This pastor’s wife wears biker boots

When you write a book about a world to which you don’t belong, you can’t help but wonder what the people who actually belong to that world think of your fictional version. Are they insulted? Aghast at your very nerve? Shocked, dismayed, scandalized?

Recently I got a message on my Facebook author page from a pastor’s wife. Karla Akins admitted she had bought “Pastors’ Wives” with the sole intention of reviewing it online. She planned to tell one and all how I did not get even a little bit of it right. Instead, she wrote me a lovely note. We got to corresponding, and I learned she too had written a book about pastors’ wives—albeit one with a much cooler title.

Karla agreed to a Q&A that I hope will a) tell you a little about the novel, b) show you how tickled I am at her reaction, and c) introduce you to this warm, funny and wonderful pastor’s wife.

How did you and your husband meet?

We met through mutual friends. My husband was attending a church similar to Greenleaf in your book, Pastors’ Wives. I was a lot like Ruthie in that I wasn’t raised in such a church. The character Ruthie was Catholic but I was raised American Baptist. Very, very different style of worship than what my husband’s church practiced. I was terrified that first service!

Could you share the name, denomination and location of your church?

Our church is Christian Fellowship Church of North Manchester, Indiana. It is an independent, non-denominational church. I like to describe it as a church whose emphasis is on following Jesus rather than following rules.

What are five words you would use to describe life as the wife of the pastor?

1. Challenging
2. Demanding
3. Stressful
4. Rewarding
5. Faith-building

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

What is the hardest thing about being a PW?

Life in a fishbowl. Constant scrutiny. It’s unsettling sometimes not to have privacy.

The best?

Helping people, families, children.

As a pastor’s wife, did you have misgivings about reading a book titled “Pastors’ Wives”? (I know I would.)

Oh yes. As soon as I saw the title I was very skeptical. In fact, I bought it with the intention of setting the record straight with a review. I thought it was going to make fun of pastors’ wives or criticize them. I figured there was no way someone on the outside could possibly “get” what life is like for a pastor’s wife and be sympathetic in their portrayal of them. There’s a show on TV right now that’s about pastors’ wives and it annoys me because the women they depict are nothing like me and my lifestyle at all, so I figured the book was going to be another skewed look. And while the characters in the the book are in a mega-church, and I’m in a small rural one, I was pleasantly surprised that the emotions are very similar. You were quite often spot on.

What did you think of Ruthie, Candace and Ginger, the PWs in my novel?

I could identify very well with all their emotions. While I’m not like any of the three women, all three have something about them I could identify with. My husband’s been on staff of a few larger churches before, so there were things that happen in the book I could truly see happening. I know what it’s like to be the wife of a staff pastor, and how your identity in those situations are pretty much non-important and that while you are pretty much invisible, you have quite a lot of expectations put upon you. The expectations are very different in a megachurch than a smaller church.

In our smaller church, I’m more of a Candace. That is, the woman behind the man, making sure things run smoothly, overseeing a lot of different departments and activities. Even though I’m an ordained minister myself, I prefer the title of pastor’s wife. I do better in that role. My husband is such an excellent pastor and is very people-oriented while I’m more task oriented.

I think the thing I most identified with in your book were the emotions these women had about feeling like they were playing second fiddle to God. I had to work through those emotions early in our marriage myself. Pastors’ schedules are grueling. And the pastor’s wife has to share her husband with so many others. When the kids were small it was pretty difficult.  This excerpt says it so well:   “What’s it like when the guy you married decides to marry God?…It feels lonely…”

One of my favorite paragraphs in your book was when Candace was trying to decide how to deal with the elder, John:

“…to forgive was to run the risk of being taken advantage of. So should she turn the other cheek? Or demand an eye for an eye?”

This is something that I find myself wrestling with at times. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a peace-maker, not a fighter, and if people see me as a pushover, then so be it.

I really, really wanted Ruthie to develop a faith, and for Ginger’s husband to make different responses. I was impressed with Candace’s backbone and confidence in her abilities. I’ve known pastor’s wives like her, and they are amazing people. However, I would find it difficult to work for someone like her.

You’re an author too! Tell us about your fabulously titled book, “The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots.”

My new release is due on shelves August 9 but it’s already on Amazon in paperback. It will also be available digitally in ebook form.

It’s about a pastor’s wife named Kirstie Donovan who gets tired of living life in a fishbowl. But when she hops on the back of a bright pink motorcycle, tongues start to wag at the conservative, century-old First Independent Christian Community Church of Eel Falls.The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots

Here’s the back cover blurb:  Kirstie loves roaring down a road less traveled by most women over forty, but she’s not just riding her bike for the fun of it. Kirstie has a ministry. However, certain church members have secrets to hide, and when God uses Kirstie’s ministry to fill the pews with leather-clad, tattooed bikers, those secrets could be exposed…and some will stop at nothing to hide the truth. Join Kirstie and her motorcycle “gang”—two church matrons and a mouthy, gum-smacking non-church member—as they discover that road-toughened bikers are quite capable of ministering to others, and faith is fortified in the most unexpected ways.

Where can we find you online?

KarlaAkins.com

http://facebook.com/karlakakins

Twitter: @KarlaAkins

Blog: http://karlaakins.com/blog

Thank you, Karla!

What it’s like to launch a debut novel in 2013

Hard, is what it’s like. Hard. It’s hard.

My first novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” debuted April 30. You already know that if I’m on your Facebook or Twitter feed because I WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT. My sister says I’m turning into the Amway lady, pushing dish detergent and hand lotion on increasingly weirded-out acquaintances.

It’s true. Launching a debut novel in 2013 is all about sales.

Pastors' Wives at Barnes & Noble

My friend Gerry sent me this snap of my book at Barnes & Noble. But many folks these days buy online.

You know who’s bad at sales? Writers.

Marketing a new book is a monstrous task. It’s made harder in my case because mine belongs to a genre called women’s commercial fiction, and we simply get very little traditional press. When’s the last time you saw a major newspaper review of a novel with a beach towel or flower basket on the cover?

Here’s another tricky fact: my novel is set in a Southern evangelical megachurch. Yet it’s not a quote-unquote Christian book. This is an important distinction. Christian books have their own publishers (mine is Plume/Penguin, a secular house) and their own set of rules.

For instance, characters must spend a lot of time in church. Given the setting, that’s a check for me. There can be no language or sex scenes. Um, mine has mild PG-13 content. Characters must also be or become believers; in “Pastors’ Wives,” a conflict arises when a main character’s husband becomes an evangelical pastor just as she realizes she doesn’t believe in God.

We knew all this going in, me and my team (my agents, my publisher, and a wonderful marketing company called Litfuse—I highly recommend them if you have a book like mine). So we decided to focus our marketing strategy online.

This is new for me. In 2006, when my first book was published, the marketing was all about radio interviews, newspaper reviews and personal appearances. What’s changed is how people buy books.

Check out this graph from Bowker:

Book sales chart

The portion of books bought online went from a quarter in 2010 to 44 percent in 2012. In just two years!

It’s desperate enough attracting notice in a bookstore with thousands of titles. So how do you get the attention of readers in a space whose edges you can’t even see?

One answer: book blogs. There are now thousands, maybe millions, of independent readers who have said to hell with the local paper’s weekend book review, if their local paper even has one any more—they’re going to publish their own damn opinions.

What’s more, online book marketing is far more targeted. I could sit in your local bookstore till the cows come home, but how many of its drop-in customers would be interested in my book? Yet if you’re clicking through a book blog specializing in women’s commercial fiction, you’re not there by accident. We could also target websites popular among Christian women readers who might be open to a respectful (if not “Christian”) book set in their world.

What this means for us authors is a lot of hustle—but of the kind we’re trained for, which is writing. So far I’ve written 26 online essays. I’ve participated in interviews for websites from Publisher’s Weekly to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. My online recommendations go from People magazine to Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

Basset hound

On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.

Do some of these sites reach millions while others a few hundred? Yep. But as the author Cheryl Tan (“A Tiger in the Kitchen”) quotes from that New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”

Meaning: a mention is a mention is a mention.

And the hustle doesn’t end with the coverage on other people’s sites. I maintain author pages on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads. I Tweet book news. Last week I hosted my first ever Facebook live chat event. And then of course there’s the upkeep of this here site.

Also it’s not to say you can skip out on live events. Coming up, I’m part of this fun Beach Reads Night on June 7 at the Princeton Public Library, and one at my wonderful local library, both in New Jersey.

Is it exhausting? Look at me. Is it a full-time job that leaves little room for working on other projects, among them my next TV pilot and next novel? Uh huh. Will it pay off? I have no idea. But this is the reality of book publishing in 2013. And there’s no turning back.

My novel published yesterday. Here’s why I wrote it

My novel debuted yesterday. Here’s a post I wrote for SheReads:

If you’d told me five years ago I’d publish a novel and shoot a TV pilot in the same month, I would have laughed.

If you’d told me they’d both be about faith, I’d have laughed so hard I’d have the hiccups for hours.

No one I know would describe me as religious. I was raised Catholic and practiced into my 30s, but Catholics—we’re private about our faith. Forget the yells and bells of more expressive denominations; we barely manage to mumble the liturgy in Mass. We don’t thumb the Bible on the subway. We don’t praise Jesus in polite conversation. We’re outed once a year by that smudge of ash on our foreheads.

And yet.

In 2008, my mother died. She died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, each step of which my siblings and I witnessed in ever heightening despair. Nine months later, our father died of a broken heart.

My parents were the root of my faith. My father was a former Catholic priest who removed the collar to marry my mother, who had in turn converted from Buddhism. They taught me all I knew of faith and love. They remained devout till their last. As I sat weeping by her bedside at the hospital, my mother said to me: “Remember this. You are not alone. You always have Him.”

When they died, I felt forsaken.

I quit my job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and my career in journalism. Inspired by an article I had written for Time, I began Pastors’ Wives, a novel about three women whose lives were defined and dictated by faith, married as they were to pastors at a Southern evangelical megachurch. I imagined their dreams and frustrations, their trials and triumphs.

After the novel sold to Penguin/Plume, I wrote a TV pilot inspired by my father called “The Ordained.” It’s about a priest who becomes a lawyer in order to protect his family, a New York political dynasty. It was bought by CBS last fall, and we just wrapped shooting in April. We’ll find out in mid-May if it will be picked up for series.

We writers have the great privilege of writing through our issues. My crisis of faith led me to write stories that, in their recording, led me to a kind of peace.

But I’d gladly trade that for just one more sunset at the Jersey shore, joking and laughing with my family, holding my parents’ hands.

Mom and Dad

This is my mom and dad. I miss them every day.

The difference between selling a TV pilot and selling a novel

…is that one will eventually see the light of day. The other may not. Ever.

Last year, for the first and maybe last time, I did both. I sold a novel to Penguin, and a TV pilot to CBS.

In both cases, the sale is only the end of the beginning of the process. You get paid, partially; the rest comes in increments, after you hand in the next draft, et cetera. You and your people edit the hell out of the thing. You prepare. You strategize. And you wait.

In the case of my novel, “Pastors’ Wives” (pre-order now on Amazon!), we have a publication date: May 2013. Since we sold the manuscript in February 2012, it’s gone through two edits by my main editor, a copy edit, and something called a pass, which is kind of like a proof. We rejected two cover designs before we landed on one we loved. I begged other authors for blurbs. We’re currently circulating it among book bloggers and reviewers. Next week I meet with my agents, editors and publicists to devise an all-out marketing strategy.

And whatever happens, it will publish in May. If the only people who buy it are related to me by blood, it will still exist in the world.

Not so my pilot.

So far, the 66 pages I bled over have been read by under two dozen people: my manager, my agents, our producers, our studio execs, and our network execs. I made my husband read it. Also a very few people with expertise in my topic, for fact-checking purposes.

That’s it. And that may be it, ever.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll know if mine is among the seven or eight drama pilots CBS will decide to shoot, among the 60 or so it has bought this season. I mention this so you know my odds are loooong.

If it should happen to hit the jackpot, then, yes, many more people will read the script. And if it should happen to win the whole lotto and get sent to series, even the tiniest broadcast TV audience would dwarf a bestselling book’s.

And in the likely event it doesn’t? Then into the bin it goes. No chance of selling it elsewhere, as the studio now owns the rights. The Writer’s Guild stages readings of unproduced teleplays, but that would just be weird.

So here I send my two babies into 2013, their fortunes already set. I love them both. I hope they make it.

How I met my book agent

I walked up to her at a journalism conference.

Books by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

How I met the agent who sold these books.

I don’t actually remember this. I could swear I cold-queried her after finding her name in the copy of “Guide to Literary Agents 2000,” which I still have on my office shelf.

No, she says, I walked up to her after she spoke on a panel about nonfiction books. I just waltzed right on up to this A-list superagent who reps some of the bestselling authors on God’s green earth, apparently, and introduced my unimpressive self.

There’s no way I would do that, I tell her. I don’t have the balls. But she insists. And she’s always right.

I do remember she said my pitch sucked.

That was after the conference, over lunch, after I had with great excitement pitched this idea I had about a reported memoir of my parents. And she didn’t actually say it sucked, because she doesn’t use that kind of language. But I got the message.

Crushed, I went back to my job as a staff writer at Money magazine. Then I did this fellowship, after which I became a Tokyo correspondent for Time, after which I transferred to Time in New York. Through it all, I kept in touch.

I mailed her copies of my splashiest stories. Occasionally, I dropped her an e-mail. Sometimes she responded; sometimes she didn’t.

Then I got a call from a publisher.

It was when I was back at what we call the Mother Ship, or Time headquarters in New York. I had written a feature story about how Baby Boomers were reinventing funerals as celebrations of their lives. A young woman called to ask if I had considered turning the article into a book.

I had not. But now I did.

I told the agent. She read the article, thought about it, and agreed it could work as a book. I can’t remember ever signing anything. But at some point, the agent became my agent.

And, at some point much later, she became my friend. More than that: she’s the big sister I don’t have, my sista from anotha mista.

That’s how I met my book agent.

How to ask a famous author for a blurb

You know, a blurb. Those quotes you see on the back of a book (or, if it’s from someone super famous, the cover) that tell you it’s “brilliant” or “insightful” or “the best thing since the invention of EZ-Pass.”

Among the many steps involved in preparing a new book for launch is the gathering of blurbs. (Not to be confused with reviews from newspapers and magazines; those come later.) A lot of authors prefer to let the publicity department handle this. With good reason. No one likes to grovel.

Because grovel you must. Think about it. You’re asking someone famous, or at least way better known than you, to read your entire manuscript, and then say some flattering thing in a pithy manner. It’s a big ask. A big, honking ask.

Some people like to blurb. Take my friend Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling “The Happiness Project” and the upcoming “Happier at Home” (pre-order now!). She reads like I worry: constantly, by nature. Plus she has a helpful soul.

The author and journalist A.J. Jacobs blurbs so promiscuously that his editor and agent performed an intervention. He writes in The New York Times Book Review of his “blurbing problem”:

My friend, the writer Andy Borowitz, sent me an e-mail that said: “I had the strangest experience today. I went into Barnes & Noble and saw a book that you didn’t blurb.”

But the Gretchens and A.J.s are the exception. Some big-name authors are so busy churning out their own prose—Lisa Scottoline says she “starts at 9 a.m. and goes until Colbert”—that they’ve instituted no-blurb policies. (I don’t know if Lisa S. has a no-blurb policy. I haven’t asked. Yet.) And who can blame them? Easier to hand out a blanket “no” than to assess and cherry-pick and reject.

So what’s a desperate writer to do? I don’t know about you, but here’s my plan of action:

Make a wish list. I’ve been compiling one for a year. On it are some of the biggest names in women’s commercial fiction. You can probably guess most of them. They’re all writers I admire for their clever narratives and memorable characters and—let’s say it—their muscular sales. You want a name that will resonate with the readers you target: “If you like Brand X, you’ll love Brand Y!” But it’s more than that. It’s an endorsement. When Yogi Berra tells the Yankees to check out a young catcher, they listen. (I don’t know where that baseball analogy came from. I just had to Google Yogi Berra to check the spelling.)

Find a connection. Any connection. I ran my list by my agent and my editor at Penguin. They knew some of the authors, or had useful intel (“that one NEVER blurbs, but she might talk it up to influencers”). One author on my list is the friend of a friend. Another shares my agent. Another blurbed one of my editor’s previous books. None of these are guarantees by any means. But it’s like anything else in life…networks help.

Cain’t hurt to ask. Even when the author won’t know you from George. The worst she could say is no. Which brings me to the big question: who does the asking?

I do the asking. Me. Not my editor or my publicist or my agent. Because it’s my damn book. No one will represent it better. And you know what? It’s easy to say no to a rep. Not so easy to slap a no on the face of a hopeful new writer and crush her dreams forever. And yet I must—

Brace myself for No. Because it’s coming, my friend. Some are polite. Others are like the one I got for my first book from a Famous Author, who strung me along with “maybe,” “I don’t know”…and then finally told me he’d decided he didn’t like it enough. What the @#$$%#^!!! Deep breath. As writers, we’re inured to rejection. I’m kidding. We’re so totally not. Rejection blows. And yet we face it, regularly. And here we are. Still not dead. Still not throwing in the towel to go sell life insurance. When you get the No, swallow hard and accept. Or…

Ask again. Sometimes this works. Seriously! I’ll give you a fer example. I once begged the author Mary Roach to blurb my first book, “Remember Me,” about weird ways we celebrate death in America. Besides being one of the funniest and smartest science writers around, Mary had practically birthed my book with “Stiff,” her book about weird ways we use cadavers in America. She was absolutely Number One on my wish list. I got back a lovely note apologizing that she was so busy and her nightstand so stacked with manuscripts by people she actually knew that she just couldn’t in good conscience add mine. So…no. I sunk into a funk. I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t let it go. She seemed so nice. And I really, really wanted her blurb. So I asked again. And guess what? She said yes! Here’s her quote (on the cover of my book, it was that good):

A must-read for anyone who plans on dying.

And that is what makes it all worthwhile.

What End Times, McMansion and guyliner have in common

They’re all words I use in my upcoming book, “Pastors’ Wives.”

Manzanilla olives

Manzanilla olives. I prefer picholine, myself.

I just received the copyedited manuscript of my book. If you’ve ever gotten one of these, you’ll understand why I was expecting a hard copy. A neat stack of pages printed on 8×10 paper, marked up in red and blue pencil.

What I got instead was a Microsoft Word document with tracked changes—and 19 (!) pdf pages of instructions on how not to screw it all up.

Seven of those pages were my very own style guide, based on the Chicago Manual of Style but customized for my book.

I’m familiar with style guides. I lived by a-plenty of them during my many years as a journalist. One thing I’ve learned is that while the rules of style at a given publishing house seem totally arbitrary to outsiders, within, they’re sacrosanct.

Take this one:

Capitalize/ital the in magazine titles (The New Yorker), but not in newspaper titles (the New York Times).

Why? That doesn’t make much sense to me, but fine. Or how about this:

Spell out the following:

  • all whole numbers to one hundred, as well as rounded numbers above that (two hundred, BUT 250)
  • all numbers in dialogue, unless to do so would be cumbersome
  • times in quarter-hour increments (use a.m./p.m. with spelled-out times: seven-thirty a.m.; use a.m./p.m. with figures: 7:35 a.m.)

Not sure I’ll remember that, but okay.

This particular style guide contained a pleasant surprise: the copy editor had checked all the “spellings of all names referring to actual people, places, and titles.”

Here’s a small sampling below. The words are in fact a pretty good snapshot of the book. And possibly of my psyche.

 

baggie
banchan
BeDazzled (as in BeDazzler)
berber
bibimbap
blond (adj, masculine/feminine)
blonde (n, feminine)
blonde-wood (adj)
boldfaced
bulgogi
Charismatic (religion)
chashu pork
Chosen People
croque-monsieur (croque-monsieurs)
dextrophobia
End Times
flutey (adj)
genuphobia
Good News
Gospel
guyliner
Holy Father
jibe (n)
judgy
Kryptonite
manzanilla (olive)
marguerite daisy
McMansion
megachurch
microsuede
momsuit
New Agey
nine-eleven (dialogue)
Northeastern
okay
One True God
pad Thai
smush
snuck
Son of God
superdad
Ten Commandments (BUT the ninth commandment)
wabi-sabi
wackadoo

 

Should writers have families?

This is my family. They need me to do stuff.

I only just got around to writing about this infuriating essay by Roger Rosenblatt in The New York Times Sunday Book Review from May 11. I only just got to it because I was busy ushering my kids out of the school year and into summer camp—with all the report cards and teacher evaluations and forms, the camp bags and the sunblock and the forms—while slamming toward my own deadlines. It begins,

So there I stood at the front of my granddaughter Jessica’s fourth-grade classroom, still as a glazed dog, while Jessie introduced me to her classmates, to whom I was about to speak. “This is my grandfather, Boppo,” she said, invoking my grandpaternal nickname. “He lives in the basement and does nothing.”

Aw, I thought, as I folded the laundry. Boppo. So sweet. But what could that mean, he “does nothing”?

…as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer.

Huh.

Writers and families don’t mix, Rosenblatt says. Writers “do not live in the real world, or wish to,” and therefore “it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do.” Families should treat writers like exotic animals or anarchists—with care and a bit of caution.

Yeah, I thought. My family treats me just like an African gray parrot. Who makes dinner and wipes butts.

But apparently I’m wrong, because writers as a species are totally useless at any of the millions of tasks that make a family function. As proof, he cites an anecdote about E.L. Doctorow, who, asked by his wife to write a note to their daughter’s school, wound up so tangled up in crafting the perfectly worded letter that his wife gave up and wrote it herself.

If the sad truth be known, writers, being the misfits we are, probably ought not to belong to families in the first place. We simply are too self-interested, though we may excuse the flaw by calling it “focused.”

What I would give to be called self-interested. Or focused.

He concludes,

The writer may not be good for the family, but the family may do wonders for the writer simply by teaching him that “it takes all kinds,” including him.

So here’s the gist: while writers add nothing but dead weight to their families, families sure do enrich a writer’s work—if only as material.

Reading his bio, I recalled that Roger Rosenblatt wrote this book and this book about how, following the death of his daughter, he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law and grandchildren. And then I felt bad, because, come on, that’s a lovely and noble thing to do. Besides, Rosenblatt is the grandfather in the house, not the father. It’s enough that he’s there. Surely he’s entitled to “do nothing.” He’s earned it.

But he doesn’t speak for me. Nor any writer I know.

I suppose his kind of writer exists among my generation. There’s probably a 40-year-old genius in Brooklyn who hunches over his laptop while ignoring his wife’s plea for a hand with a poopy diaper. But I doubt it. Because very soon he’d be divorced, or dead.

Notice I speculate only about a dude. That’s because no way any writer mom would ever be accused of self-interest. Or focus.

Rosenblatt cites Alexander Pope and John Cheever and George Seurat as artists who viewed family as an impediment. Of course, many male writers marry. I’ve read that John Updike wrote three pages a day, every day, even when his kids were little. Which leads me to suspect he wasn’t changing those poopy diapers.

And yet, moms write. And sometimes, we write well. Jennifer Egan’s said that she wrote her Pulitzer-winning book during the hours of 9 and 2, in between the school run. If she’s like me, during that time she’s also shoving in the laundry and marinating the ribs and buying the gifts for the weekend birthday parties.

I’m not really mad at Roger Rosenblatt. He’s a distinguished journalist whose work I’ve long admired. I’m just pointing out that some writers, many writers, don’t get to check out from family life. Without us, our families would fall apart. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

How do you know when your novel is finished?

Answer: when it’s due.

My manuscript is due. Like, next Monday. This explains my sudden-onset insomnia. Is it ready? What does ready look like? How do you know when your novel is finished?

Deadline quote

For true.

Like many—maybe most—first-time novelists, it took me a while to push out this puppy. I first published the article on which the novel is based in 2007. I thought at the time it would turn into my second nonfiction book, a journalistic venture into the secret lives of pastors’ wives.

Then I had an awesome idea: this would make a great TV show! Like I had a clue how to make that happen.

But the freakish thing is it almost did happen. That took another two years. Finally, when that project crashed and burned in a spectacular ball of vomit-fire, my book agent said to me: “You have over two years of reporting. You have the characters. You have the plot. Why not just write a novel?”

Like I had a clue how to make that happen.

I tried to find a clue. I took workshops at Mediabistro. I read Anne Lamott and Stephen King. I reread dozens of novels I admire to figure out how real novelists did it.

And then I sat down and started writing.

That was in the fall of 2009. I know this because I have a Word document dated September 2009. Even though it’s titled, “Pastors’ Wives Draft 1,” it consists of exactly three paragraphs.

So when I say “I sat down and started writing,” what I mean is I sat down and started writing and then stopped and made tea and went out to L.A. and came back and started again. Everything interrupted. I pecked away. A few pages here, a chapter there. My agent read a draft, then another, then another.

By the close of 2011, I had a manuscript. It sold in February 2012. My editor at Penguin turned it around with notes in mid-April. They were good notes, thoughtful and smart, not a gutting that would drive me to drink (more). I tweaked. I rewrote. I deleted.

And now, it’s due.

My friend Joe Gangemi, the novelist and screenwriter, told me that John Irving is still correcting his own punctuation at readings of long-ago works. My novel’s no “Owen Meany,” but still, I can’t imagine ever reading it without wincing.

How do you know when your novel is finished? Maybe never. But as it says on a paperweight my sister once gave me, the ultimate inspiration is the deadline.

I’m so pleased to meet you…

I got these flowers for Mother's Day. Pretty, right?

Let’s start with introductions. I’m Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. You probably have some burning questions for me. Because I am the type of person who hates to start sentences with “I am the type of person who,” I’d like to begin our relationship with candor and TMI. Here, below, are some queries I imagined you might have for me, and, also below, my answers:

Q. All so-called writers who have websites are trying to sell something. So. Are you? Selling something?

A. True! And yes! Sometimes, what we’re selling is a book. Other times, it’s our services as writers for hire. Yet other times, it’s what’s fashionably known as a personal brand. Like: “swashbuckling war reporter.” Or: “charming romance author.” Mostly, these days, it’s a relationship. You know…writer + reader = besties. I know. Creepy.

Q. I’ll say. On the off chance I want to know you better, I’m going to have to know you better. Is it true you’re from Japan?

A. True! I was born and raised in Kobe, which is a port city in the southwest. You know how the main island of Honshu is shaped like a sock? Kobe is located around the ball of the foot. You’ve heard of it for our beef, but as I learned only recently, the “Kobe beef” you think you’ve been splurging your annual bonus on isn’t even from Kobe. It’s illegal to export. Which begs the question, what is the stuff we’ve been savoring in our $28 burgers? Pink slime?!

Q. Red meat is gross. What brought you to America?

A. College! But I stayed for your world-class television programming. I love Japanese TV, but it’s pretty bad. Oh, and my husband. I stayed for my husband. (Hi, honey!)

Q. Oh…kay. You never did say what you’re selling.

A. A book! I’m selling a book. It’s a novel called “Pastors’ Wives,” and it’s about pastors’ wives. It’s going to be the lead title (!) from Plume, an imprint of Penguin, for summer 2013. It’s a beach read!

Q. Are you a pastor’s wife or something?

A. Nope! I’m married to a classical musician. He plays the clarinet. Real good, if you ask me, but then again I can’t tell Mahler from Mozart. Strangers assume I’m a musician because a) I’m married to one, and they tend to intermarry, and b) I’m Asian. Though my Tiger Mom made me take piano lessons for like 12 years, I can’t even bang out a decent set of Chopsticks. Isn’t that tragic?

Q. So what in heaven’s name moved you to write an entire novel about pastors and their wives?

A. An article! My article, so you don’t think I lifted the idea. Which would be a terrible thing to do. To back up: in 2007, I wrote this article for TIME magazine, where I was a longtime staff writer and foreign correspondent. (I say “longtime” because my friends who still work there get irked when “TIME writer” gets thrown around by, like, summer interns. But now that I think about it, maybe what it really says is that I never got promoted.) It all began when my editor, Jan Simpson (who now writes this wonderful blog about Broadway), told me to cover a convention of pastors’ wives. (I’ll write a lot more about all this in future posts.)

Q. So you already wrote an article. What’s the novel about?

A. Here’s what it said in Publisher’s Marketplace:

DEBUT: Time magazine writer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s debut novel PASTORS’ WIVES, following three women whose lives converge and intertwine at an Atlanta evangelical mega-church, a dramatic portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the demands of faith, marriage, duty and love, inspired by her magazine reporting.

Q. I can’t wait. No, really. What will you be writing about here?

A. Stuff! I love blogging. Truly. I blogged extensively for Time.com and True/Slant (now Forbes.com), but I quit over a year ago to concentrate on writing books and TV pilots. I’ll post here with news about “Pastors’ Wives” as we prepare it for launch next spring. I’ll post about the swirling slop bucket of frustration that pretty much defines my so-called career as a TV writer. I’ll post anything I think might be useful to other writers out there looking to a) publish books, b) get into TV writing, and/or c) work in journalism. I’m not gonna lie: I’ll promote friends’ books and projects. I’ll post the deep thoughts of a New Jersey mom who every morning marches into her attic office to write something she hopes does not altogether suck.

I’m so very, very happy to meet you. Please come back. And next time you see Kobe beef listed on a menu for the price of a tank of gas, call the manager over and very sweetly demand an explanation.