My faith and worldview are very much a part of what I write, so in that sense my characters do carry a bit of me. My characters are usually inspired by something I hear or someone I see.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
My middle daughter always wanted to bottle feed and raise a calf. Despite living on a small farm and having many animals, we had never owned a cow, and I realized when she turned 15 that time was running out because she was graduating early and leave for university at 16. So, I called a dairy and asked where I could find a dairy calf. Since the milk is trucked in, the guy who answered had no idea, but he started hollering to other people around him until someone gave directions to a farm in my area. I followed his sketchy directions, looking for “the field with cows in it,” and followed a long dirt driveway down to a farm where I met the farmer as he was heading out in his truck. When I told him what I was after, he stroked his beard and decided he’d be willing to sell me one. He led me to the calfing area where two new calves with huge doleful eyes stared at me from their pens. (Note: Calves are taken away from their mothers within 24 hours because the calf is used to make her a milk producer. The calves are fed with bottles until they are ready to eat solid food.) Of course I was delighted to have found this real calf to take home. Here lies the really quirky part: I was driving a minivan! I collapsed the middle seats and we loaded that calf right into the minivan. When I got home and called my daughter out to the car, I have to say that was probably the most fantastic surprise she’s ever had or probably ever will have in her life. It was surprise enough to see I’d bought her a calf, but to see it there in my car made her speechless. (That cow loved her! But chased everyone else.)
That sounds wonderful. I applaud you. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I started writing stories as soon as I could hold a pencil to paper. I began to seriously write with the goal of being a novelist when I worked a nightshift after college. I desperately wanted off the night shift, and when I got home at midnight, I was too wide awake to sleep, so I began writing in hopes of becoming a published author.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I prefer to read the same thing I write: women’s fiction and literary fiction. However, I occasionally read mysteries, thrillers and paranormal. There are some writers whose books inspire me to continually stretch my skills: Anne Tyler, Anne Rivers Siddons, Maeve Binchy and Pat Conroy. Anne Tyler is a master at characterization and studied her novels in detail to learn how to write. Anne Rivers Siddons books and Pat Conroy’s early work taught me how to weave southern flavor into my stories with description that flows through scenes and carries the story forward. Maeve Binchy is an expert at omniscient point-of-view and at carrying a large number of characters into a story without confusion, and she does it with such ease it’s not even apparent without really studying what she’s doing.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
With five children, a hobby farm, and my writing career, I am definitely part of that run, run, run world. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I constantly over-schedule my life, which is why writing gets delegated to the wee hours, usually 2am-6am, when the house is quiet, when I can’t do anything else for fear of waking husband and children, and there are no distractions (except the internet, which I disconnect to keep myself focused). To maintain my sanity, I keep a running list that prioritizes what I have to get done. I make a list every night of specific things I must accomplish the next day, and I plug everything into my iPhone calendar with alarms set.
With so much going on, I seek peace and rejuvenation at Mass and through long walks on the beach.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
All of my main characters have come to me with names, as a part of who they are when they pop into my head. For example, Rachel in Rachel’s Contrition. Almost every radio interviewer asks if I chose her name because Rachel’s Vineyard deals with the loss of a child through abortion (while my Rachel’s grief is from the accidental death of a young child). That connection was accidental, at least on my part. Perhaps God had a hand in me seeing her as “Rachel.”
I often name secondary characters based on their role in the story. What a name means plays into the decision, but I also consciously seek names that don’t sound similar to one another. There are great baby name sites that help in choosing those names.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I have been very blessed in my life. I have to admit my writing wish list has followed that of most writers: a tier of goals and accomplishments. It was definitely a highlight to have my husband come home one day to say someone had stopped him at work to rave about my newspaper column; he was wowed that someone thought I was a fantastic writer, and started looking at my writing as something serious and worthwhile. It was also a milestone to see my first book in print, and then after experiencing the trial of many tossed manuscripts and extreme efforts to get that book published, I was immediately offered a two-book deal for young adult books with a different publisher based on the merit of that first book and nothing more than a prologue. I literally reeled with the ease of reaching that next rung. Each book brings a new sense of accomplishment. With Rachel’s Contrition, I stepped into Catholic fiction, which was an almost non-existent genre, and I’m thrilled to have been a player in developing this new category of publishing.
Outside of writing, I must admit that I hold my husband and children on a fairly high pedestal. They are my light and joy.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I love to watch wild horses gallop through a pasture, and I’ve owned horses most of my life, but I’m going to say a tiger because they are beautiful, and I love how they move. So regal. So self-assured. I admire them.
What is your favorite food?
Chocolate. I reward myself with a handful of M&M’s every time I finish writing one page.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it? Getting published. I wrote and wrote, but couldn’t break in. I finally made a New Year’s resolution: I put down my pen (closed my keyboard) for a year and concentrated totally on investigating the publishing industry, attended conferences to meet agents and editors. On Christmas Eve, an editor called and offered me a contract. That was obviously a very merry Christmas!
Tell us about the featured book.
I wrote Rachel’s Contrition after hearing a news blurb about a man who was responsible for the death of his child. I was stunned by how that 30-second mention in the news totally minimized what was probably the ruination of that man’s life as well as his wife’s. How could he call his wife to tell her what happened? How could they find a path back to each other again? The seed for my novel was planted then, but didn’t come to fruition until years later when three women close to me lost children in accidents; I watched grief eat away at them. From that came the story of Rachel, a woman mired in grief after the accidental death of her young daughter. Help arrives from two unlikely sources: a young teen, Lilly, battling her own demons, and a tattered holy card depicting Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. As Rachel grows closer to Lilly and comes to know Saint Thérèse, unbidden memories from her edgy past reveal fearful mysteries of seduction, madness, and murder… and a truth that will haunt her forever.
Please give us the first page of the book.
RACHEL’S CONTRITION by Michelle Buckman
I have to act civil when I see him. That was part of the agreement. So, I plaster a fake smile on my face and bat my eyelashes at him. “Hello, Sinclair. I hope you had a nice weekend.”
“Rachel.” He says it as if my name is an answer.
His real name is Joseph Sinclair Winters, Jr., but his daddy goes by Joe so he was stuck with Sinclair, which suits him better anyway with the highfalutin family he comes from. It also suits his sophisticated looks—his soft face and thick black hair, with serious eyes staring out behind those thin gold spectacles of his. Not ruggedly handsome like a guy in a women’s magazine, but the kind you’d look for in Forbes; the kind voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school.
He has an IQ off the charts. Intelligent but no common sense, his mother says. She knew what I was at first glance. He probably agrees with her nowadays.
I agree with his mom about his lack of common sense. How else could he forget about our baby? He remembers now. He only forgot once. But that was enough to change our lives forever, and enough to end hers. Me, I’ll never forget our baby, ever. Just thinking of her sends a shooting pain through my gut.
The parking lot is full of cars, but we’re the only people standing out in the midday sun. We could be open with each other right now. No one would witness our conversation and pass it on during some social tête-à-tête. We could say what’s really on our minds, we could come to terms with the truth, but we don’t. We used to have so much to say to each other that we could stay up till the wee hours and not run out of words until our lips found better ways to communicate, but lately Sinclair doesn’t even answer my polite questions. I think of all we’ve been to each other and wither inside.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MichellePBuckmanTwitter: AuthorMBuckman
Thank you, Michelle, for the interesting interview.
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