Focus: Lawana, how many books do you have published in the Christian market?
Lawana Blackwell: Twelve. Sort of. Bethany House has published two of my trilogies; Gresham Chronicles and Tales of London. Before those, I wrote a four-book series for Tyndale House, Victorian Serenade. Some of the books in that series are out of print, but Tyndale House will re-release all four this summer with new covers.
By the way, when Tyndale House contacted me about the re-release, I asked permission to rewrite the very first book, Like a River Glorious, because I was never really happy with that one. Tyndale House graciously allowed, and so the new edition will be much better.
My very first published books were novellas for Heartsong Presents and written under the pen name Kate Blackwell. Shores of Promise and Shores of Deliverance are the titles, and they are out of print.
Focus: Can you tell us when you first discovered your love for writing and stories?
Lawana Blackwell: When I was in the fourth grade, I would write and illustrate little books from papers stapled together. Also, I was fortunate to live in a neighborhood with several girls my age. When we weren't feuding, we would get together to perform plays I wrote and directed. They were always melodramatic--someone always died!
Focus: You've published three wonderful historical fiction series, the Victorian Serenade series, the Gresham Chronicles, and your latest, the Tales of London series. Could you give our readers a quick summary of each book in the Tales of London series?
Lawana Blackwell: Certainly! The first book, The Maiden of Mayfair, begins with 13-year old Sarah, with a crippled hand, leaving a Drury Lane orphanage to live in a mansion with elderly Mrs. Blake. Mrs. Blake believes Sarah to be the child of her deceased son and a scullery maid who was sent packing after being violated by him. But all is not as it seems, and when Sarah discovers that her tutor is her real father, who assumed her to have perished when her mother jumped into the River Thames with her as an infant, and who took the tutoring job to be close to her without disrupting her life. There are subplots, including a romance with William, the stable boy and Oxford student.
I don't normally do a lot of self-promotion, but Catherine's Heart, Tales of London book two, is the book you should lend to any young woman old enough to notice boys! I've received more letters from high school and college age women about this story than my others combined, for it deals with how to tell love from infatuation, the danger of "falling in love with love", and how to regain one's dignity and strength after being "dumped" by a young man. Catherine Rayborn leaves the sheltered environments of all-girls' schools and family for Girton College in Cambridge, where she meets young men on a social level for the first time. She falls so devastatingly in love with Lord Sydney Holt that she blinds herself to his flaws, and refuses to believe what others say about his past. And of course there are subplots!
The setting of Leading Lady is the London Theatre scene of the late 1800's. Bethia Rayborn is wardrobe mistress; her cousin, Jewel, is co-manager with her husband of the Royal Court Theatre, dealing with actors' egos and pleasing the public. A young man, Douglas Pearce, stalks Bethia until she loses her temper and sends him an insulting letter, which prompts him to leave England for the Klondike gold rush. Douglas's sister, Muriel, becomes a successful lead actress at the theatre, and decides to extract revenge upon Bethia for rejecting her brother. Again there are subplots, including the arrival of a dashing actor from Yorkshire, Noah Carey.
Focus: Now that Leading Lady has been released, I'm sure many of your fans are wondering whether you'll continue your Tales of London series, or whether you have something new planned. Can you tell us what's on the horizon for Lawana Blackwell?
Lawana Blackwell: Leading Lady concludes the series. For a change of pace, I'm now having fun writing a contemporary suspense novel, set in a small Mississippi town. Carley's Tea Room is the working title, but my editors may decide to change it. I imagine it will be published by the summer of 2005 if not earlier. I'll announce it on my website when I have more concrete information.
Focus: All three of your series are set in Victorian England. What first drew your interest to this particular time period?
Lawana Blackwell: Since my late teen years, I have always felt a fondness for England. I was drawn to novels with pictures of heroines with wind-swept hair standing in front of castles, and such. And the Victorian years were so interesting, with the long romantic dresses, and the industrial revolution.
Focus: You include an astounding amount of detail in each of your books- everything from garment styles, to street and hotel names, to the sermons preached at specific churches and the books people read. Gathering all these details must be a huge task! In general, how many hours would you say you spend doing research for a book?
Lawana Blackwell: I write about 40 hours a week and I would guess I spend about two hours of research for every hour I spend writing. I used to spend far more time than that on research, at the library with dimes for the copy machine. But the Internet has been a life-saver, and I have accumulated a great reference library from ebay, garage sales, used and new book stores, and even from some antique book shops in London.
Focus: Is there a particular book among those you've written that you're especially proud of? If so, why?
Lawana Blackwell: Catherine's Heart, for it reaches out to young women who are as I once was, so lacking in self-worth that I felt lost and totally alone if I was not dating someone. Forgive me for sounding egotistical, but it's the book I wish I would have read when I was young.
Focus: Your writing career has been quite a journey. Can you tell our readers about how God brought you from a fear of failure to a full-time writing career?
Lawana Blackwell: You tend to take stock of your life when your 40th birthday is around the corner. Those four decades flew by so quickly, and I realized I would turn around and be 80 years old before I knew it, and never know if I could have succeeded. Once I stepped out, took a writing class and started actually working on a manuscript, God opened doors I had not been able to see when I was paralyzed with fear.
Focus: You credit some of your success as a writer to your mentor and friend, Gilbert Morris. Were there certain words of wisdom he offered that helped you the most?
Lawana Blackwell: When I asked if I should quit my part-time job to write full time, Gilbert advised that if I would concentrate on the writing, God would take care of us. And three other writing tips stand out the most:
First, that I should describe every character introduced, if only to give a hair or eye color, that people do not like reading about shadows., that believable characters should have comlex personalities; a character who is ALL good or ALL bad is a stereotype.
And third, that dialogue should fill almost every page. We love "hearing" conversations, even on paper.
Focus: Besides learning to step out in faith, how have you been changed as a person through your writing?
Lawana Blackwell: Hmm. Good question. I probably have a little more self-confidence. Not as much as I would like to have, mind you! And I have learned lots of fascinating things in the course of my research. Most importantly, I've grown not to be afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone and taking risks--they are the beginnings of many adventures.
Focus: What do you feel is the greatest message with which God has entrusted you, and why have you chosen fiction as the medium for that message?
Lawana Blackwell: How rich our lives can be if we walk with Him daily, asking his guidance even with the "small" things. And I believe fiction is the best medium for teaching any message. That's what Jesus did, with his parables and what the prophet Nathan did, when he wanted King David to understand how deeply he had sinned with Bathsheba. We identity with the characters in stories, and as they learn, we learn.
Focus: In addition to sending you an e-mail and visiting your website, how can your readers and fans be an encouragement to you?
Lawana Blackwell: Two things would be wonderful. First, I covet your prayers. Writing is very hard work, even for authors who have already published a few books. I do not take the prayers of believers lightly, and can "feel" them when work is going well. Secondly, if you've enjoyed one of my books, or ANY book from ANY author, and you would take the time to post a comment on one of the bookstore websites such as amazon.com, we would be in your debt. I have many author friends -- we check those websites all the time, and are greatly encouraged when a new positive review crops up.
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Lawana Blackwell: Yes! I've assembled a few pages of tips for those interested in writing fiction. Those interested in reading them can click here.
Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Lawana is a full-time author whose delightful stories include the Victorian Serenade series, the three-book Gresham Chronicles series, and her newest series, Tales of London. When not immersed in writing or research, Lawana enjoys garage sales, vegetarian cooking, and HGTV. Lawana and her husband Buddy live in Louisiana, and have three grown sons- Joseph, Matthew, and Andrew, and three new daughters-in-law; Kristine, Penny and Heather.