I enjoy hearing about the experiences of fellow writers. I think most of us do. In this first interview for my blog, I’m turning to Linda S. Clare, author of The Fence My Father Built. I had the honor of reading Linda’s manuscript a while back. I loved the story, but it wasn’t a good fit for Harvest House. Linda kept going and when the time was right, she connected with Abingdon Press. Their recently developed fiction line under the guidance of Barbara Scott has been impressive indeed, including at least one starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. That’s something many authors would give their first born to receive.
Here’s Linda’s book on Amazon:
Q. Linda, your previously published books were non-fiction. Isn’t The Fence My Father Built your first published novel? If so, what was the transition from non-fiction to fiction like?
A. Fiction was my goal all along. At one time, common advice to writers was to publish nonfiction to establish oneself and then move to fiction. It’s not the case anymore—nowadays, many nonfiction writers need a built-in platform, or reader base, in order to succeed in nonfiction. So when I finally made it to fictionville, I was thrilled. The switch was natural for me. I love making stuff up.
Q. I know this novel has been one you’ve been passionate about for some time.
A. You mean like 15 years? Maybe rabid is more like it. It was at times hard to be passionate, but I will say I never gave up on my characters. The novel would come “close but no cigar” at some pub house and I’d put it away, only to take it out and revise it later. One day I even drove around lost, in a pouring rain, looking for a certain editor’s office. He turned me down and he knows who he is.
Q. Can you give us a brief history of how it came about?
A. I took a fiction workshop in the mid 1990s from Melody Carlson, a chum of mine, and Muri Pond simply appeared. She told me she had to find her long lost father. I kid you not. I just wrote down what she told me to write.
Q. What was the initial seed-idea that resulted in The Fence My Father Built?
A. The year before Melody’s workshop, I’d written a novel called Edge of Wonderland. I’d secured New York representation and thought it was going to launch my writing career. That book, set in the desert, also had strong themes of father-daughter relationships.
Q. The road to publication for any novelist can be paved with rejections. Was that the case for you?
A. It might surprise some readers, but big-shot New York agents don’t sell every book they represent. Mine couldn’t find a home for my novel. She told me to “go write another one.” That’s when I wrote The Fence novel. If so, how did you handle rejection? It was devastating at first to come so close and ultimately not be published on that first book. You will note I don’t say I failed. Many author’s first novels are lying in a drawer. You must pick yourself up and go on, keep honing writing skills, learn the business. That’s what I did.
Q. What is your writing schedule like?
A. I used to be a morning writer but for the past 10 or so years, I’ve taught college writing at night. Now I generally write my blog, etc in the morning and work on my WIP from 1PM until 4PM.
Q. What authors have influenced your writing?
A. First and foremost, Barbara Kingsolver, especially her Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, and Poisonwood Bible. We’ve both explored similar themes of relationships and the desert or unfamiliar environment. Others include Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth Berg, Marilynne Robinson and Sherman Alexie. I also love memoir, especially Frank McCourt, Kaye Gibbons and Jennifer Lauck. My favorite kind of novel is a coming-of-age story told in first person. As far as Christian fiction goes, I’m a newcomer. But I really think Joyce Magnin, (The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow) Mary De Muth (Daisy Chain) and Susan Meissner (The Shape of Mercy) are strong writers who are changing the face of Christian fiction. And watch out for Southern writer (also Abingdon) Christa Allen (Walking on Broken Glass).
Q. Has procrastination or writer’s block ever been a problem for you? If so, how did you handle them?
A. Writing is my therapy—seriously. The incident with the New York agent sent me into a tailspin for several months. It was difficult to climb out of that snake pit. But here I am.
Q. You occasionally teach writing workshops and classes here locally. Has that had an effect on your writing in any way?
A. Of course! I learn as much if not more than my students do. Since teaching was my first career (I taught art in elementary schools) teaching writing keeps the basics in front of me all the time. Problems my students face in fiction are the same as what I face as a writer: writing interesting characters in trouble. Keeping them interesting and in trouble isn’t always the easiest way to write. But it’s the only way that works.
Q. How did The Fence My Father Built find a home at Abingdon?
A. I know this isn’t helpful to up-and-coming novelists looking for a sale, but once again my friend Melody Carlson rides to my rescue. She happened to chat with Abingdon editor Barbara Scott, who said she was looking for a few good manuscripts for a start-up fiction line. I sold The Fence My Father Built unagented. The rest is history. But if I had to give a new writer with a hot manuscript advice, it would be this: Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Find a good critique group. Produce, produce, produce. Try getting some articles published in magazines. Network. Keep writing. Never give up.
Q. The Fence My Father Built has gotten some very nice reviews. I notice that one Amazon reviewer said, “I was pleased to find that this is not a ‘religious’ genre book…” Is it hard for a Christian writer to not be message-heavy in his or her fiction?
A. First of all, I have been so pleased by the reviews. But part of my story as a novelist lies in the timing. My novel had to wait for the market, I think. Readers increasingly want to find their own conclusions and meaning. They demand complex characters who reflect our complex world. Christian fiction readers want good, clean entertainment, but they also want deep meaning and poignancy. It just so happens that Abingdon promotes a solid message of the human condition illuminated, showing characters who struggle with real life problems—whether they’re looking for a long-lost father or facing the “big” 5-0 birthday. The authors I’ve worked with at Abingdon make you laugh, cry and shout for joy at the redemption, faith, hope and love in the stories. All without shoving the Christian message down readers’ throats. I don’t know about other writers but my style is to show how God is for us but without the shoving.
Q. Is there any particular part of writing fiction that is hardest for you (plotting, character development, dialogue, etc)?
A. Shhh! Don’t tell anybody but plotting is difficult for me. I tend either toward the melodramatic or the desolate ending. Sometimes I take awhile to get the climax scenes right. I think most writers exhibit their own world view in their characters and in their plots. Mine is, “We’re all really messed up but hey! God’s going to sing us through whatever we face.” I believe in the ABCs of redemption: God Always with us, Bringing us eternal life in Christ our Savior.
Q. Have you always been writer?
A. Yes! Well, at least from about age 10 or so, when I was quite sickly with chronic bronchitis and asthma. I stayed home and wrote stories and poems on my great-aunt’s enormous black Underwood typewriter. Mother sent my stuff to children’s magazines. Later, at age 16, my first publication was a poem I sold to The Denver Post newspaper. I was thrilled—and hooked on writing.
Q. Do you have a goal for your writing?
A. Beyond becoming a bestselling household name? My goal is to write as many good books as I possibly can. I’m a polio survivor with a crummy thing called Post-polio Syndrome—I tire very easily and I type one-handed. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do, but you can bet I’ll be doing it with gusto and style.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several works-in-progress. I’m nearly finished with a stand-alone novel called Hiding from Floyd, about redemption for a family still grieving ten years after Floyd, who was seven, died tragically while playing Hide and Seek with James, his very strange brother. I’m also pitching a sequel to The Fence My Father Built called The Hallelujah Gate, starring Nova, Muri and the Red Rock Tabernacle Ladies. If it’s contracted I get to write more about Native Americans and vortexes. And I have a completed memoir about my childhood stays in a Shriners Hospital, called, One Hand Clapping.
Q. Any parting advice for fiction writers?
A. As I said earlier, write, write, write. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Smiling doesn’t hurt. And never give up.