Dee Stewart

A literary journalist and publicist since 2003, Dee Stewart's writings have appeared in Precious Times, Romantic Times, Spirit Led Woman Magazines and on The Master's Artist Blog. She is also the owner of DeeGospel PR (,) Christian entertainment PR boutique located in Atlanta, GA. Visit her Christian Fiction Blog, which turned 6 years old in July at Her debut novel "A Good Excuse to Be Bad (Kensington/Dafina) releases Summer 2011. Talk to her in real-time on Twitter at @deegospel.

Fall Hard for Amish Lit

An interview with Cindy Woodsmall

Part II

Cindy WoodsmallCindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish community has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. This fall she sat down with Christian Fiction Online Magazine to share about her new novel series and some truths about Amish culture in Christian fiction. Following is part two of a two-part series. This month she shares writing wisdom and novel-building techniques. I encourage you to save this and refer to it often.

Cindy, what’s so special about Dry Lake, Pennsylvania?

It is a community in Pennsylvania with a lake that can’t hold water. All the other lakes in that county hold water, but for some reason this one can’t. It’s a real mystery, and a befitting metaphor for the Amish characters in the series. For the privacy of those who live there, I’ve changed its name to Dry Lake.

Has there been any talk about a movie for any of your books?

I’ve been contacted by some of the most respected screenwriters in the business, and we’ve had a few fun conversations, but so far it’s just talk. Maybe one day . . .

Tell us about the Trip Contest Giveaway.

My publisher, WaterBrook Press (a division of Random House), is offering a great sweepstakes/contest. In celebration of the recent release of The Bridge of Peace, they’re giving away a trip for two to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s a three-day, two-night stay in a bed-and-breakfast with a sightseeing tour of the historic covered bridges of Lancaster County. People can enter from now through December 31, 2010. For more info, go HERE.

You have been a great friend to me for years, and many authors say wonderful things about your generous spirit. What advice could you give to other writers on fellowship and brotherhood/sisterhood?

I’m humbled and honored that you feel that way and have heard such nice things about me. I wish I had more time and energy to give.

I think the most important thing any of us can do is to keep certain life principles tucked away in our hearts and refuse to ever negotiate them. For me, those principles have two main points: loving through giving, and loving through boundaries. Because I believe all of life can be navigated using those two principles, it is my sincere desire to have them at work in my life at all times.

Concerning the writing world, I believe Christians should encourage their brothers and sisters to hold on to hope and develop their gifts unto fruition. When I’m talking with aspiring or contracted authors, I know in my heart that they may swoop in and outdo me. If so, I want to be on the sideline, applauding them and sincerely thanking God for what He’s doing in their lives. Part of me may balk at that idea, but that’s just too stinking bad. That part of me can shut up and line up with God’s plan.

Because of my “loving through boundaries” stand, I say no a lot. My time and decisions are not my own. Romans 14:4 (NIV) says, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” I love that concept. I can’t judge another person’s work. Your days are between you and God. My days are between me and God. When I’m asked to do someone a favor that would cross a boundary God put in place (usually before I met that person), I can’t compromise. I have to say no. If I lose friends over it, I grieve, but if we’re doing something for someone when we know we should be using our time differently, who are we trying to please? Man or God?

Your stories are all strongly grounded in setting, in simple yet brilliant prose, and in lots of conflict right from the start. What advice can you give to writers about creating crowd-pleasing openers?

I’m so glad that you enjoy my writing. Thank you.

The openings of every book take me a ridiculously long time to write. I may fight with that first chapter for months. But that’s how I learn who my characters are and where their story really begins and why.

My advice about openings:

1. Learn the heart, mind, will, and emotions of your two main characters before you begin writing.

2. Know the one event in each of their lives that brought them the most pain.

3. Know their deepest emotional struggle and have that reality plague their current thoughts or actions.

4. Don’t be afraid to get your readers’ emotions invested. If the character is torn between two men, don’t ease the readers’ discomfort by making one a pain and one a hero. You and the reader know who’s eventually going to win in that battle. But who wins when they are both amazing and worthy men?

5. Know your main characters’ surroundings in great detail. If you don’t know their surroundings intimately for the opening of the book, make a trip to that place. Immerse yourself in their pain and fears. An opening is an introduction of two important strangers: the character and your reader. Readers depend on the author to make the beginning so powerful they can see and feel everything the character does. A lack of knowing the character and his or her surroundings will put distance between the author and the character. If the author can’t see and feel the world as if he or she is in it, how can the reader?

6. Write five or six tight chapters showing and telling everything you see, feel, and hear happening to your character, then boil those chapters down to three. Then boil those three down to one really tight chapter.

7. Once you have that one chapter honed, spend another day tightening it. Lob off as many sentences and words as possible.

8. Do the same thing for the next point-of-view character as you begin chapter two.

Hope Of Refuge Once those beginning chapters are done really well, you’ll have the foundation you need to build the rest of the story without any crumbling or sagging.

Did cracking the NYT Best-Seller list make the writing life easier for you or harder?

I have to say a little of both.

It’s easier because the title of New York Times best-selling author helps to justify the seclusion time I require to write a novel. People more easily accept my need to be uninterrupted for long periods.

It’s harder because there’s an expectation placed on me to write another novel that’s just as compelling and will sell as well. That pressure could easily steal my love of writing. I have to beat it up every now and then to make it hush up.

Does having inspirational books on the New York Times Best-Seller list legitimize Christian fiction’s place in our culture?

The Bridge of Peace There are a lot of fantastic inspirational writers, and I think their passion for excellence legitimizes Christian fiction’s place in the publishing world.

Most point-of-sale stores for inspirational fiction don’t count toward the NYT list. Our sales are as good as, and at times better than, those of the mainstream books that make the NYT list. If all inspirational book sales counted toward the NYT list, we’d knock a fair number of mainstream books right off the list. Inspirational fiction is legitimate, and time will remove the outdated stereotypical thinking that says otherwise.

There is poorly written mainstream fiction and poorly written inspirational fiction. But that reality doesn’t keep good books from being legitimate forms of art.

Read the first chapter of her books at and chat with her at

PR Tip of the Week:

Organize a children’s book drive for the holiday. Not only is it great PR, but also it’s a great community service project.