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Interview with Vicki Hinze

A kitchen table, medical crisis, New Orleans upbringing, military life and divine appointment have all marked the unique path of bestselling and award –winning author Vicki Hinze. The writer of over thirty books, Hinze’s latest release, Torn Loyalties, promises more action-packed intrigue coupled with struggles of love, trust, and faith.

Vicki, first off, I must say I was pleased to find out we were both raised in Louisiana – though I’m from a bit farther north. Since you grew up in New Orleans, how do you think it affected your writing, perhaps with topics, settings or cultural influences?

Like most authors, I gravitate to the places and types of people familiar to me in my stories. In many ways, New Orleans is a microcosm of humanity. Rich and poor, devoutly religious to atheist, well educated to uneducated coexist happily. That’s true on just about any comparison you care to make. Lots of different cultures and attitudes toward them.

My dad, for example, had two good friends. One was fluent in fourteen languages and, simply put, was a genius. Some of their conversations were fascinating. The other friend, who was equally fascinating, couldn’t read or drive a car, though he did eventually learn to drive. Both had rich lives and I loved to listen to them talk about things. My dad deeply and equally respected both men, and I learned an awful lot about all things (and people) deserving respect and having their own value to offer the world.

So the child who then became the writer was deeply influenced by the broad canvas life offered in New Orleans. Not just on places and cultural influences, but on people, their gifts, challenges, motivations and conflicts. I think experiencing diversity in everything, seeing two sides to everything, I was raised in-training to write.

I would like to offer congratulations on your Career Achievement Award as one of the first to write military romantic suspense, military intrigue and military thrillers. That is quite a feat. How did your journey with writing military-inspired fiction begin? Did you ever think the genre would take off as it has?
Thank you so much. That journey began with a trip to the grocery store. (For some reason, I have epiphanies in grocery stores all the time. Odd because I don’t cook.) Anyway, I was pulling items off the shelf and into the basket and I overheard a young airman and his wife debating between buying a jar of peanut butter and a can of tuna; they couldn’t afford both. That stunned me. I’d been a military wife for many years, and I had no idea so many military families were struggling.

You want to just buy it for them. But that doesn’t fix anything for next time. I remember being so upset—I cried all the way home. And then I got busy researching and discovered the lowest four pay grades were eligible for food stamps and free cheese. Then I got angry. We ask these people to put their lives on the line for us, we ask their families to sacrifice, and this is how we repay them?

I started writing letters to my reps, etc., and that food stamp challenge was addressed, but I didn’t stop. That change alone wasn’t enough. At the time, I was in the middle of a multi-book contract. I called my editor and said, I didn’t want to write that planned book, I want to write one about the military that shows how their careers require sacrifices in their personal lives—and often those costs are steep. She picked up on my passion and said to send her something in writing.

The goal was to use the books to tell stories that made readers aware of all the struggles and sacrifices military members and families make in their service to us. To highlight what their service costs them. Was I nervous? Yes. I had built a good career and relationships with readers writing a different kind of book, but this mattered. Did I fear my editor wouldn’t get it? No. She was a woman of vision. She’d understand from a synopsis what I was trying to do and I’d told her why. Did I fear she couldn’t sell it within the publishing house or in market? You bet I did. But some things you just have to do, and you do them knowing they carry huge risks. If you fail, you fail fighting for something you believe is worth fighting for. For me, this was one of those things and I had to take the risks.

So I made my mother kiss the pages for luck, then sent the synopsis and first chapter to my editor, who I was to see at a conference in a matter of days. I then sweat bullets. This mattered so much to me! Soon, we met at the conference and I held my breath. She loved it. She believed she could sell it. And so she did—and then many more like it.

Honestly, when I decided to add a military element to novels, I had no idea a genre would spring up. I had no idea if my writing career would survive. But I’m very happy that both did.
With your first published novel becoming a bestseller, how did you approach publishing your second? I am sure the pressure was intense. How did you deal with it?

All writing carries intense pressure, particularly if you’re trying to do something new or different, or if what you’re doing means a lot to you. I’m a purpose writer. Every book has a dream behind it and carries my hope of seeing that dream fulfilled.

A book being a bestseller is only important because it gives the work the opportunity to be seen by more people. More people reading the book increases the odds of the dream being fulfilled. So there wasn’t added pressure; it was already there. It’s there for every writer on every book. The next book was already turned in to my editor, so I didn’t panic about being able to write another book (that happens to many writers). It was done. But the first book being a bestseller…well, I was enormously relieved because it meant I could keep writing.

What was the catalyst for you to start writing Christian fiction? Was it a gradual or sudden switch?
I’ve always written healing books and while not overt, my secular books contain spiritual elements. So in that regard, it was natural more than gradual. But there was a sudden event that brought me to Christian fiction.

I had a medical scare and for an extended period of time, I thought I was terminal. I did a lot of soul-searching and assessing my life and my work. Then two events happened:

I received an email from the senior editor at a Christian publisher. She’d been reading my blog and wondered if I had ever considered writing fiction for the Christian market.

Since I’d been seeking direction, I considered this a sign, and asked for verification that would validate this was what God wanted me to do.

Within hours, I got an email from a second senior editor at a second Christian publisher who read my blog and in it, she asked if I’d ever considered writing fiction for the Christian market.

They used the exact same words. I took it as a sign and the validation I’d sought. (I always ask God to be really, really clear—so clear I can’t miss what He’s saying or mess it up!)

And the medical challenge turned out to be a clerical error. A paperwork snafu. At least, that’s their version. My version? Divine intervention. God got my attention in a big way and kept it long enough for me to evaluate and then showed me what He wanted and validated it so I couldn’t be confused and/or rationalize it away.

So natural and gradual preparation training and a sudden switch, too. I hope that makes sense, because He sure works that way a lot—at least, in my experience. Something seems sudden until you think about it. Then you realize He’s been preparing you for it forever.

I love this quote that your Dad used to tell you: “99% of all genius is created at a kitchen table.” What has the kitchen table helped you write? Why do you think it works?
All kinds of things. Every time I get stuck, I go to the table. Answers always follow. I write to a scene that hurts and I, the human being, don’t want to go there. But if I don’t go there, I’m not writing from an honest place. I must go there. So this battle to go/not go occurs within. I, the human being inside the writer, go to the kitchen table. It’s a safe place. All my life, we talked through things there. We addressed the uncomfortable, the critical and the inconsequential there. So it’s a place I associate with answers. I believe they will come and so they do.

My dad meant many things with that quote. Moms raise rulers and thinkers and you don’t need fancy anything to use your brain. You need the freedom to think, to fail your way to success, to explore. You need the wisdom to be honest about what you see, the integrity to be honest even when it’s inconvenient or hard. You also need a safe place where you can be unguarded to do those things. That gives you the perspective you need. Its in perspective we find so many answers lurking. The table reminds me of all these things and more.

Unvarnished, it works because I believe it works. Because I was exposed to wise people there. Honest conversations and disagreements and discussions. Respectful ones seated in integrity. So the kitchen table represents all that and more to me, and it's that place to free think with unfailing faith that what I need is available and won’t be withheld from me.

On your website, you mention “testing” a book. What do you mean exactly? And how do you go about doing it?
Testing an idea to make sure it has all it needs to become a book. Not every idea should be developed into a book. Actually writing the book to the point you realize it doesn’t work takes a lot of time that could be better spent developing an idea that will work. So testing an idea and deeming it worth developing is a good idea.

I did an article on this—Elements of a Good Idea—which discusses specific things you want to look for in a novel idea. Example: universal conflicts (ones we all understand or can relate to in our own lives.

With an average writing count of 20-30 pages per day, how do you keep motivated to write this great amount? Have you trained yourself to write this quickly or is it just the words rushing out?
I get lost in the story and honestly sometimes I have trouble keeping up with the characters, but that’s not the whole story. For several years, I wrote 25 pages before breakfast six days a week. I had a very busy life and if I didn’t get the writing done before the kids got up, it was going to be a struggle. I don’t know if the necessity sparked the ability, or the ability sparked the necessity. I guess it depends on the project and the current point in it.

I stay motivated because of the dream for the project and the purpose. I stay disciplined because I have to be to realize the dream. I don’t mind writing and failing. I very much mind failing to write.

According to your website, you can write four novels at once. What is your advice for writing simultaneous books? How do you think you are able to do it?
Most of my writing life has been working four projects simultaneously. The fact is I HATE saying goodbye. So by having four projects in production at once in various stages, I don’t have to do that; I just slide from one project to another. No finishing a project with characters I know so well in a story I know so well and facing a blank page with people I don’t know and a story that’s still a blur.

That’s why I do it. How I do it is to have each of the projects be in a different stage of development, with distinct and different characters facing different and distinct conflicts. In other words, the people and their stories don’t blend together because they’re similar.

I like strong, capable women—even if they don’t know they are until the story events prove to them they are. Often, we don’t know our strength until it’s tested, right?

So strong and capable women are in every story. In one, the woman might know either or both from the beginning. In other, she might not, but what she faces in the story prove to her that she is strong(er) and more capable than she believed for reasons disclosed in her actions or reactions to what she faces in the story. It’s about internal and external conflict.

A simple formula I use: Find the character’s deepest fear. That’s his/her internal conflict. Stomp it. That’s his/her external conflict. (What do we as human beings hate most? Facing our fears.)

So I have four projects where four strong and capable (or soon to discover strong and capable) women face their greatest fears under the conflict of an equally strong and capable (or stronger and more capable) antagonist trying to prevent them from succeeding.

In one, I might be developing the idea: crafting characters, conflicts, plots and motives, creating key settings and researching careers.

In another, I might be writing the synopsis and doing background on industries or entities or seeking details on some aspect—i.e., how would one bent on poisoning our food supply rationally go about doing it? How would one traffic humans through Mexico or Canada into the U.S. and how many in the U.S. are considered at risk, and why?

In a third, I might be writing a first draft. In a fourth, I might be editing for a final draft. By keeping the novels at different stages, the risk for bleed from book to book is reduced, but I still say the key is to have distinct people experiencing their distinct challenges in a story that is unique to them.

A tip. I used to use a binder—a novel notebook—and everything to do with that project was in that notebook. It was portable and mobile, and I could pick it up at any time and know exactly where I was and what I needed to do on it.

Now the notebooks are electronic folders—and everything to do with a single project is in its folder. I can work on any of the projects at any time and where I am and what is done and needs doing is evident by what is in that folder and what isn’t.

I use subfolders for the idea, synopsis, characters, an overview for my eyes only, a time line and story calendar, setting, and the manuscript draft. I also keep photos of places and people here, and if I run across a thread I want to insert, I’ll note it so it doesn’t get forgotten or missed.

Every author working multiple projects is going to go about it differently. We all find the way that works best for us. But we typically only find that “best” by experimenting and not marrying ourselves to rigid rules and methods.

Different books call for different methods. So my best tip on this is to be flexible. If you write by the seat of your pants, my methods would make you crazy. If you typically set out a project in a detailed outline but one calls to you to just write, try it! Be willing to experiment. Consider it an adventure. You’ll semi-settle into your best with time. And, let’s face it, whatever works for you is best!

Finish this question…If you were in the military, what branch would you serve in and what job do you think you would have? Why?
Special Operations or Intel. I’m most familiar with Air Force—my husband was in it for two decades—but my son and father were Army. I have a deep, profound respect for all our military members. They all bleed red, right? But I am naturally drawn to Special Operations and to the Intelligence community. In college, I took the tests for career suitability and the recommendation was CIA or FBI and teaching. I’m chuckling because I’d forgotten that until I read your question.

My problem has always been I’m interested in everything. Settling on one career was so hard. But writing gave me a career where I can be everything I ever wanted to be…for a time, and I’ll never master it. So there’s no chance I will ever get bored! That’s a huge blessing, isn’t it?

Any parting words?
If you’re still reading this tome, I salute your tenacity and express my deepest gratitude for your interest. I realize I haven’t given specifics on some things asked, but this interview would be a book if I had. I do invite you to read the blog. There are articles there addressing the how-to questions asked that are specific.

It’s an honor to be among you, and I thank you for welcoming me and sharing your time with me. Today and always, I wish you much joy and many blessings.

Thanks for sharing with us, Vicki!

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