A winner of Associated Press awards for her journalism, Christa Parrish now teaches literature and writing to high school students, is a homeschool mom, and lives with her husband, author Chris Coppernoll, and son in upstate New York, where she is at work on her third novel, The Air We Breathe. Her first novel, Home Another Way, was nominated for the 2009 ECPA Fiction Book of the Year. Her second novel, Watch Over Me, released in October.
Welcome, Christa, to my cyber cubby. Your latest novel, Watch Over Me, recently hit bookstore shelves. What’s the novel about?
It’s a multiple point-of-view story chronicling the lives of three characters—Benjamin Patil, a small-town deputy and National Guard reservist recently home from Afghanistan; his wife, Abbi; and Matthew Savoie, a local teenager with a rare genetic disorder that has rendered him deaf—after a newborn baby is found hidden in a plastic grocery sack in a South Dakota cow pasture. As the investigation into the infant’s abandonment progresses, all three of the characters are forced to both confront their pasts and make decisions that will impact them forever.
In our Nangie writing workshop at the Greater Philadelphia Writers Conference you explained that writing poetry helped you to write stronger prose. Can you tell us how poetry helps your writing, and could you share an approach you’ve found most helpful?
To me, poetry is about evoking emotion through images, which is something I try to do in my writing. But poems need to be precise and direct, and all extraneous words removed to have a tight, pointed focus on the subject. I like my novels to be tight and pointed as well—only using the words that are necessary. If I find a scene that seems to ramble, or I can’t manage to evoke the emotional intensity I want, I will first write that part of the novel in verse (free-form, non-rhyming). That forces me to narrow my scope and focus only on the important pieces. Then I’ll expand what I’ve written to prose form.
If you could chose one thing about the publishing industry that you could change what would it be?
Hmm. My publishing journey has been so wonderfully positive that I don’t have any complaints. But, if I had to choose something, I guess it would be the time between when I’ve finished the novel, and when it actually releases—with Bethany House Publishers, it’s about a year. It’s a bit anticlimactic, really. When my first book, Home Another Way, was finally released, I was so concerned with finishing Watch Over Me that I really couldn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The same thing now with my third novel, The Air We Breathe—I’m so focused on the final tweaks that Watch Over Me is a distant memory.
What books and writing tools would you recommend because they helped you grow and develop as a writer?
I think going to a writers’ conference is invaluable. I learned so much just from talking with published authors and taking several workshops. That sort of “personal” insight you can’t get in books. However, Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel is an excellent resource for those looking to get started—it helps keep you focused on the important parts of novel writing.
Given a choice between writing in a coffee shop or writing in your workspace at home, which would you choose and why?
Well, I don’t have an “official” workspace at home—I either write in bed, in the big comfy chair in the corner of the family room, or (my personal favorite, and yes, it sounds very odd) the bathroom. But since I’m easily distracted and readily procrastinate with things that “need” to be done “right this instant” (like scrubbing the shower, dusting the television, or organizing the homeschool cupboard), I tend to prefer to write outside the house. A coffee shop is great. The public library is nice, too. I just need to be in a corner and remember to wear my earplugs.
What has been your experience with critique partners?
I have three lovely online critique partners who have been a wonderful help when I’m stuck somewhere, but I do tend to be a bit of a “loner”—only showing my work when it’s finished. But I still think they can be very valuable in the writing process.
One last question for you before you take off. Could you tell us what you enjoy doing for fun and relaxation—when you’re not writing, of course.
I love the outdoors, so any sort of physical exertion in the woods – hiking, biking, jogging – is something that I turn to when I need to relax.