I thought my readers might be interested in some of the answers I gave during a recent pre-publication interview. They’re below.
What is your latest book about?
In Broken Places is a story of healing and overcoming. Shelby is the survivor of childhood abuse. Because of that, she’s spent a good part of her life controlling her environment and steering clear of personal risk. But when she becomes the legal guardian of a four-year old girl under staggering circumstances, she discovers that some of life’s most stunning surprises can also hold its greatest joys. In an attempt to escape the influence of her past, Shelby accepts a teaching job in Germany and begins a new life with her new daughter in a new and challenging place, pursued by a basketball coach she can’t seem to shake. She soon discovers that her past and her present need to be explored and confronted head-on if she’s going to achieve the future she suddenly desires.
What kinds of things fuel you during your writing process?
Honestly? Hamburgers, cheesecake, late-night hours, down comforters and characters that grab my heart and twist it.
For people who may not be familiar with your work, what would you want them to know about you and the kinds of stories you write?
My writing is character-based and dialogue-driven. As weighty as some of the plot elements are, I try to balance the seriousness with generous servings of wit and levity. I’m an avid student of the human condition, so you’ll gain an intimate understanding of the characters and breathe with them as they grapple with their demons in a gut-honest and often humorous way.
In Broken Places is written in the first person. Is Shelby a fictional version of you?
She and I are alike in some ways. We share cheesecake cravings, chin obsessions, and a tendency to leave people bewildered. I taught at a high school in Germany for 20 years, so the setting of the novel is intimately familiar to me. The first play I directed there was “Shadowlands”—which is also featured in the book. The fragile part of Shelby is one I’ve viscerally known. I lived many years among the walking wounded before finding strength and healing. But there are differences too. More than anything, I want Shelby to be a reflection of all women whose various struggles represent a much greater malaise: dissatisfaction with ourselves, with the expectations of others and the often maiming vagaries of life. To me, Shelby symbolizes hope—a woman who has suffered, survived, and grown to thrive.
What made you write the story?
It actually just “happened” to me. I’d wanted to start another major writing project for some time and had toyed with the subject of family violence, but had decided to wait for the Christmas holidays to begin. This novel had other plans! I was sitting around my apartment one afternoon in late October when Shayla’s little face popped into my mind, followed closely by a vague idea of Shelby’s heritage and her journey to Germany. I tried to talk myself into waiting until December to launch into writing, but the story simply would not rest. After I typed the first line, “In Broken Places” began to write itself. For the better part of the following nine days, I let myself be guided by the characters—watching them evolve as they suffered, dreamed, and overcame. Even now, with the novel approaching publication, I feel it as a creation that breathes in spite of me, and the process that birthed it remains in great part a mystery.
Tell us about the school featured in the novel:
Black Forest Academy is a boarding school for missionaries’ children located in Kandern, Germany. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006 and is one of the most prominent and established MK (missionary kid) schools in the world.
I attended BFA as a student in the 80s and found it to be more than just an educational institution with high academic standards and international recognition. It is a safe place where students can gain a sense of belonging, a deeper understanding of themselves and their faith, and social interaction with likeminded peers—all vital elements in the development of teenagers, particularly those most acutely affected by a life on the mission field.
I returned to BFA in 1991 and have spent the intervening years teaching, directing, and nurturing the students I’ve come to love so dearly. As I wrote in “In Broken Places,” MKs are a multi-faceted amalgam of innocence and world-weariness, contradictory in their fragility and strength. They are endearing, bright and complex, and working with them was both a vocation and a reward.
My life and ministry still revolve around MKs, but in a different way today. See bio for more information.