Wednesday, June 09, 2010
A two-time ACFW Genesis winner, Carla Stewart is a Guideposts Writers Workshop alumna and has been published in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, and several regional magazines and anthologies. Her debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, releases this month with FaithWords. Carla enjoys a good cup of coffee, weekend getaways with her husband, and the antics of their six grandchildren.
Welcome, Carla. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I don’t intentionally write myself into them, but I know I draw on my past experiences to find my character’s emotions, and the setting of Chasing Lilacs is very much like the place where I grew up. Still, my characters often say or do something that I would.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
According to my husband, I am a quirk :-) A few years ago, for our 50s-themed Christmas Banquet at church, I talked three shy, stage-frightened friends into performing a pantomime quartet for the entertainment portion of the evening. We wore matching poodle skirts and did our choreographed mime to “Mr. Sandman” and “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” We were the hit of the evening.
Sounds like fun. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
In the sixth grade I wrote a “steamy” romance (to me anyway) and sent my only copy to a Hollywood producer, convinced they would cast Sandra Dee and Richard Chamberlain in the title roles. I never heard back. The sting of rejection lasted forty years while I busied myself with writerly tasks like church bulletins, chatty Christmas newsletters, and critiquing my kiddos writing projects for school. So, I guess I’ve always written and dreamed that someday I would write a book, but it wasn’t until nine years ago that I began to pursue writing in earnest.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read a bit of everything – mysteries (Dick Francis and John D. MacDonald are favorites), mainstream and literary fiction (Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Monk Kidd, Sara Gruen, Rosamund Pilcher), and for the past few years, a lot of great Christian fiction (Susan Meissner, Lisa Samson, Mary DeMuth, W. Dale Cramer, and a host of newer authors). I especially love to read books that transport me to the character’s world, teach me some factoid about history or have a psychological twist. I also enjoy quirky humor now and then.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
Chasing Lilacs will be my first published book, but the first novel I completed was a mystery, followed by a few abandoned women’s fiction attempts. I have a completed Young Adult novel that was a Genesis winner in 2008, and I’ve just finished my second contracted book, tentatively titled Broken Wings. It, like Chasing Lilacs, is women’s fiction with a nostalgic thread.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
It helps that we are empty-nesters and I don’t work outside the home. I have the daytime to myself, and in the evenings, my husband and I spend time working on the yard, taking our doxy for walks, and discussing our day. We sometimes attend jazz concerts and Broadway shows that come to our city. Taking weekend trips to visit family (and grandkids) gives me a break from my normal writing routine. Even though writing can sometimes be hectic, I’m learning to just do what I can every day, and through God’s grace, it all seems to get done.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Raising four boys and surviving to tell about it!
I didn't get my boys until grandsons. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A dachshund like the one who sits on my lap while I write (Zelda). She is faithful, loves me even when I leave her at the kennel, and is always ready for an adventure. She also has a mind of her own and is not afraid to let me know. Those are qualities I love and think I would make a great pal to my owner if I were a pooch.
What is your favorite food?
This is a loaded question: sort of like picking your favorite child. I do love seafood, though, especially shrimp. I often work shrimp into my recipes at home. But I also love Mexican food when we go out to eat.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
As a new writer, I knew little about the “rules” of the craft – backstory, point of view, goals and motivation, how to write scenes and sequels. When I became aware that I needed to learn these things, I went at it like I was training for the Olympics. I took internet classes, attended workshops, and let others critique my work. Eventually, I started entering contests. I still read craft books regularly and study my favorite novels to see what makes great prose. I’m not sure it’s possible to learn all the nuances of great writing, but my goal is to continue toward excellence and to continue learning all that I can. The challenge of that is what keeps me moving forward and makes me fall in love with writing all over again each new day.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Learn the craft. Attend writers’ groups and conferences. Allow others to critique your work. Then, just write with abandon and let your voice come through. Don’t be afraid of being unique and writing the novel of your heart.
Tell us about the featured book.
Chasing Lilacs is Women’s Fiction with a nostalgic flavor. In this coming-of-age story set in Texas, the year is 1958, Elvis is on the radio, and summer is in the air. The times are simple and carefree. Or should be, but twelve-year-old Sammie Tucker has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother even loves her. When tragedy strikes and a not-so-favorite aunt arrives, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears. Her best friend with an opinion about everything? The mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him? Or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on? Then, there’s the elderly widower who seems nice, but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie’s ever done.
Please give us the first page of the book.
That June, right after I finished sixth grade, Norm MacLemore’s nephew came to Texas for a visit. Benny Ray Johnson brought home a new Edsel. And Mama tried to take her life for the first time.
We lived at Graham Camp then—a petroleum plant with company housing. A spot in the Panhandle of Texas where the blue of the sky hurt your eyes and the wind bent the prairie grass into an endless silk carpet as far as you could see in every direction. God’s country, some people called it. While it may be true that God created that corner of the world, it crossed my young mind that he must have been looking the other way when it came to Mama. Why else would Mama’s spells, as Daddy called them, drive her deeper into her quilts? Lights out. Shades drawn.
Her spell that June had gone on longer than most, and she seemed to be slipping farther away. I hoped my being out of school might snap her out of it, and I had no trouble inventing excuses to linger in the house and be of some use to Mama. Mostly, she let me fetch her things. An ice bag for her headache. Another one of those pills from the brown bottle.
I tiptoed in and out with her requests and studied her for signs of improvement. With every smile or pat on my hand, my insides lurched. Maybe today she’ll suggest we bake a cake. Or take a walk down to Willy Bailey’s store. I would have settled for just having her sit with me on the couch and watch television.
Please don’t get me wrong. Mama was the primary thing on my mind, but a few days into the summer, I began to get restless. Itchy. As I scribbled ideas for the newspaper my best friend, Tuwana Johnson, and I planned to write, my mind drifted, wondering what the next three months would hold. When the floorboards creaked beside me, I looked up, startled to see Mama shuffling into the front room. A little flutter came into my chest. Mama’s robe hung limp on her thin frame, the belt trailing behind.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website is http://www.carlastewart.com/
My blog is Carla’s Writing Café: http://www.carlastewart.blogspot.com/
You can also find me on Face Book, Good Reads, and Linked In.
Thanks, Lena, for having me as your guest and for the work you do in promoting Christian fiction. God Bless.
Thank you, Carla, and thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your life and your book.
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