Interview with Contemporary Novelist J.M. Hochstetler



J. M. Hochstetler was born in central Indiana, the daughter of Mennonite farmers, and graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic languages. Joan was an editor with Abingdon Press for twelve years and has published four novels. Daughter of Liberty, Native Son, and Wind of the Spirit, the first three books of the critically acclaimed American Patriot Series, are set during the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times, is the 2009 Christian Small Publishers Fiction Book of the Year and was a finalist in the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year contest.

Joan is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, Nashville Christian Writers Association, and Historical Novels Society. She and her husband, a retired United Methodist pastor, live near Nashville, Tennessee.

Website: www.jmhochstetler.com
Blog: http://oneholynight.blogspot.com

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Joan. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Answer: I started writing in 1977. I didn't submit anything, however, until the early 1980s, after I attended several writers’ conferences and began to feel a little more confident about someone else reading my work.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Answer: One Holy Night retells the Christmas story through the discovery of a baby found abandoned in the manger of a church’s nativity scene . The story is set in the fictional small town of Shepherdsville, Minnesota, in 1967, when the military build-up in Viet Nam was undergoing a dramatic surge. As a result, an explosion of anti-war sentiment literally tore the country apart, alienated generations, and shattered families. In One Holy Night, the war comes home to Frank and Maggie McRae, whose only son, Mike, is serving as a grunt in Viet Nam, and to their daughter, Julie, and her husband, Dan Christensen, the pastor of a growing church congregation.

The way I try to make sense of life is to write stories about it, and One Holy Night was the result of my search for answers to how we can make sense of our lives and find reconciliation in our relationships. Brokenness of one kind or another affects every family and individual, including me and my own family. And over the years, I’ve questioned where we can find purpose, strength, and healing amid painful situations. So although One Holy Night is at heart a modern-day nativity story, it isn’t a story just for Christmas. It deals with all the gritty issues that impact our lives every day—intergenerational conflict, violence, addictions, war, illness, death, divorce.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?

Answer: The Vietnam War is still a very sensitive subject in this country. It was an extremely divisive time, and I doubt that anyone who didn’t live through it can really understand the depth of the animosity that developed between those who supported the war and those who opposed it. Many of our veterans carry deep wounds from all they experienced during the war and when they came home, and they find it difficult to talk about it. So writing this story in a way that was authentic, yet still compassionate, balanced, and fair to all sides was challenging. I worked very hard to keep my own opinions out of the story, show all sides of the issues, and allow the characters to speak and act from their own hearts.

Do you have a press kit and what do you include in it? Does this press kit appear online and, if so, can you provide a link to where we can see it?

Answer: I do have an online press kit, and you can access it through my website at www.jmhochstetler.com. Scroll down to the bottom navigation bar and click on Press and Blogger Toolkit. It includes a bio, photo, suggested Q & A, my book covers, endorsements, and reviews of my books, which are all downloadable. It also includes links to my blogs.

Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so?

Answer: I speak to groups, including book clubs and retreats, as opportunities arise, and I’ve done one radio interview so far. I’m taping an online radio interview this week, but I don’t have the broadcast date yet. I’ll post it on my blogs as soon as I have that information.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Answer: Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency is my agent. Right now she’s shopping a story based on my Mennonite background. In today’s market, having an agent is very important, though it is possible to land a publishing contract without one. An agent just makes the process easier.

Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it?

Answer: We didn’t really do a blitz, though we sent out press releases and other promotional materials. Because of my busy schedule, most of the promotion I’ve done has been since the release, especially after it won the Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year Award.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Answer: I always have several works in progress going at any one time. Currently my main project is book 4 of my American Patriot Series, and my Mennonite story is next on my plate. As I have time, I’m also working on a full-length fictional treatment of the story of my Amish ancestors who came to this country from Europe in 1738 seeking religious freedom. They got caught up in the French and Indian War when their frontier home was attacked by a band of Indians. Three members of the family were killed and 3 were carried away into captivity and returned years later. It’s an amazing and inspiring story.

Thank you for your interview, Joan. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Answer: My website is www.jmhochstetler.com, and my blogs all link off of it. You’ll find the links under the book covers on the home page. My books are available from most local and chain bookstores as well as from online retailers like Amazon, Christianbook.com, and Barnes and Noble.

Thank you for the opportunity to join in conversation with you and your readers! I’ve enjoyed it very much.
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