Frozen Footprints, a Christian suspense thriller, includes some rather dark moments with a seriously-disturbed villain. The story, however, is never without hope. How do you balance the darkness and the light so that you allow the reader to contend with the horror your characters experience yet leave them with a satisfying, positive ending?
While writing, I strive to find some positive moments amidst the hardships, even if they’re brief. Most readers will understandably give up on a story that goes too long without some kind of goodness or possibility of goodness occurring. Even if it appears to vanish for a time, there has to be some type of hope if I don’t want to end up with a novel of despair. (And I don’t! There are plenty of those out there.) How to bring in that lightness? It may be with another character, a positive perspective, a note of humor, an unexpected kindness, or a glimmer of faith. Similarly, a change in situation, or some form of comfort found in an unlikely place, may bring relief or an inspirational moment.
The balance is tricky, and certainly difficult to get right the first time around, which is one reason I find revision so necessary. Scenes can be added, rearranged, removed, or reworked to get the ratio right. Yet, as close to the story as I am, it can be challenging to judge that balance myself, and that’s where my earliest readers come in—they give such valuable feedback.
Still, for those who enjoy only very lighthearted stories, Frozen Footprints isn’t the novel for them. There are a lot of hardships and dark moments. It may not have a Hallmark kind of resolution, but by the time the end comes, the main evil of the story has been overcome. Sometimes plunging to the very deepest, darkest moments is what it takes for a character to rise to redemption or turn to faith and discover hope. As a Christian writer, I keep in mind there was a Good Friday with intense pain and suffering before the glory of Easter Sunday.
In browsing Christian fiction, it seems that romance and romantic suspense are more prevalent than thrillers. What inspired you to write a thriller, and do you think there’s anything inherent in Christian storytelling that either lends itself to thrillers or encounters with evil?
I love reading thrilling stories that get my heart pounding, so I naturally felt drawn to that genre. However, my first draft of Frozen Footprints was less a true thriller and more a romantic suspense. It was only after the advice of another writer and editor that I took the story through a huge overhaul and was then able to find a publisher for it.
I definitely think Christian storytelling lends itself to thrillers or encounters with evil. After all, living Christianity means living a battle of good vs. evil every day. This converts very well into thrilling fiction and exciting plot possibilities. Souls are at stake. Will characters stand up for what’s right, will they compromise, or fall completely? If so, can they be redeemed?
Because this earthly world is not all there is, characters’ spiritual struggles are crucial. That extra level of reality can bring fiction to another level of intensity. Christian storytelling doesn’t mean limiting subjects to prissy, feel-good stories of fluff and no substance. On the contrary, Christian fiction can deal with any subject—some of the very grittiest—the key is how it’s handled to reflect Christ’s truths in a real and reverent way.
Your most recent release, After the Thaw, a Christian romantic suspense novel, is second in a series. Did you have After the Thaw in mind when you wrote Frozen Footprints or did the genesis for that story come afterward?
After the Thaw wasn’t even a glimmer in my mind back when I wrote Frozen Footprints. It wasn’t until Frozen Footprints was accepted for publication that I began mulling over the possibility of writing a sequel. I’d certainly set the stage for the possibility of one, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. I wasn’t sure if After the Thaw would actually turn into anything worthwhile, but I felt strongly that the characters and the readers of Frozen Footprints (once I started receiving feedback) both wanted more—and so did I. The characters had so much life, and so much more to give, and more adventures to find and more growing to do . . . and a yearning for redemption and love. How could I deny them that?
The faith elements in your novels are well-integrated into the characters and their experiences. What tips do you have for writers who would like to make faith a part of their story yet incorporate it seamlessly and unobtrusively into the story?
Keep faith in mind as you write, and ask God to guide your writing. If you have faith yourself, opportunities will naturally present themselves for including spiritual elements, whether with a prayer, a thought, or dialogue. Each character’s interaction with faith will be different, depending on his or her background and life experiences. How will the characters’ faith—or lack of—affect their thoughts, words, and actions? How will they deal with challenging situations? A great thing about tapping the spiritual aspects is that it offers an additional layer of story opportunities that secular fiction misses.
Again, balance is key so that the story doesn’t become overloaded with elements that distract and take away from the enjoyment of the story. Sometimes, less can be more, making the story more striking and memorable. Writers should keep in mind that they’re writing fiction, and the story should entertain, not preach. Small, well-placed, relevant snippets can be more powerful and memorable than long, preachy passages.
Feedback is important. My very first readers point out problem areas and I’ll reconsider whether the material should remain or be revised. Honest feedback is essential in helping me figure out how to strike the right balance of religious content in a story. Also, learn from reading other novels. When I’m reading and come across effective and seamless examples of faith woven into a story, I try to make a mental note of how it’s done.
Your first novel, Past Suspicion, reminded me so much of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic romantic suspense Rebecca in voice, tone, and the whole mood of the story. Did that novel influence you? If not, what inspired the story?
Thank you, that’s a very high compliment! Rebecca didn’t actually influence me (since I hadn’t read it yet); but interestingly, Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn was a favorite of mine about that time, so it’s likely some of those same elements seeped into my writing style. I was also a big fan of Victoria Holt novels, so her writing also very likely flavored the voice, tone, and mood of Past Suspicion.
I actually began Past Suspicion as a short story, inspired by a dream. With time, it grew with possibilities, twisting and turning in directions that were as surprising to me as I hoped they’d be for readers. My main goal was to write the kind of story I wanted to read—but I also hoped that maybe someday, others would find it entertaining, too. I completed the first draft the summer before I started college, and many events and details from real life worked their way in. Whatever I experienced, I wondered how I might use it to enrich the story. As a result, and even though it was plenty of work, I had a lot of fun writing Past Suspicion.
How do you carve out time for writing and all the other tasks attendant to book publishing amidst your other responsibilities?
How, indeed? I’m still trying to figure this out! Honestly, I’m not very good at it, and I’m sure you could give me some great tips. I go for long stretches of time without doing much writing, and I wish I could be more consistent.
When I’m immersed in a project that I’m excited about, I squeeze in what I can—usually at the price of something else, like sleeping or cleaning. When my kids are napping or watching TV, I might manage an hour or so of writing. Once they go to bed for the night, I might manage another hour or two (or four, if I’m really into the story and ignoring my need for sleep). Thankfully, when I stick with it, these little bits of time eventually add up to a completed manuscript.
So I guess it comes down to self-discipline, prioritizing, and snatching time when I can. Even for this interview, I broke it down to answering only one question a day. I try designating certain times for certain tasks—including some downtime/relaxation time (for sanity!). Life’s responsibilities seem never-ending, but when I really want to write, I find a way to make it happen.