Debbie Fuller Thomas writes contemporary fiction from a historic Gold Rush town in Northern California. When she’s not working on her next book or planning children’s programs for her community, she enjoys singing with Colla Voce of the Sierras with her husband and spending time catching up with her two adult children. Her debut novel, Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon is a finalist for the 2009 Christy Award and the 2009 ACFW Book of the Year. What made you start writing?
I had a home day care for preschoolers when my children were young and I started writing during nap times for a little bit of sanity. A neighbor suggested I try writing, which was something creative I could do in the amount of time I had available. I eventually completed a Gold Rush romance, and although it was never published, it taught me how to plot and create realistic characters, and showed me that I could complete a 50k word manuscript. Now that’s expanded to 100k, but I can still only count on about the same amount of writing time every day.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
The most difficult part when I first began was justifying taking time away from my family to write. Since I wasn’t published and didn’t have a deadline, I had trouble calling myself a writer and I struggled with balancing home, work, church and writing. That is why it is so important to have a support group of other writers, published and unpublished, to keep you going and validate your call to write.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I sometimes use my own experiences for character development. For example, in Raising Rain I drew on my memories from having breast cancer (12 years ago – hallelujah!) and our struggle to have children. We suffered three miscarriages and were childless for nine years and I know the desperation of trying to conceive. I think we write better characters if we share some similar experiences and I think God uses these to speak to others.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
I stopped when I began to receive very favorable feedback from the published authors, editors and agents I met at conferences – people I highly respected in the field.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Raising Rain is about four college students from the early 70’s who raise a child together, and the impact that the philosophy of the times had on her future. Unfortunately, there is now a whole generation of women who were raised to put everything into their careers at the expense of relationships and childbearing, and many are now women in their late 30’s struggling alone with issues of infertility.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
I read What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us by Danielle Crittenden and saw all the young women I knew who were childless and single in their mid-thirties. It just seemed like a timely issue, especially with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in August.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
There are two main characters. Rain is the child they raised together and Bebe is the roommate closest to her heart. I like to find photos to match with my characters, and for this story, I needed a set of character photos for the roommates when they were in their early 20’s and also in their 50’s. For Rain, I needed a young child’s picture and one in her 30’s. Once I had their faces clearly in mind, it was easier to get them to speak.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
I loved to ‘listen’ to the roommates, both in flashbacks and in the present when they reunited. They were each very different characters and their relationships were sometimes highly combustible. They were great fun!
The part I didn’t enjoy was writing about Jude’s (Rain’s mother) cancer treatments and recovery. It brought back nasty memories.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
I hope readers will believe more than ever that there is always forgiveness for past mistakes, and that reconciliation is always possible with God.
What does your writing space look like?
I write in a corner of my daughter’s old bedroom on a huge desk that I bought at Ikea. My daughter is away at college but I’ve kept part of the room as if it’s still hers so she won’t feel displaced. Soon I will stake my claim, move out the bed and move in the bookshelves. More often than not, I find myself back at the kitchen table right where I started writing years ago.
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
My husband and I belong to a community choral group called Colla Voce of the Sierras. We perform challenging music from Bach to blues and are especially busy around the holidays. We hope to eventually do an exchange program with another choir from Europe.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I start with the idea and do a lot of research up front. Then I make the rough outline, flesh it out and expand it, in addition to putting together character bios, timelines, family trees and photos to go with each major character. At this point, I try to get away for a few days to get a good start on the rough draft. For Raising Rain, I found a convent/retreat center on the edge of town where I could stay very cheaply but still be out of touch with friends and co-workers. With a Starbucks on the corner, I had everything I needed.
What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?
The first book that really made an impact on me was Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. Her voice was so authentic and the story so compelling, that I went to on read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and fell in love with the characters.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
I’m one of those people who rereads the Lord of the Rings trilogy once every year or so, just to renew old friendships. I enjoy Jodi Picoult, especially Keeping Faith and Plain Truth, and Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River. The funniest book I ever read was Ray Bradbury’s Green Shadows, White Whale, a fictionalized account of the time he spent in Ireland writing the screenplay for ‘Moby Dick.’
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
When we only read—or feast—on our own words, we starve. Ray Bradbury writes about this in Zen in the Art of Writing, when he states, “It is my contention that in order to Keep a Muse, you must first offer food.” This food comes both from the storehouse of our own experiences and from the nourishment provided by the writings of others.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
It’s a small thing, and something you’d think would be common sense, but I didn’t keep a very good list of people for my acknowledgements page for my first book. I didn’t realize just how many people would be contributing to the story and had to scramble to put one together just before the book went to publication.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
Right now, I’m concentrating on interviews and a library blitz, in addition to book giveaways and book signings. My most successful book signing by far was held at my church. I ordered a large poster of the book cover from Zazzle.com and mounted it on foam board to use as advertising at several signings.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
Raising Rain will be available September 1st. In the meantime, I have just started a new book idea and it’s still a bit like Jello in my mind—too slippery to get a handle on.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
The most important things an aspiring writer can do is to find other writers to meet with on a regular basis, read the best books on writing you can find (your favorite authors usually list them on their websites) and go to writers conferences whether or not you have a manuscript ready. Treat your writing like a career that needs constant development.Want to learn more about Debbie? Visit her at http://www.novelmatters.blogspot.com/ or at http://www.debbiefullerthomas.com/