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Monday, February 13, 2012

Debut author Courtney Walsh ~ gives liberating advice

Courtney Walsh is a published author, scrapbooker, theatre director and playwright. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was released this month by Guideposts Books. It is the first in a series of three. She has also written two paper crafting books, Scrapbooking Your Faith and The Busy Scrapper and is currently working on her third, which will be released February, 2013. Courtney has been a contributing editor for Memory Makers Magazine and Children’s Ministry Magazine. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three kids where she consumes entirely too much coffee.

Tell us about your new release:

A Sweethaven Summer is the story of Campbell Carter, who finds part of an old scrapbook just after her mother’s death. The scrapbook contains evidence of a life in a tiny beach town in Michigan—one her mother had never spoken of. With the scrapbook as her guide, Campbell travels to Sweethaven, where she meets her mom’s childhood friends and searches for the identity of her real father.

In my mind, this is a book about friendship and forgiveness—two things we all need a lot of in our lives!

Was there a specific 'what if' moment to spark this story?

Definitely. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in our friends’ cottage, and it was in that community that I started to imagine old friends who returned every summer, working on their scrapbooks and watching their kids grow up together. That trip was the spark for the whole series.

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

Well, it wasn’t related to my research, but while I was on deadline for this book, my husband applied for, interview for and accepted a job in Colorado. We had one month to pack up our house, sell it (we didn’t—we’re renting it) and move across the country. Looking back on it, I’m not sure how I survived that!

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?

I think there’s a head-shaped indentation on my wall! For the first two books in the series, I didn’t plot or outline the entire book. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go and I sat down and started writing. Both times, when I got about half-way through, I got SO stuck I had to get up and walk away. In the end, the only way I overcame it was to go back, read what I’d already written and let the momentum of that carry me through to the end.

By the third book, I opted for a chapter by chapter road map with most of the details already outlined. So far, I haven’t had to bang my head into the wall on this one, but I’ve just hit that half-way point! (Be praying for my head.) 

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use? 

Absolutely. I think my experience in the theatre lends itself to being very visual. I act scenes out while I’m writing them and tend to research every aspect of the town or event I’m writing about. (Saving files of photos along the way.) I also find images of people I think look like my characters (a trick I learned from my friend, Deb Raney.)  This helps me keep clear pictures in my head. 

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?

Overwriting. I am the master at showing something and then telling the reader what I’ve just shown them. I also have a tendency to write whole chapters about what my characters are going to do instead of just having them do it. My constant questions as I write are: “Does this move the story forward?” “Is this active?” “Am I showing this?”

What's your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?

I’d have to say characterization and dialogue. Again, I credit the theatre with this. Ever since I was about twelve years old I’ve had a huge passion for the stage. Plays are remarkable tools because they’re straight dialogue with limited stage directions. You have to be so concise and make sure you’re showing with every scene. I didn’t realize that my stage training and writing for the stage would come in so handy down the road, but I utilize elements of it every time I sit down to write.

Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?

Since this was my first novel, it certainly gave me problems. I’d be horrified to go back and see what the first draft looked like! My main problem was keeping my characters active. Thankfully, I’ve had wonderful and patient editors. I’ve learned SO much!

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

Before I moved to Colorado, I wrote at Barnes and Noble faithfully every week. I loved that place. I had the luxury of my mom’s help with the kids. But now that I live here, without any family around, I write at home, usually under a pair of headphones in my office or holed away in my bedroom (which is hard on the back!) I love to write to the Michael Nyman Pandora station (with a little Hans Zimmer, James Horner and John Williams for variety!)

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?

This is such a funny question to me because I get really caught up in my numbers (both word tallies AND the ones on the scale!) I’m under a pretty tight deadline for my third book so yes, I write fast. I have to. I work from home, so I only have three good writing days every week and I make the most of them!!

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

“Don’t get it right, get it written.” How liberating!

How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?

Um…I don’t do a very good job with this! I have a day job at Webster’s Pages, which is a scrapbooking manufacturer (I love it!) so I save most of my writing work for Fridays-Sundays. My husband is the one that gets me out of my writing cave and back into the real world. Otherwise, I might never resurface! (And I definitely would never do laundry!)

Do you have any parting words of advice?

When God puts something on your heart to write, don’t question it, just write it. You never know how he’s going to use it to bless someone else. That and don’t take up writing novels unless you’re comfortable with a LOT of hard work. Next to childbirth, writing a novel is the hardest thing I’ve ever done!

A Sweethaven Summer

Campbell Carter has come to Sweethaven in search of answers about her mother's history. Just before losing a battle with cancer, Suzanne Carter sent letters to childhood friends from her hometown of Sweethaven, Michigan. Suzanne's three friends -- Lila, Jane, and Meghan -- haven't spoken in years, yet each has pieces of a scrapbook they made together as girls.

Suzanne's letters have lured them all back to the idyllic lakeside town, where they meet Campbell and begin to remember what was so special about their long Sweethaven summers. 

As the scrapbook reveals secrets from the past, old wounds are mended, lives are changed, and friendships are restored -- just as Suzanne intended.


  1. It was fun to learn more about you Courtney. Love the cover btw. Thanks for being with us!

  2. Loved this interview, Courtney! Can't wait to escape inside A Sweethaven Summer~

  3. Courtney, this was such fun to host your debut here. I was absotootinglutely sucked into A Sweethaven Summer and I want to move there! I can't wait for the next book!!

  4. Congratulations on your new book! Looking forward to reading it!

  5. Courtney, I would love to read your book, partly because I live in Michigan and love the little beach towns. Nice interview!

  6. Can't wait to read this book. Wishing you all the best, Courtney.

  7. Thank you guys for swinging by, and thanks to Ane for the fun interview!! :) I had a blast...and I LOVE this website, so it was a huge honor!!

  8. Yes, it's enough like childbirth to almost not be funny, Courtney. :-) And yet you make writing a novel sound easy...

    Thanks for the glimpse into your writer life and for the tips. Can't wait to read your debut!


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