One of the things I’ve found encouraging about reading authors’ blogs is following their journey from first draft to published book. It’s been fun to hear authors like Bonnie Grove and CJ Darlington talk about the novels they’re working on, to share their excitement when they get a book deal, and then to be able to read the novel when it finally hits the stores. Carla Stewart is another of my favourite bloggers who recently landed a book deal.
So I asked Carla to drop in for a chat about writing and her novel, Chasing Lilacs.
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TKM: What was your first thought when you found out Chasing Lilacs had been accepted by a publisher?
Carla Stewart: Shock. Relief that finally someone was interested. This was immediately followed by panic as the editor also wanted to know what else I had. My agent interpreted that as meaning they were interested in a multi-book deal. To make a long story short, the YA novel I had completed was rejected, but the question came back, “What else?”
I had a germ of an idea, but had not plotted the story. My agent brainstormed it with me (thank you, Sandra!), and in four days I wrote a synopsis and three chapters. The next week I was offered a two-book contract from FaithWords.
THEN I allowed myself to be excited, but it still felt a little surreal, and being the worrier that I am, I held my breath until the contract came and I saw it in writing.
TKM: What do you answer when people ask, “What do you write?”
Carla: My most common answer is “Inspirational Fiction.” Then if they ask more questions, I tell them I like to explore tough subjects in novels with a nostalgic flavor.
TKM: You’ve mentioned you were a nurse. Is there a nurse in any of your writing?
Carla: I’ve had a couple of stories based on my experience as a nurse published in anthologies, but so far I’ve not featured a nurse in my fiction. That said, I’m comfortable dealing with medical diagnoses and hospital routines because it’s familiar territory.
In Chasing Lilacs, I have a mom with poorly treated postpartum depression, a burn victim, and an elderly man who has a heart attack. My next novel also features some medical issues. I’m toying with having a major character be a female pediatrician or med student in a future novel. Some authors have their characters dodging bullets. I just make mine suffer with physical and/or psychological ailments. 🙂
TKM: What was the little nugget of an idea that got you started writing Chasing Lilacs?
Carla Stewart: It was actually two nuggets that merged. As a child of the 50s and 60s, I have always been curious about those forbidden subjects people whispered about but were too polite to discuss, especially “nerve” problems and shock treatments. What would it have been like if a young girl’s mom had these problems? At the same time, I always wanted to write a story set in a tight knit petroleum camp like the one where I grew up.
In 2004, I took a solo venture to the camp (which is now a ghost town). A few miles away, I saw the smokestacks on the horizon. My breaths quickened. A lump appeared in my throat. As I approached and later rambled over the vacant ground where my childhood home once stood, wonderful memories washed over me. I knew I’d found not only the setting for my story, but also the theme of the book—the power of community that shapes our lives.
TKM: What advice would you give to writers trying to get their first novel published?
Carla: Be realistic. It takes much longer than you think, but while you’re waiting, you there are basic things to consider so that when you do get a contract, you’re not overwhelmed.
- Continue learning the craft. Writing groups. Conferences. Books on writing. And simply keep writing.
- Don’t be afraid of being unique and developing your voice. That is often what catches an agent or editor’s interest.
- Put up a website and/or a blog. A well-done site (professional if you can possibly afford it) says to the world you are a serious writer with something to offer.
- Network: not only at conferences, but also on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
- Reach out: People remember others who appreciated them or made them feel good. Send thank-you notes or drop emails to those who’ve taken time to hear your pitches (agents and editors in particular) or those who’ve made you laugh or shared a gem of wisdom with you. By giving to others you pave the way to lasting relationships. (And you, TKM, are wonderful at doing that here! Your hand of friendship is a tremendous blessing to me.)
- Commit yourself and your career to God and His timing. He wants the very best for you.
TKM: How did you become a writer?
Carla: Some of my earliest memories are of writing. A neighborhood newspaper in grade school. A steamy romance when I was about twelve, although I don’t know how steamy it really was because I sent my only copy to a Hollywood movie producer and never heard back. Go figure. I think it was because I forgot the SASE. (smile)
By junior high, I loved writing themes and term papers, but I also fell in love with science and didn’t faint at the sight of blood, so I chose to become a nurse. Even there, my writing skills came in handy.
The desire to be a writer always bubbled beneath the surface, and I made a few attempts on our first computer (a dinosaur now), but didn’t seriously devote myself to writing until 2001. I wrote a novel and received a request from an editor at a major Christian house. Alas, he rejected it, and with good cause.
However, he gave me my first words of encouragement—you have an engaging voice. Talk about affirmation. About that same time, I also heard a magazine editor speak at a writer’s group, and she solicited submissions. I whipped out a story, sent it to her, and it was printed in a glossy, regional magazine with pictures and my name. Oh, the joy! The story was about my dad and is still one of my favorite published articles.
Even though I was doing writerly things, I hesitated to call myself a writer at first. Then in 2002, I entered and won the Guideposts Writers Workshop contest. Only fifteen people are invited to attend this every other year workshop. After the inspiring and wonderful experience there and having two articles published by Guideposts, I felt comfortable saying, “Yes, I’m a writer.” Now I can’t imagine being anything else. Except a wife, mom, Mimi, etc.
TKM: What inspires you to write?
Carla Stewart: Music is a huge inspiration for me, although I can’t listen to music and write. Instead, I crank up the volume in the car and pull out my favorite CDs. Oldies. Soft jazz. Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. The ideas overwhelm me.
Reading great books challenges me to write stories that will resonate with people. God planted the desire to write in my heart, so I have no option but to put my best foot forward.
When all else fails, I say a quick prayer and just start typing. The words always come. I’m not saying they’re great, but my creativity is jump started.
TKM: What author do you most admire and why?
Carla: There’s no easy answer for me here. I have a ton of favorite authors, but my current favorite is Susan Meissner. I’ve met her a couple of times, and she is lovely, gracious, and willing to talk to wannabes like me. Her novels are breathtaking, and you just know her writing comes from a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus.
TKM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Carla: I am so honored to be here. I can’t wait for people to read my debut novel (just saying it still gives me a thrill). Chasing Lilacs is available on Amazon. There’s even a Kindle version for those who like e-books. And I’d love for your readers to check out my website or follow me on Twitter. Blessings!
More about Carla Stewart
Carla Stewart is the author of six novels, including Chasing Lilacs and The Hatmaker’s Heart. She always wanted to write a book, but didn’t start until her 50th birthday hit. Now, she has more story ideas than she could write in a lifetime. She and her husband have been married for over 40 years. (She still remembers their first kiss like it was yesterday.) They have four grown sons and seven grandchildren.
I believe in Jesus, doing the right thing, the power of the written word, and a good cup of coffee. I’m a country girl living now in a mid-sized city with my engineering husband. ~ Carla Stewart
If you like cooking and baking, check out Carla Stewart’s family favourite recipes. She has recipes for salsa and guacamole, turkish delight and rice pudding, jambalaya and potatoe soup, and more. I was actually making her bierox recipe when I went into labour with Lily, but it’s not on her website anymore.
Chasing Lilacs is a coming of age story set in Texas. In 1958, Elvis is on the radio and summer is in the air. Life should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie who has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.
As her life careens out of control, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears. Her best friend with an opinion about everything? The mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him? Or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on? Then, there’s the elderly widower who seems nice, but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie’s ever done.
Have you read any of Carla Stewart’s books? Which is your favourite?