Meet the charming and lovely Lena Goldfinch! She’s an author, book formatter, and a professional cover designer who has done well for herself on all counts. She’s an indie who’s authored some adorable YAs that could be categorized as classics (given time), and she recently released another wonderful book, Sweet Briar Rose, that is a favorite among certain circles. Lena is here today to talk a bit about her life, routine, and her new release. Join us!
Miranda ~ Hello Lena! Super excited to have you visit TBAP today! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Lena: Hi, Miranda! Great to be here! Thanks for inviting me.
I’m a wife and the mother of two growing young adults. In fact, my youngest recently graduated from college! I’m also the dog-mom of two adorable Labrador retrievers. Besides walking these adorable dogs and binge-watching Netflix, we enjoy going out to eat (okay, it’s mostly me who enjoys going out to eat, possibly because I’m not a great cook.😉 My day-to-day typically revolves around writing and my indie publishing endeavors. We’re also members of the Granite State Church of Christ here in New Hampshire.
Miranda ~ Would be delighted to learn how you became a Christian. Could you please tell us the story?
Lena: I’d love to. I was raised to go to church and to have a faith in God and Jesus, but I really didn’t come to my own personal faith until I was a teenager and began to “seek God” for myself. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Jeremiah 29:11-14, where it says, God wants us to seek Him, and there are promises to be found by us when we do (Paraphrased). We all need to have our own personal faith journeys. I believe that very strongly.
At that time, my sister was active in a wonderful campus church group in Clemson, SC (where I went to college once I graduated high school). I went to informal campus Bible studies with her and felt like there was so much more for me to learn. With her help, I studied through many scriptures, focusing on the life of Jesus and His ministry, death, burial, and resurrection, and also the lives of the early disciples. We studied out passages on sin and repentance, and it all just went from there.
For the first time, I was truly “cut to the heart” and wanted to know what I needed to do to be saved (Acts 2:32-47). I came to repentance over my own sin, was baptized, and believe that day I received forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. That was the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith.
Miranda ~ Your journey into publishing has been an interesting one. Why did you decide to go indie from the beginning? Is there a story behind your decision? Would you prefer to stay indie rather than go traditional?
Lena: When I first began my writing journey in January 2001 (my New Year’s Resolution was to write a novel), I set out to be traditionally published, because (way back then!) there weren’t opportunities to indie publish, except for vanity presses where people paid out large sums and ended up with boxes of paperbacks in their garages. I focused on learning the craft of writing and, my early efforts were recognized with several contest finals, including RWA’s Golden Heart and ACFW’s Genesis contests. Meanwhile, I was diligently submitting proposals to traditional publishers. Fast forward to 2010, and my novella, The Language of Souls (historical romance with light fantasy elements), was published with a small e-press (this is back when ebooks were just starting out). That was a positive experience in many ways, but once I got my rights back to that story, I was ready to try out indie publishing. I’d become disenchanted with the long waits of the submission grind and so many near misses. Honestly, I’m thankful for that period. I learned my craft (and am continually learning), and it set me up for indie publishing with several completed manuscripts.
My first self-publication efforts were very stressful, if I’m being honest, but oh-so exciting as well! I was so afraid of making mistakes. But I found the process learnable if I was willing to put in the time and effort. I was also a software engineer, so I was used to working with computers, which helped. I already knew how to use Microsoft Word and could format documents, for instance.
I’m not currently seeking a traditional publisher. I love the control and freedom of being indie. It suits my personality. I also love mastering new skills, and being an indie author is a constant wave of learning new things, from the creative side of writing novels to cover design to marketing, and so on.
Miranda ~ Though you’re a Christian, you prefer to write mainstream and recently released one. Is there a reason for preferring to go mainstream?
Lena: I don’t think of myself as a mainstream writer, really. I think of myself as a Christian who writes. All my fiction reflects my faith, beliefs, and worldview. Some of my stories have more of a faith element though and are marketed as Christian Fiction (like The Brides Series, which is Historical Christian Romance). While my latest, Sweet Briar Rose, isn’t shelved as Christian fiction, there are still elements of faith woven throughout. I think anything I write is going to have “me” so deeply in there that the faith is going to come through somehow. ☺
Miranda ~ Tell us about your new book, Sweet Briar Rose! What do you hope your readers will walk away with?
Lena: In Sweet Briar Rose, Rose, the main character, has recently lost her father, a sea captain. She’s grieving. She also lost her livelihood (I’m short-cutting here, as it’s a bit complicated by family matters). So she makes a choice that some women of her era actually made in difficult times—she answers an advertisement from a man in Colorado who’s interested in matrimony. (In the West, there were many more men than women. Back East, after the losses of Civil War, there were more young women than young men. Enter matrimonial ads and agencies.)
The story is about their romance. It’s about Rose arriving and grappling with the reality of what she’s chosen to do. She has a bit of a personal crisis, deciding whether she really wants to marry (after traveling cross country by train from Maine to Colorado!). Meanwhile, Emmett, a hopeless romantic, has already given his heart. But he doesn’t really know Rose yet. Getting snowed-in during a terrible storm puts their rocky relationship to the test.
The story is also about Rose regaining herself, and Emmett’s role in helping her heal. She used to carve sculptures from driftwood and sold them back home. After the loss of her father, she loses her creative spark. Though she’s tried, she can’t seem to create any new whimsical creatures—when she normally loved to sculpt and yearns to do so again. (There’s a bit of autobiographical story in this as my father had cancer and passed away last year, so I was going through my own creative crisis. I subconsciously explore things I’m grappling with through fiction, as do many authors, so this is no surprise. Sweet Briar Rose was the first story I completed as I was dealing with my own grief.)
Ultimately, this is a sweet romantic tale of two (hopefully) very real people.
What do I want readers to walk away with? A warm happy feeling. That’s what I always want my readers to walk away with. If they can also sigh a time or two over a sweetly romantic passage, that’s even better.
Miranda ~ Who are the authors who’ve inspired your kind of writing? How in particular do you handle sensual scenes? Are there principles to it?
Lena: I like stories with emotional arcs and lots of sweet romance, mostly historical. One of my favorite authors is Lynn Kurland, who drew me in with tales of time travel and Scottish lairds. Her writing style is just so fluid, and she weaves humor into her stories in such an engaging way. She has “voice,” that elusive thing that authors strive for. Back in my teens, I also read a lot of historical romances set in the West (USA), so those authors most likely influenced my writing of The Brides Series, which is Western-set. Two of my favorites were Carolyn Davidson and Cheryl St. John. For Christian romance, there’s Janette Oke and so many others.
I have a strong conviction that sensual scenes should be handled with care and respect. I respect my own faith and boundaries. I respect the characters and want to be true to their experience and beliefs. Any sensual content that appears in my fiction needs to be realistic, with real feelings.
The litmus test? I never want to write or publish anything that’s going to violate my conscience. Foremost, I’m answerable to God. So that’s my standard. There’s romantic content in the Bible. The Song of Solomon, for instance, is the most beautiful love poetry ever written. But it’s in no way graphic or titillating. It’s beautiful.
There’s room in my books for emotion and honest feelings of attraction. There’s kissing, when the scene calls for it. It’s my hope this is always realistically and respectfully presented. Any love scenes in my books will be between married characters and are strictly fade-to-black, closed-door intimacy. (Several reviews of my books have noted, in essence, that “your grandmother and your teen daughter could read this book,” and I’d say there’s some truth in that!)
Miranda ~ You’re also a cover designer. How did you get into this line of art, what led you to it, and how long have you been a cover artist?
Lena: I was always interested in art growing up. When I graduated high school, I was seriously considering a degree in art. I ended up majoring in Math and Computer Science, but I also worked in electives in art and art history.
My first attempts at cover art were simply for myself, as part of my creative process.
I’ve always collected images surrounding my stories that have inspired me (landscapes, characters, and historical objects, like ornately carved desks with hidden compartments). I’m a very visual person.
When I finished my very first novel, I printed up my manuscript pages and made a mock-up book with a cover I’d designed. I even had it spiral-bound at Staples. I repeated that process with many of my early manuscripts. It was just for fun.
When I was seriously pursuing self-publishing, I knew I wanted to do my own covers. As a web designer (a career I morphed into as a software engineer), I had Photoshop experience and I’d designed websites. I was also mentored by Lisa Amowitz, a talented YA author and cover designer who teaches design at the college level. Lisa very patiently and generously guided me through process of learning professional design principles, such as typography. We co-designed the cover for Aire in that season of my life. (Thank you, Lisa!) I’ve since had the pleasure of working with a couple of other designers on book cover designs, especially when I’ve wanted a fresh perspective.
In time, I began working as a freelance cover designer for other indie authors (including you!). I’ve found that process creatively rewarding. Going back to my very first cover designs for myself, I’ve been creating covers for over seventeen years. As for freelance design, I’d say four or five years. These days, my primarily focus is on writing and designing my own covers.
Miranda ~ How would you describe your experiences as a cover artist and an author? One versus the other—though they are both part of the publishing world—how would you compare both departments?
Lena: To me, they’ve always been creatively linked. I view myself as a writer who likes to design covers. (And not so much as a designer who likes to write books.)
As for comparison, they are both creative endeavors but draw from different wells. I could be mentally exhausted from storytelling, but then switch gears and work on something in Photoshop. The bigger problem for me is eyestrain. As a writer, book formatter, and a designer (and as a former computer programmer), I’ve put in a LOT of screen time in my life. (We won’t even talk about my smartphone addiction or Netflix binge-watching!) That means my eyes are constantly exposed to a lot of light. These tasks also require intense focus on text, color, and detail work. I’ve learned that I need to take breaks, and have also pulled back on design projects.
Miranda ~ What are you most grateful for right now and generally?
Lena: This past year plus has been a time of transition. We moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. That was a huge upheaval, as anyone who’s moved states has experienced!
My son, as I mentioned earlier, graduated from college and is making strides toward becoming an independent adult. (This is a small miracle in my eyes, not unlike the days when I was first teaching him to drive. Talk about a surreal experience. I remember vividly those first times he took the wheel and I was in the passenger seat! Now he’s venturing out on his own.)
In that time, I also lost my dad.
In times of emotional upheaval, it’s made me appreciate friends and family more. I’m grateful for my husband and my kids. I’m grateful for friends, old and new. (As an introverted writer I have to push myself out into the world sometimes, but I know I need it!)
I’m grateful, finally, to God for answered prayers, for strength, and for his comforting arms around me through it all.
Miranda ~ What advice would you give to an author who’s just starting out as an indie author?
Lena: Dear Author,
As an indie author you must switch between wearing two hats. Your writing hat and your publishing hat.
While you’re writing, wear that creative hat. Really enjoy it. But when you’re finished, you’ve got to change your thinking. You have to stop thinking of your book as “precious art” or your baby and start thinking about it more dispassionately, as a product you’re trying to sell. It’s weird, but somehow you need to get this going on.
Focus on learning the craft of writing a novel first and foremost. Read what you love, write what you love, and strive to improve. Have fun.
Learn novel structure by studying novels you love and learning from writers who are good teachers (I highly recommend the Writing With Depth and Novel Structure Workshops by Dean Wesley Smith). Find books that make sense of the writing process in a way you understand.
There is no one way. There is no “perfect” novel.
Don’t “polish” your novel into oblivion (please don’t turn your fiction into a dry term paper with perfect grammar and yet no life). Protect your voice. Find and work with a good copyeditor who finds the typos, spelling errors, and inconsistencies, and yet respects and protects your voice.
On the business side, learn as much as you can about self-publishing. You’re becoming an indie publishing press, which is a business. In accord with your budget, get professional cover design, copyediting, and book formatting. You’re generating a product to be sold in an international marketplace. Be as professional as possible.
That said, I couldn’t afford a lot of publishing costs starting out, but I started with what I had. I was able to swap cover design for copyediting, for instance. Whenever you can add to your skill toolkit, you have something worth trading for.
Study how to write effective book descriptions. Learn the ins and outs of keywords, book categories, and marketing. Network with other indie authors, preferably find nice folks ahead of you in the game and learn from them (there are so many indie author groups online, ex. private Facebook groups).
Save yourself a lot of hair pulling and buy Vellum for ebook and paperback formatting (and explore other wonderful programs or tools out there to help you get publishing tasks done better and faster).
There are so many ways to become an indie author. Experiment and find a path that works for you and fits with your aspirations and life.
Be brave and publish.
Afraid of failure? The easiest route to failure is to not publish at all. (We’re playing mind games now.) Your book will never ever sell a single copy if you never put it out there. But if you do put it out there, you may just discover your tribe, your readers.
Don’t expect overnight success, but be willing to work and to be patient. (It took years before I started finding my readers and earning any kind of significant income from publishing.)
Most of all, I hope you have fun with it. It’s a great time to be an author.
THIS or THAT (The Fun Qs!)
Coffee, Tea or Mocha? Coffee with half and half, no sugar (I’m into this Hawaiian Vanilla Macadamia Nut blend at the moment)
Dresses or Pants? Jeans
Boots or Heels? Boots
Gym or Outdoor? Outdoor
Summer or Winter? Can I please choose spring and fall? LOL! If not, summer. I get way too cold in the winter.
Breakfast or Dinner? Yes, please! Are you treating?? ❤
Cooking or Cleaning? Eating out! ☺
Books or Music? Books and Music
Juice or Smoothie? Smoothie (better yet, milkshake)
Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla (with chocolate, peanut butter, and/or caramel)
Fruit or Salad? Salad
Scarf or Gloves? If I have to choose, gloves. But seriously, if it’s cold, I’ve got it all on, including thermal underwear, tall snow boots, and a down jacket. I live in New Hampshire!
Blazer or Leather Jacket? Leather jacket
Thank you, Lena, for visiting TBAP today! Thanks for having me here, Miranda! It’s always a pleasure to spend time with you. ☺
About Lena Goldfinch
Lena Goldfinch writes sweet historical Western romance, inspirational romance, and books for teens, books with a taste of “sigh-worthy romance.” Lena has been a finalist in several national writing contests, including the RWA Golden Heart and ACFW Genesis contests.