Friday, November 5, 2010
INTERVIEW & BOOK GIVEAWAY: STEPHANIE WHITSON
Today it is my privilege to welcome the talented Stephanie Whitson to my blog. The description of 16 Brides caught my attention: (and before you get far in the book, you can identify the ladies in the picture by their clothing)
In 1872, sixteen Civil War widows living in St. Louis respond to a series of meetings conducted by a land speculator who lures them west by promising "prime homesteads" in a "booming community." Unbeknownst to them, the speculator's true motive is to find an excuse to bring women to the fledging community of Plum Grove, Nebraska, in hopes they will accept marriage proposals shortly after their arrival! Sparks fly when these unsuspecting widows meet the men who are waiting for them. These women are going to need all the courage and faith they can muster to survive these unwanted circumstances--especially when they begin to discover that none of them is exactly who she appears to be.
Stephanie, your tagline on your website says “A Patchwork Life.” Tell me a little more about that.
I came to writing fiction because of women’s history. Textile history--most particularly, quilt history--has always fascinated me because of the women those quilts represent. I’m an amateur textile historian (with a book on sod house homemakers and their quilts coming out next year), and patchwork has been a big part of my life for many years. I’ve had a quilt pattern company, sold and designed sewing-related pewter jewelry, been an antique quilt dealer, taken several classes in antique fabric dating and quilt appraisal, and currently volunteer at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.
Patchwork provides symbolism for women’s lives and the Christian walk. As a public speaker, I offer a menu of lectures and talks. My personal faith journey, which I illustrate with quilts, is titled “A Patchwork Life.” I also do a couple of quilt lectures, “Calico Trails” about pioneer women and “Quilts and the Sod House Experience.” Both of those involve schlepping suitcases filled with quilts. I love it!
I picked up Sixteen Brides because of the rather extreme twist on the familiar mail-order bride story. What inspired this story?
Real history reflected in a 1902 article in a small town Nebraska newspaper. The text was almost exactly the same as the back cover copy on the novel. The headline read ATTRACTIVE WIDOWS (all in caps just like that!) and the article went on to talk about the women who’d arrived in town to file on claims. When I tracked down the background and the real women’s stories, imaginary women began to form in my mind, and I knew I had to pursue it. I always say that “what really happened is more interesting than anything I could make up,” and the more I read about women of the past, the more convinced I am that that’s true.
Your first book was published in 1995. Tell me what changes you have experienced first hand in the Christian fiction field.
When Thomas Nelson bought the manuscript that became Walks the Fire (and offered a three-book contract based on an unfinished manuscript) I was an unpublished first-time author without an agent. Nelson was still accepting unsolicited submissions. (Imagine that.) Since then, things have gotten much more complicated, much more competitive, and much more difficult. I cannot imagine attempting a writing life without an agent who not only knows the industry but also believes in what I’m doing.
Everyone is experiencing the results of the recent downturn in the economy, and publishers are no exception. They are being forced to be much more conservative in their willingness to take a chance on new writers and much more careful about the ratio between sales and advances for everyone else. For a mid-list author like me, it is more difficult than ever to remain published. I’ve known what it’s like to receive a three-book contract based on an idea (no synopsis, no sample chapters--just a paragraph for an editor to take into a meeting). Those days are gone for mid-list authors. My most recent contract came after several proposals were rejected. I re-wrote the one that was finally accepted several times (and with help from another very gracious best-selling author). I also waited a very long time while committees and marketing gurus pondered potentials and ran their mysterious numbers.
A “yes” is much more difficult to come by these days. Writing is more of a walk of faith than ever. It’s important for me to remember that God’s purpose for me is just as sure as it was back in the day when things seemed easier. Times are uncertain. God isn’t.
How true! What are you currently working on?
A Most Unsuitable Match, my 2011 release with Bethany House about a deceased banker’s daughter who heads up the Missouri on a steamboat in 1869 to look for her only living relative in extremely remote and rustic Fort Benton, Montana.
Quilt-themed historical romance for Barbour.
A non-fiction quilt history/pattern book for Kansas City Star Books.
What has been your most satisfactory experience as a writer?
Hearing from readers who’ve either found Christ or been encouraged in their walk with the Lord as a result of one of my books. It never ceases to amaze and humble me that God does use Christian fiction to change lives. That’s not a cliché.
How do you stay inspired as a writer, when the daily grind threatens to wear you down?
By reading real history and continuing to visit museums and historical sites. I’m working on my master’s degree in history right now, and the reading assignments are difficult, but they always seem to contain nuggets that make me wonder “what was that like?” Sometimes they also upset me with the way they seem to exclude the women’s side of history. For example, I recently read a new biography of Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan. Bryan’s wife got a law degree and learned a foreign language so she could help her husband. I think she got a total of maybe six paragraphs of mention in a book that ran for several hundred pages. GGGRRRRRR.
Grrr is right! In what ways has your success changed you, both personally and as a writer? Is there any aspect of writing that hasn’t changed much?
I don’t think that “success” has changed me personally, because I’ve been very careful not to take myself too seriously. By that I mean that I hold the publishing contracts and the books in an open hand, realizing that at any moment this career could be over. Writing is a strange job. The one thing that will ensure that I get to keep doing it is the one thing over which I have least control. That’s sales. Excellence doesn’t mean the books will sell. My promotional efforts don’t mean enough books will sell. However, if the books don’t sell, I won’t have a job for long. Yet another way that writing keeps me humble!
I remain an introvert who would rather hide in the archives learning about dead people than do book signings or teach writing or give public lectures or speak at women’s events. I never feel prepared enough to give a talk and I never take the opportunity lightly. Because I’m not an extrovert, I realize that all the speaking opportunities that come my way truly are from the Lord, because they aren’t something I would naturally seek out. Public speaking is the most surprising part of the writing career God’s provided me.
As a writer, I have had to change my thought process from, “this is fun,” to “this is my job and people are depending on me to do it well.” It’s become a profession with regular office hours and over-riding demands on my personal schedule. That’s something I never envisioned when, back in 1994, I began playing with an imaginary friend named Jesse King.
What can readers expect to see next from you? Where can they find you on the internet?
At www.stephaniewhitson.com, folks can register to receive notification about new book releases.
A Most Unsuitable Match releases in the fall of 2011.
Quilts and the Sod House Experience releases in April of 2011.
At www.footnotesfromshistory.blogspot.com, author friend Nancy Moser and I share anecdotes about the real history behind our stories. Nancy writes about Gilded Age New York (her recent release Masquerade is a romance about a maid and an English lady who switch places--much to the surprise of the lady’s intended :-)). I share tidbits about western pioneer women (although I did post about Secretariat the other day because I met him and wanted to talk about it). Occasionally we have a guest author share about the real story behind the story.
Thanks for being our guest today, Stephanie!
Please leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of 16 Brides (as well as for one of my books).