Friday, April 14, 2006

HEART TO HEART with Lena Dooley

I want to welcome Lena Dooley, my own mentor and good friend, to My Heart of Africa’s first writer’s interview. I first met Lena about four and a half years ago and began going to her home weekly for a writer’s critique group. The first week I left encouraged that I could write dialogue, but with instructions to rewrite the entire chapter. I rewrote that chapter, studied, and grew under her mentoring, and without a doubt, the two years of attending that group changed my writing completely.

Let’s hear from Lena about her own writing journey.

LISA: Welcome to my blogsite, Lena. As always, I’m excited for the chance to learn from you. What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? And how many books have you sold since then?

LENA: That was way back in 1992, but I remember the excitement, almost not believing that it was true. Now even though I've sold seven more novels and four novellas, I still get really excited each time I receive word that a book is being bought by someone. I don't get much done the rest of that day. Back in February, I received word twice in one day, one right before noon, one right before I quit work. I told my husband that the next day would have to be my excitement day for the second book. I don't know if you ever get over being excited. I hope not.

LISA: I hope not too! Your newest release, Minnesota Brothers, is a series composed of four Heartsong titles. In the stories, the Nilsson family has decided to settle in Minnesota, where each brother seeks a wife. Gustaf is left to meet his brother Lars's fiance' at the ship and explain to her his brother's absence. August envies his older brother, but perhaps not enough to accept his castoff for a wife. Lowell and Ollie are both fascinated by a mysterious young woman who has come to town, and she is good at eluding their affections. Girda Nilsson envies her brothers' wives, but there has been no romance for her--until a mysterious marshall rides into town. Tell us some of the background behind the idea for this series.

LENA: The first book, The Other Brother, came from stories I've heard about my own immigrant family. Of course the events I used in the book have been completely fictionalized. When it came out, my friends kept telling me that I should write a sequel. I thought I could write the best friend's story, but I figured they were just saying that because I was a good friend. After that, the first packet of readers' feedback information arrived. Over and over, they said they wanted more. I spent a week seeking the Lord about whether I should write a sequel. In that week, He gave me the story lines, characters, and conflicts for three sequels. I was surprised. By the way, the best friend's story is the last sequel.

LISA: I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to from the series and who made an input on your life?

LENA: I cannot write a book without spending time with the Lord, and He always teaches me things for myself as well as for the characters. The strongest message that touched me in The Other Brother was forgiveness. While I was writing, God took one element of the story in a totally different direction from the one I planned. Of course, it was a better direction. I've also dealt with a poor self-image and feeling unworthy. Through all of that, I've grown in the understand of just who I am in the Father's heart. I really could write a lot on this subject.

LISA: As I mentioned earlier, Minnesota Brothers is a combined, four book series. Can you tell us what it’s like writing a series? Did you miss your characters once the last story was written?

LENA: By the time finished the second book, I was tired of the characters. I decided that I didn't want to write another series. Maybe it was just the enemy attacking me. As I got into the third book, my excitement returned, and when I finished the last book, it was like leaving friends that you would never see again. I missed them.

LISA: Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story?

LENA: Since I am a history buff, I knew a lot about the era. I had been involved in writing a two-year American history course, so I own a lot of reference material that I frequently use. However, I love the Internet, too. As I wrote, I might decide that I wanted to use something, but didn't know if it was readily available in the exact time period. I could just go to respected historical sites and find out. It was exciting and I learned a lot more than I could use. Also, when I travel in an area, I go to used book stores and buy historical books for the locality. They are really useful.

LISA: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

LENA: Be sure you're doing what God wants you to, then persevere.

LISA: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share, or specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

LENA: My agent is marketing a women's fiction proposal right now. I would like for it to sell. I have many ideas for future books. Actually, God has given me more than I ever dreamed in certain areas. I've won awards and had a book on the CBA bestseller list. I love all that, but most important to me is for readers to let me know how a book I wrote changed their lives. That's what I try to do. Show through the story how people face difficulties in their lives and grow in the Lord. Maybe someone will say, "That's what I'm facing. There's hope for me."

LISA: And lastly, because I know where are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

LENA: I'm always telling fiction writers to join ACFW. You get the most help for your money from people who will really care about you. Learn the craft. It takes time. I'm still learning, and I probably always will be. Don't let fear paralyze you and keep you from submitting. The only authors who sell are the ones who submit!!!

LISA: Thanks so much, Lena, for taking the time to share with my bog readers. Minnesota Brothers is available now at Wal-Mart and your local Christian bookstore, so be sure and pick up a copy. Lena will be back in June for another interview on her next release, Windswept Weddings, where we will learn what it’s like to write a novella collection.

Next week, I’ll be having another heart to heart interview with Tamera Alexander, another one of my good friends and crit buds who just released her debut novel from Bethany House, Rekindled.

Blessings all!



  1. Lisa, thank you for the interview. I love your blog. One of my favorite things is the clock at the top that tells me what time it is where you are. My grandson is in the same time zone. I can keep up with him that way, too.

  2. Lisa and Lena,
    This is a great interview! Both of you are are such an inspiration to me. I thank God for our friendship.