Friday, August 04, 2006
Meet T. L. Hines, author of Waking Lazarus
Meet one of my new favorite authors. There's a lot of buzz going on about him right now, due to his fabulous debut novel. Read below my review AND interview. Thanks, Tony!
It’s an age-old question, one that individuals have asked themselves for eons: Does my life have a purpose? Some know already why they exist on this earth, some don’t. Jude Allman doesn’t have a clue.
Not your normal Nebraskan, Jude Allman has risen from the dead three times. How does one survive drowning, lightning, and freezing after arriving DOA at a hospital? No one. Except Jude. He’s a medical anomaly and small town celebrity. But he’d rather slip away into obscurity than be asked about his journeys to the Other Side.
So he moves away to a secluded little Montana town. For a while it seems he can fade into the background and appear normal to prying eyes. When odious crimes touch close to home, Jude is thrown into the middle of a foreboding mystery. Can he trust the people around him, or must he find his way alone?
This novel appeals to me on many levels. If I can’t finish a book in three days, it’s probably not exciting enough—I easily gulped this one down within that time period. I love spooky—this fits the bill. The mounting expectancy gripped me. My pages nearly singed due to my lightning-fast turning. The supernatural element sent me sky-rocketing into fiction heaven. Bravo to the author for fashioning a tale that has implications far beyond the physical here and now.
As far as predictability, there’s not much. I have to admit, I did figure out one major plot twist before it was revealed, but that’s just my keen observation at work. (Ha.) There were plenty of fragments the reader won’t be able to piece together on his own.
My high recommendation comes with a warning. This isn’t for the faint of heart. If you relish dark, mysterious, stomach-clenching stories, get this book. I’ll leave the light on for you.
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1. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you dream of being a rock star, doctor, or other such thing?
Hey, funny you should ask that. I've always loved, loved, loved music. When I was about 12, I decided I wanted to be Jim Morrison. My only problem? I can't read, write, sing or play music. I didn't let that stop me, so I decided I'd be a deejay. In high school, I thought about trying to become a recording engineer; I remember sending for brochures
and materials from an "audio engineer" school that advertised in "Rolling Stone" magazine.
2. Your road to being published is somewhat of a fairytale. (That can either depress me or give me hope.) Tell what happened in your writing during the years before that fateful day.
Yes, it is kind of an amazing story, isn't it? My book was "discovered" on my blog when an acquisitions editor read the first chapter and asked for more--after I'd had more than 100 rejections. You can't make up this kind of stuff.
The rock star/deejay/recording engineer career path aside, my "serious" desire was to write from a rather early age. About age 12, in fact. Writing was always an escape; I remember spending long nights in the basement, writing notes, journals, stories and the like. During college, I studied English and Advertising, and went into the Advertising field to write copy for 16 years--everything from business plans to restroom posters to television spots to articles to advertorials. And you know what? Every bit of it helped; I'm thankful I've had that career.
In 2003, my wife and I merged our advertising agency with a larger advertising agency, which helped me focus on my first love: writing fiction. Even so, I managed to go through most of my rejections--I said more than 100 before, but it was more like 160--from 2003 to 2005. That was for a couple of different novels. I started getting frustrated, and really came to a standstill on my writing because I felt horrible I wasn't getting published. Then, I had what I consider my Abraham moment: I offered my overwhelming desire to be published as a sacrifice, and told God it didn't matter if I was ever published or not
because I was going to write for the sheer love of it. And two weeks later, I got that email from Dave Long at Bethany House, asking to see my whole book.
Like I said, you can't really make up this kind of story. But God can.
Karri here: That reminds me a whole lot of Bruce Wilkinson’s book The Dream Giver. We are called to lay down the dream God has given us and give it back to Him so, in time, He can give the dream back or give us a new/bigger/better one. ☺
3. What is your favorite/least favorite part of writing?
You know, depending on the day, I can hate or love every part of the process. But I have to say, I'm probably a bit odd in that I actually like the revision process more than the first draft. I think most writers love the "creation" of a story. I do, too, but I think I almost prefer having a good skeleton to work with, and being able to add some muscle to it--that's what all the subsequent drafts are about.
I don't know that I can say there's a least favorite part of writing, really. I do love everything from the brainstorming to the final draft, making new discoveries along the way.
4. Is there anything you've realized related to writing that you wish you had known earlier?
The single biggest breakthrough for me has been: get a first draft in the can. When I was a younger writer, I spent a lot of time writing. Unfortunately, most of that time was spent writing and rewriting the same 50 pages, and never moving forward. I remember thinking I'd never finish a novel. And with that work method, I wouldn't have.
It took me many years to discover the joy of blasting through a first draft, not worrying about holes or perfect sentences or grammatical errors or the fact that I changed the name of my main character from "Eddie" to "Chamberlain" in Chapter 16. When I decided it was okay to just get the story down on paper, I made a huge breakthrough. And you know what? Sometimes, on that first draft, I can get into this great zone and just cruise through 20-30 pages at a stretch, without going
back and making a lot of changes. In WAKING LAZARUS, without giving away too much of the story, there's a section that takes place in Kenneth Sohler's house. It's a very tense, action-packed section, with some of my favorite scenes in the book. And that whole section was written, almost as it appears in final form, in one day. I think letting the story carry me along in the first draft helps get me to some of those nice stretches. It doesn't always happen, but it happens.
It may not happen for everyone, however; what works for me may be wrong for you. I truly think every writer has to discover the method that works best for her.
5. Some authors start with story, some with a character, some with a theme. Which do you start with?
Great question. I don't know that it's always the same with me, but I can tell you, more often than not, it's a character. Every writer, I think, goes through the day asking "What if?" questions. Most of my "What if?" questions are about character: What if there was a man who kept dying and coming back to life? That was the question that led to WAKING LAZARUS. It started with the character of Jude, who and what he was, and developed from there.
6. You mention that Stephen King inspired you. What other authors were pivotal in your journey?
So many, really. When I was young, I read a lot of strict genre fantasy and SF fiction: I absolutely loved Jack L. Chalker, Piers Anthony, and Roger Zelazny. As I got older, I started getting into some more genre blends of literary/SF/horror/modern fable--stuff I think is best called "slipstream" fiction. This included Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and the like. They were writers who wrote horror or Sci-Fi or whatever, but also mixed in elements of other genres. Then, in college, I started turning to a lot of crime fiction. A couple of my current crime fiction faves are George Pelecanos and James Lee Burke. Hemingway has been a big influence; I've always loved and studied his dialogue. And in faith-based fiction, of course, I certainly owe a tip of the hat to writers such as Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker and Brandilyn Collins. Without the trails they blazed, I wouldn't be published today.
7. How do you balance your day job with your writing?
Not always so well, I'm afraid. When I'm working on a manuscript, I try to get up at 5:00 am and work for what I consider my "golden hours"--the first two hours of the day. As far as writing goes, that's the best time for me. Then, I'm off to the "day job" at the agency from 8:30 to 5:30; during the workday, I try to answer emails and what-not as I receive them. Evenings after 6:00 are family time; I have a lovely wife and a lovely eight-year-old daughter, and I try not to let my work take up too much of their time. I'd love to devote more time to writing, because honestly, some of those "golden hours" in the morning get occupied by marketing efforts and what-not. But the arrangement is working so far. I can produce a book a year with that schedule.
8. Do you think in the future you'll try to market another book in the ABA?
I don't know. Maybe. I've spent so much time on that ABA/CBA fence that I'm unsure if it's horribly meaningful to me anymore. It seems to me that so many writers in the CBA want to work in the ABA/general market/secular market/whatever you want to call it. At the same time, however, I think there are a lot of ABA writers who would love to break into CBA bookstores--longer sales cycles, less competition, and a growing market ("religious fiction" is one of the few growing categories of fiction). I have friends who have published in the ABA, and I can tell you they're envious of the treatment, attention and support I've received from my CBA publisher. I also recently read an article about George Pelecanos, one of my favorite ABA crime fiction novelists, and the sales figures for his books. This is a guy who has received great reviews and attention for his work, and his hardcover sales are surprisingly anemic. Would I really be better off on ABA shelves as a midlist author, grouped with ten times as many books where it's even more difficult to stand out? Who knows?
I'm overjoyed to be where I am, and I'm happy to be finding an audience.
9. What is the main thing you’re trying to achieve in your writing?
I really believe you have to write for yourself first. I mean, you're telling stories for other people, but the meaning, the heart of the story, has to come from you. It has to mean something to you; if it doesn't grab you personally, it doesn't have a chance of grabbing readers. I think there are books like that on the shelves, and you can figure out you're reading one of them within a few pages. So I really want people to FEEL something when they're reading what I write. I concentrate on the plot/story level, so maybe readers feel excitement or fear for a character in peril. If they do, that's great; I've done my job. I also try to say something with the theme and the subtext, though; I want to explore bigger questions in my work. So if someone reads WAKING LAZARUS and notices the main character is named "All-man", and relates to his journey of discovery, well, that's also great. Either way, I'm happy.
10. Can you tell us about your current writing projects? I eagerly await your second book.
I'm working on my second book for Bethany House right now. The title for the book was just selected yesterday, and it's a title I really love: THE DEAD WHISPER ON. It's about a woman who hears her dead father speaking to her from the shadows. He tells her the shadows of our world are occupied by dead spirits, and recruits her into a secret government network that works with the shadow operatives. But of course, she soon discovers all is not as it seems.
The book takes place in Butte, Montana, a city I really love. And, it's a little bit "out there" in terms of some of the things I'm trying to do. WAKING LAZARUS made me nervous because of the brutal content; THE DEAD WHISPER ON makes me a bit nervous because of the supernatural factors. But it's been a lot of fun to write, and its messages mean a lot to me personally. I think of it as a cross between crime noir fiction and "The X-Files."
(Karri here: that sounds fabulous! Hope I'm one of the first to read it!)
I'm also starting to develop some proposals for other works: a three-book series, and three more stand alone books.
11. What is your best advice to writers out there?
This is going to sound aloof, but the best advice is: write. Just write. Don't worry about publication so much. Don't worry about what others think of your work so much. Just write something that moves you personally, that means something to you. In Christian terms, I think writing can be very akin to prayer on so many levels, and if you're being honest and exploring issues that mean something to you, your writing will bring you closer to God. Even if you don't want to think of it in Christian terms, self-examination is a powerful thing.
Ironically, though, if you do that, I think you'll be writing the kind of vital work publishers are wanting. If you're a person constantly worried about the "marketability" of your writing, or if you're thinking, "Maybe I should try chick lit because it's selling well," or if you're constantly haunting online web sites and asking questions about formatting or structure or whatever, I would suggest you're not working on something that's meaningful enough. Write about what haunts you and occupies your mind. Write about what takes your breath away. Write about what scares you.
Karri here: Eep. Um, what an idea. *gulps*
12. You've certainly heard from many readers. What do you think readers want? Why will they pick up a book and stick with it?
It's so, so wonderful to get an email from someone who has read the book and enjoyed it. Really. Just one of those emails keeps me smiling all day, and it never gets old. We humans are social creatures, after all, and we crave feedback from others. Writers are probably even more twisted: we work in isolation for so long, and want people to read and
like what we've written. It's something like being on a deserted island and getting a message in a bottle.
This may sound odd, but I think readers want to feel as if they're not reading. By that I mean, they want to pick up a book and visit another world, and forget they're looking at words on a page. That's the magic of writing--and reading. I've talked to a few people who have said they'll usually finish a book after they've started it, even if they don't like it very much. They want to know what happens. That's not the case with me. I'll read a book, and give it maybe 50 pages to transport me. Or, I'll give it three or four "flubs." A "flub" is something that jars me out of the story--an awkward phrase or a character who does
something that seems utterly illogical. If I hit page 50 or too many flubs, I move on. There are plenty of books out there I'll enjoy; why waste time on ones I don't? I don't want reading to be work. I want it to be magical.
13. Is there anything you'd like to say to your readers?
I think it's impossible to say "thank you" too much, so: thank you to everyone who picks up something I write. If you love it, great. I'd love to hear from you. If you don't love it, well, I certainly appreciate you giving it a shot. And you know what? I'd still love to hear from you. I may be a bit too starved for attention, in fact; I've created a special section of my web site called the Other Side (http://www.tlhines.com/otherside.html), where people can sign up as volunteer publicists for the book. In exchange for telling others about WAKING LAZARUS, people get inside information and deleted scenes from
the book, and a chance to win unique prizes: an iPod Nano, a share of my first royalty check, or a role in the next novel. See? I told you I was starved for attention.
*Karri erupts into song: ”Break on through to the other side…”
Thanks again, Tony, for taking time out of your busy schedule so we can get to know you. Here’s the website again, folks: http://www.tlhines.com/. Go pay him a visit.