Please welcome to my blog author Paula Vince. A fellow Aussie and amazing woman. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her and I think you will find her answers as insightful as they are inspiring. And perhaps a bit of a glimpse into what the 'Christian Fiction' market is like in Australia and some of the battles many authors from Down Under face.
What can readers look forward to in your novel, “The Risky Way Home?” I hope they can look forward to plenty of riveting drama that’s balanced by good doses of humour. The characters are easy to either love or hate, depending who they are. My own local area, the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, is the perfect setting for an intriguing story. It’s a place of contrast itself, with boiling hot summers, icy cold winters and glorious autumns and springs. I like to draw upon all the different types of weather and stunning scenery for my stories. I’m convinced that a good novel needs both light and shade. If you have too much character development and not enough action, or vice versa, readers sense that the story is flat and something vital is missing. I like to try to get all these elements equally balanced, like a very tasty blend of coffee.
Your book has an intriguing title that automatically makes me want to know more. How did you come up with the name for your book? Its original title was actually “Afraid to Love.” But Wendy, my editor for that book, advised me that I’d be wiser to choose a title that might reflect some of the suspense as well as the romance. So I started thinking about my theme and plot. In my main story, Casey, the heroine, is trying to find her niche in life; a place to fit in. And there is also a crucial story-within-the-story. It delves back into the past of the Bowman family, who are crucial main characters, showing how they were forced to flee to Australia from Europe in far more desperate circumstances. And in the end both stories blend into one as past and present dangers merge into each other for everyone. Casey’s journey mirrors theirs in a way. Her quest turns out to be essentially the same as the Bowman family’s. Finding a perfect home is tied up with values and choices of the heart as well as geography.
When I came up with that title among other possibilities, it struck a chord. Often when I hit on something good it sets off a little spark of confirmation in my heart. So I knew that would be the one.
Who has been the most influential person in your life as a writer? There are many people I could choose here but I’ve decided to give my husband, Andrew, a plug and say that it’s him. Just at the time we were married, I was feeling washed-out and fragile in my emotions, after finishing my English degree and deciding to drop out of a Post Graduate Diploma. At that stage I was almost ready to drop my life-long ambition of writing novels. I never felt that I’d ever come up to scratch after several hopeful starts. I was trying to think of ways I could channel my writing skills into non-fiction instead. That would have been settling for something far different from my original vision, but at the time I thought that was just being sensible. But Andrew convinced me to keep giving a fiction a go and told me, “I think you’d write a good novel.”
A few years down the track, he helped me set up our little publishing business, Apple Leaf Books, when it seemed there were no other outlets. And he’s always willing to read my early manuscripts and give me suggestions from the point of view of the typical reader, risking my arguments and frustration. Then he’s helped me to sell books too. A friend of ours once told me, “You’re very lucky to have Andrew behind you in all this,” and I know she was right.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for the themes and story line in “The Risky Way Home?” Mostly from going about my day and letting my mind wander. As a Primary School student, I used to get in trouble for daydreaming, but it’s my natural inclination so I’m putting it to good use. Sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and pen has never worked but it took me years to work that out. Doing that just scares any ideas away. Maybe that’s why some of the writing courses I’ve done in the past haven’t worked either, for the same reason. I pray, then put it all out of my mind and trust that God will nudge my mind somehow.
I love listening to music to help me get ideas. Good pop, rock and easy-listening songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s are among my favourites. I find taking inspiration drives in the car with music flowing helps ideas to flow. I just drive and think about the characters and plot. Some of the things which have popped into my head in the past have been dreams, snippets from newspapers or history books, magazine articles and stories by other people. It all goes into a big melting pot.
How do you go about making character voice clear and distinct from your author voice? The characters are my favourite part of the story. They always come first. I think of them as friends rather than people I’ve cooked up to fit a story. I like the opportunity to try to think the way people who are different to me would think. I think it helps me develop tolerance and empathy and I hope that it would do the same for readers.
In fact I love getting into their heads so much that I often find myself planning lots of jokes and trivia for them to say that have nothing to do with the storyline and don’t make their way into it. But I don’t consider that these are wasted at all. Having them in my head makes the characters seem even more real to me, and I think this finds its way into the story, making them more well-rounded and lovable.
As for my author’s voice, I don’t think much about that. What I do think about is planning what I want for each of the characters, and trying to give them what I feel they deserve. There, I think the author’s voice is found automatically. The message can’t help showing through in the writing. The readers get to sense the author’s heart in the circumstances, observations and descriptions to be found within the text. We don’t need to strain ourselves trying to make our message clear. Our only job is to write a story that people will enjoy. Our message will surely be there.
Are your characters ever taken from real life people or are they composites of various people or are they completely fictional? The short answer, as far as I am concerned, is that they are fictional. They are people I would love (or hate) to meet. But I do ‘borrow’ certain jokes, one-liners and personality traits from people I know. So I suppose that in a way they are composites. That’s why I’m on the look-out for interesting people and regard virtually everyone as raw material to some extent.
Is there any aspect of the writing process that you find most difficult?
Perhaps one of the most difficult things has been learning to trim my own work down, prune off loads of non-essential ‘leafy matter’ and not spoon-feed the readers absolutely everything. Readers need to get some mental exercise out of novels by being able to figure some things out for themselves but writers don’t always take time to do the pruning that’s involved.
It’s human nature to want to move quickly from one thing to the next. I used to resist having to go over and over the same piece of work until I’d trimmed it as neat as it could be. This takes far longer, I’d feel as if I was making no progress and grew very impatient. I’ve finally learned to treat going over and over one section and chapter several times as necessary and even fun.
Was there a time when you doubted your work as a writer and perhaps even your skill? Yes, most definitely. This would be my battle with “Show, don’t tell.” I remember years ago when somebody who assessed a manuscript gave me this advice in certain places. I’d heard this catchy little phrase before but I was puzzled to figure out what it really meant. It seemed to me that showing was the same thing as telling when it came to writing. Then I found out what this saying means. We need to write in a manner that allows readers to experience the story through a character’s actions, words, thoughts, senses and feelings rather than through our own flat statements and summaries. But I tried to correct it by going too far the other direction.
I went through a painful phase of trying to always ‘show’ and never ‘tell.’ I’ve learned the hard way that we need to strike a fine balance. In many cases, ‘telling’ often makes more sense than ‘showing.’ Some scenes are transitions whose purpose is to connect more important parts of the story together. It’s fine to do a bit of ‘telling’ here, to move quickly to the meatier parts of the story. When we try to constantly ‘show’, the parts of the story that are supposed to stand out don’t and readers get exhausted by all the wordy drama. (What’s more, a novel that has only ‘showing’ would be incredibly long).
I’ve learned through experience that the writer’s job is to figure out when it’s best to ‘show’ and when it’s best to ‘tell.’ I think I’ve got it now, but every now and then I still like to take a mental break from my own work and flick through other works of fiction just to get a fresh view of how other writers do this.
Can you describe your path to publishing? I originally tested the waters by printing 200 copies of my first novel. We sold them fairly quickly and received a positive response from readers. I was anxious to try to have it published by a traditional publisher. After several phone calls, I found out there were no publishers of Christian fiction in Australia. This was back in the mid 90s. A gentleman from “Open Book” was quick to tell me that they’d just stopped accepting fiction because there appeared to be no market for it. He said, “You’d be best to put it your chest of drawers.”
I found that not only depressing but hard to swallow. There had to be some market for Christian fiction in Australia or we wouldn’t keep importing reams of foreign fiction!
Next I came across another Adelaide based author who was already selling her Christian fiction successfully. This was Meredith Resce. I found out that she’d set up her own publishing company, Golden Grain. It sounded like a fantastic idea to me. After reading her “Green Valley” series, I summoned my courage to give her a phone call. She seemed to think she’d already heard of me, then remembered that she’d been lent one of my early printed books by the friend of a friend. Better still, she really enjoyed it! This was the first of many strikes of serendipity along my publishing path.
Meredith gave us lots of help in publishing my next novel, “Picking up the Pieces,” with Golden Grain. Having learned the ropes from her and nudged our way into the market, we set up our own publishing company, Apple Leaf Books. I published my fantasy-adventure trilogy, “Quenarden”, as well as “The Risky Way Home.”
You have another book, “A Design of Gold” coming out in early October with a new publishing house called “Even Before Publishing” Could you tell us a little about that book and your journey with the new publishing house? “Even Before Publishing” is a new subsidiary outlet of Wombat Books, which is run by Rochelle Manners in Brisbane. She has a passion to promote Christian writing by Australians in our own country. In March this year, she decided to open her traditional publishing house and her first 5 titles are soon to be released. This is another story of serendipity and chance. Rochelle and I were members of the same email prayer group when she wrote a group email outlining her stunning plans. All that time I’d been wondering how I could possibly publish “A Design of Gold” on the heels of “The Risky Way Home” when our Apple Leaf Books resources were depleted. It was very important to me to do so, because “A Design of Gold” is a sort of sequel to “Risky Way Home.”
When I read Rochelle’s email, I was quick to reply with an enquiry that very same night. Since then she’s had an abundance of queries and manuscripts arrive but I was one of the first through the door. Being in the right place at the right time is very exciting.
“A Design of Gold” is almost hot off the press. It is a contemporary drama set in the Adelaide Hills, like “The Risky Way Home.” The main characters of RWH are now fifteen years older and younger ones have grown up to take their places as main characters. This was a very rewarding book to write and my themes are random acts of kindness, God’s guidance and accepting yourself as He made you. Of course there is always my trademark thread of romance, with a twist of suspense and danger.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer? I love it when people discuss my plots and characters with me as if we are talking about mutual friends. It’s fantastic when others also love who I’ve invented. Sometimes people tell me, “My whole mindset was challenged by your story.” I don’t think a writer can ask for more than that.
I love giving people fun and making them happy. It’s just as if something I’ve created to please myself has taken root and borne fruit in the minds of others too. My aim is always to provide entertainment that also inspires and I’m so grateful whenever I hear that I’ve achieved this in somebody’s life.
As a Christian writer, are there issues or topics that you feel compelled to deal with in your books or perhaps to stay away from? My main goal is always to show through the lives of my characters that God’s Word is true and that His promises are always fulfilled for everybody who takes them on face value. Fiction has the power to make its own sort of impact; one that sermons and instruction books often can’t.
I steer clear of the blasphemy and profanities that I often find sprinkled through other works of fiction. This sort of thing never embellishes writing. However there is an issue of characters swearing which is more problematic because I don’t want to compromise character integrity by not allowing a person to swear when I feel certain he’d let slip the occasional strong language. At the same time, I don’t want to spring much of this on readers. I’ve figured out ways to get around it, such as having another character cut them off just before the language erupts or simply stating, “Mr X muttered a curse.”
How has God guided your writing and what has He shown you that you’ve hung onto? The most important thing He’s shown me is that He has to lead. I’ve grown to learn the difference when I take it my own head to write a book. When I try to come up with the plot, theme and characters all by myself I fall flat. I just peter out and lose momentum. I know better than to do this anymore. With each of the novels I’ve ever finished, the ideas have swept into my mind without straining. The one I’m working on now, called “A Clean Slate” is like taking dictation. I love it when ideas flow this way and tend to see it as a “thumbs-up” sign from God.
Huge thank you to Paula. Both 'Risky Way Home' and 'A Design of Gold' are available for purchase at Amazon.com.
For more information please visit www.appleleafbooks.com or skip over to Paula's blog at http://appleleafblog.blogspot.com/