Welcome back, Maureen. What are some of the spiritual themes you like to write about?
It’s always exciting to me when the theme for each book reveals itself as something I need to be either reminded of or taught. For My Sister Dilly, the theme is forgiveness. When I really looked at the meaning of forgiveness, it occurred to me that it’s most meaningful within the context of a relationship, not only between ourselves and God, but within the relationships in our lives. Yet I hear so much about forgiving ourselves that I really wanted to know what that meant. Isn’t guilt the result of not forgiving yourself? If we’ve wronged someone, either God by not living up to the perfect standard He is just by His nature, or wronged another human being, then it’s our responsibility to seek forgiveness and repent of whatever we’re seeking forgiveness for. But once we’ve received that forgiveness, freely given by God through Christ, and perhaps eagerly given by those who love us, why do we still feel guilty? My Sister Dilly reminded me that if we’ve received forgiveness within the context of relationship, we should stop carrying guilt. The whole idea of forgiving ourselves becomes moot once we’ve accepted the forgiveness from those we’ve offended. So the theme I learned with this book was about guilt and forgiveness, and if we’ve been forgiven by those we’ve offended it’s okay not to feel guilty any more.
Such a hard concept for some people to live out. What other books of yours are coming out soon?
Right now I’m working on the first of a three book series that returns to the First World War era. This time setting has always fascinated me, since it seems to be just on the brink of modern times and yet with a foot still firmly in the historical realm. This time I’m investigating the Great War from a thoroughly European setting. Book One takes place in a small village in Northern France, Book Two in Brussels, Belgium, and Book Three in Germany just after the war ends. Although they’re set during the war, they’ll have surprisingly little, if any, battle scenes. They’re all romances, with the necessary angst a war backdrop so easily provides. It’s amazing to me how resilient people are when faced with incredible challenges, and this war (like all of them) provides extraordinary fodder for any novel.
I’m fortunate enough to be planning a trip to Belgium and Northern France to help my research, which is one of the absolute best perks of being a writer – tax deductions for research trips!
If you could spend an evening with one contemporary person (not a family member of yours), who would it be and why?
It’s hard to choose! I’m fascinated by a lot of people – like those in leadership, maybe General Petraeus just because he’s been able to accomplish something others before him haven’t, or Billy Graham who’s done so much for the Kingdom. Or Beth Moore, whose Bible studies and speaking ministry just astounds me. I’d ask them if they struggle with the same things us ordinary folk do. I’d love to spend time with a great entertainer like Billy Crystal or great actor like Anthony Hopkins and ask if they ever get butterflies. I’d absolutely love to spend time with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who knows so much more than I do, or a journalist like Charles Krauthammer who’s seen so much and seems so wise, or a successful writer like J.K. Rowling to ask if all the problems that must come with fame/fortune are really worth it. But in reality if I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with any one of them I’d probably be so awestruck and afraid of wasting their time with my blubbering that I’d just sit there and ask them to talk so I could listen.
How long have you known that you wanted to be novelist?
Since I was very young – too young to really know at what age this whole passion-for-writing started. I recall listening to my mother tell me and my sister stories that she made up, instead of reading them out of a book (although she did that, too). I remember my father telling a neighbor that of his six kids I was “the creative one.” I remember trying to convince friends it would be fun to spend an afternoon making up stories or just reading together. I remember our neighborhood putting on plays for the adults and even though I’m certainly no actor, I liked seeing the effect words could have on people if the words were chosen well. So, I guess I’ve wanted to be a novelist pretty much my whole life.
What can you tell authors who have been receiving only rejections from publishers?
Don’t give up! I know it’s hard to receive a rejection, because it’s such a personal thing. This isn’t a team sport, after all, where you can share the feeling of defeat. But if I had to give one bit of advice to try and avoid rejections, I’d say don’t hurry things. So many new writers I’ve met over the years are (understandably) eager to get validated as a writer through publication, but they submit something too soon. They might have heard of someone talking about how an editor found a book that was a diamond in the rough, and together they made it the sparkling success it ended up being. Unfortunately, although revisions are expected after a book is accepted by a publisher, the books that are picked up nowadays are the ones that require the least amount of work on the other side of the contract. They’re looking for someone who can tell a good story and has the basics down, so the next story you write will live up to that pattern – that next story that must be written under a deadline, without years to perfect it the way most writers have spent before their first book is picked up.
So don’t rush things! Polish your work with the help of critique buddies who can help you see with their fresh eyes what’s working and what’s not. That of course means finishing your first book, but might also mean finishing a few more to get to know this craft of writing and what works best for you. Go to conferences as you can afford to, to network and to help deepen your understanding of the craft. And with each project think about what you’re trying to convey, so it’s unique to you, fresh to the market, and absolutely the best you can do.
Tell us about the featured book.
My Sister Dilly is probably my most challenging novel yet, but one I’m really happy that I wrote. It was inspired by a conversation I had with my sister-in-law about a friend of hers who is in prison. I was so moved by the story that I wanted to use at least some of her friend’s experience in a novel, and My Sister Dilly is the result.
It begins with Hannah, sitting in a parked car across the street from a Special Needs School. She’s looking for her sister’s handicapped child, so when Hannah goes to the prison where her sister has been incarcerated for the last six-and-a-half years, she can assure her that her daughter is okay.
Here’s a short blurb about My Sister Dilly:
Hannah Williams leaves her small, Midwestern hometown in favor of the faster pace and trendier lifestyle of LA. But when her sister Dilly makes a horrible mistake and ends up in prison, Hannah goes back to make up for "abandoning" her - leaving in LA the one man she's ever loved. But she learns she can't really go back, all she can do is accept forgiveness. Both her sister's and God's.
It’s about two sisters, forgiveness, overcoming mistakes, and of course there’s a romance, too, since I can’t write a book without one!
Me, neither, and I really don't enjoy reading a book without at least a touch of romance. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Come visit me!
Maureen, thank you for spending this time with us. I always enjoy it when you come by.
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