Concentrate on the message, author urges - Word&Way

Concentrate on the message, author urges

Artists — whether novelists, playwrights, journalists, musicians, painters, etc. — should consider their message first, even before contemplating earning a living.

“Don’t give up if writing is your dream,” Pierce City-based novelist Cheryl Hodde stresses to aspiring wordsmiths. “If you’re called to write, do it.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you will sell,” she said. “If God called you to write, that doesn’t mean you will publish. But just the act of writing can change your life.”

Hodde speaks from experience. Facing a difficult situation in the mid-1980s, she began writing a romance novel for a friend. God used the experience to help her deal with her own struggle and has allowed it to blossom into a way of life.

It also brought husband Mel into her life. As a physician, Mel provides medical expertise to Hodde’s penchant for romance. They began by rewriting a couple of Hodde’s early efforts, and Heartsong (a Barbour imprint) published them.

The couple now writes romantic suspense and historical novels under the pen name Han­nah Alexander. Their first collaboration, Sacred Trust, was published by Bethany House in 1999. They had met a Bethany House representative at a writer’s conference, and wrote two additional books for the series.

When Baker Books acquired Bethany House, the Hoddes con­sidered other publishers. “We felt that we weren’t selling enough at the time that they [Baker] would want to keep us,” Hodde said.

They decided to consider secular publishers. “It was kind of like God said to go to the ABA [American Booksellers Association]. At the time we didn’t have an agent,” she explained. “But someone we had talked to about agenting us suggested we go.”

At the time, several secular publishers were adding “wholesome” or religious fiction lines. Steeple Hill Books, a division of Harlequin, picked up Hannah Alexander’s work in 2004.

But surviving in the publishing industry is difficult right now, Hodde acknowledged. The industry is so tight, in fact, that even established writers such as the Hoddes face cutbacks. Steeple Hill has dropped a women’s fiction line that the couple’s last book was supposed to have launched.

Short fiction seems to be the strongest markets for writers in the current economic climate, Hodde said, with romance at 55,000 to 60,000 words and romantic suspense and historical novels at 60,000 to 65,000 words. “But I write long,” she laughed.

Despite the fiscal downturn, the Hoddes will continue to write their message, even if publishing dries up.

“No romance -— really no life — can be right without Christ as the center. I started writing with Christ as the center,” she said. “And that’s where He will continue to be, even if we aren’t published.”

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 Vicki Brown is associate editor for Word&Way.