Every author writes from self-knowledge. It’s inescapable. I am a pragmatic personality, so I hate things that don’t make sense. Consequently, the motivations and habits of my characters must be entirely reasonable or I just don’t like them and have trouble working with them. Hence, my main characters must have believable reasons for their behavior.
In real life, some people are simply not made like that. My mom was one of those folks whose reactions could come out of the blue without rhyme or reason. It took careful dissection for her to understand her own motivations, and often those motivations were just not reasonable to me. Frankly, I have to rely on my knowledge of her to write realistic characters with such personality traits. Even then, however, I’m fully aware that I am depending upon my own experience to design and communicate such a character. So, even those characters that are not a lot like me are predicated on my own self-knowledge.
I believe the same is true for every author.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Well, I agreed to marry my husband on our first date. It was totally out of character for me, but the circumstances were quite unusual. I was a young widow with a very small son. I was very angry with God after my first husband’s death, and it took a long time for me to reach the point where I could see that anger as sin and confess it. Soon after, I realized that my life wasn’t all that tragic. We were military, so I had no financial problems and all the support anyone could need. Then I had an unusual dream. I described it, for the most part, in my novella, DREAMING OF A FAMILY, in the book, A MOTHER’S GIFT. Shortly thereafter, I walked into a friend’s house and literally found the man in my dream sitting at her kitchen table. Scared the fool out of me. I saw him twice more after that. On the third occasion, we actually went out, at which point he announced that we should be getting married—and I agreed! That was the day after Christmas. Our respective families, including his cousin (my friend in whose home I met him), understandably went nuts, so we waited until mid April in order to let them calm down. That was more than thirty-four years ago now, and I still adore this man. No one who knows either of us can believe we came together in such a way, but there you have it.
My story is not the same, but James and I married 3 months and 3 days after our first blind date. And that was almost 46 years ago. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I recall vividly sitting at the kitchen table in our small ranch house in Oklahoma with my younger brother and sister and our father when he asked each of us what we wanted to do with our lives. My sister talked about being a barber on a cruise ship, of all things, so she could see the world. She’s now a nurse and, like me, has traveled extensively. My brother intended to be an engineer. He is a very accomplished builder. I stated flatly that I wanted to write books. Since I had been very ill for a long time with rheumatic fever, I was very well read and had just finished John Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, which I found fascinating, and a collection of O. Henry short stories, which inspired me to write my own short story. I knew right away that the short story format was much less interesting to me than the novel format, hence I would be a novelist. I was nine years old. A teacher later entered the short story in a contest, and it won first place, but it was my father’s attitude that convinced me I could write if I chose to do so. A self-educated and self-made man, he never blinked an eye at any of the ambitions of his children. He believed that anything we wanted badly enough to work hard at, we could achieve. My husband is of the same mind, and the two of them convinced me to work toward publication.
He sounds a lot like my own father. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read so widely and so eclectically that it would be easier to tell you what I don’t like, which is anything that is nonsensical. I was forced to read ALICE IN WONDERLAND as a child, and it remains my least favorite story to date simply because I couldn’t find a reason for any of it. I prefer a good mystery to a suspense novel, love anything historical, provided it’s accurate, and enjoy a good fantasy––when it’s rooted in truth. I love a good western. I also enjoy nonfiction and have read a lot of scholarly work on Scripture, which I find fascinating, but I find lots of subjects fascinating. I’m looking at a huge tome on HERBS AND SPICES right now, and another on Native American heritage. One of my all-time favorite books is WESTERING MAN, The Life of Joseph Walker, Master of the Frontier, by Bil Gilbert. I named my youngest son Joseph because of that book. Contemporary Romance is often difficult for me to read because that is what I write, so it feels like work rather than pleasure.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I’ve written 75 novels and have sold nearly seven million books in total, all contemporary romances. For several years now, I’ve concentrated in inspirational contemporary romance published by Love Inspired from Steeple Hill Books. I’m currently enjoying a series called Chatam House, which revolves around three sisters, triplets in their seventies, and their large antebellum mansion. Devout Christians, they have developed the habit of offering sanctuary to those whom God brings to their doorstep, for one reason or another. A surprising number of romantic matches have been the result of that largesse, often involving their own family members, as they have a number of siblings and many nieces and nephews. The first two books in that series have already been published, ANNA MEETS HER MATCH, and A MATCH MADE IN TEXAS. The third, BABY MAKES A MATCH, will be out in mid August to early September.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
My family, friends and church keep me grounded and help me properly order my priorities.
I’m not cut out to simply sit in a pew, and my grandfather, a very godly man, taught me that the only way to serve God is to serve people, so I’ve always chosen to attend service-oriented churches and find some way to be an active part of ministry. The outcome, I leave entirely to God. It’s up to us to serve, period, and not worry about outcomes.
My husband, sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren always have first claim on my time, frankly, and we work hard to stay close though we live far apart. However, I have friends who are really “chosen family,” and they are as dear to me as anyone, no matter how far apart we may be. (The “daughter of my heart” lives in England!)
These things bless my life and feed my writing.
As for my sanity, I really don’t much care how anyone else views me or what anyone else has or accomplishes. I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses or envy anyone, and I truly believe, as my Dad would say, that most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be, whatever the challenges. This world is not heaven, so I don’t expect things to run smoothly all the time or labor under the lie that God will always answer my prayers as I think He ought to or hope He will. I enjoy and admire people who are as honest with themselves as everyone else and tend to avoid those who feel phony to me.
Frankly, I do not know how non-Christians cope or understand how Christians can fail to do so. I’ve been told by non-believers that my Christianity is a crutch. Okay. Doesn’t make Christ less real or God less powerful. And it beats to pieces other crutches, like drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, money…
How do you choose your characters’ names?
My books tend to be very much character-driven. I usually get at least one of the characters before I get the premise of any particular story. My characters tend to be so strong that they kind of choose their own names, so if an editor vociferously objects to a character’s name (and they occasionally do), I basically have to jettison the character––and often the story––and move on. I do have a book with baby names and look at several on-line sites that list names, but as I get to know my characters, their names just come with that knowledge.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
My family. My marriage is a blessing that truly humbles me. My sons are wonderful men, whose company I enjoy immensely. My daughter-in-law is brilliant and a great wife and mom. My granddaughters are amazing and such fun. Those we’ve brought into our family are interesting, honest, lovable blessings, who enrich all of our lives. We don’t all agree on everything and lead very different lives, but we love and enjoy and value each other. Such relationships take time and effort, but my husband and I covenanted long ago to make such a family our mutual priority. I’m not ashamed to say that I think we’ve done very well, but it’s always a work in progress.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A horse. I grew up on a ranch. My dad trained horses. I can’t think of any animal that has contributed more to the formation of societies and civilizations. They’re strong, beautiful and trainable and they can be very loyal. Plus, they give great pleasure but require some “knowing.” In particular, I’d be a big, fast, blood bay with black stockings and sleek lines.
What is your favorite food?
One of my great besetting sins is that I love to cook and to eat, but if I must choose just one, then it will have to be chocolate, particularly the Belgian chocolate that my husband routinely brings home from his business trips to Brussels and its environs.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I don’t do trends well. I’m just contrary that way. Whatever TV programs are most popular, I avoid just on principle. If it appeals to everyone else, then it doesn’t usually appeal to me. I’m just not a very good follower or even a good joiner for the sake of being part of the crowd. In other words, I suppose I’m too independent to fit well into “the market,” whatever that may be at any given time, so I have to create my own niche, my own “market,” if you will. I firmly believe that the only way to do that is to write good, honest books, which sometimes makes my editor want to yank out her hair, I’m sure. She and the marketing department want hooks and buzz words, but I can’t write to those things. Instead, I have to pull them out of what I do write, and that is sometimes a lengthy process, which tends to make editors and marketers quite nervous. It’s always a tightrope walk with me, writing what I need and want to write and meeting their expectations in the process. Thankfully, God has blessed me with good sales, so the publisher continues to put up with me!
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
It is as important to understand what you instinctively do well as what you need to work on. What you do well is due to your particular talent, which is where you will find your writing “voice.” Learn what it is that you have a particular talent for and cultivate it.
That said, the rules of English grammar are important tools. You can bend, even break, the rules for the sake of effect, but you have to know them and how to properly use them first. No substitute for them exists!
The other important fact that unpublished authors need to know is this: Selling a first book is a matter of getting the right manuscript in the right hands at the right time. Period. Until that happens, you will remain unpublished, no matter how well honed your craft is. My best solution for that? Prayer. Lots of it. Of course, to be most efficacious, prayer requires truly yielding to God’s will, in one’s writing as well as everything else. How anyone else manages it, I have no idea.
Tell us about the featured book.
BABY MAKES A MATCH is a marriage-of-convenience book, which is not particularly easy to pull off in a contemporary setting, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much!
After simply doing a good deed by offering an obviously pregnant woman a much-needed ride, rodeo cowboy Chandler Chatam is continually mistaken for the father of that expected baby. For a Christian man with plenty of problems and a retired minister for a father who always seems to expect the worst of this particular son, it’s a very embarrassing and vexing situation. For Bethany Willows, who is pregnant and, through no fault of her own, unmarried, it’s worse, especially as she dares not explain her situation. When Chandler discovers the truth about her, the only solution for either of them seems to be marriage. Neither of them really expects a marriage of such “inconvenience,” if you will, to be the solution to all their problems, and it isn’t…unless, of course, it’s all part of God’s plan.
I love it already. Please give us the first page of the book.
Baby Makes a Match
By Arlene James
“Six hundred dollars?” Bethany gaped at the mechanic. The man was unknown to her, just the first possible help that she had found along the road to Dallas after steam had started pouring out from under the hood of her pathetic little heap. “You’ve got to be kidding. The car wasn’t worth six hundred bucks when I started out in it!”
The hulking fellow wiped grease from his hands with a grimy red cloth. “Can’t argue with that,” he agreed, eyeing the offending vehicle.
“Look, I’m not even going as far as Dallas,” she pleaded, clutching the thin cotton skirt of her empire-style, ankle-length, blue-and-white flowered sundress, inadvertently pulling the fabric taut across her distended belly. Her slenderness made her look farther along in her pregnancy than she actually was, but she didn’t think about that now. “Isn’t there something you can do to get me to Buffalo Creek?”
He scratched his bald head. “Tell you what, I’ll give you three hundred cash for it as is. Maybe I can part it out, get my money back that way.”
“Three hundred?” Bethany repeated in dismay.
Making three hundred dollars beat shelling out six hundred that she did not even have, but how was she to make to Buffalo Creek if she sold her car? The baby moved, producing an odd fluttering sensation inside her abdomen, as if to say she might as well get on with it.
Now I'm really hooked. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Facebook: Arlene James
Thank you, Arlene, for the interesting peek into your life.
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