Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nuggets of Faith Interviews Tracie Peterson, Bestselling, Award-winning Christian Author

Author Tracie Peterson
Tracie Peterson, bestselling, award-winning author, has written more than 100 books of historical and contemporary Christian fiction. Included in that number are several compilations of novellas and series of full-length novels set in Alaska.

Tracie, thank you for so graciously granting me this opportunity to interview you via e-mail for my blog. I grew up in Alaska and have read all your books set in that beautiful place, as well as many of your other series. Unlike some novels set in Alaska, yours are thoroughly researched, accurate, and true to Alaska. I have admired your work ever since I read Alaska, your compilation of four historical novellas published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.

First, would you share a little about yourself—anything 
you’d like to tell us so we can get a feel for who you are as a person?

Tracie: I’m a Christian, wife, mother, grandmother, and transplanted Montanan. I was born and raised in Kansas but have always been a mountain girl. My writing is a ministry, and I love sharing God’s Word in my stories.

What life experiences have contributed to your writing? In what way?

Tracie: I think everything enjoyed and endured has played a part in my writing. I love telling stories and everyday life is full of examples–be it in characters around me, settings, events, etc.

On your website you said that God had called you to write Christian fiction. How and when did you know?

Tracie: Since I was a little girl, I knew I was called to serve God, but I wasn’t sure how that would play out except in being a living example of His love. I have always loved writing, and when I was very young, my mother would give me a piece of paper and a pencil to keep me quiet in church. She’d tell me to “write a story” so I credit her with stirring that desire. After church she asked me to “tell my story” so I know that couldn’t help but develop my storytelling abilities. As I got older, I knew that writing was something I wanted to do, and I knew I could turn it into a ministry by including events, characters, and situations that would resonate with readers.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

Tracie: I write anywhere from 3-5 novels a year. I always write 3 of my own and sometimes write with co-authors for others. For each of my solo books I have 4 months to dedicate specifically to them.

What is your process in writing a book? How much time do you write each day?

Tracie: I usually am working on 3, even 4 books at the same time. I’m researching ideas for a new book, while plotting out the next novel, while writing the current novel and often doing galley proofs on a 4th. I write from a detailed synopsis so the first draft is written fast and furious and usually takes about a month. Each morning I read over what I wrote the day before and then start writing again. I have a goal to write a chapter a day. Sometimes I write more, but usually I just focus on one chapter. Sometimes that takes a couple of hours, sometimes it takes all day.

How do you do your research? Do you travel to the location of the setting? Have you ever been to Alaska?

Tracie: I always try to visit the places I write about. There is so much information to be had when you do that. I employ my husband as a historian, and he is able to help me dig up all the information needed for the stories. Often we visit a place, take photographs then look at historical photographs and judge how the lay of the land has changed and why. We visit local museums and talk to local historians. They are often able to steer us towards materials and information that we might have overlooked. We also love to pick up regional books and maps when in those setting locations, as well as talk to people who have lived there for a long time–even have multiple generations who lived in the area. The stories they pass along are often quite amazing.

What is your biggest challenge in writing your novels?

Tracie: Time and the rest of the world. There are only so many hours in a day, and often that gets consumed with the routine needs that every family has. It’s really important for me to plan things out and be very guarded with my writing time.

How did you find your publisher(s)? Through an agent? How long did it take? To writers who are just starting out, what would you recommend about how to get published?

Tracie: When I started decades ago, I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I did know to attend writers’ conferences and join writers’ groups, and I encourage writers to do that even today. I had a great many rejections and practice manuscripts, and then in 1992 I received my first contract. I didn’t have an agent and still don’t, however, in this day and age I think writers will need one. Again, they can hook up with agents at writers’ conferences, as well as publishers. Writers need to network and connect. Conferences and local writer groups are invaluable and a great place to start.

What advice would you like to share with me and other writers?

Tracie: Don’t give up, first and foremost. Second, don’t be afraid to learn–even when you think you know it all. Having an English degree or having written for a newspaper doesn’t equal knowing how to write a novel. I still enjoy sitting in on very basic writing classes as refreshers, but also because after 100+ books it’s good to review. Not only that, but a lot in writing is changing and will continue to do so.

This also brings up another thing–read. Read as much as you can. Read old classics; read what’s on the current bestseller list. Tear it apart to see why you think it works. Study the characters, the setting, and the plot. See how the author builds tension, resolves conflict, and keeps you turning the page.

Last of all, do your research and give each project your best. A lack of attention to detail will make the story weak, and readers love to point out where you have failed to meet their expectations or where you’ve made an error. Accuracy is needed in historical or contemporary settings and will only make your story stronger.

What is your contact information?
Tracie's newest book

Tracie: Readers can reach me through my website at, or my email,
or my Facebook page

Thank you, Tracie, for taking precious time out of your busy schedule to share all this helpful information and advice with those of us who don’t have as much experience as you.

Be sure to visit Tracie's website for information about all of her books.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Bottom of the Barrel

A writing prompt at my ladies writing group yesterday transported me back to this day in the early sixties in Alaska when my parents pastored a small missions church in Seward (From Pelican to Seward):
The Cousarts & Personeuses at our church in Seward
(The author is fifth from left)

My dad lugged a huge box covered in postage and stickers into the dining room. "A missionary barrel!" he announced.

Occasionally, we received a "missionary barrel" from ladies groups in churches "Outside" (Alaskans' reference to the south 48 States).

Previous barrels had contained colorful handmade quilts and crocheted afghans, which warmed our beds for many years, sheets and carefully embroidered pillow cases, or toys and gifts.

Eagerly, we all gathered around. "What's in it?"

My dad cut the twine, and my mother began to lift out the contents, one item at a time:

Used clothing more suitable for Africa than Alaska's cold climate. Our smiles faded.

A packet of used tea bags with a note attached: "We sacrificed our second cup of tea for you."

My dad snorted. "What a waste! Why didn't they just send us the money they spent for shipping? We could have bought a whole case of new tea bags."

The last item in the box was a drab, moth-eaten wool coat with a fur collar attached. My mother examined it carefully. "This collar looks nice. Maybe I can find another coat to wear it with."

My dad stuffed everything but the collar back into the box and carted it off to the dump. Shoulders drooping, we slumped away to finish our chores.

A few weeks later, my folks had to drive the 120 miles to Anchorage on business. While there, they stopped at a furrier to have the fur collar evaluated.

"What a beautiful silver fox!" the furrier said. "It's worth about $75.00" (in the early sixties).

My dad insisted she buy a new coat for that silver fox collar.

How elegant she looked in her new red wool coat with that fur collar which kept her warm during many Alaskan winters!

The Cousart Family a few years later.
Mother wearing the red coat with the fur collar 
Have you noticed that in life when God leads us through difficult trials, He often rewards us at the end? The reward may not be tangible, but when we keep a good attitude, we look back and see that we have grown in grace.

God often places a nice surprise at the bottom of the barrel.

I'd love to hear about a "bottom of the barrel" experience you've had.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bears, Dreams, and Decisions

When I was a child, bears often inhabited my dreams, or more specifically, my nightmares. Perhaps an encounter with a bear when I was four years old triggered them (Encounter with Bears). Probably, growing up in Alaska where bears were often more numerous than people and the grizzly stories of bear attacks I heard contributed to their frequency.

Courtesy Google Images
When I became an adult, those scary nocturnal encounters stopped--until I joined a writing group in 2007.

I dreamed that I was standing on the sidewalk in front of a large church that had two entryways--one at each end of the block. I was midway between them when I glanced up and spotted a grizzly bear galloping down the intersecting street right toward me.

My first reaction was disbelief. What was a bear doing in a city?

Then paralyzing fear surged through me. My head swiveled toward one entryway and then the other. Each entry had several steps to climb. Both doors were closed. Which one could I reach before the bear attacked me?

As I hesitated in indecision, the slobbering bear reached me. Just as it was about to pounce, my strangled scream woke me up.

Even after my pounding heart, throbbing head, and trembling body calmed, the nightmare stayed with me. Why did I have a nightmare about a bear? I hadn't had one in years. Why now?

At my writing group the next week, someone had written about a dream, so we were discussing dreams and what they mean. I told them about my nightmare.

One lady asked, "Are you struggling with a decision--a choice you need to make?"

Just as sunbeams bursting through dark clouds illuminate a spot below, a personal dilemma came into focus as though highlighted. Since I was a teenager, I had wanted to write novels.

For years I had been writing short stories, articles, and church school curriculum on assignment, and for the previous four years, a daily devotional for the website of The Sound of Life, a network of Christian radio stations. Along with all my responsibilities as a pastor's wife and minister myself, those assignments consumed my creative energy.

The bear in my nightmare showed me that time was running out. I was in my early sixties. If I was ever going to fulfill my dream of writing novels, I needed to make some changes--now.

The radio network could make other arrangements, so I gave notice that I'd finish writing devotionals at the end of the year. I devoted that time to writing the novels I'd always wanted to write. Two of them have been published, and I'm working on the third in my historical Christian fiction books in my Alaskan Waters series.

Have you ever had a dream that seemed to have a deeper meaning? That gave you direction? I would love to hear about it in a comment below.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Happiness Is...

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, with his sagacity and wit, was a man who thoroughly enjoyed trimming hecklers down to size. During the early days of the American Republic, he spoke many times on that great document, the Constitution of the United States.

After one stirring speech, an uncouth fellow rose and boldly walked a few paces toward the platform. "Aw, them words don't mean nothin' a-tall!"

Old Ben smiled benevolently at the questioner and quickly, blandly, replied, "My friend, the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it for yourself!"

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the elusiveness of happiness: "Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits on your shoulder."
Monarch butterfly Courtesy Google Images
Helen Keller Courtesy Google Images

Helen Keller, both blind and deaf from 18 months of age, was famous for many life-changing quotes. About happiness, she wrote, "Many persons have a wrong idea about what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

And English newspaper asked this question: "Who are the happiest people on earth?" The four prize-winning answers were

     (1) a craftsman or artist whistling over a job well done
     (2) a little child building sand castles
     (3) a mother, after a busy day, bathing her baby
     (4) a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation and saved a human life

You will notice that there are no millionaires among these and no kings or emperors. Riches and rank, no matter how the world strives for them, do not make happy lives. In fact, according to Ecclesiastes 2:26, it is God who give happiness to the man or woman, boy or girl who pleases Him.

To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.
Ecclesiastes 2:26 

Don't seek happiness; seek the Lord and do His bidding. Happiness is the by product.

What makes you happy?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stick Your Neck Out!

I was 60 when I began to write Christian fiction. I'd been writing short stories, articles, church school curriculum, and devotionals for publication all my adult life. I'd even published a non-fiction book, but a novel was my biggest challenge yet as a writer. Could I do it?

Then I came across author James Michener's story of how he once "stuck his neck out," quoting James Bryant Conant's observation:

"Behold the turtle: he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

Red-eared slider Courtesy Google Image
In 1944, Michener was stuck on a remote island in the South Pacific. To kill time, he decided to write a book. But the cold facts at that time were that the chances of a new author getting his first book published were 95 to 1. He decided to "stick his neck out" anyway.

Then, he learned that if someone hadn't written a book by the time he was 35 years old, chances were he never would. And Michener was nearing 40.

Even worse, he was not writing a novel, but a collection of short stories. A friend warned him that nobody published books of short stories anymore. Even so, he decided to try.

When the book came out, it caused little comment and would have died unknown except that Orville Prescott, a newspaper book reviewer, took a chance on a beginning writer and reported that he had liked the stories.

Later, a group of literary critics studied the book and pointed out that it was not a novel, it was not about America, and common sense would say it was not eligible for the Pulitzer Prize. In spite of that, Michener was awarded the prize, and thus his book was brought to the world's attention.

In Hollywood, Kenneth MacKenna, who read books for movies, tried to persuade his company to make a movie out of Tales of the South Pacific, but the experts declared that it had no dramatic possibilities. So MacKenna "stuck his neck out" and showed it to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Courtesy Google Image
When Broadway heard that they were planning a musical called South Pacific with the romantic lead a man past 50, an opera singer named Enzio Pinza, people thought the idea was crazy, but the popularity of South Pacific still endures.

And Michener went on to write many more best-selling novels--Hawaii, The Source, Texas, Chesapeake, Alaska, to name a few.

Now, I don't claim to be a Michener, but I "stuck my neck out" and have now published two novels and a third one is in the creative process.

God wants all of us to fulfill His calling in our lives, but we must be willing to "stick our neck out." We must shove down the nagging voice that asks, "But what will people think?" or "What if I fail?" As the proverb says, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained." We just need to do our part and allow God to do His.

What is God asking you to do for Him today?