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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Chris Fabry's Small Slice-of-Life Stories

Chris Fabry can be heard daily on Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live, where he talks “over the back fence” with listeners across the country. He won the 2011 Christy Award for contemporary fiction and the 2011 ECPA Christian Book Award—both for Almost Heaven. He is also a member of the Christian Writers Guild's Editorial Board. Learn more about him at chrisfabry.com.

Tell us about your new release, A Marriage Carol, from River North/Moody Publishers.

This is a story about a couple on the verge of divorce. They’ve given up. They see no reason to go on. But a choice by the husband to take a shortcut leads to disaster—and then to the truth about their marriage.

Clearly this novella was inspired by Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—even the characters’ names evoke the comparison. Why did you choose to pattern your book after a classic?

Dickens’s story is a classic and full of truth. I see this as more of a nod to Dickens because we don’t use the ghost of marriage past, present, and future—we use another tool, snow. But I think readers will enjoy the similarities between the two stories.

In what ways is your story different?

With Scrooge, we only get to see the possible outcome of his life if he doesn’t change. I felt it important to show Marlee, the wife, not only the negative outcome of her life if she continues on the current path, but the possible positive outcome.

The snow is the metaphor that floats through the book and provides the “magic,” if you will, of seeing the past, present, and future.

Why marriage as the theme?

Marriages are in trouble. Couples are in trouble. And our culture says, “If you’re not happy, find someone new.” Dr. Chapman believes many couples give up too early. God can resurrect a dead marriage. If we capture this theme, we could turn an entire society around—and think of what that would do for our children.

What was Gary Chapman’s involvement with A Marriage Carol?

I had the original idea and patterned much of the storyline from examples we’ve discussed on the radio. (Chris and his wife co-host Building Relationships on the radio with Dr. Chapman.) Gary gave me a thumb’s up and I wrote the story with his editorial help. He’s great to work with.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

I just lost my father in August, so this is our first Christmas without him. I’d say it was going out with him to hunt for a Christmas tree on the hill behind our house. The leaves on the ground, a hatchet or two on the shoulder, all bundled up. Great memory.

Every novelist has a journey. Tell us about yours.

I had no idea you could actually write and pay bills. As a kid I wrote stories, poems, songs, skits. I couldn’t wait to write down ideas. But I got very little encouragement at school.

It wasn’t until I was finished with college (journalism major) that I encountered novelists and writers through my work with Moody Radio. Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series, mentored me for a number of years and that was a huge help. A Marriage Carol is my 71st published book.

You’re also a radio guy, with several ongoing radio projects. How does your radio work affect your novel writing?

You’d think I wouldn’t have time for both, but actually the radio work feeds the writing. It uses a little different side of my brain and it keeps me in community rather than total isolation. Almost Heaven, a novel that was published in 2010, came as a direct result of the radio show I do. I get a lot of ideas for stories from listeners.

What's the most difficult part of writing?

The biggest is probably confidence. I was constantly looking for validation early on. I asked, “Is this any good?” I couldn’t tell. I needed someone to help me gain the confidence to not have to ask. Other than that, actually sitting down and writing and not checking email or looking at the weather forecast for Ottumwa is a close second.

How do you overcome it?

Confidence comes from somewhere within. I look at writing as not just a gift but a calling. It’s something God puts in your life that he wants you to do. If that’s true, your confidence can come from him.

At the same time, you have to work at becoming a writer. It’s an art form and not everyone is good at it, and not everyone who likes to write is meant to be a writer. Maybe part of the answer is simply not caring what other people think about your writing and letting it go on its way.

What is the best part of writing?

I find great satisfaction in discovering things about characters or about myself. This morning I wrote a few pages and went to take a shower. The water flowing over my head does things at times, and when it was over, I had the rest of the conversation and the whole next scene. When it falls into place like that, it’s a good day.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write in a closet. Literally. I’m getting ready to move into a room with a window, but for the past two years I’ve been in this closet because of my radio show. I have to have a quiet place and this is the most remote in the house. No windows. I can touch the walls on either side of me.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My son has Type 1 diabetes so I get up to check him at 3 or 4 a.m. I usually stay up and read some Scripture and then get to work. Devotions really help clear my head spiritually.

I work on my story until 10 or 11, then get ready for my radio program. Sometimes I’ll do interviews in the middle of the morning, but I try to keep it free for writing. My show is from 1-3 Mountain Time, then I do voice work for the rest of the day. Then it’s off to play basketball with my youngest boys. We have nine children, so it’s a full time job.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Jerry Jenkins says, “Butt in chair.” That’s not bad. Thinking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Reading great writing is not writing. Only writing is writing.

Almost Heaven won the Christy Award this year—and it was your second Christy—as well as the ECPA Fiction award. What’s next in full-length fiction? Do the awards intimidate you when you start writing the next book?

I never thought I would ever win any kind of award for the type of stories I like to tell. They’re small, slice-of-life stories with big, overarching ideas. I guess there’s some comparison—I won a Christy for Dogwood but not June Bug—and I really liked June Bug. But I’ve learned not to compare stories and if the awards come, great. If they don’t, someone else will deserve to win them.

My next full-length novel will be out in February. It’s titled Not In The Heart and is the story of an out-of-work reporter whose son needs a new heart. The reporter is asked to tell the story of a man on death row. The inmate wants to donate his heart to the reporter’s son. However, in the telling of the story, the reporter finds evidence that the man might not be guilty. If he spills this information, his son will die. If he doesn’t, an innocent man might die.


Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the editor of Afictionado, the ezine for American Christian Fiction Writers.





2 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

I read The Marriage Carol and loved it! Thanks for stopping by to refuel, Chris.

Gina Holmes said...

Chris, what a great interview and what an inspiration you are. Great questions Mike :) I've got Almost Heaven on my shelf and can't wait to start it. The idea for the next story gave me chill bumps. I love those tough subject kind of books. Nine children, eh? Haha. You're one busy man!