What is your current project? Tell us about it.
I have two projects in the works right now. Non-fiction: a parenting book about the joy of parenting and keeping your cool through extreme circumstances, and fiction: a complex romantic suspense set in my favorite state - Alaska.
You also have a book entitled Welcome Home. This is basically your life story, right? What prompted you to share it with the world?
Yes, Welcome Home is our story. Starting from about sixteen years ago until today. So many people wanted to know the rest of the story after our episode of EM:HE aired. I was inundated with thousands upon thousands of emails and questions. Then Discovery stepped in and did the Mystery ER episode which told a little of the diagnosis process with Kayla, but there were still so many questions unanswered. For years, I’d been asked to share our story with others around the country, but I didn’t always share the hardest things. It seemed very personal and too difficult a task. But I felt the Lord prodding me. To swallow my pride and tell the “really tough stuff” so that other people could be encouraged in these tough times.
You and your family appeared on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was surreal and overwhelming. I still wake up every day and marvel that this happened. We knew we were finalists, but the chances were so slim – we just didn’t think that it could actually happen to us. Then we found out that people had been nominating us from all over the world for years. What an amazing thing!
Everyone from ABC and the show were so good to us. They took great care of us, truly understood the story, and have taken great care of us since. Ty and Ed were two of my favorites. They’d sit down with us and just ask questions – trying to wrap their minds around all the facets of the story.
Our house was built in 96 hours. Can you believe that? They really do everything in seven days, and they really do surprise the families. I will be forever grateful for this experience.
What are you sharing in your book that you were not able to share on the television program?
We shared a lot about our faith on all the TV shows, but most of it was edited out. And that’s okay. People still saw “something different” and it opened the door for people to ask questions. The great thing about Welcome Home is that it’s just my honest story. From me to you. My struggles, my triumphs, my failures, my questions, but most importantly – God’s joy through it all.
How has your unique life journey prepared you to be an author?
I believe it’s through the really hard junk that we learn the most important lessons. As writers, we often want to shape characters who are larger than life and everything that we wish we could be – when readers really want a character they can attach themselves to. They want real people, real struggles, someone who’s gone through the same crud they’ve been through and come out on the other side better for it. Readers want to experience how the hero made it from the bottomless pit of suffering to the mountaintop of happiness, because then it becomes real to them. Gives them hope that they can overcome as well.
So through all the trials that I’ve experienced personally, and everything we’ve been through as a family, I believe the Lord has taught me about being “real.” Being real, and allowing my characters to be real, gives relatable depth to the fiction story. It also helps me to share our life story in ways that touch people uniquely. Everyone has trials, yours are just as hard as mine, and we can encourage one another on this journey.
What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?
My best friend found one of my manuscripts back when I wasn’t telling anyone I was writing. She read it, walked over to me, and proceeded to hit me over the head with it. Told me I was hiding my light under a bushel.
At the time, I thought I was just writing to get the creative juices out. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Because I didn’t know how to write… did I? I had no confidence in myself as a writer. But that was when God did an amazing work in me. He showed me that I needed to work on it, needed to learn the craft, but He didn’t want me having confidence in it. Why? Because I needed to be a willing vessel. He should receive the praise and glory whether one person or five-million people read my stories.
That’s my extra oomph.
Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?
When our episode of EM:HE first aired, I was contacted by huge publishing houses. All of them said they loved my writing, all of them said they wanted to publish me. Yay! But there was a catch – every one of them wanted God out of the story.
I went from elated—hearing that they loved me—to crestfallen. They all wanted to ride on the coattails of the publicity. It took me all of five seconds to respond, “no.”
For several days I thought that was it. I wouldn’t ever be published. I had my chance, and that was all she wrote.
But I knew that I had done the right thing. So I picked myself up by my bootstraps—and kept writing. I had several editors who had requested manuscripts before all the TV chaos happened, I would just follow through and see where it went.
Less than a month later, Alive Communications took me on as an author. I have never regretted my decision to stay the course. Because God IS the story.
What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?
Information dumps. I love research and details – but that doesn’t mean that my reader will be interested in the plethora of facts I find.
I’m still overcoming it :-) (as well as other writing flaws that I have) although I am better than I was before. Reading out loud helps, and my amazing critique partners help. We should never stop learning.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
Most of the time it’s getting my notes down for what I see as the opening scene. It always grows and blooms from there.
Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you'd like to share?
I used to need quiet and to have everything organized around me. But I homeschool my kiddos five to six hours a day and they are now super-involved in swimming. Another five to six hours a day, six days a week, we traipse around to two different pools. I’ve learned to bring my chair, laptop, plot board, and write with the chaos around me.
I like to write myself notes about what I see happening several scenes ahead to trigger the next writing session. And I love colored post-it notes. A different color for each character goes on my plot board.
Spiritually speaking - what has curled your toes and rocked your world lately? Any impact on your writing?
We live in a world that doesn’t want to ‘fess up—nothing is ever our fault, it’s always someone else’s (i.e. I sinned, but someone else made me do it – yeah, whatever.) J I think it’s had a profound impact on my writing, because we all need to admit that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, and we should be willing to apologize, learn and grow from it.
If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
Tracie Peterson’s amazing attention to detail that draws the reader in without bogging him/her down, and Colleen Coble’s deep characterizations.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
I would love to accomplish whatever the Lord has in store for me. Yes - awards, accolades, selling millions of copies, all sound wonderful (and I would love for that to happen, just admit it, we all would) – but they are nothing if they aren’t of eternal value. If one person is drawn to the Lord because of my writing – then that is far more valuable than any award or bestseller list.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Least favorite: There are times when it is VERY hard work.
Favorite: brainstorming and plotting out a new story.
How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
Because of all our TV stuff, I do probably ten times more than other writers, but I know it’s worth it. Sometimes it overwhelms everything else, and I don’t like to trade my writing time for it, but I have to. My advice is to do as much as you can. Publishers are looking for authors who are willing to go that extra mile, but make sure you keep writing. :-)
Keep on keeping on. And no matter what you go through – God’s joy is always there.