Archive | Author Interviews

Jennie Shortridge, In Her Own Words

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Jennie Shortridge | @JennieShortridg

Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge

If I could tell my 12-year-old self that it all worked out just fine, that the books I read voraciously and the stories and poems I wrote with such a broken heart would lead to a later-life career of actually having my own novels published? Well, I don’t know if I would, even though it would have eased my young anxious mind. Over the decades I’ve learned that it’s the journey through that is most important, even though the outcome can be so sweet.

My journey, like most journeys, includes hardship (a mom with mental illness, an adult life that began at 17, and tons of early writing rejection) and indelible moments of joy, success, and love. All of it contributes to the stories I write about people who face difficult things and find a way through, not around. Such is the case with my latest novel, Love Water Memory, in which Lucie awakens, knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay, having no knowledge of who she is or where she is, or how she got there. Inspired by true events, this story examines how and why we become who we are, how we identify with the world, who we choose to love, sometimes again and again.

Love Water MemoryThe true events in Love Water Memory started with the story of Jeff and Penny Ingram, who dealt with Jeff’s amnesia in their own relationship. Their story and their love for each other are inspirational. As I was writing my fictional story, I wrote a very difficult scene, one that would take me a couple of weeks to realize came from my own life. Writing it helped me talk about my own issues with anxiety disorder more publicly, and to advocate for destigmatizing mental illness in order to make much-needed advancements in how we treat it, talk about it, and accept it as part of life just as we do physical illness. To read more about my story, read this Psychology Today piece.

What I’m most thankful for as a writer is readers, who, like me, pick up a book ready for adventure and perhaps a different perspective on something we all ponder, whether it’s identity or family or relationships. I love those “aha” moments when reading a novel, when the characters do or feel something achingly true, yet I’d never put my finger on it before. That’s why I love, have always loved, fiction so much: it tells the emotional truth even while spinning a not-quite-true story. And that I get to write it now? Well, my inner 12-year-old is very happy about that.

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Jennie Shortridge has written five acclaimed novels, including Love Water Memory and When She Flew. When she is not writing or volunteering, she stays busy as a co-founder of Seattle7Writers.org, a nonprofit collective of authors whose mission is to promote literacy in their community.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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Author Profile: Diane Chamberlain

When we think of the phrase “career author,” one of the names that immediately comes to mind is internationally bestselling author, Diane Chamberlain. With 22 novels published in more than a dozen languages, she has clearly made a name for herself in the world of publishing. And with her latest novel, NECESSARY LIES, out this month we thought this was a perfect time to sit down with her and learn more about her impressive career.

We’ve got a copy of NECESSARY LIES up for grabs today. Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.

Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain

Update: we’re thrilled to announce that the winner of this book is Lana. Thanks to all who entered! And don’t forget to check back soon. We have lots of great giveaways lined up for the rest of this year.

She Reads: The South is such a colorful, romantic place, filled with history and secrets. How has living here informed your fiction?  

Diane: I’ve lived for long periods of time in New Jersey, San Diego and Northern Virginia, and every one of those regions has its unique personality, but you’re right about the colorful nature of the South. I now live in North Carolina. I love adding a bit of a Gothic touch to my stories, and the North Carolina setting–with its intriguing history,  lighthouse-dotted coastline,  fields of tobacco stretching to infinity, and trees hung with Spanish moss–makes that easy. I’ve enjoyed exploring the South in my novels.

She Reads:You’ve been honest about your health struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. How has this made you a better and/or different writer?  

Diane: Having RA definitely makes life more difficult. I lose at least a day every six weeks when I receive an infusion drug, and I need a very unattractive brace to be able to walk, but I’m so grateful for the drugs and the brace. When I first got sick, I had neither, and everything was much more challenging and painful for me. But I believe that having RA has made me a better person in general. I see people on a deeper level than I used to, aware that so many of us are grappling with something in our lives, whether that something is physical or emotional. I try to pick one day each month as an “Other People’s Skin” day, during which I imagine myself inside every person that I see. For that day, at least, I’m changed. I take that same sensibility to my characters. The deeper I get to know them, the deeper my readers will know them. And that’s a good thing.

She Reads: You have amassed an impressive body of work since that first book started while waiting in the doctors office. How do you stay disciplined to write… And keep writing?  

Diane: I’m not very disciplined. I’m a procrastinator who loves getting to know my readers via social media, so I’m constantly having to bring my attention back to my work. As I really get rolling on a book, however, it’s easier for me to stay focused. At that point, my characters feel nearly as real as my friends and family, and I want to know what happens to them. That’s what keeps me writing. I love when I hit that point in a book.

She Reads: After twenty-two novels, does the process ever get easier? Or does it feel like you’re starting from scratch every time?

Diane: It hasn’t gotten any easier. Few of my books are connected, so for each one I need a fresh idea, a new setting, new characters, and a new dilemma to throw them into, and I must do all of that on a tight deadline. I never want my readers to feel as though I’m “phoning in” a book. I want each novel to be at least as engrossing as the one before it. It’s a huge challenge, but I would rather write a book than anything else I can think of. I absolutely can’t imagine not having a story in the works!

Diane on Facebook | Twitter: @D_Chamberlain

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Necessary LiesBestselling author Diane Chamberlain delivers a breakout book about a small southern town fifty years ago, and the darkest—and most hopeful—places in the human heart

After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart  is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on a small tobacco farm.   As she struggles with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give.

When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much her help is needed.   She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her clients’ lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband.   But as Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm—secrets much darker than she would have guessed.   Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing the battle against everything she believes is wrong.

Set in rural Grace County, North Carolina in a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension,  Necessary Lies  tells the story of these two young women, seemingly worlds apart, but both haunted by tragedy.   Jane and Ivy are thrown together and must ask themselves: how can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it’s wrong?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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Liane Moriarty, Interviewed

It’s no secret that we’re quite fond of this month’s featured author, Liane Moriarty. And having read all of her books, Marybeth and I had a few burning questions for. So grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and listen in as we discuss with the Australian-born author issues of family, intrigue, obsession, and secrets. And don’t forget, if you haven’t entered to win our giveaway of three Liane Moriarty novels, there’s still time.

Moriarty Interview

Marybeth: Liane, you’re a mom and wife  as is Alice in your novel WHAT  ALICE FORGOT. The premise of ALICE really resonated with me as a wife and mother. How much of your own thoughts about the way life turns out vs. the way you envision it  fed into the book?

Liane: When I was writing What Alice Forgot, I was actually pregnant with my first child, so I didn’t have any experience at all as a mother to draw on. The book and the baby and house renovations were all due at the same time, but then he turned up five weeks early, so all my plans fell apart!   I guess I probably related more to the Alice of nearly thirty, than the Alice of nearly forty (even though I was forty myself).   I’d had a long difficult journey to become pregnant, so I’m sure I put more of my own thoughts and feelings into the character of Elisabeth, Alice’s sister, than I did to Alice herself. Alice was entirely fictional, although perhaps inspired by conversations with friends who were in similar situations (ie. married with older children, I didn’t actually know anyone who lost their memory after a fall in a spin class!)

Marybeth: You have such intriguing premises for your novels. Do you remember the moment when you knew the idea for THE HUSBAND’S SECRET was worthy of pursuing in novel form?

Liane: It was probably when people asked me about my idea for the next novel and I told them that I was writing about a woman who finds a letter from her husband to be opened in the event of his death. They immediately looked intrigued and wanted to know what the letter revealed. Then I knew for sure that the novel was going to work when I started enjoying the writing and wondering what was going to happen each day when I sat down at the computer. It always feels so stilted and strange in the beginning so it’s such a relief when I begin to enjoy it.

Liane Moriarty Novels

Ariel: I read THE HYPNOTIST’S LOVE story last summer and it’s one of the rare novels that has stayed with me since. What struck me about that novel is the level of sympathy you create for Saskia, a woman who is, by most standards, emotionally unstable if not mentally ill. Did you feel compassion for her? How did you strike that balance between fear and understanding while creating her character?

Liane: I did feel compassion for her (and the awful thing is that I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt the same compassion if that character was a man). I actually found it quite scarily easy to put myself into her shoes and imagine how it would feel to behave that way. I should pause here to clarify that my compassion is not because I have personal experience as a stalker. I read some great books on the psychology of stalking, and learned that many stalkers have recently experienced a loss in their life, and that helped me create a backstory for Saskia. Once I had her backstory, and felt I knew her, I found it very easy to write entirely from her point of view and understand her twisted logic. So much so, that when I switched back to Ellen’s point of view, I had to forget my knowledge of Saskia’s motivations, and keep reminding myself that her victims would obviously find her behavior very distressing.

Ariel: I loved THE HUSBAND’S SECRET. And I’ll never forget the moment while reading chapter two where Tess’ husband tells her he’s leaving her for her cousin. I had such a visceral reaction to that scene. So much so that I had to go immediately to my sister’s (she’d stolen the book from me and read it first) and talk about it. I needed coffee and conversation to process what I’d just read. When did you know this story was not just about Cecilia but about Tess and Rachel as well?

Liane: Thank you so much Ariel, and it’s just wonderful to hear that you had such a visceral reaction to that scene. In answer to your question, I think I must have known from the beginning that it was about all three characters, but I honestly can’t remember! I’m very haphazard with my planning process. I just start with the premise and then see what happens. In this case, I know that I knew from day one the secret that the letter contained, but I can’t quite remember, for example, how Tess came to show up. It’s all a bit fuzzy, sorry, and now my mind is filled with a whole cast of characters for my new book!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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Young Adult Worth Reading

nicole o'dellToday’s post comes from Nicole O’Dell, author and She Reads YA reviewer.

“In this medieval fantasy debut, idealistic servant Achan Cham dreams of becoming a Kingsguard Knight, while Vrell Sparrow disguises herself as a boy to escape an arranged marriage. She has a supernatural gift of being able to communicate to Achan without words. This thoroughly entertaining and smart tale will appeal to fans of Donita K. Paul and J.R.R. Tolkien. Highly recommended for CF and fantasy collections.” –Library Journal–Library Journal, April 2009

I’ll start right off by admitting that I’m not a big fantasy reader. I can’t remember the last fantasy book I actually read. It’s not that I have anything against fantasy or spec fiction–in fact, I just may have to start adding it to my reading list now that I’ve been completely captivated by Jill Williamson’s debut novel, By Darkness Hid.by-darkness-hid-final

By Darkness Hid portrays a speculative world of danger as it lives out the age-old battle between good and evil with swords and the gift of bloodvoicing. (Intrigued, yet?) So many times, as I was reading, I forgot that Er’Rets wasn’t real. That’s the true mark of great fantasy, in my opinion.

I felt myself tense up at important scenes and wanted to shield my eyes at others–nope, not going to tell you what they were. Some of the danger and extreme situations would have been over-the-top and unbelievable if they weren’t crafted so well.

The underlying Christian message is that of God’s light prevailing in the darkness. That message is skillfully woven throughout the book without being overdone.

If you have a teen who enjoys this genre, or even one who doesn’t, this is a must read. I’d actually encourage readers of all ages to pick up all three books from the Blood of Kings trilogy as they’re available.

As a bonus, Jill answered some interview questions for us, letting us look a little deeper into her life.

Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?

JillHeadShotI grew up in Alaska with no electricity. My biggest dream was to get out of Alaska and experience “real life.” I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I eventually went to New York City for a year to finish that degree. We moved to Los Angeles next because my husband wanted to work in the movie industry and I could do fashion there. It didn’t take long for our hearts to change.

My husband went back to school to become a youth pastor. I stayed home with our kids and started writing articles and short stories. I got hooked on writing a young adult novel. So hooked that it drove me crazy and I had to put it aside and write another story, then another, and another†¦

We now live in Eastern Oregon where my husband is a youth pastor. Ministry is my life. Teens are a big part of that. God has allowed me to write and teach about writing and I’m thrilled about that. (Wedding dresses were a lot more work, believe it or not.)

Actually, I do believe that.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up and help my husband get the kids off to school. I try to have prayer/Bible study/worship time and a walk on the treadmill. My day is always better when I do all that first, but I’ve been known to skip parts of it too often. I try to write each morning, but again, I get distracted, usually by emails. I try to work on my writing until lunch, then after lunch, check emails and critique the work of others. The idea is to stop when the kids get home from school. Whether or not I do, depends on my deadlines.

Describe your surrounding while you write…

I sit in the back room of my house at a big desk covered in piles of paperwork. (My “to do” piles.) This room has a wall of windows on my right that overlooks the back yard, the John Day River, and the “mountains” beyond. It’s beautiful. (I put mountains in quotes because I’m from Alaska, and these John Day “mountains” are really more like hills in comparison. They are still beautiful.)

How did you choose your genre?

Could someone like me really write anything else? I love weird stuff. When I was nine, my parents rented a TV and a VCR and all three Star Wars movies. We didn’t have electricity, so Dad started up the generator and we watched them straight through. It was the most amazing day. I think it opened my imagination up to the speculative genre. And that same year, the first movie I saw in the theater was ET. I love to read all genres. I’ve even written some contemporary novels, but I just seem to gravitate toward the speculative stuff. When you love something, you’re drawn to it and you invest more in it. That’s true for me with my speculative stories.

With which character do you most identify?

With Vrell Sparrow. She is a girl who is pretending to be something she is not. What girl has never done that at some point in her life? Plus, Vrell has a controlling seed that comes from her own insecurities. I so have that problem too. God’s been working on me over the years and I’m learning to trust God and others, which is quite difficult and freeing. Arman is working on Vrell too. Vrell also tends to point out injustice, which is something I’m prone to do. She is also creative and extremely loyal.

6. Can you tell us about the other books in the series?

By Darkness Hid is the first book in the trilogy. It’s about how Achan and Vrell came to be in this mess, how they met each other, and how they discovered their bloodvoicing abilities.

And I’m working on book three right now. It’s called From Darkness Won and will probably be out April 2011. Sign up for my Facebook fan page or the E-zine on my website (look in the top right corner) to get updates on book three.

Where can we find you on the web and where can we buy your books?

I’m everywhere! My website is www.jillwilliamson.com. I’m also on Facebook, MySpace, Shoutlife, Shelfari, GoodReads, Twitter, Amazon†¦

On top of that, I run two blogs. The first is Novel Teen Book Reviews at www.novelteen.com. It’s a website that reviews clean teen fiction. This is a great resource to see what books are available in the Christian market for teens. The other blog is for teen authors, though adult authors may find some useful tips too. www.teenageauthor.com.

And if you are looking to buy one of my books, online go to Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or MarcherLordPress.com. You can also buy an autographed copy from me through my website. Many libraries have the first book and if they don’t they would likely order it if you ask. And you can request your local bookstore order my books too.

Thanks so much, Jill. I’ve loved hearing about your life and your writing area. For some reason, I’m fascinated by where authors write.

I hope you’ll all take a look at this fantastic book trailer. If this doesn’t make you want to read this trilogy†¦

Jill has graciously offered a winner the choice of a signed copy of either By Darkness Hid, book number one, or To Darkness Fled, book number two in the trilogy. As always, just leave a comment on this post and the winner will be selected at random on Friday.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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Ariel Allison Spills The Beans

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 †” 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 †” 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 †” 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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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Susan Meissner, Interviewed

Hi Susan, thanks for joining us to talk about our She Reads pick: Shape of Mercy. We are honored to have you join us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?

I am a pastor’s wife, mom to four wonderful young adults — a daughter and three sons ages 24 to 16 — and I work part-time at my church as director of small groups and connection ministries. I love the ocean and the mountains — am rather schizophrenic about my admiration and devotion to both so I’m glad I am a native Southern Californian where one is a few miles one way and the other a few miles the other way. I love books, bookstores, coffee shops inside bookstores and the smell of bookstores. My husband and I recently returned to Southern California after living away for 21 years, most recently in Minnesota, but also in Arkansas, England, and Germany. It’s good to be back home. In addition to being a pastor, my husband Bob is a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves.

How did you get started writing?

I would have to say that God, the wildly creative Author of our souls, has taught me more about the art and power of story than anyone. He placed within my life wonderful teachers in both elementary and high school who saw promise in me and made a point to encourage me, even though I didn’t do any serious writing until my mid-thirties. I’ve learned more about the human condition and what we long for from being in relationships and observing relationships, rather than a particular course of study, though I highly recommend studying the art of writing. God knows everything, sees everything, understands everything. And this is what all novelists attempt. We try to make sense of the world we see through story. My primary tutor for this has always been God. I learned the art of disciplined writing from working for ten years in community journalism. Those ten years as a reporter and then editor taught me so much about making every word count.

You have been writing Christian fiction for awhile. How many books did you write before you wrote The Shape Of Mercy?

The Shape of Mercy is my tenth novel. All but three are contemporary stand-alones. I wrote a mystery series a couple years back for Harvest House, which was very enjoyable to create, but stand-alones are my wheelhouse, I think.

How have you seen the Christian fiction industry change since you began writing?

In the last five years we have seen Christian fiction expand into nearly every genre, and at last garner the respect of secular reviewers. That, to me, is incredibly good news. We have extremely talented Christian-world-view writers producing everything from suspense thrillers to speculative to literary fiction. This isn’t just great news for Christian novelists, but also for readers looking for great stories without R-rated themes and dialogue. Those great stories can now be found in every genre. It’s fantastic news, really.

What prompted you to write The Shape Of Mercy?

I read a newspaper article a couple years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This ancestor of hers was accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. This article was of particular interest to me because I had played the role of an innocent girl accused of witchcraft when I was in junior high school. I was reminded of how it felt, even just as an actress, to be accused of being something I was not – and the far worse feeling of accusing someone I knew was innocent. These people who died in 1692 Salem were all innocent. They all died refusing to confess they were in league with the devil. They held onto truth to the point of death. That, to me, is incredibly inspiring. The three women in my story have three very basic things in common. They are all daughters of influential men, all raised as an only child, and each one must decide who they are. Are they women who stand for the truth even if they stand alone or do they let fear propel them to do what the crowd says to do, even if the crowd is wrong?

Did you have a purpose for the book– something you wanted the readers to take away from the experience of reading it?

When I begin to write a book, I usually have a takeaway in mind for my reader beyond just entertainment. I wouldn’t say my books are message-driven, but I think it’s worth noting that every book †” not just Christian books †” has a message of some kind within its pages. Even Green Eggs & Ham has a message within it. The Salem Witch Trials reveal rather poignantly how rushed judgments and fear can bring out the worst in us. Everyone who was executed in Salem in 1692 was later exonerated. Hysteria, not reason, ruled the day for those long months when innocent people were accused of horrible acts. It didn’t matter how long or how loud the accused proclaimed their innocence. In Salem, you were whatever the crowd said you were. I could have chosen Dachau as the setting. Or Rwanda. Salem wasn’t the first setting people died because the crowd accused them of deserving death and no one stood up to say, “Now hold on there.” I guess I’d like every reader, after they’ve turned the last page, to consider how quick they are to embrace snap judgments, even so-called harmless ones, based on groupthink.

In The Shape of Mercy, Lauren encounters a diary written during the Salem Witch Trials. How much research on this time period did you have to do to create Mercy’s diary?

I wrote the diary first; before I wrote anything else. I read several different kinds of books on the Salem Witch Trials – all listed in the back of the book †” to prepare myself mentally to step into 1692. I interview my characters before I write, so I already had several imaginary conversations with Mercy Hayworth before I began to write the diary. I knew how she was wired, what she excelled at, what she feared, what she was willing to do for the people she loved. I didn’t come across any other diary in my research other than a fictional one written for school-age kids. But the testimonies of the accused can all be found on the Internet. I found particular inspiration from Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, hung as witches and later exonerated — both of whom were brave believers who refused to confess to an allegiance with the devil.

You recently won an award for The Shape Of Mercy. Can you share about that experience?

The Shape of Mercy was named the 2009 Christian Book of the Year for Fiction by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Hearing my name at the awards ceremony in Dallas was surreal. I was among a talented group of finalists and was floored to be announced the winner. It was incredibly affirming to me to have this book recognized in this way. I struggle from time to time with confidence. It’s nice to have a significant pat on the back once in awhile to let me know I am putting out something of value.

What are you working on now?

Next month “White Picket Fences” will release, which is a story about a family that seems to have the perfect iconic life. Perfect house, perfect jobs, perfect neighborhood, perfect everything. But they live on the same fallen planet as the rest of us and suffer the same flaws. To pretend all is well when all is not is to doom yourself to a life of pretense and disappointment. We need to be honest about who we are and Who we must run to for help, healing and hope. I included as a historical thread the amazing heroes of WWII’s Warsaw Ghetto, who risked everything to smuggle children away from certain death.

What is something you are excited about in your writing future?

I just finished a manuscript for WaterBrook called “Lady in Waiting,” which dovetails the historical account of Lady Jane Grey (she was queen of England for nine days, at the age of sixteen) with a woman in present-day Manhattan at a major crossroads in her life. That book releases in the fall of 2010. I learned so much about what it means to choose to love in the writing of this one. I am anxious to share those thoughts with my readers.

Thanks so much for sharing with us and we hope to hear lots more from you in the future!

My pleasure! For those who enjoyed The Shape of Mercy and want to continue spending time with these characters, I have a character blog where Lauren, Clarissa, Abigail, Esperanza and even Mercy write the posts. It’s been active for over a year, so you will need to head to the archives to pick up where the story leaves off. Here’s the address:

http://theshapeofmercy.blogspot.com

You can purchase The Shape of Mercy here!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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