Thursday, October 29, 2020

Author Spotlight: Jennifer Beckstrand - Mom, Mathematician, Author

By Leah Kornacki

Today we are very proud to shine a spotlight on our client and friend Jennifer Beckstrand. Jennifer has been represented by the agency for ten years now, and was discovered by our founder Mary Sue Seymour. We love Jennifer’s story, so we asked her to share more about how she came to be published and what advice she has for budding authors.

Jennifer is a lifelong fan of fiction, but didn't begin her journey as an author until well after she started a family. Jennifer's first passion was algebra, and she actually holds a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics. Even though She isn’t a career mathematician, Jennifer says the math degree was probably the best decision she’s ever made because it has come in handy getting all six of her kids through high school and college. 

Her dream of writing came after she had her fourth child and began to suffer from insomnia brought on by restless thoughts. When she couldn’t sleep, Jennifer would write a Western romance story in her head. Eventually, she looked forward to bedtime more than ever before because she could spend the time exploring more of her story.

“You know how about four kids into your life you suffer from chronic insomnia because you can’t stop wondering what you forgot to do that day—like hug your child or go to the bathroom? 

Anyway, that is basically how I started my writing career.”

Today Jennifer has 24 books published (with four more on the way!), but she wasn’t always a book writing machine. She says it took her 14 years to finish her first novel, a 130,000-word Western historical romance titled Rachel’s Angel, which won best novel in the League of Utah Writers Contest in 2008 and first place in the Inspirational category at the Utah Romance Writers Conference in 2009.

She says the first thing aspiring writers must make peace with is the very difficult and painful realization that not everyone is going to like their work.

“I pitched my book to one agent who wasn’t interested because she said it wasn’t “steamy” enough. Another agent judged my manuscript in a contest, and I could tell without her having to spell it out for me that she hated my story with a white-hot passion.” 

It was Mary Sue Seymour who finally showed interest in Jennifer’s work. Mary Sue was looking for an author who could write inspirational romance, and she knew Jennifer was the right fit for the agency. Today, we know Jennifer as a resident rock star in Amish Fiction, but it was Mary Sue who originally suggested she research the genre. Jennifer quickly put together three synopses and a fifty-page query of her first Amish romance.

“Soon thereafter, ON MY BIRTHDAY, Mary Sue called with an offer to represent me—and a charge to ‘hurry and finish that book.’”

Five months later, Jennifer signed a three-book deal with Guideposts Books for her first Amish romance series, Forever After in Apple Lake.

From the beginning, Jennifer has dedicated herself to becoming the best writer she could be. Early on, she sought help and guidance from her author friends and attended conferences and workshops. She didn’t go it alone, and she didn’t try to rely solely on her storytelling talents. Instead, she researched and read up on writing and editing fiction. Jennifer recommends aspiring authors pick up a copy of Self-editing for Fiction Writers. She says its principles made her a significantly better writer, and she promises she isn’t exaggerating when she says reading it was “absolutely life-changing.”

Jennifer has also co-written her own nonfiction book for helping creative people called Big Ideas. It’s about how to get better ideas and more of those “Aha! Moments” by allowing your brain to go into “rest mode” rather than trying to squeeze ideas and creativity out on demand. She says her ideas usually don’t come easily, and if the inspiration isn’t flowing, she will spend lots of time contemplating and ruminating, sometimes staring at a blank screen. The problem is, sitting still at a desk for more than a few minutes makes her fall asleep.

“The advantage of being a task-oriented, stay-at-home mother is that many of my daily jobs allow ample time for musing. I ruminate while puffing on the treadmill or running a vacuum over my carpet or taking a shower. I am notorious for long, indulgent showers—my guilty pleasure. I do my best thinking in there. (My apologies to the green movement. But I do recycle!)”

At the same time, Jennifer doesn’t give her hard work enough credit. She balances creativity with research. She doesn’t consider herself an expert on the Amish, but she puts in the time to get the facts right to create a believable world and characters that are a fair representation of Amish people and their culture.

“One thing I have discovered about the Amish is that they are just regular people trying to navigate life in the best way they know how, just like the rest of us. So I try to make my characters real, instead of cardboard cutouts of what people think the Amish are like.”

To create her amazing characters, Jennifer seeks additional inspiration by observing the people around her. Anna and Felty Helmuth from her Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series are heavily inspired by her parents, and she made a hero out of her daughter’s boyfriend in one of her books. This method seems to breathe life and humor into Jennifer’s characters. Above all, the magic in her work comes from telling stories centered on what she loves and believes in. 

“I would say, write what you love or writing becomes a drudgery very quickly. I love romance, humor, and faith-filled stories, so those are a pleasure to write.”

Jennifer’s formula for success has been equal parts dedication to her craft, dedication to her family, and a confidence that enables her to take criticism and use it. She understands that making mistakes are essential to the learning process, and she doesn’t let negative reviews get her down because she knows even the best writers get them. She says the only criticisms she takes to heart are from her beta readers, her agent, and her editor.

Jennifer says her favorite thing about being an author is hearing that readers enjoy her books, especially when her story has touched, inspired, or helped someone. Her next big goal as an author is to make the USA Today Bestseller list, and to get her first contemporary romance novel, Dandelion Meadows, published. In life, she says she is also striving to spend more time with her grandchildren and get better at pickleball.

Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing how she got started as an author and how she surmounts some of the challenges authors face. We love hearing how hard work and dedication can pay off!

Jennifer Beckstrand has several Amish fiction series including The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill and The Petersheim Brothers. Lovers of Historical Western fiction should read her novel Jessie and James which is a humor-filled romance set in a late 1800s mining town. We can not recommend diving into her worlds enough!                                                                   
You can find out more about Jennifer and her books at her wonderful website:                                                                                                          

Also be sure to join her official Facebook group for updates, giveaways, and more fun!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Call with Dineen Miller

My family and I had moved back to the States in 2002 and I wanted to somehow earn a living by working from home. I was big into quilting at the time and saw an ad in the back of a quilt magazine about writing a book, so I sent away for the information. Somehow I thought that meant writing a FICTION book and went to work on a story that started to fill my heart. I'd written short things for years but never a full length book. When the packet of information came, I realized it was instructions about submitting a craft/quilt book. LOL! But by then I was hooked and finished my story. And I've been writing ever since. 

The Soul Redeemer releases November 27th! 

About Dineen Miller:

Dineen Miller is passionate about igniting the souls of others through God’s Word, which is packed with His truth and promises. She is a multi-published and award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction books, a speaker and a ministry leader. She’s been featured nationally on several Christian radio and television shows and was co-leader and pastor at for 11 years.

She is currently an Associate Director at the Healing Rooms of Manatee and Dean of the HROM School of Transformation in Bradenton, Florida. She and her husband are proud parents to two adult daughters and a son-in-law. They love kayaking and walking the famous white sands of Siesta Key Beach where they live in Sarasota, Florida.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Call with Gabrielle Prendergast

My call came as a few emails at first. Having had agents before, both good and bad, I think I went into it with my eyes wide open. But even from the email I had a good feeling because Lynnette had written "We would love to talk to you about this MS, future projects, and your CAREER GOALS"(my emphasis). This was so important to me. When we spoke on the phone, my good feeling was reinforced. Lynnette and Nicole were so enthusiastic and wanted to hear about everything else I had on the go (which was A LOT) so I knew they were interested in working with me for the long haul. That's what I wanted. I took my time making a decision because I wanted to be careful and make the right choice, but even though I've only been with the agency for a while, it's already going GREAT and I'm so happy!

About Gabrielle Prendergast:

Gabrielle Prendergast is an award-winning writer, teacher and designer living in Vancouver, Canada. She writes picture books, middle grade fiction, and YA contemporary and historical as Gabrielle Prendergast. Her science fiction and fantasy stories are published as G.S. Prendergast.

She has won the Monte Miller Award, the Westchester Fiction Award and The BC Book Prize as well as being nominated or short listed for numerous other honors. Gabrielle has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and has taught writing at Sydney University, San Francisco State University, UBC, Royal Canadian College and at numerous conferences.

Twitter: @gabriellesarap
Instagram: @gsprendergast




Friday, October 16, 2020

Pitch Perfect

Hello Everyone!

The Seymour Agency is pleased to present a free online pitch event for the writing community!

As we approach NaNoWriMo and get ready to wind down 2020, we'd like to connect with writers who are ready to pitch their projects and share their career goals with us.

Please CLICK HERE to register for the event. All pitches will take place through Zoom.

We look forward to connecting with you!


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Q&A With David R. Slayton

Today’s blog will focus on celebrating a new author, David R. Slayton. Software geek by day, fantasy novelist in every other moment! He’s a Denverite who has written the kind of book he craved as a kid in Guthrie, Oklahoma. White Trash Warlock is based on Adam, an outlier in his family, has a power called the Sight. For most of Adam’s life, his gift has been more of a curse. Through a twist of fate, his power ends up being the one thing that can save his family and lead him to his first love. Will Adam be able to overcome insurmountable challenges and learn to work with his power? You have to order White Trash Warlock to find out! It’ just released on October 13th, 2020. This is one story you don’t want to miss!

What inspired you to be a writer?

I grew up in the Oklahoma woods with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. They sparked something in my imagination at a young age. I would escape into my head, wander around the woods and pretend I was on another planet, in another world. I started telling stories with my toys. Sometimes I’d cast them in new roles, and those became my first characters. I’d build forts out of mud and sticks, then later, cities. I’ve always been a world-builder.

Was there any particular moment that was an “ah-ha!” revelation that inspired White Trash Warlock?

I used to live near a hospital that was in the process of demolition. As I walked through it and past it, I imagined a doctor and his wife dealing with something haunting them. That’s pretty much Chapter Two. Adam came later, when I was driving through North Carolina at night, listening to the radio and watching the moonlight break through the trees. There’s more than one reason that Adam’s car is such a part of his identity, but that’s how he started, so he drives a lot.

A lot of authors have quirks that get them into the headspace or groove for writing. Do you have any habits or neurosis that get you in the mood to be creative?

Coffee is a big part of my personal writing ritual. I warm up my brain while it brews listening to the playlist I made for the book or an appropriate video game soundtrack. I also practice dialogue out loud, like a lot, talking to myself, testing the sound of it to find the character’s voice. And I smell everything: food, inanimate objects, etc. I’m always working on getting better, realer details into my books.

I try to tune my feelings to what my characters are feeling, so I’ll relive memories and take notes on how I feel in my body. I like to work a lot with bioenergetics, how we feel things physically, how our bodies react to emotion so sometimes I can emotionally wreck myself by writing a powerful scene.

Your book has an emphasis on LGBT orientation. How has your own personal life influenced the characters and storylines you create?

Like me, Adam is gay, and I wrote White Trash Warlock to be the kind of book I always want to read but can so rarely find.

White Trash Warlock isn’t about the gay experience or gay trauma. It’s not about coming out, or AIDS, dying tragically, or struggling with self-acceptance. Better writers than me have got those covered.

I’ve always wanted books where the main hero just happens to be gay, but the story revolves around something else. It’s not where the conflict comes from. In my epic fantasies it’s not even an issue.

I’m really honored that my acquiring editor at Blackstone, Rick Bleiweiss, saw what I was trying to and wanted a story like that too.

Are you a night owl or a daywalker?

I have a pretty demanding day job, and that means I get up really early to write before I spend all my brain points before the conference calls start. It’s advice I got from Chuck Wendig and Gail Carriger at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and it’s made a real difference in my productivity, to treat it like a second job.

What about magic appeals to you?

I mean, the idea that there’s a whole other world just atop or beneath our own, or that the universe might have cheat codes is just so appealing. I think it would add mystery and maybe meaning to our already beautiful, incredible world.

I think many kids who grow up like I did, feeling poor and overwhelmed by the world, wish they had some spell or power to change things and make them better.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Why?

Teleportation. I’d love to be able to just snap my fingers and be anywhere in the world, even better if I could take people with me. London for the weekend? No problem.

That or time travel. I’d spend my life just researching history. Combining teleportation AND time travel would be perfect!

I’d bore everyone to tears just popping off to some foreign country or time to really figure out some bit of historical trivia.

Most everyone has one moment in time that they wish they could change. Do you have one of those moments? Would you mind sharing it?

My grandmother was the first person to really encourage my creativity, my imagination. She spoiled me a bit, protected me from my father when she could, and let me be myself. Not long before she died I was back home in Oklahoma. We were shopping at Sears and she saw a red jacket she liked. I was working four jobs at the time, trying to graduate college, and pay as I went. I could have bought it but it would have put me on ramen for a few weeks. Looking back, it would have been worth anything to pay back some of that love and sacrifices she’d shown me and put a smile on her face. I wish more than anything that she’d lived to see me published, for her to know how much she helped me get here.

If you could be any magical creature, what would you be?

Definitely an elf, but one of my elves: immortal, good with a sword, and kind of mischievous while being obsessed with old amusement parks and classic cars. Adam has a difficult relationship with them, but I think they’re pretty neat.

What’s next? Do you have any goals or ambitions you’re chasing right now?

I’m living my lifelong dream, being published and having my book out there. I’m working hard on finishing Adam’s trilogy and my agents are cooking up all sorts of things. I’m so lucky to get to work with Lesley Sabga, the Seymour Agency, and Blackstone. I have a trio of epic fantasy trilogies that I hope we sell soon and a few other urban fantasy ideas I hope readers get to see on the shelf.

About David R. Slayton:

David grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. Now he lives in Denver, Colorado and write the books he always wanted to read. His debut, White Trash Warlock, will be published in October 13th 2020 by Blackstone Publishing.

Twitter: @drslayton

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Call with Laurie Stroup Smith

Around the age of nine, I remember telling my parents I wanted to be an author, but my interests later led me to become a Certified Athletic Trainer. Writing has always been important to me. One of my college professors requested a copy of my master’s thesis to keep as an example for other students, and the manager of the physical therapy clinic where I worked asked me to help write new versions of our treatment protocols. While serving for six years as a Girl Scout Troop Leader, I started a blog as a resource for other leaders. But it wasn’t until I wrote a story for our daughters and shared it with an author friend, who then encouraged me to pursue writing, that I remembered my childhood dream.

In the hopes of helping our daughters who were grieving the loss of two grandparents, I started writing a story about a seventh-grade girl who needed to rely on her faith to get through a tough time. Inspiration for the book originated from an image of a quilt I saw on Facebook. In 2017, I attended the ACFW Conference and pitched the idea for what is now known as Pockets of Promise. Julie Gwinn expressed interest in the story but strongly suggested I instead consider telling the story from the point of view of a young Amish woman during her Rumspringa. I wrote the book and sent it to Julie who then offered to represent me.

Three years after submitting Pockets of Promise, as I was editing my seventh manuscript, I received THE CALL. Julie had found a home for Mariah’s story, helping me land a three-book contract with Vinspire Publishing.

Laurie's debut novel, Pockets of Promise

About Laurie Stroup Smith:

While writing Amish fiction and contemporary romance, Laurie Stroup Smith strives to inspire her audience to serve others. She was named a Finalist in the 2017 ACFW First Impressions Contest and a Semi-Finalist in the 2018 and 2019 ACFW Genesis Contests. She has been interviewed by Loveland Magazine and been a guest on the Buggy Talk and Fierce Calling Podcast. 

Before writing, Laurie earned a bachelor’s degree in both athletic training and exercise science and later obtained her master’s degree in health promotion and education. She now writes full time and lives with her husband and their two daughters in Cincinnati. For a week or two each summer, they enjoy discovering new adventures along the western coast of Michigan.

Connect with Laurie on her website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Twitter

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Call with Kaitlyn Sanchez

So for me, the call was the icing on the cake because the response to my query was what truly got me. 

The first line that Joyce sent me was something I've always hoped for but never thought would happen. 

She wrote: "OMG I LOVE this!" 

I immediately knew Joyce was for me because that is EXACTLY how I would react to something I loved. 

Our call was mainly there to confirm how on the same page we are and have a little fun getting to know each other better.

I know everyone says this, but it's extra true for me. I am incredibly lucky that Joyce took a chance on me. The story I sent her was a new style for me. She said she can take me on if I could do that again. A tall order and something she knew wasn't easy, but it was fair and honest (two top priorities for me). She told to think "outrageous"—that's my style (something I wasn't aware of before). Lo and behold, I sat down after that conversation, and outrageous story ideas just poured out of me. I sent one draft to her and the whole outrageous ideas document (which was longer than you'd expect) and she loved it! On our call she couldn't wait to talk about which iseas she loved the most. That passion for my ideas and connection to my work, that's what I've been waiting for, hoping for, and can't believe I've found.

I didn't realize the story I queried Joyce with showed my trir writing voice until Joyce took the time to encourage me. Now I've written two other stories like it, and they just flowed out. My critique partners keep saying they love the voice, and I fondly thank them and tell them, "Joyce found my voice." (As a rhymer, this saying makes me extra happy).

A big shout out to the amazing woman who connected me to Joyce: Mindy Alyse Weiss. 

Thank you Seymour Agency, thank you Mindy, and thank you Joyce for believing in me and seeing me, and helping my dreams come true.

About Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez: 

Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez is a writer of humorous picture books and an active member of SCBWI. She's a proud finalist  from the 2019 Picture Book Party event. Kaitlyn is the co-creator and co-host of the many contests including: the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest, the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy, and Kidlit Zombie Week. Kaitlyn is also an associate literary agent, helping writers achieve their dreams of publication. 

She was born, raised, and has always stayed in California's Central Valley, where she lives with her family and teaches junior high school math. When Kaitlyn isn't writing, teaching, or agenting, you can find her eating cookies, laughing with her hilarious family, or out on the soccer field, but you'll never find her cleaning. She would definitely rather be sucked into a vacuum than use it!


Twitter: @KaitlynLeann17 

Facebook Author Page: