Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Mindy Starns Clark
Mindy started her writing career by trial and error, writing plays, technical manuals, articles, textbooks, (and even a 2,000 page novel!), before her debut into Christian fiction. She is the author of the popular Million Dollar Mysteries series, which consists of A Penny for Your Thoughts, Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels, A Dime a Dozen, and the soon-to-be-released A Quarter for a Kiss. Mindy and her husband, John, live near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania with their two daughters and a Shih Tzu named Cosette.
Focus: Mindy, I've really enjoyed the first three books in your Million Dollar Mysteries Series. Can you tell our readers a little bit about these books?
Mindy Starns Clark: The books in this series feature a P.I./lawyer named Callie Webber who works as an investigator for a mysterious philanthropist. Callie investigates charities, awarding grants to the best of them (and turning the worst of them over to the authorities!) In the course of her investigations, Callie also runs across a good bit of murder and mayhem, and she uses her skills and knowledge to solve the crimes and save the day. The books have a romantic angle, since Callie is slowly falling for Tom, the man whose money she is employed to give away. The problem is that Tom has a big secret--a secret that threatens their relationship at every turn. Callie's faith in God remains secure, but what about her faith in Tom?
Focus: You've made an amazing entrance on the Christian fiction scene with this series. Book four will be released in January and the fifth (and final?) book will be out shortly afterward. So, I'm going to voice what I'm sure all your readers are wondering: What's next for Mindy Starns Clark?
Mindy Starns Clark: Wow, so many exciting things! My publisher is looking at a number of different proposals that I have put together, trying to decide which direction to take next. I want each series to have its own unique "voice", so I think I should shift now to something lighter and funnier than the Million Dollar Mysteries, just to make it a different sort of writing experience.
Focus: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
Mindy Starns Clark: Usually, I'll be reading some article, like maybe in Reader's Digest or Newsweek, and something will hit me and I'll think, "Ooo, that would work well in a story…" My husband is very involved with every aspect of creating these books, but he is especially good at keeping his eye out for the quirky, new, interesting, different, etc.
For example, when I was first plotting Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels, he read an article about the up and coming GPS (global positioning system) technology and the ways people are using it. From that one little article came a major part of the story, and one of the most interesting things I've researched so far.
Sometimes, a book begins with the thought "Hmmm… that would be an interesting way to kill somebody." A Dime A Dozen began that way, as I was touring an apple orchard and learned about an extremely unique piece of orchard equipment. I kept that idea floating around for YEARS, but when the time came to plot out that book, I said, "Well, I know HOW this fellow's going to die. Now I've just got to figure out who killed him and why."
Focus: How long was it between the moment you first decided to write and the moment you held your first book in published form?
Mindy Starns Clark: When I was six years old, I used to play Barbies, and give them grand adventures as all kids do; but when the playtime was over, there was a little something different about me: If it had been an especially interesting adventure, I would write it all down! I think my first novel had to do with Barbie staying home while Ken went off to war.
I loved to write all through high school, but I didn't make the decision to be "a writer" until college. I graduated from college with a BA in English in 1982, fully confident that I would have a bestseller out within a few years. I was able to sell a good bit of my writing, (nonfiction, scripts, technical writing, etc.) but never a novel, which was all I really wanted to write. I know the Lord has PERFECT timing, and in retrospect all I can say is THANK GOODNESS it didn't happen for another twenty years!!!
When my writing dreams finally came true at the age of 42, I knew it was the perfect age for something like this to happen. My kids are 11 and 14, so they are living the dream with me every step of the way. Plus, I can still be an at-home mom, but because they are older, I am free to actually get some work done! Also, my husband is well settled into his career now, and so he's able to help support my writing career financially and also to pick up the slack at home when I approach deadlines and things like that. Truly, I feel like I have the perfect life--and that's thanks to the Lord's perfect timing.
Focus: Can you give us a general estimate of the hours you spend researching and writing a book?
Mindy Starns Clark: The Million Dollar Mysteries have been coming out about every six months. So I find that I'm spending about two months with the story just rolling around in my head until it gels, a month plotting and researching, and then three months writing. It's a full time job, and when I get near the end, I have to work nearly around the clock to meet my deadline (like, 20-hour work days, 2 weeks in a row. It's deadly.) There is also a certain amount of time spent rewriting, proofing, editing, and promoting. It's all fun, it just takes a lot of time!
Focus: Would you tell us about your Christian testimony?
Mindy Starns Clark: The Lord has been my precious savior, comforter, guide, and friend for most of my life.
I was raised in a loving Christian home, and I accepted Christ at a church service when I was twelve. In my mid-twenties, however, I got to a point where I was in utter turmoil, stressed at work, confused about my career, unsure in my love life. Fortunately, once again, I was convicted in a church service, when the pastor asked everyone if they had inner peace. I thought, "Goodness, gracious, NO!" Then he went on to say that if we wanted inner peace, all we had to do was ask. The Holy Spirit was waiting to come in and fill us up.
I said that prayer, and my life was utterly transformed. I still get stressed out sometimes, of course, but there's no similarity to that wandering, blind feeling of being out of the grace of God. Once I got back right with the Lord, I knew that was where I would remain forever. I can't say it strongly enough: Compared to living a life apart, His yoke is EASY and his burden is LIGHT.
Focus: What do you feel are the three most important disciplines of a successful writer?
Mindy Starns Clark: 1. To write at least six days per week without fail. Writer's block is not an option. If you are feeling blocked, then do writing exercises, read books about writing, take classes in writing, whatever will jump-start your engine, but don't stop writing.
2. To edit your own work mercilessly, removing anything and everything that doesn't ring true.
3. To embrace the part of your job that involves promotion. Even if you hate marketing, even if you can't stand public appearances, that is a part of the job. Deal with it!
Focus: Was there a particular person, event, or idea that motivated you in your career choice?
Mindy Starns Clark: Hmmm... There were so many, it's hard to narrow it down. Primarily, I would have to say my parents. You'd be hard pressed to find two people who are more loving and supportive of their children's dreams. My parents encouraged and valued creativity in all forms, which gave my mind the room to grow and pretend and dream. They were always supportive of what I wanted to do. Nowadays, they are still my biggest cheerleaders.
Focus: Is there a certain book among those you've written so far that you're especially proud of? If so, why?
Mindy Starns Clark: I love the tone of Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels, the emotional journey that Callie takes in that book. She's trying to move from being a stunned and isolated widow to a person who's willing to give life another chance. It's kind of bittersweet, and I was pleased with the way it came out.
My favorite in the series, though, is the next one, A Quarter For A Kiss. With a fairly linear plotline and some shocking twists and turns, it really moves along, following Callie and Tom as they finally solve a mystery together. I've never really thought about writing romance novels, but I have found that the romance between those two is my favorite part of writing these books. So deep inside I must be a romantic!
Focus: What impact do you hope your books will have on readers?
Mindy Starns Clark: I write primarily to entertain, though I have slowly come to understand that my books are having an impact beyond that. According to my reader feedback, they love seeing a normal, fallible Christian woman like Callie doing her best in her daily walk with Christ. If Callie is an inspiration to Christian women, showing them how to live in the world but not of the world, then I am just ecstatic about that.
The media bombards us with characters who make selfish choices and bad decisions--but with no consequences or judgment calls--as if to say, "Ah, well, that's life." My characters, on the other hand, do stop and think, they do have values, and they live by a moral code. They're not perfect by any means, but they understand grace, and they know that often in life we must choose character over comfort. I hope that gives strength to Christians who also want to live for Christ the best way that they can.
Focus: The term "Writer's Block" makes even the staunchest writer quiver. Have you ever experienced "the Block"? If so, what did you do to rekindle your creative spark?
Mindy Starns Clark: I used to suffer from Writer's Block all the time. Then I had children. When they were small, I quickly saw that my only writing time was during nap time--maybe 2-3 hours per day, at the most. I learned to sit down at the computer and PRODUCE, whether I felt like it or not. After several years, my response was nearly Pavlovian: Now, all these years later, just put me at a keyboard, and my brain goes into instant writer mode. I've never been blocked since! I hope I never will.
Focus: In what ways are you and your Million Dollar Mysteries heroine, Callie Webber, alike?
Mindy Starns Clark: When I created Callie, I specifically tried to make her very different from me, hoping that would allow "her" voice to come through rather than mine.
However, some similarities have certainly worked their way into the stories. I love to travel, and so does she. God is at the center of my life, as He is in hers. And though Tom's character is NOT based on my husband, I see a lot of how my husband and I relate in how Tom and Callie relate. They are gentle with one another. They are respectful. (It breaks my heart when I see a couple insulting each other in public, even if it's done in humor.) They fight fair. And, finally, after 15 years of marriage, I still think my husband is the most intelligent, witty, handsome and fun person I have ever met. I could (and do) sit and talk with him for hours and never get bored. I think Callie and Tom feel the same way about each other.
Focus: How can your readers and fans encourage you?
Mindy Starns Clark: I love to get email from my readers!!! I'm sometimes slow to reply, but I always do get around to it. Even just one sentence to let me know you're out there and enjoying the books simply makes my day.
Also, posting short reviews and/or good comments on the web at Amazon.com, which anyone can do whether they bought the book through Amazon or not.
Another thing that helps is talking about the books to other people. Simple word of mouth is the single best kind of promotion that there is.
Mostly, prayer is really appreciated. When people ask how they can pray for me, I get pretty specific: Pray that I would continue to keep my eyes focused on GOD and not on myself; that I would have the energy and enthusiasm to do the work; that I would keep my priorities between work and family in order; and that my books would reach as many people as the Lord wants them to reach.
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Mindy Starns Clark: Yes. I spent so many years wishing, hoping, and praying for a career as a novelist, and when it finally happened for me I learned some valuable lessons that I love to pass along whenever I can. Basically, it all boils down to this: Trust the Lord's timing for your life! He has plans for you that far exceed anything you might imagine for yourself.
A favorite example is this story. My kids LOVE to go to the pet store. We don't usually buy anything, they just like to see all of the puppies. There are usually 7 or 8 little fluffy pups crawling around, and that just thrills my girls no end.
About a year ago, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a "Pet Expo", which was going to have not 7 or 8 puppies but HUNDREDS of puppies. Best of all, it was at the Valley Forge Convention Center, which is only a few miles from my house. I decided to take the girls there as a surprise.
On the way, we passed our usual pet store, and they began nagging me. "Mom, can we go to the pet store and see the puppies? Please? PLEASE?"
I thought to myself, "Oh, girls, if you only knew what I have in mind for you, you wouldn't be nagging me for the pet store. You're asking to see a few little puppies, but I'm about to show you hundreds. You want the pet store, but I'd rather give you the PET EXPO."
Then I realized that is how God must feel with us. While we're begging for the pet store, He knows there's a pet EXPO up ahead. Trust His timing. He knows the plans he has in store for you, and they are GOOD.