Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Since developing characters is so exhausting, I’m thinking I must be investing all of myself into them! Now, if we’re talking autobiographical, well, if I disclose that, there’d be no surprises in my novels, right? My characters, honestly, are much more interesting than I am.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Just one thing? Hold on, while I go ask my family. . . I have a pen addiction, fine or extra fine points, gels. A while ago, though, I discovered, thanks to one of my students, a disposable fountain pen that’s available in colors. Makes me shiver just to think about it! I’ve been known to run around the house, unable to write because I’m frantically searching for THE pen I need.
I'd like to know where you find disposable fountain pens. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
In high school, I was always the chick everyone wanted on the other team in P.E. I couldn’t dance, sing, draw, play music or flirt. I had short hair when long hair was in, curly hair when Cher-hair was popular, and a “fluffy” body when Twiggy appeared. I had enough teen angst to market it in bottles as a new perfume. One day, after watching my friend across the street get picked up by my ex-boyfriend for a date, I put pen to paper and felt healed. That’s when I started writing. Thinking of myself as a writer is something I’ve only recently come to recognize.
The first piece I ever had published was in the college literary magazine, and I wrote it after my freshman boyfriend broke up with me, because we were getting too serious. We had too much school ahead of us to get that serious, he said. I poured out my angst in a short piece. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
Fiction from Lisa Samson, Kristen Billerbeck, Mary DeMuth, Charles Martin, Joyce Magnin. Jenny B. Jones’ young adult novels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, Philippia Gregory’s historicals, nonfiction from Anne Lamott and Bill Bryson.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I don’t keep my sanity; I prefer to donate it. As a high school teacher of 140+ kids, a mother of five, grandmother of two, and wife of one, I lost my sanity quite some time ago and just never bothered to look for it.
I love it. I might just borrow that thought. How do you choose your characters’ names?
All those people who tortured me in life have rabid animals named after them. I use baby name books, phone books, the Social Security register of popular names…steal names from friends and family. It’s almost impossible for me to develop a character without a name.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Holding life together the two years following Hurricane Katrina. We didn’t evacuate [a long story], and managed-by God’s grace-to make it through the storm without extensive damage to our home. But my husband lost his job, so we moved to a city three hours away. We lived in a tiny rent home for over a year, without any of our own stuff except our clothes because everything else was in storage, and we had to move our furniture four times [another long story]. I taught in a new school, my husband worked in a new clinic, we remodeled a home, and lived in it less than a year. The clinic my husband had originally worked for re-opened, so we moved back home. In fact, right back into our home because it hadn’t sold during the years we’d been gone!
That is something to be proud of, making it through so many trying times. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Does Paris Hilton still have that dog? I’m thinking that has to be the way to go if you’re going to be an animal.
What is your favorite food?
I don’t eat liver or mustard greens; everything else is fair play. My absolute favorites are boiled shrimp, cheesecake, and almost any flavor of Blue Bell ice cream.
Blue Bell. I understand that. I have a son-in-law who used to work for Blue Bell, and my freezer always had some. Now my hips do, but the freezer doesn't. Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
So many times those seemingly random events in our lives are all part of God's plan. And following God's plan, at least for me, is like listening to that chick who guides me through my navigation system. Only, with God, it's just His voice, and no map for double checking. I have to trust I'm being led in the right place.
One of the first mile-markers was my husband buying me a laptop. Ever so romantically, he says, "Here, now go write something." And, being the ever- obedient wife, I did. Months later.
I started reading Kristen Billerbeck and Lisa Samson because, (are you ready for this?), I liked their book covers. A voracious reader, I'd never picked up Christian fiction; I expected it to be, well, boring and preachy and unrealistic. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Then, because I didn't know any better, I actually had the chutzpah to email Kristen with these incredibly B-A-D one page notions (think giving someone three raw eggs and telling them it's an omelet) of a book. And Kristen, God bless her unselfish soul, responded. Instead of recommending I repeatedly pound myself on the head with my laptop, she offered gentle suggestions. A writer who had absolutely no idea who I was had emailed me. Amazing.
The internet became my information highway to writers both published and unpublished; I searched and researched, zooming by agent and publisher websites and blogs. Making pit stops as often as possible to learn about and enter writing contests, to refuel with the success of those traveling with me.
Three years, a hurricane, and an ACFW conference later, my tenth graders stroll into my classroom and find me, their teacher, staring at my computer monitor. In tears. Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary wanted to talk. To me.
Ten months, several passes by publishers, and another ACFW conference later, my tenth graders stroll into my classroom, and find me, their teacher, snapping my cell phone closed. In tears. Rachelle called to tell me Abingdon Press had just bought my book.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
My greatest roadblock was, and sometimes is still, me. Self-doubt, lack of butt-glue, and feeling that gnawing fear that I’ll be a “one book wonder,” can paralyze me. I have to get out of my own way. When I really have the muggley-wumps, I call my friends, my agent, or whoever answers the phone to walk me off the ledge.
I understand the "one book wonder" thing. I experienced it for ten years. But God had another plan. What advice would you give to others who are trying to get their first book published?
Pray. Trust that God has a plan, and know that it’s probably not the same one you have for Him! Follow those who have walked through the land mine before you, and listen to those who have achieved the success that you want to achieve. Pray. Be teachable. Attend writing conferences. Read agent and editor blogs. Pray. Read books that delight and engage you. Learn from them. Pray. Encourage others in their journey. Pray.
Tell us about the featured book?
Leah Thorton’s life, like her Southern Living home, has great curb appeal. But a paralyzing encounter with a can of frozen apple juice in the supermarket shatters the façade, forcing her to admit that all is not as it appears. When her best friend gets in Leah’s face about her reliance on alcohol to avoid dealing with her life, Leah must make an agonizing choice. Seek help against her husband’s wishes? Or—put herself first for once? Joy and sadness converge and unwelcome insights intrude, testing Leah’s commitment to sobriety, her marriage, her motherhood, and her faith.
Narrated by Leah, this novel starts with a funny yet tragic epiphany, setting the stage for a story dealing with difficult circumstances with dry humor. While the topics are serious, they’re approached with Leah’s sometimes sassy, often sarcastic, usually self-deprecating humor.
Sounds interesting. Please give us the first page of the book.
If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my words.
If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched or unseemly, can not be replaced, I would have been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.
If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the moment out of time—if I had known, if I had known—I would have been more careful with my life.
Wow! I can hardly wait to read the book now. How can the readers find you on the Internet?
My website: http://www.christaallan.com/
Christa, what a fun time we had with you. Thank you.
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