Monday, July 7, 2014

Passing Strangers - Interview with Angela Hunt!

Passing Strangers
Angela Hunt
(Christian Writers Guild)
ISBN: 978-0991337606
May 2014/350 pages/$14.99

A train roars over the rails, carrying passengers on a trip that will change their lives. Among the many people aboard the 97 Silver Meteor are Andie Crystal, a lonely young woman hiding from her youth as a reality TV star; Matthew Scofield, a widower trying to manage his responsibilities to his two young children; and Janette Turlington, a middle–aged mother running from a situation that has destroyed the peace in her home and marriage. These three form a makeshift family on an Amtrak tour through the Southern seaboard, a journey that just might heal their wounded hearts and restore them to the people to whom they matter most . . .


I love Angela Hunt's books and remember her writing this one (she talked a bit about it on her blog at the time) so I eagerly bought a copy as soon as it was available. Hunt's expert character development is matched by the unique situations in which she places those characters. Andie, Matthew, and Janette each have their own individual story in this suite that forms one novel, and the result is a book that I couldn't put down. Multiple layers are woven throughout as each of the characters form bonds outside their comfort zones and face some difficult truths about themselves and the circumstances that led them to embark on the rail journey. As always, Hunt leaves the reader with much to ponder. Highly recommended!


One of the highlights of ICRS for me was meeting Angela Hunt. She has been in my Top Five favorite authors for years, ever since Nancy Rue told me, "I think you'd enjoy my friend Angie's books." While I had stalked connected with Angie on her blog, I had never had the opportunity to meet her, so when I saw her name on the list of authors scheduled to be in Atlanta, I begged requested an interview immediately! She is just as delightful in person as I expected her to be! In addition to interviewing her on Sunday afternoon, I unexpectedly had the amazing opportunity to have dinner that night with her, Hannah Alexander, Brandilyn Collins, and Lisa Wingate, along with a husband/wife editor team, Dave & Cindy Lambert. (I told someone at one point when I was in Atlanta that ICRS is like crack to me. That night was a perfect example! LOL) Here's my interview with Angie.

As with all your books, I really enjoyed Passing Strangers, and I remember when you were writing it several years ago. Can you share a bit about it and why you have published it independently?

I got the idea at a writer's conference one night, when I was just sitting at dinner and the idea of a train and the people on the train and how they bond popped into my head. I had never taken a train trip or known anyone who did. People either fly if they are in a hurry or drive if they want to go slowly. So I called a cousin of mine and we flew to D.C., then we rode the train and spent two days in Williamsburg, two days in Charleston, two days in Savannah, and two days in St. Augustine and it basically delivered us back home in Florida. I got all the research about train travel but I still had to come up with the characters and the plot.

I was also somewhat inspired by a movie called The Station Agent which is about a group of misfits in this little town. One is a little person. One is a woman whose husband has left her after their child dies. The movie is about how these three hurting people bond. Of course, it wasn't a Christian movie. But I really loved the quirky characters and the fact that three strangers could bond like that. My book club had just read a book that was a suite – separate stories put together. All these ideas were rummaging around in my head: I wanted to do a suite. I wanted to write about strangers that bond, and I wanted to write a train story.

At the time, Jon and Kate Gosselin were going through that terrible divorce and I had watched Jon & Kate Plus 8 because I kept thinking about their kids. Their life was not normal and I wondered what they would be like when they had to live a normal life. That spun off into Andie, the first character's story. As for the lawyer, I thought about lawyers working 80 hour weeks, especially when they are young and getting started. He loses his wife and then his nanny...well, what's a man to do? Most men I know would say "My mom will take care of them." So that's what he's planning to do, not thinking of himself as a terrible father but thinking his mom will love this! The third lady is dealing with mental illness in her almost-grown child, and that's something we've dealt with in my family. So I thought I'd put these people together, stir, and see what comes out.

I wrote it and handed it in to my editor when I had a three-book contract.. She had told me up front that she didn't like a train story. She still didn't like it after I handed it in and I had a contract, so I wrote Five Miles South of Peculiar in its place. But I liked the train story and decided to save it. After I was done with my contract, I decided to pick it up again. My agent had read it and offered me several suggestions on some details. A couple of years had passed so I was fresh and realized I could smooth out a few things and make it stronger.

Publishing has changed drastically in the last five years. There are fewer publishers because some are shrinking and other big publishers are buying them up. Everyone is consolidating; therefore, there are fewer slots for publishers to buy books. The economy is bad so fewer people are buying books. Writers like me, and a lot of my friends, who write three or four books a year suddenly have no one to buy our books. So we are investigating independent publishing. There are lots of different ways you can do that. You can pay a lot of money and have a garage full of books. You can pay no money and have print on demand, but sometimes those are cost-prohibitive because they have to mark them up. When they came up with this program (Jerry Jenkins Select), I thought it sounded like a nice hybrid. Through Jerry's program, the books are distributed to bookstores, which is not usually the case with self-published books. At the same time, I was able to control every aspect. Usually a traditionally-published author has very little say in the cover, and I designed my own cover and had a lot of say in everything. I've been very pleased with it so far. It's been fun!

Now you are also still working with a traditional publisher with your upcoming book Esther, right?

Yes, Bethany House is doing that series. It's just that publishers are getting a lot pickier. They are "risk averse" and I really don't blame them. In a bad economy, you don't want to take risks. My books are all a little different. They're not predictable and they're all a little different. No one wanted to take a chance on this one. As for Esther, that's Biblical fiction which, historically, does okay. So Bethany was willing to take that on, for which I'm very grateful. But this story was a little riskier for a publisher, and I think it is the perfect book to independently publish.

Well, I love so many of your books and how they make me think. Tell me about the message you hope people take away from Passing Strangers. I know recently on your blog you told of an encounter you had with a woman when you were at a medical appointment.

The woman with the cute haircut. Yes, there is a point. There is an angel character in there, the man with Morgan Freeman's voice. There's one point where Janette is sitting there feeling so sorry for herself and he says, "'re not the only one suffering from heartache. The people you passed as you walked out this morning – your eyes only grazed the woman whose son is in prison for life, you nearly tripped over the foot of a young mother who just miscarried her baby, and you barely noticed the old man who is so lonely he comes downtown just to be near other people." And of course he knew, because he was a supernatural being, what was going on all around her, and he reminded her how much she missed by focusing only on herself.

I think, especially when we're not dealing with a problem, we just sit and we're fine but we still don't pay any attention to the people around us! Maybe you're sitting somewhere and there's a woman who is quietly crying. How many of us would even have the courage to go up and say, "Can I help you with anything?" A lot of us think, "That would be too intrusive, too personal. It would be prying. I can't do that!" I just think that we're all on this planet together and we ought to pay attention to passing strangers. I'm sure there have been people who have helped us at times.

And with technology, we're just that much more oblivious and focused on our cell phones all the time.
Yes! We are so attached to our phones. I forgot mine the other day and I felt so amputated! I introduced myself to the young man who sat next to me on the plane. "I'm Angie and I don't have my cell phone." I felt so weird! The world has changed.

Tell me what's next for you. Esther is coming out next?

Yes, Esther is done and comes out in January. I'm working on the first draft of Bathsheba. I'm doing what I call the three "Bible Babes" (Esther, Bathsheba, Delilah). I was researching beauty and the word tob in Hebrew means a certain kind of beauty that is sexual and draws men to you. Those three are tob women. Their beauty got all of them into precarious situations.

[Mocha with Linda insert: We talked a little bit more about Esther, which was fascinating, but I'm going to make you wait until a little closer to January for that part of the interview. Grin! But Esther is now available for preorder!)

Outside of writing, you're doing a lot of photography, although you aren't getting to photograph your granddaughter right now. She's on the opposite side of the country in Alaska!

Yes, about as far as you can get! But they make me little videos and we message them to each other. But my granddaughter doesn't understand the videos because we also Skype, so she talks to the video expecting us to talk back! She's three and growing up so fast.

Your husband has also had a bit of career change after many years as a middle school pastor. Tell me about his new ministry.

We've started a new ministry called Unclub Ministries. We have a team of dedicated volunteers and a camp coming up, and we are praying for a building. We've found the perfect building and we are praying that God will lead the bank that holds the foreclosure to donate it to us. We are going to have an after-school program for middle schoolers. They are too old for babysitters but really too young to be left unsupervised. We are so excited about this. My husband feels twenty years younger!

I haven't seen you baking as much lately. You were really churning out the macarons there for awhile!

No, I haven't been. For one thing, my baking (and eating it) started catching up with me! And when I'm not writing I'm either studying photography or taking pictures. But I do still remember how to bake all these things! Every once in a while I bake some macarons or some brioche or something exotic.

Anything else you'd like to share with readers?

Thank you for reading! I don't write for the joy of writing. I write for the end result, for touching reader's hearts or making people think or see the world in a different way. So when I get emails or even read reviews (the good ones!) and see that I've accomplished the goal, then that makes it all worthwhile.

One other thing. The other day I was in a chat and someone said that a book didn't have enough Christian content for them. I jumped in to say that authors have different audiences that they are writing for. Many of my friends write for Christian readers. I have always felt called to write to the world and that my Christian belief, my worldview, is going to show through.

I write a book that I think a saved woman could give to a non-believing neighbor. That's always been my goal. When you're approaching a person who doesn't know anything of the Lord, you can't include so much spirituality that they either don't understand it or they're turned off or just put the book down. It has to be eased in. It's similar to the four levels of youth ministry we learned years ago: 1) just get them through the door, 2) evangelize, 3) disciple, and 4) teach them outreach. Most of my books are probably level one, some are level two, and I have several, such as The Debt, that I wrote for Christians which are level three. Each story is different and I have a different audience in mind for each one, but you can't expect every book to be a level three.

Thank you so much, Angie! It has been just as wonderful to meet you as I anticipated!

Visit Angela Hunt's website to learn more about her, her (more than 110!) books, and sign up for her newsletter. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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1 comment:

Angela said...

Thanks, Linda, for the wonderful interview--I'm so impressed that you were able to take my ramblings and make something coherent out of it! And it was wonderful to meet you, too!