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 http://reynoldsluke.blogspot.com/ and my website is www.lukewreynolds.com, 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.