Interview by Kelly Klepfer
Tell us a bit about your current project.
The book that just released is A Fragile Hope. In some ways, one might say it was a risky project. How does a woman write an emotion-packed contemporary novel with a male protagonist, a marriage in trouble—his own—and his wife’s point of view is “heard” only in mere snippets…for the whole book? And how can hope weave its way onto the pages of a novel with betrayal center stage?
That was my task, in addition to making the reader root for Josiah despite his full-blown self-absorption in the beginning of the story. And make it realistic for the crisis without being tiresome. But I love how stories unfold in front of me, revealing their methods and secrets if I’m listening closely enough.
What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?
For me, it all boils down to hope. I’m passionate about expressing hope through what I write and how I live. If I couldn’t dish out hope through books and speaking events, I would probably find another avenue through which I could distribute hope. Greeting cards. Whispering hope-filled words into the ears of newborns in the NICU as a volunteer baby-rocker. Life-coach. Some hope-infused occupation.
I’m speaking at a writers’ guild soon on the subject “The Path to Publication is Not a Straight Line. It’s a Labyrinth.” I love the word labyrinthine, and don’t get to use it very often. But most writers would probably say their path to publication had its dead-end moments, its twists and corners.
Even a year into college, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a florist, a nurse, or an archaeologist. So I became a lab assistant in a chemistry lab. Made perfect sense at the time. God handed me the assignment of writing a 15-minute radio broadcast, which I did for 33 years. I attended writers’ conferences to learn how to do what I was already doing. At one conference, the director challenged attendees to take one workshop out of their wheelhouse, something unexpected. I sat in on a fiction class with Karen Ball as instructor and the heaven’s opened and angels floated up and down a library ladder, singing the praises of fiction!
The next year, I handed a rough draft to an experienced novelist for critique. She suggested I join ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), which at the time was American Christian Romance Writers.
Then nothing. Nothing. More nothing. Rejection (making progress). More rejections. Even more rejections. Then an encouraging rejection. And another.
At an ACFW conference, I had the worst appointment possible with a potential agent, and the best appointment possible with an editor who within a month had convinced her publishing board to take a chance on a debut novel from the woman with the unpronounceable last name: Ruchti (ROOK-tee).
My dream agent and first contract came as close to simultaneously as possible. Then another contract. I’m now working on book #21 since my first novel released in 2010. I write both fiction and nonfiction, and am dipping my toes into ghostwriting and a few other things as well.
Not at all a straight line.
What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?
Story ideas are like fireflies. They flit about in the air around us unnoticed until dusk descends and they begin to glow. I capture a few in a Mason jar and hold the jar close to my face so I can read by their light. Then I lift the lid and let them fly off to other backyards.
Stories are everywhere. Everyone has a story. Scenes take place in front of us no matter where we look. So my favorite source for finding story ideas is life. Listening to life. Observing the lives of those around me. And holding the jar close to my heart.
Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.
I considered changing my phone number right after I called the local police station to ask how much marijuana a person had to possess for it to be considered a felony.
What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?
Readers change me. When readers dive into the story and come up gasping for air, but exhilarated from the experience, or walk the journey beside my characters and then tell me about their adventure, I’m changed. My readers make me a better writer. I picture myself personally placing the book in their hands, watching their faces—if I could—while they read, watching for a reaction the moment they see where hope has been hiding.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)
“Proud of” may not fit precisely for this, but I’ve enjoyed experimenting with several pieces of Spoken Word. It’s so out of the norm for me that I think I probably let the artist in me out to play. What emerges stirs me and deepens my faith.
Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.
I’d like to write stories with international settings . . . and take the requisite research trips to those locales. Italy, for instance. France. England. Ireland. Scotland.
What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course)?
Industry awards are deeply rewarding, but running a close second is reading a review from a thoughtful reader or reviewer who saw things in my story I didn’t know were there until it was pointed out to me. I see it as proof that God directed my thoughts as I wrote. Ultimately, pleasing Him with what I write is the greatest writer buzz.
What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?
I was born to parents with strong work ethics (different fields—music and medicine) and who instilled in each of us a drive for excellence. They modeled it in their careers and taught that God deserves our very best, all the time, every day, no matter how we feel or how tight the deadline. That may not fit the “unique” definition, but I know that respect for doing this work “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” keeps me from slopping words on a page.
Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on these questions. They’ve made me think hard, but have also deepened my gratitude for what I am privileged to do!
A Fragile Hope
Hope grows when seeds are planted—even in the muddy middle of life.
Josiah Chamberlain’s life’s work revolves around repairing other people’s marriages. When his own is threatened by his wife’s unexplained distance, and then threatened further when she’s unexpectedly plunged into an unending fog, Josiah finds his expertise, quick wit and clever quips are no match for a relationship that is clearly broken.
Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what’s left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?