Monday, March 08, 2010

Author Interview ~ Christa Allen

With the exception of having spent some years in Texas, I’ve been a lifelong Louisiana girl. After college I started teaching high school until the mommy years. I have five children, who are now 32, 29, 26, 26, and 24, a son-in-law, and two precious grandgirls ages 4 and 2. Twenty plus years ago I returned to teaching high school. I received my National Board Certification in 2007, and this school year moved to a new high school that opened in our parish. My husband Ken and I have been married for almost nineteen years. We spend our time with our three neurotic cats, play golf, dodge hurricanes, and look forward to retiring one day.

What made you start writing?

I started writing in high school when I realized that I couldn’t sing [at least not anything anyone would want to listen to], I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t draw or paint anything beyond stick figures, and as for sports…well, let’s just say I was the kid everyone wanted on the other team. Many years later and married, I wrote for a newspaper when I had two children and two on the way, then—when four of my five children were out of the house, I decided to start writing a novel. Actually, I started because my precious husband had more faith in me than I had in myself. He guilted me into getting started by buying me a laptop!

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

Believing in myself, trusting the words that ended up on the page. One of the first people I met in ACFW was Cheryl Wyatt. She was and is such an encourager; I wouldn’t doubt that she has writing pom-poms under her desk. I am so grateful for her gentle tuggings and nudgings. She somehow managed to find us after Hurricane Katrina, and she continued to motivate me even then.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

In Walking on Broken Glass, the part of myself is that, like Leah, I admitted myself to a treatment center because of my drinking. That was over twenty years ago, but the experiences of my recovery helped me shape Leah.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

My debut novel tells the story of Leah Thornton, a woman whose life looks pretty from the outside; she seems to “have it all.” But appearances can be deceiving because she’s a mess. She drinks to numb her pain and, until her friend confronts her with the truth, she thinks no one else has noticed. Leah admits herself to rehab, and the novel-told from Leah’s point of view-follows her through her recovery as she attempts to discover who she really is and what she’s willing to sacrifice to find out.

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

I invited God back into my life because of AA, not in spite of it. As I grew in my faith and in my recovery, I realized that so many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist. So, what’s someone to do who’s immersed in these challenges? I wanted to reassure women struggling with addiction that they’re not alone, that there’s a loving and compassion God who cares about them and His grace will be sufficient for them. I wanted to remove the façade that often hinders real recovery. “Good” Christian families aren’t immune to the world, but once we admit we have a problem, we can be healed by God.

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

Writing Leah’s journal entries were tough because it’s difficult to hurt your characters. I most enjoyed developing some of the minor characters, the chocolate I consumed in the process, and knowing that I really could finish a novel!

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

So many events, even people, including ourselves don’t follow the “script” we’d written. Often when that happens, we feel as if God’s abandoned us. Sometimes God won’t follow the script we’ve written for Him! Instead of disappointment, despair or defeat, I hope readers come away with the hope that God’s grace can find us wherever we are. And sometimes we’re following exactly the script God had for us all along. My prayer is that readers find the courage to confront addiction-either in themselves or someone else-and feel reassured that they’re not alone. We may never know to whose prayers our lives are the answer.

What does your writing space look like?

I don’t have a photo, but my writing space is either my kitchen table or a wing back chair in my family room. While I like the idea of a desk, my little ADD self is entirely too squirmy to stay put at one. Even at school, I’m rarely at my desk. It’s mostly a place to stack my papers!

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

My best stress therapy is weeding the garden; it’s an effective post-school day tension relief as well. Sometimes I want to wander over to the neighbor’s house and start yanking their weeds because I’ve had “one of those days.”

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

My system is to have an idea of where I want the novel to go. . .then I dive in. About five chapters later, I’m thinking that perhaps the idea was poopy and I should give up writing forever and who do I think I am sitting down in front of a key board pounding out words and when people discover I’m a fake, my agent will drop me down a well…And that’s when I remember, “Aha! I have a synopsis!” So, I start dissecting it, and I lean on writer friends for their ideas of where they think it’s headed! Then, somewhere around the middle, I pull out a yellow legal pad, and write a chapter number at the top of each page. I go through what I’ve written and pull out scenes. I then make a list of all the “loose ends” that need to be tied up, and then write more chapter numbers and sketch out how they’ll carry through to the end. I don’t edit too much as I go because I’m too afraid it will paralyze me or I’ll start second guessing myself.

I think I just work better making order out of chaos…It’s definitely not a system one can duplicate or would want to— so, for now, Donald Maass has nothing to fear in the way of a how-to book coming from me!

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

Nancy Drew books and Little Women. I know that’s more than one, but they just seem linked in my memories! When I think back to those books, what I most remember is losing myself in them. That sense of being a part of a place entirely outside of where I sat to read was, and still is, magical.

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

As an English teacher and a writer, I don’t think we can ever underestimate the importance of the link between reading and writing. My best writers in my high school classes are my most avid readers. We absorb so much in the way of vocabulary, diction, syntax from the works of other writers. It’s crucial for me, even though I do read books about writing, to continue to read well-written books.

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?

If I’d have known that my novel writing is directly related to weight gain, I may have never started!

I have learned it’s important to keep track of details about characters and settings so, for example, the name of the city doesn’t change on page 122. Otherwise, since I still feel like I’m in the early stages of my career, I don’t think I’m far enough along to know what I wished I’d known [I think I just gave myself a headache there…].

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

Compared to writing, marketing is a beast! I’m not sure what works well because this is my first novel, so everything is a test run. I’ve sent out press releases to newspapers, local radio and television stations, scheduled book signings, sent out postcards, asked for influencers and endorsers, participated in blog tours and interviews…It’s really an all-consuming task. My dream is to one day have a publicist. Not because I believe having one relieves me, as author, of the responsibility of promoting my novel. I’m thrilled to promote it. It’s the learning curve of figuring out the who, what, when, where, how of it all and staying organized.

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

Rachelle Gardner, my agent, is shopping two proposals now. So…I’m not sure yet what’s going to be the new project.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t run with scissors. And, thank you, and Novel Journey, for being so gracious.


Heidi Main said...

Christa is as delightful in person as on paper - wonderful interview. And I only walk with scissors, don't worry! Heidi

Tamika: said...

Christa I've been enthralled with your story since before it hit the shelf. I read your book cover on your website and knew this would be a book for my collection. You did not disappoint.

I love the cover too!

Praying for all your success!

WS Gager said...

Christa: I was checking out the site to see what it was like and I started reading and I couldn't stop until the end. We have a lot in common except I only have two children! I write the same way and feel the same way after Chapter 5. Thank God for my critic group! My first book, A Case of Infatuation, came out last June and marketing is a bear!
Best of luck to you.

Michelle Sutton said...

Great story. I started reading it again last night. It is very real. I love that.

christa said...

Thanks for all of your kind words!
Tamika, I love the cover as well. The designer, Emily, did an awesome job.