Dear Readers, I’m thrilled to introduce you to my long-time friend Arlene James. She lived not far from me for years, but then she moved to my home state of
. We keep in touch through the
Internet now. She’s been a successful author for a long time, and you may have
read some of her series. This book today is starting a new, and very different,
Welcome, Arlene. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I find bits and pieces of myself in my characters. This one likes the same colors. That one struggles with the same habit(s). They enjoy the same pleasures or suffer from the same familial difficulties or insecurities. They struggle with the similar questions of faith that I’ve had to overcome or discover the answers to questions I’ve asked in the past. They’ve been widowed, as I have, or brokenhearted or seen their prayers answered … In some way, every character is me; and yet, no character is truly me.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
In writing, I suppose I’m doing it now, though the Chatam House series, with its triplet aunties, would have been my answer before the HOBBY RUN Variety Praise Band series.
If you’re not talking about writing, then I suppose that agreeing to marry my husband on our first date would be considered pretty quirky, but then I’d already met him in a dream. Literally.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I think I knew I wanted to write almost as soon as I could read. I very clearly remember sitting at the dinner table when I was no older than nine and telling my dad that I wanted to write. His advice was to get to it. I was publishing by 7th grade, thanks to an English teacher who had me writing fiction pieces and, unbeknownst to me, submitted them to contests and various magazines. God bless that woman.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I really love anything historical because that is NOT what I write. I love westerns. I love science fiction and speculative fiction. I love nonfiction and read lots of political stuff. I read lots of Bible study material. I get lost in research sometimes. I love a good mystery, but I have to admit that I’m not big on suspense because I just don’t believe most of it can happen the way it’s written. I think that comes from being the stepdaughter of a very successful police investigator.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
We live in a beautiful, quiet place here in NW Arkansas near our oldest son and granddaughters. Here, our closest neighbors are ½ mile away, and when we drive into town, traffic is minimal. We do have rush hour, and it does last a whole hour. Almost. I work a great deal, more than full-time, truthfully, so I don’t see my son and grandgirlies every day, but my Saturdays are given to basketball (both girls are real stand-outs) and my Sundays to church. My husband is an artist, and he has other things going on, so it’s usually just us and the dogs here. That allows me to work as much as I have to without going insane. I do have other interests. I’m the secretary of a non-profit agency in our area, and that requires a good deal of my time. We have many friends, and I love to see them, but unlike most of them, I am not retired and I don’t expect to be any time soon. Then there are my dogs. It’s good to be adored.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
My characters kind of name themselves. I’m working with one now who insists her name is Jos. That’s rather unconventional, so I had to come up with something reasonable to make that work as a sobriquet. It turns out that she’s named Jo Jessamyn, and her family shortens it to Jos. Those not close to her don’t know any better and call her “Jo,” which she hates, but then she reminds herself that her mother is called “Girly,” and no one but her father knows her mother’s real name. The characters seem to come up with their own given names, but surnames are a challenge. I often go through several before I find one that feels right and isn’t repetitive. After ninety-plus books, just not repeating myself is an issue.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
My children, hands down. I was told I’d never be able to carry a child to term, and I fought hard for the two I was able to birth, suffering numerous miscarriages along the way. Perhaps that’s why I tried to raise everyone else’s children, too. LOL. When people ask me how many children I have, I never know exactly what to tell them. Um, two for sure. Three, pretty solid. Could be four. Maybe five. I love them all. I’m proud of them all. God had blessed me, especially in my sons and with a husband who was willing to take all comers.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I was raised on a ranch, so I’m tempted to say a horse, but the truth is I’d probably be a dog. My two mutts are basically useless, but they love without question and spend most of their waking moments at my side. They are slavishly devoted and as happy to see me after an absence of five minutes as five days. They are so easily pleased: an occasional pat, a little rub, a slice of my apple … My husband says they are big furry doorbells because they let us know anytime anyone is on the place long before any visitor can make his or her way to the door. I can hear Silky, the 85-pounder, snoring on her bed behind my chair as I type this. When I get up and go in the other room, she will be at my heels. Her sister, Bean, will be waiting by the fire for me to sit down, then she’ll creep up into my lap, all 55 pounds of her, and lay her head on my shoulder. They are happy, utterly content. Sounds good to me.
What is your favorite food?
Only one? I suppose I have to say Italian, but I love to cook, and I can’t think of many things that I don’t like. My sons are great cooks, too, real foodies, and we’ve all been blessed to travel extensively, so we’ve gotten to eat in some great places, but we all agree that if there is one place we’d all go back to just for the food, it would be Italy.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Hm, my problem has always been that I have more ideas than I can get to; not enough hours in the day or days in the week. Too often, what publishers think the reading public wants is not what I want to write. Publishers are always looking for the next big thing, then they all jump on the bandwagon and beat the horse to death. When something catches the public’s interest, they try to replicate it a billion times over, all the while waiting for the next big thing to break out. They do this without realizing that their attempts to replicate PAST success actually prevents––or, at the very least, slows down––their discovery of that next big break out book/genre/subgenre.
I actually had an editor say to me that I should just do what everyone else was doing. When I replied that I wanted to do something different, something unique, she replied, “Well, yeah, that, too.”
Fortunately, we no longer have to depend on standard publishers to get our work out in front of the public. I’m a writer, not a promoter or a formatter or an artist or an editor (although I’ve done some of that). I write. That’s what I’m called to do; that’s what I want to do. So we incorporated a company, SillyPa Publishing, and have struck out on our on into self-publishing. One of my sons is an artist; he’s handling book covers, promotional videos and websites. One of my sons is a salesman/vendor; he’s handling coding, formatting, distribution and promotions. My agent, who worked extensively in television and radio production, is editing for me. We will see what God does.
This is not the first time I’ve had to reinvent myself to continue publishing, which is not to say that I am abandoning traditional publishing. I’m putting together a new series for Love Inspired now. But I’m excited about where God is taking me with this new venture. He’s never failed me. I often fail Him, despite my best efforts, but He has never failed me.
I so agree with you about all of your last answer. Tell us about the featured book.
A FAMILIAR LOVE SONG is the first book in the HOBBY RUN Variety Praise Band series. Ten musicians meet at a battle of the bands contest and gravitate together because of their Christian faith. They play different types of music and are of all ages from 20 to 60-plus. Only two of them are professionals, but they put together a unique sound that impresses the contest producer, Maggs Marko, and she offers them a steady gig at her alcohol-free venue, The Milking Barn, which is, yes, a converted milking barn.
Maggs has more on her mind than twice monthly band performances, however. The oldest member of HOBBY RUN is the man she left 25 years earlier. It was one of the biggest mistakes of her life. She walked out on their marriage and would give anything to change that, but she has terrible secrets. They’ve both become Christians, and Wyatt cannot deny that he’s still in love with Maggs, but forgiving her will take a superhuman kind of love and more faith than he’s sure he has. Along the way he learns not only Maggs’s secrets but a great deal about himself and his best friend, Drew. Is Maggs just a familiar old love song that he can’t get out of his head, though, or is she God’s will for the remainder of his life?
One of the most exciting things about this new series is that a good friend of mine, award-winning gospel music writer Joyce Powell, has agreed to write original music for our promotional videos. We’ll be laying down tracts for that soon––just as soon as the snow melts on the roads here.
I’m excited about this venture for you. Please give us the first page of the book.
Wyatt Ogilvie. In the flesh. The silver hair shocked her more than the few extra pounds or the scruffy beard. Though no longer dark, his hair remained thick and full, the hairline receding just a bit. His features had thickened slightly, but she’d have known him anywhere. Actually, he looked good, better than she’d have expected after all these years.
Had it really been nearly a quarter of a century since she’d packed her car and driven away from him? Not only had that been another decade, it had been another life, even another state. She’d been stunned to see his name on the list of entrants here in
, so she’d taken her time
looking him up. Three days into the competition, he and his partner were still
here, and she couldn’t resist the temptation to seek him out any longer. Fayetteville,
Would he recognize her? For some time now, she’d been bleaching her light brown hair blond in order to hide the gray that had begun to infiltrate her long locks. She wasn’t ready for that, though the delicate lines around her dark eyes proclaimed the years even without the gray. Lightening up on the eye shadow had helped, but she didn’t kid herself. She hadn’t spotted sixty on the horizon yet, but fifty was looking smaller and smaller in her rearview mirror.
She calculated Wyatt’s age. Sixty? Sixty-one? Man, he looked good for the big six-oh. She shook her head. Wasn’t fair. Men aged so much better than women. He could still play that guitar, too.
Watching his fingers pick those guitar strings, she tried not to let his husky, raspy voice pluck her heartstrings. His voiced used to be mellow, velvet––she still remembered the sound of it in the dark––and slurred when he was drunk or thunderous when raised in anger. He sounded raspy now but still retained enough elasticity to cover nearly two full octaves, and he’d lost none of the expressiveness that had made him one of the finest lead singers she’d ever heard.
People still stopped to listen. His audience presently consisted mostly of other performers. They lined the canvas-covered hay bales stacked to create sound-containing walls in the sprawling labyrinth of corridors, alleys, dressing rooms and rehearsal areas behind five main stages erected in an octagonal shape across 100 acres of open field at the county fairgrounds. Topped with treated plywood, the enclosure became a watertight city of sorts, complete with electricity, wi-fi, and air units strategically placed. The crowds of paying fans sat or stood on the bare ground in front of each stage, no matter the weather, but the performers and their equipment were protected. Fortunately, because most of the competition took place in the evenings,
summers boasted far cooler nights than days, and so far nary a rain cloud had
darkened the horizon.
Wyatt finished the song, and a young stagehand hurried forward, clipboard in hand, to announce the lineup.
“In ten, Wranglers on Stage One, Unit Nine on Stage Two, Young Rockers on Stage Three, Big Bass on Stage Four, Folk-a-Billy on Stage Five. Let’s move it, people.”
As the college-aged functionary called off the secondary lineup, Wyatt turned to put away his guitar. Maggs laid aside her own clipboard and made her way through the milling throng in the backstage alley at the Second Annual Battle of the Bands. She hitched her thumbs in the belt loops of her spangled jeans and came to a stop behind him.
Striving for a playful tone, she said, “I told you smoking would ruin your voice.”
He neither turned nor paused in what he was doing. “I stopped smoking eighteen years ago, Maggs,” he replied quietly.
So he had seen and recognized her. She wondered if he’d have sought her out on his own, if he’d have spoken at all if she hadn’t pressed the issue. Probably not. Struggling not to feel disappointed, she put on a smile.
Arlene, I can hardly wait until my copy of the book gets here. I’m anxious to read it. How can my readers find you on the Internet?
Arlene James Facebook pageand soon: www.hobbyrunbooks.com
Thank you, Arlene, for sharing some of your life and this new book with us.
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