Tuesday, May 11, 2010
It’s inescapable. No matter what we write, snippets from our own lives wind up in our characters. Small nibbles—like a woman trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for most bad hair days in a row, a child with a familiar-sounding insecurity, a cherished setting, a color-commentary detail. Big gulps—an issue with which an author wrestles, a concern that needs a spiritual Heimlich to dislodge. It’s the same for my books. I don’t set out to write autobiographically, but I sometimes uncover a startling or tender truth about myself as the plot and character layers unfold.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Lena, you know me. I live for quirky. I think it’s adorable when my grandkids make huge, gruesome, creative messes. Their parents just shake their heads and correct the children’s behavior when they get them home. Quirky? I made a writing desk out of a discarded ladies restroom door.
I'd love to see that. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I’d get excited when the teacher announced a massive term paper assignment. Loved the 3x5 cards, the research, the outlining, the whole process. If she asked for 10 pages minimum, I gave her 15. In college, my ears perked up when I heard the words, “It’s an essay test.” YES! When I was stirred by a book I read, I felt a wave of “I want to create an experience like this for readers someday.”
I always loved telling stories, but I didn't like the term papers. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
If you looked at my bookshelves at home, you’d wonder if you’d stumbled into a community library by mistake. The shelves in my half-bathroom (that’s right—floor to ceiling shelves) hold my Daddy’s pulpit commentaries, every Christian relationship book published in the 70s and 80s, a bunch of non-fiction titles, knitting books, and an occasional classic. The shelves in the hall upstairs hold children’s classics, the Little House series, Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series, and Far Side and Dilbert humor. The spare room shelves contain a mix of historicals and contemporary women’s fiction (all ACFW members, of course!). The shelves in my bedroom are reserved for the 120 books to-be-read. Books that touch me to my marrow or reveal a new way of looking at an old truth resonate with me.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I’ve used the expression before, but find it a daily challenge. I don’t want to be busy; I want to be active. Serving and ministering are high priorities for me. But I’m learning to take time for soaking if I hope to serve well…soaking in the Word of God and in silent companionship with Him. I am so much more productive when I stop the flurry of activity and just listen.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
I love weaving subtle undertones of meaning into my characters’ names. Libby thinks she wants to be liberated from a stale, emotionally-unsatisfying marriage. Greg Holden can’t be held. Frank is…well, frank. In 30 years of writing radio scripts, I’ve had to choose names for thousands of the dramas’ characters. When I need a name for a young contemporary character, I look through the hospital births. If I need an older character, I look at the list of “given in memory of” section of the hospital auxiliary newsletter. My ear is tuned to the lyrical quality of some names. Good choices go in a file for books-yet-to-be-born.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I suppose birthing three children without medication doesn’t count, since that happened a while ago. It’s a hard question for me. Every “accomplishment” in my life has been a gift I stepped into as if the Lord were holding my coat for me. What could I claim if all I did was slip my arms through the sleeves? Loving when we don’t feel like it is an accomplishment, but even that comes from Him. I took first place in my bassoon solo at the state contest in ninth grade. Something more recent? The first time I typed “The End.”
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
EyorTiggePooh. Though Eyore obviously needs Prozac, he’s a deep thinker. Tigger’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious. Winnie the Pooh’s gentle nature and honey-rich friendship appeal.
What is your favorite food?
Cheesecake. No, gluten-free truffle brownies. No, cheesecake. Definitely cheesecake. No…
Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
Although I’ve been writing a very long time and took my first creative writing course in 1977, my interest in fiction developed more recently. I attended the first ACFW conference in Kansas City (when it was still ACRW) after having attended several other writers’ conferences that just dabbled in fiction. All-fiction-all-the-time felt like changing schools and finding you already have a friend in the new class. I have three complete novellas—romances—that will forever remain in an airless folder in my file cabinet. They were practice. But at the ACFW conference in Nashville in two thousand and (oh, what year was that?) Deborah Raney’s critique and Gayle Roper (and her fiction clinic girls) offered encouragement I’ll cherish forever. I buckled down to learn as much as I could, to study, grow, keep practicing, polish, edit, kill off my favorite word pictures so the truth of the story could shine through…
Every time I’d wonder if fiction were my idea or the Lord’s, He’d send someone or something to tell me to keep pressing on. I began to see sparks of interest in agents’ and editors’ eyes. I progressed past form letter rejections to personal notes and invitations to submit something else. I inched my way up the ladder of the Genesis contest, using the judges’ comments to tweak another area that needed shoring up. A critique group opened their arms to me and forced me to “produce something and send it to us!” That discipline, along with their love and encouragement and prayers, changed my toying with fiction into a pursuit.
My debut novel—They Almost Always Come Home—released this month. The journey has just begun.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Gayle Roper once told me I had too much whipped cream in my manuscript—beautiful words but unnecessary calories. I replied at the time that it might explain my dilemma, since I personally don’t think one can ever have too much whipped cream on anything! But I took her observation seriously. How much of my writing was just for me? Just to entertain me with vocabulary gymnastics or luxurious language choices? I’ve had to conquer a grocery list of roadblocks, stumbling blocks, mental blocks, and other blockages but this “whipped cream” issue rises to the surface like… Never mind.
What advice would you give to others who are trying to get their first book published?
Work and wait. Work as hard as you can and wait as hard as you can. The Lord assures us that His promises cannot be overdue a single day. Successful writers cling to that truth—and to Him--while they invest their lives in writing for His glory.
That is so true. And if more authors believed it, they'd quit fretting and rest in Him. Tell us about the featured book?
After those first practice novellas and a dozen other ideas, some of which made it farther than the first few chapters, when I landed on the plot and characters for They Almost Always Come Home, I had a sweet little moment of communion with the Lord when I “felt” Him tell me this would be my first published novel.
In 1999, my husband almost didn’t return from his annual canoe trip to the Quetico Wilderness in Canada. He became gravely ill and crept closer to death’s door, out of range of communication, for five days before the Provincial Park rangers could get a float plane rescue to him. Doctors say he was within an hour or two of the end when rescue arrived. His true story—and mine—holds its own fascination. He (and I) fully recovered.
Two years ago, the what ifs teased my fiction imagination. What if he hadn’t been rescued? What if, unlike my personal story, it were a novel and the guy’s wife wasn’t at all sure she wanted him to be found? What if no one knew whether the husband had disappeared intentionally or…?
They Almost Always Come Home tells that couple’s story.
When Libby’s husband Greg doesn’t return from a two-week canoe trip to the Canadian wilderness, the authorities write off his disappearance as an unhappy husband’s escape from an oatmeal marriage and mind-numbing career. Their marriage might have survived if their daughter Lacey hadn’t died and if Greg hadn’t been responsible. Libby’s obsessed with finding out what happened to him, not so much to get her husband back, but to gain closure. If he walked out on her, she wants a divorce…and isn’t that biblical grounds? If he’s dead, then let’s get the mourning over with so she can go on with her life. How dare he find the marriage escape hatch before she did! Libby enlists the aid of her wilderness-savvy father-in-law and her faith-walking best friend to help her search for clues to her husband’s disappearance. What the trio discovers in the search upends Libby’s presumptions about her husband and rearranges her faith.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Do dead people wear shoes? In the casket, I mean. Seems a waste. Then again, no outfit is complete without the shoes.
My thoughts pound up the stairs, down the hall, and into the master bedroom closet.
Greg’s gray suit is clean, I think. White shirt, although that won’t allow much color contrast and won’t do a thing for Greg’s skin tones. His red tie with the silver threads? Good choice.
Shoes or no shoes? I should know this. I’ve stroked the cement-cold cheeks of several embalmed loved ones. My father and grandfather. Two grandmothers—one too young to die. One too old not to.
And my Lacey.
The Baxter Street Funeral Parlor will not touch my husband’s body, should the need arise. They got Lacey’s hair and facial expression all wrong.
I rise from the couch and part the sheers on the front window one more time. Still quiet. No lights on the street. No Jeep pulling into our driveway. I’ll give him one more hour, then I’m heading for bed. With or without him.
Shoes. Yes or no? I’m familiar with the casket protocol for children. But for adults?
Grandma Clarendon hadn’t worn shoes for twelve years or more when she died. She preferred open-toed terrycloth slippers. Day and night. Home. Uptown. Church. Seems to me she took comfort to the extreme. Or maybe she figured God ought to be grateful she showed up in His house at all, given her distaste for His indiscriminate dispersal of the Death Angel among her friends and siblings.
“Ain’t a lick of pride in outliving your brothers and sisters, Libby.” She said it often enough I can pull off a believable impression. Nobody at the local comedy club need fear me as competition, but the cousins get a kick out of it at family reunions.
Leaning on the tile and iron coffee table, I crane everything in me to look at the wall clock in the entry. Almost four in the morning? I haven’t even decided who will sing special music at Greg’s memorial service. Don’t most women plan their husband’s funeral if the man’s more than a few minutes late?
I can hardly wait to get my copy of the book. How can the readers find you on the Internet?
With a name like Cynthia Ruchti, Googlers have little trouble finding me. I’m not the one who teaches math. My Web address is: http://www.cynthiaruchti.com/ and my blog (give me a minute to post something fresh first!) is http://splashinginthedeepend.blogspot.com/ . Readers can also link to me through our radio ministry Web site: http://www.heartbeatofthehome.org/ .
Cynthia, what a wonderful interesting interview. Thanks for sharing with us.
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