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One of the several fiction authors I edit is Murray Pura. He’s one of the authors who makes my job easy. (Actually, I’m blessed as an editor because ALL my authors are very talented!). Murray’s writing is excellent and his manuscripts arrive pretty clean. You’ll find some of his Harvest House books here.

Because he’s so talented, so prolific, and so verstatile, I thought we’d all benefit from an interview with him. I know I gleaned some insight from his words of wisdom.

NH: Murray, how long have you been writing?

MP: I actually wrote my first real stories for my mom when I was about nine – they were Perry Mason stories because that was one of her favorite TV shows.

NH: Do you remember your first published work?

MP: Sure. It was a short story called “The Only Way” and it was published in Teen Power magazine when I was sixteen.

NH: You pastored for a long time. Were you writing then? How did you find the time to write?

MP: Yes, I’ve always been writing whether I was in high school, university, seminary or pastoring. I used my days off and quiet evenings to write when I served churches. I guess the other pastors played golf to relax and I wrote books.

NH: You’re a very versatile writer. You do both fiction and non-fiction, and even your fiction spans more than one genre. Do you have a preference for fiction or non-fiction?

MP: No, I like both, but I probably do four works of fiction for every work of non-fiction. That’s why I’m very grateful when an opportunity to do non-fiction comes my way.

NH: As I mentioned, you write fiction in more than one genre. Do you have a favorite genre?

MP: Probably historical fiction, I like writing about dramatic events in world history and putting ordinary people into the middle of extraordinary circumstances. However I would like to try my hand at more works of contemporary fiction in the future.

NH: In addition to your versatility, you’re also a thorough researcher and a fast writer. As to research, can you give us a rough idea of what percentage of your time working on a novel is research? And do you enjoy the research or is a necessary evil?

MP: I’ve always liked history and biography, and I do have an academic side, so doing research is painless, really. I thrive on the opportunity to learn more. I would say research takes up 25-30% of the time I spend writing a novel. Not all of it is done ahead of time. A good deal takes place during the writing stage.

NH: As to being a fast writer, what are your secrets? What does your writing day look like?

MP: Up at about 7 AM, exercise in my home gym, have a light breakfast, check emails and FB, then get into the author mode. I start writing about the images and visions in my head and away I go. A 2000-3000 word day is a normal day. A couple of hours into the writing I hit my sweet spot where material is pouring out of my mind faster than I can get it down. Sometimes I take a break around 5 or 6 and then come back a few hours later and write some more. If I’m making supper I knock off at 4. I no longer care when or where I write, I don’t need a certain setting and I don’t need to be in a certain mood, and if my muse isn’t around I write anyways. Actually, all of my life and faith is my muse, there is always a story or a scene in my head, I am always ready to type something out or jot something down. There’s never an absence of something brewing, it seems, whether it’s planned or unplanned. I hit the sack between 11 and midnight.

NH: As your editor, I’ve noticed you reply quickly to my e-mails. So I assume while you’re writing you also often access your e-mail and possibly social media. Do you consider these as welcome mini-breaks from your writing, and not a distraction? Do they not break your concentration while writing?

MP: If I’m in a light writing part I don’t mind answering emails, etc. And many times I’m letting an idea or scene brew a bit more so I don’t mind the distraction, that’s correct, because I want other images and ideas to gel a bit more. If I was in a really intense scene or scenes and the flow was going I would shut down mail and FB until I was done.

NH: How do you approach a new novel you’re writing? Do you outline or do you just start with a basic idea and let the story take you for a ride?

MP: I do both. There is a general outline, things that need to happen, places I need to go, people that need to be around. But I’m well aware that everything can change after you write that first page. Characters do different things than you imagined they would, new characters pop up, some plot ideas don’t work after a while so you jettison them. There’s a kind of ultimate destiny over everything that you plan for, and that’s supposed to rule, but the free will of the characters always brings in new scenes and new plot developments you didn’t count on. That’s when you feel like the story is writing itself and you’re simply the first writer that’s handy to pour itself through onto a WORD doc.

NH: In addition to the several excellent novels you’ve written for Harvest House, you’ve also been writing for some online publishers. Tell us about that and give us a link.

MP: Well, you know there’s an ebook revolution going on. One aspect of this is episodic fiction or fiction written and released in installments. This is like a TV series or similar to the way Dickens published his novels 150 years ago or Conan Doyle published his Sherlock Holmes’ stories in papers or magazines. People buy an ebook volume for 99¢ and wait 3 weeks for the next one. I’ve written two books that way so far: The Rose of Lancaster County (the Amish in Colonial America) that came out in ten ebook volumes of around 7000-8000 words each, and A Road Called Love (the Amish in a contemporary setting) which came out in four larger volumes of 25,000 words each. Currently I’m working on two more: The Painted Sky, a western set in New Mexico in 1866, and Seven Oaks, a Civil war romance set in Virginia. I’m also editing a Civil War series called Cry of Freedom and a romance series called Blue Heaven – I recruit the writers and then get the stories out every two weeks. I work with Helping Hands Press and all the ebooks are posted and reviewed on Amazon Kindle and released via Kobo and Nook too. Eventually they are published as paperbacks as well.

NH: Are you at liberty to say what you’re working on next?

MP: I just finished a big project with Harvest House, a novel entitled London Dawn, the third and final book in the Danforths of Lancashire series. For Helping Hands Press I have my first foray into Arthurian and Christian fantasy coming up in another series of ebook installments – The Name of the Hawk. As well as another Amish romance in the fall or winter.

NH: Do you have any authors you consider mentors?

MP: Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Tolstoy, Chaim Potok, Jack Kerouac, Rudy Wiebe, Annie Dillard are some of the novelists. But poets have also had an enormous influence on me: Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, Dante, and Milton are some of those. I think Franklin W. Dixon must have affected me because I read the Hardy Boys with a passion and Lloyd C. Douglas too (The Robe, The Big Fisherman). Douglas made a huge difference because he taught me that I could write about my faith by means of dramatic and interesting stories.

NH: What are you reading now?

MP: Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody. That’s one. I like books on Celtic Christian spirituality, the Irish and Scottish churches of the Middle Ages, so I’m reading those too. The Celtic churches were absolutely centered in Christ and spoke about that commitment with so much poetry and power, it never fails to inspire me.

NH: Is there a greatest story?

MP: Everybody has different opinions and favorite authors. The gospel story remains for me, as Fulton Oursler called it, The Greatest Story Ever Told – it’s appeal is perennial and immortal, it will never die. Similarly, to borrow from Fulton Oursler again, the Bible – with its scores of books, its multitude of authors and characters and stories set in the midst of prophecies, bloody battles, rambling birth records, great good and great evil – is for me, in all its raw and rugged beauty and complexity, The Greatest Book Ever Written. The Gospels and the entire Bible itself have had more impact on me as a man and as a writer than any other works on earth. Together they constitute a masterpiece in which no final chapter is ever reached, no final page ever turned.

NH: Thanks, Murray!

As a follow-up to my recent I Hate It When That Happens blog, I now offer the promised balance to that rant.

1. I love it when I begin reading (with skepticism) a manuscript by an unknown author, only to discover a gem of a book and a very promising writer. Please make my day by being the next author to delight me in such a way.

2. I love it when one of the books I’ve written (or edited) results in a changed life and I find out about it. I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I was at a conference attended by a man who, without knowing who I was or where I worked, told me about a book that had truly changed his life. It was a book I had championed at Harvest House and edited. So very gratifying! I have a few cherished notes from readers of my own books that I feel like should be framed for their positive effect on me as a writer. I can’t think of anything more motivating for a writer than to hear that his or her book has changed a life.

3. I love it when an aspiring author understands that succeeding as a writer isn’t just about writing. It’s about fulfilling one’s destiny; it’s about being part of the family that is Christian publishing. It’s about knowing you’re on a team with fellow writers, editors, and agents; all working for the same thing and all suffering our share of setbacks and advances.

4. I love it when a truly good book gets the notice it deserves. That doesn’t happen often enough.

5. I love it when an out-of-the-box book (often one that few people believed in) becomes a game-changer in our industry. Such books in the past few decades include Love Comes Softly, This Present Darkness, At Home in Mitford, The Shack, and The Harbinger. (I’ll love it even more when a future game-changer is written by Nick Harrison). :-)

6. I love it when someone comes up with a book idea that’s so original and yet so obvious I slap my forehead and shout, “Now why didn’t I think of that?!”

7. I love it when I must heavily edit a manuscript and the author actually likes my changes.

8. I love it when I get a yes from the publishing committee. Sometimes authors don’t understand that a successful book must pass muster with not just an editor, but also with the folks in the sales and marketing departments. They bring an important consideration to the table when they weigh in on the pros and cons of the proposal I’m pitching from their point of view.

9. I love it when an author I’ve had to reject lets me know he or she has just landed a contract with another publisher—one that is obviously a better fit for their book than Harvest House was. I well remember the two times I was present when an author I rejected won an award. I was as excited as they were. Their award, after all, validated my judgment.

10. I love it when, after several rejections, a good author will self-publish his or her book and then get out and promote it. I love it that self-publishing has come as far as it has and that it’s now an open door for anyone brave enough to step through. Quite frankly, there are many advantages to self-publishing. One advantage is the timing. An author can have a self-published book out in a very short time. But the books I take to the publishing committee now won’t be published until 2015. That’s a long time to wait. (Caveat: it’s one thing to believe in your work, but get some feedback from folks who will tell you the truth about your book before you make the self-publishing decision. If your self-published book is poorly written or if you won’t promote it, you will be stacking those boxes of books in your garage or extra bedroom for years to come).

Well, that felt good! No grousing this time. Instead of a rant, this was meant to be a hymn of praise to all that is good and lovely in our industry. And that is much indeed.