Novel Journey is in its 5th year! To celebrate, we wanted to catch up with our very first interviewee, DEBORAH RANEY.
Deborah is at work on her 19th novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books, the Clayburn Novels, are from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.
Deb, much has changed in the 5 years since Novel Journey began. What new things have happened to you?
The most significant new things for me are two precious grandsons, a new daughter-in-law, and sending out baby to college. Ken and I have only been in the empty nest for a month now, but already we’re finding it quite sweet!
I noticed your website has also undergone a new look. What about in your fiction? What new things have you learned since we first interviewed you?
I’m with a new and wonderful publisher these days, Howard Books, which became an imprint of Simon & Schuster shortly after I came onboard. I just finished the first book in my second series for Howard, and believe it or not, I’m learning to add mild elements of suspense (yes, me! President of the Big Honkin’ Chicken Club!) Don’t worry, my novels are still––and probably always will be––contemporary women’s fiction, but I’ve enjoyed adding threads of adventure and suspense.
In my sixteenth year as a novelist, I finally feel I’ve found my voice––or at least I’ve become comfortable with it. I’m not a literary, poetic writer. I write a pretty straightforward, popular-fiction kind of book, and I’m fine with that. I think I’ve become a sparser writer, just telling my story and dispensing with too much description. I’m learning to let dialogue and my characters themselves carry the story.
Tell us about your latest release.
The first of my Hanover Falls novels series for Howard/Simon & Schuster will release in May. The series in a nutshell: After five heroic firefighters die, their surviving spouses band together to cope—and to try to resolve the mystery surrounding the fire that killed their loved ones.
That sounds like a complex series, rife with drama. I cant wait to read them. How did you come up with the idea for these stories? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
On June 20, 2007, my husband opened the newspaper to the horrific story of nine firefighters who lost their lives battling a fire in a furniture warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina. My niece’s husband and his father are firefighters, so I knew something of the amazing strength of the firefighting “family,” and what an ongoing tragedy such an event would be to that community. I wanted to explore the issues these people would be dealing with in this new series.
This story really took me out of my comfort zone. The inciting fire in my novel takes place in a homeless shelter, so I knew it wasn’t a coincidence when our church got involved in ministry at a local homeless shelter about the time I began working on this series.
I went through the volunteer training and have helped out at the shelter whenever it’s our church’s turn to supply volunteers. Most nights are quite uneventful, but the very first night I was there, just about everything that could happen, did happen.
It was a baptism of fire and I came home exhausted, my head spinning with ideas for my novel. On the way to bed, I happened to glance at my calendar, only to realize that I’d showed up one week earlier than I was scheduled to! I soaked up more “research” material in that first night than all the nights since!
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Occasionally I sit in front of my computer without a clue what comes next. I especially seem to hit a wall about 12 chapters in. Once I get over that hump (my books are usually around 40 chapters long) it’s like coasting downhill, but I struggle with the second fourth of the book. My best tricks for getting over that spot include:
• brainstorming with writer friends, or my husband
• reading an excellent novel
• going for a long walk
• attempting to outline a few chapters ahead (a huge sacrifice since I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer)
• Sometimes I find I just need to step away from writing for a day or two. Often, if I spend that time answering my reader mail, or working on promotion, I come back to the computer with a reminder of why I write.
• Of course, a deadline is the best motivator ever!
I’m very visual. I see my stories playing out like a movie. I love Scrivener software (sorry, for Macs only) with its virtual bulletin board and a way of organizing research material that keeps it all in front of me as I write. I still create an actual bulletin board, too, with photos of my characters, maps/blueprints of my settings, and other visual and tactile “talismans” that help me get into the story.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you, and how do you overcome it?
First draft! Hate it! The blank page paralyzes me!
Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?
Editing. I LOVE rewrite because, for me, that where the creativity begins to flow. That’s where the bones of the story finally develop flesh and sinew and my characters finally begin to breathe.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Write from what God is doing in your own life, and your stories will feel genuine. If God is working on honesty and transparency in your life, let that be the struggle your protagonist is battling. Of course, your heroine may be learning her life lessons in the witness protection program, while you’re learning yours raising teenagers, but the point is the same: write from your heart and your stories will have heart.
Thank you, Deb, for joining us at Novel Journey once again. I’m looking forward to the Hanover Falls series.
Happy Anniversary, Novel Journey!