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Interview With Deborah Vogts

Few things inspire Deborah Vogts like wide-open spaces. After college, the fresh air and quiet drew her back to southeast Kansas, the place of her childhood. Now her love of the country inspires her writing, both through her "Country at Heart" blog and her books.

Deborah, your Seasons of the Tallgrass books truly come from your country heart. Give us a glimpse of the real life settings that influence your current series.

My series takes place in the fictional ranching community of Diamond Falls in Charris County. This county is based on two real counties in the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills--Chase & Morris.

Years ago, I took a Flint Hills Folklife course at Emporia State University taught by Dr. Jim Hoy. Along with classroom study, we took field trips into the heart of the Flint Hills and visited with old-time ranchers, schoolmarms and post-mistresses. It was such a delightful experience, especially our drives into the pastures. We would get on these back roads and drive over pasture guards into the open range. We would travel for miles without seeing another car or even an electric line--just rolling hills and pure, native prairie. That summer, I fell in love with the Flint Hills and it has stayed with me all this time. I'm honored to be able to bring this small treasure of Kansas into the homes and minds of my readers.

Though your love of writing began in high school, you didn't fully dive in until 2002. Tell us about that time in your writing life.
During the years between college and joining ACFW I wrote two manuscripts--without any training or study, other than reading lots of Harlequin Romances (sweet romances). I sent them off to Harlequin and promptly received rejections. When I learned about Christian fiction, I tweaked the stories and sent them off to two Christian publishers. And again received rejection letters. This happened within a twelve-year period in-between having kids and other life events.

In 2002, I felt God prompt me to do more with my writing and give it a larger focus . . . or risk having it taken from me. So, I jumped in with both feet. I joined a local writer's group and ACFW. I also joined a critique group, started reading writing how-to's and attended writing conferences. I met my first agent at the ACFW Nashville Conference in 2005. We hit it off at our meeting, and she gave me some tips on making my book series "bigger." I did that and submitted my idea to her and she took me on. We shopped my Seasons of the Tallgrass series for a year and had a few bites (one of them Zondervan) but no sale. In the end, she released me, which was a real heart breaker. However, we don't always see the big picture like God does, and six months later I signed with agent, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary, and we had an offer from Zondervan three months after that in May 2008.

What's your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I've had to learn to be disciplined with my writing time--and I'm still trying to learn how to do better--and how to convince my family that my writing is a real job. I've been fortunate that my books have been slated a year apart, but with everything that goes into the writing process and then the marketing, the months go by very fast!

I've been surprised at how much time marketing takes. As aspiring authors, we're told that we have to market, and yes, that it takes a lot of time, but oh my goodness . . . I never quite expected it to take so much time from my writing schedule. I had always thought that I was good at multi-tasking, but when it comes to marketing and writing, I have to do one or the other--I haven't figured out a good way to do them both. Maybe the best idea is to set aside one or two days a week to do "only marketing." I'm not sure...I'm still working on that one.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I believe it's important to stay in God's word--to keep your nose in it. I have devotion time in the morning and again before bed, but I also pray for guidance and direction throughout the day, as we all should. Asking for God's blessing on my work is a must. I also have prayer partners that I call on when I feel the need. They have been a huge blessing to me.

As far as how my faith and spiritual life affect my storytelling, if you mean creativity, then let me express it this way. Sometimes when reading through work that's been set aside for awhile, I'll think, "Did I write that?" It sounds so foreign to my eyes and ears that I'll think there was no way I could have written it. My conclusion is that God must have written it for me! That probably sounds weird, but it's the only explanation I can figure.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
There have been a few, actually. Obviously, the first was signing my 3-book contract with Zondervan! It doesn't get much better than that! But since then there have been some little moments that have seemed just as exciting. Receiving an email or letter from a reader who loved my book or who connected with my characters or setting. I LOVE hearing from my readers--that may be one of the best parts of being published! Another high was being featured in Country magazine (Reiman publications) in an author interview about my life and the Seasons of the Tallgrass series. That was pretty cool, too. They are actually running a snippet of my new release on their Country store this month and offering a huge book drawing for my series until May 31. Stop by there and check it out!

Country Magazine Feature

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
For the series I'm working on now, I'm spurred by my love for the Kansas Flint Hills. They are dear to me, and my goal has been to depict what life is like on this narrow strip of tallgrass prairie where transient cattle grazing is the norm. For each of the seasonal books, I wanted to portray one aspect found in the Flint Hills--and I knew one of them had to center on a female rancher. Also because I have three daughters who are spread out in age, I started wondering what it would be like if something happened to my husband and I, and our oldest daughter was left to care for her sisters. It helped make Seeds of Summer real for me.

Natalie Adams, the heroine for Seeds of Summer, is most like my oldest daughter, Samantha. Very strong, courageous and dependable. I enjoyed writing Natalie's story and trying to get her through the difficult family problems she had to face. She is a very strong character with an interesting twist in her story--she's a former Miss Rodeo Kansas AND the first runner up Miss Rodeo America. I don't want to give away any of the plot line, but I can say that much of my research involved studying the rodeo queen pageants.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
My books have been labeled as Contemporary Prairie Fiction, which I think is quite unusual. My style of writing appeals to those who enjoy historical romance, especially prairie romance, or who enjoy reading about contemporary ranching or small town life. I write character driven stories in a simple country setting. My characters may own computers and cell phones, but their lives don't revolve around those things. In fact, in many of my scenes, cell phones would have no reception. I want to take my readers to this place in Kansas where the tallgrass prairie is the mainstream in life.

Finish this question. To me, a perfect afternoon includes ...a nap, a piece of chocolate or an ice-cream cone--no laundry or house cleaning. A nice gentle breeze, a bird chirping out my window, and my head filled with so many story scenes I'm unable to get them all on paper.

Any parting words?
Whether you are published or not, don't give up on your dreams. Keep smiling, stay faithful to God and to yourself, and enjoy the moments He gives you . . .

Thanks for sharing with us, Deborah!
Thanks for having me. I'm honored to be included as an author of the week here at ACFW.

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