Sandra Orchard is a best-selling author of romantic suspense and mysteries for Love Inspired Suspense and Revell. She is a two-time winner of the Canadian Christian Writing Award (now The Word Award), the winner of the 2012 RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, and her debut novel was recognized as one of the top five novels of 2011 in Family Fiction magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
Sandra will be teaching the continuing class “Fiction Basics 101” and workshops “Writing the Romantic Suspense Novel” and “Writing a Selling Synopsis of Your Novel.”
Sandra, you are a committed Christian; tell us about your spiritual journey.
Although my neighbours occasionally took me to Sunday School when I was young, I didn’t understand what I was reciting in the Apostle’s Creed until after I went to a showing of the movie A Thief in the Night with my friend at 15. I had no idea that people thought Jesus was literally coming again, potentially at any moment. I started attending youth group and devoured the Bible, which was finally presented to me in a language I understood. Soon after, I received Jesus as my Saviour and the Lord of my life. Over the years He’s blessed me with solid Christian mentors and opportunities to be a mentor to others, most importantly in raising and home-educating my children. And writing novels continues to be a VERY faith-stretching experience.
By last count you have six novels published and four more coming within the next 13 months. How did you get started in this ministry and what do you account for your success?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer but had pictured myself writing Christian living books. That changed after my mom died. Christian fiction ministered to me in a way other books couldn’t. Seeing characters face the same emotions I was experiencing and overcoming them through faith inspired hope. God soon filled my heart with the dream of writing such books myself.
As for my success, I’ve always left that in the Lord’s hands. I was determined to persevere no matter what. Again and again, God showed me that the journey was as important as the destination. He used my writing to minister to people, to teach my children perseverance, and to open doors to conversations with non-believers in my local writing group long before a single book was published.
Tell us about your daily routine of writing—setting, resources, time commitment.
I spend too much time doing writing-related tasks, and I’m working at creating a better balance. Many days I am at the computer from the time I get up until bedtime. In addition to writing whatever novel I’m on, I have other manuscripts in various stages of the editing process, as well as new proposals to write. At any given time, I may need to respond to an editor’s questions or work on revisions or prepare fact sheets. And with two to three book releases a year, I spend a lot of time developing content for my website, blog posts to promote new releases, and my favourite, connecting with readers via email and Facebook.
But my family (if not housework and laundry) always comes first. Unfortunately, my best creative writing often happens in late evening, but I’m trying to train my brain to be more productive when the rest of the family is out of the house.
I usually reserve Saturdays for writing blog posts etc. And on Sundays I stay off the computer, except to check emails. I usually try to read a book over the weekend to help refill my well of words.
What does it take for a writer to develop a successful novel?
There are basic skills that writers need such as how to write from one point of view consistently without head-hopping, how to show not tell, how to write effective dialogue and concise, effective descriptions that readers won’t skim.
I want writers to understand how to structure their novel, how to build scenes that flow from one to the next and avoid episodic writing, how to up the stakes—how to build characters that readers will want to hang out with for three hundred pages or more.
What do you aim for when you write a romantic suspense novel?
Foremost, I strive to engage readers’ emotions and hope that something in the hero or heroine’s struggle will resonate with them and cause them to reflect on how they have approached, or might approach, something similar in their own lives. I also love to keep readers guessing, and keep them reading into the wee hours of the morning.
Interview by Fred Ash