by C.J. Darlington
Ace Collins Interview
"I have two dogs that are sisters of Lassie VIII and Lassie X. I am always learning from Lassie." -- Ace Collins
Ace Collins is the writer of more than sixty books, including several bestsellers: Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Stories behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, The Cathedrals, and Lassie: A Dog’s Life. Based in Texas, he continues to publish several new titles each year. He has appeared on scores of television shows, including CBS This Morning, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and Entertainment Tonight.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I was in third grade when I tried to write my first story. Actually put together a short novel as a freshman in high school. So the dream has been there for a long time. I outlined the basic story of Farraday Road when I was a sophomore in high school.
Share with us your path to publication. How long did it take, and when
was your first big break?
I always wanted to write, so even when I wasn’t being published I was playing with words. I had done some freelance magazine and newspaper things when Louise Mandrell asked me to write the “Mandrell Family Album” with her in 1982. It was at that point I left PR and tried to make writing my living. I almost starved to death writing a bunch of small books and scores of magazine stories until I was asked to pen the biography of Lassie in 1992. That landed me on Good Morning America. “Lassie A Dog’s Life” was also used as the framework for an ABC TV special and I was a part of that too. A lot of books followed (for smaller publishers) and they had varying degrees of success, but the next really important break came with “Stories Behind The Best Loved Songs of Christmas” in 2001. So it was almost 20 years from the start to when I could use my work to actually meet all the bills.
Did you actually
get to meet Lassie? :) What’s something you learned
about Lassie that might surprise us? (Sorry, I’m a dog lover!)
As I have two dogs that are sisters of Lassie VIII and Lassie X, I am always learning from Lassie. Beyond what might be obvious, the thing I believe I have learned most from the line is the potential of humans if they would embrace more of the Lassie spirit. Lassie is forgiving, kind, loyal, brave and self-sacrificing. Those are traits we all need to make a part of our lives.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve
had the chance to interview and why?
Wow, tough question because I have had the opportunity to interview so many well-known or interesting folks. As a baby boomer, spending time with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans was special. Early on in my career I had a chance to speak with Bette Davis for a story on the Hollywood Canteen. So, when I look back over the years it is hard to single out one interview or person.
One of the most delightful interviews I have ever done was with Reba McEntire. She was warm, fresh, bright and positive. But there have been scores of others that I loved visiting as well including Bobby Bowden, Catherine Hicks and a blind World War II vet named Gene Maudlin. The interview that probably moved me the most was with a quadriplegic named Ron Ballard. What an amazing man he really was.
Your first novel Farraday
Road has recently released. We hear you originally
started plotting this book 30 years ago. How much did the story change
from that first initial idea to the finished book, and where did the story
idea come from?
The basic premise did not change. If you were to go back and look at the original notes, the plan that was in place three decades ago held true to form. Yet the book itself evolved with the changes that have taken place over the past thirty years of my life. Added to this was the insight from a strong editing team at Zondervan that helped me add depth to the characters and plot.
Was there a lot of research involved in the writing of Farraday
There was some, but I was very familiar with the area I was writing about, so the towns, rivers and hills spotlighted in this book are a part of my fabric and experience. The sequel, Swope’s Ridge, did require a lot of research as we expanded both the locations and the direction of the book series. By the way, I love the research element of the books. I have been seeking answers for about everything since I was a kid.
Did you experience any challenges transitioning from nonfiction to fiction
writing? If so, how did you handle them?
I have always been a storyteller, so I didn’t have to change much about my writing style. Still, I had a lot to learn to address the different ways that readers approach and absorb fiction. Thankfully Andy Meisenheimer’s editing taught me a great deal on how to adapt my writing into this new genre. In fact, I enjoyed the challenge that Andy presented to me as it allowed me to grow in ways that I don’t think I have grown in years.
What does the novel-writing process look like for you? Do you use a complete
outline or discover the story as you write?
A combination of both. I use a complex and detailed outline and try to follow it as closely as I can, but as the characters come to life they often take the story in a different way than I had intended. I get to a point where I have something outlined and realize that the personality of the character doesn’t match that, so that is where the adaptation comes in. In other words, as strange as this sounds, the fictional characters I thought I had created often take over the writing of the book by deciding where they want to go. That is an entirely different experience than writing nonfiction where the outline determines both the beginning and the ending.
What authors or books have had the most influence on you as a writer?
In my youth it was Albert Payson Terhune and Mark Twain. I also enjoyed all the Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle and Biggers’ tales of Charlie Chan. I got into Raymond Chadler in my teens. I have read a lot of books as an adult, but my favorite author during that time is Clive Cussler. I especially like his early stuff. Currently I am reading a novel by Don Reid called “O Little Town” and the book that everyone seems to be reading – “The Shack.”
One of your
hobbies is restoring and driving classic cars. What’s
your favorite car that you own, and what’s a dream car you wish you
I’ve been fascinated by cars for as long as I can remember, and I have owned a lot of cars over the past thirties years, staring with a 1941 Ford Coupe. My oldest was a 1917 Model T and I still have a 65 Mustang Fastback that each of our kids drove in high school. When I was nine I saw my first 1936 Cord 810 at a museum. I was so amazed by the car that I bought a post card of it. So that has always been my dream car. A decade or so ago, Kathy, my wife, gave me a Christmas card with a red Cord on the front of the card. I found a 36 Cord about three years ago in Canada and sold a 1957 Rancher and a Model T to buy it. Been working on it every since. So it is both my favorite car to dream and it is my dream car. We painted it red and call it The Christmas Cord.
love to hear some of your personal testimony. How did you come to know
is 1 Corinthians 13 your favorite chapter in the
My grandfather was a preacher, my folks were very involved in church work. It just seemed it was always a part of my life. First song I ever learned how to sing was “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.” Hence, faith was a part of me even before I fully understood its potential. The examples I had in my family placed me in a position to almost absorb the lessons I read about in the Bible. Hence, it was almost like the Lord had always been my friend. Accepting that fact when I was ten was easy. That doesn’t mean there have not been doubts, but those were periods of growth as well, so I am thankful for them.
1 Corinthians 13 was read at my wife’s and my wedding. I think this verse explains God’s love so simply and our need to emulate it so completely. I also love Matthew 25: 35-40 and try to keep hang onto it as a roadmap in both works and faith.
What do you
know now that you wish you’d known when you first started
In truth, I wish I realized how fast life goes by. If I had fully appreciated that I would have opened my eyes a bit wider and taken more in along the way. I also wish my drive to create was as strong thirty years ago as it is now. I wasted a lot of time spinning my wheels rather than getting traction.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get
out of it?
About eighteen years ago we simply didn’t have enough money to pay the bills. I was buying used tires for the cars and looking at a lot of debt. I was officiating basketball games and substitute teaching, but combined with my wife’s teaching salary it still wasn’t enough to make ends meet. We had two kids and no health insurance. I came through those days because a good friend in the entertainment business, Louise Mandrell, kept finding me work. She even paid me to help her write her production shows. I owe her a lot because she believed in me and my talent even when I was about to give up on myself. So it took a friend to pull me through the toughest days.
like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Writing is a passion and to really get most out of it you have to dig deeply into your own soul. Your words need to reflect your beliefs, as well as your dreams and even your fears. To do it well you have to reveal facets of yourself that might seem weak. Your best work comes only through honesty. So don’t be afraid to take a close look at yourself and put all that you see, both good and bad, into your work.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I do thirty-three 60 yard sprints four times a week while wearing a twenty pound weight vest.
I love classic films from the 1930s and 1940s, especially Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and William Powell movies.
not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Going to car shows, watching college sports and going to places of natural beauty.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Peanut butter and syrup mixed together and spread on toast.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Coca-cola, brewed sweet tea and peanut butter chips
next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I don’t drink coffee, so I have actually never been in a Starbucks. I guess I am the only person in the U.S. who can make that claim.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Having a best selling novel, seeing New England in the fall, building a log and native stone home on the water (lake or a river).
When was the last time you cried?
I watched the movie “Dark Victory” the other night and cried. I do every time I see it. I also teared up that same night when I watched a news story on a Down’s Syndrome high school student who was voted homecoming queen at her high school.
Three words that best describe you:
Curious, energetic and happy. Think of me as a raccoon in human form.
currently in your CD player/iPod?
This might surprise you … I am listening to a lot of radio series from the 1930s and 1940s. I am too young to have been exposed to radio the way it was when my grandparents listened, so I’m doing some exploring. Currently I’m listening to Richard Diamond Private Detective, Boston Blackie, The Saint, My Favorite Husband and The Lux Radio Theater. You will also find some vintage rock and roll and Kristen Chenoweth’s new Christmas release on my iPod’s playlist.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.