Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by. Carla launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, and several regional magazines and anthologies.
More recently, Carla received two American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis awards for unpublished authors. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, great books, and weekend getaways with her husband. Chasing Lilacs from FaithWords (Hachette) is her debut novel.
I was delighted to read about your book, Chasing Lilacs, coming out last month. What is the book about?
It’s a coming-of-age story set in 1958 Texas. Elvis is on the radio. Summer is in the air. Things should be simple and carefree. But they aren’t for twelve-year-old Sammie. Her mother has just overdosed and gone for shock treatments, leaving Sammie to wonder if her mother even loves her. As Sammie’s world tips out of control, she has to decide who she can trust. Her best friend with an opinion about everything? The mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him? Or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on? Then, there’s the elderly widower who seems nice, but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie’s ever done.
What characters from the novel are your favorites?
Slim Wallace is the elderly widower who’s a little rough around the edges, has a mysterious past, but also has an innate sense of how to reach out to Sammie and relate to her. Not by offering advice, but by just being himself. I didn’t imagine when I started the book that I would become so attached to this kind gentleman. He’s just a great minor character who helps bring the themes of community and overcoming adversity into focus.
Tell us about a day in the life of Carla Stewart. What does an average day look like?
Coffee. Email/Facebook. More coffee. Planning and praying over the day, which usually starts with reading blogs, writing articles like this one, or editing. I’m not a great thinker in the morning so I try to check things off my do-do list so I can spend the afternoon creating new words. Often I will go to the post office or run errands around noon so that the break signals an end to the business part of my day. Afternoons are for buckling down to the real writing. It’s a good day if I write 1500 words, a great day if I get 2000. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m not a fast writer. Slow and steady wins the prize for me. Late in the evening, I write blog posts and often read over what I’ve written in the day so that’s what I’m mulling over in my dreams. It works! Often I wake up with plot twists or new directions in my story, and if that happens, I jot down those new insights while having my first cup of coffee.
Tell us about your approach to gaining the background knowledge necessary to weave the plot.
Before I begin writing, I do a lot of research on the internet, then often buy a book or two to dig deeper into the subject I’m writing about. I also like to visit the setting of the story. For Chasing Lilacs, the setting was similar to the petroleum camp where I grew up, so I went back there (it’s a ghost town now) to see if it was like I remembered. What I didn’t expect was the emotional connection to walking on the spot where my childhood home once stood. In my upcoming book, the setting is in Tulsa (where I live), so I’ve researched the particular areas that play a part in my novel. I love the details of setting that come through the senses – the sights and smells and the way people talk. Since my books are more character and setting driven, those are the things I spend the most time on, but even in the last minutes before I send my manuscripts in to the editor, I’m checking facts.
To non-writers this next question will seem strange. Do you talk to your characters when you’re inside your story world or have you ever been woken up by your characters talking inside your head?
This made me laugh. Of course, I do. They’re real people! They go everywhere with me (sometimes even when I tell them to stay home) and have opinions. Occasionally, they even tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, and if I would just ask, they would tell me what flavor of ice cream they like. That’s what I love about going to conferences and hanging out with other writers—they understand this schizophrenic life!
If you could choose one thing about the publishing industry to change, what would it be?
Since I’m a newly published novelist, I have to say that so far, everything has been wonderful. Each new phase has been enlightening, and I love the process. However, the time between when I received the offer for a contract to when I actually had the contract in hand was four months. I was a total wreck. Thrilled that I had a contract. Afraid they were going to change their minds and say, sorry, we made a mistake. Bursting inside to shout it to the world and not being able to. So, if I could change one thing, it would be to ship those contracts out the day the offer is made. I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. My agent assures me that things are getting s l o w e r and not faster. However, the wait was worth it. I’m loving having a book that I wrote to hold in my hands. No better feeling in the world.