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Timestamp: 2011-08-18 13:58:30 UTC
Congrats to windycindy! Email me your address, Cindy, and I'll send the book your way.
River's Song, the first book in The Inn at Shining Waters Series. However, I also had strict instructions from my girl to talk to her about her teen books, so I started with that before we got into the "official" interview. It turned out to be an extra delight because it encompassed a bit of Melody's testimony!
First of all, I have to tell you that my girl loves your teen books! She really wished she could come with me this week! You write about issues that are so relevant and right on the pulse of teens. How do you stay so current?
My parents divorced when I was young, which was somewhat unusual for that time period. My mom was busy with university and career and I was left to my own devices a lot. I was rather rebellious and kind of a wild child. I still got good grades and I had a good reputation at school but my friends and I were just crazy! Also, I declared myself an atheist. We never went to church, and by the time I was twelve I decided there was no God and when we died, we just “grew flowers”! I got progressively more and more unhappy with that and kept thinking, “What’s the meaning of life? “ I was a pretty deep thinker for a kid. When I was in high school, I got “kidnapped” to Young Life. I had never heard the Gospel message before, and when I did, it just hit me. I went back (by choice!) again and again, probably to about four different types of meetings, and I made a commitment. And I went from being a wild child to being a Jesus freak! I think [my passion for teen issues came] from all those experiences I had as a teen – being with the wild kids, doing things I shouldn’t be doing, seeing friends on drugs, seeing friends get pregnant – bringing everyone I could, as a new Christian, dragging them everywhere I could. Some came, some didn’t come. I had still had friends in the wild crowd and then I had these Christian friends too – and some of them were church kids who were so bored with church and I just didn’t understand it; it was all so new to me. So I think that broad experience as a teen just gave me a whole different perspective. I feel a lot of empathy for teens and it’s easy for me to put that hat back on and feel those emotions. And the letters I get from girls are amazing. I hear so many times: “This is my life,” “I feel like you’ve written my book,” or “If I wrote a story, this is what it would be." And they’re all talking about different books. I have to say that’s a God thing.
I keep thinking I’m done! I’m getting a little old [to be writing for teens]! About the time I became a grandmother, I thought, “It’s probably time to quit!” But around that same time, Focus on the Family wanted me to talk on their show about all these skanky teen girl books that were coming out in the general trade. So they sent me some books and I read them and I was pretty shocked. They look really sweet on the outside – kinda fashionable with cute girls and titles. But the content was worse than women’s general trade fiction. And girls are gobbling them up. So I thought, “I don’t think I’m done writing for teens. I need to write books to counter these.”
You have a new adult series out, beginning with River's Song. This novel is set in the late 1950’s when the effects of WWII and the Depression were still being felt, not to mention the focus of the Native American heritage. What led you to write this series?
Also my husband is one-eighth Cherokee and we’ve been married over 30 years so I’ve known his family for a long time – his grandmother, great-aunts, mother – and just knew that that was a painful thing; for each previous generation it was harder and harder to have Cherokee [blood] at the turn of the century, and I saw how that had hurt a lot of them and resulted in brokenness and unforgiveness. In the book, Anna’s mother tried to hide that she’s Siuslaw, but her grandmother, who survived the reservation, decided to go back to the old ways and tried to find her old friends. When Anna comes back after losing her husband, and her mother-in-law is horrible and she has a teenager who doesn’t want to have anything to do with her – partly because of the mother-in-law – she comes back and finds herself, finds her soul, finds God, back on the river.
As someone who grew up in the South, when I think of prejudice, especially in the time in which this book is set, I think of segregation and the Civil Rights movement. And a few years ago, there was much discussion about the need for the government to apologize to African Americans for slavery of the previous centuries. Do you think there needs to be an increased awareness of how Native Americans were treated in our nation’s history?
I do. We didn’t learn that in history in school. My kids did start learning it and I remember them telling me things that I’d never heard of, and their being outraged about it. It’s hard to research and find the truth because no one wanted to write it down back then. It’s a sad thing. There’s so much tragedy and sadness and brokenness.
This book has quite an array of interesting women – meek Anna, the PhD-seeking Hazel, the French Babette, and Eunice, who can pretty much only be described as a shrew. How do you develop their personalities so spot-on? Are they modeled after anyone in particular?
Some of them are. Babette is a woman whose house I cleaned years ago. She’s passed on. She was a World War II bride and a very colorful character! She’s obviously an older Babette since she’s from an earlier generation! Then the others are sort of composites. Hazel, the anthropologist, is a lot like my mother-in-law would have been if she’d been healthier. She was brilliant and she loved nature and loved the same kinds of things Hazel loves but never got to do those kind of things. (Melody gasped.) Which makes total sense – and I’ve never thought about this before! – because Hazel’s son, who is the man that comes into the picture, is just like my husband. I never put that together until now. He’s the most like my husband of any character I’ve ever written.
Anna deals with the concept of forgiveness in the book. I love the quote that “Forgiveness is the sweet fragrance of violets on the heel that crushed them.” What forgiveness really looks like is often hard to identify and can be different from person to person. Wouldn’t it have been possible for Anna to forgive yet require that Eunice be held accountable for her wrongs?
That is what healing is about, forgiveness. And sometimes, God does call you to just let things go. I experienced that once myself in a situation where I had been horribly wronged and was pursuing legal recourse. And one day I heard God speak to my spirit, "Let it go." It was a difficult process but once we let it go, life started changing. Since then, my career has been nothing but blessed.
A sneak peak of River’s Call is included in the back of this book. Care to give us a taste of what’s coming up next in Anna’s life? Will Eunice continue to be a factor in future books? Is there any hope for her?
Anna will be more and more blessed. Regarding Eunice, yes, there is hope. You will hear her story. It's like peeling the layers of an onion. And Anna gets more and more gracious. But Eunice is going to get worse before she gets better!
What is the message you want readers to take away from this novel?
Forgiveness and fresh starts and hope. And the connection between forgiveness and healing. If you don't forgive that just puts up a wall and you can't experience it.
What projects are you working on now?
Everything! A third book in this series, called River’s End. (But the river ends when it reaches the ocean so I’m thinking, there’s that metaphor, so I’ve got to figure that out. I’ll get there when I get there. I don’t outline so it’s always an adventure to see where we land.) I have lots of teen stuff in the works. I’ve got a new series coming out with Baker which will probably be out sometime next year. I also have some stand-alones, and more of the Secrets books; the one I just finished, the fourth one in the Secrets series, is about cheating, about a straight-A honor student where something’s happened and her grades slip and she’s a senior and she gets pulled in to that. When I thought of it, I wasn’t sure if it was something that happens, but it is very prevalent.
How do you juggle writing so many books and genres? Do you work on one book in the morning and one in the afternoon?
No, I do one book from beginning to end. The only exception might be if some edits come in, I might take a break and do the edit. I just write really fast. I’ve always worked and thought that way. In school I was always the first one done and the teacher would have to find me something to do, like make a bulletin board. The economic downturn scared me because I kept hearing about authors getting contracts and series canceled. So when an opportunity came, even though it looked like it would stretch my schedule, I’d think “something’s going to happen to me” and I would say yes. Nothing fell, so I’ve had to work really hard! But each year I’m trying to a lesser number of books. I want to focus more on adaptation of some of my own books. I’m working with several producers and I really want to go down to Hollywood and figure that out.
What is your favorite way to relax and get away from it all?
I love going to our little beach cabin - it's just so relaxing! -- and I love to read.
Thank you so much, Melody! It was a pleasure to meet you! And my daughter is thrilled with the message you sent to her!
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