through His Word
In this interview with Tessa Emily Hall, you'll read about how a dream to write and touch lives became a reality. I met Tessa at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and we have been friends ever since. Our first books were published about the same time, last fall. We both know what it means to write and rewrite, edit, promote our books, and work on the next one. The adventure never ends! It's not always easy, but it's worth it. Here's Tessa...
1. What made you want to be a writer?
My passion for stories began when I was only 3 years old. I remember having such an urge to read books—I thought it was so cool how people could actually interpret the marks on pages and read a story! My sister taught me to read at that age, and it was also then when I wrote my first book, The Colorful Dolphin. So I guess you could say that I have always wanted to be a writer.
However, when I was 13, I felt like writing was going to be more than just a hobby; it was going to be my ministry. I felt like God wanted me to write Christian fiction books for teenagers—although I had no idea that the Christian fiction genre even existed.
But one day, when I was 14, I decided to Google Christian fiction for teens. I was so happy to find several books by the author Melody Carlson. After that, I knew without a doubt that was the path God intended me to take with in my writing career.
2. What is your first book about?
Purple Moon is about a 16-year-old girl, Selena, who has to stay at her snobby cousin’s lake house for the summer while her mom is at a Christian rehab. Selena is relieved that her mom has finally signed up for rehab, but she’s not exactly thrilled about the fact that her summer plans are ruined. Not only that, but her mom is making Selena take a break from her “bad habits” as well.
But while Selena’s in NC during the summer, she runs into some old friends of hers who give her hope that perhaps there will be a new beginning for her and her mom—just like the kind she has always dreamt of.
3. Why did you choose that story line?
I wanted to write from the perspective of a teen who used to know Christ as a child—but when she grew up and discovered life was not the fairy tale she once imagined, she neglected her relationship with God. I didn’t want to write just a simple, clean, Christian story; instead, I wanted to incorporate issues that teens face daily.
This story first began with the character Selena, and I think I was subconsciously inspired to write about her since I have met several “Selena’s” in my life: people who have lost the hope they once had and have instead chosen to seek fulfillment in worldly things. The story line was also greatly inspired by the skit that many churches have performed to the song “Everything” by Lifehouse, which you can find here.
4. When did you start writing Purple Moon, and how old were you when it was published?
I started writing the first version of Purple Moon when I was 15—although it had a different title, a different setting, and an overall different plot than the book does now. I was 16 when I completed the first draft and attended my first writer’s conference, which is where I met my soon-to-be-publisher. After emailing my manuscript to him after the conference, he offered me a contract about three months later. However, I didn’t sign the contract until I was 17 (after much prayer and consideration).
Since I was continuing to learn so much about the writing craft, I didn’t send my manuscript to my editor right away. I wanted to continue editing it myself and apply what I was learning. I was 18 when I finally decided to send it to my editor, and it was published a year later, when I was 19.
5. Tell us about what you are doing to invest in future writers who are younger (or older) than you.
I love encouraging other writers, especially teenagers. I’ve been posting writing tips on my blog, Christ is Write, for almost five years now. I also run a bi-monthly writing prompt contest on my blog titled Monday’s Minute Challenge.
When I was about 14 and had no clue of how the industry worked, I emailed so many authors because I wanted someone to help guide me through the process—a writing mentor, I guess you could say. So every time I receive an email from a teen writer now, I have such an urge to give them the “writing roadmap” that I always wanted at their age.
Because of this, I have decided to write a book for teen writers—one that will include all of the information and advice that I always want to share in those emails. In this book, I will include my journey as a teenage writer, present the advantages and disadvantages of being a teen author (so they can make an informed decision), give them a roadmap on how the publishing process works, offer writing tips, and answer the questions I get asked often. Hopefully I will be able to self-publish this book within the next year or so. =)
6. What tip would you give someone who is starting to write fiction?
There are 3 things every aspiring author should do: Read, research, and write.
Read as many books as you can get your hands on. Immerse yourself in words, and especially read books that are in the genre that you hope to write.
Research the writing craft and publishing industry. I’m surprised at how many people skip the step, assuming they can learn about the industry as they go and claiming that writing cannot be taught. This is not true. Even the most talented writers have to study the craft. Although it is an art, it is still a career, and you need to study in this career if you want to become the best writer you can be.
Also, make sure to research the publishing industry before you dive in. It’s important that you always know the route you are taking before you get in the car to drive somewhere; you need to have your destination in mind so you won’t become lost and give up. Agents and editors can always spot amateur writers, and those are usually the ones who did not spend the necessary time beforehand to study the craft and to learn the industry.
And, of course, write as much as you can. If you can’t find a block of time to do this, at least try to write 5 minutes a day. If you have a book on your heart, don’t tell yourself that you’ll write it some day when your life is not so busy. That time may never come. Writers will always find time to write, even when it seems impossible. Trust me, these 5 minutes per day will add up!
7. From a fiction writer’s point of view, what tip would you give a Bible study writer (or non-fiction writer)?
Christian fiction writers are constantly being told to avoid sermons in their books—why? Because readers do not want to be preached at. They want a story. They want entertainment.
Of course, this rule doesn’t exactly apply in the same way for Bible studies; however, I do think there is a lot that non-fiction writers can learn from this.
When we are presented the truth in the form of a story, it seems to have more of an impact on us. We remember stories; we don’t always remember facts or sermons. Think about it: Why do you think Jesus used parables in illustrating the Kingdom?
Because of this, my advice to non-fiction writers would be to include as many stories as you can in order to get your message across. And if possible, do this in a way that reveals the truth subtly, yet powerfully, without making the reader feel as if they are being condemned for their sin.
8. Tell us about your current book tour.
Moon and Arrow Book Tour is the tour that I am on this fall with teen author, Caroline George. We are visiting schools, homeschool groups, coffee shops, etc. to share parts of our publishing journeys and to encourage teens to pursue their dreams at a young age as well.
Our schedule is still open for more bookings, so if your school, homeschool group, etc. is located in the Southeast and you would be interested in having us, let us know! If you are not located in the Southeast, we would still be willing to “visit” via video chat. Send us an email at email@example.com if you’re interested.
9. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have so much fun making a variety of lattes. Although I do not own a latte or an espresso maker, I have discovered a way to make lattes just by making drip coffee and then using a blender to froth the milk. I’ve been creating my own lattes that are completely dairy-free, sugar-free, and organic—yet still very much tastey. =)
I also love to make art journals. My mom is an artist and has an art studio in our basement, so I will sometimes go down there while she is working and create an art journal with her supplies. We’re hoping to start selling them on Etsy soon!
And, of course, I love to read. I always get frustrated over the fact that there are so many books to read, yet just not enough time to read them. My favorite genre is YA contemporary, but I also enjoy dystopian, sci-fi, speculative, mystery/suspense/thrillers, non-fiction, and memoirs.
10. You have an awesome blog. Tell us about what kinds of articles you post and what your Monday Minute Challenge is all about.
Thank you! I love blogging about my passions, which include Jesus, writing, and coffee. On Mondays, I’ll post a personal post or Monday’s Minute Challenge; on Wednesday, I write a fiction-related post; and on Fridays, I write a faith-related post.
Since I love encouraging other teen writers, I wanted to host something on my blog that would challenge them to write more often. When I was a teen, I came up with several writing ideas through writing prompts—and many times these prompts were ones I created based on a song, photograph, or a quote.
With that in mind, this past January I decided to start a writing prompt contest which gives teenagers (or anyone who is interested) the opportunity to write more, come up with writing ideas, meet other teen writers, receive encouragement from others, and be awarded for their effort.
I post Monday’s Minute Challenge every other week. Another writer and I judge the entries and choose a first place, second place, third place, as well as three honorable recognitions.
11. Do you hope to continue writing, or is there another career you would like to pursue?
I really feel like this is what God intends me to do for the rest of my life. I love everything about this job: writing, the ministry aspect, speaking, book signings, writing conferences, blogging, etc. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I hope to not only write in YA contemporary, but venture out into other genres and age groups as well.
However, I do have other aspirations that I would like to pursue alongside my writing, such as: Be a literary agent one day, act and work for Christian films, have a speaking ministry, open a coffee shop (or at least work for one), start a magazine for Christian teens, and write screenplays.
And to be honest, even more than my desire to write is my desire to be involved in ministry. If that is the only thing I achieve for the rest of my life, then I would be completely happy and fulfilled.
I come from a very ambitious family. But you know what? I’ve realized that those who aren’t ambitious don’t achieve much in life. I would much rather be an over-achiever than an under-achiever. I also don’t think anything is impossible with God—and honestly, God has proven this so many times within my family.
12. Finally, and this may be one of the most important questions, tell us one thing you absolutely love about God. How does He inspire you and motivate you to serve Him through writing and all that you do for Him?
I am so grateful that absolutely nothing can separate me from God. None of my sins, none of my failures, none of my hardships. His love for me is unconditional; His mercies are new every morning. I honestly have no idea how those who are not saved can go through life without having Him to hold onto.
It is my hope, through writing fiction, to illustrate just how good He is. I want my readers to long to have a relationship with Him after reading my books.
No, I don’t want to preach through my writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to water down the spiritual element. I want my stories to radiate God’s love; I want them to be centered around this. I don’t want to just write a story that has a subtle Christian element, one that can only be discovered by Christians. Instead, I want all of my stories to challenge my readers to draw closer to God.
That is what I prayed for when I wrote Purple Moon: that readers’ eyes would be opened and they would experience His love while reading Selena’s story. And you know what? I have received so many letters from readers who said they had that exact experience while reading Purple Moon.
So it is definitely God’s love that continues to inspire me, every day, to tell others about this relationship they can have. That is my number one goal, my number one reason for wanting to pursue writing for the rest of my life.
Tessa Emily Hall spends her days sipping on lattes, cuddling with her Teacup Shih-Tzu, immersed in a book, and singing along to country music. She sacrificed her high school years to write about a teen whose life was far more interesting than hers. This resulted in her debut YA Christian fiction novel, PURPLE MOON, a Selah Finalist published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is also a freelance writer, a teen columnist for Whole Magazine, and on the Teen Advisory Board for DevoZine. Tessa resides in South Carolina where she is currently studying to earn a degree in Creative Writing.
Check out these important links, and follow Tessa on social media:
Tessa Emily Hall, Purple Moon, writing, YA books, fiction, Christ is Write, Katy Kauffman, When Dreams Become Reality: An Interview with YA Novelist Tessa Emily Hall