Parker J Cole is an international bestselling author. Her book, Many Strange Women, was on the Amazon Bestseller list for several weeks. She is also a radio presenter and hosts The Write Stuff on Tuesday and The Parker J Cole Show. Parker, who resides in Michigan, USA, talks to Keep The Faith magazine about life as an author, and the changes within the Christian publishing industry.
Keep The Faith (KTF): Tell us briefly about yourself.
Parker J Cole (PJC): If I had to use my official bio to describe myself, here it is: (Cue Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony music here.) I am the author of Dark Cherub and the Sins of the Flesh series; this includes Many Strange Women, The Other Man, and Vengeful Vows. I host The Write Stuff, which showcases Christian authors worldwide. When I am not writing or hosting, I spend most of my time reading, knitting, cooking and concocting new ideas for stories. I live with my husband and our beloved dog, Sarah.
What I’m really like: (Cue Dr Who theme song.) I am a diehard Trekkie (TOS), sci-fi lover, fantasy dweller, romance junkie, anime freak, old movie buff, church-goer, off and on Mountain Dew and marshmallow recovering addict, who writes to fill the void the sugar left behind.
KTF: What made you get into writing?
PJC: Stephen King, when he was asked a similar question said, “What makes you think I had a choice?” In the same vein, without the creepy, intense eye stare Stephen King would probably give, I feel the same way. There wasn’t a time in my life where writing wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t go into writing; I was born with ink in my blood. It was something I was crafted to do by the Author and Finisher of my entire existence.
KTF: What type of books do you write?
PJC: My books are edgy Christian romances and speculative fiction. I’m still feeling my way around the speculative fiction world, because it requires a different set of writing muscles in the grey matter mass encased in my skull, but I tend not to back down from a challenge when it comes to writing.
KTF: Now for the hard-hitting question: Have you ever experienced racism within the publishing industry? If you have, what have you done to overcome it?
PJC: Hit me hard (she laughs). Racism is such a huge card to throw around, especially in the US, where racial tensions fluctuate like underwater currents. At the same time, racism is also the bane and bone of the country. It’s a complex issue and it’s hard to grasp all the various intricacies involved. Suffice to say, I’ve experienced “bias” in the publishing industry, particularly in the faith-based markets. My romances involve multicultural men and women, which I found is very ‘edgy’ according to the mainstream Christian book industry.
There was a fascinating discussion I and several other African American Christian authors participated in a few months back. During the discussion about diversity in faith-based fiction, one of the admins of a social media group we were part of, made the statement that African American Christian books are too secular. We were all rather shocked by this narrow-minded view – not to mention the subtle turned-up-nose attitude such a comment represented. If, by ‘too secular’ you mean we deal with real-life issues and allow sexual tensions and situations to happen with our characters, then have it.
The comment showed the lack of understanding of diversity in the Christian arena because of the racial historical make-up of our country. My agent had a very difficult time selling my book, Many Strange Women, because of its multicultural backdrop.
KTF: There has been a dramatic change within the publishing industry, where more authors are going independent. Why do you think that is?
PJC: To illustrate my point, I’m going to borrow from a social media guru and author, Kristen Lamb. Couple hundred years back, thirteen colonies made a decision to break away from Mother England. A gutsy move to be sure, but they had their reasons and war broke out, as Mother England gave a resounding “You’re not going anywhere.”
In the same way, indie authors have declared their independence from the big publishing houses. It’s not that these authors do not appreciate the groundwork those big houses have made; however, indie authors show they no longer need validation from those companies. Some indie authors make a comfortable living without help from traditional houses.
With platforms like Amazon, these authors present the model that hard work, perseverance and creating a quality product really do pay off. Publishers find themselves having to be creative in their dealings with indie authors and the changes brought about from their insubordination to depend on large organisations to handle their careers.
KTF: I understand you’re a hybrid author, where you publish independently and traditionally via an agent; has there ever been any conflict concerning this?
PJC: In keeping with the illustration of the Colonies vs Mother England, I’m something of a Tory. After all, not everyone has the independent spirit to take off on their own. I haven’t seen any conflict at all, since it allows me to keep putting out my products. My agent is the one who created the Parker J Cole brand. I had no idea who that person was until she worked with me to help build it. If there is conflict, it’s that you have to share your royalties with others, while an indie doesn’t have to. But everything comes out of pocket for the indie author, whereas the publisher generally takes care of those costs. It’s about weighing your options and seeing what works for best for you.
KTF: Within the Christian publishing industry it seems to be dying down, especially with the bigger houses. More authors are going with non-Christian publishers, or independent Christian publishers. How can the Christian publishing industry improve their methods, especially the bigger houses?
PJC: To answer this, I have to tell you about a Christian romance book I read last year sometime. It was for free, and it had hundreds of five star reviews and people were saying how good the book was. So I fell for it. By the time I finished that book I wanted to throw it against a wall. The only reason why I didn’t is because it was on my Kindle, and my Kindle is the teddy bear I sleep with at night. The characters were one-dimensional. Beside the heroine being blind that was it. There were four paragraphs dedicated to the hero holding her hand. By page 398 of 400, there was one line saying, “He kissed her” and two pages later, story’s finished.
You’re talking to a girl who used to sneak and read those giant, fat, historical romances from back in the early nineties, filled with all kinds of ‘ungodly’ stuff. So for me, I wanted to at least know the hero liked what he was seeing. His eyes NEVER strayed from her chin. He was too good to be true.
Christian publishers need to get out of the pews on Sunday morning and look around outside. They need to promote more realistic stories. Incorporate other ethnic groups. And, for goodness’ sake, be more open to the speculative fiction genre.
There are Christians dealing with all kinds of issues a pat story about forgiveness won’t always solve. The guidelines for mainstream Christian books in the US are restrictive. I remember one list went something like this: No drinking, dancing, gambling, cursing or lying. No kissing scenes below the neck. Characters can struggle with their faith, but *not a lot* (I’m paraphrasing, but you get what I mean) and must come to resolve the conflict by the end of the story.
These are some of the most boring people in the world! Who wants to read about them?
KTF: What advice would you give to writers wanting to break into the industry?
PJC: My advice is to write. Write, and then keep writing until you finish that story. The hard part’s done.
You can find out more about Parker J Cole, by visiting her website www.parkerjcole.com