A Chat With Hope Bolinger

BLAZE Cover.jpg

When I was in high school in the 1960s (even though I only claim to be 35), I used to think that teenagers had an inordinate amount of “stuff” on their plates. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate that such stuff is really not much different from what any other younger generation endured (i.e., peer pressure, self-esteem, unreasonable parentals, exam anxieties, and trying to strike a balance between fitting in and being unique). The difference with today’s generation, however, has been the dark impact technology has had on fostering unrealistic comparisons, exposing embarrassing secrets through social media and magnifying one’s sense of helplessness in a world that, for all intents and purposes, appears to have gone insane.

Author and savvy young literary agent Hope Bolinger clearly has a finger on the pulse of YA fears, dreams and sensibilities and effectively taps that expertise for Blaze, the first book in a new series about navigating the scary road to adulthood.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that being a published author was your true calling?

A: I started writing novels in high school because my best friend wrote them, but when my AP Literature teacher pulled me into her office, reviewing one of my papers, and said, “Obviously you can write well,” I thought, Maybe I could do something with this.

Q: Who or what has had the most influence on guiding your career?

A: That’s such a hard question. I can’t say one particular person alone shaped me. So many writing mentors and friends throughout the years propelled me to where I have landed today. If I listed all the names of everyone who helped me get here, it would probably take the entire interview.

Q: New writers often lament that they have trouble coming up with ideas and yet an abundance of “recyclable” material already exists in Shakespeare, mythology, folk tales and the Bible. As was your own case in developing the “Daniel” series, what is it about timeless themes that make them such a wellspring of inspiration for modern/updated spins?

A: Great question. It’s true nothing’s new under the sun. I saw a lot of parallels between the life of Daniel and the life of the average American teenager. We get forced into a Babylon of sorts (the school system) and have to outshine our classmates in fierce competition and eliminate any trace of our identity. The characters did develop on their own apart from their historical counterparts, but I loved the idea of a revamped Daniel for the modern times. Some inspiration was pulled from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, a revamped version of Hosea and Gomer.

Q: Of the four main characters in Blaze, which one would you most like to spend an afternoon with (and why)?

A: Oh, without a doubt, Hannah. She’s weird, morbid, and wonderful, and she’d have so many wild shenanigans planned for that afternoon.

Q: Which of these characters is the most/least like you in terms of personality traits, aspirations, fears and beliefs?

A: It’s funny. Technically all of them, but when I made a test for my launch party, “Which Character from Blaze are You?” I got Michelle.

I can see it. We both love tennis, journalism, and theater, and we want to look out for our friends. I think I have more of Rayah’s timid personality, so I won’t speak my mind as much as Michelle, but I have her same tenacity.

As for fears, I often approach the situation more like Danny, cracking jokes but battling severe stomach pain.

Q: What are some of the hard themes you tackle in the Blaze trilogy and why do you believe they resonate with today’s teens?

A: Oh dear, I leave no stone unturned in this series. I’ll break it down by book:

Blaze (2019): Mental health, terrible administrations, poorly run school systems, divorce, severe academic expectations, blurring or eradicating of personal identities. Teens deal with all of these. Even the nicest high schools can tend to have a few bad eggs running things. They have way too much unnecessary stress placed upon them.

Den (2020): Suicide, teen pregnancy, school shootings, sexual assault, mental health. All of these have hit hard in the past few years, especially close to home.

Vision (TBD): Mental health, problems with the medical care system in America and those most vulnerable in it, and spiritual warfare. Without giving away too much, I’ve had friends in their teens severely mistreated by the medical care system in the past few years but are too afraid to speak up because they won’t be believed or will end up in terrible situations they tried to get out of.

Can you tell I take mental health seriously? I love that teen books now plan to confront this topic, but back in high school when I needed characters who looked like me, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

Q: “Great things,” wrote an unknown author, “never came from comfort zones.” In your own experience, have you ever dreaded a major change and then discovered it was the best thing ever to happen?

A: Oh, always. I hate change. I feel often like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. The slightest shift in routine can set me off. But in publishing, and in life, you can’t excel without massive change and without stretching yourself far beyond your comfort zone.

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A: Oh dear, let me try to truncate this in bullet points.

  • Started writing books in 2013 in high school
  • Tried querying agents in 2014
  • Self-published my first book in 2015
  • Went to Taylor University in 2015
  • Went to a writer’s conference based on exceling well in one of my writing classes at Taylor and pitched an agent in 2016
  • The agent ended up rejecting me a few months later
  • 2016-2017 interned for that agent
  • In 2017 that agent encouraged me to pitch another agent at his agency. I did so and got a contract.
  • That summer I wrote Blaze while my parents split.
  • That fall, I pitched it to the editor of LPC at a conference.
  • After multiple rounds of editing back and forth, the pub board finally accepted it spring of 2018.

Q: There are certain challenges inherent in penning a series vs. a standalone title, not the least of which is the risk of repetition in order to keep new readers on the same page as those who are already familiar with characters and scenarios from the preceding books. How have you handled this?

A: I try to write each book as if it can stand alone. If someone dives into book two or three in the series, I don’t want them to feel the normal disorientation you can encounter in some other series.

I think my biggest fear in a series is I want to do better each book. I’ve read so many trilogies where I couldn’t even finish the third book because I could tell the author put in only a small percentage of effort in succeeding titles, as opposed to book one. I want to keep things as fresh as possible, while maintaining the same foreboding tone throughout the series.

Q: Your career currently encompasses that of literary agent, author and other industry-related jobs. Which “hat” is your favorite and how do you strike a balance to ensure you’re delivering quality time and attention to each one?

A: Ooooh, so good. Can I cheat and say all of them? I will anyway. All of them. I wouldn’t do anything else. I strike the balance in a number of ways. First, I maintain specific work hours for agenting. Past those hours, I write. That way I can maintain boundaries and still give my clients the attention they deserve for their books.

Q: What’s the most common misconception people have about writing books?

A: Wow. I’ve written entire blog posts about this. I’ll do three common misconceptions.

  • One: Book writers are just lazy and sit around all day and write. Umm, no. We market, edit, go to conferences, go to speaking engagements, send out thousands of emails, ping reviewers, etc. We honestly only write a small percentage of the time.
  • Two: People write books during free time. No. Free time doesn’t exist. You force yourself to make room in your schedule.
  • Three: Publishers, libraries, all book people want to read it after you finish it, especially if you have an agent. It takes years, and you still deal with a ton of rejections before you can get a contract, if you get one.

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional?

A: Both are viable options. It depends on how much marketing you are willing to do, and how much time you would be willing to wait. Traditional publishing takes years. I had a writer pitch to me at a conference the other day, saying, “If you pick up this book, I want it published next year.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “Ma’am, it takes two years minimum.”

I’ve seen authors do well in both. You just have to work at both like crazy. Neither is the “easier” option.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years?

A: Well, I see it going in a platform route. Only those with the largest followings will get book contracts.

I can also see other types of books hitting the market. I’m wondering if apps like Hooked (text-message based stories) will start to go for long-form content. And audiobooks will continue to grow in popularity.

But who honestly can say? Things trending in this year won’t next year. No one can really predict what will happen.

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

A: Best way? Meet me at a conference. I will most likely take more time on your submission if you met me in person. Second best way? If I like your pitch on a Twitter pitch party. Third best way? Follow my submissions guidelines here: https://www.hopebolinger.com/instructions

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I don’t sleep to alarms. I haven’t since first grade. During then, I discovered my pineal gland would wake me up ten minutes prior to my alarm every morning. I decided to test out my internal alarm clock and haven’t woken to any beeping noises since.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writers, please keep writing. I know the industry gets discouraging. At least once a week I text my agent friend Alyssa and ask some variation of, “Can I die/give up now?” And she always responds, “If you do, I do.” So, of course, I have to keep going.

Know, even after you get published, imposter syndrome still lurks around and you never truly get over it. If I still get discouraged and keep going, so can you.

 

 

 

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River Oaks Plantation

RIVER_OAKS

Throughout history, we’ve seen no shortage of the havoc and devastation that Mother Nature can unleash in the form of hurricanes, floods, tornados and earthquakes. It’s not just the immediate losses of lives and property that cause such heartbreak, however; it’s also the erasure of entire communities, landmarks and architecture that have endured the test of time, only to be wiped out in a matter of days – or sometimes mere hours – by forces beyond anyone’s control. Such is the crux of B.J. Robinson’s latest release, River Oaks Plantation, a historical romance that artfully intercuts between the lives of two intrepid women – one of them a new bride in the Old South and the other a very modern editor watching the aggressive floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina lay siege to her stately but vulnerable inheritance.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some background on who you are.

A: I’d describe myself as hardworking, dedicated, loyal, trustworthy, an avid reader, a passionate writer, compassionate, caring, organized, excellent keyboarder, great cook, gardener, short, animal lover, especially dogs, nature lover, lover of water whether it’s lakes, canals, oceans, or rivers, and a lover of listening to rain on a tin roof. I’m a lover of the Civil War era and antebellum period, plantation homes, and I love touring them.

Like most women, I’m a woman who wears many hats: mother, grandmother, wife, retired educator, reader, and last, but not least, writer. My passions are reading and writing. I live in Florida with my husband and pets, a golden cocker spaniel, golden retriever, and a cat. I’m a pet lover, animal lover, and I usually include pets in the novels and stories I write. Reared in Louisiana, I have a love for seafood, large oaks, old plantation homes, flowers, and rivers. Since I use life experience as fodder for my writing and create realistic fiction, readers may journey with me vicariously through summer vacation experiences as well as many other life experiences. I have been blessed with children and grandchildren, and Jesus is my best friend.

Q: So tell us how your journey as a writer began.

A: I started writing in elementary school when my teacher submitted a short story I wrote about my pet dog to a local newspaper, and it was published. In college, my first essay was published in another local newspaper, and I won first prize for a short story, and it was published in the university’s literary magazine.

I’ve been honing my craft and skills for over a decade, but I only started publishing my own work one summer. Before that, I had many short stories, poems, devotionals, and four novels published with a traditional publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc. out of California. Since then, I’ve published more short stories, novellas, and one full-length novel, River Oaks Plantation, which I feel is one of my best pieces of work, if not indeed, the best.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose work you most admire and whose storytelling skills may have influenced your own style?

A: I fell in love with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind years ago, and I think I probably have a habit of beginning and ending writing in the omniscient point of view, frowned upon by today’s publishers. Most romance publishers want a single point of view, but I don’t care for novels written with only one point of view. I enjoy deeper work and want to get inside my character’s heads. Mitchell began her novel in the omniscient point of view. Perhaps that is why mine reminded some readers of it, but I think it’s more because it’s a Civil War novel and when readers think Civil War novel, they think Margaret Mitchell. I know I do.

I read Athol Dickson’s River Rising and loved it summer before last. Contemporary writers I admire include my former writing mentor with the Christian Writers Guild, Eva Marie Everson. I love all of her novels. She’s a Southern fiction writer, and I love Southern fiction. Chris Fabry’s Dogwood is another one I admire, and Lynn Austin’s All She Ever Wanted.

Naomi Musch writes historicals, and I love her Empire in Pine Series because I love the outdoors. I read The Green Veil and The Red Fury a couple of years ago, and they’re the type of books to stay with you after you turn the last page as Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s were. Eva Marie Everson has a Cedar Key Series set in Cedar Key, Florida, I loved, but her best book I’ll long remember is Unconditional. It’s another one that stays with you. It’s been years since I read Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s books, but I still remember them. I think it’s because I read so many deep novels that I can’t write single point of view ones. Not that I can’t, but I don’t like to because I want to write the type of book I enjoy reading, and I feel you give your readers a deeper, more lasting story when you write using multiple viewpoints.

Jerry B. Jenkins’ books have influenced me greatly. I read his entire Left Behind Series, and, of course, they stayed with me. His work influenced me to try to write a book using dual storylines because I’ve read some of his novels that are structured that way, and I loved them. The dual storylines provide a page-turner. I had a reader tell me that and another one say my novel stayed with her after the last page. That’s the highest compliment she could have given me. When one reader got the metaphor, was another.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries, so I love writing books with mystery, intrigue, or suspense, usually all three. My favorite genre to write was inspirational romantic suspense until I got into writing historical fiction set during the Civil War and antebellum period. With it, I think I’ve found my niche. I love the old plantation homes and the time period.

Q: Tell us what readers can expect when they immerse themselves in River Oaks Plantation.

A: River Oaks Plantation is my favorite thus far since it has dual storylines that blend the past with the present and realistic characters. Readers love it, and I love it because it focuses on the Civil War era and Hurricane Katrina. It’s doing well and getting great reviews on Amazon. Here’s a short blurb: Two love stories. Historical romance during antebellum and contemporary times, cultural history and characters you’ll root for.

Q: Just curious, what governed your choice to use your initials instead of your first name?

A: Another author suggested it because it wouldn’t be obvious that I was a woman unless people knew me, but with Facebook that is pretty pointless.

Q: One of the obvious challenges for any writer who embeds historical elements in a work of fiction – be it the American West, World War II or the 1860’s – is to be mindful of 21st century “political correctness.” How did you address this issue in juxtaposing a contemporary story against the backdrop of a Southern plantation during the Civil War?

A: For the historical part, I wrote events that really took place, feelings, beliefs, and endeavored to put how both sides felt and the reasons why. As a good journalist, you’re taught there are two sides to every story. I think many Southern people were conflicted, and I tried to show this in my work. I didn’t set out to offend anyone, and I tried to write a good story, bottom line.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in River Oaks Plantation?

A: Maggie is my favorite because she illustrates that life on a plantation was not as romantic as people tend to think when they view beautiful antebellum homes for the first time. They often see the splendor, but people need to remember how most were built on the backs of slave labor and that the beauty on the outside often hides the heartache and pain. The plantation is the common thread that weaves the dual storyline together and a metaphor for the resilient human spirit.

Q: Several reviewers have drawn comparisons to Gone With the Wind. What’s your reaction to that?

A: It compares to the novel in that it’s about the antebellum South and the Civil War, but it’s set in Louisiana, not Georgia, and it’s a blend of historical and contemporary with dual storylines. Gone with the Wind was not structured the same way. I loved the novel so, of course, when readers compare it, I can’t help but feel I’ve done the job I set out to do in writing my own novel. My storyline is very different. I didn’t try to write Gone With the Wind. I wanted to write a novel about the Civil War set in Louisiana because I was reared there. I wanted to do my own thing, something different, and I feel I have. Maggie is no Scarlett, and Danny is no Rhett. My novel is a Christian historical romance, or Christian contemporary romance, but it’s not preachy and some readers don’t seem to have noticed. Instead, they get hooked on the dual storyline and can’t put the book down.

Q: What do you feel best differentiates Rivers Oaks Plantation from other historical romances?

A: The story structure has a dual storyline and blends the past with the present, historical and contemporary. One of my readers posted in a book group that I was one of her favorite authors because I was atypical. I guess that’s one way to stand out in a crowd. The book is different, but readers love it. Many say they can’t put it down.

Q: Tell us about the historical research that went into this story.

A: I spent much time researching via the Internet as well as reading books on the Civil War and antebellum period and touring plantation homes. I’ve toured Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, which is the setting for my next novel, Romance Under the Oaks. I’ve also toured The Myrtles in St. Francisville among others.

Q: Do your characters ever do anything that surprise you?

A: Yes, at first I didn’t think Danny would decide not to keep working on the boat, but he did. In the beginning of the novel he took up for one of the slave women and later he saw his wife’s point of view, which I didn’t think would happen. I don’t plot other than general notes. Since I’m a morning writer and tend to do my best writing in the mornings, I usually put on a pot of coffee and let the words flow. Sometimes my characters have a change of mind or heart. Also, I had no clue I’d do the surprise ending the way I did until I got there.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I didn’t attempt to with this one. I self-published through Amazon KDP because I figured no publisher would want to risk historical and contemporary blending, but I’m happy to say it works, according to my satisfied readers. You can tell from what they have to say in Amazon reviews. I didn’t think I’d sell a publisher on my idea of a part historical, part contemporary novel, so I took advantage of Amazon to see if the idea worked, and it sparked. Also, since most traditional publishers will no longer even glance at your work without an agent, I didn’t bother to submit.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on Romance Under the Oaks, another historical romance set during the Civil War period. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll go historical all the way or blend the historical part and contemporary again, but I’m learning toward a straight historical for this one.

Q: What would you like to say to your readers who follow you or may follow you in the future?

A: Thank you so much for reading and responding to my novel. I love feedback. Great reviews always make my day. Please know that in writing, I create works of fiction to carry my reader through a fictional dream, a way of seeing how others live and differ. If we were all carbon copies, it would be a dull, boring world. It is because we are unique that our world is full of diversity that makes it interesting. I respect your beliefs and opinions and hope that, in turn, you will also respect mine. I appreciate your support of my writing endeavors and value you as readers. Please follow my Author Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBJRobinson and check out my Amazon author page to read about my new projects: http://www.amazon.com/B.-J.-Robinson/e/B007DNJIKU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1