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Janet Chester Bly is the author of 12 inspirational books, co-author to 19 books in various genres (including historical and contemporary mysteries and devotionals), and a speaker for various women's retreats and writing workshops.
After losing her beloved husband, business partner, and best friend, Stephen Bly, Janet must forge a new path for herself as a writer, a business woman, and a child of God.
To begin that journey of healing, Janet and her boys have decided to carry on Stephen's legacy by finishing his last book in the Stuart Brannon series, Stuart Brannon's Final Shot.
After my husband finished with seminary and began to serve in his first church as a pastor, I said to him, "Now that you've found what God wants you to do, I wonder what His will is for me?"
He replied, "That's easy. You do stuff for me and stuff for the church."
Well, I wanted a more specific job description so I began a search of trying to discover my God-given skills. One of those pursuits included attending a writer's conference.
One day when I was transcribing one of Stephen's sermons, at the request of folks in the congregation, I noticed how many stories he used.
"Can I pull some of these out and send them to magazines?" I asked him.
"Sure," he said, "but don't get me involved. Writing's your thing, not mine."
After several of them got accepted, he changed his mind and began to pursue the art of writing for himself. We became a team. We both wrote. I edited everything and did all the extra work to send them and record them too.
After a few stops and starts, I enjoyed a season of steady contracts and writing opportunities for several years, then more ups and downs. For a decade or so, I spent most of my energies coming alongside my husband to help him edit and market his projects. Also, our brand, as writers, centered on his emphasis on writing western fiction.
That was the team dynamic for us.
However, Stephen (my late husband) was quick to mention to the audiences (when he spoke) that "Janet is my favorite devotional writer". This helped to focus the attention on our multi-faceted writing outreach; including our co-authored topics: non-fiction family life themes and cozy mysteries for our fiction.
Right now, I'm working on some fiction ideas of my own that fit more of the women's fiction slant, as well as market the huge backlist of my husband's works to a new generation of readers.
What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to pitching yourself as an author and what steps have you taken to overcome that obstacle?
Because we have written such a variety of books over the years, it's hard to explain what we write when folks ask, "What do you write?" So, we've focused on our website and our ministry outreach under the banner, Bly Books, rather than our names.
Most active readers of Christian fiction, when they hear my late husband's name, immediately associate him with westerns. However, he wrote many other types of books, including theological, family life themes, and contemporary fiction.
Now, over the next year or so, I will need to transition into who I am as a writer; without my writing partner.
The challenge has always been for me to figure out the priorities between the people in my life and the projects.
I tend to be introverted, comfortable with my own company, and don't mind long sieges of being alone with a computer or research books. However, I enjoy my family and friends, too. Once I get out, I'm glad I did and realize I had not only gotten house bound, but developed a bit of depression with my solitary existence.
Now, as a fairly new widow, the need is greater.
I have a note on my bathroom wall that reminds me to:
I belong to several social networks… such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Shoutlife, GoodReads, and Linked In.
As I interact in personal ways with various followers and friends on these sites, I also include steady updates about what's happening with our books.
When my husband was active and healthy, he and I did a lot of speaking. That always generated a lot of interest in our books. We've always appreciated getting to know the readers and have tried to be faithful in correspondence with them. They've become like family, certainly friends.
The best advice I could give is to treat readers like people rather than just potential customers. Don't be like some authors who show a kind of desperation that borders on spamming everyone around them. Be as much concerned with sharing a prayer concern, or congratulating others on the good news in their lives, as you are with sales numbers.
One piece of advice that was given to us when my husband first entered into pastoral ministry transferred to the writing also: Success is never certain and failure is never final.
So much of the writing journey encounters ups and downs, ins and outs. One day I'm so sure that I've just made the biggest deal of my life. I'm on my way, whatever that means. Then in the midst of announcing this, I learned it fell through or it wasn't what I expected.
Other times, I've been so discouraged that I locked the office door and vowed to never send out another manuscript.
But… when I realized I was called by God to be a writer, I determined instead to do the next thing I was given to do, no matter how small, no matter the outcome.
That's why I plod along and persevere in my daily chosen writing tasks. That's what being a real writer is all about. That's also the crux of living out my faith in Christ.
Stuart Brannon's Final Shot was started by my late husband, Stephen Bly, and finished by myself and our 3 sons—Russell, Michael and Aaron.
It's set in 1905. Two orphans flee from Tillamook Head on the Oregon coast. One of them is branded a hero. Dare they tell the truth and risk the wrath of a dangerous man?
Meanwhile, a retired lawman and rancher searches for his missing U.S. Marshal friend while he grapples to learn the game of golf on behalf of a celebrity tournament. It's at the tail end of the Old West era and Stuart Brannon feels like a fish out of water. He struggles with leaving the comfort and familiarity of his desert home, the modern contraptions like motor cars, telephones and movies, and trying to find justice by trusting in the system of laws he fought to get enacted.
My husband did. As he dealt with his cancer, he found enjoyment in playing golf again after many years of neglect. In fact, he had participated in both high school and college team competitions.
As he made the rounds of an old course on the Oregon coast during a vacation, he developed the plot of trying to teach the game to an Old West cowboy.
Stuart Brannon's Final Shot is the last of The Stuart Brannon Series, the end of an era, the final Stephen Bly novel, and has also the double meaning of the last time Brannon's weapons and golf clubs are used.
Within weeks of my husband's funeral and all the many legal and financial duties that need to be tended to, my sons and I had to discipline our minds and emotions to the task of writing their dad's novel.
We had only 10% of the project from which to work. Stephen left us with 7,000 words, a one-page synopsis, and a long list of character names.
To begin with, we had major catch-up to do with the basics of the genre. Stephen knew the facts, the times, the context, and where he intended to go with the plot. We had to do major guesswork on what he'd do and research on all fronts. That's why I needed the sons' involvement.
Though they had never written a novel, they had their dad's genes and between them, his imagination, creativity, and wit. This needed to read like a Stephen Bly story and take on a Stuart Brannon personna.
In the meantime, the process was cathartic for all of us. We entered into Stephen's world, discovered insights into his writing process, as we laughed and cried over so many fond memories.
I toured the Oregon coast to study the sights, smells and sounds and historical details.
We had to know about 1905's law enforcement, the layout of the town sites, how to dig for razor clams and the contours of the Gearhart golf course. I also learned all I could about gray whales, snakes and wild horses.
Then, I ventured to Fort Clatsop, where explorers Lewis and Clark wintered in1805. I had to scan their journals and investigate the Portland Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. As I mentioned to the motel manager, where I stayed about my project, she suggested the names of local and regional people I could interview… this provided a wealth of research material.
The onsite research proved especially crucial when I discovered a huge mistake we had made. The Tillamook Head promontory near Seaside was a late addition to our landscape scheme, to substitute for the island off the coast of Oregon we'd chosen for a prominent scene, that we discovered couldn't exist. No islands anywhere, only rock outcroppings, said a museum director.
We all listened over and over to the audio versions of the original Stuart Brannon Series, to know Stuart Brannon as close as a brother and get immersed into his inner life and many adventures through the years.
Each of the sons probed their own assigned topics, such as Europe and assassinations. England's weddings and royalty. Goldfield, Nevada with its mining and labor unions. Panama and the canal project, with connections to France, Nicaragua and Colombia. The controversy and intrigues of the Panama Canal project turned out to inform a large part of the plot.
That it would be a fitting and acceptable conclusion to my husband's prolific legacy as an inspirational writer.
We worked hard to find a moral premise for the book that we believed would be acceptable to Stephen and compatible with the character of Stuart Brannon. The theme revolves around searching for justice while showing mercy that brings rewards, while injustice and lack of mercy ends in failure.
One of the most satisfying comments we have received about the book so far is that the reader could not determine, no matter how hard they tried, where Stephen Bly's part of the story ended and our input began. "It's seamless," we've heard over and over.
My current work in progress is a fictional tale growing out of my father's experiences at the European Battle of the Bulge at the end of World War II. I have in mind to make it a family saga… father, mother, daughter, and how war affected all of them.
Ever since I received dad's Combat Journal, that kernel of an idea has grown. I now have the opening to flush out the concept. I also have a box full of other possible projects scribbled out over the years that I want to pursue in the next year or two.
Where all of that will lead, only God knows. It's my next thing to do. The results are up to Him.
You can learn more about Janet Bly at BlyBooks.com.