To improve his craft, Henry belongs to several Christian writer organizations; attends writers’ conferences, workshops and retreats; and participates in online and local critique groups. He completed the Christian Writers Guild Apprentice, Journeyman, and Craftsman courses.
Henry and his wife, Linda, have been married for 42 years and live in Saginaw, Texas. They are the parents of five children, the oldest of whom is in heaven. They also have one grandchild.
What three things are you most thankful for in your life.
- A wife who loves me and understands my quirky sense of humor and need to write and read. She has resisted making me do 12-step program to break my addiction to Barnes and Noble.
- Our children and their love for cats.
What is the last book you read that moved you? What caused that powerful emotional experience?The Face by Angela Hunt because of the ultimate sacrifice one of the lead characters made to give hope, life, and freedom to another character.
Has your writing changed your reading habits? If so, how?I read to learn more, even when I don't mean to. When I think I’m reading for pleasure, I find myself studying how the author created characters, crafted dialogue, described setting, maintained POV, etc.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?When other authors, editors, agents said my writing showed promise. At a writers conference, I showed DiAnn Mills my first five pages. She asked why I didn’t enter the conference’s contest because, in her opinion, I would have won.
How do you keep your balance in today’s busy world?Prayer, diligent time management, to-do lists.
What have you had to overcome as obstacles in your writing journey?Fear of rejection. Finding time to write. Being disciplined to write.
What does the act of writing mean to you?The act of writing means sitting down and yielding myself to the calling God has placed on my life. It means to write the best stories I can, to be entertaining and relevant, to helping readers grow in their own spiritual walks.
Were you an avid reader as a child?I was a very avid reader. As a child, the most influential storyteller was Walter Farley and his Black Stallion books.
When did you begin to write your first novel? When did you finish? How long have you pursued a writing career?I got serious about in 2002 after my heart surgery. I stopped writing the first novel last July when the final edits had to be in to the publisher. Re-writing and editing are on-going process. I’d probably still be tweaking the first novel if it wasn’t being published.
How do you organize your writing day? So many hours per day writing? Use a word count to determine when to stop? Just write until you drop?My writing time is between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If I’m writing a new book, my goal is a minimum of 2,000 words per day. If I reach that goal before 1:00 p.m., I keep writing until 1:00. Saturdays are devoted to editing what I wrote during the week.
If I’m editing a completed book, my goal is to complete a certain number of pages each day. I divide the number of pages by ten so that I can complete the edit in two weeks. I work until 1:00 each day.
If I’m outlining a new book, I work until 1:00 each day. I’ll edit and revise on Saturday.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?“Get up earlier.” It came from DiAnn Mills at the 2009 Christian Writers Guild Conference as I complained about not having enough time to write. I was working a full time job and trying to write at night and on weekends. I followed her advice and began to get up at 4:00 a.m. This created a one-and-a-half hour writing block. My production really increased when I started this early rising.
Describe your editing process.Before I start the day’s writing, I’ll read what I wrote the day before and do a quick edit of obvious errors. I also use this time to get back in the flow of the story. On Saturdays, I do a deep edit of the week’s output,which entails re-writing scenes and dialogue, making sure character arcs are flowing, ensuring that I’m on plot and outline and making changes and tweaks as necessary. This may mean modifying the plot and outline if the story is going in a better, stronger direction.
- As part of the process, I meet regularly with a critique group, review chapters, and discuss plot and character issues.
- When the first draft is finished, I do a complete read through and re-write.
- I send the complete second draft to four test readers, including my wife.
- I will use the test reader responses to write a third draft.
- Before I send the manuscript to my agent, I will do another read through and edit. Essentially, my agent receives the fourth draft.
Do you outline your books or let the story go where it wishes?I do a combination of both. First, I do a detailed outline of each chapter and scene before I start to write. I created a template to guide the construction of each scene to ensure I include the essential elements.
When the outline is complete, I start writing and allow myself the freedom to let the story go where it wishes. I allow the characters to surprise me and take me where they want to go while keeping the goals of the outline in perspective.
Daily reviews and weekly edits help to keep me from drifting to far from the outline.
What are some of the spiritual themes you like to write about?So far, my novels have focused on the themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, restoration, and growth in the character’s relationship with the Father.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?Mr. Latham’s Lincoln, a contemporary story about a wife who disappears and the effect this has on her husband and father-in-law.
Riverbend Justice, a sequel to Journey to Riverbend, in which the hero seeks to clear the name of the young man in the first book who was hanged for a crime he didn’t commit.
What are the three best things you can tell other authors to do to be successful?
- Read: Read books and magazines about writing. Read books in your genre. Read in other genres. Broaden your horizons and reading experience. I read suspense and thrillers but I’ll probably never write one. I read non-fiction (history, biography, memoirs). I read my genre to see what others are doing, to see what’s popular, to see where I need to be different, to learn from others.
- Learn: Attend conferences and workshops and writing courses. Join critique groups especially with writers who are better than you. Look to be challenged. I don’t think any author can ever reach the point of knowing it all. There is always some insight, some clarification of technique, some different way of doing things.
- Develop a thick skin: Learn to take feedback positively. Your writing is not you. Put it out there for others to read and give you constructive criticism. Weigh what they say. Apply what makes sense, disregard what doesn't.
If you could recommend only one ‘How To Writing Book’ what would it be?How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. His chapters on creating your story world and constructing your story are excellent guides no matter what genre you write in. As novelists, we create a story world in every book whether it’s Denver in 1880 or Los Angeles in 2011. And that story world is different from anybody else’s. Just think, in the real world, our next door neighbor’s world is different than ours. Card helps you create the unique world of your characters.
Tell us the story between finishing your first novel and signing a contract.I finished my novel in September, 2009, and submitted it to the Operation First Novel contest two days before the deadline. Until the last minute, I wasn’t sure I would enter.
In November, 2009, I was notified I was one of ten semifinalists chosen. Later in November, they announced the four finalists. I was not one of them.
In February, at the Christian Writers Guild conference, Jerry B. Jenkins announced that a mistake had been made and there were actually five finalists. He then read off the five finalists, and my name was included. While that was still sinking in, he announced the winner, and it was me.
Has being an author been everything you thought it would be? If not, what has surprised you the most?What has surprised me the most is the marketing aspect of writing. Being an introvert, publicizing myself has been challenging. I particularly don’t want to come across as prideful or boastful. I try to focus on reflecting any success I’ve had on to God who inspired me to write and who opened the doors to publication.
How do you handle the rejections that are part of the writing life?As a learning experience. I’ve been blessed in that none of the rejections have personal attacks on me. They’ve focused on flaws in my writing. I seek to use them to improve my craft as well as my knowledge of writing as a whole.
Tell us about Journey To Riverbend. What is it about your lead character that will make your readers care about him?He is a man with flaws who desires to serve God but, at times, the flaws get in the way. He is a man with secrets and fears that he must confront and overcome if he is to achieve his goals. He is a man who must learn new ways of dealing with his emotions when he is attracted to a beautiful woman.
What have you learned about writing and yourself since you started this novel?Writing is the most fulfilling and, at times, demanding and loneliest work I’ve ever done. Writing is work that requires self-discipline. And, even though it’s done alone, it requires others if I’m to be successful: teachers, critique partners, mentors, friends in the business who understand what it’s all about.
As for myself, I’ve learned I can do it. I’ve also learned to put my ego and my defensiveness aside, and learn from the feedback of others. I’ve learned how to risk, how to separate what I write from who I am.
Are there any themes in Journey to Riverbend that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?The major theme is in the title. Life is a journey, not only physically and chronologically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Each day of the journey should draw us closer to God.
I pray the reader sees the themes of reconciliation and restoration from the story and that they draw hope for their own lives.
A theme that developed as the story progressed is that of self-forgiveness. We can’t enjoy the fullness of God’s love and plan for us until we can forgive ourselves.
What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?The most difficult part was developing the character arcs; making the characters believable, multidimensional, and complex; and showing their development over the course of the book.
My favorite part was writing dialogue, getting into the flow of the conversation, and using it to develop characters and their relationships. Many times, when I felt stuck, I’d write a scene of just dialogue between two characters. It wasn’t always relevant to the story but it helped me get back in touch with them and the story would flow once more.
The story in summary...A chance for redemption was something they never expected.
A chance for love was something they never dreamed of.
Sometimes the journey is only the beginning . . .
Michael Archer made a promise he intends to keep. Though he was unable to save Ben Carstairs, Michael is determined to carry out Ben’s dying wish: to be reconciled with his father. What he doesn’t know is that Sam Carstairs—one of the most ruthless businessmen on the frontier—has no use for his own son, much less a man of God seeking reconciliation.
Soon after arriving in the booming town of Riverbend, Michael meets the stunning Rachel Stone while waiting for Sam to return from a business trip. Beautiful yet guarded, Rachel is running from a past as dark as Michael’s, and the last thing she expects—or thinks she deserves—is a chance at love. Yet there’s a spark between them neither can deny.
When word reaches town that Sam has been kidnapped on the stagecoach home, Michael joins the search posse. But the trail ahead is more dangerous than any had imagined, and making it back alive will require Michael to face his past and overcome his deepest fear.
Share your story with the first page of Journey to Riverbend.
April 10, 1878
The crowd was small for a hanging. Quieter than usual, as if they all knew justice would not be served today.
Michael Archer found it hard to look at the young man before him. Ben Carstairs, only twenty-two, stood like a boy grown too tall, too soon. Each strand of his sandy hair grew as if it had a mind of its own. Handcuffs encircled his fine-boned wrists in loops of heavy iron. His lips quivered. Fear raged in his brown eyes
“You believe I didn’t do it, don’t you?”
Michael’s throat tightened. He nodded. Many hours with the boy had convinced him of the young man’s innocence.
Ben gulped air and sighed. His shoulders sagged. He lifted his cuffed hands and opened a palm. “Give this to my father when you see him. It was my ma’s, and I wanted something of hers when he threw me out. Tell him I’m sorry.”
It was the silver Celtic cross Ben had worn on a leather thong around his neck. Only slight traces of the delicate engravings remained. Michael rubbed the cross as he had seen Ben do hundreds of times and closed his fist over Ben’s treasured token. Michael slipped into his shirt pocket, buttoned the flap, and patted the cross with his hand.
Sheriff Gideon Parsons spoke from behind Ben. “It’s time, son.”
Ben swallowed, then straightened. “Thank you, Michael.”
What’s next after Journey to Riverbend?I am about to begin a third draft of Riverbend Justice, a sequel to Journey to Riverbend, in which Michael Archer tries to prove Ben Carstairs was innocent of the crime for which he was hanged.
After that, I will do a third draft of Mr. Latham’s Lincoln, a story of what happened when a wife disappears and how her husband and father-in-law cope with the devastating loss.