A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa weaves stories of unscripted grace with threads of hope, humor, and heart. Her debut womens fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, is published by Abingdon Press. She contributes to “Exemplify” and “Afictionado”, the e-zine of American Christian Fiction Writers. Her essays have been published in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lovers Soul, Chicken Soup for the Divorced and Recovering Soul, Cup of Comfort, and “The Ultimate Teacher”. Christa is the mother of five adult children, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where they and their three cats enjoy their time playing golf, anticipating retirement, and dodging hurricanes. Find more information about Christa at www.christaallan.com.
Christa, you must be so excited about your debut novel, Walking on Broken Glass, coming out in the spring. Can you start by telling us what the book is about?
Leah Thornton’s life, like her Southern Living home, has great curb appeal. But a paralyzing encounter with a can of frozen apple juice in the supermarket shatters the façade, forcing her to admit that all is not as it appears. When her best friend gets in Leah’s face about her reliance on alcohol to avoid dealing with her life, Leah must make an agonizing choice. Seek help against her husband’s wishes? Or—put herself first for once? Joy and sadness converge and unwelcome insights intrude, testing Leah’s commitment to sobriety, her marriage, her motherhood, and her faith.
How long did it take you to write the novel?
Over half was finished before Hurricane Katrina. In fact, as we were packing to leave after the hurricane (a long story detailed here), I put the manuscript into large Zip-Loc bags to take it with us. It stayed in those bags for two years. My husband had lost his job because of the hurricane, so even though our home had little damage, we moved to another city three hours away. I taught in a new school, we lived in a small rent house and kept our furniture in storage. We were both so disoriented; I didn’t even attempt to write again until a few months before we ended up moving back. And instead of working on Walking on Broken Glass, I started a YA novel. After we resettled, (ironically right back into our home which hadn’t sold!), I reacquainted myself with Walking on Broken Glass and finished it in a matter of weeks.
Tell us about your editing process. How many drafts did you write before completing Walking on Broken Glass?
Hmmm. Well, the first several chapters had been rewritten a number of times before I’d even sent it to agents. I’d entered a few contests, received feedback, had other critiquing, and made changes to strengthen Leah’s husband as a character. Once the manuscript was submitted, I went through a macro and micro edit.
The danger is, at least for me, is that I might edit the life out of something! It’s tempting to second guess myself and delete something because I might think it’s too risky. I think that’s when having someone whose opinion you trust is important because often we’re sometimes too close to be objective.
As a yet-to-be-published writer, I’m always interested in the publishing journey of other writers. Tell us about your road to publication.
In April, Rachelle Gardner, my agent, started shopping the novel. I was sure that at least one publisher out of that long list she’d sent it to would leap at the opportunity.
Not so much. In May, Rachelle called to tell me that the editors thought the novel was “too issue-driven.” And my being a first-time novelist didn’t help either. She said she’d continue to look for a home for it, but I may want to start considering some ideas for another book.
I spent my summer working on proposals for my editor appointments at the September ACFW Conference. As much as I loved Walking on Broken Glass, I understood that the subject matter being outside of the usual boundaries of Christian fiction, and my being a new writer, were risks for publishers. And Rachelle believed in the novel, and I believed in her, so I prayed that God would teach me to “let go.”
Then, at ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) in July, Rachelle met Barbara Scott, the fiction editor of Abingdon Press, a Methodist publishing house launching fiction for the first time. She pitched my novel, and Barbara asked to see it. A few weeks later, Barbara said she was interested. Rachelle called at 11:43 am on October 30, 2008 to tell me that Abingdon bought my novel.
What’s the hardest part of writing a novel—the outline, first draft, editing, etc.?
Those horror stories about the dreaded middle? True for me! It was that point in the manuscript when I wondered why in the blazes I ever thought I could write anything in the first place and where in the blazes this novel was headed! If you’ve ever been pregnant, it’s like that feeling you get around eight months when you think you’ll be pregnant forever.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you write every day?
Being a high school English teacher, I find daily writing difficult. I smash writing time into weekends, holidays and summers.
Ideas and inspiration can roll through our minds at any time. Before you go, Christa, can you tell us about one of the funnier moments you had with a story idea that popped into your head?
A dear friend of mine is a nurse, so I sometimes call her with medical questions. For another novel I’m working on, I called and when she answered, my first question was, “I need someone to die within six months or so. But not with cancer. Have any ideas?”
There was a long pause and, without skipping a beat, she said, “Sure. Man or woman?”
That’s when you know you have a friend who understands quirky!