Wednesday, April 04, 2007

JUDY BAER Has Harlequin Covers By the Dogears. (Eat Your Heart Out, Stephen Colbert!)

Meet Judy Baer.

Judy and I go back to the third RWA National Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. back in...well, here's a genu-ine Poleroid, if that's any clue. We are (l to r) Sandy Huseby, Kathleen Eagle, and Judy Baer, the entire North Dakota RWA membership at the time. RWA trivia: What year was that? (Yes, we were mere babies. Unpublished, wide-eyed first-timers.)

Congratulations are in order, first of all. Judy's a finalist in the 2007 RITA competition for BE MY NEAT-HEAT (Steeple Hill Cafe)!

She has published--ready for this?--over 75 books since this photo was taken, many of them for the young adult reader. These days she's a BIG NAME in the field of Inspirational Romance. And when I say BIG...well, let's just say, how many people do you know personally who have been satirized by STEPHEN COLBERT on THE DAILY SHOW? She'll tell you all about it. And lots more. (Be sure to take the link. It's a hoot.)

Here's Judy.....

Hi! I’m glad to be with you in the convertible today even though the weather in Minnesota has been gloomy. I don’t seem to notice the weather much lately—unless it rains, sleets or shines on my

computer monitor.

I just peeked at the Comedy Central website to view Stephen Colbert’s “Nightgown Novel Model. In it, he’s trying to convince Harlequin that he’d be an ideal cover model for the new contest they are running, hoping to find “real,” everyday men to put on their covers. It’s cute and funny and worth a look if you want to see him posing for a place on the front of our novels. Comedy Central was good to me, too. Colbert did a spoof of Steeple Hill’s new line of Christian chick lit on "The Daily Show" a few years ago. When my novel, The Whitney Chronicles, launched the Café line, they, like so many others, thought Christian chick lit was an oxymoron. The cover was on the screen for 30 seconds while Colbert read (and, of course, added to) several lines in the book . Since that time, it’s been proven again and again that Christian characters can be just as savvy, silly, wacky and wonderful as their contemporary in secular novels.

I do have another life and career as well as that of writing. I’m a professional personal life coach. I’m certified in several models and have been doing it for six years. What I love the most is that

my writing makes me a better coach and coaching makes me a better writer. I’m finishing up my master’s in human development and working on blending the two worlds into a new coaching model. Life’s also kept interesting by my husband, two daughters and three step children.

I have two books due out in 2007—Mirror, Mirror (Steeple Hill) and The Baby Chronicles (Steeple Hill Café and a sequel to The Whitney Chronicles)) and two more currently in the works.

I'm also a horse lover, a quilter and a reader of mystery novels.

So, Riders, I'll just stitch away while we dish.

KE: I'll start things off. What makes an inspirational romance inspirational?

Judy: An inspirational romance has an element or story thread of Christian faith. Usually one of the main protagonists is a Christian. This does not mean the book is full of preaching or proselytizing. Rather it means that one of the primary values of a character is faith and how she (or he) lives that out in the ebb and flow of life.

I have a minor in religion from college and my area of interest is Christian ethics. Basically I toss my characters into the story I want to tell and see how they respond based on their beliefs. The faith element isn’t like frosting on a cake, spread across the top as if to say, “Look at me.” Rather, it’s in the fiber of the story—the eggs, the flour—one part of a whole. I find inspirationals “inspiring” because characters live every aspect of their lives true to their belief systems and turn to the belief systems—God--for clarification when life becomes muddy.

KE: What makes it a romance?

Judy: Love, strong emotion, passionate feelings, relationships, Mr. Right (often found after running into Mr. Wrong.) If anyone thinks that Christians don’t have romantic relationships…well, let’s just say they’re badly mistaken!

KE: You broke new ground with your foray into “Christian Chick Lit” with THE WHITNEY CHRONICLES (the book Colbert went ga-ga over). How did that come about?

Judy: THE WHITNEY CHRONICLES was written two years before it sold and long before I even read BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY.

My agent read the book, called me and said “I love this book but there’s no place to sell it—but there will be.” Fast forward two years. My agent called again and said “I’ve sold the book.” I have a short memory—I had no idea which book she was talking about! She had faith in the book and had her eye on the market. When Christian chick lit was set to be born, THE WHITNEY CHRONICLES was ready and waiting.

KE: Chick lit brings to mind “Sex in the City” and “Bridget Jones.” How do you work religion into the mix?

Judy: Publishers Weekly described it best. They called THE WHITNEY CHRONICLES “Bridget Jones goes to church.”

That’s pretty much what it is. A contemporary, savvy woman who happens to be a Christian, who is working, living, playing and looking for the man of her dreams. Just because she doesn’t drink, smoke, swear, etc. doesn’t mean she isn’t smart, funny, wacky and wonderful. She has friends and shares confidences with them. Not every relationship works out. Everyone has a belief system. Granted, not everyone is Christian, but everyone believes something and that informs who the person is and what they do with their lives.

I also believe that writing chick lit involves a certain “voice” from the author and that voice is certainly present in the Christian genre.

KE: What special challenges do you face in writing fiction for adolescent readers?

Judy: When I started writing, I had a foot in two camps—inspirational romances and young adult novels. I wrote 45 y.a. novels before turning strictly to women’s fiction. My personal challenge at this point is thinking of something I want to say, a story that interests me that I haven’t already told in some form or another. If I come up with a story idea I loved, then I’d write it.

The challenge for a y.a. author is to have her finger on the pulse of what her readership is doing, thinking and feeling. Styles, entertainment and language change but the experience of being embarrassed, jilted or betrayed is universal. People at every age can identify with those things and I believe that’s where the y.a. author needs to start.

Okay, Riders and F.O.R. (Friends Of Riders). Here's your chance to chat with the multi-talented, wise and wonderful JUDY BAER!


Betina Krahn said...

Hi, Judy! Great to have you along in the convertible! And you hit it right on the head about the challenge of finding something to say that you haven't already said. Me, too.

I guess the trick is, you just need to find a story that brings out some different aspect of the problem you haven't dealt with before. And what happens if what you want to say won't fit in the publisher's guidelines? have you ever run into "absolutely not" from your publisher and felt stifled? What do you do when you want to strike out in a new, untried direction? Judy, can you talk about that?

lois greiman said...

What a great picture!! Look at all that hair. You guys were just as cute then as you are now.

Congrats on your Rita nomination, Judy. It is well deserved. So glad to have you with us.

Judy Baer said...

Good to hear from you guys! Betina, I didn't so much run into an issue with a publisher's guidelines as their assumption that because I'd written so many "serious" books that I couldn't do anything else. The Steeple Hill Cafe' people thought I could write humor and I've been doing it ever since--and happier writing than I've ever been before!

It's interesting that you should ask about striking out in a totally new direction. I've done that so many times that I've decided that I'm like a swimmer who keeps jumping off the diving board first and checking to see if there's water in the pool later. I try things first and then decide how it worked out! I've written features for Woman's Day, chilren's books (like Camp Pine Tree Pals and My Mutant Stepbrothers!), non-fiction, inspirational, straight romance and twice I've written books for a line that hasn't yet been launched. I don't recommend that for everyone, though. I was just curious to see what I could do. It fragments your career if you do it too often. Many people think I'm still only a y.a. author and I haven't published one since the late 1990's. And it's hard work--you have to prove yourself all over again in a brand new genre. You can't stand only on your past laurels.

And about that hair... we were cute, weren't we? And thin...and naive...and hopeful! That conference was pivotal in my career in many ways. I met the first two editors I published with there as well as life-long friends Kathy and Sandy. When I think back, it was a very precious time.

Naomi said...

Hello to my favorite life coach! I'm so thrilled for your Rita nomination. I have read the book and it was wonderful.

In the book, you indicated that you wrote it as part of a project for one of your classes. Can you tell us how writing that particular novel was different from the other novels you had written?

Christie Ridgway said...

Judy: Thanks for joining us! So tell me what a "life coach" does and how it informs your writing. I've heard of life coaches before but confess ignorance. I'd love to be enlightened.

Debra Dixon said...

Judy-- Welcome to the convertible! And while you were already welcome as a writer, I'm jazzed to have another quilter along. So slide over and I'll just pull out some applique. I always have a bit of something with me just in case.

How often do you have to put down your quilting to jot down ideas that come to you while quilting? Or is quilting your physical break from your working world? Your signal to turn the writer's brain off?

Judy Baer said...

Great questions--thanks for asking! I'm getting my master's in human development (in the areas of writing, coaching and Christian spirituality) and one of the independent studies I chose to do was, while I was writing BE MY NEAT-HEART, to journal the writing process--the ideas and where they came from, the emotions and frustrations and blocks I experienced, how I actually do character development, motivation, P.O.V. and plot construction, etc. It was, in a sense, a small book about writing a bigger book! It was an amazing experience. To record in detail every aspect of my writing process and to examine it objectively was far more educational than I ever expected. I think the process actually helped me move to another level of creativity. It was also interesting because I had to stop in the middle of another book to write NEAT-HEART. I came kicking and screaming to it and felt like I was walking up hill in the rain on a dark night. Clueless, in other words, about how I'd ever get the story written. What I learned was to trust the process. If I sat down every day and just started, something came out. Once my characters had solid motivations and multi-dimentional personalites, they took the book from there. Writing actually is about plodding, putting one foot in front of the other until the momentum builds and you are off on another ride.

And now about life-coaching--LIfe coaches work with people to move toward their dreams and aspirations, to help them design and carry out the lives they want to live. People come to me who want to get organized, change jobs, find balance in their lives, write a book, start a business or discover what their purpose is in life. I link arms with my clients and we take the journey together, the journey from "I'd like to do that someday" to "I'm living my life to its fullest right now." About half my clients are aspiring or working writers. We work a lot with resistance (to writing or getting started) and gremlins (those tapes in your head that tell you that you'll never make it.) I thnk coaching informs my writing because I've learned to treat my fictional characters like clients--I dig deeper, explore motivation more, eke out feelings in new ways. Now I know what questions I need to ask my characters to have them tell me what they know about themselves! I can talk about life coaching for hours, so if you have any specific questions, please ask.

And quilting. There are only two activities I've discovered that, during which, I cannot think about writing. One is quilting, the other is riding a horse. Those two things are really mental breaks for me. I'm also a social quilter (I only quilt in public.) I get together with other quilters so that I can visit and quilt at the same time. I'm alone too much with my writing, so I like my hobby to include others. I've decided now, however, that if I ever get all the fabric I already own made into quilts I'm only going to make tableclothes from now on--Less fabric, less time, less storage space needed!

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Judy
We are so happy to have you riding shotgun in the convertible today. Love reading your Q & A's and am thrilled for you regarding the RITA nod.
Did we once spend a writer's weekend in Dubuque with Anne McCallister (Barb Skenk) and our own Kathy E? If so, it's been a long time ago, right?
Again, welcome aboard.

Sandy said...

Were there ever three braver more optimistic starry-eyed mpffph-something young heroines testing our wings together from our North Dakota nests....

Perhaps its the solitary introspective side of the writing life that makes the friends who share the journey all the more treasured.

whether writing or quilting or celebrating joys... Salut to Judy and Kathy for those Rita finalist namings...

Judy Baer said...

Hi, Cindy--It's been a long time since we met. It's definitely time to do it again! Sometimes I can't believe how long I've been in this business--since I was a baby (you've seen the picture!) I hope we get credit for sheer endurance in a tough industry!

Judy Baer said...

I recall meeting Sandy and Kathy at a continuing education seminar on writing. The guest speaker was none other than LaVryle Spencer who's new book Hummingbird was just coming out. We were indeed starry-eyed. At that RWA conference I took a class from the senior Rita Clay Estrada (of the mother and daughter team the RITA was named for.) Wow, you're sending me down memory lane. Or maybe I'm heading there on my own because I have a book due May 1 and I'm in that scrambled stage!

Kathleen Eagle said...


Ah, yes, memory lane. No one wants to venture as guess as to the year of RWA National #3.

I won my Golden Heart that year.

Kaitlin said...

This was a great post! Thank you!

As a single, Christian woman, I've never been able to get into inspirational romance due to the fact that 99% of the time it comes across as unbelievable or pushy. How do you go about making inspirational books that seem real?

I know that's probably a really dumb question, but I've always been curious about that. Thank you!

I will say that your Christian chick lit looks really interesting. Can it be found at any bookseller & if so, where would it romance or Christian literature?

kaitlin said...

Was it 1983? Clothing-wise seems like it would fit. :)

Judy Baer said...

How to make inspirational books that seem real.... I must admit that my main characters are usually imbued with my own sensibilities and I'm real, so hopefully, truth will ring out in them as well. I simply throw my characters into situations (accidentally winning the MN lottery, falling in love with a man who hates her dog or a guy who hires her to clean up his sister's messes) and see how they behave. When I think of Christian ethics, I sum it up this way--"I"m a Christian, now what?" Television evangelist Joyce Meyer poses this question--if you are alone in the grocery store parking lot and no one is looking, do you still put your cart in the cart corral or do you just get in the car and leave? That's an application for the "I'm a Christian, now what? scenario. I also believe in humor for grounding the books. I try to make my characters, their situations and emotions resonate with readers. That is how I, at least, strive to make these books feel real.

Judy Baer said...

Where can my books be found? If you go to B&N or Borders, look in the Christian fiction first. Sometimes, however, they are with the other romances. They are also on Amazon, Books-s-Million, B&N and other web sites (Target, Walmart,etc.) as well as Christian bookstores like Northwestern. I've got a new book coming out in June--MIRROR, MIRROR which deals with self-esteem and inner and outer beauty. There's also a thread about rescuing greyhounds. I never write a book without animals in it these days. In September, watch for THE BABY CHRONICLES. It's the sequel to THE WHITNEY CHRONICLES and I had so much fun revisiting Whitney and her pals.

Judy Baer said...

Kaitlin--I was hoping to start telling people I was BORN in 1983 and now I learn the dress gave me away?!? Kathy, what year was it--Kaitlyn is close!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Bingo, Kaitlyn! 1983 wins the virtual cigar.

You can tell by the clothes? I was thinking hair. Hard to see in the Poleroid, but I think I was doing the curly perm.

Kathleen Eagle said...

It's after 10 p.m. and I just got home from teaching my class at the Loft, checked in, posted, and then I notice a mistake! so I made the correction. (Obsessive or what?) Judy's a finalist for RITA 2007, not '06. Copyright is '06.

Judy, dear, it's been real. You got your feet wet, and now you can blog blog blog. Please stop back often. Thank you for joining us!

Judy Baer said...

Thanks! It's been a pleasure.

Kaitlin said...

I was right? How in the world did I do that???? LOL! he-he. Well, now I'm feeling good, considering the fact that I was only...ready for this...7 at the time that picture was taken. Don't hate me. :)

Judy-Thanks for all the info. Much appreciated. :)