One of the fun things about writing in this electronic age is the opportunity it affords to meet all kinds of people from all over the world. In the writing realm, misery loves company — or maybe it’s a matter of like minds tending to gravitate toward one another.
However it works, shortly after the publication of my first novel, I met (virtually) a writer in Nova Scotia. She had been working on a novel of her own for some time and, while diligently honing her craft and improving the story, she was making contacts in the writing world in preparation for when she had books of her own to promote. She was one of the first to blog about my first book, The Story in the Stars, and I loved her immediately — because she loved the book, of course, thus proving herself to be a woman of impeccable taste. Later, I interviewed her here, and then after that, she wrapped up her review of Words in the Wind with one of my favorite quotes: “When I reached the end I kept wanting to turn pages but there were no more!”
So when Janet’s debut novel, Heaven’s Prey, was released last year, I rejoiced for her. And I bought it — and read it — and was impressed! I went into it expecting to like it (because I like Janet, of course), but otherwise, it wasn’t what I expected. Though the writing style is clear and uncomplicated, the story and theme are heavy-duty. Definitely not a quick snack, but rather a meal that requires a bit of chewing.
If you were to pick up the book and read the back-cover blurb, this is what it would say:
A grieving woman is abducted by a serial killer—and it may be the answer to her prayers.
Despite her husband’s objections, 40-something Ruth Warner finds healing through prayer for Harry Silver, the serial killer who brutally raped and murdered her niece. When a kidnapping-gone-wrong pegs her as his next victim, Harry claims that by destroying the one person who’d pray for him, he proves God can’t—or won’t—look after His own. Can Ruth’s faith sustain her to the end—whatever the cost?
But, as is usually the case, the blurb doesn’t convey the depth and the power of the story. I can’t say I loved it and wanted to read more, because it’s a disturbing tale. But it’s skillfully written, and I definitely appreciate the nutritious food it provides for thought.
So, in part because I thought it’s a book worth bringing to my blogfellows’ attention, but also to return the favors Janet has given me, I invited her come by to talk about her story. I told her I was curious about a number of things concerning Heaven’s Prey and asked if she’d mind answering a few questions. She graciously agreed. So let’s give a warm welcome to Janet Sketchley.
• What was the inspiration for this story?
Sometimes I pray for people I see in the news, either victims or villains. One day this question hit me: it’s one thing to pray for an offender locked away in jail, but what would you do if you met the person face to face?
• You labored over this for years, as I understand it, reworking and revising it over and over. Did you ever think of setting it aside and writing something else instead? Or were you always determined to present this specific story to the world?
Years and years, Yvonne! Although I didn’t work at it full-time. This was my first serious attempt at novel-writing, and I had a lot to learn. Since I ignored the advice to write short material first, re-writing to correct my mistakes took a lot of time. I did set the story aside a few times, once to write a second novel manuscript, but something kept pulling me back to it.
I felt an obligation to give my characters the best shot I could at being published, but because of the subject matter, this was a story I decided I wouldn’t self-publish. If God wanted it out there, He would make a way. Because I loved the characters, I couldn’t trust myself to be impartial about a decision to self-publish and I was afraid if I did that, I might have been insisting on my own way when it wasn’t God’s choice.
• What sort of research did it involve? Were you a NASCAR fan before writing it? Do you have a background in criminal psychology?
Most of the racing details came from what I learned watching Formula One. I wanted to keep Harry in North America, so I needed to research karting, NASCAR and IndyCar. That part was all fun. I didn’t do a lot of research into violent criminals, largely because I didn’t want to traumatize myself, but I did connect with a police officer and a former correctional services worker to learn those aspects of the story.
• How has it been received? Have you had readers contact you to thank you for writing it? Have you caught flak from some?
I’ve been surprised and pleased at how well the story has been received. I was afraid it would be too frightening, or that people would be angry that I dared suggest someone so evil could find redemption. Some of my reviewers have praised the forgiveness/redemption theme, and I did have one reader contact me to say parts of it paralleled her life experience and showed her the Lord wanted to do more healing in her.
• How has writing this book changed your view of the world, if at all?
You know, I think the biggest change has been in how I look at others. Writing fiction makes us delve to find why our characters act and speak as they do, instead of just accepting them at face value. I’m more inclined now to wonder about people’s motives and to give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming bad behaviour springs from bad intentions.
• How have you been promoting it? Have you found something that works particularly well? What, in your experience, is overrated as far as book promotion goes?
Most of my promotion has been online. We did a Facebook launch party and a Goodreads giveaway, and I’ve visited as many blogs (like this one!) as I can. I’ve used up nearly all of the print copies my publisher set aside for giveaways, and I’m searching for more reviewers. Currently I’m building relationships in a few Goodreads groups. The focus there isn’t on hard-sell, but I hope some of my fellow readers will want to check out Heaven’s Prey. I really believe in this story, for readers who like the genre, but they can’t enjoy it if they don’t hear about it.
Personal relationships and word of mouth have been my best forms of promotion, and they can’t be rushed. One thing we did that surprised me with its lack of effect was a book blast. Essentially it was a freebie-pack of bonus features for people who emailed proof of purchase to my publisher within the first few weeks. We had background information, articles on some of the hot-button topics addressed in the novel, photos, a recipe… lots of cool stuff. As a reader I’d love this sort of thing. We did have some initial speed bumps with online sales, and that likely contributed to the low response, but in general readers just didn’t seem interested. I still love freebies, so with my next novel, those will go to my newsletter subscribers instead.
One bit of promotion I’d like to share with you and your readers is a print giveaway for Heaven’s Prey that’s going on right now (March 15-March 31). If there’s enough response, I’ll consider choosing a second winner too. Details are on my blog (click here to enter).
• Where do we go from here? Do you have another project in the works?
I’m revising book 2 in the Redemption’s Edge series, Secrets and Lies, with a projected release date of November 2014. It takes place in the period of time between the end and epilogue of Heaven’s Prey. It’s the story of the villain’s sister, Carol Silver Daniels, who finds herself in danger from her brother’s enemies.
Thanks so much for having me here, Yvonne, and all the best in your writing. I’m looking forward to reading more of your Gannah series.
And thank you, Janet, for visiting today, and for providing such thought-provoking reading. I look forward to dining on the next book in the series.