Angela HuntA raging Hurricane Felix approaches and Tampa evacuates—except, it seems, for three women stranded in the elevator of the city's oldest skyscraper. Little do these strangers know that they share a connection: a man on the 36th floor.In researching her latest novel, The Elevator (Steeple Hill, July), Angela Hunt picked a moniker for her fictional hurricane off the list that will be used for named Atlantic storms that brew in 2007. "If Hurricane Felix heads to Tampa, I'm going to be in trouble," jokes Hunt, who lives in nearby Seminole, Fla.
Born and raised in Florida, she's not particularly spooked by hurricanes. But she did want a crucible for trapping tension: A confined space, a power outage, a menacing tempest and interlinking secrets.
Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down (Riverhead, 2006), about four people planning to commit suicide by jumping from a roof, prodded her imagination. Says Hunt, "I got the idea just from looking at the cover [which shows four sets of feet hovering over clouds]. And I heard the plot synopsis. That was enough to kind of send my brain spinning."
When Hunt began writing, she was staying at a hotel in Lakeland, Fla., and found men at work on the elevator. She asked them some questions, and they showed her down the shaft. "I really thought that was what I needed. Then I realized I needed much, much more," she says. Referred to an expert, she e-mailed him, thinking he was an elevator repairman. As it happened, he was an attorney specializing in elevator cases.
"He turned out to be a jewel," Hunt says. For example, she found out that—contrary to some television and movie depictions—it is impossible to climb out the top of an elevator from the inside.
Hunt, who has written or coauthored more than 100 fiction and nonfiction books, often reaches out over the Internet for ideas. For the past two years she has enlivened the isolated life of a prolific writer by interacting with readers via a blog on her Web site, now newly redesigned, www.angelaelwellhunt.com. "I do blog daily," she says, "but I don't guarantee profundity every day!"
While working on a novel, she'll use her blog to try out a scene on her fans, or to show them candidates for a book's cover design. "The other day I asked for songs with dogs in them," she says. "I try to avoid mentioning direct plot spoilers, of course."
Hunt turns 50 this December, and she recently lost a friend who died at age 47. That might have something to do with her forthcoming three-novel series, for Tyndale House, about a recently divorced woman who inherits a funeral home. The first book, Doesn't She Look Natural?, comes out this fall, followed next spring by She Always Wore Red and in fall 2008 by She's in a Better Place.
—Juli Cragg Hilliard
Tracey Bateman readily confesses that she's a lifelong devotee of Days of Our Lives. This devotion may be what inspired her newest book, Catch a Rising Star (FaithWords, July), which depicts a soap opera star's trials with fame, failure and second chances. Or perhaps, like her heroine, she was moved by her own life, which reads like a compelling daytime drama.
Bateman describes her childhood as unstable. She dropped out of high school at age 15 to work at a Western Sizzler, married at 19, bore four children and has battled a serious weight problem for years, eventually electing to undergo gastric bypass surgery. In the midst of the drama, she purchased a computer, set it up in her living room and learned to write while her children were otherwise occupied. Bateman wrote, and wrote some more, and relentlessly sought feedback from others in the field. Her first book, Darling Cassidy (Barbour), was published in March 2001.
"I've always been sort of an overachiever," says Bateman. "When I started writing I knew I was going to be an author. I do love the art of writing, but I don't write for the love of it. My goal is to help my family. If at the beginning of my career I received a lot of rejections, I might not have pursued it. My babies needed me to help provide for them."
Six years later, Bateman is churning out books almost as numerous as those "sands through the hourglass." She is the author of 30 books, which have sold more than 600,000 copies, and has written historical fiction, romance and chick lit.
In Catch a Rising Star, heroine Tabby Brockman gets the opportunity to revive a role on a soap opera after being written off the show several years earlier. This time, however, she faces old friends and foes with a new perspective, a growing faith and the prospect of romance. "I love the whole idea of Tabby being restored in her role," says Bateman. "I love the concept of a second chance. We get hundreds of chances from God in our lives. Through my books I hope to lead people to see that they don't need to stay where they are in life, and to also exercise more grace with themselves and others."Catch a Rising Star is the first novel in the Drama Queen three-book series from FaithWords. The other novels are You Had Me at Goodbye (Feb. 2008) and That's "Not Exactly" Amore (Feb. 2009). Bateman is also the author of Defiant Heart (May), the debut book for Avon Inspire, a new Christian line for Avon Books. The historical romance is the first in a three-book series called Westward Hearts.
Despite the conventional wisdom about what writers must do today to be successful, Athol Dickson is wary of getting caught up in signings, conferences, blogging "and all these things other authors refer to as 'building their brand,' " he says.
Dickson turned from architecture to full-time writing about four years ago, but only two years ago sold the 25-employee firm he owned. He came to regret the way the business side of his successful firm took him away from the artistic aspects of architecture. "I like writing a lot more than I ever liked architecture," he says, and having been set free to create books, he doesn't want it to turn into a business.
Still, Dickson did recently launch a Web site, www.atholdickson.com, and he sometimes posts on Charis Connection (charisconnection.blogspot.com), which is co-moderated by fellow novelists B.J. Hoff and Angela Hunt.
Mostly, though, Dickson just focuses on the work. "I have faith that if I write with excellence, if I work hard on every sentence, people will notice," he says.
The lifelong Texan moved in January to the West Coast when his wife got a job there as a software executive. He's gone from Dallas to Laguna Beach and a new landscape of coastline, hills and bedroom communities. "You can smell flowers in the air when you step out the door," he says. "It kind of makes me think of Eden."
Now the author of six novels, Dickson—whose Louisiana-set River Rising (Bethany House, 2006) won a Christy Award and is a finalist for Christianity Today's Novel of the Year—expects California will give him bountiful inspiration for future novels. But for now his mind is in Maine, the backdrop for his next two novels for Bethany House, The Cure (July) and Winter Haven, expected out next spring.The Cure tells the story of a homeless alcoholic man who finds a remedy for drinking. "The book's not about alcoholism," Dickson stresses. "I guess if I was going to preach a sermon on it, it would be that we're not here to avoid suffering."
The story grew out of Dickson's depression a couple of years ago after protracted grief from his mother's 2001 death. "I had started to think in terms of doctors and medications." But he concluded that wrong thinking, not medical issues, was his problem. "In my case, I was able to work through it with the help of God," he says.
The experience led him to ask: If he could eliminate all the bad things in his life, would he still need God?
Before architecture, Dickson studied sculpture. He relies in his writing on the same creative processes used in those arts. "The only thing that really changes is the tools of the craft and the method of presentation," he says. —Juli Cragg Hilliard