A true Southern woman who knows any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan’s novel The Edge of Grace released in August. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, was published by Abingdon Press in 2010. Her next five novels are scheduled to release from 2012-2014. Christa is a high school English teacher, mother of five, and Grammy of two. She and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs where they dodge hurricanes and look forward to retirement.
Welcome, Christa! Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?
It probably wasn’t until my teen years that I dreamed of becoming a writer. As a child I would walk around the house with a scarf draped over my hair and tell my parents I wanted to be a nun. Fortunately, for the Sisterhood, that didn’t happen.
How long did you write before you sold your first book?
I sometimes hesitate to tell other writers that the first book I wrote is the one that sold, but it did take three years to write. Hurricane Katrina disrupted its completion, so I didn’t finish it until another two years after starting.
Wow, that truly is rare! But I think it shows that you studied the craft before submitting, which speaks to my next question. Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?
Be teachable, which applies to more than writing, but I find it especially important to us writers. We have to be willing to crack ourselves open to learn what others can teach.
Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.
I’m terminally disorganized, a procrastinator, and sometimes a whiner. We have three neurotic cats that take turns draping themselves over my laptop and/or chewing on the cover of my iPad. During the school year, I’m awake at 4 in the morning and usually don’t arrive home until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. If I’m not grading papers, I’m writing. If I’m not doing either one of those, I’m probably pacing the family room during the Saints or LSU game. During football season, life as we know it pauses until the game is over!
Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?
Oh, my, YES. In fact, more than I ever imagined…but now they’re not just from editors…they’re from readers. If I need to write a tortured, depressed scene for a character, I just zip over and read a few of the online reviews of either of my two books. A publisher’s rejection seems like a walk through Toyland after some from readers. I didn’t expect every reader to sing the Alleluia chorus after finishing one of my books, but I also didn’t expect some of the truly ornery bashings.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Blurb: When Caryn Becker answers the telephone on most Saturday morning, it’s generally not a prelude to disaster. Except this time, her brother David’s call shifts her universe. Her emotional reserves are already depleted being a single parent to six-year-old Ben after the unexpected death of her husband, Harrison. But when David is the target of a brutal hate crime, Caryn has to decide what she’s willing to risk, including revealing her own secrets, to help her brother. A family ultimately explores the struggle of acceptance, the grace of forgiveness, and moving from prejudice to loving others as they are, not as we’d like them to be.
The Edge of Grace grew out of my own experiences with my brother. When he told me he was gay, it was years-not months like Caryn-before our relationship was restored. I had the first chapters written for two years, but never went beyond those until my brother’s partner was attacked in the French Quarter. That was the defining moment that propelled me back to the computer, that gave me the courage to share those pages, and pray that God would find a way. And He did.
If you could only share one line from The Edge of Grace, which one would you choose and why?
Early on, when Caryn is having a discussion with her friend about her brother’s revelation, she tells her: “It’s different somehow when it happens in your own family.” Compassion and empathy grow out of our personal experiences. One of the questions I ask people is, “What if David was your son, your brother?”
Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in The Edge of Grace that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?
The way Caryn finds out her brother is gay is exactly the way I found out as well. Which, I have to say, cracks me up when I read reviews that the novel is "contrived and unlikely.”
Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?
The smarmy politician and a redeeming quality? Hmmm…that he’s not more awful than he is? Mr. Washington, unfortunately, is too involved in his own ego right now to truly exercise his compassion muscle.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?
My brother and his partner made themselves absolutely transparent for me, answering whatever questions I asked. They also served as my readers to make sure I avoided stereotyping. I also joined, actually long before I started writing the novel, The Gay Christian Network.
I read Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin of The Marin Foundation.
Tell us what new projects you’re working on.
I just submitted Love Finds You in New Orleans (Summerside Press), which will release at the beginning of 2012. My next project is A Matter of Trust, one of the novels in Abingdon’s new Quilt Collection.
The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?
Do your “homework,” attend conferences, and join a critique group or find a partner who is further along in the business than you. Read books that you chose and say, “I wish I’d written that.” Then do it!
What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?
Q: How clean is your house?
A: Not very.
LOL! Now that, I can relate to.
Christa is giving away a copy of her book, The Edge of Grace. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!