Billy, with three books published and another on the way, I believe you’re qualified to speak a bit about the art and craft of fiction writing.
Do you feel like you design your characters or do they develop a life of their own as you begin to put words to paper?
I usually begin with a name, a problem, and how that problem gets solved. Novels aren’t about events as much as they’re about people and how they change between the first chapter and the last. Those three things are all I allow myself to think of at the beginning. After that, they sort of come alive on their own. By and large, though, I think every character in every story is in some ways a reflection of the writer. At least, that’s true for me.Do the paths your stories wind down ever take you by surprise?
Occasionally, yes. I've always been better at characters than plot, so I have to approach plotting carefully. It’s a balancing act. If you sit down and try to outline every single moment of your story, there’s a good chance it will grow stale. I have in mind where I want to start, where things need to be at the middle, and a rough idea of how it all ends. I let the rest take me by surprise.How much have your characters taught you, or changed the way you look at this life?
I think they've taught me much more about myself. All the characters in When Mockingbirds Sing are segments of my own personality—Leah’s shyness, Allie’s belief in life’s magic, Reverend Goggins’s sense of entitlement. They’re all me. Seeing me laid out on the page wasn’t very comfortable, but it made me see my own strengths and weaknesses.I know we have talked about how much courage it takes to pour your self into words. Where do you turn when that courage begins to fade? How do you keep yourself going?
To me, writing is a huge blessing. It’s also a huge responsibility. Readers don’t owe writers anything, and to pretend otherwise is only to court disaster. But writers owe readers plenty, and chief among that is honesty. You have to give the very best of yourself to the page, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. That responsibility is what I most often turn to when the courage begins to fade.Any other words of wisdom or encouragement for those of us still working on our first novels?
Write every day. For every hour you spend on social media, spend three on your work.
Read every day. Not just the genre you’re writing for, either. Read anything. Everything. The broader your knowledge, the better you’re writing will be.
Kill your darlings.
Polish, submit, wait. And when those rejections come (they will, and often), always try one more time. I cannot stress that rule enough. Always, always. Just once more.
I hope this peaks your interest in Billy's work. If you haven't already, you really should read Snow Day, Paper Angels and next week his latest becomes available When Mockingbirds Sing. Here's a little peek into this new novel:
Thomas Nelson Publishers has been kind enough to make a copy of When Mockingbirds Sing available for me to give away to one lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me what gives you courage and you'll be entered into a random drawing. To earn extra entries, share this via Facebook, or Twitter or Google+ and come back and leave me another comment for each shout-out.
Keep watching here. Winner will be announced next week when I post my review of this wonderful story!