Linda Clare was bitten by the writing bug in the sixth grade, typing out stories on an enormous old Underwood manual typewriter while recovering from her yearly bouts with bronchitis and pneumonia. She published her first poem in a national publication at age 17. Since then, she has published four books, teaches college-level writing courses and is dedicated to improving her writing skills and helping others learn to write. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband of 31 years. They have four grown children, including a set of twins, and five wayward cats.
What made you start writing?
In 1992 during a Christian dance aerobics class, an acquaintance invited me to join a weekly critique group. The group happened to include established writers Heather Harpham Kopp and Melody Carlson. I jumped in with both feet. Found out I had a ton to learn. Kept practicing.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
Time. When I first started writing, I ran a full-time day care from my home in addition to my own four children. During nap time every afternoon, I hauled our electric typewriter onto the stove top and typed standing up so I could keep one eye on the kids sleeping around the corner in the living room.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
In my first 3 nonfiction books, putting myself in was required, but for fiction the characters should have their own personalities. Unfortunately for the characters, aspects of myself often do sneak into my books, although now I look for that hidden agenda with a more critical eye.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
(Muffled laughter.) One of my co-authors once said she reminded me of the man who got up onto his donkey and rode off in all directions. I used to try to implement everyone’s suggestions and ended up pleasing no one, especially me. It’s still hard to know when something I write is pitch-perfect and when it’s a bomb, but God is a wonderful critique partner. God often shows me what to keep and what to cut, but only after I’ve let the draft “cool off” for several days. Or months. Or years.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
The Fence My Father Built
is my debut novel. It’s about Muri Pond, a laid-off librarian who always dreamed of finding her biological father. When she finally does, it’s too late. Joe Pond has died and left her his legacy: a remote parcel of rundown central Oregon property, surrounded by a fence made from old oven doors. Muri battles a troublesome neighbor, fights for her father’s Native American heritage and rediscovers the faith her alcoholic dad somehow never abandoned.
How did you come up with this story?
The theme of finding your father (heavenly and earthly) has resonated across my own life. My parents split when I was young and I waited until my wonderful adoptive father passed away to locate my real dad, who is still living.
Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
Yes, I took a fiction workshop from Melody Carlson and I imagined this librarian who was desperate to belong somewhere. The setting was originally Arizona where I’m from. Then I visited central Oregon and found it so similar to Northern Arizona region around Sedona, I was hooked on the red dirt of central Oregon.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
Muri grew out of my own desire to know where I came from. In emotional ways, I understand her story. In the story she’s getting a divorce she didn’t really want, which I also have experienced. I come from a family of educators, and my aunt was the district librarian for a large school district, so I get what librarians are about. Muri is braver than I am, though. She stands up to this neighbor who is causing trouble for the Pond family, and when her rebellious daughter Nova runs away, she handles it better than I know I would. She’s not as stubborn as I have been about God, either.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
They say a good story is about interesting people in trouble, so I loved creating the characters, their world and their problems. The story has been through literally hundreds of revisions, major plot changes. Least? The least enjoyable part was the ten years it took to find this book a home. God knows I don’t wait very well.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
I hope readers get the message that we are all redeemable. Muri’s father, a half Nez Perce Indian, is an alcoholic who wants to preserve his native heritage. But he’s also a devout Christian and Muri discovers that being in God’s family is the strongest bond that love can make.
What does your writing space look like?
Oh lordy. Until only a few weeks ago, I wrote in what I lovingly called “The Fishbowl.” It’s a corner of the main traffic area of the living room, as my adult children move out and then back in for a variety of reasons. We ought to get a sign that says, “Holiday Inn.” Just kidding. Now one of them moved out again (for good?) and I grabbed that space faster than a hungry dog grabs a Beggin’ Strip.
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
Weeding the garden is high on the list. I love to walk, to grow flowers, to play with my five rescued cats. I work two crosswords every morning, and I love to read. I love the ocean, too. This year my husband built me raised garden beds and I tried growing veggies: Would you care for a zucchini? How about a birdhouse gourd? I learned a lot of stuff, such as don’t be such a baby when you thin out the seedlings—it’s okay to give the surviving plants plenty of room.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I’ve tried several novels from different approaches. My first novel (still in the drawer) I wrote chronologically, sort of a “and then what happened” approach. Same with the Fence novel. My next novel I’ve tried building by writing scenes and then connecting them. I’m better with the first method, because I tend to “cherry-pick”—that is, to write the best scenes and not want to write the connectors. So I’m sticking with the “and then what happened” method. I do that, then let it sit awhile. I workshop chapters while in the drafting stage, but it’s up to me to see the vision of the story.
Many times when I begin revision, the “real” theme or major motive for the protagonist suddenly whacks me in the head and everything falls into place. Not without many many revisions—for me, it isn’t a short or easy process.
What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?
In 1961 I was 10 and a surgical patient at Shriner’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. During my 3 month stay, I discovered the hospital library contained most of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. The books kept me going during a painful and lonely time.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
Do you have an hour or two? My list will take a long time to go through. Skimming the surface, I recently loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
(National Book Award winner, Sherman Alexie), books by Elizabeth Berg, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Frederick Buechner, Robert Benson, Jennifer Lauck, and many more. These favorites have not only shown the way for me to grow as a writer, they’ve shaped my world-view and given me insights I doubt I’d get on my own. In no small way have I recognized the hand of God in all these authors.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
When I sold this novel I confessed to my literary agent that I rarely read Christian fiction. She told me to read what I really like. I do (although I have been pleasantly surprised by the Christian fiction I have been reading) and I think it helps me to know how great characters act and react and why they do what they do.
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?
I wish I had trusted my instincts more early on—in my quest to write what pleased readers I ended up pleasing almost no one. But I also believe in God’s timing. Right now it’s a good time to be writing inspirational stuff that features first-person narrators. That’s always been my forte and I had to wait until my number came up.
How much marketing do you do?
Not enough. But I’m learning. What have you found that particularly works well for you? The more I think of myself as God’s ambassador in promoting my books, the more authentic I can be when approaching people about my work. It sounds kind of worn-out, but I do take my mission to spread the Good News seriously. Then, whether I’m tweeting, blogging, emailing, signing, reading or just glad handing, I don’t feel as much like the Fuller Brush salesperson—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nobody wants to feel someone has befriended them solely to sell them something.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
I’ve always got a bazillion ideas and not enough time to write them all. I’ve completed a stand-alone memoir about those times in the Shriners hospital called One Hand Clapping. I’m also finishing a stand-alone novel called Hiding From Floyd, about a mother’s journey to hope and healing after one young son dies while playing Hide and Seek, and the secret his younger brother has never been able to reveal.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
If you’re a reader, despite the instant-message world we live in, you have my admiration. Because of you, I’m able to imagine worlds for you to get lost in, just as I did as a kid with Oz books. If you write or even just wish you could be a writer, write it down now. Not tomorrow, or when the kids are older, when you’re retired or when there isn’t anything else to do. Write as if your life depended on it. Be prepared to learn a lot, cry some, and become the kind of ambassador for God that spreads the Good News wherever your writing goes. You’ll be glad you did.