Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Virginia Smith about her latest book. I am thrilled to share a few moments with you here, and I know you will find her to be as delightful and warm as I did!
Q - I've never read one of your books, and I'm a huge fan of "cozy" mysteries. Looking at your website, it seems mysteries are only one type of writing you enjoy. What is your favorite genre to read? To write? Why?
A – I enjoy reading many different genres, everything from chick lit to science fiction. (Yes, I’m one of those science fiction geeks!) If a book is well-written and the story is captivating, I want to read it. I honestly can’t pick just one favorite, though I am partial to mysteries and to humor. I’m a huge fan of cozies, too, probably because cozies typically include an element of humor.
I can’t pick a favorite genre to write, either, which is why I write in a couple. My contemporary novels tend to be funnier than the mysteries, and I laugh a lot while I’m writing. But they also tend to include more serious spiritual issues, and I sometimes sit at the computer with my fingers flying over the keyboard and tears flowing down my face. On the other hand, I love writing mysteries because I really get into laying out the clues and red herrings. My goal is to create a mystery that stumps the reader, but entertains them so much that they enjoy being stumped.
Q - Reading your website, it seems God has gifted you in several areas. You enjoy speaking and singing in addition to writing. There is indication that you tried to get published for a long time, what was the breakthrough moment and how did your first published work come into being?
A – You’re right; it took me twenty long years to finally break that publication barrier. I actually collected 143 rejection letters before I made my first sale. (I know. I saved every one.) Part of the reason, of course, was that I was learning the skill. I guess I’m a slow learner. But another reason was just pure stubbornness. I decided that I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy novels, and that’s all I wrote – or read – for most of those years. Turns out God had different ideas for my writing career, and He was patiently waiting for me to ask Him about them. My breakthrough came when I received that 143rd rejection letter. During prayer (if you read between the lines you will hear me sniveling and whining to God, “WHY did you give me this desire to write if you’re not going to let me get published????”) I finally surrendered my dream of becoming a published author to Him. That’s all it took. I’m not kidding, within days I got an idea for a totally different kind of story than any I had ever written. I wrote Just As I Am, which is about a purple-haired young woman with multiple facial jewelry who becomes a Christian in her mama’s little Kentucky church. And it sold to the first publisher I sent it to.
Q - Again, reading from your website, it seems you have a passion about sharing with others what it means to be surrendered to Christ. Can you tell us, as readers and writers why you feel it so hard for many of us to surrender our own dreams for God's plan? I know I struggle with this myself, and it seems I repeat my own mistakes. How can we discern whether our dreams are God inspired or they are our own selfish creation?
A – Oh, Kim, it’s so hard, isn’t it? And surrender goes way beyond writing. Surrender is something we have to do every single day, in every aspect of our lives. I think the key is in learning to be satisfied in the place God has you right now. And how do we do that? By knowing—way down deep inside—that He has everything well in hand. One of my favorite Scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” When we really understand that, we can relax and know that He’s in control. It makes the waiting a little easier.
When I look back over those twenty years of trying to break into publication, I can see now that God was teaching me every single day. I could not have written Just As I Am when I first started trying to write, and I don’t mean because I didn’t have the writing skill (though at the beginning, I didn’t). I mean because I wasn’t mature enough, I had not yet learned to hear the story He wanted to whisper in my ear. I had to learn to trust Him. If I’d learned that earlier, it would have made those twenty years so much more bearable!
How do we discern whether our dreams are God inspired or our own selfish creation? We surrender them. Willingly. Completely, without holding anything back. If they’re His, He’s going to bring them to pass in our lives. If they’re not… well, we don’t really want them anyway, do we?
Q - What made you want to write about horses in Bluegrass Peril? Are you a horse owner or just an admirer?
A – Just an admirer, though more of one now than before I wrote Bluegrass Peril. My aunt, to whom the book is dedicated, is a true enthusiast. She’s a thoroughbred breeder, and her love for her horses truly is an inspiration. And she’s so proud when a horse she has bred races. She can tell you the racing record of every horse she’s bred, which I find really amazing. I was so grateful to have someone in my family to call when I came up with a million and one questions as the story unfolded.
The idea of writing about thoroughbreds came about when I visited a farm similar to the fictitious one in Bluegrass Peril. This place is called Old Friends (Old Friends) and it’s the only retirement farm in the country that houses champion stallions, because they’re really hard to take care of. The founder gave me a tour of the place, and he said something that intrigued me. We were looking at a horse named Ogygian, and the director said he still gets requests to breed him. But he would never do that, because it was a condition of the contract when he acquired Ogygian. I started thinking, “Hmmm. What if someone wanted to breed a champion really badly?” The story grew from that idea.
Q - Are you going to continue to write mysteries as you launch your new contemporary series Sister to Sister?
A – Oh yes! In fact, I am working on another mystery right now, called A Taste of Murder. It’s about a classical violin player who accepts a gig to play her violin in a small Kentucky town. She arrives in time to join in the festivities of the local Bar-B-Q Festival. But when she checks into the hotel, she’s is in for a few unpleasant surprises--like a body in the bathtub covered in barbeque sauce. I’m trying to crank up the suspense a little in this one, at the urging of my editor. A Taste of Murder will be out in October 2008.
Q - You are obviously passionate about books. Who are a couple of your favorite authors? Who has made the greatest impact on you personally?
A – I love Rene Gutteridge’s mysteries, and Sharon Dunn’s. Deborah Raney’s characters are so well-developed that I feel like I know them, so I love her books. Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s To Catch a Thief series is excellent, and I have learned a lot about suspense from her. I didn’t read Kristin Billerbeck’s Ashley Stockingdale series until after I’d written Just As I Am, but when I did, I said, “That’s what my book aspires to be!” And—here comes the weird one—Terry Pratchett writes a fantasy series that I absolutely love. They’re ridiculous and outrageous and I have laughed so hard while reading his books my stomach muscles hurt the next day.
The writer who made the biggest impact on me personally was C. S. Lewis. My mother read the Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was little, and she discussed the symbolism with me. When Aslan gave himself for Edmund, I was able to grasp the concept of Jesus’ sacrifice for me personally. And of course that is the most important fact of my life.
Q - If you could offer a parting word of encouragement or point of focus to your readers, what would it be?
A – A point of focus, huh? Okay, here’s one that’s sort of appropriate for the theme of racing in Bluegrass Peril:
“… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NIV)
So there you go. Don’t become discouraged in this race we call life. Instead, keep your eyes fixed on the One who is the greatest prize of all, and you won’t lose heart. (Gee, maybe I should consider a career as a preacher instead of a novelist!)
Thanks so much, Kim! I’ve enjoyed chatting with you.
Posted by Kim at 8:27 AM