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Interview with Lena Nelson Dooley

One of the most prolific and familiar writers in Christian Fiction today, Lena Nelson Dooley is also known for her remarkable gift of mentoring. Many CBA authors indicate that having Lena as a mentor has been one of the most significant steps in their journey to publication. Her heart for the development of other authors led to her recognition as ACFW’s Mentor of the Year in 2006. Her website and blog stand as testimonies to her on-going and unselfish commitment to the success of other writers, as she continues to feature them and their books.

In your latest historical release for Charisma House Book Group, Maggie’s Journey, you trace both the geographical and spiritual journey of Margaret Caine, who searches for an identity of her own after her discovery that she is an adopted child. Can you tell us how you came to write this particular book and the series of which it forms a part, McKenna’s Daughters?

Actually, I believe God gave this series to me. It percolated in my head for several years before my agent Joyce Hart found a home for the series. There are shadows from my life in several things in the book. I actually only found out when I was about 30 years old that my mother was rushed back to the hospital a few days after I was born. She had surgery to remove a mass of tissue, hair, and bone that they believe was an undeveloped twin. Some of the feelings experienced by the heroine came from my life.

I lost my mother when I was 7 years old, and the feeling from that loss also appeared in part in the heroine’s life.

We’re often told as authors that we should know our audience. Do you envision a particular audience as you plan and write your books? If so, what readers do you feel make up your audience?
I do have a fan base, and they have enjoyed various genres I’ve written—contemporary, historical, a mystery, a romantic suspense, romance, and now romantic women’s fiction. My tagline is: Characters Who Grip Your Heart. So I try to write characters the readers can really connect with. Right now, I’m writing more historical than contemporary, so I’m aiming at the audience that loves historical authenticity. That’s one of the things I strive for. Bringing the era alive with details that are authentic.

Many of your books are historical romances. Besides the quality writing, why do you think readers relate so well to historical fiction? What does it offer readers that more contemporary fiction does not?
Sometimes, it’s taking the reader to a more simple time, so it really is an escape from the stresses of today. Also, a large segment of the reading population hated history in school. That’s the main reason I strive for correct details. If authors aren’t as careful with the details, these readers are getting a skewed picture of history. I like to help them learn to love history through an interesting story.

I’ve read that your books-in-print total has grown to 675,000! That’s an astonishing figure, especially for someone who writes books that are unmistakably Christian. You’ve also won the Will Rogers Medallion Award among others. In the face of already-achieved success, what goals would you still like to achieve as a writer?
I’m blessed to have received three Carol Award silver pins, and I’d love sometime to receive a gold one. But that’s not really a goal. Neither was the Will Rogers Medallion Award. That was just a gift from God. My main goal is to write a story that will reach the people God intends it to reach. I love it when I receive feedback from a reader whose life has been changed because of one of my stories. Every time that happens, I praise the Lord for it. I’ve even had some letters that brought me to tears. So I try to be careful as I write and seek the Lord’s direction, especially in the spiritual thread of the story.

How did you develop such a strong interest in mentoring other writers? Such interactions must take a good deal of your time. Why do you devote so much effort to helping others?
After God told me to become a professional writer back in 1984, every time I needed to know something, He put someone in my life to guide me. I believe in bringing tithes and offerings to place before the Lord in thanks for all He has done for me. By helping other authors, I’m tithing the talent He gave me. And it’s been such a joy to me. When one of the people I’ve mentored signs their first book contract, or even has any other milestone in their writing lives, I rejoice as much as I do for my own contracts.

Even reading about your writing, speaking, and mentoring activities has been tiring! How do you structure your life to have time to write, blog, enjoy family, promote books, mentor others, participate at church, and deal with life’s everyday needs and interruptions? Do you set a particular word count each day?
I wish. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer for the most part. So until I get into the groove of a story, I do wander a bit.

I limit my speaking to an average of once a month or less. With the mentoring, I do host a critique group in my home most every Thursday. We miss a few each year. And I do a little mentoring other ways, but they have to be the people God specifically brings to me.

With the blog, God gave me the plan for it back in 2005 when I first started. It has evolved, but I have it down to a science now, and it takes less than an hour a day, many times less than half an hour.

Our church is important to us, and we both volunteer, but sometimes when I’m on deadline, I step back to less time, then add more as I finish a book.

We have a close family, and they are very important to James and me. As I’ve signed more and more contracts at once, they are understanding about my need to write, but the writing will never take much away from our regular family time.

As you know, Lena, many of the readers of this interview are pre-published writers. What advice would you offer them about writing itself or their lives as writers as they continue to produce their daily pages and pursue publication?
Every day, seek God before you ever write a word. Stay connected to other authors. It’s a good idea to be connected to someone who can help you improve and grow, and at the same time, you should connect to someone who needs your expertise, because you’ve already learned more than that person has about writing. All of this brings healthy growth in all three lives.

Your website lists speaking topics you’re prepared to address. I noticed with interest one presentation entitled “Comparisons equal Discouragement.” Are writers especially prone to this issue? What do you recommend to avoid it?
Oh, yes. When I found myself reading a very lyrical Christian novel several years ago, I stopped and thought I would have never thought to use those words. I felt God speak into my spirit saying, “That’s because I gave her that story, but she can’t write the stories I’ve given to you as well as you can.” I remind myself of that when I once again begin to compare. Of course the teaching has much more than that in it.

We all know that the publishing world is changing for both CBA and ABA writers. What changes do you foresee in the world of Christian fiction in the next five years? Do these changes concern you or excite you—or both?
There are many changes happening every few days, and some are exciting while others seem a little scary. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t foresee the end of the print book in that time. Too many people love to hold a book in their hands. I do. But I also love the convenience of carrying a number of books on my Kindle in my purse. I find myself reading more, because I have it there.

I will not let worry about the changes. I look to the Lord for what He wants to happen in my writing life. I trust Him when He tells us in His word that His plans for us are for good and not for evil. I rest on His promise to me.

Lena, you’re an absolute inspiration to the rest of us! Thanks for talking with us today and for being such a good example of faith in action as you work with fellow authors and produce wonderful fiction of your own.
I’m thrilled to be interviewed for this. Thank you.

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