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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Author Interview ~ Ariel Allison



Although she speaks and writes, Ariel Allison is first and foremost the wife of Ashley, and mother of London, Parker, Marshall, and Colby. She has a penchant for adrenaline-infused madness such as rock climbing, running marathons, and jumping off bridges – as if raising four pre-school boys were not adventure enough. Her first novel, Eye of the God, releases in October 2009, from Abingdon Press. When not immersed in a book, changing a diaper, or rescuing her dog from the death-grip of a toddler, you can find Ariel loitering in her little corner of cyberspace at www.arielallison.com. She and her family make their home in Texas, which is, according to her husband, the greatest state in the union.

What made you start writing?

Like many people, I am a product of my childhood and those early years stretched the canvas for my writing career. My family lived atop the Rocky Mountains in a home with no electricity or running water (think Laura Ingles meets the Hippie Movement). For well over a decade my mother read to me by the light of a kerosene lantern. By the time I was five years old I knew every character in the Chronicles of Narnia by name. As far as I was concerned, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, L.M. Montgomery, and Charles Dickens were household names.

My mother loved books and she loved to read them to her children. I owe my passion for writing to her alone. I first learned how powerful stories can be while curled up next to a pot belly stove during snowstorms. Even at a young age I understood that Aslan was a type of Jesus, and because I loved Aslan I later came to love Jesus. So I longed to write stories that had meaning and purpose. That desire never wavered through the years.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

The first draft is still the hardest part for me. I have to bind and gag my internal editor or I never get past the first chapter. But I’m learning to get the words out – to let them flow however they will – and worry about fixing them later.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I think every writer does that, whether consciously or not. There are bits and pieces of me in each character: hopes, dreams, struggles, sin, fear. As creative people, writers mimic God in the way he created. To a certain extent, we all make our characters “in our own image.”

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

Great question. I can usually tell when I’m “off” in my writing and since I tend to be my own worst critic, seeking critique comes naturally to me. Through the years I’ve learned to do the best I can, seek advice on the parts that trouble me, but go with my gut in the end.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

The world's most spectacular museum heist, a cursed jewel, and a romance doomed to fail, all tied together with stunning historical fact, create the vast and intricate setting for Eye of the God, the first-ever novel about the Hope Diamond.

According to legend, the Hope Diamond was once the eye of a Hindu idol named Rama Sita. When it was stolen in the 17th century, it is said that the idol cursed all those who would possess the stone. But that doesn’t stop the brilliant and ruthless Weld brothers from attempting to steal it from the Smithsonian. However, they are not prepared for Dr. Abigail Mitchell, the beautiful Smithsonian Director, who has her own connection to the Hope Diamond, and a deadly secret to keep. Abby soon realizes she alone holds the pieces to the complicated puzzle in this deadly game of illegal art collectors. Abby’s faith is put to the ultimate test as she confronts the father who abandoned her, the betrayal of the only man she has ever loved, and the possibility that she may lose her life because of the legendary gem.

When all is said and done, and the dust has finally settled over the last great adventure of the Hope Diamond, we understand the “curse” that has haunted its legacy is nothing more than the greed of evil men who bring destruction upon themselves. No god chiseled from stone can direct the fates of men, nor can it change the course of His-story.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

In the Spring of 1995, I stumbled across an article in Life Magazine on the Hope Diamond. The two-page spread showed Michelle Pheiffer wearing the jewel and gave a brief history of the legendary curse. I knew instantly that it should to be a novel. Being the curious gal that I am, I dug around and was surprised to find that although most people were familiar with the curse, no one had done anything with the concept. So I began researching and writing. That was fourteen years ago this spring.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

Abby Mitchell is brilliant and courageous, but just like many women, she has a propensity to manipulate her circumstance to reach her desired outcome. She wants to be the puppet master, the one who controls the actions of others, but despite her maneuvering, she can not force people to love her: neither her father, nor the mysterious Alex Weld.

As I began plotting this novel (no seat of the pants writing here) I kept the legendary “curse” of the Hope Diamond at the forefront of my mind. I wondered what kind of person becomes obsessed with a big blue rock, and why. Abby is the personification of the answers I found to those questions.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I loved those moments when thought and creativity blended seamlessly on the page and the story unfolded right before me. I had a number of those moments while writing this novel – when I knew I’d gotten it “right.” I can still read those passages today and get an electric feeling in my fingertips. They are the parts that practically wrote themselves, the parts that have gone unchanged through each draft and the editing process. One passage in particular is committed to memory because I know it was told exactly the way it should have been. I remember where I was when I wrote it (a green velvet chair at Starbucks), what I was drinking (white chocolate mocha), and how I got goose bumps as the words spilled onto my laptop.

And then there were the other times – dare I say the more frequent ones – when I’d stare at the blinking cursor on my screen for an hour. Or when I wrote the same page over ten times. The dialogue that felt constipated. And the self doubt.

For me, the creation of the book itself is both the best and worst part of the process. I’ve got a pretty thick skin so I can take critique well. I like to dissect a chapter and make it better so editing is easy for me. It’s the writing – the pouring of myself onto a blank page – that both exhilarates and terrifies.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I would love for my readers to see how quickly our lives can unravel when we give way to obsession – to idolatry. We all do it in one form or another. And yet, no matter how big a mess we make of our own lives, we can’t thwart God’s master plan.

What does your writing space look like?

One day I’ll have my own office. I’m convinced I will! But until then, I settle for an overstuffed leather chair in my living room - usually in the wee hours of the morning while my children sleep. And a large cup of coffee at my side with ungodly amounts of hazelnut coffee creamer.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

Relax is not a word in my vocabulary at the moment. I have four little boys, ages six and under so I tend to run in circles all day. I’ve become adept at juggling children and writing, but in those rare moments when neither is begging for my attention, I sleep. Or run. Even as I write that, I realize how my life drifts into extremes: total stillness or break-neck speed. And for now that’s ok.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I tend to think of novels as living, breathing things. So I have a three-step process for bringing one to life.

The Skeleton: since I’m a pretty serious plotter, this is the backbone of the novel. I create the characters and chart out everything (major and minor) that happens in the novel. Then I weave together the main storyline and all the subplots so I know what to write, scene by scene.

The Muscles: this is where I add movement and flow to the story. I write the scenes in order to make sure one flows into the next. Since I always know where the narrative is going and what happens next, I use this draft to foreshadow and add red herrings, to flesh out characters and add depth to the plot.

The Skin: this is where I make it “pretty.” Only during this draft do I let myself worry about word choice or attributive clauses or overuse of adverbs and gerunds.

What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?

The Hobbit. Reading this book on my own was such an accomplishment for me because it’s one my mother had read out loud at least a dozen times. Even though I knew the characters and the story by heart, it really became mine the first time I read it cover to cover.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Oh my. There are so many. And they are so diverse. The Narnia Chronicles. The Lord of the Rings. Keeper of the Bees. Anything by George MacDonald. Anne of Green Gables. Murder on the Orient Express. Watership Down. The Gifts of the Child Christ. The Kite Runner. The Time Travelers Wife. Water for Elephants. Harry Potter.
.
As I look at that list I realize that the first ones were books that my mother read to me while growing up. She didn’t stop at picture books and she didn’t stop when I could read them on my own. These are the books I lived out during my playtime as a child.
The recent titles are the ones that inspire me to become a better writer. Books like The Kite Runner and The Time Travelers Wife are so beautifully done that they almost make me want to quit writing. I aspire to be that kind of storyteller.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

It makes me want to better. When I read a great novel, I become uncomfortable with my skill level. I am challenged to become a better wordsmith – to master the craft.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

In the early days I submitted writing that was not my best. I was impatient. I hoped editors would see the diamond in the rough. If I could do it all over again, I would wait and present the polished gem instead.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

As much as I can. I actively use Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon Connect. I blog and write articles. But I have found that the best use of my time is connecting directly with readers – book clubs in particular. I co-direct a nationwide book club called She Reads (www.shereads.org) where I have daily contact with hundreds of book clubs and thousands of readers.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

At the moment there are fifteen novels in various stages of development tucked away on my hard drive. But the two that will be making an appearance soon both involve mysteries: one from Shakespeare and one from 1930’s New York City.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I am reminded of the quote by Langston Hughes, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Keep writing. Keep dreaming.

8 comments:

Ariel Allison said...

It's an honor to be here today, ladies. Thanks for letting me spend some time at Novel Journey!

Gina Holmes said...

Ariel, great interview. Love your taste in reading material. What a really cool and unique childhood you had. It's funny we don't realize our unique situations until after the fact. What a blessinng your mother was to you. All the best.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

Definitely our pleasure, Ariel. Thanks for a wonderful interview! And thanks for sharing your wisdom about waiting to submit until your work is a polished gem. That really spoke to me, since I had to learn that lesson the hard way!

Mary DeMuth said...

Wonderful interview. I tweeted about it!

Today, I'll be taking your advice to keep dreaming and keep writing.

Nicole said...

Wonderful insights, Ariel. Crazy life, huh?

pat jeanne said...

Enjoyed the interview with Ariel and learning more about her and her debut novel. Thanks also for the quote by Langston Hughes. Pat

Ariel Allison said...

Gina - I'd hate to hear what a therapist would deduce about my reading tastes. But I've always been a bit eclectic so no point changing now.

Elizabeth - if I'd learned that gem polishing lesson sooner I might not have 500 rejection letters in my desk drawer. The stories I could tell...

Mary - I love seeing your smiling face!

Nicole - a crazy life indeed. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Pat - thanks for stopping by. I keep that Langston Hughes quote near my laptop at all times.

Diane said...

Sounds very interesting. Love the questions and the picture of her work space. :O)