Deborah Vogts is happy times three. Why? Because she received a three-book contract offer from Zondervan for her Seasons of the Tallgrass series. Now that’s the way to launch a career. I met Deborah online when I saw the announcement of her sale on one of my Yahoo! groups. It’s been a pleasure getting to know her and hearing about her journey to publication.
Deborah grew up on a farm in Southeast Kansas with pigs, cattle, horses and sheep, as well as the space to run free. After college, Deborah remembers being in a city park flying kites and having an ache in her heart for wide-open spaces. Her longing for home and country life took her back to SE Kansas where she married a high school classmate. She and her husband have three daughters and raise and train American Quarter horses on land her grandfather once farmed.
Deborah’s love for the country comes through in her writing, and she’s confident of her audience—those who either live in the country, who moved from the country and still hold it in their hearts, or those who have never lived there but long for the simple life it offers.
The simplicity and quiet are what draws Deborah to country life. Besides writing, her hobbies include reading a good book, cooking, sewing, gardening and garage sale shopping. She enjoys playing the piano and taking walks with their two golden retrievers. She is a 4-H mom, teaches Sunday school and sings in the church choir.
•Deborah, your love of writing goes back to high school when you wrote your first story. Life intervened, but about six years ago you got serious about your writing. What led you to pursue your dream of being a published writer? Were your first works polished prose sure to impress, or did you produce some manuscripts that will forever remain hidden in some dark corner?
My high school dream of becoming a writer stayed with me all these years. After high school, I knew I wanted to write books but that writing might not pay, so I went to college and majored in English Lit, with minors in creative writing and journalism. It wasn’t until I married in 1990 that I was able to commit myself to writing fiction. In fact, that was one thing my husband and I discussed before getting married—that I have the choice to stay at home to write books. Of course, that took a back seat to being a mom to three beautiful daughters. But the day eventually arrived when I could devote my time to learning the craft. My early efforts gleaned interest from Harlequin Romance and a few other ABA romance publishers. But none ever made it past committee. (At that point, I had no training other than from reading fiction and raw talent.)
Then came American Christian Fiction Writers.
•Unlike many writers, you embarked on your journey to publication packing some powerful tools. You had studied English literature and journalism in college. Did your coursework prepare you to write fiction, or did you have to learn craft as many of us do? Which aspects of creating a marketable manuscript came easiest for you, and which skills did you need to hone?
See above on why I went to college. LOL. However, I did work as a reporter for the college newspaper, so that helped with interviewing skills. I think my early fiction learning came from reading a LOT of novels—and not just the “classics” I studied in English Lit, but also the genre I wanted to write. In fact, I first decided to write romance after years of reading Harlequin Romance (the sweet kind) and thinking . . . I can write this . . . LOL.
I think my strength lies in writing honest, believable characters and my weakness lies in sitting down to work the job hours. It’s especially hard as a stay-at-home mom who hasn’t worked away from home for years and years. I’m very used to having my time and taking care of everyone’s needs. With my new deadlines, I’ve had to cut down on some of the things I used to do such as sewing clothes and harvesting produce from the garden (100’s of jars of green beans, stewed tomatoes, salsa, pickles, frozen corn, etc.) If it grew, I harvested it. Not any more. I don’t bake as much as I used to, either, but I still love baking homemade bread and kneading the dough. It’s a good stress reliever.
•You had one agent, but things didn’t work out. You signed with your present agent earlier this year. What led you to make the switch? What do you think made the difference with your new agent and led to her landing your first contract offer?
My first agent let me go after unsuccessfully shopping my series for a year. I’m very grateful for all she did for me, especially since her company doesn’t take on unpublished writers very often. I was a risk and I knew it. However, I did make sure the second time around that the agent was in it for the long haul. It became very important to me to know the agent believed in my writing enough to stick it out through thick and thin. I believe God led me to Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary Agency. Plus, she really likes horses. LOL
•Rachelle did indeed sell your manuscript. Did you know she was close to receiving an offer, or did the news take you by surprise? Please share with us what it was like to receive The Call, how you reacted, which person you first told your news, and how long it was before you stopped smiling at strangers in the supermarket and wanting to tell them your news.
I knew that Sue Brower at Zondervan was interested in the series from the first agent go-around. However, it was Rachelle who prompted Sue to get it back out and look at it again. We knew she was getting close to making an offer, so it wasn’t a total surprise, but after years of disappointment, I knew better than to get my hopes up. During those weeks of waiting, I forced myself to concentrate on my writing and my family.
The day Rachelle called, my husband and youngest daughter happened to be in the house. Rachelle asked if I was sitting down, and so I plopped on the couch. Then she told me about the offer. My first reaction was all business. Give me the details. How much money and how many books? LOL.
The reality didn’t kick in until many hours later—days even. After sharing everything with my husband and daughters, I then called my parents, grandma, and my good friend and critique partner, Beth Goddard. She and I have been writing together since I joined ACFW in 2002. I had to scream in her ear!!!
•A three-book contract. Wow! Snow Melts in Spring is due out in June of 2009. What are the next two books, when are they scheduled to release, and are they written yet? What are you learning about life as a published author with publisher’s deadlines?
The next two books, and possibly three, are part of the series, Seasons of the Tallgrass. I’m working on the second book now, Seeds of Summer, with a deadline of January 1, so I’m feeling a bit of pressure on that one. The second book is scheduled to release in December ’09, so they are set for every six months. I’m learning that I don’t care much for deadlines. <huge grin> But I’m also learning to handle them with lots of prayer and support from my family and friends. I keep telling myself, “It’s a job. Handle it like a job.”
•I’m friends with a number of debut authors. The months following that first sale can be a bit overwhelming for some. I pick up that you’re pretty savvy in the networking and promotion aspects of being a writer. Not only have you run your blog for over two years, but you also speak and you coordinate an annual writing conference. How have your efforts helped prepare you for this exciting new chapter in your writing journey?
The contacts I’ve made in the past years through speaking at libraries and coordinating conferences has been very helpful, not only in learning the different aspects of writing and the publishing journey but also in having prayer and friend support. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have some very talented writers as friends, and I’m thankful for that. It helps to have someone to talk to who has been through the process giving me a bit of forewarning for what to expect on this journey.
I’m enjoying the marketing and publicity aspects of this business. Right now, I’m in the process of updating my blog and creating an author web site, so I’m looking forward to when that is done. I also have a few blog interviews like yours this fall and several lined up for when the book releases in June. In April, I’ll visit with Kansas librarians at a convention in Wichita on a panel with Judith Miller, Rene Gutteridge, and Nancy Moser. It’s fun sharing my writing journey with others.
•You’ve attended some author brainstorming sessions. What do you see as the greatest advantages of doing so? Do you consider yourself a pantser or a plotter, and do you think such sessions can benefit both types of writers?
I actually brainstormed the current book I’m writing with some of my Kansas author friends. We brainstormed for 40 minutes on this story, and much of what we discussed I’m using. I’ve done this one other time and believe it helps me see options I might not have imagined on my own. Online brainstorming works too, although not as well as one-on-one sessions with a small group.
I’m a split between a pantser and a plotter. I’ve been forced to plot out my books in synopsis form, and then I write from that. Many times the story strays, but at least I have a proposed course and ending in sight. I’ve found it’s invaluable for keeping those word counts coming.
•Your series, Seasons of the Tallgrass, is set in the Flint Hills of Kansas. What led you to choose this area as the backdrop for your stories? How much of a part does the setting play in each of the three books?
A little geography lesson first: The Kansas Flint Hills is a strip of land, stretching from Nebraska to Oklahoma, two hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, that refuses to be tamed because of the flint rock embedded in the hills. Although farmers once tried to run plows through it, they abandoned their efforts, leaving it to its original native grass. That is why it remains as one of the largest tallgrass prairies in the world.
The Flint Hills setting is key to my Seasons of the Tallgrass books. They are almost a character, in fact. While in college at Emporia, I enrolled in a summer folklore class that studied the history of the Flint Hills. We took day trips into the hills and visited with old timers and ranchers. It was there that my love of the Flint Hills was born. Even now, my heart swells when I drive through them. It’s as though God called me to them, which may sound weird or strange to some, but it’s how it seems to me. My intent for this series is to show readers a modern-day look into this small portion of Kansas where time stands still, and yet moves on in the lives of the ranchers who dwell there. Each book will reveal one family’s dreams and their struggle to hold on to their land and covers one ranching season.
•Your home state of Kansas is one of your loves. Cooking is another. I saw some interesting recipes when I performed a Google search for your name, among them Buffalo Chip Cookies. When did you first develop your consuming interest in all things culinary? Do any of your characters share your penchant for preparing good food?
With two older brothers and a mom and dad who farmed and were often in the fields or working until late at night, it became my job to care for the house and fix many of the meals. That love for cooking has grown through the years, and it’s something I’ve passed on to my own daughters. As for characters in my books, you’ll see some who love to cook. In my current manuscript, I have a young teen who does most of the cooking for the family. Ring any bells? And then in the next book, my main character is a café owner. I’m looking forward to writing that story, which should be a lot of fun. 🙂
•No interview with you would be complete without a mention of horses. They’re such a part of your life and your stories. When did you first become interested in horses? What role do they play in your life today? What’s the most interesting experience you’ve ever had on a horse?
As a girl, I rode horses, read about them in books, and collected Breyer horse models, etc. When I was a freshman in high school, I was out riding one day and one of the leather reins broke. My horse spooked and began running for the barn over a mile away. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop him. We came to a fence on a rim above a pasture, and I knew he was going to jump over it, (because he had a fancy for doing such things) and in so doing I would surely die. So I jumped off him instead.
I broke my arm and wrist and didn’t get on another horse until I was 30. My husband and daughters train our horses, and through them my love for horses has grown even more. It’s been difficult to conquer my fear of runaways. I will say, however, that my husband makes sure we don’t have any barn sour horses, which is a small comfort. LOL
•And now a question just for fun. If you could ride any horse you wanted, past or present, fictional or real, which horse would it be, and why?
Oh, I don’t know if this is a fun question or not, but if I could ride any horse, it would probably be Bonnie, a horse we once owned but died from a ruptured uterus a few years ago. She was the gentlest and most giving horse I’ve ever been around, and is in fact, the horse that I chose to ride when I was 30. <another big grin>
Bonnie had two offspring, and I’m hoping to ride one of them this spring. His name is Joe, and he has a lot of his mama in him. I plan to write a story about Bonnie, hopefully after the Seasons of the Tallgrass series is completed.
It’s been great having you as my guest, Deborah. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
Okay, since this is my debut novel, I’d like to hear from my visitors to see how many of them love horses and horse stories. It’s been my experience that many people have a deep love for horses that began as a child. I, myself, am willing to watch any new movie that features horses and am drawn to book covers that picture horses. What about you?
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Because one of Deborah’s strengths is creating “honest, believable characters,” I’m holding a drawing for Brandilyn Collins’ great book, Getting Into Character. Each person leaving a comment for Deborah gets one entry. I’ll hold the drawing the evening of November 11th.