Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
A. I was born in rural North Carolina. At the time, my family lived in a very old farmhouse—leaking metal roof and all. My great aunt believed that the sealed room at the top of the house had been used as a hiding place for escaping slaves before the Civil War. True or not, that story sparked my lifelong fascination with the Underground Railroad and breaking chains that bind us—physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I surrendered my life to the Lord at 11 years of age. He’s been my guide and stay ever since and I can’t imagine my life without Him at the helm. But coming to know Him intimately and to understand the depth of His love has been a life-long journey.
My husband, Dan, and I married in 1982. We divide our time between the Jersey Shore and Northern Virginia, where we enjoy family time with our grown son, Daniel, and with our daughter, Elisabeth and her husband, Tim (who we’re proud to claim as a son and his parents as dearly loved family, and their precious daughter–our first grandchild. We’re still doing our best to raise Reilly, our lovable, but crazy English Springer Spaniel.
Q. When did you begin writing, and when did you realize that God had called you to write for Him?
A. I’ve wanted to write since, at five years of age, I learned that stories don’t appear magically between the covers of books, but are written by real people. Most of my life, I’ve written in some form or other—short stories, essays, poems, skits and stage plays, devotionals, newspaper features, articles, news, even manuals. I began writing my first novel later in life, and signed the contract for William Henry is a Fine Name on my 50th birthday—the perfect gift to begin the second half of life!
When I began writing William Henry is a Fine Name I intended to write a compelling story about the Underground Railroad that would inspire readers to embrace the concept that we are not victims, but are free to choose what we believe and how we act on those beliefs. By the end of the first chapter, Robert, my main character, was expressing his built in longing and desire to understand and connect with his Creator that is in no way preachy, but as natural as breathing.
I wrote the book as it came. Before long I realized that that book, and likely all my books, would express that deep longing for God simply because that is who I am, it is what matters most—first and last—to me. Once I realized this, I poured myself onto the page in a way I could not have done had I tried to write from any other well. And in that writing I formed a deep and strengthening, creative relationship with the Lord, a joyful partnering with Him—a place where I truly feel God’s pleasure.
It is my goal to more aptly express His love for us, and our journey to know Him intimately through each book I write. I know I’ll never achieve that perfectly this side of Heaven, but it sets the bar for my work each day, and gives me reason to write.
Q. You’ve written two novels set during the Civil War. What made you decide to set your third on the Titanic?
A. Titanic has long fascinated me—the romance of the era, the whole idea of a “ship of dreams,” her builders, but especially her staff, passengers, and the family members left behind. And what about those who survived? How did they go on living, knowing they’d been miraculously, magnanimously saved in lifeboats while hundreds died around them?
The first time I saw a copy of the ship’s manifest I found details of a young man, Owen George Allum, a gardener who’d sailed third class from Southampton, England. Later, in a Titanic exhibit, I saw his name again and learned that he had drowned. A bit of research led me to his family, his intended destination, even the items found in his pockets once his body was recovered.
He reminded me of my great-grandfather, who emigrated from England a few short years before Titanic, and who, when unable to find work as the gold-leaf artist he was, became a gardener for a wealthy Buffalo family.
From all of that I wove a fictional short story, “The Legacy of Owen Allen,” which eventually grew into the full-length manuscript, Promise Me This.
Q. What is your writing routine? Where do you go to write? Do you use a laptop, desktop PC or something else?
A. I research, write, or work on the business aspects of writing five or six days a week. Morning hours, following morning time with our Lord, are most productive for me, before other demands of the day set in, but I’ll write as long into the day or evening as I need to meet my goal. Establishing monthly, weekly, and daily word counts and goals keeps me on track as I work toward deadlines. That being said, I now babysit my granddaughter several days a week, so writing comes at any and nearly every other moment. Babies don’t respect deadlines. : )
Most writing—especially a novel’s first draft—is done in my home office or while sitting in a comfy chair. When dirty dishes or piles of laundry call my name I try not to listen, but pack my Mac in search of a quiet library table or corner of a friendly coffee shop.
I write on a MacBook Air these days—literally on my lap most of the time. I love its simplicity and portability. It travels the world with me.
Q. Has your work in drama influenced your writing?
A. Absolutely. I think that all of my training—formal and informal—and each of my jobs and writing experiences—volunteer and employment—has been essential and instrumental in building the writer and person I’m growing to be.
Drama taught me the importance of stage presence, dialogue and dialect. I know from writing scripts and directing actors that you have to keep dialogue sharp and action moving. Everything must contribute to what you see and hear. Everyone on stage at a given moment must be actively engaged—even if they are engaged in listening to another actor. You want the audience to be so caught up in the scene being played out before them that they lose track of time and space and believe themselves part of the play. There is no room for dead space with no tension. Do that, and the magic is gone.
The same is true in writing fiction. If my mind wanders while I’m reading what I’ve written I can be sure it will bore readers—or worse, allow them to put down the book. No matter how much I may love my words, if I’m not captivated it’s time to cut and revise.
Q. What do you see as the role of Christian fiction in building the Kingdom of God?
A. Jesus told stories. He fleshed out the Kingdom of God in our minds with his parables. His tales took common and eccentric characters and placed them in conflict in everyday situations. He illustrated resolution for the quandary at hand, teaching us how to live graciously, passionately, generously. For nearly every situation I face I can think of either a story from the Old Testament or a story Jesus told to illustrate a principle—and I say, “Ah! That’s it! That’s the way to live—and therein is grace.”
I see Christian fiction as an opportunity to follow our Lord’s example. Through writing we are privileged to encourage and build one another up, to pierce ignorance and injustice in a non-threatening form, to reach into dark and lonely places and sit compassionately with readers, to bear the lamp of understanding and walk, together, into the light.
As writers we have one voice, just like everyone else. But studies have shown that if one voice is raised against injustice, others will stand and join the march. That’s the role of Christian fiction.