Turning In Circles is permeated with what is – to me, anyway – a Southern fiction voice. What characteristics do you see as setting Southern fiction apart from general fiction set throughout the United States? (Because I wouldn’t necessarily call everything set in the American south, “Southern fiction.”)
Because I was born in New York and raised in Canada, I arrived in North Carolina as an outsider when I was at the critical teeny-bopper stage. That experience permitted me to observe the South from a different perspective than those who have always lived here. There is a difference in mannerisms, in how families interact, in how people interact in public, and even in the social structure of small communities.
To that end, Savannah came to me as the perfect character to reveal those very Southern mannerisms and viewpoints. Turning in Circles captures the charm of small-town families, the connectedness of such communities, as well as the humid air and the sunbaked landscape. The sentences themselves drip with the slow, sugary verbiage of the South.
When Rachel’s Contrition was first published, I remember a buzz about it on the (now-defunct) Faith & Family blog. There was clear excitement about a women’s fiction novel written from a Catholic worldview. And yet, it’s been my experience that the Catholic fiction audience is difficult to identify. Do you agree, and, if so, why do you think that is?
Catholics will read anything. Catholics filter out whatever is contrary to their faith, but don’t necessarily put it down. Therefore, we don’t have Catholics seeking specifically Catholic fiction. I think it’s also because most people, even really devout Catholics, don’t want to read sappy, predictable stories, and when they hear something labeled as faith fiction, they assume that’s what they’ll get because there is so much of that out there. Obviously, they get a great awakening if they read mine. It’s definitely gritty, more gritty than some mainstream works. Having deep faith doesn’t mean not having worldly issues to face every day of our lives, and those are the things I tackle in my plots.
Some Christian authors find a tension between entertaining and evangelizing. Do you believe that’s an inherent tension? Should one prevail over the other?
Obviously, the intention of any story is to entertain, and certain elements must be included within the story structure to achieve that goal. However, I don’t think a writer should aim to evangelize. The story belongs to the character and therefore the character should tell it. Faith should be depicted as it naturally flows into that character’s journey, not forced into it to project a message.
I think every writer has a message within their story, whether it’s something as simple as enjoying every day of your life or as serious as coming to terms with death. However, the message must be almost subliminal; the reader must “get it” from what they see unfold, just as Jesus used parables to let followers gather his meaning. Some people will get it, some won’t, but in my opinion, being blatantly didactic is a turnoff in fiction.
Death Panels has been on my to-be-read list for too long. Without having read it yet, I’ve heard that it’s more relevant today, perhaps, than when it was written. Have any of the circumstances you’d predicted come to pass?
I wrote Death Panels way back in the early 90s when I saw where things were headed. It wasn’t a book I wanted to write because I wanted to stick to women’s fiction. Nevertheless, God pressed it on me. Every time I tried to turn away from it, another piece would land in my lap. It was a scary book to write. I could feel evil pressing in on me during the writing because I was revealing things that satan had planned. However, it’s not a scary book to read because we’re already there now, in one form or another.
When Obama was elected, three people from a writing group a decade and a half earlier each contacted me individually within a week of one another, from the far reaches of having moved, and told me to get that manuscript published. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I found an old printout of it while moving my office. I typed the entire thing back in, revised it, and immediately sold it to Tan Books.
Exact things that I predicted aren’t as important as having predicted the general atmosphere of our nation. You can’t explain to young adults today what life was like growing up in the 70s and 80s, or how corrupt their worldview has become in terms of religion and sex. Prior to this generation of young adults, Christianity was the basis of law and order in our country. That baseline is being eroded in court case after court case. The anti-Christian atmosphere, taken to the extreme, is the entire premise of Death Panels, and the most important takeaway.
A few specifics that have come true:
- We would be watched and listened to through cell phones (keep in mind that the first Motorola phone had only come into being when I wrote the manuscript, and it was far from being what we call a cell phone today!)
- People would read and watch the news on computer servers, and everything we did would be watched. (Internet was just coming into use when I wrote the book.)
- Baby parts would be sold for profit.
- Marriage would be abolished and replaced with certificates of union for tax purposes. (Not there yet, but…)
- Fingerprints are now used to pull up medical records—I used implanted chip IDs.
What’s the single best piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Read, read, read. Study (don’t just read) the books you love and figure out why you love them. When you get caught up in reading a story, go back and figure out why—and learn from it. Use real dialogue. Leave out the boring parts. Choose the right POV character, and then be true to that character. Listen to the character—it’s his/her story, not yours. Don’t be predictable. Attend one of my workshops or hire me to edit your manuscript ☺
What project(s) are you working on now?
I work as a copy editor for a NYC website now, so that cuts out my mornings, but I continue to write women’s fiction. I’m thinking of turning my newest idea into a screenplay, but that’s a new territory, so I may partner up with someone for that.
I am also a freelance editor. I’ve edited everything from cookbooks to memoirs to fiction. I don’t have a set fee because every manuscript has its own issues. I have to see the work to price it. I only do a limited number per year, but I’m more than happy to talk to anyone about what my editing will do for them. Contact me at MichellePBuckman at gmail dot com for more info.
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