Want to write and publish a book? You can learn a lot from debut novelist Kristin Neva

Kristin Neva doesn’t give up. That’s why she’s got one non-fiction book out, Heavy, co-authored with husband Todd, and her debut novel, the first in a trilogy, coming soon. Her ‘Country Series,’ as I like to call it, begins with Snow Country—a charming, evocative and thought-provoking depiction of life in the Copper Country—and on Copper Island—centered in the fictional twin cities Douglass and Quincy. It’s true to Keweenaw, so authentic to the lifestyle, the landscape of the seasons, and the very smell in the air, that anyone who has been here will be nodding their heads as they read.

Yes. That’s how it is here. In the sow-na, in the shops. In the kitchen, on the snow-covered fields. 

Snow Country is most easily shelved in the inspirational-romance category—or more precisely, as she calls it, “small-town inspirational fiction.” Don’t be fooled, or turned off. My appetite for formula love stories is as long-gone as the Victoria Holt and Barbara Cartland novels I used to devour. If Kristin was giving us predictable lovey-dovey, preachy-preachy, or worst of all boring reads, I wouldn’t be blogging about these books.

Kristin does drop a lot of F-bombs. If faith make you flinch, brace yourself.

Her novels—and the characters that live in them—stand on their own regardless of genre. They are endearing and wholesome. But they’re also so real, full of healthy grit, humor, flaws and appetites. She creates an authentic Yooper world that I think other readers, including those who don’t know anything about life in da UP, will find as fascinating as I do. Especially when it comes to understanding the underpinnings of one of the Copper Country’s most prevalent religions. Also because of the blending of generations that takes place as the story progresses.

It’s been my privilege to edit for Kristin—and I’m not the only one she’s turned to for feedback. This drive to put her work out there, in a way that allows her to think critically about it and ultimately make up her own mind, sets her apart. She continually asks, is it good enough? What about tweaking this? What if I try this? Until she gets it right. That’s how an author is established.

There are writers, fledging or otherwise, who bristle at the merest hint of criticism. They’re impatient, uncertain, confused. Or arrogant and adamant that no one should touch a single letter of their timeless prose.

They don’t see the road to the book, or understand all the help that will be needed along the way to get there. And they aren’t prepared to go the distance. In fact, many of them never go beyond talking about the book they’re going to write. Some day. When they have the time.

Not so with Kristin.

“You have to start somewhere. It’s a process,” she says.

“You can’t go into it thinking you’ll be the next John Grisham right away. People like to ski but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be in the Olympics. Do it for the love of it. You do it because it’s something you want to do.”

More aspects I appreciate about the way Kristin pursues her craft:

She wordsmiths fearlessly and freely. For instance, there’s our first meeting, at a Rekha Ambardar workshop at Portage Lake District Library.  Rekha, a Finlandia University marketing instructor, offers an annual free workshop at the library open to all on a writing topic like character development or plotting.  She asked us to write a scene. I was still warming up by the time the exercise was over. Kristin, meanwhile, has whipped out a work in progress—a children’s story—and crafted a delightful scene that we could see as she read it aloud. Dang, this girl’s a writer, I remember thinking.

She is disciplined. Kristin is as careful and patient in the revision phase as she is fast and free-flowing in the creative phase. Each piece of the whole is carefully considered, from story arc to individual words to how the story makes us feel about certain characters.

She is eager to receive and process constructive criticism. This is where new writers often stumble. It took so much to get the words out that egos fixate on the accomplishment of the task, and balk at the idea that there’s more to be done. Not Kristin.

Kristen Neva's first novel took discipline, courage and craft. And did I mention patience?

She is patient. New writers want to know; how long does it take? For everything. Writing the book. Editing the book. Finding a publisher or a self-publishing mechanism that works for you.  Then more editing. Design. Formatting. Layout. The answer for how long it takes to get a book to market is, it takes as long as it takes.

A couple of caveats—patience does not mean being a doormat or a procrastinator. It’s important to set a realistic timeline, and to work regularly, with commitment and focus. And to expect that from those you are working with. Be up front with them about that. Be clear about deadlines, especially when you do have a publisher or agent on the hook and they’re waiting for a full or a rewrite.

Lessons in Self-Publishing

Heavy came about because the Nevas saw the need for a book that explored what it’s like for a young family to assimilate a life-altering event. Seven years ago Todd was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Learning that the vital young husband and father had ALS was as shocking as the ice-bucket challenges used to raised awareness about the terminal condition.

Kristin and Todd worked hard to craft and polish their book. They were equally diligent seeking publishers. Regular queries went out. They workshopped. Conferenced. Connected with the appropriate audiences. In time—because they kept encountering roadblocks that had nothing to do with the quality of the work—they decided to fill the void by publishing Heavy themselves. They were not being heard. Because publishers do get jaded. Many feel like they’ve heard it all when it comes to books about coping with terminal illness. Even if your book truly is different, as Kristin and Todd know theirs is.

“There isn’t a book written from a Christian perspective about this interior struggle,” Kristin says. “I’m glad we self-published it.”

She freely admits moving forward was daunting. “It was a lot harder than I thought,” she says, speaking of typography, formatting, cover design, quality printing and the auxiliary aspects of writing that are nearly as challenging as writing the book itself. There were elements of service, reciprocity and divine timing conspiring in their favor. A talented friend produced the cover. Another connection yielded quality type-setting.

“Then we had to have the ‘Platform.’ We started a website and connected to other platforms and reached out to reporters.”

As the disease progresses her role shifts to the most basic of care-giving duties. Todd’s valuable, ongoing role in her writing projects provides an important balance in the energy of the relationship.

“At the end of the day with Heavy we had to have consensus,” she says, “These (Copper Island romances) are my books, but Todd has helped me so much. It’s good to have something to focus on other than the disease. As the caregiving is increasing, this is a way that he gives back to me. It’s been good for our marriage.”

Working with voice dictation software enables Todd to assist with tasks such as tailoring query letters or line editing. He also takes a big-picture look in important areas such as rethinking plot structure, says Kristin. While the household is for the most part peaceful, word-use debates are spirited.  “They (daughter Sara and son Isaac, ages 9 and 5 at the time of this interview) mostly see their parents argue about grammar,” she says, smiling.

The only time she finds herself playing with what-ifs or skating on the edge of why-us or we-can’ts is when she is sleep deprived.

A few years ago Kristin Spoke at  a Copper Country Christian Women’s brunch on the topic “When there’s no way out of the valley.” She found herself synchronizing in a relatable way with older women in long-term marriages who had been caregiving for their husbands for decades.

Rather than doing many of the things a couple with children would be doing in their late 30s or early 40s, Kristin sees their lifestyle as something that the elderly can better relate to. “And they’re OK, being at home,” she says.

“We’re just home, together,” she says. “When I can just accept that and be there and we’re home together and we’re writing…it’s a good life, right now, just staying in the present.”

“We’re just having a good life.”

Sarah’s now in fifth grade. Isaac’s in first. Todd has outlived his prognosis. There is much to look forward to. Including a talented writer’s debut novel.

Follow Kristin’s Blog as well as the Neva Family Blog for news on Snow Country’s upcoming release.

Bonus content: Write your first novel during NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Need inspo? There’s plenty out there, including this blog from another outrageously talented Kristen. We are not alone!

Fried Green Tomatoes victory cry.

Go for it! Write your first novel and make Kathy Bates proud!

Let us know how you’re doing. 

 

 

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