Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Author Interview: Christine Thackeray

The Music in my Head : Today I woke up to the lilting melody of "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's CD Consider the Lilies. (I only had to look at two CD's to find the title!)
My guest today is Christine Thackeray, the author of the newly released novel about visiting teaching from Cedar Fort, The Crayon Messages.

Welcome, Christine! What made you start writing?
That is a tough one. The truth is that writing has always been a way for me to organize all the crazy thoughts floating around in my head and I've done it forever. When I was young, I'd give my brothers and sisters little books that I had written and illustrated for their birthdays. When my father passed away he still had one that I had totally forgotten about.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
It is shocking but The Crayon Messages was my first completed manuscript that I'd really polished and sent in - and it sold! I'm still pinching my arm but I did have 13 rejections and a major rewrite (it was originally a murder mystery- long story.) For a book in the LDS Market, 13 rejections is quite an accomplishment- I think I sent it to every possible publisher.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
It depends on the project. I am doing a new non-fiction book with my sister called Latter-Day Truths in Narnia. That is actually much more "simply flying" because the more research I do, the more my pre-conceived notions fly out the window. With fiction I usually see my most poignant scenes with complete clarity and then write and rewrite to get there in the most realistic way. For me there is always a point, a heart, to what I'm trying to share so when you finish, you see with my eyes. For me that is goal. With fiction it is all about emotional response and personal growth.

How do you choose your characters' names?
Where do you come up with these questions, Marsha? Names are REALLY hard. I do have seven sisters, have moved nineteen times and have always been quite social so usually I use the names of the people I am copying. My fiction is like a script and most of my characters are people I've known that I imagine are acting in a whole new set of circumstances (so I guess it isn't really them.) But if I picture them (acting as my character) I find the individuals in my story stay more true. So Sonja is a great friend of mine that has an edge about her and Cath is my incredible sister. Other names I had to change so they didn't have the same first letter or same ending. Names are tough. But I think I've talked to most of my friends that are in the book so I won't be in so much trouble. (The bad guys are never real, though--they are made up.)

What type of writing schedule do you have?
My children get on the bus at 8 a.m. and then I go walking until 9:30 with friends. From 9:30 to 2:30 I try to focus on writing. Unfortunately, I'm very naughty and too often don't put my work away when the kids are home. I'm trying to get better at that.

How do you handle life interruptions?
I fail at it. So often when something else comes up, I drop the ball and focus on what screams the loudest. Sometimes it's children, YW's or bills. I try to simplify but most often just get less done. My son is going to the MTC soon and rather than stress about it, I'm leaving for Utah the week before to go out and stay with my mother so we can do all our shopping there. Rather than spending months nitpicking over every little thing, we are just going to blitz it. By compartmentalizing, I don't let things bleed into everything else but often a lot of things just don't get done.

Do you get blocked? Any hints on how to stave it off?
So far I haven't had time to get blocked. My problem is the opposite--too much input. I can't write fast enough for all my ideas and then my language gets sloppy and redundant. Now ask me that in a couple of years and we'll see where we are. Right now I know my next five or ten projects and am dying to have the time to crank them out.

What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?
The other day a neighbor of mine knocked on the door and told me she had stayed up the night before reading my book. Then she said the strangest thing--that I had to write a book on depression. I was shocked because I don't think The Crayon Messages is about depression at all, but ironically I do have a thick folder file of research on the subject and someday in the next few years I'm going to write the book that has been brewing in my heart for years, Dealing with Depression Through Gospel Principles. I think there needs to be this watershed of ideas both from general authorities, professionals and individual experience. Don't get me started but that one is coming--someday.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
I love creating something new and beautiful. I love the actual writing of writing. Unfortunately, that is only a little portion of writing. I wish I had a personal editor that could read my mind and do all my rewrites (like James Patterson.) I also struggle with rejections and poor reviews because I want everyone to love me. Doesn't everybody?

What is your advice for other writers?
When I used to practice the piano my teacher said, "Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I worry that some writers continue to write and write with plotlines that aren't marketable and word choice or sentence structure that isn't up to par. If you are going to write, then learn from people in the industry. Join writer's groups, use critique forums, take classes or workshops. Read good books and figure out what makes a scene really good. Improve as a writer. I think it is idealistic to think that persistence alone will cut it. Also, be willing to reach into non-fiction even if your heart is fictitious, write articles for magazines and newspapers, and be willing to co-author.

Tell us about your new book.
The Crayon Messages: A Visiting Teaching Adventure is a story about Cath, who has just moved to a new ward. Her husband is traveling and she doesn't feel like she has a friend in the world. When she gets a visiting teaching route she is excited, hoping to make some friends, but then she is told it is only a letter-writing route consisting of the most inactive people in the ward, who have requested no contact.

When she calls the woman assigned to be her companion, Gwen, the elderly woman says she's in a nursing home and hasn't had visitors in months. Cath calls all the sisters on her route and guilts them into visiting Gwen, but when she gets there she finds Gwen asleep. Gwen has KLS, a sleep disorder where she may sleep for weeks at a time. Cath decides to grab some crayons and have the women write her so that when she does wake up, she'll know the world hasn't forgotten her. What no one suspected would happen is that Gwen writes back, changing each of these women's lives forever.

My main character, Gwen Keen, was a real woman I visit taught in a nursing home. Unlike the story, when she died there were only a handful of people at her funeral and her grave was paid for by a charitable organization. It made me sad because she was such a hoot--I loved her!

What is your next project? What do we have to look forward to next?
Latter-Day Truths in Narnia is completely written and should be coming out in the next few months. Then I'm working on my next visiting teaching adventure called Lipstick Wars, about a young mom with a toddler who likes to escape, which causes her to meet a reclusive neighbor who changes her life. It's a great story. I'm also working on an historical fiction piece about King Herod, showing the other side of the story--I think he has been too demonized. His mistakes are more similar to our own than many of us would imagine.

What other work of yours has been published?
This is really my first one, if you don't count roadshows and letters to the editor. I'm brand-spanking-new.

Thank you for the interview, Christine.
Thanks, Marsha.

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