Monday, May 21, 2012


Luke Reynolds

Posted by Ruby Johnson

It's our pleasure to welcome Luke Reynolds to our blog. A former teacher of English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, he also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University. He currently makes his home in York, England with his wife Jennifer and son Tyler. Luke is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

 We are happy he could find the time to talk  about the writing life and on  Friday he is sharing an excerpt of his newest book.

Luke has offered a Query Critique for one lucky person who comments on his post today. 


Luke, thank you for joining us to talk about writing.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Ruby! Pumped to be here.

You’ve written four books all non-fiction but each has a different focus- children, teaching, foreign work in Darfur and, currently, an inspirational craft book for writers. Could you share a bit about your latest book KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON?

Essentially, KEEP CALM is a book that I wrote because I needed to tell myself these words. My wife, Jennifer, and I moved to York, England almost two years ago, along with our toddler, Tyler. I left a job teaching middle school, and Jen left her role as a stay-at-home-mother to pursue her PhD. Making a massive family switch and many lifestyle changes. Goodbye drying machine! Hello hanging clothes on the line in rainy England! It definitely proved challenging. Along with those changes, I was trying hard to make it as a writer. Like all of us, I’d received so many rejections that I sometimes found it hard to keep going—day after day—especially when financially we really needed a small boost to help pay the bills. And then Winston Churchill’s wartime slogan, Keep Calm and Carry On just transmogrified inside my heart, and became Keep Calm and QUERY On. I took the words to heart, and I began writing in a frenzied burst of hope and faith and passion. I needed to break open my own heart and tell myself why it was important to keep writing—to keep believing. What resulted from this freedom is KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON. I also decided to ask some of my favourite authors to do interviews with me for the book, as I wanted readers to receive wisdom and inspiration from writers at all different points of their journeys.

What can readers expect when they pick up one of your books?
My deepest hope is that when readers pick up a book on which I’ve worked, they’ll say, Luke tried to be as authentic and as honest as possible. He tried to tell it like it is, holding nothing back. I also hope that readers come away with a sense of possibility—what’s possible in our frail world—that hope finds a way to stay alive, and that when we work on anything with passion and persistence—whether that be parenting, crafting fiction, teaching—our lives are more fulfilling, more authentic.

When you sit down to write a book what is the first aspect you focus on?
When I sit down and begin a new book, the first question I find myself asking is, Do I have to tell this story? In other words, I try to check in with my heart and make sure that this story—whether fiction or non-fiction—has been acting the part of a toddler having a tantrum. Has the story defiantly refused to leave me alone? Has a character or a question or a problem knocked on my head and heart repeatedly and at all hours of the day and night? If so, then I start writing—and usually it’s quite awful to begin with. Treacherous. Bad. But I keep writing, and I try to gain a sense of why my heart and head so desperately wanted to tell the story. Usually, it’s because there’s a question inside me that I want to explore—and as writers, we can explore questions and problems in our work. Not that we necessarily always come to conclusions, but it’s the journey of asking honestly that nurtures both ourselves and our readers, I think.

How long does it take you to write a book from concept to submission?
Great question. The honest answer is that the time it takes me to complete a book and start sending it out is becoming slower and slower. And slower. And I think this is a great thing.. When I first started writing seriously about ten years ago, I would crank out a novel in two months. I’d sit at that desk and pound the keys and plan nothing and just write page after page. Not surprisingly, these early attempts weren’t very good. I wasn’t taking the time to linger over my drafts, consider every sentence at the level it needed to be considered. I also wasn’t thinking as honestly and thoughtfully about my characters and their problems as I needed to. In the beginning, I wrote only with my heart. I think this is a great way to START a project, but if the head never gets involved, the word only reaches a certain point. Now, I still write first drafts quickly, but then I try to take time away from them, go back and do full revisions, take time away, go back, over and over and over. Now, it’s taking me more along the lines of a year to get a book feeling ready. On this note, my admirable and awesome agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette has been such a source of inspiration and instruction. Joan has helped me learn to take time away from a manuscript, to let it “percolate,” and this has been the most helpful advice I’ve gotten since I started writing.

Is there one person in your life that cheers you on and inspires you to write?
I feel like I have been sustained by people who are thoughtful, kind, and warm with their encouragement. Most especially, my wife Jennifer Reynolds is a constant source of support. She’s such a perspicacious thinker when it comes to seeing my writing lows as just that—lows and not truth. She helps me see the bigger picture and encourages me to keep working on projects even if I’m befuddled as to where to go. My writing mentor, John Robinson, has also been an incredible source of inspiration and encouragement. John is an amazing writer, and he is so generous with his faith in me. When I hit a wall, I can send John an e-mail, and he comes back with so much passionate support that it tends to shock me out of discouragement and propels me forward again. My agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, is remarkable. And I use that word in its full force and meaning. Joan is the hardest worker I know when it comes to writing and agenting—she’s crafted the beautiful novel Nowhere Girl as well as numerous picture books and more novels and other books to come! Joan is always ready with both insight and encouragement for any project, and she is just so dang kind. To find someone who is incredibly talented, intelligent, kind, and encouraging is, I think, not all that common. Finally, author Kathy Erskine has been such a support on this England journey. Through correspondence, her words haver often instructed and inspired me in so many ways.

What makes you want to sit down at your computer and write every day?
The possibilities. I think writing feels so much like living sometimes. Sitting down to write feels like waking up in the morning: what could happen? How could it happen? What if this massive obstacle is inserted into what was going to happen? It’s so much fun when things are kicking into gear and the writing feels organic to living—like the characters and the story are real, not imagined.

What challenge or struggle do you face when you do write? How do you then go about addressing the part with which you struggle?
My biggest challenge right now is the sense of feeling overwhelmed. I can sometimes write notes and notes and notes in my writing journal regarding a revision of a project. Then, when I gather up all these notes and revision ideas and sit down with the first or second draft of a novel, I kind of hit this massive wall and the feeling that I won’t EVER be able to finish the revisions and get to the next draft feels so hard to get past. Usually, I try to tell myself that it can happen as slow as it needs to. There’s no rush. That usually gets me started, and once I’m started and beyond the first few pages, I find that momentum kicks in and the wall shrinks each day that I keep going.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing and publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
This: everything happens slowly. (For the most part.) Everything takes a lot of time. I think of the publishing world now in terms of pregnancy. Consider how long it takes to conceive a baby for most couples—not just on the first try. Often many months (maybe even a year or more?). Then, after conception, it takes nine months to grow a baby! Then, even when the baby is born, that little ball of human flesh and joy still isn’t capable of much beyond pooping, eating, and crying. It takes another couple years before we start to hear words, running, etc. It takes long time to grow a child. I think it takes just as long to grow a book. And we can sometimes get frustrated—hurry up! We want to yell at a manuscript or the publishing world or anything else. But telling a child to get taller just because we want to get to the next stage does no one any good. Instead, I think the key thing is to enjoy every stage of the life of our children and the life of our books. Not rush them, but love them for where they’re at, then slowly grow them further.

If you could have dinner with any living author what would you ask him/her?
I would hands-down have dinner with Harper Lee. I would seriously just want to sit across from Ms. Lee, look into her face (Yes: stare! Yes: gaze!) and hang on every single word she uttered. For a while, I tried to write to Ms. Lee, and after a while, I finally got a return letter from her sister, Alice Lee, which was cordial and kind, but which disclosed what everyone already knows: Harper Lee doesn’t correspond or talk much with those outside her small circle in Monroeville, Alabama. Still, that letter from Alice Lee was so kind and a joy to receive. Harper Lee’s character Atticus Finch is among the role models of my life. Reading his words to his children, I admit: I just break down. Seriously, I mean I WEEP. His life and his actions and his ideas are just so dang beautiful.

Finally, where can we buy your books? Find you on the web? Your favorite social media sites?
I’m not too much of a social media guru, but I have been getting onto Facebook more lately. Mainly, I blog as often as possible about life in York and writing and social justice and faith at my blog INTERSECTIONS located at and my website is, where there are links directing viewers to all book options.
Thanks so much Ruby! And peace and courage to you and all your readers!

Luke will be back here on friday to share an excerpt from his book. In the meantime, Luke has a question for you: What creation have you been most proud of since you began writing--whether from your childhood or a few days ago.


Luke Reynolds is also the author of A CALL TO CREATIVITY and the co-editor of BURNED IN (Teacher College Press, 2011),with Audrey Friedman) and DEDICATED TO THE PEOPLE OF DARFUR (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennnifer Reynolds). His book A NEW MAN (Stonegarden 2007) explores a more authentic, honest possibility for masculinity in our contemporary culture. His writing has also appeared in The Believer, The Writer, The Sonora Review, The Hartford Courant, Arizona Daily Sun, Mutuality, Hunger Mountain, and Tucson Weekly.


Laura Hurlburt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Hurlburt said...

What thoughtful and informative answers! Thank you for taking the time to share. As a new writer who has yet to venture into the waters attempting publishing, everything I can read to offer clarity and perspective is a blessing. This blog was truly helpful.

As to the creation of which I'm most proud, my five-year-old self wrote a thrilling story of a heroic cat and his damsel in distress and my eighteen-year-old self wrote a great poem about bluebonnets. But it is the current piece I've finished and am now editing of which I'm most proud. It is a YA high fantasy about a girl who discovers her life is not as it seems and that reality is greater than our senses imply.

Thank you again for sharing.

Matthew Bryant said...

An absolutely priceless wealth of information. I just finished up at the DFW Writer's Conference in Hurst, TX and was absolutely winded with the abundance of information thrown my way.

Between queries and pitch sessions, there's a lot of confusion. During the gong session, where they publicly destroy query letters, I was able to pick up on a lot of DO NOTs, but not so many DOs. I'm excited to check out your book when the opportunity arises.

Thanks so much for donating some of your time to us!

Thorne said...

I can see why you write. You put together thoughts that resonate with readers. Thank you so much. Just what I needed today. What am I most proud of? Finally, putting a story on paper that's been cooking in my brain for years.

Cal said...

There are a lot of articles on how to do queries, but one never knows if it's right. Thank you for giving us the courage to send another one. I'm most proud of winning several awards for writing and watching my son excel in boyscouts.

Ruby Johnson said...

Hi Luke:
Thanks for stopping by. Nice thoughtful information. If I had to say what I am most proud of it would be my ability to see the structure of things and being able to use that ability to create. Awards for being the best at something always make you proud but only for a short time.

SusieSheehey said...

Thanks for sharing the inside of your writing life with us, Luke! I definitely know the feeling and trepidation to a lifestyle change around writing.
What writers conferences do you normally attend, if any? Do you have any advice for writers attending conferences?

Caroline Clemmons said...

If you mean writing, I am most proud of one of my first books, THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE. Rights have reverted to me and it's now on Amazon and Smashwords. I've had so many emails from fans about that book. Today, I found it on a piracy site, and that makes me both angry and sad.

Luke Reynolds said...

Thanks for sharing all these lovely moments of the writing (and life experiences) of which you are most proud. I am really enjoying each. It's uncanny how the writing of which we're most proud sometimes isn't the writing that might be considered the "best" work we've done. I remember a student in one of my 7th grade classes who wrote a poem that just knocked my socks off--and even now, three years later, that poem is still as fresh in my mind as the day I first read it. By the measure of literary standards, my student's poem wouldn't necessarily hold a candle to Yeats or Gwendolyn Brooks or Jimmy Santiago Baca--but this student achieved something marvelous and miraculous because he wrote with such authenticity and courage that it took my breath away. So, in an ironic sense, the poem I sometimes think I love most is that student's poem--rather than any other with more literary worth.

Susie, as far as conferences go, I haven't attended many. I absolutely LOVED the Rutgers One-on-One conference for Children's and YA writers (and highly recommend applying to anyone who is interested). As far as advice during a conference, this will sound trite but I would say: be a sponge. Soak up all the advice, ideas, friend connections, and support you can. Be very willing to listen to changes others might suggest about work, and relish the opportunity to connect with other writers, agents, and editors.

Anonymous said...

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