I’m happy to have my friend Christa Allan as a guest today at The Borrowed Book. Christa describes herself as a true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day. Christa is a writer of not your usual Christian Fiction. She weaves stories of unscripted grace and redemption with threads of hope, humor, and heart. Christa is the mother of five adult children, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where they and their three cats enjoy their time playing golf, dreaming about retirement and dodging hurricanes.
Welcome, Christa. Let me start by asking a question I’m curious about. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing in high school when I realized that I couldn’t sing [at least not anything anyone would want to listen to], I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t draw or paint anything beyond stick figures, and as for sports…well, let’s just say I was the kid everyone wanted on the other team. Many years later and married, I wrote for a newspaper when I had two children and two on the way, then—when four of my five children were out of the house, I decided to start writing a novel. Actually, I started because my precious husband had more faith in me than I had in myself. He guilted me into getting started by buying me a laptop!
After you began writing, how long did it take to make that first sale?
After three years of writing Walking on Broken Glass, I signed with an agent. About four months after that, my agent started shopping the novel. I was sure that at least one publisher out of that long list she’d sent it to would leap at the opportunity.
Not so much. One month later, she called to tell me that the editors thought the novel was “too issue-driven.” She said she’d continue to look for a home for it, but I may want to start considering some ideas for another book.
I spent my summer working on proposals for my editor appointments at the next ACFW Conference. A few months before the conference, my agent met Barbara Scott, the then-fiction editor of Abingdon Press, a Methodist publishing house launching fiction for the first time. She pitched my novel, and Barbara asked to see it. A few weeks later, Barbara said she was interested. My agent called at 11:43 am on October 30, 2008 to tell me Abingdon bought my novel.
I roomed with you at the ACFW conference when you first pitched Walking on Broken Glass. I knew it would sell. Now you have a second book. What is its title?
The Edge of Grace
I’ve read The Edge of Grace, and it’s a wonderful book. Give us a blurb about it.
An early morning call shatters Caryn Becker's world. Her brother David announces that he is gay, and Caryn completely rejects the one person who stood beside her during her husband's illness and death. Unable to cope with David's news, Caryn disappears into her own turbulent life as a single mom and new business owner.
What inspirational message do you want readers to take away after reading The Edge of Grace?
So many people look so bright-faced happy and pretty on the outside that we’re duped into believing they lead charmed lives. Like those families in the picture frames sold in stores (who ARE those people, by the way?!). But turn those pictures over, and what’s there…nothing. That’s not the life God planned for us. He wants our lives to be framed by His love. We’re called to compassion. We’re called to love.
Which character in the book is your favorite? Why?
My favorite character in this book was Max. He’s charming, compassionate and confident. And he’s a man of faith.
Where one has lived often affects the settings a writer uses in his/her stories. Have you found this to be true in your writing?
Absolutely. You can’t grow up as one of the GRITS (girls raised in the South; wish I’d thought of that acronym first; I’d be a zillionaire) and not have it permeate every aspect of your life…like the humidity here. There’s so much history in New Orleans, you can almost feel it when you walk through the Vieux Carre, the Marigny. the Garden District. We celebrate life. Sometimes a wee bit overboard, but we find strength in our traditions, our families and our faith.
Having been friends with you for a long time, I know you are a busy lady. How do you juggle all your responsibilities and still find time to write wonderful novels?
You’re so kind!
Of the over twenty years I’ve spent teaching high school, I’d only call myself a writer for the past six or so. I suppose if I didn’t feel compelled to “reinvent the wheel every year,” I might have more emotional energy to devote to writing during the school year. I’m constantly searching for more effective ways to engage my students, and it’s time intensive, especially when I’m already drowning in a sea of papers. Adding writing to that is like, in the words of my grandmother, “trying to squeeze California into Rhode Island.”
I know many writers advocate daily or weekly word or page goals. At this point in my life, I haven’t found that works for me. I don’t have the emotional capacity to handle it all during a school week. So, I focus on taking advantage of my summers, holidays, and weekends for writing. And, like that seesaw, sometimes, I’m down when I should be up. But I know that I can push myself where I need to be.
Sometimes our families require more of our attention, so we yank ourselves out of the orbit of work or school or whatever, to devote time to them. Other days, it might be work. I remind myself that asking God for direction here should come first.
I also know you to be a fun-loving individual who likes to laugh and live life to the fullest. What would you say is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
That I can’t think of something quirky makes me a bit uneasy. Either I don’t have quirks (unlikely) or my quirks are so ingrained, I don’t know they’re quirks.
What are you working on now? Can we expect other books to release soon?
My next novel should be out in January or February of 2012, and it’s Love Finds You in New Orleans from Summerside Press. I’m so excited that Summerside has made it possible for New Orleans to now be included in this impressive series. Plus, writing an 1840s historical has made for fascinating research. In fact, I sometimes forget that I’m supposed to be writing a novel, and get transported back into time myself! It’s also been a new experience for my family because now I start most conversations with, “Did you know that in the early 19th century….?”
Following that, I have a three-book contract with Abingdon for novels in 2012 and 2013. Titles yet to be determined.
For the aspiring writers who may be reading this, what advice would you give them?
Write what you’re passionate about. If you were told you could only write one book in your life, what book would it be? Write that one.
Trust the story. A good story trumps. That’s not to say you can submit an unformatted, sloppy, error-ridden manuscript.
You’ll be told agents/editors don’t like prologues. My first book had a prologue. Or that they don’t like first person point-of-view. My first book was written in first person with third person journal entries. Or that you can’t write about subjects that rock the Christian boat. The protagonist of my first novel is an alcoholic.
Or, you’ll be told the opposite of all of these. And while other writers’ opinions are valuable, don’t edit the life of your manuscript based on what you think might appeal to agents/editors. What appeals to them is a manuscript they can’t put down.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us that I haven’t asked?
That I so appreciate readers and bloggers who invite me to share my story! Thanks to all of you for my being here.
Here’s some contact info: Website: www.christaallan.com, Twitter: ChristaAllan Facebook: www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author
Thank you, Christa for stopping by today. Christa would like to give away a copy of her book this week. Leave a comment, and you'll be entered for the drawing.