Earlier this year, up-and-coming author Andrew Rogers interviewed me for his blog. Besides being a talented writer (see Andrew’s blog at www.andrewrogersonline.blogspot.com), Andrew is the Promotions Manager (marketing guru) for Church, Academic, and Reference Resources at Zondervan Publishing in Grand Rapids. Andrew’s blog also appeared in the December issue of the West Michigan Christian Newspaper.
I’m so thrilled to have a Christy Award-winning novelist on Novel Journey! Of course, I’m talking about Hallie’s Heart, which won a Christy Award this year.
Hallie’s Heart is set in my hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, as well as a rural Michigan community where my husband and I raised our children for ten years. The major conflicts in the story flow from struggles in my own life. One central character in the book, fifteen-year-old Hallie, is responsible for the accidental drowning of her little sister an lives with her alcoholic mother and emotionally distant father. Hallie’s struggling with the age-old question: If God is truly sovereign and loves us, then why doesn’t he protect us from evil and suffering? Is he a monster?
At the age of nineteen I was assaulted by a rapist who’d attacked more than forty women. Years later, my own child was molested by a family friend. So these questions were my own and my children’s for many years.
But in spite of the heavy themes, Hallie’s Heart is humorous and fun and engages readers from their teens on up. I especially enjoy doing inter-generational chick-lit talks with mothers and daughters using the study guide developed for the book.
Do you think this success will make your writing easier or more difficult?
Being a recipient of the Christy, especially for my first book, confirms my awareness that attention to the details of craft are enormously important. I wrote and rewrote some sections of HH a dozen times until I sensed that a conversation flowed naturally or a character’s motivations rang true. At times I thought it must be because I’m a slow learner or a poor writer. Now I understand that much of writing is instinctive, and I need to learn to trust those instincts. I believe trusting my instincts will be easier in the future, but the work of craft will remain the same as I continue to learn and develop as a writer.
I’m sure you’ve had your share of reviews. What impact did they have on subsequent books?
I tend to avoid reviews, knowing I bring my absolute best effort to every book I write. I’m an avid learner. I listen to editors, other writers, and industry professionals to help me hone my skills. But once a book is out there, it’s easy for me to lose momentum in my work by focusing on either the positive or the negative elements of reviews.
So tell us a little about your latest release.
I’m really excited about Morningsong, the sequel to Hallie’s Heart. It plunges readers into a wold of real-life complications and family conflict as the characters wrestle with some tough issues. Mona, the forty-five-ish main character, is struggling with her physical rehabilitation following a traumatic brain injury. In the middle of her recovery, her fifteen-year-old niece Hallie pulls into town with her alcoholic mother nearly dead in the back seat of the car. Throw in Mona’s conflicting feelings for the man she believes she’s falling in love with and her frustration with God at a body and life spun out of control, and you have the essence of the plot.
How did you come up with this story?
In 1999 I was diagnosed with a golfball-sized non-tumorous lesion near my brain stem. I lost my ability to walk, stand, see, to take care of myself in even the simplest way. Although doctors were able to shrink the lesion, I was left with permanent after-effects. Mona’s struggle, in part, is mine.
Other elements of the plot grew organically from the characters and the nature of their struggles. Hallie is a teenager dealing with an addicted parent who’s asked to become the parent and forgive over and over again. As the victim of an assault at the hands of a rapist, I had to learn that forgiveness must become a moment-by-moment lifestyle. It is never a decision made in our past.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed her.
Mona shares many of my characteristics–favorite foods and not cooking and brain damage. But she’s not me. She’s a blend of a number of strong women who’d influenced me and whom I’ve observed. I typically develop the core of a character by creating a personality profile and personal history. Then I place them in a setting and watch them react to their environment, to conflict, and to other characters. Their personality begins to emerge more fully as they interact with people and life.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
Most–creating scenes where characters struggle with feelings and questions I believe readers will relate to, knowing the book may in some way point them to the hope God provides for us in even our deepest pain. Least–having to write through my own personal grief and pain, but to know that that pain brought greater depth to the book. My mom died while I was writing Morningsong, and I’d cared for her in my home for several years. It was tough to force my mind to write when my thoughts were with Mom.
What does your writing space look like?
Meticulously organized, immaculate . . . Oh, sorry. I slipped into fiction mode. Here’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. I’ve cared for parents in my home for the past eight years, and I just haven’t gotten down to the nitty-gritty of organization.
I have an office that overlooks a field where every morning half a dozen or so deer cross from one woods to another. My oak wrap-around desk is usually stacked with files, research materials from my most recent nonfiction book or Bible project. This year I worked on the NIV Stewardship Study Bible (2009) and Crossway’s Pastor’s Resource Bible (2009).
I occasionally allow my husband to use my office to use his desk and computer, but I’m one of those writers who likes total silence, so he only gets access to his computer when I’m out of the room. A few file cabinets are sprinkled around the room, and I have a bookcase made by my grandfather during the Depression. And then there are the stacks of files on the top of the filing cabinets . . .
Are you a plotter or a SOTP (seat of the pants) writer? Why?
I begin with a skeletal plot structure in my head, as well as a sense of who my primary characters are going to be. From there, my plot develops organically as my characters develop. As the book begins to take shape, I begin to plot in a more linear way through individual scenes.
This method of plotting works for me because my characters tells me where the story is going–often on a second draft. I may try to force a plot sequence, only to find that those choices aren’t true to my characters. But once my characters begin moving around, I discover where we’re going and why we need to go there.
How much marketing do you do? Do you market all of your books at once, or concentrate solely on the most recent release?
I enjoy speaking and signings because they give me opportunities to be with people. I’m continually cultivating opportunities to interact with people or seek out media. I tend to market all my books at once because I love them all, I believe they’re all important, and several have had very close release dates.
What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
If I had the means, I’d travel in Europe and do more Harley riding with my husband.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I’ve touched on that previously. There’s a bit of me in each of my novels–my struggles and my enormous gratitude to God for his grace in the tough times.
What message do you hope your readers gain from your novel?
A loving God is pursuing us and providing for us, in spite of the pain and difficulty we see in this world. He is moving all the details of our lives toward his intended purposes, and he loves us beyond measure.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
Look for my next nonfiction release with Moody Publishers The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk is releasing in April. This is a powerful book about our propensity for self-deception. Once again, it’s humorous and embarrassingly autobiographical and helps readers recognize patterns of thinking that trap us.
On the fiction side, I’m stirring up some characters and the plot line for a new series I’m energized about. I’m excited about developing a new main character because I can already envision the unexpected places life is going to take her. We often set out with goals we think are important and discover they really don’t get us where we want to go after all. That’s a glimpse into Reese’s story.
Any parting words of advice?
Because writing flows from life, our relationship with Jesus Christ is central to everything we do–as writers, as spouses, as parents, as friends. My priority is to keep the main thing the main thing–to keep my heart fixed on Jesus. Everything else has to flow from that.