Meet Janet Sketchley

As you may recall, my publisher, Risen Books, recently ran a contest for unpublished novelists and announced the top three winners. For this and the next two Wednesdays, I’ll be interviewing those lucky writers.

Today, I’d like to introduce to you the third-place winner, Janet Sketchley. She submitted her story, Praying for the Enemy, and her prize is some free books from Risen. Here’s what she has to say:

Y ASKS: Is the story you entered in the Risen Books contest your first novel, or have you been at this writing thing a while?

JS ANSWERS: Yes to both 🙂  Praying for the Enemy is my first novel, I’ve rewritten and revised it many times, and have also written a second novel as well. Both are looking for a home, and placing third in Risen Books’ contest tells me they can hold their own against the other manuscripts out there.

Y ASKS: How long did it take you to write this story?

JS ANSWERS: Much longer than it should. This is the novel that taught me to write, so each time I learned something new I had a gigantic amount of revising to do. (Now I know why they say to start with short stories!) It looks much different now, and I’d be embarrassed for anyone to see the first draft. But I can safely tell you, if my characters were “born” when I first started, they’d be driving now.

Y ASKS: I know exactly what you mean by This is the novel that taught me to write. I have a “practice novel” too, though it may never see the light of day. So how did you arrive at this particular story idea, or what was your inspiration for it?

JS ANSWERS: “It’s safe enough to pray for a dangerous criminal locked up in prison, but what would you do if you met them on the ‘outside’ — face to face — especially if they had no regrets about their actions?” The story grew and reshaped itself from there.

Y ASKS: How would you define “Christian fiction?” What’s your response when you hear someone say its general quality is inferior to that of secular fiction?

JS ANSWERS: I define “Christian fiction” as stories written by and for Christians and containing at least a subtle element of faith. The hope is always that mainstream readers will enjoy it too. My response when someone makes a comment like that? “When’s the last time you tried it? And what do you like to read?” The quality–and selection–have improved dramatically in recent years. There are still poorly-written and under-edited books, especially where authors have self-published without hiring outside skill, but I suspect that’s the same in mainstream fiction as well.

Y ASKS: I remember an old Star Trek episode – and I’m talking about the original series, in its first run (yes, I’m old enough to have seen it when it was new) – in which a character was reading an old print book and someone remarked upon how rare it was to have real books instead of reading them on a screen. Do you see e-books, which obviously are no longer science fiction, as a threat to traditional publication, a marvelous opportunity for writers and readers alike, or a fact of life that we’re going to have to deal with?

JS ANSWERS: We watched in reruns, and I think my husband wins the prize. I asked him which episode this was, and he said “Courtmartial” (where the lawyer had a stack of books and Kirk said he liked books well enough, but on the computer). E-books… they’re probably all of the above. The traditional publishers need to re-think how they do business, and they can learn from pioneers like Marcher Lord Press. Writers and readers need publishers for their editing and marketing expertise, although marketing is changing too. I’m not convinced that paper vs e-books is an either-or situation. At least in the short term, we’ll have both. And there are plenty of benefits for readers and writers. I think it’s a good thing, and it’ll be even better when it all shakes out.

Y ASKS: If someone asked you if it’s worthwhile to enter writing contests, what would be your answer?

JS ANSWERS: Definitely, as long as it’s a legitimate contest. The best ones have low or no fees and offer some level of feedback. It’s not much good to see a list of winners (your name not there) and not know what brought your entry down or what needs improvement. Feedback is risky, because nobody likes to hear their work isn’t perfect, and occasionally you can get a snarky judge. The ACFW Genesis contest is a good one (in which I have yet to place) and Risen Books’ contest has been a good experience for me. Only one manuscript could win but each entrant had their story “hook” posted for public voting in stage one, which was not only good exposure but let us study the other entries and discover what makes a good hook. I don’t know if the early entrants got any comments on their work, but the notice I got about advancing to the final round included some thoughts from the round 2 judges. So yes, contests are worth entering but choose wisely. And don’t shoot for the top-rated ones first time out. Compete at your own level and develop your skill to earn the right to advance.

Y ASKS: What does your story’s protagonist most fear? Does this reflect your own fears?

JS ANSWERS: Ruth is abducted by a convicted serial rapist/murderer. That makes her fear in the novel pretty basic and obvious. Me, I have a whole raft of fears the Lord is working to defuse, and like most women, this one’s on my list. Hats off to Ruth, she’s much braver than I am. Her faith’s stronger, too. I hope someday people can read her story.

Y ASKS: What’s one question you hope I won’t ask?

JS ANSWERS: If I knew, I might not tell! Oh, wait — “If you were an animal/colour/novel which would you be?” (No offense, if you’ve used it yourself!) I was once asked what kind of music I’d be, and there’s no “right answer” to something like that. I guessed “folk” because I couldn’t spell “zydeco”.

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