Monday, November 23, 2009

Interview With Author Christa Allan

Today my guest is fellow author Christa Allan. Christa and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Lousiana. They are the parents of five adult children and grandparents of three. She’s published essays in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul, The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort, and Chicken Soup for the Divorced and Recovering Soul. Her debut novel, Walking On Broken Glass, will be released in February, 2010, by Abingdon Press. She is a truly talented writer, and I hope you enjoy getting to know her.

RM: Christa, what prompted you to move from writing short pieces and essays to women’s fiction?

CA: Lunacy? Actually I wedged the short pieces between the fiction. I needed a sense of completion. And then having them accepted for publication not only provided a bit of “mad” money, it motivated me to plow through the novel.

RM: How long did it take you to write Walking On Broken Glass?

CA: I’d been writing it in my head for quite a while, and when I discovered the words weren’t going to magically dive out of my brain and onto paper, I started writing, never really believing I’d ever finish. Over half was finished before Hurricane Katrina. In fact, as we were packing to leave after the hurricane (read the story here) I put the manuscript into large Zip-Loc bags to take it with us. It stayed in those bags for two years. My husband had lost his job because of the hurricane, so even though our home had little damage, we moved to another city three hours away. I taught in a new school, we lived in a small rent house and kept our furniture in storage. We were both so disoriented, I didn’t even attempt to write again until a few months before we ended up moving back. And instead of working on WOBG, I started a YA novel. After we resettled, (ironically right back into our home which hadn’t sold!), I reacquainted myself with WOBG and finished it in a matter of weeks.

RM: Do you think your background as a high school English teacher helped you, or did it stifle your creativity? Did you find yourself thinking about “rules” as you wrote?

CA: When I started Walking On Broken Glass, I entered the first three chapters in a number of writing contests. Several times I’d receive score sheets slamming me on grammar, and I’d discover some “corrections” were incorrections! Clearly, I’m not above making errors, and I don’t wear a Grammar Queen tiara (at least not in public). I do hesitate to own my English teacherness for fear I’ll totally humiliate myself by falling into a comma. I’m not sure my background stifled my creativity as much as frustrated me because I thought I’d never measure up to novelists I’d read.

I don’t think about rules when I write…ask my editor!

RM: Tell us the story of how you got “the call.”

CA: The same day Rachelle Gardner received my sample chapters and proposal, she emailed me asking for the full. After I picked myself up off the floor, I sent it and then tied myself in an emotional knot. 
A few weeks later, she sent another email asking when she could call (that instant would’ve been great!). I opened that email and my third hour class walked in wondering how I could be in tears when they’d not yet sat in their desks! Kidding, of course, they were so excited with and for me. The week between that email and Rachelle’s call didn’t seem to pass as quickly as I’d hoped! When you and 145 other people (a day later, all my students knew about the call) are waiting. Finally, at 3:00 on January 30,, 2008, Rachelle and I spoke, and the celebration began a few minutes later!

RM: And did you achieve instant success?

CA: The celebration didn't last long. In April, Rachelle started shopping the novel. Visions of auctions danced in my head, and I was sure that at least one publisher out of that long list she’d sent my novel to would leap at the opportunity.

RM: Did they?

CA: Not so much. In May, Rachelle called to tell me that the response from editors was the novel was “too issue-driven.” And my being a first-time novelist didn’t help either. She said she’d continue to look for a home for it, but I may want to start considering some ideas for another book.

So, I spent my summer working on proposals for my editor appointments at the September ACFW Conference. As much as I loved WOBG, I understood that the subject matter being outside of the usual boundaries of Christian fiction and my being a new writer were risks for publishers. And Rachelle believed in the novel, and I believed in her, so I prayed that God would teach me to “let go.”

Then, at ICRS in July, Rachelle met Barbara Scott, the editor of Abingdon Press, a Methodist publishing house launching fiction for the first time. She pitched my novel, Barbara asked to see it, but it took two weeks to get it to her because Barbara’s email kept spamming it! A few weeks later, Barbara said she was interested in it, and after a few more weeks of my being on nins and peedles (as my children used to say), Rachelle called at 11:43 am on October 30 to tell me that Abingdon bought my novel. This time, my fifth period class got to watch me cry.

RM: Some people don’t realize that once you get a contract for your novel, the work has just begun. Can you give us an idea of all the things you’ve had to do before the launch of Walking On Broken Glass?

CA: With every hurdle I jump between contract and launch, I repeat, “This is a great problem to have. This is a great problem to have.” Even this close to release, I’m still stunned that a book I wrote is really going to be published. When Barabra sent me the edits, I cringed because it’d been a while since I’d spent time with WOBG, and I was appalled by my “was” and “-ing” abuse! So, after the editing, in no particular order, these are some of the things I’ve done/I’m doing?I’ve yet to do!

- revamped my blog into a website

- had professional headshots taken (trust me on this …a great photographer with amazing photoshopping skills is worth it! With as many headshots as I’ve had to send out, it’s nice to not have to send an apology note with each one!)

-wrote back cover copy

-contacting bookstores to set up signings

- working out blog tours

-schmoozing online and in person as much as possible

- praying and praying and praying

RM: Your subject matter is one that has to be handled delicately. How did you decide to write about alcoholism?

CA: My tagline is “stories of unscripted grace” and that grew from my realization that our lives don’t always follow the scripts we’ve expected and, as a result, we sometimes find ourselves frustrated, lonely, confused, angry. We think God’s abandoned us, when-ironically-we may be following God’s script for our lives, and His grace will sustain us. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and by God’s grace, have not had a drink for over twenty years. I invited God back into my life because of AA, not in spite of it.

As I grew in my faith and in my recovery, I realized that so many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist. So, what’s someone to do who’s immersed in these challenges? I wanted to reassure women struggling with addiction that they’re not alone, that there’s a loving and compassion God who cares about them and His grace will be sufficient for them. I wanted to remove the fa├žade that often hinders real recovery. “Good” Christian families aren’t immune to the world, but once we admit we have a problem, we can be healed by God.

RM: Other than “Geaux Tigers” (and I forgive you for being such a vocal LSU fan), any final words for my readers?

CA: Besides buying a dozen copies of my novel? (Oh, and of course, yours!). I deeply appreciate your being here, and thanks to Richard for inviting me. You can follow my writing journey and sign up for my upcoming newsletter at my website, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Christa, thanks for stopping by. With your permission, I’m going to share a bit of the prologue to Walking On Broken Glass with my readers. If they haven’t already pre-ordered their copy, this should encourage them to do so now.

If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my words.

If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched or unseemly, can not be returned for replacement, I would have been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.

If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the moment out of time- if I had known, if I had known- I would have been more careful with my life.


Jody Hedlund said...

Wonderful interview! I'm so glad I could get to know more about your writing journey, Christa! Blessings to you in the weeks ahead! I can only imagine how busy you are!

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Christa, thanks for letting us inside your life as a writer! The prologue of your novel is very moving all by itself. I can't wait to see the whole thing.
Geaux Tigers, even after this week! :-)

Myra Johnson said...

What a lovely interview! Christa, it was such a joy meeting you at the ACFW conference in Denver. I look forward to reading your book!

Carol J. Garvin said...

The prologue alone would entice me to read WOBG but I've also appreciated this glimpse into the author's life and writing process. Thanks for a good interview.

christa said...

Thanks to all who stopped by Richard's to read the interview! I appreciate your kind words. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

First I'm laughing at the witty interview and next thing I know I'm crying because I've read the prologue and inserting all of those emotions into my own memories.
I definitely need that second cup of coffee.
Looking forward to reading more from Christa Allan.

Jennifer AlLee said...

Thanks for hosting this fun interview, Richard.

Christa, I love the opening of your book. Can't wait to read it!