Versatile and a gifted writer, Robin Hardy is the author of more than twenty books and has been writing Christian fiction for some 29 years. Her first novel, Chataine’s Guardian, was a runner-up for the Gold Medallion Book Award in 1985. She has worked with five different publishers, including Christian book publishers Word and NavPress, and she currently manages Westford Press, which continues to publish her books.
Chataine’s Guardian (written for young readers age 13 and above) tells the beautiful tale of how Deirdre, daughter of the ruler of a country called Lystra, grows up under the care of a Christian soldier named Roman. It’s a tale of mystery, romance and political intrigue. But more than this, the book, like Robin Hardy’s other books, weaves together different layers of meaning in a richly blended story. As counterpoint to Deirdre and Roman’s budding romance, for example, there is also the deeper undercurrent of a story that tells of Deirdre’s coming to understand God’s care for her. Chataine’s Guardian continues in Stone of Help and ends in the Liberation of Lystra in a series titled The Annals of Lystra. A related series, titled The Latter Annals of Lystra revisits Lystra a hundred years later and begins with the story of 17-year old Nicole of Prie Mer, daughter of a humble tailor.
In addition to her Lystra books, Robin Hardy is well known among her readers for her Streiker saga and her Sammy detective stories, among other novels. Of note, the first book in Robin’s Streiker Saga titled Streiker’s Bride, about a billionaire philanthropist’s unusual courtship and proposal to bank teller and aspiring dancer Adair, tied for 5th (nationwide) on Christianity Today‘s Reader’s Choice list for Best Fiction in 1994. Streiker’s Bride is in the process of being made into a movie. (The movie trailer for Streiker’s Bride may be found here.)
Robin Hardy is also editor of W.W. Melton’s classic devotional, Sifted But Saved.
We are thrilled today to have the opportunity to talk with Robin about her writing and also her thoughts on changes in publishing during the years she has been an author.
NS: Thank you Robin for taking the time to chat with us.
RH: Thank you for having me, Nelson! I’m impressed by the research you did for this interview.
NS: What inspired you to write Chataine’s Guardian and what continues to inspire you to write other books?
RH: When my first child was born in 1981, I reluctantly left a job I loved to stay home with her. Babies sleep a lot, you know, so I started slowly losing my mind from boredom. One day while I was rocking her, wondering if I could wake her up to play with her, this story just dropped down on me. To be precise, I saw Roman and Deirdre interacting—her teasing him while he’s doing his level best to keep her safe. Since the story engulfed me, and I didn’t know what else to do with it, I started writing it down.
That turned out to be Book One of the Annals of Lystra, which was followed by Book Two (Stone of Help) and Book Three (High Lord of Lystra, later renamed Liberation of Lystra). Then came the nine books of The Latter Annals of Lystra. As an inveterate storyteller yourself, you know that once you get started telling stories, it’s hard to stop. You always have to know what happens next.
NS: Given that your books often have a deeper message or meaning, does that message come to you first before you craft a story? Or do you begin with a storyline or character that interests you and develop the story from there? What is your writing process like?
RH: I always start with the characters in a particular situation, and go from there. Who are they? What are they doing and why? Any message has got to be a natural outgrowth of events. The primary focus must be on what happens—that is, the plot—and what difference it makes in the lives of the characters.
In writing, I experience the story as a first-hand observer. In editing, I have to go back to fill in gaps, correct mistakes, and get the characters’ motivations right. The hardest part for me is making sure I’m doing justice to the characters. They will surprise you, if you let them, and if you want a good story, you have to let them act according to their own purposes, which you may not understand right away. When you give characters the freedom to act as they will, then you see an authentic plot take shape.
I haven’t done this consistently well in all my books—it’s too tempting to exercise this Godlike control over people—but once the first draft is written and the plot is down on paper, I almost never change it. I’ve altered the plots of only two books: the first Sammy book (Sammy: Dallas Detective) and the third Streiker book (Streiker’s Morning Sun). The publisher considered the first Sammy too dark, so I rewrote the last two-thirds of that book. With Morning Sun, I was dissatisfied with the ending from the start, but my publisher wanted it right away, so I let it go. Twenty years later, I finally realized what was wrong with it and what I needed to do to correct it. That change is reflected in the 4th edition, newly released this year.
NS: Digital technology today has given authors a wider range of options to publish their works. Could you tell us a little about what the process for publication was like when you first published Chataine’s Guardian in 1984? Would you have done things differently (and perhaps published the book yourself) if today’s technologies were available back then?
RH: Oh, lordy. My first three manuscripts I wrote by hand on legal pads. Back then, the best way to get published was to become involved in the field: networking, attending conferences, and landing an agent. Failing that, you mailed (via USPS) query letters to publishers introducing yourself and your work. If they were interested, they would ask you to mail a synopsis and a few chapters (on paper). If they were still interested after that, they’d ask you to send the whole manuscript ON PAPER. Everything was done on paper—writing, editing, typesetting. Unbelievable, I know.
Since I had two young children early in my writing career, I made the deliberate decision to give them priority and forgo the conferences and speaking engagements. This definitely impacted my prospects, but it was the right thing for me to do.
Hmm. The second part of your question is difficult to answer, as it’s impossible to separate the technology from the state of publishing at the time. But when we get to one of the other questions that you have asked me (below), I’ll tell you what I would do if I were starting out today.
NS: I see that you have reissued some of the older books that were published by Word and NavPress under your own Westford Press imprint. How does that process work?
RH: It works far differently now that it did ten, twelve years ago. When my books with Word and NavPress went out of print, I started getting letters from readers asking where they could buy them. So I began having them republished with a vanity press, starting with the Streiker Saga. That worked well enough, except it was very expensive, costing several thousand dollars per book.
In 2003 I began to explore options of being my own publisher and contracting with a company to print and distribute my books in the United States, and then later worldwide. Westford Press began in September of that year with the release of Nicole of Prie Mer: Book One of the Latter Annals of Lystra. That is when I first observed the changes that technology was making to publishing: in 2003 and 2004 I saved formatted books on 3.5” floppy disks that I mailed to the printer via USPS; by 2005, I was uploading everything online.
NS: Recently, you selected new covers for a number of your books. What was the reason for that? I understand that this coincided also with moving your books over to Createspace as a distribution platform. What has been your experience with this change? Any particular challenges or benefits that you can highlight?
RH: Oh, excellent questions. First, many of my old covers needed refreshing and updating, and I have professional resources available to me now that I didn’t have starting out. Second, I had been watching Amazon’s CreateSpace from the beginning, as they are doing what my previous printer/distributor had done, only faster and cheaper.
Switching over was challenging in that all of my books—30 of them—had to be reformatted to conform to CreateSpace’s publishing platform. This I had to do personally because reformatting necessarily involves editing. Also, it was a great opportunity to correct mistakes and update content. I began this process in early March; am still not done.
The greatest benefit has been working with Amazon, which (as you know) I call the Roman Empire of customer service. They are ruthless in making sure you’re satisfied with their products. Technically, the paperbacks have been equal in quality to what my previous printer had produced. By the way, although the ebook editions (available through Kindle, Nook and Kobo) outsell the paperbacks by a 3-to-1 margin, we’ll continue to make paperbacks available to readers who prefer them. Amazon makes this feasible. Another great benefit of working with Amazon is their real-time sales updates.
When I began my career 30+ years ago, I was very fortunate to be published by reputable, well-regarded publishers who helped me establish a reputation and then dropped me. As a result, I have retained all rights to all of my books and can do anything I want with them. It troubles me to see publishers that require authors to write under pen names. They will earn royalties under such an arrangement, but it’s that much harder to establish a reader base. Also, publishers today are much more hardcore about retaining subsidiary rights for movies, ebooks, audiobooks, etc. I’ve seen contracts that stipulate the publisher’s subsidiary rights shall continue in perpetuity, even after the book goes out of print. This is so wrong.
Therefore, if I were starting out today, I’d go straight to self-publishing ebooks. Stories like Amanda Hocking’s self-publishing success story are becoming almost common. The catch is, if you don’t have a publisher promoting you, you have to do it yourself. I’d pay attention to what the public is buying and how to market with new technologies.
NS: What are your working on now in terms of writing and publishing? Oh, and the Streiker movie, any news on when it will be released?
RH: I’ve started a new Sammy manuscript, which will be #12 in that series. I love Sammy because he’s so much fun to torment, but my readers wanted more Streiker, so I’m having Streiker invade the Sammy Series. I did this before: in His Strange Ways, Streiker went calling on Paul of Padre. That was fun. I’ve been calling HSW the sequel to the Streiker Saga, but it’s not, really—not as much as this new one apparently will be.
Thank you for asking about the Streiker Movie! It’s in development, and I understand they expect to start filming next year. Readers who are interested can follow updates on the movie’s Facebook page.
(This interview was conducted by Nelson Suit for Inkspokes.)
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Pictured on the left: Chataine’s Guardian is the first book in the series The Annals of Lystra. Streiker’s Bride is the first book in the Streiker Saga, and Sammy: Dallas Detective is the first book in the Sammy detective stories.