Monday, January 5, 2009

The Tenacity Interviews - Debbie Fuller Thomas

Bad news. Crumbling global economy. Job loss. Ecological disasters.

We are surrounded by difficult news - and challenges. All the upheaval in recent months got me thinking about tenacity - what is it? how do we channel it? how can it see us through seemingly impossible times?

Welcome to The Tenacity Interviews on Fiction Matters. Each week you'll hear from two authors (each Monda and Thursday) who have used their tenacity to succeed in the face of rejection, distraction, and difficult times. The purpose of the interviews is to encourage you to keep pressing on toward your goal - whatever that goal may be. A cup of encouragement and inspiration for the road ahead. I have been blessed and encouaraged as I've talked with dozens of authors about their tenacity and where it's taken them. Let's begin:

Debbie Fuller Thomas is the author of Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon. Her second novel, Raising Rain, will be available September 2009. She has also been published in Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul and But Lord, I Was Happy Shallow. An eleven-year breast cancer survivor, Debbie and her husband enjoy their empty nest in a historic gold rush town in Northern California

1) Tell us about your latest book
Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon debuted last June with Moody Publishers. It is the story of a mother who loses a child to terminal illness, only to find she had been switched at birth. She gets custody of her adolescent biological daughter, who resists finding her place in a family of strangers. The setting is the Blue Moon Drive-in, where Tuesday night is Family Night.

2) Debbie, you found success fast, the first thing you ever submitted to a publisher was accepted. Then, you didn’t sell another book for 19 years. Tell us about your first sale.
In casual conversation, my new neighbor asked if I’d ever thought of writing. She had written articles and children’s take-home papers for her denomination, and it piqued my interest. So I submitted a personal experience article to my denomination’s magazine, and they bought it. Unfortunately, it was purchased for future publication, and the magazine folded before it was printed. But it was very gratifying to know they thought it was good enough to print.

3) How many manuscripts/articles did you write in those nineteen years?
I submitted two other articles that year, but had no luck. During that time, I operated a home day care, and I began a gold rush romance while the children napped. Several years went by, and by the time it was ready, the genre was saturated and no one was buying. At that time I was being treated for breast cancer, and I ‘sold’ my personal experience story to Coping With Cancer magazine (for magazine copies) and had my first by-line. I submitted a short article to a regional parenting magazine and was surprised to find it published in their December issue without my knowledge. They paid me and asked me to write three more articles for them during the next year. I found I could follow guidelines and meet deadlines, and I began to submit to book collections. Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul bought one, and my cancer story was reprinted in another. By this time, I was well into writing Tuesday Night, and decided to devote any spare time to that instead of writing articles, since I was now working full-time and raising a family.

4) Why didn’t you just throw your hands in the air and say “forget it!”
Believe me, I felt like it! There were long stretches of time when life got in the way and I didn’t write, but I was miserable. It was usually at times like that, when I put down a book I was reading and said, “I can write better than this.” I think all authors have said that at some point. Reading ‘how to’ books on writing, attending writer’s conferences, and especially meeting regularly with other writers has also kept me going.

5) Is tenacity something you learned along the way? Or does it come naturally to you?
I think I had a little deep inside. There were so many demands on my time and attention, between working full-time, raising a family and being a pastor’s wife. But I believed that God had entrusted this ministry to me, and that I was accountable for it. Housecleaning took a backseat, as did nightly home-cooked meals. I had to make choices, even at church. My writing was just as legitimate a ministry as teaching Sunday school or singing on the worship team, and I couldn’t do it all. Before the book was published, I sensed that some people thought I used my writing as an excuse not to get involved.

6) Who believed in you the most? What role did they play in your ability to keep going?
I have to say that my husband supported me without question. He doesn’t read fiction, so it wasn’t based on belief in my abilities. He simply validated that I had every right to pursue writing, if that’s what I felt like I should do. Also, I highly valued the opinions of the editors and writers at the writer’s conferences, and my agent. I kept their comments and re-read them when I get discouraged.

7) Can you be tenacious and content at the same time?
When being tenacious pays off, I’m content. I don’t like getting up at 5:00 a.m. to write, but it feels good when I’m in the ‘zone’ and have to force myself to quit writing and get ready for work.

8) Where will your tenacity take you next?
My next book, Raising Rain, will be out in September 2009. Having written my first book over a period of years with no real timetable, writing this one under a deadline is a real challenge. I write early mornings, late at night, weekends, and sometimes take my laptop to work and find a Starbucks at lunch. I’ve even cloistered myself for days at a Catholic retreat center to write without distraction. After that, there’s always marketing.

My thanks for the wonderful interview, Debbie, and for kicking off The Tenacity Interviews with great panache!

Speaking of Debbie's new blog - Today is the launch of Novel Matters! We're live! Pop on over and join in the fun - I'm there today kicking off the blog, answering questions, and waiting to see you!

I bid you good writing.


Patti said...

Debbie, your tenacity has inspired me. I start my writing project TODAY! Thanks for being so transparent. It's been great getting to know you better. BTW, I'm reading Tuesday Nights right now, and I'm loving it!

Laura Davis said...

A Catholic Retreat centre! What a marvellous idea! Thanks for that great interview.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying it! It was a labor of love with no guarantees that it would be published. I didn't mention that it started out as juvenile fiction with only the daughter's viewpoint, at a time when no one was buying juvenile fiction. At the suggestion of an agent, I completely rewrote it, adding in the mother's viewpoint. I really wanted to throw in the towel at that point, but I think it's a better story because of it.
There are lots of places (church camps, etc.) that rent out quiet space in the off-season. A change of scenery can jump-start my creativity, and keeps me from being distracted to 'just throw in a load of laundry' which diverges into, 'I'll just start something for dinner.'

Kathleen Popa said...

Debbie, I'm so glad you kept going. Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon is a riveting, wonderful novel.

Latayne C Scott said...

I finished Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon. In some ways, I didn't want it to end because the writing was so apt -- the descriptions of each narrator (especially when each was describing the other) were tightly-written and authentic. One of the greatest compliments I can give a fellow writer is to say that as I read, I was not conscious of her own personality -- she became an invisible conduit of the words.

I can also identify with Debbie's feelings about being suspected of using her writing to not be involved in other church work. I have battled that for years. The only thing that has truly helped is when a friend told me, "Only you can write your books. Other people can take up the slack of other duties."

Anyway, Debbie has written a book to be proud of, one that reflects the love of God in a gritty contemporary setting.

Latayne C Scott

Sharon K. Souza said...

Debbie & Bonnie:
This is a great interview. Debbie, I learned things about you that I know will continue to inspire me. It's the finish line we press toward, doing our best to fulfill our purposes for being here, and you're someone I could follow!