Stephen Bly Author of COWBOY ON A RAINY AFTERNOON - Book Giveaway
What led you to the career choice of becoming a writer?
I never wanted to be a writer. Never studied or trained to be one.
It’s all my wife’s fault, a very fine writer herself. She got me into it. I definitely did not plunge right in. She encouraged me, one step at a time, until I felt comfortable with the process.
After going to a couple writer’s conferences, she asked permission to submit some articles and short stories she edited out of my sermons. . .and took a book proposal from a study I’d done for college students to Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference. All of them were accepted. After I got the first checks I said, “Hey, I think I’ll do my own writing.”
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
December, 1976. . .when two different magazine editors paid me for my short stories.
How long have you known that you wanted to be novelist?
After publishing a dozen or so nonfiction books on devotional and family topics, and after reading my 63rd Louis L’Amour western, I determined to write a novel, whether anyone wanted it or not. That was back in the 1980s. When Frank Peretti’s book, This Present Darkness, and the Janette Oke took hold in Christian fiction. My manuscript came out of the drawer and found a home.
Have you had to overcome any obstacles in your writing journey?
My biggest obstacles are internal—trying to overcome a feeling of mediocrity in my craft. “Does anyone want to read this?” And, of course, the publishing business has changed drastically in the past few years. That’s a challenge for everyone, to re-define where you fit in. . .and if you still do.
What are some of the spiritual themes you like to write about?
Forgiveness. Redemption. Taking a stand against evil.
Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I’m not aware of consciously writing myself into my characters. However, many told me that Stuart Brannon seemed so much like me. When I asked my wife, Janet, about that, she said, “Of course. . .look at the letters of his name. . .same as yours.” When my wife & I co-authored the Hidden West Series about a husband-wife writing team who go on location for their projects, and solve mysteries too. . .the comment we got so often, “Tony & Price Shadowbrook sound just like you two.” The externals were different, but somehow our personalities leaked through the print.
When I’m in writing mode, my goal is 20 manuscript pages per day. No problem, if there’s no major interruption. Don’t have a clue what writer’s block is. That’s not a brag, just a statement. My wife writes much slower—a tweezer, as you put it--but she’s also a good writer. Doesn’t really matter the speed, but each writer’s got to be realistic about their projected output.
What is the hardest part after the book is published?
All the energy and time expended to push the title, to market. Wasn’t that way in the early days. It’s essential now. And still the book may have a brief jump in sales and fade out to the OOP pile. Still haven’t figured out the magic mix to boost sales numbers. And the reason you want the numbers? So an editor will want your next proposal.
What three things do you know now about the publishing world that you wish you knew when you first started?
Editors are people too.
Success is never certain, but failure is never final.
It’s not that big a deal. Develop the craft. Live your life. See what happens. Give God praise—published or not.
Since I had no preconceptions about writing…never sought being a writer…everything surprised me, especially the part about gaining actual fans. Whoa, there are readers out there who like my books? Besides my mom? That amazed me.
The idea for Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (June 2010) emerged as I recalled many memorable visits with my grandpa as a kid. He’d tell windy stories about the ‘old days’ and we played lots of cribbage. The narrator in my novel was 10-years-old in 1954—just like me. And he spends a summer’s day listening to tales told by his grandpa and five pals while they play cribbage. I knew I had to write this story, as close to a memoir as I’ve come, fiction-wise.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
From my daily walk with the Lord and my life with my wife, Janet. They keep telling me you can do this.
What has been the hardest part of writing your latest book and how did you overcome it?
Finding time and energy to write while battling an aggressive prostate cancer. It’s tough—a mental war more than a physical one at this point.
What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
Best: Underline the ‘best parts’ of a chapter. Eliminate everything else.
Worst: Don’t vary your writing from the “Chicago Elements of Style” book.
What is the one thing you wish you had known before you started writing novels?
That it’s so pickin’ addictive.
What are the five best things writers can do to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
Pray. Read. Write. Travel. Explore.
What can you tell authors who have been receiving only rejections from publishers?
Keep doing whatever pleases God. . .and your own spirit. Then, if you sense that your horse is dead. . .get off.
What would you tell an aspiring writer?
Enjoy the journey. When it stops being fun, try golf instead.
What are the three best things you can tell other authors to do to be successful?
I have no clue how to tell others to be successful.
Is there an area in your writing that you are working on developing more?
Find a balance between detail and action.
If you could recommend only one ‘How To Writing Book’ what would it be?
An Introduction To Christian Writing, by Ethel Herr
How did you choose your characters’ names?
I didn’t. They told me their names.
All of me affects all of them.
How do you choose your settings for each book?
I pick places where I want to spend some time myself.
Who would you say are your readers?
Folks who enjoy love and laughter and don’t mind if a character gets shot.
And what kinds of things can readers expect from your books?
Love. Laughter. And someone getting shot.
How do you do the research for your historical books?
Go to the site. Read local history books.
What are the best and worst things to research and writing?
Worst: Lousy food and no golf courses. Best: The old timers who want to tell me their stories.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon is published book #103 for me. And, yes, there’s some rejected manuscripts in a cupboard somewhere. Can’t remember how many, but there’s a stack.
[AJ: Useful listing of Stephen's books may be found at http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/b/stephen-bly/]
What do you write besides books?
One of my hobbies is collecting antique Winchesters. I’ve learned enough about the business that I was asked to be roving editor for Big Show Journal, a magazine for gun collectors. I’ve written numerous articles for them. I also send out a weekly newsletter called “Tapadera Winchesters Gun Tips.”
What are you working on right now?
September 1st is deadline for my WIP, which has the working title, “Throw Away Heart.” Most of the story happens on a train ride from Omaha to Sacramento in the late 1870s. The title sounds more like a romance, which it is, but the editor wants a more western sounding name for their base of Bly fans. So, I’ll brainstorm that while I finish the project. It should be released early Spring of 2011. The theme: forgiveness, redemption, and taking a stand against evil.
I also have a whole list of ideas waiting to be fleshed out.
What is the most important thing on your current ‘To Do ‘ list?
Spend as much time with Janet as possible while I play as much golf as I can.
If time and money did not enter in the equation, what would be your dream?
Having enough years left to write 10 more books.
If you could only take five books with you on a journey of ten years, which ones would you take?
The Bible. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. Knowing God, by J. I. Packer. Basic Christianity, by John Stott. Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Tell us about your family and your ministry.
Married for 47 years to Janet, my high school sweetheart, we have 3 married sons and 3 grandchildren—ages 20, 19, and 2. I’ve been pastor of the only church (independent) in town in Winchester (pop. 310), Idaho, since 1990.
What movie most impacted you as a kid? Why?
No doubt about it. . .High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. In 1954 an old man’s vision of feminine loveliness would be Clara Bow, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. But to be honest, Grace Kelly stole my ten-year-old heart. However, I figured she wasn’t too smart because she couldn’t understand why Will Cane had to turn back. But I did. Shoot, that’s in a cowboy’s bones. But, my oh my, she surely was purdy.
If you had 48 hours to hang out with any TWO people (besides Jesus), alive or dead in the history of the world who would you hang out with and what would you do?
Ben Hogan & Arnold Palmer--we’d play 18 holes at the Old Works Course in Anaconda, Montana.
Teddy Roosevelt & Abraham Lincoln—we’d hang out at Starbucks and talk politics.
Someone has given you access to a time machine and you can go back and visit two events in the history of the world, what two events would you experience? Why?
I’d choose to watch Jesus come out of the tomb and any other miracles of his. Also, I’d love to cheer the troops during the liberation of Paris in WWII.
If you were planning a party with Christian authors of contemporary fiction, what six people would you invite and why?
Only six? Well, let’s start with Randy Alcorn, James Scott Bell, Angela Hunt, Terri Blackstock, Colleen Coble, Brandilyn Collins, Robin Lee Hatcher, Jerry B. Jenkins. . .whoops, that’s eight—maybe one of them can’t come. Why? Because they’re all friends we haven’t seen in a while. We’d talk shop and catch up on what’s going on in our lives…and pray for our needs.
Now let’s do that for a party for Christian authors of historical fiction, what six people would you invite and why?
Jane Kirkpatrick, Liz Curtis Higgs, Stephanie Grace Whitson, Lauraine Snelling, T. Davis Bunn. Admire their books. Enjoy their company.
If you could spend an evening with one historical person, who would it be and why?
Stuart Brannon. Whoa, are you kidding? Every Bly fan wants to spend an evening with him.
What three things are you most thankful for in your life that others might think silly?
1) The delete button on my computer.
2) Titleist golf balls.
3) Indoor plumbing.
What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? Did you like it? What snacks did you eat?
“Robin Hood” with Russell Crowe. Yes, I liked it. Janet & I ate X-large popcorn (no extra butter) and shared a Diet Coke.
You’ve just found a magic lamp and the genie has granted you three wishes. What are your three wishes?
Heal my d-in-l Lois of her cancer. Help my wife Janet write her career novel. Shoot my age in golf.
If you could live anywhere on the planet where would you live? Why?
Own a house in Paris, another at the base of the Tetons, just north of Jackson, Wyoming. Why two? If you have to ask, you’ve never been there.
What is the most fun thing you have ever done?
Gotten married to Janet. As Jimmie Buffett says, “Some of it’s magic. Some of it’s tragic. But it’s been a good life all the way.” Thankful for 47 years of love and laughter.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
From Owen Wister to John Steinbeck, Elmer Kelton to William Saroyan, Luke Short to Fyodor Dostoevsky. And any book of history--any era, any place.
Has your writing changed your reading habits? If so, how?
More reading of non-fiction, research books.
Other than the Bible, what is your all time favorite book?
Knowing God, by J. I. Packer
How do you keep your balance in today’s busy world?
Daily quiet time and devotions with Jesus.
What gave you the inspiration for this story?
Time spent back in the 1950s with my grandfather.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
God’s help with forgiveness, redemption, and conquering evil.
Tell us about your story. Give us, first, the best thirty-word description, then the longer paragraph version.
A 10-year-old boy. Six old cowboys. A ’49 Plymouth with open trunk. And a damsel in distress. All the fixings for adventure on a summer’s day in 1954 Albuquerque. Maybe you weren’t born 100 years too late!
Six men who spent their young lives as cowboys in the Southwest, now gather at the Matador Hotel lobby in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, each week. They play cribbage and pine for the old days on the trail. On a rainy, summer afternoon, one of the men brings his grandson, who becomes their captive audience. With his red straw cowboy hat, cap gun, and leather bullet belt with silver-painted wooden bullets, he imagines himself in the stories he’s told. Meanwhile, a real-life drama unfolds near them and he and the men get a chance for one last cowboy stand.
Introduce your story with the first page.
The Matador Hotel died on July 5, 1965, but they didn’t bother burying it until last fall.
New Mexico heat blanketed Albuquerque that July like too many covers in a stuffy cabin. The kind of day that you sweat from the inside out and feel sticky dirt in places that you don’t ponder much except in the shower. I reckon that four-bladed overhead fan that squeaked like an unfed cat failed to console Shorty McGuire. Doc Boyce said he passed on durin’ the night, but no one discerned it until they observed the empty back table at the Round-Up Café. For the last nineteen years of his life, Shorty lived in a second-floor room at the Matador. At straight up 6:00 a.m. ever’ mornin’, he ate two eggs fried hard under the faded picture of Theodore Roosevelt leading the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.
As a boy, I calculated that Shorty McGuire and the others must e pushing a hundred-years-old when I met them for the first time in 1954.
I reckon I surmised wrong.
The Albuquerque Herald reported that Hadley (Shorty) McGuire was only eighty-six when he died on that July day in 1965. The Herald is right most of the time.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
I made an eagle last month on a tough par 4 on a championship golf course.
Where can we find you on the web?
Our websites: http://www.blybooks.com/ and http://www.onestepovertheborder.com/
“On A Western Trail” blog: www.BlyBooks.blogspot.com
Stephen, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us. To have the possibility to receive a copy of Cowboy On A Rainy Afternoon leave a comment with your email (name at domain name dot com). Giveaway closes Sunday, August 8, 2010 at midnight (CST). Only US postal codes.
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