f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: An Interview with Deeanne Gist

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An Interview with Deeanne Gist

I know you get a kick out of me and your husband and other “manly men” enjoying your book, but in your mind, who is A Bride Most Begrudging's audience?

Christian women like me. Who are romantic at heart. Who love the Lord. But who don’t necessarily need to read a novel with an evangelical message or a conversion scene in it. Women who want a good novel with flawed, realistic characters who sometimes step out of God’s will. And enjoy seeing what happens to those characters who have part of themselves committed to doing His will and a part of them that just does as they please.

Of course, I think any man would benefit from reading romance. Might even pick up a tip or two. ;-)

The romance genre is going through some interesting transitions. Talk us through what you see as Bride’s place in that transition.

The romance industry as a whole has long (and for the most part, unearned) reputation for producing “fluff” or “trash” or “dime store quality” fiction. And though many of my colleagues resent that reputation, we all find it amusing that we also have a long reputation for holding the lion’s share of the market. In other words, if you combine all the other mass market genres--fantasy, adventure, horror, western, general, literary, etc--and clump them all together, they still sell less than romance alone (who for years accounted for over 50% of mass market sales and was a $1.5 billion industry). In other words, the authors who “got no respect” were laughing all the way to the bank.

In the last couple of years, though, we have seen a slow decline in sales. 2003 marked the first time in years that general market romance sales dropped below the 50th percentile (to 48.8%). (For more statistics, got to www.rwanational.org/media/media.htm and click on “Romance Statistics”) Anyhoo, in a desperate attempt to hang onto their huge piece of the pie, the romance industry started “experimenting” to see what might rejuvenate the genre. The result, so far, has been an introduction of “romantica” (the cross between romance and erotica).

It has been wildly successful. As has, interestingly enough, the inspirational romance sales. They’ve skyrocketed. They are both the fastest growing sub-genres of the last couple of years.

So ... where does Bride fit in? I think that women like me, who have read general market romance for decades, are a bit unsure, now, about their purchases. Many of the romantica are packaged just like the traditional romance. So, we can’t tell the difference between traditional romance and romantica until we have spent our hard earned dollars.

As a result, I think we are seeing a surge of readers wander over to the Inspirational fiction aisle to see what it has to offer. And I think it is imperative that we offer these women something other than evangelical fiction. (Understand, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with evangelical fiction. I’m simply suggesting--strongly--that we widen our choices.)

And that is where Bride fits in. There is no evangelical message; there is no conversion scene. It is, instead, a “part two” of sorts. The conversion has already happened before the novel ever starts. Now, we have a novel about two Christians struggling to overcome adversity.

How do you know where your “line” is in terms of explicitness of content?

When you say “no.” If I had it my way, my line would be beyond what I’ve been permitted to do, so far. I find, though, that the Spirit will convict me if I am including something in my manuscript simply for the mere purpose of titillating. If my character is going to do something, or say something, that “pushes the envelope,” then I have to feel at peace about it. So, I pray. I pray that the Lord will give me discernment and you discernment and all the influencers at Bethany House discernment. Because I am imperfect, it helps to have someone else pray over it, too. The main thing is, ultimately, I want to be sure that what I have done glorifies God. And if He is okay with it, then I am okay with it.

What happens when your “line” offends somebody?

I go before the Lord and ask Him to convict me immediately when I write something out of His will. That is all done well before the book ever hits the shelves. So, if my published work offends someone, the Lord has already told me, repeatedly, that I am not to worry about pleasing man. I have an audience of One to please. And if He is okay with it, then I am to be okay with it.

Still, I always go before Him when something like that happens and I pray for that person and for myself. I ask Him to refine me, so that my walk with Him will--Lord willing--get rid of the “me” and leave, instead, silver or gold. It’s an ongoing process, though, that keeps me on my knees an awful lot. Meanwhile, it has never, ever been my intent to offend someone. I really do want to glorify God. Really.

What kind of writer are you? Do you see your strengths as story? Character?

Dialogue. I’m a dialogue gal. If all I had to do is write dialog, I’d be one happy writer. Prose and anything poetic is SUCH a struggle for me. Takes me eons.

Tell us briefly about your research into Colonial Virginia, because, to me, it was evident the hard work that you put in. That was one of the things that stuck out to me as I read it.

I checked out lots of books from the library, purchased others and read, read, read. But the most valuable part of my research, so far, has been visiting the setting my story takes place in. Going to Virginia and experiencing first hand their weather, and their richness in history and interviewing experts in the time period changed everything from ordinary to extra-ordinary. It allowed me to add those “significant details” that give a story depth and texture.

Most surprising thing about the publishing process so far?

The amount of team work involved and the fantastic treatment I have received from Bethany House. You know how God gives you tenfold what you give to Him? Well, that’s what this experience has been like for me. I gave God my novel and this publishing process with Bethany House has been ten times as fantastic as even my wildest dreams.

Say something nice about my colleagues here at BHP who don’t get enough love at this site.

The long and the short of it is I LOVE working for Bethany House. I have heard soooo many horror stories from colleagues in the publishing business. Just a few months ago, I was at a writer’s seminar and the speaker would say, “Used to, publishers would do this, this and this. They don’t do that anymore.”

And I’d think to myself, “Mine does.”

Over and over and over I had that thought. Really.

That’s on a general level. On a specific level, let me give you a window into my buddies at BHP.

There is Dave, of course. I can always tell when I annoy him because he gets real professional sounding and his voice drops an octave. So I say, “Am I off base here?” And he’ll say, “Not really. It’s just that ...” Makes me smile.

Enough about Dave. Let’s talk about Julie. She is my editorial editor. She does the edits on my manuscript. She has this WONDERFUL sense of humor. I connected with her right away. She is soooo easy to work with. And she does an excellent job of handling me when I become, um, resistant.

After she asks me to change something I really don’t want to change, she’ll say something like, “Now, Dee, I don’t want you to do anything to destroy the integrity of the book. Don’t do that. Just give it a try. That’s all I’m asking.” And it really is all she’s asking. And so I try and then she looks at it again and we figure out something we can both live with. I am the luckiest writer alive to have her.

There is Dave’s boss and Dave’s boss’s boss who are two of the nicest people. His boss has a wonderful laugh. I love to hear it. Makes me smile just thinking about it. His boss’s boss is what we down in the south refer to as a “real lady.” She moves with grace, speaks with a soft voice, and has a gentle spirit. Her eye holds a twinkle and she teases with such finesse, I find myself drawn to her.

At Bethany House headquarters, the editorial department is on one side of the building, the marketing/sales are on the other. Night and day, these two sides. The editorial is quiet, somewhat serious and always busy. (Although Dave has a boom box in his office that he listens to when he reads. Must be a kick-back from when he was on “the other side.”)

The other side of the building is where the partiers are. They have noise makers and cool posters and funky sculptures. They holler at each other across the entire breadth of the area and they laugh with abandon.

Paul is in charge of Art and the book covers. He is a tremendous guy and so funny. He is good at what he does. He and his group delivered to me an AWESOME cover.

Steve is in charge of sales and marketing. He has a really loud noisemaker. Made me jump. Wasn’t what I was expecting. He’s funny, too. And he is passionate about what he does. He and his group are in charge of drumming up sales. They are exceptional at what they do.

Tim does advertising. Brett is in charge of publicity. Linda does broadcasting. Dan does online promotion. LaVonne does production. And on it goes. So many names I couldn’t possibly include them all.

When I say it is a team effort. I really mean it. A lot of folks are involved in the publication of a book. And Bethany House has a winning team.