Tell us about your new release:
When Sparrows Fall is the story of Miranda Hanford, an isolated homeschooling widow who needs to break her ties to a cultic group. Jack Hanford, her estranged brother-in-law, is an outspoken professor who helps in her hour of need but challenges her choices at every turn. Miranda wants safety and security for her children; Jack values freedom above security but doesn’t understand that breaking free may cause Miranda to lose everything, including her children.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
I started playing with the idea when I noticed disturbing changes in the homeschooling movement. When I started teaching my first child at home, most homeschoolers were nonconformists who reveled in their freedom. But by the time my youngest child was a teenager, some influential leaders in the movement advocated conformity to standards that I find ludicrous.
For instance, some people believe a young woman shouldn’t attend college or work outside the home but should stay under her father’s roof until she marries—and then she’s to stay home and produce as many babies as possible. My “what if?” moment came when I imagined a woman who chooses to defy that patriarchal society, at great risk to her family.
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
The strangest thing happened after I’d completed the book, when I learned about some real-life events that were eerily close to some of my crazy plot twists. Now, I no longer worry that parts of the story might be implausible or melodramatic. These things happen. They really happen.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
After thirteen or fourteen years of trying my hand at novel-writing, I was approaching the close of another year without a contract. It was starting to feel silly to expect anything but more rejections, but then my agent told me Multnomah wanted to buy When Sparrows Fall.
I remember sensing that we’d found exactly the right publisher, and that has proven to be true. My editors have been fantastic about letting me keep my original vision for the story with minimal revisions, and the whole team has been just was wonderful.
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Once in a while I experience writer’s block, but I’ve learned to ask myself a few key questions. Am I unsure of my character’s goals and problems? Or am I writing the scene from the wrong viewpoint? Or is there a timing problem? It’s often one of those three problems. Once I get to the bottom of it—poof!—writer’s block is gone.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
I think visual elements are the easiest for me to incorporate into a story, but I don’t consciously focus on including them. Once I’ve finished a rough draft of a scene, I like to run through it again like a movie playing in my mind, so I’ll remember to add sensory details. I don’t gather visual triggers like pictures or props. My office is already messy enough without dragging more stuff into it.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?
Plotting is difficult for me. I love to create characters and settings, and I love seeing the themes develop as I get to know the characters, but my characters have nowhere to go if I don’t give them a solid plot.
How do you overcome it?
I analyze my characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts, but that sometimes only confuses me. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm with somebody, or sometimes I’ll let the plot straighten itself out while I pull some weeds or do the dishes. There’s no surefire formula. It’s different for every story, but that’s a blessing. If the battle is new every time, so is the victory. It never gets old.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I prefer to write in my simple little office because that’s where I feel the most like a real writer who’d better buckle down and work. I can write anywhere, though. I’m pretty good at tuning out noise and distractions.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Most days start with making coffee and shoving the cat off my computer chair. Early morning is my best time to write, so I try to make writing my top priority then. Later, my day is a mixture of writing, office work, and a minimum of housework. I’m very lucky to have a husband who doesn’t mind too much if my muse talks me into ignoring the house for long periods of time.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
When I know where I’m going, I can get there fast. But that can’t happen until I know my plot. I have written many, many pages that I had to scrap later because they were just part of my convoluted process of discovering the plot. But I don’t even look at the word count while I’m writing. That involves numbers. I don’t do numbers.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
I like what Erskine Caldwell said: “The important thing is to live first, have something to write about. If you have enough to say, you’ll say it all right.”
Do you have any parting words of advice?
How about… let’s get off the Internet and write!
When Sparrows Fall
Freedom. Safety. Love. Miranda vows to reclaim them - for herself, and for her children.
A widow and mother of six, Miranda Hanford leads a quiet, private life. When the pastor of her close-knit church announces his plans to move the entire congregation to another state, Miranda jumps at the opportunity to dissolve ties with Mason Chandler and his controlling method of ruling his flock. But then Mason threatens to unearth secrets from her past, and Miranda feels trapped, terrified she’ll be unable to protect her children.
College professor Jack Hanford is more than surprised when he gets a call from his estranged sister-in-law’s oldest son, Timothy, informing him that Miranda has taken a serious fall and he has been named legal guardian of her children while she recovers. Quickly charmed by Miranda’s children, Jack brings some much-needed life into the sheltered household. But his constant challenging of the family’s conservative lifestyle makes the recovering mother uneasy and defensive—despite Jack’s unnerving appeal.
As Jack tries to make sense of the mysterious Miranda and the secrets she holds so tightly, Mason’s pressure on her increases. With her emotions stirring and freedom calling, can Miranda find a way to unshackle her family without losing everything?