Kelly Willis at Glass Roads PR introduced me to Marlo Schalesky, and I believe you'll be glad she did.
People often ask which of my characters is the most like me. My answer? None of them, and all of them. I base no character on myself, but they all reflect a little of me – my questions, my struggles, the issues that have shaped and molded me. In Veil of Fire, this is particularly true for the hermit in the hills. I may not have suffered through a physical fire, but just as the hermit questions God’s love, believes “I am Esau, unchosen, unloved,” so I too have struggled with those same feelings, doubts, and questions. I, too, have cried out to God, “Why don’t you love me?” For the hermit, it was a question born out of fire, abuse, and disfigurement. For me, it was a question that came out of failure, infertility, and miscarriage. So, in many ways, the hermit’s questions were my own, the answers mine, the external scars reflections of my internal ones, and in turn, I think, symbols of the scars of us all.
That is so true, Marlo. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I’ve never done a quirky thing in my life . . . uh, okay, so that’s a little fib. Actually, I do quirky things every day. I tie my shoes funny (if you ever meet me, I’ll demonstrate!), I can’t work unless my desk is cleaned off, and the other day I reviewed my New Testament Greek flashcards just for fun. Ugh. I know, that’s bad. And that’s just this week. Last week I lived up to the “tidy toad” moniker my husband gave me by cleaning out a dozen drawers, repacking some boxes, and of course, tidying up my desk . . . again. So, call me weird. But at least my desk is cleared off (can’t say the same for the rest of my house, after all, I’ve got four little girls running around making messes).
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.
Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”
Someday finally came. I started writing articles for various magazines and putting out proposals for book projects. I thought it would be easy to get my first book published, but alas, it took years of writing and honing my craft. And more than that, it took giving up my dream entirely. For me, I had to come to a place in my heart where I didn’t have to write to be content. I had to let go of that strong desire born at thirteen years old and embrace God’s will for me whether that will included writing or not. Only then, only when my dream had given way to God’s, was I offered my first contract. Only when writing became worship could I do it the way God wanted it to be done. And I’ve been writing books ever since.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I love fiction of all kinds. I read fantasy and science fiction, romances and children’s books. I love Tolkein and Dr. Suess, Francine Rivers and Jim Butcher. You just never know what kind of story you’ll find me reading next! Sometimes I even read (gasp!) non-fiction. For that, I usually pick up one of Philip Yancey’s books, or maybe I’ll just spend some time reading the New Testament in Greek (I love that, as geeky as it sounds).
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
The Published Ones:
Veil of Fire (Fiction, 1890’s Minnesota), JUST RELEASED!! from Cook Communications
Only the Wind Remembers, Moody Publishers, 2003 -- Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Fiction, 1911 San Francisco)
Cry Freedom, Crossway Books, 2000 (Fiction, 1740's Colonial America)
Freedom's Shadow, Crossway Books, 2001 (Fiction, 1750's Colonial America)
Empty Womb, Aching Heart, Bethany House Publishers, 2001 (Nonfiction, Infertility)
And I also have, stuck away in the back of a cabinet, my very first novel, still unpublished – an end times thriller (this was before the whole Left Behind craze) titled Tender Grows the Branch.
I loved your list of published works, Marlo. I have a series of novels set in the 1890s in Minnesota, too. They've been repackaged in a Barbour 4-in-1 titled Minnesota Brothers. So I'm really interested in that time period and place. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Four words: Starbucks. Venti. White. Mocha. Oops, doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it? But really, it is. Because if I’m having a white mocha it means that I’ve gotten away for a little while to write and to focus on God. For me, writing is an act of worship. It’s about getting in tune with God and trying to see as He sees and understand the things He’s trying to tell me.
So, getting some time away to write is also getting time away to rejuvenate, to take a few deep breaths, to stay sane. And, let me tell you, with four little girls (ages 7, almost 4, and twins who’ll turn 2 in a few months), there’s plenty of run, run, run around here! Between laundry, dishes, diapers, running two businesses (besides writing), and finishing the log home we just built, there’s lots of opportunity for crazy. But, a nice hot mocha, a few minutes of peace with no one hollering for “Mom,” and my laptop computer make all the difference.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Ah, it’s different every time. For my next book (the one that will come after Veil of Fire), I dreamt the story, and the characters came to me complete with names. Very convenient. However, I’m usually not so lucky. For Veil of Fire, which is set in 1894 Minnesota, I looked through a book with Scandinavian names, closed my eyes and envisioned each character, then “tried out” the name to see if it seemed to fit. In the past, I’ve written books with Native American characters. For those, it’s been fun to search for names that mean something significant in the native language and find just the right one to match the character’s personality.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Well, I thought about my degree in Chemistry and my Masters in Theology (which I just finished), but what I’m really most happy about is finding a wonderful, godly husband and, finally (after 11 years of infertility), having four sweet little girls. For most people, I don’t suppose getting pregnant and having a baby is an accomplishment, but for me, with difficult infertility treatments and multiple trips to the doctor’s office for unpleasant procedures, it’s not only an accomplishment, it’s something close to a miracle. So, am I proud of it? I guess so. But mostly, I’m just glad and thankful. :-)
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Oh, I don’t know. I guess anything except a cat. My husband hates cats. :-)
What is your favorite food?
I love pepperoni pizza. But then, I’m also very fond of peanut butter MM’s, Coldstone ice cream, and chocolate covered donuts. Luckily for me, I don’t get these foods every day. I save them for special occasions.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Doubt and discouragement. And I never completely overcome it. But what helps is to remember that my writing is not a necessity, it’s an act of worship and of faithfulness. I only need to write the stories that God gives me. And I can only do my best. The rest is up to him.
I haven’t always felt that way. Our culture tells us to pursue our dreams, reach for the sky, dream big, nothing’s impossible if only you try hard enough. Sounds good. But for me, that philosophy was deadly. I was in bondage to my dreams of being a writer and needed to be freed. I needed to completely surrender those dreams in order to live God’s. It was like ripping out part of my soul. But it was worth it.
And the funny thing was, it was only after God broke me, only after he freed me from my own dreams, that they came true . . . on His terms. Out of blue, Crossway offered me my first book contract, and I’ve been writing books ever since.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Don’t focus on publication! Instead, surrender. Follow God. Seek Him. And if He’s called you to this writing thing, then write the best you can. Study the craft. Hone your work. Remember that it’s an offering to Him, so focus on doing it well. Find the story that’s not only your passion, but His. And then, be faithful. Go to writers’ conferences, listen to advice, be humble. And rely on God to organize your time and priorities so that your family and friends will bless your writing and not see it as competition. And that’s the best you can do. After that, publication is up to God.
Everything! But I’ll settle for just a few fun facts.
--Veil of Fire is based on a real historical event, the greatest firestorm in Minnesota history.
--The story focuses on a real historical mystery, the hermit in the hills, a person burned in the fire and unrecognizable. Who is the mysterious hermit?
--Cook Communications (my publisher) is running a summer special on the book, so readers can get it on the cheap for the first few months.
Marlo, thank you for spending this time with us. Your book is near the top of my to be read pile. I'll have to move it up. A review will appear in my July newsletter at my web site: www.LenaNelsonDooley.com
Readers, you can find out more about Marlo at: www.marloschalesky.com .
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