The She Reads team caught up to author Ariel Allison amidst her usual chaos: children, laundry, and a big black lab named Maggie, who we hear plays soccer – but that’s another story.
First things first, you had an unusual childhood. Can you tell us about it? And how it influenced you as a writer?
My childhood was spent atop the Rocky Mountains in a home with no electricity or running water (think Laura Ingles meets the Hippie Movement). We didn’t have television in our home until I was almost twelve so we had to find alternative forms of entertainment. For well over a decade my mother read to us by the light of a kerosene lantern. By the time I was five years old I knew every character in the Chronicles of Narnia by name. As far as I was concerned, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, L.M. Montgomery, and Charles Dickens were household names.
My mother loved books and she loved to read them to her children. I owe my passion for the written word to her alone. I first learned how powerful stories can be while curled up next to a pot belly stove during snowstorms. Even at a young age I understood that Aslan was a type of Jesus, and because I loved Aslan I later came to love Jesus. So I longed to write stories that had meaning and purpose. That desire never wavered through the years.
Tell us about your family.
Eight years ago I married the best-looking, blue-eyed, dimpled-Texan you’ve ever met. In that time we’ve managed to have four boys: London (6), Parker (4), Marshall (2), and Colby (8 months). I often wish that my kids were sedate but the truth is that they have two speeds: running and asleep. As such, I have learned to embrace life on fast forward. The energy level and noise level in our home is insane, and I am often drowning in mind-numbing amounts of camouflage. Friends have dubbed my house the “Testosterone Zone.”
Which reminds me, I need an estrogen fix. Girl trip, anyone?
What inspired you to write eye of the god?
In the Spring of 1995, I stumbled across an article in Life Magazine on the Hope Diamond. The two-page spread showed Michelle Pheiffer wearing the jewel and gave a brief history of the legendary curse. I knew instantly that it should to be a novel. Being the curious gal that I am, I dug around and was surprised to find that although most people were familiar with the curse, no one had done anything with the concept. So I began researching and writing. That was fourteen years ago this spring.
How do you develop your characters?
This may sound a little odd, but I always come up with the title and premise for my novels first. And then my characters spring out of that concept. For instance, I knew instantly that eye of the god was the title for this book and I knew that I wanted to explore the legendary curse. But who were these cursed people? Half of that answer came from history, but the other half was found in my imagination. What kind of person would become obsessed with a big blue rock? Why?
Do parts of your book come from real-life experiences? If so, please tell us about them.
The main character, Abby Mitchell, has a very broken relationship with her father. Unfortunately, that is something I know a great deal about. My dad died five years ago and I had to ask him on his deathbed if he loved me. So I was intrigued by the idea of a woman who would do anything to gain her father’s love Ã¢â‚¬ ” even if it meant betraying her own values.
In addition, my little sister is named Abby, and in many ways, the character in this book is a combination of the two us — both physically and emotionally. It was fun to cherry pick bits and pieces of my sister and I, stir them all together, and come up with this imaginary person.
With so much going on, when do you write?
Whenever I can: before my children wake up, while they nap, or after they go to bed. Once we had our fourth child it became increasingly difficult to keep a consistent writing schedule. So these days I give it to God in the morning and ask that He provide the moments I need. And he always does. I keep my laptop open on the island in my kitchen so it’s always there when I need to jot down a thought, a snipit of dialogue, or a quick scene. It has become part of the ebb and flow of my daily life instead of something I set apart at certain times. I’m sure things will change as the dynamics of my family shift.
Novels tend to give readers “time to escape.” Have you ever felt this escape while writing?
That is the moment every writer strives for Ã¢â‚¬ ” when thought and creativity blend seamlessly on the page and the story unfolds right before you. I had a number of those moments while writing this novel — when you know you’ve gotten it “right.” I can still read those passages today and get an electric feeling in my fingertips. They are the parts that practically wrote themselves, the parts that have gone unchanged through each draft and the editing process. One passage in particular is committed to memory because I know it was told exactly the way it should have been. I remember where I was when I wrote it (a green velvet chair at Starbucks), what I was drinking (white chocolate mocha), and how I got goose bumps as the words spilled onto my laptop. My prayer is that it translates to the reader and they feel that same sense of belonging to the story.
Do you write yourself into any of your characters? If so, does your family know who you are?
I think every writer does that whether consciously or not. There are bits and pieces of me in each character: hopes, dreams, struggles, sin, fear. As creative people, writers mimic God in the way he created. To a certain extent, I think we all make our characters “in our own image.”
I think my family would recognize pet phrases and mannerisms, but wouldn’t be able to point to a specific character.
Tell us about your hometown or where you grew up and how that place has impacted your writing.
Taos, New Mexico. Hippie capitol of the world (in my opinion at least). New Mexico is called “The Land of Enchantment” for a reason. And my hometown in particular attracts people who are drawn to the quirky, the artistic, the unusual. I think growing up in a place like that allowed me to see life a bit differently — to experience a certain amount of diversity that falls far from the beaten path. Artists. Native Americans. Woodstock Rejects. Environmentalists. And I think I’m better for it.
How much research did you do for your book to lend it credibility?
Oh my. I easily spent as much time researching as I did writing. Years. Because I tell four different stories in one novel, I basically had to do four times the research. On one had I had to understand security procedures at the Smithsonian Institute and on the other I had to delve into the intricacies of the French Revolution. Then I’d thumb through books on 17th century India and 1920’s Washington D.C. It was both exhausting and rewarding.
Readers love to identify with characters and want them to do the right thing. Do you feel a responsibility to give your readers what they want?
I feel the responsibility to tell the truth. Sometimes people don’t do the right thing. The truth is, sometimes I don’t do the right thing. Or my readers for that matter. I’ve yet to see a life where all the loose ends tie up neatly at the end. I want my stories to reflect real life: the hard choices and the heartbreak. But I do want to portray hope and redemption in the process. My job as a writer is to give my readers what they need, not what they want.
What is your all-time favorite movie?
The Princess Bride, hands down. I’ve read the book (shocking, I know Ã¢â‚¬ ” most people don’t even know there is a book) and I have the entire movie committed to memory … “Stop rhyming now, I mean it!” … “I do not think that word means what you think it means” … “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!”
My husband flat out refuses to watch it with me. I just can’t help reciting it line by line.
It’s a disease.
Do you have pets?
Last year I found a Black Lab puppy on my doorstep two hours after I’d told God, “If we’re supposed to have a dog You will drop one on my doorstep.” (I was six months pregnant and not in the best mood) We named her Maggie and she has managed to worm her way into our hearts while destroying most everything we own. She’s eighty pounds of hyper, slobbering, puppy love. And the only other girl in the house besides me.
What are you working on now?
At the moment there are fifteen novels in various stages of development tucked away on my hard drive. The two that I am concentrating on at the moment both involve mysteries: one from Shakespeare and one from 1930’s New York City. But you’ll have to wait for details.