Interview with James Watkins – Author, Editor, & Speaker Extraordinaire!

Some editors are truly good people. They encourage new writers and inspire all of us to walk a little closer to the Lord.  There are some who have the gift of humor, anesthesia that numbs the pain of a hard topic so the truth can go deep. Many are people of their word. They say what they mean and mean what they say.  Even fewer have “made it” in the publishing world and have the ability to carry and keep a reputation with all these virtues.  James Watkins is one of the few.

I met Jim for the first time at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s conference. It was the sunrise of my author- journey, and I was dripping wet behind the ears. There is an honesty, and a transparency about him that draws you in. Add to that an amazing gift of humor, and I knew I’d love working with this man. He is professional, funny, creative, and…have I mentioned funny?

Without further adieu, James Watkins!


How did your writing journey begin?

I knew I wanted to be a writer when, as a second-grader, I rewrote the ending of Pinocchio. I could suspend disbelief so that a wooden marionette could come to life-no strings attached. But to believe that the “live” puppet could become a real boy, that was too much for me. So, for a class writing assignment, I rewrote the ending and had the wooden Pinocchio die a painful, prolonged death of Dutch elm disease.

I was immediately sent to the school psychologist who suggested I could become a sociopath or a writer. Just kidding about the psychologist, but I was fortunate I had teachers who encouraged my so-called writing talent. By the time I had written plays for the elementary school to perform, journaled my deep, dark, depressed life as a junior-higher, and became the editor of the high school paper, I was hooked on writing!

I dabbled in writing for several years with a real job, then became an editor in our denomination’s publishing house, and eventually became more and more of a full-time writer.

With numerous books, hundreds of humorous blog posts and thousands of articles published, which is your favorite to write?

Yikes, that’s like asking who’s your favorite child or grandchild! They’re all very different, but all very wonderful in their own ways.

Blogs, obviously, are short, timely, and a guaranteed publication. As a former journalism major, I like to comment on current events. It’s almost “real time” on the Web. And I love the feedback.

Articles have a larger audience and are a bit more permanent. It’s amazing the number of people who write and say they were helped by an article and I think Wow! In what waiting room with twenty-year-old magazines did they find that piece!

As far as book, I love this Huckleberry Finn quotation: “There ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and I ain’t agoing to no more.” Yes, books provide more prestige (and radio and TV interviews), they are a huge challenge. I have sixteen under my belt, but I tell authors, if you want respect, write books; if you want readers, write for periodicals.

Actually, I love writing for all three venues.

When you’re working on a project, do you listen to music or have a specific routine? (Do you write in the morning, evening, can you stay on task?)

I’m totally Attention Deficit Disorder, so I can’t write with music, don’t have a specific routine and can’t stay on task, although I tend to write in the morning, rewrite in the afternoon. I try to have several projects going at one time, so when I get bored with one, I can move on to the next project. So, with a good “to do” list, I do get a lot done.

Name three character traits of a good writer.

How ‘bout seven, which just coincidentally are in one of my chapters in Writers on Writing (Wesleyan Publishing House), an anthology I edited with writing from Jerry B. Jenkins, Liz Curtis Higgs, and others?

1. Self-discipline

2. Self-motivation

3. Self-organization

4. Self-worth (You can’t define yourself as a writer or rejections will destroy you. I’m simply a beloved child of God who just happens to write. All the rejection slips in Colorado Springs can’t harm that sense of worth!)

5. Self-promotion (You can’t write MESSAGE without ME, so if God has given me a message, it’s up to me to get it out there!)

6. Self-improvement

7. Other orientation (Writing is too hard to not have a support group of family and friends.)

What was your favorite book to write? Why?

That’s another one of those “Who’s your favorite child and grandchild?” questions. My most transparent and honest book is Squeezing Good Out of Bad (XarisCom). And it was my most fun since it’s written as a top ten list with lots of humor. Usually, though, my favorite book is the next one.

Share with our readers one example of how God orchestrated your steps to coincide with His plan.

My very first writing/editing job, as an editor of a teen magazine at Wesleyan Publishing House, came about when my pastor just happened to meet the executive editor at a ministerial meeting and they just happened to talk about what was happening at the church and just happened to talk about my editing an evangelistic newspaper for teens in the local community and the editor just happened to ask if I’d be interested in coming on board.

That was the first of many “just happened” events that led to published books, appearing on “The 700 Club,” and teaching writing with Cec Murphey for three weeks in India. (Of course, as believers, we know “just happened” situations are divine providence!)

Every good writer needs support from his spouse/family to succeed. What has your wife/family done or not done to help support you in your career?

My wife has been so supportive with my so-called writing/speaking career. She’s never once asked, “When are you going to find a real job?!” even when I was thinking I need to find a real job!

If you were to start your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?

I’m such a firm believer in the premise that God works all out for our good (Romans 8:28), that I probably wouldn’t change a thing, although I do regret not finishing my graduate work in communications. I think a “Christian writer” must first be a Christian who is trusting God each step of the way, listening to His instructions, and acknowledging Him in every aspect of his/her writing and speaking (Proverbs 3:5-6).

What’s the one marketing tool that’s helped you?

The Christian Writers’ Market Guide is, of course, the most important book in your writing library, but going to writers’ conferences and networking with editors and other writers is essential as well.

Are you a spontaneous Kindle/Nook man, or a traditional hardback book kind of guy?

I’m a go to the library and get books free kind of guy.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

Currently reading Jesus Calling by Sarah Young—for the third time.

Jack Bauer or the Lone Ranger?

Definitely the masked man! The Lone Ranger taught, “Shoot to disarm, never to harm.” I love the quote by Mary Hirsch: “Humor is a rubber sword that allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”

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Joanne Kraft writes to encourage women to fulfill their God-given roles as wife and mom and to walk boldly into their promised land. Her writing is transparent and humorous. Joanne has been published by In Touch, Today’s Christian Woman, ParentLife, Kyria and P31 Woman magazines. Her first book, Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical was released in June by Beacon Hill Press. She leads Inspire’s El Dorado Hills critique group, serves on the Inspire Board of Directors and hosts an ongoing workshop for bloggers.

Cinderella: a Writer’s Journey

In a day where technology is racing along at the speed of light and publishing houses are playing the odds on e-books—while scrambling to stay one step ahead of the Twilight-Hunger Games audience, I’m here to make a public proclamation: There still exist those real-life author fairy tales Hallmark movies are made from.

As a first-time author, I’m here to give you hope. Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, there do exist magical Cinderella contracts bestowed on a handful of writers who have been quietly toiling away—but by some divine miracle have the right book at the right time and bibbity-bobbity-boo!

I know this to be true because early on in my writing career, I received an invitation to the ball.

In the spring of last year I got to work. Those first few days we magical, but, it was only a matter of time before writing in glass slippers caused backbreaking blisters. The fairytale excitement had worn off. My husband’s words haunted me, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Being tapped to write a nonfiction book when you’ve cut your teeth on less than a dozen magazine articles creates a tsunami-sized learning curve.

My first lesson? Writing is a passion, publishing is a business. It wasn’t the balloons and cotton candy experience I’d imagined. This was hard work.

As a nonfiction writer, I write what I know. So, I thought I’d share a few do’s and don’ts I’ve learned along the way, just in case you happen to run into someone like me, whose  writing future includes a coveted invitation to the ball.

Do – Encourage.

Whether you’re a big-cheese-author or a newbie-novice, if Cinderella allows you to peek at a chapter or two, don’t pretend to be an Oxford English scholar. Rejoice in ways she used fragments and power verbs to punch the reader right between the eyes before you bleed on her page. Critiques should always include encouragement.

Do—Give back.

Nothing screams Cinderella-amateur like a selfish, self-centered wordsmith. Look for others who love words and love to write and inspire a beginner to great things.

Do—Pray for Cinderella.

As a writer, you carry a solitary torch of words burning from within—words that need an organized escape for there to be peace in your soul. Prayer is much needed for a Cinderella-author to launch words onto paper in a soul-inspiring way.

Don’t – Don’t share with Cinderella or others that she’s undeserving or not ready.

It makes you look small and bitter. If a Cinderella-author has more than four brain cells in her head she’s already struggling with this concept.

Don’t – Ask your new-author friend to put in a good word or pass on your book proposal to their publisher or agent.

Chances are they signed contracts and had a couple phone calls but haven’t even met them.

Don’t- Reveal your green-eyed-monster.

Every writer’s path leads down a different road. Don’t envy Cinderella’s. Her contract may have come a lot sooner than yours, but there is no guarantee their career will be longer lasting.

In our competitive, unknown, publishing future there still exist agents and editors who see a sparkle of something—and take a risk. Remember, every successful author began with someone believing in their very first book.

Still a skeptic? For every rejection slip and returned manuscript, there is always hope.  Cinderella-authors do exist. Don’t give up. Don’t lose faith. Keep learning. Keep writing. And, as my husband would say, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

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Joanne Kraft writes to encourage women to fulfill their God-given roles as wife and mom and to walk boldly into their promised land. Her writing is transparent and humorous. Joanne has been published by In Touch, Today’s Christian Woman, ParentLife, Kyria and P31 Woman magazines. Her first book, Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical was released in June by Beacon Hill Press. She leads Inspire’s El Dorado Hills critique group, serves on the Inspire Board of Directors and hosts an ongoing workshop for bloggers.

From Hobby to Profession: A Writer’s Journey

“A writer who does nothing but talk about writing is not a writer. When anyone comes to me with stars in their eyes and asks, “How do I know I’m a writer?” I often give this advice:

“Try not writing. If you can put away the dreams and do something else and it doesn’t bother you, you’re no writer. It’s too much work. Don’t bother yourself trying to be something God never planned for you to be.” –Ethel Herr, from An Introduction to Christian Writing (2nd Edition)

I read Mrs. Herr’s advice after attending the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s conference in April 2011. I learned this lesson, however, in 2005, the year I asked God to take away my desire to write if He didn’t want me to pursue my passion.

Torn between supporting my husband as he tried to save our family business and devoting time to honing my craft and learning the business of writing, my personal life was strained.

To celebrate my birthday, however, my husband sent me to SCBWI’s 2005 Working Writer’s Retreat.

During introductions, a woman at a neighboring table stood up. “I don’t know who I am saying this for,” she said, glancing around the room. “We have no right to sit on a gift God gives us. If He’s calling you to write, learn everything you can and go for it. You can’t quit.”

An overwhelming peace gushed through me. Writing wasn’t my hobby; it was an extension of my heartbeat.

After the conference, we lost our family business and, on November 23, 2007, I received my first “good” rejection letter for my YA Contemporary novel.

I committed to studying the craft of writing, with my husband’s full support, and invested in Christian Writer’s conferences.

In 2010, after attending the Writing for the Soul conference, I was hired to edit a Youth Bible Curriculum series. On May 27, 2011, eleven years after God ignited my desire to write, I sold my first short story to Encounter Magazine, through a connection I made at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference.

As I’ve stumbled along the path toward publication, I discovered valuable and vital resources for us who are serious about developing the writing ministry God has placed on our hearts:

  1. A growing relationship with Christ and willingness to bend to His will.
  2. A strong foundation in the study of God’s Word.
  3. A commitment to investing in quality training to learn the art and business of writing.
  4. An honest critique group, diligent in praying for you as they, too, hone their craft.

I’ve learned there are a few books that all Christian writers should have on their shelf, as well:

  1. The Bible.
  2. An Introduction to Christian Writing, by Ethel Herr
  3. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, edited by Robert Hudson
  4. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, by Sally Stuart
  5. A variety of great books on writing.

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein is a fabulous book to start your collection.


If writing is an extension of your heartbeat, getting equipped is part of honoring God with the gift He’s blessed you with. I look forward to encouraging you and learning with you as He molds us to be the writers He created us to be.

For more wonderful insight, check out Mary DeMuth’s amazing article, “Called to Write? 10 Ways to Know”

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.