Friday, April 05, 2013

Author Interview with Heather Gray for Mail Order Man

While in The Smokey Mountains several years ago at a speaking engagement I met Heather Gray through a chance encounter with her daughter. This in of itself is an amazing story, but for now it will remain unspoken. Heather and I have become sweetly entwined as only the LORD can bind two together through social media and shared conversations of how to draw near to God in our deepest and greatest need. Gray recently published her first book: Mail Order Bride. I have not read it yet, but I have ordered it on Kindle. Here is my interview with her about her new book. Please help me support a sister in Christ as she begins a new journey. THE BOOK PROMO: Some people get a mail order bride. She got a mail order man. A well-meaning friend places an ad to find a mail order husband for Sarah, the proprietress of Larkspur’s stage and mail office. Sarah, who is generally quiet and reserved, doesn’t know about the ad and has no idea what to do with all the people that are showing up in her community. Before long, the town is overrun with men and mail alike. Sarah is trying to avoid some men who have accosted her on the street when she stumbles into Samuel. Through long days spent together at the stage office, some very adventurous pots of coffee and a shared faith, the two become friends. Sarah knows that Samuel is hiding something from her, something important, but that doesn’t stop her heart from leaping wildly into love. Lacking the confidence to trust her heart, Sarah wars with herself over the feelings she can no longer deny. When some of the men who have come to town show their true intentions, a shootout follows. Sarah finally gets answers to many of the questions circling through her mind. One question remains, though. Where will her mail order man go when the dust settles? ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aside from her long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys in life are her relationship with her Savior, her family, and writing. Years ago, she decided it would be better to laugh than yell. Heather carries that theme over into her writing where she strives to create characters that experience both the highs and lows of life and, through it all, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her. WHY DID YOU WRITE IT? I'm not sure if you're asking why I wrote this particular story or why I decided to take writing seriously and try to get published, so I've answered both. I wrote this particular story because I wanted something to read one day, and I thought a historical romance would be just the thing. It seemed that everyone I looked at on that particular day, though, was a mail order bride story. I have enjoyed those types of stories before, but I was in the mood for something different that way. After the sixth or seventh mail order bride book I looked at, though, I decided that there had to be a new and creative take on the story. That's when the idea for Mail Order Man was born. The first words weren't penned until at least a year later -- The week after my daughter's memorial service, a friend asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had been in the process of buying a business before she became ill. I desperately needed a change, though, and on top of that, I no longer had the drive to run or build a business. That same friend suggested that I give writing a try. When the next day came, I started writing. I wasn't sure what would come of it, but I had always written to help me process emotions and find solutions to situations. Writing made me feel good; it made me feel alive. At a time when I battled grief in fits and starts, writing became a sanctuary. One day got to the end of the story and realized I'd done it – I'd written an entire novel! By then I knew that I had to pursue getting it published and that I needed to keep writing. In the midst of sadness and grief, I found a tangible way to give God the glory. Life is not as simple as good or bad, happy or sad. I discovered that I could be heartbroken while excited about a writing project. I could ask God why He needed to take her from us while still praising Him for all that He is to us. I can cry tears of sorrow for myself and my loss while I cry tears of joy for all that my baby girl gained when she went to be with Jesus. Life will never be simple. It will always be complex and layered, sometimes downright difficult to understand. God gave me a voice, though, in the midst of the most difficult time I've been through in my life to date. He also gave me a choice about what to do with that voice. I won't claim to have all the answers or to always say things the right way, but I will do my best each and every day of my life to use the voice He's given me to point people to Him and to create characters that, through their own life situations, highlight God's goodness and mercy and grace. WHAT DID YOU LEARN? I learned that it's difficult to find "stock photos" of modestly dressed people for cover art. I need to put a little more thought into what goes onto the cover of books in the future. That cover is people's first impression, and I need it to accurately represent the tone of the what's between the covers of the book. I learned not to be quite so "preachy." I had so much I wanted to say, and there are places in this book where I went overboard. Sections of it are "preachy," and while that's all well and good, it's not often what people want to find in a novel with which they are hoping to relax. I am doing a better job now of weaving the faith of my characters into the plots of my stories and allowing the actions of my characters to speak of their faith for them, using words only when necessary. In Mail Order Man, I'm afraid that there are some scenes where my characters are beating each other over the heads with their proverbial Bibles. I learned that I need to get to know my characters a little bit before I commit them to paper. Otherwise, they come across as having a split personality. I learned not to follow a formula. When I started this book, I got some guidelines from a well-known publisher of romance. It had a "formula" for writers to follow. X has to happen by the end of the first chapter, Y has to happen at least five times, Z needs to happen in this part of the book, etc. Though many of those formulaic points are still in this book, I won't be following that system again. This is my new philosophy: If I don't feel natural writing something for my characters, then they won't seem natural doing it. I learned TONS of things I'd long forgotten about grammar, usage and mechanics. I am so thankful for editors who had every right to roll their eyes as my repeated mistakes but instead kindly explained what I was doing wrong so that I could learn how to do it correctly. I learned that I can do it. I can write a novel from beginning to end. I am capable. Somehow, knowing that has made a difference in how I approach each writing project since. I learned that God is bigger than I thought, greater than I dreamed and more than I imagined. WHAT MADE YOU STRUGGLE? I have to be honest – I don't think I knew enough to understand that I was supposed to be struggling! I was blessed to be able to write this first book without any great difficulties. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm spoiled now and will expect every writing project to go as smoothly. Having said that, I now find that I struggle with balance in the stories that I write. I write fiction, and I want my stories to be enjoyable. How do I maintain the tone of the story (be it upbeat, humorous or dramatic), while allowing my characters to uncover and explore spiritual truths in a way that seems natural to the reader and does not detract from the overall tempo of the story? Balance, clarity, wisdom – I need them all! HOW WILL IT BLESS THE READER OR MAKE THE READER CHANGE? There are numerous reasons why people stay away from God – both believers and nonbelievers. I hope, as I continue to write, that I can explore some of these reasons. I want a reader to say, "That's exactly what I was thinking!" I want people who are struggling in their relationship with God to learn something that will help them overcome the impediments keeping them away from either starting a relationship with God or developing a closer one than they currently have. I am still finding my voice, learning how to do this, and discovering how to navigate the industry, but that's what I want from my writing. I want to write books that will help people understand the obstacles they see between themselves and the Almighty can be overcome and that life on the other side of those obstacles is so very worth it.