on this book was a farm in Georgetown, Kentucky called Old Friends. (www.oldfriendsequine.org) It’s the only retirement farm in the country that houses retired champion stallions, because they’re so difficult. My sympathies were really aroused for those horses. Many of them show up in Bluegrass Peril, and though the horses in the book are fictitious, the stories behind them are real.
Beth: What is your creative process for writing your novels?
Ginny: I write in two genres—mystery and contemporary—and I have a different process for each. When I begin a contemporary novel, I usually start with a character and a situation in the character’s life that will result in change. I sit down and write without a clear idea of what’s going to happen in the story, and let the ideas develop as I work. But usually about halfway through I stop and create a high-level outline of the plot from that point to the end of the book.
With mysteries, my process is totally different. I start with a crime, and identify the main characters – hero, heroine, and villain. Then I develop the killer’s motive and alibi, and figure out how the hero and heroine are going to solve the crime. I come up with other suspects and their motives and alibis. For the next step, I use a technique I learned from my years as a computer system implementer in the corporate environment – I create a project plan. I start from the end point—the resolution of the crime—and work my way backward laying out every step that must happen in order to get my hero and heroine to that point. That’s my plot outline, which I use to write the book. As you can see, most of the work happens up-front, before the writing ever starts.
Beth: Do you have any advice for those of us hoping to write for LI’s suspense line?
Ginny: My primary advice is the same as it is for anyone hoping to write for any publisher – study the craft and develop your skills. Then to specifically target Steeple Hill, read tons of LIS books, because those are the ones the editors are buying. Work on creating good characters and on instilling suspense into your stories. (My editor is encouraging me to become more suspenseful and less cozy!) Oh, and keep in mind that Steeple Hill is a conservative Christian publisher, so make sure you study their guidelines and follow them. For instance using darn, or rats!, or any other mild expletives is a no-no!
Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?
Ginny: I don’t really have a strong message. I want people to enjoy the story, to turn the last page and say, “Man, that was a good book!” I hope they like the glimpse I give them inside Kentucky’s thoroughbred industry, and that they enjoy meeting the horses I depict in the story. If there’s a message, I think it’s that God guides us if we ask Him to. His law is written in our hearts, and when we pray, He shows us the way He wants us to go.
Beth: Do you tend to see the same Christian themes in your books and what are they?
Ginny: Probably the biggest theme that is repeated in my books is one that I cling to in my life. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” My characters often struggle because they don’t know what the future holds. If they –and we—could just grab hold of that truth, how much easier it would go for us!
Beth: What does your typical day look like?
Ginny: I write full time, and I treat that as my job. So I get up in the morning and spend a few minutes having coffee and quiet time with my husband. Then I go into the living room for private Bible study and prayer. Then I have breakfast. I used to check my e-mail over breakfast, but I discovered that practice can sidetrack my day, so now I take my breakfast into my office and eat while I reread what I wrote the day before. Then I immediately start writing. I take a break to go to the gym mid-morning (when I’m being good!), and for lunch, but then I go right back to my office. I work until 5:00 or 5:30, when it’s time to start dinner.
Beth: What do you believe is the most important thing an author can do to catch an editor’s eye?
Ginny: Without a doubt, be professional. You might have a terrific story, but if your approach is unprofessional—typos in the cover letter, not following the guidelines, incomplete proposals, mistakes in the format of your manuscript, etc—it will never be read. Of course, you must have a terrific story, too, and your writing must be fresh and crisp and polished.
Beth: What would you say was the toughest part of the writing craft for you to learn? Any tips for others who struggle with this same element?
Ginny: The toughest part so far (because I’m still learning!) has been characterization. I want my characters to leap off the page, to be so real that people add them to their prayer lists. They’re that real in my mind, and I want to make sure they’re that real to my readers, too. Brandilyn Collins’ book Getting Into Character is excellent, and I use her interview technique with every main character I write. And of course reading books by other writers who have mastered characterization helps, such as Deborah Raney’s books. I like to read the opening scene and then stop and pinpoint, “What do I know about this character so far? How was that information relayed to me?”
Beth: Any marketing tips?
Ginny: Marketing could take up an entire interview on its own! I have learned so much about marketing in the past few years since my first book, Just As I Am, was released. But my most recent focus has been on creating a media kit. Media coverage of your books can have a huge impact on sales – just ask any author whose book has been featured by Oprah. But getting the media’s attention is hard, and one way to do it is to have a really slick media kit. I was invited to write an article for Cross & Quill on putting together a media kit, so I recently created one for my February release, Stuck in the Middle. The book isn’t even out yet, but that kit is getting attention! Not only from media, but from readers. People can go here if they want to see a sample media kit: http://www.virginiasmith.org/id5.html
Beth: Closing thoughts you’d like to share?
Ginny: To aspiring writers – don’t give up! The road to publication is rough and bumpy and long stretches of it are desolate and dull. But if the Lord has called you to write, you will eventually succeed. Remember – His plans for you are good plans!
To readers – I hope you like Bluegrass Peril! And I hope you’ll check out my website to read about my upcoming books, including a new mystery coming out next year!
To Beth – thank you so much! I really enjoyed this interview.
To all – Merry Christmas!
You can buy Ginny’s book here.