Tuesday, January 8, 2008

An Interview With Gail Gaymer Martin

Today we are proud to welcome Gail Gaymer Martin. A multi-award-winning author, Gail ,writes for Steeple Hill, Barbour Publishing, and Writers Digest. Gail has signed forty fiction contracts and has over 1 million books in print. She is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers and a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at conference across the U.S. She has a Masters degree and post-master’s classes from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Look for her book, Writing the Christian Romance from Writers Digest released at the end of December 2007. Visit her website at http://www.gailmartin.com/ and her blog site on Writing Fiction Right at http://www.writingright-martin.blogspot.com/

Mindy: I'm so glad you could join us today, Gail. And congratulations on your new non-fiction release, Writing the Christian Romance. What made you decide to write this book?

I am a teacher. I love presenting workshops and mentoring writers. I believe that God has given me a gift of both teaching and writing ability so I want to give something back as a thank you for these gifts. But I found once my career took off and heavy book deadlines arrived that I didn’t have as much time to mentor one on one, and that was difficult for me. Since I’ve taught so many workshops across the country, I had a great deal of material on writing and I’d given some vague thought to writing a book on writing Christian romance, since I knew that no book on the topic was available. I’d searched for them and found zero.

While writing a romance writing column for Christian Communicator, Lin Johnson re-sparked that thought again. She asked me why I didn’t write a book on the subject. She suggested a CBA publisher that was looking for that kind of book. I tucked that thought in the back of mind, and at an ACFW conference a couple years later, I discussed the idea with Randy Ingermanson. Randy suggested I follow through with my idea, but he also suggested I go first to the biggest publisher of books on writing---Writers Digest. I liked that idea, and so it began to work in my brain.

In December 2005 while being laid up with my third knee replacement, I began writing the proposal. I wanted the book to be different so I contacted some of my Christian fiction author friends who write romance and asked if they would be willing to submit excerpts from their work for me to use as examples in the book. I was so blessed and received quotes, tips, and excerpts to help support and demonstrate writing techniques from about twenty-eight published CBA authors.

Although this book focuses on Christian romance and how it differs from secular romance novels, it covers many of the basic elements of good writing. It is eleven chapters that covers: understanding the romance genre, creating characters, developing the hero and heroine whether Christian or non-Christian, understanding a variety of POV and how to use them effectively, creating real emotion and using the senses to enhance emotions and characterization, understanding the differences between sexuality and sensuality in Christian fiction of all kinds, techniques to present spirituality in Christian romance, dialogue, introspection, plotting and pacing and finally preparing a book proposal. This chapter also covers writers’ organizations and conferences that focus on Christian romance, and how to find an agent. Each chapter ends with a set of exercises to help the writer practice what was learned.

The book can be ordered on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1582974772?ie=UTF8&tag=novgaigaymar-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1582974772 I’m also blogging on Writing Fiction Right at http://www.writingright-martin.blogspot.com/

Mindy: What do you want aspiring authors to take away from Writing the Christian Romance?

My prayer is that this book will help non-published and published authors, as well, hone their craft to write the best book they can for their readers and for the Lord. I believe that this book covers every major issue in writing fiction and special guidelines for writing any book that incorporates romantic fiction. It provides so many examples and details on the process of accomplishing the techniques of writing good fiction that I believe it can be a major resource to all Christian fiction writers.

The next thing I hope writers learn is to wait for God’s timing and not their own. I think too many writers are so anxious to see their books in print they force the publication through POD or self-publishing without seeking God’s help. The Lord that I know would have no reason to offer these writers less than the best, so why wouldn’t he have them wait until they are ready to deal with being a traditional published author, their book is ready to be published, and those who need to read their book and benefit form it are ready to receive it. I truly believe that sometimes God knows that the ones who need the spiritual message has not reached the point to hear or accept the words. A man may plan his course, but the Lord guide his steps. Let this be all author’s spiritual guide.

Missy: Gail, Thanks so much for being with us today! Congrats on the new Writer's Digest book! I can't wait to read it.
Now for my question. I have the hardest time creating book-long conflict. Can you give us any hints on what will be in your new book about how to come up with strong conflict for our stories?

Conflict is a major thread that runs through my book, Writing the Christian Romance. Without conflict, we have no story in any genre. Conflict is what drives our stories forward and makes the readers turn pages. Conflict is dealt with throughout the book, but it is an important element in building characters. I’ll be blogging on that topic on my Writing Fiction Right blog. http://www.writingright-martin.blogspot.com/ When I create backstory, I develop characters who bring baggage into the present story. This baggage is based on the things that have happened to them in the past—successes, failures, experiences, as well as birth order, family dysfunctions and dynamics. Here’s where we learn the kind of family discipline, the relationship with siblings, the support and love received in the home, long-term family illnesses, and family tragedies. We also learn the character’s education, social skills, and talents. As I create this background for my character, I think of opposites that might be in another character that will set up conflicts.

Remember conflicts are both external and internal. External are those needs and goals each person has based on motivation, usually from the past. If they grew up poor, they want to be rich. If they lived in a loving family, they want to give love to others who have little. Then we create a circumstance—a man wants to purchase a building to open a factory. Another person wants the building to open a home for abused women. Each has a dream but the dreams are opposing.

Internal conflicts are those we can’t see. They are the gut-level struggles we have and often try to hide from others. In Christian fiction, the internal conflict is often a conflict that involves faith and so it involves God. Let’s say the woman above who wants a home for abused woman hides the fact that she was once an abused woman. She hides this because of her status in this community and her pride. Or let’s say this woman once embezzled a small amount of money from her employer when life was difficult for her, and though she got away with it, she lives with the weight of that sin and guilt. The man who wants the building for his business also has an internal struggle. He wants it because the father of the woman, who wants the building, fired his father, and his father was so desperate he committed suicide. So the man’s desire for this particular building is vindictive. Since he is a Christian, we know this motivation would oppose God’s will and so it is a double internal conflict for him.

As I develop characters, I look for both small and large conflicts. Small ones might be personality quirks—one is neat the other messy. One has a driving, no nonsense personality while the other is a laid back dreamer. One character might value nature and write poetry while the other is hands-on and technical. One is prideful, the other not. These flaws and differences cause small conflicts between the two, but then I create outward conflicts where each is trying to meet a goal that’s in opposition of the other character, and finally my darkest moments, those black conflicts, are usually the ones that have the deepest meaning because they are internal and affect the character’s relationship with God.

Writing the Christian Romance has so much more in it with examples and details but hopefully, this will give you some ideas.

Lindi: What's the first step you take in creating your main characters? Do you have an idea of a situation then create characters or do you have a character in mind then creates situations? Or is it different all the time?

Which comes first, the chicken or egg, is the same as which comes first, story or characters. It happens both ways, but often I have a story idea and then decide what kind of main characters are needed for this story. The first thing I do is decide on a name. Names have meanings and make characters real. I use a program to investigate the meanings of these names and sometimes this triggers a new idea as far as the character’s flaws or talents. Next I build backstory. I decide who this person was as a child and up to the opening of the book. This provides me with the character’s needs and goals, motivation for changing his life and conflicts that might occur depending on the opposition character. This works very well for me.

I also have a large library of pictures of men and women that I use to decide on the physical appearance of my characters. Most of these photos come from clothing catalogues. I get tons of them throughout the year and I love them because I can locate photos of the same model in different poses and wearing different clothing. It helps this person come to life and I can see the nuances of the character’s appearance and even personality.

Angie: I would love to know how far is too far? I think we all want to write "real" feeling things, but the restrictions sometimes make it too mushy for me.

I’m not sure I totally understand your question, Angie. Do you mean romantic feelings or realistic emotions? I assume you mean the first. Because we are writing Christian fiction, we must follow guidelines of publishers, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t write real. Passion is something we feel inside and not what we do with our hands, mouths or bodies. Our romantic scenes can still show passion without being overly explicit. Kisses (no tongue), breathlessness, trembling, moans, weak knees and other outward signs can be appropriate for most publishers. We can’t touch breasts and avoid the groin – but we can certainly have the hero brush his fingers across her neck, draw his palm along her arm, pull her to him and feel her heartbeat, then realize he needs to stop or he’ll be in trouble. I’ve had characters say they needed to take a walk or they’d better stop before they behave in ways they know God doesn’t want. They can talk about things like – I want to touch you the way I would a wife or I want to wake up in the morning with you in my arms— and this leads into a discussion of what is right and what is desire. I’ve had lines cut from scenes, because they were too much for the editor – but I deal with it. I write Christian fiction, and the last thing I want to do is offend my readers and my publisher. We owe the publishers respect because angry readers stop buying the publishers books and publishing is a business. Use commonsense when you write love scenes. Chastity or pay the consequences is the motto of Christian fiction. Show the feelings without being explicit, and remember that lasting love is based on things other than the physical aspects of love. Love is based on other attributes like kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, gentleness, compassion. Think 1 Corinthians 13. I hope that answers your question.

Christy: : Gail, what have you found works best for you as far as editing goes? Do you edit as you go along or write the entire story then go back to edit and revise in the story's entirety?

I edit my book as I go. Each time I take a break from my work, I re-read when I’ve just written. This serves two purposes for me, especially when it’s the overnight break. First, I am to review what I wrote the writing session before to bring me up to date on the scene and what’s happened and recapture the mood, and second, I edit when I re-read, catching typos, wrong words and writing that I want to make clear or improve.

After I have about three chapters completed, I re-read the whole thing from beginning to end. I do this with a wonderful program that is downloaded free, or a better version can be purchased for $40. It’s called Natural Reader, a text to voice program. The purchased program offers two voices – a male and female – which is very pleasant that read my chapters to me. While I listen, I can catch typos, wrong words, and feel the flow of the story, hear stilted dialogue, spot confusing passages, and note where something needs to be added or removed. It’s the best $40 I’ve ever spent. If you google “text to voice,” you should find the link to Natural Reader.

I continue to edit this way—editing as I go—followed by a complete edit of the next three chapters—until I finish the book. Once the book is finished, I print a hard copy and do one or two more complete edits before it goes to a proofreader.

Mindy: What is your least favorite part of the writing process?

I love the process—the planning, writing, editing and preparing for submission, but I hate revisions once the book is written—which doesn’t happen often to me, but occasionally—and I hate to hear the word “tweak” when it comes to edits. The dictionary meaning of tweak is to pinch or tighten, but in actuality it’s often a major change that means rewriting some of the book.

Mindy: What’s your next project?

I am totally out of contract at this point. I still have books coming out in 2008—the last book in the Michigan Island Series is a Steeple Hill Love Inspired January release, Family In His Heart, and I have two more books to be released from Barbour’s Heartsong Presents—Garlic and Roses and Butterfly Trees. Steeple Hill Classic release in November will be the reissue of The Christmas Kite in mass market paperback. So my next project is a proposal to Steeple Hill for a series called either For the Dogs or Man’s Best Friend. It’s a series of three books based on a dog shelter and the three women who run it. The idea has been approved so it’s a matter of putting it in writing. I look forward to working on this project.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Gail. I'm sure Writing the Christian Romance will be a must-have for Christian authors.

Thanks, ladies, for inviting me to your blog. I wish everyone a blessed 2008.

Gail's book, Writing the Christian Romance, was released just after Christmas. Be sure to order your own copy. Our own Missy Tippens even has a cameo appearance with one of her query letters :-)


  1. This was EXCELLENT!!! Thanks ladies!


  2. Great interview, ladies! And Gail, we're sure glad you wrote this!!

  3. Gail, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. You gave some great insight on my question about conflict. We really appreciate you being here!

    Thanks for visiting, Ane and Kim! :)


  4. Ane and Kim, great to "see" you. Thanks for stopping by. Gail, you were so gracious, giving great answers to our multitude of questions.

  5. Great interview. I am definitely going to check out that text to voice software. It's nice of you to give out that information.

  6. Awesome interview ladies!

    Hi Dee, Ane, and Kim!

    I'm definitely getting a copy of Gail's book AND I'm checking out the Natural Reader. Thanks so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge, Gail!

  7. Awesome interview! Thank you Gail for answering our questions. I learned a lot reading this post! I also want to check out that Natural Reader. Sounds very interesting.

    Thanks again!

  8. Gail, thanks for being on our blog. I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

  9. I'm downloading Natural Reader right now! I'll let you know what I think of it.


  10. Hmm. If you're going to use it very much, I would suggest getting the $40 version Gail mentioned. The free one uses the same voice that the Microsoft Reader uses--Microsoft Sam. And he sounds like a wobbly computer talking. LOL