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Alison Strobel Morrow

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The Advocate

Alison Strobel Morrow Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I have to admit, I hate research. I always say I write fiction so I won’t have to research—I just make stuff up!" -- Alison Strobel Morrow

Born and raised in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Alison Strobel started writing stories in the first grade and just never stopped. A wife and a mother, she plans to continue writing a novel a year.

C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

ALISON: It was never a matter of wanting to—I just always was. Ever since first grade I’ve been writing. I wasn’t always a particularly good writer—but I was quite prolific in elementary school! In terms of wanting to write as a career, that just came through divine arrangement over the last couple years. I never expected to be; I knew how hard it can be and just never thought that would be in the cards. But God had other plans.

Your father Lee Strobel is an accomplished writer himself. Have you ever found it challenging to write in your father’s shadow, so to speak?

My dad and I write in such different styles and genres and for such different audiences that we’ve never been compared, thank heavens. I was worried that the only reason Waterbrook Press wanted to sign me was to have the Strobel name in their catalog, but they were quick to assure me that it was strength as a writer, not my name, that caught their attention. And I’ve found over the last year and a half that my stuff’s been out there that most people reading my books don’t even know who Lee Strobel is!

What is the number one thing your father taught you about writing?

“Keep at it!” He never specifically told me that, but he modeled it with the life he lived. His first book was published way back in the early 80’s, and no one knows what it is because it was so obscure. But, like me, he’s always been a writer, and he kept writing in one way or another, kept biding his time, and then his chance came and he grabbed it. But even then his books weren’t huge sellers; it wasn’t until he’d been writing for a few years that he got his big break. He’s had some hits and some misses, but he’s never stopped writing. When I start despairing about earning back my advance or ever getting another contract, I just think of how long it took him and how well he came out in the end.

Most writers perform a lot of research before ever writing their novels. Is that true for you? Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments while performing research?

I have to admit, I hate research. I always say I write fiction so I won’t have to research—I just make stuff up! But obviously there are times when I do have to do some research to make the story true-to-life. But I rarely do research before I start writing; I tend to wait until I get to a point where I can’t write anymore until I have certain information, and then I’ll start working on it. Basically, I put it off as long as possible!

Worlds Collide by Alison Strobel MorrowChristian fiction has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. What are your thoughts on the future of Christian fiction?

Oh wow, what a question. Well, frankly, I think Christian fiction is at a turning point. The audience that reads it exclusively is quickly shrinking. I don’t know anyone who reads only Christian fiction anymore. I know a lot of people who tend to roll their eyes at the genre in general because they think it’s not realistic. A lot of restrictions have been placed on Christian fiction writers in terms of the language we can use and the kinds of people we can feature, and that has fed into the problem of not being able to write books a lot of people can relate to, because their world isn’t that sterile. It forces us to get creative, which is good, but creativity is only going to get us so far, and for those of us who are trying to use our writing to both entertain Christians and reach non-Christians, we need more flexibility.

Now, that being said, there are some fantastic authors out there who are pushing the envelope and striving to portray the world as it really is in their books while still providing a redemptive message. And don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that there’s no market for books targeted mainly at Christians. But I think that market is shrinking, and the authors who are getting a bit edgier in their material are going to be the ones who define the next era of Christian fiction.

Where do you draw the line in portraying violence/adult situations in your novels?Alison Strobel Morrow

My goal and call as a writer is to bring the gospel to those who don’t yet know it or believe it. To that end, I strive to create characters that secular readers can relate to in some way and put them in realistic and believable circumstances. That means my characters sin—sometimes a lot—and sometimes my characters aren’t Christians and don’t even want to be. But in order to tell their stories I don’t have to give every nitty-gritty detail. If a character has an affair, I’ll tell how s/he met the person they cheated with, but I won’t give the details of their intimacy. There’s no need: my readers know what an affair entails, they don’t need me spelling out the specifics! So, bottom line is, in order to stay true to my characters and the story they’re telling, I need to allow them to get into trouble, but there’s no reason to give every intimate detail of their screw-ups.

Do you ever struggle with sharing your faith in your stories?

Nope! God gives me the stories he wants me to tell, and I’m just the messenger. Sometimes (like in Worlds Collide) the gospel message is totally out there. In others (like Violette Between) various aspects of faith are discussed but a reader won’t necessarily get the entire gospel message. And I don’t write, thinking, “This book is going to have a lot of spiritual stuff in it!” The spiritual themes are an organic part of the story; as the story grows and develops, the spiritual themes form just like all the other themes form.

Violette Between by Alison Strobel MorrowViolette Between is a bit of a departure from your first novel Worlds Collide. Can you tell us what makes Violette Between special?

Well, I think (or, at least, I hope!) Violette Between shows that I’ve grown as a writer. When I wrote it, nearly five years had passed after writing Worlds Collide, so hopefully I grew some in that time! I think the themes reflect some of the changes in my life, as well: I’d been married for two years when I finished VB, and was pregnant again after miscarrying earlier in the year. WC was written by a very single Alison, and I think some of the Cinderella undertones were born out of that looking-for-my-prince era.

Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?

I think Grace in Worlds Collide, because she basically is me. Not that I’m some narcissistic person or something—I’m just able to relate to her! Plus she was the driving force behind my first novel, so I’m sort of attached to her because of that, too.

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?

I routinely had three or four books on my nightstand, and every night I’d read from them all before going to sleep (after being told multiple times to turn off the light). I lived at the library in the summers. I finished my work at school as quickly as possible so I could read (or write). I was a big fan of Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary) and Nancy Drew mysteries. Actually, I read more mysteries than anything—Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, even the Hardy Boys—which is funny since I really don’t like them anymore. I also loved the Narnia series, and Madeleine L’Engle when I was in junior high.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

1. I was addicted (and I really mean that!) to an online role playing game when I was in college.
2. Um…I can’t think of a second one. I’m a really predictable person, I think. And boring.

Alison Strobel MorrowWhen you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Reading! It’s definitely my favorite thing, next to writing. Those both tie for first. After that, scrapbooking is my favorite hobby. I could open a store with all the supplies I’ve got! And, of course, spending time with my baby daughter (well, 8.5 months—seems a little old for the term “baby”) and my husband.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

V8 Fusion (Strawberry-Banana flavored), natural peanut butter, and vegetables I keep telling myself I need to eat.

Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?

I love to go walk around the mall to decompress. The whole keeping-in-shape thing has been a bit hard lately, but my routine is Pilates and power walking. We have a lake in the center of town that is exactly a mile around. My goal is to get 4 laps done in an hour. So far I’m averaging about 16-18 minutes a mile, so I’m getting there! But unfortunately my daughter hates going around the lake—NO idea why—so I usually only get 3/4 of a lap in before she starts crying. *sigh* Needless to say, I haven’t walked much lately.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Large decaf mocha with whip. If it’s really hot out it’ll be on ice.

What’s currently in your iPod?

Almost everything I own—and it’s on shuffle! But I get really happy when Joni Mitchell (Court and Spark), Norah Jones (Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home), Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy), or the Chicago movie soundtrack comes on. I love singing, and some of my favorite songs to sing are on those albums.

What’s next for you novel-wise?

I’m actually working on my spiritual autobiography at the moment. So it’s still a story, it’s just a true one. It’s actually a lot more work than I thought it would be—I have to fight to not improve on things! Sometimes I look at what I read and think, “Wow, I’m lame,” and get mad because there’s nothing I can do about it—I did stupid, lame things when I was younger, and if I’m going to stay true to what really happened, I can’t rework things to put myself in a better light.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

Come visit me! On the web, that is. Check out my blog and leave me a comment. If you have a blog, let me know so I can add it to my blog roll.

C.J. DarlingtonC.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.