Monday, February 15, 2010

Christa Allan is the mother of five adult-children between the chronological ages of 23 and 31. She’s the grandmother of Emma, almost four, Hannah, eighteen months, and Bailey, who went to heaven after one month. She teaches high school English to ninth and tenth graders in the largest public high school in Louisiana. Christa and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs with their three neurotic cats. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, will be published in Spring 2010 by Abingdon Press. She’s also published essays in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced and Recovering soul.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I started writing in high school, but I did so primarily to write stories in which all the truly adorable and skinny girls grew unsightly zits on prom night. It wasn’t until five years ago that truly wrapped my brain around the notion that I could “be” a writer. And, honestly, I probably would’ve delayed the serious putting of hands to keyboard except that my husband bought me a laptop. So the guilt of not using it outweighed the fear of whatever much might appear on the screen.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

I signed with Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary at the beginning of 2008, and she started shopping my novel a few months later. I signed my contract with Abingdon Press the first week of December. I happened to meet Barbara Scott, their Senior Acquisitions Editor, at the ACFW conference in Dallas of that same year. I’m thrilled to be with them because Barbara “got” my novel in the same way Rachelle did, and I feel confident in working with her.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

Hmm…structure and writing day seem to be mutually exclusive terms for me I teach high school English, and during the school year, the lesson planning, grading, emotional investment in students and sometimes their parents suck the creative energy right out of me [maybe “write” out of me too!]. Now, I know there are a plethora of teacher-writers out there who manage both. Me? Not so much. In fact, I’m starting with a Personal Coach next week in an effort to get a grip on this.

Debut authors often talk about the “surprises” that come with publishing—deadlines among the most common. How have your writing habits changed, now that you are under deadlines?

In those puttering first months of writing, I’d set goals and times of day to write. Not too successful for me. Word-count goals, because they’re concrete, work best for me. You’ve either written the number of words or not.

Part of my struggle now is carving out time…I already wake up at 4:30 to get ready for school, so I don’t think I can get up earlier to have writing time. Lately, the husband and I car pool, so some days I’m not arriving home until 5 or 6 pm. And even though we’re empty-nesters, there’s still a nest. Cooking, laundry, cleaning…Then, added to that, I grade, whine about grading. . . So, before I know it, it’s 10 pm, and I still haven’t devoted time to writing. . .Guess that means my approach is no approach? Is recognizing the problem the first step to recovery? If so, I’m on my way! Seriously, this is why I’ve contracted with a personal coach. I’m too strangled by my own problems to get my hands off my own neck. . .

Half of my book, I wrote over a period of two years, then Katrina came along and turned our lives inside out for two years. Our home was fine, but my husband lost his job, so we moved to a city three hours away. We lived there for two years, then we had an opportunity to return home In fact, to our same house since it hadn’t yet sold. But I didn’t accomplish much writing during the years we were away. I did, though, piddle with a few chapters of a YA, but not much else,

The second half of my book, I wrote in less than two weeks. I’m not proud of that, but I felt compelled to finish it. And sitting my butt in the chair from the wee hours of the morning until the wee hours of the next morning, unfortunately, seemed to work for me. My generous husband took over everything else while I disappeared into the black hole of my novel. I have vague recollections of showering, brushing my teeth, and eating…but I’m mostly relying on outside accounts for that! I do know that I rarely spoke on the phone or used the internet during those times.

Since finishing my book, I’ve mulched about a dozen others. I write two-three chapters, then think of other ideas, then write two-three chapters, then mulch a little more…it’s clearly creative procrastination.

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.”

Unpublished authors often struggle with self-doubt—a sense of “will I ever be good enough.” Have you struggled with this, or do you still?

I struggle with writing every time I open my laptop. The taunting voices of defeat, insecurity, doubt tune-up, and I have to make a conscious decision to drown out their noises. Often, I feel like a ten-year-old who’s being bullied, and I have to close my eyes, stomp my feet, and yell. Well, not literally, but perhaps I should!

While writing my first novel, the one that’s being published, I wondered-always-if it was “good.” Meaning, would someone really want to read this or is it just like that pink, amorphous stuff on the Shoney’s salad bar, you know, it looks pretty—but when you stick your spoon in it, there’s nothing there? I struggled with the notion that I was spending days, weeks, months of my life not knowing if there’d ever be a ‘pay off” in terms of being signed by an agent or landing a contract. I struggled with discriminating between my writing being my gift from God or my writing being my gift to my ego. I struggled with the fear of success. If I really succeed, as in publication and attention, am I going to be able to live up to expectations? What if I’m a “one-time wonder”?

Now that I have one book contract, I’m already wondering if there will be a second. And what book should I write? When the “what if” monster follows me around too long, I email/call Rachelle. In fact, not long after signing with Rachelle, I was struggling with something in a proposal I was writing. After days of angst, I had a “duh” moment. You, Christa, have an agent; you don’t have to struggle alone! I probably should pay Rachelle for therapy because she does have to do quite a few brain adjustments. She, my husband, and my daughters are my cheerleaders and reality-checkers. When I can’t get out of my own way, they clear a path. When I’m having a pity party, they refuse to send out the invitations. When I’m apt to jump off the ledge, they find a net.

I do recognize that, in many areas of my life, I work better with a deadline or at least clearly defined boundaries. For example, at school I know what “box” I’m supposed to operate in. I know when I’m choosing to step outside of it, so I’m prepared for the consequences. If I have a deadline, I know if I’m ahead of it or not. To be truly effective, though, the deadlines have to be other than self-imposed.

Distractions can be big…especially in the life of a writer. What kinds of things distract you from writing, and what do you do to avoid them?

Lately, social networking and blogs are my primary addictions and procrastinations. I have a blog, FICTIONARY [] that’s primarily a book review, author interview, blog tour, and product review blog. It used to be my only blog until I started hosting so many blog tours that I didn’t have space for my personal blogging. I also have a website, Christa Allan [], which is for my personal tales of writing, teaching, mothering, and other “ings.” Keeping current with those is becoming increasingly more challenging. Not so much FICTIONARY because the content is already delineated. My personal blog, though, is becoming as scattered in content and in posting as I. It suffers from that teacher end-of-the-day-my-creativity-died syndrome. If only I could figure out how to transfer the blogs I write in my head to the computer. . .

Another time-consumer is jumping around to read the blogs of other writers, teachers, publishers, agents, etc. I’m always thinking that I might miss the next great “thing” if I miss reading their blogs. [This is probably some leftover psychological trauma from high school where I felt like my nose was always smushed against the glass gazing at the “A” crowd!]

Twitter and Facebook are becoming increasingly problematic; they feed right into my ADD-ness. On one hand, they provide me the ability to check in with all the strands of my life—writing, education, publishing—in one place. On the other hand, they delude me into thinking I’m actually accomplishing something.

Perfectionism, perhaps sadly, has not been a behavior with which I struggle. One look at my house could attest to that, Time management—absolutely an issue. Again…it’s why I’ve decided to invest in a personal coach.

A well-intentioned behavior, but certainly self-defeating, is my tendency to say, “yes” to a multitude of responsibilities in my teaching, writing, and personal life. If I ran an airline, my flights would always be overbooked!

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) 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.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Walking on Broken Glass, 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.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

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 kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?
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 new projects you’re 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.

How does your faith play into your writing?

Of course, my constant prayer is for God to remind me that He’s in control. I’ve cherished this: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) because I know that God’s desire is for me to achieve the dreams that He gave me.

I also believe, and I’m trying to be better at practicing this in my life, that it’s important to reach out to others and share my struggles. I’ve even prayed about being part of an “accountability group” where we could lovingly challenge one another to make progress and hold fast to our dreams and goals.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t run with scissors. And, thank you, Lisa and The Borrowed Book for being so gracious.
Christa is giving away a copy of her debut novel, Walking on Broken Glass. Be sure to visit The Borrowed Book on Friday, 02/19/10 for your chance to win!


  1. Your book sounds wonderful, Christa. Thanks so much for stopping by The Borrowed Book!

  2. Great debut, Lisa, and congratulations, Christa with your interview and book. Best wishes for mighty sales.

  3. Thanks, Lisa! Appreciate you stopping by.

  4. Neat blog, Elizabeth! Carla pointed me this way.

    Isn't Christa a great writer????


  5. Lisa: Blessings for featuring me on your blog! I'm so humbled. By the way, I LOVE the blog design, so kudos to the designer.

    And to all of your readers, thanks for the support and encouragement.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Patti! I hope you'll find lots to love here. And yes, Christa is awesome!!

  7. Christa, this book was much anticipated--ever since I heard Margie Lawson read the first page during the ACFW early bird, I've wondered about WHY the character would say such things!

    It was an amazing read and I've already talked it up to many of my friends. I hope to post a review on my blog soon ... :)

  8. Wow...that's quite an endorsement, Christina! How neat that Christa's first page would leave such an impression.

    Thanks for stopping by The Borrowed Book!

  9. Patti and Christina: I really appreciate your kind words about my writing. Coming from fellow writers, the compliment is quite special!

  10. This is an awesome book! If you haven't read it yet, run, don't walk to the nearest bookstore and get it!

    Also an awesome new blog, Lisa. Very nice :-)


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