- When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved writing and reading. And, I always thought I would write a book someday. The funny thing is I never planned to be an actual writer. I imagined I would write a book in my spare time the same way one might cut the grass on Saturday afternoon. I have a degree in economics from Baylor University and spent my entire professional career in banking, most recently as a commercial lender in Dallas. But six years ago after a crystal-clear “aha” moment, I walked away from my banking career, returned to my home state of Arkansas, and threw my heart into writing full time.
2. Where did the inspiration for The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee come from?
My childhood. I grew up on a cotton farm in northeast Arkansas near the Mississippi River. Our farm and soil and way of life is a huge part of who I am. Although the plot-line of Accidental Salvation is fictional, much of Gracie Lee’s world and the folks in it are based on real places and people from my life. And by the way, we still own our farm in the Arkansas delta.
3. Is the counting like Gracie Lee did, One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, and so on, something that comes from your childhood, or does it come from your imagination?
Wait, don’t all kids count in Mississippis? LOL. Yes, I learned as a child that it took a full second to pronounce the word Mississippi. (Maybe living on the Mississippi River made this a thing for my friends and me?) Anyway, to estimate a minute while waiting for school to let out or piano lessons to be over, I counted in Mississippis. And I thought Gracie Lee should do the same thing.
4. Gracie’s daddy was short tempered, just plain mean in her estimation. Why?
The short answer—he carries the stress of farming on his shoulders, and he drinks too much. As a child, Gracie doesn’t understand how stressful farming can be for the entire family. She only sees the effects of it and labels it as a continuous bad mood.
5. How much of yourself is in Gracie Lee?
Gracie is certainly part of me. But she’s much braver and more inquisitive than I was at her age. She has a voice and wants to be heard. I consider her to be a ten-year-old version of me with fifty years of hindsight.
6. I love the name Grace Lee Eudora Abbott. Does it have any special meaning to you?
There is significance to Gracie’s name. When I set out to name my protagonist, I wanted her to dislike something about her name. I grew up with a name often mispronounced. As a kid, I found it annoying and wondered why my parents didn’t bless me with a “normal” name. Rather than give my protagonist a hard-to-pronounce name, I gave her four names which I imagined would be confusing to a child. I knew she needed a double first name—Gracie Lee—because that’s a very southern thing. I decided on Gracie because of spiritual themes in the story (and because my blog is Grace, Grits and Gardening), and Lee because that was my Dad’s middle name. In the story, Gracie’s dad added Eudora to her name in honor of his favorite southern storyteller, Eudora Welty.
7. Did you intend The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee to be a Young Adult novel? How do you feel about it now?
Although the protagonist is ten-years-old, Accidental Salvation is classified as Adult Literary Fiction because the topics and themes of religion, family, and abuse are mature. But, I’ve discovered the book has crossed over into Young Adult which pleases me. It has been popular with a wide audience including both women and men, book club readers, high school and middle school readers. I believe there’s a little bit of Gracie Lee in all of us.
8. How has your life changed since becoming an author?
My world has expanded in ways I never imagined. I went from focusing on a left brain career to right brain living. This journey has connected me to the most incredible readers and writers. As a writer, I push myself to take on more creative endeavors, and I feel more in tune with the natural world. Doing what one is meant to do is eye-opening. I highly recommend it!
9. Tell us about your current work in process?
I don’t like to reveal too much too early. For now, I’ll just say my next book is a memoir (or perhaps creative non-fiction) about aging parents and my own mid-life crisis. It’s set in Dallas. The completed manuscript is currently in the hands of my editor. Fingers crossed it will be published in 2019.
10. Some authors make outlines, others use journals for their ideas before actually writing. What is your writing process?
I keep a daily journal and do my serious writing in the morning when my mind is freshest. I don’t outline, but I do keep a timeline of events as they unfold in my story. I write long-hand first and do an initial edit when inputting into my Mac-book. My goal is to write four hours a day and read two hours a day.
11. When reading for your own pleasure do you have a specific genre that you enjoy?
I enjoy a wide variety of genres and read an average of 5 – 7 books per month. My favorites are historical fiction, classics, memoir, and non-fiction. I LOVE Newbery Award-winning literature, too. Currently, I’m trying to read those books I’ve not yet read that were included on PBS’s Great American Read list.
12. How would you pitch Gracie Lee to a movie producer?
Oh, elevator pitches are the most difficult! But I’ll give it a go… In the early 1970s, ten-year-old Arkansas farm girl, Gracie Lee Abbott, sets out to save her family from her alcoholic daddy. She longs for something more, takes solace in a mysterious gray house, and over time, confides her sins to Brother Brown, the somewhat boring preacher of Boon Chapel Baptist Church. As her dad’s disease progresses, Gracie’s grit and gumption sets into motion an escape and redemption that surprises even herself. Filled with both honey and vinegar, Accidental Salvation will make you laugh and cry and perhaps remind you of your own young dreams.
13. What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Write and read every day. Find mentors. Expect to put in lots and lots of time and treat your writing like a start-up business. Much like anything worth doing, writing takes time and dedication. And when you want to put down your pen and quit, keep going.
14. What has been the best part about becoming an author?
Receiving emails and reviews from readers who say Accidental Salvation touched them, reminded them of something they had forgotten. Seeing my book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and at various libraries is a huge thrill, too.
15. What’s one thing about you readers should know?
I still have a crush on Donny Osmond.
How can we find you? Social Media, website, etc.
Thank you Talya for your time, and for your wonderfully delightful novel, The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee. You can find Gracie on Amazon, in print book, eBook and Audible Audiobook.. It’s also available on Barnes & Noble, and at Southern Yellow Pines Publishing.
Make it a reading kind of week!