Monday, June 7, 2010

Carla Stewart launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost's Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, Saddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.

More recently, Carla won two American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis contests: one in the Historical Fiction category in 2007 and in another for her Young Adult entry in 2008. Her writing reflects her passion for times gone by. She believes in Jesus, the power of the written word, and a good cup of coffee. She and her husband have four adult sons and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren. CHASING LILACS is her debut novel.

When did you decide to be a writer?

First, I’d like to thank you, Lisa, for inviting me to your wonderful site. It’s such an honor to be on a site that features what I love most – BOOKS! I’ve always been a huge reader and dreamed of someday writing a book like those I loved to read, but I chose nursing and being a full-time mom over pursuing the dream. I waited until my youngest son was in high school before I made the commitment to write.

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

Almost eight years, and then of course, I had to wait another year and a half until the book actually came out.

Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Now that you’ve walked that road, what tips can you give to authors still hoping for that first contract?

Be realistic. It takes much longer than you think, but while you’re waiting, continue learning the craft. Go to conferences. Participate in writing groups. And simply keep writing.

Don’t be afraid of being unique and developing your voice. That is often what catches an agent or editor’s interest. You must believe in your story first for others to believe in it too.

Begin building your platform and getting your name out there by putting up a website or starting a blog. Social networking is a great way to build relationships, not as a way to promote yourself, but to make friends and share in one another’s lives.

Reach out. People remember others who appreciated them or made them feel good. Send thank-you notes or drop emails to those who’ve taken time to hear your pitches (agents and editors in particular) or those who’ve made you laugh or shared a gem of wisdom with you. By giving to others you pave the way to lasting relationships.

Last, commit yourself and your career to God and His timing. He wants the very best for you.

Was there something about the experience of getting published that was a surprise to you?

Every day has been a new surprise, but the best thing has been that I’m now part of a team. I am in this together with a whole array of people from my agent to my editor, the copy editors, and the design and marketing departments. That has been both a relief and an exciting part of getting published.

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

I’m an empty-nester and have all day to myself so I write every day. Lately it’s been more in the marketing area, but I still try to squeeze in an hour or two to work on my next novel.

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

I’m really not very good at stepping away, but I enjoy taking weekend trips with my husband to visit family (and in particular—our grandchildren) or short out-of-town adventures. Other times, I like to work in the yard, take my doxie for walks in the neighborhood, or go to concerts and stage productions here in Tulsa.

What is your favorite novel and what made it special?

Only one? I have so many, but probably my favorite in the last few years is Water for Elephants. I was totally caught up in the depression-era circus theme, yet equally concerned for the current day story. This has become one of my favorite types of novels – a story with two timelines and intersecting plots.

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

Reading well-written books helps me learn about character development, pacing, and story arc and inspires me to be a better writer. By also reading a wide variety of authors, I’ve learned which ones I like and have developed my own writing style . . . which for me is succinct writing with a slight literary bent. What you read can’t help but filter into your writing, so I think it’s a good thing to strive to read above your own writing level and in other genres.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Chasing Lilacs is a coming of age story set in Texas. In 1958, Elvis is on the radio and summer is in the air. Life should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie who has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.

As her life careens out of control, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears. Her best friend with an opinion about everything? The mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him? Or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on? Then, there’s the elderly widower who seems nice, but has his own dark past.

Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie’s ever done.

Where did you get your inspiration for CHASING LILACS?

As a child of the 50s and 60s, I was always curious about those forbidden subjects people whispered about but were too polite to discuss, especially “nerve” problems and shock treatments. What would it have been like if a young girl’s mom had these problems? At the same time, I always wanted to write a story set in a tight knit petroleum camp like the one where I grew up. In 2004, I took a solo venture to the camp (which is now a ghost town). A few miles away, I saw the smokestacks on the horizon. My breaths quickened. A lump appeared in my throat. As I approached and later rambled over the vacant ground where my childhood home once stood, wonderful memories washed over me. I knew I’d found not only the setting for my story, but also the theme of the book—the power of community that shapes our lives.

Which character is most like you?

Goldie is a back yard neighbor to Sammie, the main character. She’s an ordinary woman who has a few miles on her, but she listens to Sammie, gives her sage advice, but doesn’t push her in one direction or another. I’d like to think I’m that kind of friend.

Who is your favorite character and why?

Slim Wallace is an older man, a little rugged. He’s known heartache, but he, too is one of Sammie’s mentors, and I just loved writing about him, the way he accepted Sammie and her friend, taught them play backgammon and loved them in his own homespun way.

Did you know how CHASING LILACS would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

I knew how the story would end because I wanted it to come full circle and cover a year’s time, but I changed much of the interior of the story—the conflict, in particular, and the role of Sammie’s aunt who is the villain (villainess?). I also gave Sammie a fear and a special friend who helps her with that. When I did that, the story took on some new twists which were really fun to write. I was also surprised at how attached I got to Slim, the older man in Chasing Lilacs.

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

Since it’s nostalgic, I hope it brings back warm memories, but because of the plot, I want readers to remember that grief is a process and that sometimes help comes from unexpected people that God places in our lives. Life does go on, and joy truly does come in the morning.

I hope all of my readers find in Chasing Lilacs a small part of themselves that longs for childhood, for simpler times. A final sigh that as the book ends on a positive note, you’ll be glad you’ve taken a step back into another era.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

This could take up a whole blog post. I have immersed myself in learning about marketing. It comes down to the fact that no matter what I do or don’t do, God is in control. I’ve also realized I can’t do everything and to just concentrate on one or two areas and try to do those well.

Website. Blog. Making friends and being a friend on FaceBook and Twitter (where I chose ChasingLilacs as my Twitter name. Paying attention to opportunities I see for guest posts on blogs and interviews.

Meeting people face to face or via book clubs was one of my goals. I’m currently on tap for four book signings (including two which are launch events in different locations), many blog appearances, and a few radio interviews. I’m truly hoping that people don’t grow sick of seeing my picture pop up on their computer screens 

I won’t know how successful my marketing attempts were until a few months after the book. I am pleased, though, with the “buzz” the book is getting and hope that translates into sales.

My ideal success would be that a reader would write and tell me how this book made her see the world in a new light or made her laugh or given her confidence . . . whatever takeaway she found in its pages.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

My second novel with FaithWords, Broken Wings, will come out in the summer of 2011. It has a strong nostalgic thread, but is the story of two woman in present-day Tulsa who become unlikely friends. Remember I told you I’m fond of stories with two distinct timelines? That’s what I’ve done with Broken Wings. I’m very excited about this book. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I think it has a depth and perspective that many people will relate to. And it’s sort of jazzy, too!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Write what you love to read. Write every day. And don’t be afraid of being unique.

Places you can find Carla on the web:
Carla is giving away a copy of her book Chasing Lilacs. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!


  1. Thanks for having me today, Elizabeth. Your site is beautiful . . . like you.

  2. Glad I popped over--so nice to learn even more about my very dear friend! So "Goldie" is Carla--well, that's perfect! I have to agree, you are a truly great friend, kind and thoughtful and wise, and I'm glad to be on this writing journey with you!

    Lovely, lovely blog, ladies!

  3. Thanks, Carla! I got my copy of Chasing Lilacs today. WOOHOO!! Can't wait to read it again now that it's in book format. You've done such a lovely job, Carla. Congratulations, and prayers for continued success.

  4. Nice interview. I would love to be entered!

    Michelle V


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