Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sweet Dreams - Interview with Carla Stewart

ICRS was full of wonderful interview opportunities with delightful authors! I enjoyed sitting down with Carla Stewart and talking with her about her recent novel, Sweet Dreams.

Sweet Dreams
Carla Stewart
(Faith Words)
ISBN: 978-1455504275
May 2013/336 pages/$14.99

It's 1962, and Dusty Fairchild, daughter of a self-made millionaire and oilman, wants to go to college. Instead she is sent to a private finishing school in East Texas. Although she's never wanted for material possessions, Dusty longs for independence and adventure. The only upside to attending Miss Fontaine's is having her cousin and best childhood friend, Paisley, join her. Paisley has traveled the country with her bohemian mother, but she dreams of putting down roots and living a settled life. At Miss Fontaine's, their loyalty to each other binds them, but when they fall in love with the same handsome young man, their relationship teeters on shaky ground. Only after a tragic accident do they learn where their true hearts-and dreams-lie.

Available on Amazon, Deeper Shopping, and other retailers.


Carla Stewart's writing reflects her passion for times gone by. She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost's Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, and several regional magazines and anthologies.

Carla received two American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis awards for unpublished authors. The novel that won in 2007 went on to become her first published novel, Chasing Lilacs, which has garnered many rave reviews including a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly and 4 ? stars from RT Book Reviews.

Carla graduated from the University of Oklahoma and worked as a registered nurse for a number of years. She and her engineer husband are the parents of four married sons and relish the adventures of their six grandchildren. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, great books, and weekend getaways with her husband. Learn more about Carla at www.carlastewart.com.


I was touched by Carla Stewart's debut novel, Chasing Lilacs (reviewed here), but missed her next two novels, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read Sweet Dreams. I was not disappointed. This story transported me back to the early 1960's, a time when society was on the brink of a changing culture. I loved the wide variety of characters, from Dusty and Paisley and their close relationship to the most obnoxiously snobbish student at Miss Fontaine's Finishing School. Family, faith, and forgiveness are central themes in this tender coming of age novel that will stir your heart. A perfect read for the waning days of summer!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I enjoyed Sweet Dreams and reading about the girls at Miss Fontaine's Finishing School. I was pretty young during that time period, 1962, but a lot of the stuff in the book carried over into the late sixties, which I remember.

It was a really special time. Things were kind of shifting around socially but I don't think we knew it. We didn't know we were on the cusp of this cultural revolution. It was really fun to live through that era because we didn't know. We were just enjoying all the cultural change.

Tell me where the story came from in your mind.

Because it was a time of change in the early sixties, I wanted to show a girl who was going to choose a career that was out of the traditional choices for girls of that era. (Dusty wanted to become a geologist.) Even until the late sixties, most girls were encouraged to go to college, but you went there either to get your M-R-S degree or you became a teacher, a secretary or a nurse. That was what was expected. I'm a nurse. I did like science; it wasn't that I didn't like that choice. But I always wondered, what if I had chosen to study engineering or geology or something that was really outside that expected norm? So that's kind of where that story comes from.

I grew up in the oil field in the top of the Texas Panhandle, in a Philips Petroleum camp, so I've always been aware of the petroleum industry and how geology fits in there, and all that sort of thing. I wanted geology in the story just because I was sort of interested in it and I have some knowledge of it. My husband is now in the oil industry. My first book. Chasing Lilacs, was set in a petroleum camp like one where I grew up and it was set in the fifties. I guess that thread somewhat runs through all of my books because I think a little bit of who an author is comes through.

I wanted to write somewhat of a girlfriend book; they ended up being cousins. It had several different versions before I came up with this one, which I think is true for most writers. You don't just get the books fully formed when they start in your brain. You have to tweak them and work on them

In the book, Dusty's cousin is Paisley. Paisley's mom is a character! I learned something about the sixties, because I would have guessed this book was set in the late sixties if I hadn't known otherwise. Paisley's mom is the proverbial wandering flower child, and I didn't realize that started so early in the sixties.

Yes, the Beatniks and the coffeehouses, some of that was in the late fifties/early sixties. When I researched it, the flower child did come in the late sixties. But they were smoking marijuana, especially on the coast. Not as much in middle America, which is why we didn't know about it. That's why I had them live in California during that era. That would not have been atypical for something like that to have happened there. Her mother did not leave home with the intention of having this nomadic life. She left for a different reason but that's what it morphed into. I had a friend who was older than I am, and her mother took them and they just skipped all around the country. That's how she grew up. I thought if they did that, almost anybody could. It wasn't unheard of. It could have happened. Also, I wanted her to have a good reason why she left, and I think she did.

There is a thread about harboring resentment and the issue of forgiveness that runs through the book in the relationship between Dusty's dad and Paisley's mom, who are siblings. Without giving away spoilers, can you address that?

I think he was a very typical father/brother/family patriarch for that era. He was kind of a no-nonsense type. That's the way my dad is. I think he was a believer. I think he's just a "don't give me all the rules" kind of man. He's a lot like my dad and a lot of men from that era. There are things he felt in his heart that he wasn't going to admit but those are revealed at the end of the book. He wouldn't have done what he did if he hadn't felt that way toward his sister deep down. I think people show grace and forgiveness in ways that are not spoken, and that's actually what I like to write about. And Paisley had spent every summer at the ranch, so he had to allow that.. There was just an underlying friction between the two siblings. Even people who love each other should sometimes not be in the same room together!

You talk about tackling topics through fiction. I think fiction really does minister to people. Jesus used parables, and those are essentially fiction. I have learned so much from fiction because it's so easy to relate to. How do you do this in your writing? Does it naturally happen or are you intentional about?

I don't start out with any kind of spiritual theme. I think those come naturally. Even though I'm a Christian fiction author, I think my faith is just who I am and that is going to come through the story. So I don't start out saying that I'm going to write a book about a certain spiritual theme. To me, that's backwards. Instead, I have a story idea. In this case, it was about following your dreams. I had all kinds of quotes and things that I've used through the years about how we just should have the freedom to pursue our dreams. I don't think that's non-Biblical. Paul uses the example of straining for the goal. I think that we should have goals and shouldn't shy away from those. But the theme of kindness, I think, is where a lot of my stories are. Dusty was a very kind person, even though Miss Fontaine had some issues.

Just a few!

The theme that came out was that she had a secret past she was hiding. Why did she feel like she had to hide that? I thought it was perceptive of Dusty, and showed her kindness, to accept that and say, "Maybe it's time to step out of yourself." She really had no reason to be kind to Miss Fontaine because Miss Fontaine had been harsh with her because she was still protecting the lie. If you are protecting a lie, you are going to do things that you don't like about yourself to protect the lie. So I guess I don't start out with a theme. I just want to put people through the wringer and then see how they react!

I loved your portrayal of Sharon Kay. She was such a pain, but then you gave a glimpse of the hurt inside.

That's another thing about Dusty. She was giving her the benefit of the doubt. I know she thought things and wanted to say, "Give me a break!" A few of the reviewers have commented about Sharon Kay-even though she was a very minor character in the book-that we are quick to judge other people without really knowing where they are coming from. I think that's what I wanted to show without hitting them over the head with that.

It reminded me of the saying, "Hurt people hurt people."

Yes. And I don't always choose to redeem those people in my books because some are and some aren't. I think I may tend to mimic life too much! But it fit Dusty's personality to be kind to her.

Are you working on your next project now that this book is being released?

Yes, I've just turned in a new book. It's set in the Roaring Twenties and is called The Hatmaker's Heart. My editor has it right now and will be getting it back to me soon. She likes the story. It's different; it's not going to be set in Texas. All my books except one have been in Texas. This is about a young hatmaker's apprentice in New York City in the early twenties. Her family hails from nobility in England, and her firm in New York gets to go over for a royal wedding and do hats for a Ladies Society in England. So it's post Downton Abbey but it will have a British influence and lots and lots of fun conflict. And there we'll be more romance than my other stories have.

When will that be out?

Probably May or June 2014.

Can you refresh my memory on all of your books?

After Chasing Lilacs, I wrote Broken Wings, then Stardust, which was set in 1952. I've had a wonderful response to that one, just because of polio. I've spoken to a lot of groups where that is what they want to talk about. Anyway, I'm going to change to a different era. I think my books will now be categorized as Historical.

Well, it's kind of depressing what's considered historical now! My daughter loved teasing me a few years back when American Girl came out with their new historical doll and it was Julie from 1974. There's nothing like being told your generation is now history!

We remember these years but books like these are how people in the future are going to know what life was like in the fifties and the sixties and even the seventies. I use a lot of music. I use hairstyles and the fashion. It's just something that I love to do. Now the twenties are something that I have no personal knowledge of! But I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the twenties. And it is not very much different than the sixties in that it was a time of change for our country. It was huge change. The twenties ended up in the Great Depression and the sixties ended in Viet Nam. But there are more similarities than contrasts in the two eras because of the social climate of the time. The sixties was "Make Love, Not War" and the twenties were "Do everything you can today because tomorrow you might die." That really did characterize how people acted in the twenties.

I'll look forward to reading that. It sounds like a wonderful book. Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!


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1 comment:

Skoots1moM said...

history is everyone's legacy...we become outdated so quickly these days...she does a lot of research!