by C.J. Darlington
Debbie Fuller Thomas Interview
feel strongly that people and relationships trump everything. A family
is a small cosmos where the actions of one member will impact the
others in many ways, and it’s not often apparent until the
stories – or lives – play out."
--Debbie Fuller Thomas
Debbie Fuller Thomas writes contemporary fiction from a historic Gold Rush town in Northern California. When she’s not working on her next book or managing children’s programs for her community, she enjoys performing with Colla Voce of the Sierras with her husband, Don, and spending time catching up with her two adult children.
She is a breast cancer survivor and former pastor’s wife, and has been involved in children’s and worship ministries for over 30 years.
Her debut novel, Tuesday
Night at the Blue Moon was a finalist for both
the 2009 Christy Award and the ACFW Book of the Year. Her latest novel
is Raising Rain.
When did you first realize God might be calling you to be a writer?
When my children were young, I operated a home day care for six preschoolers, and for a little sanity, I began writing during their naptimes. I eventually had a 50,000 word Gold Rush novel which I took to the Mount Hermon Writers Conference. The feedback I received was extremely gratifying and I considered it a sign that I was on the right track and that it was more than a hobby.
I know you’ve written nonfiction as well as fiction. What drew you to fiction, and why novels?
Purely for escape. I was hooked on stories when I was young by the classic Disney fairy tale movies. They allowed me to live vicariously through other people and visit places filled with danger and excitement, and return safely at the end. I don’t think it’s much different for adults who crave escape, except that they need a more realistic, believable story.
Every author’s first novel is special to them, but we often learn a lot along the way writing that first book. How did the writing of Raising Rain differ from Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon?
Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon began with an idea and was written ‘seat of the pants’ which required a lot of rewrite. With Raising Rain, I was determined not to make that mistake again (because I hate rewriting) so I created extensive outlines, chapter summaries, character timelines, etc. Some plotting and character development is necessary up front, but I’m looking for a happy medium with the next book. A new character has taken me by the hand and I am following with a loose plot outline stuffed in my back pocket.
Did you find it at all challenging to write so many strong female characters
in the same book? How did you keep them each unique?
They were pretty clear to me from the start, and to keep them in focus, I found pictures of real people who closely resemble them. Famous people worked best because there were many photos available. Bebe was Karen Allen and Mare was Mia Farrow. I found photos of them both at ages 20+ and 50+ which I needed for the story. I saw Selma Blair play a moody heroine, and realized I was looking at Rain. Jude reminded me of Olympia Dukakis and Toni was a nameless model I found in a magazine. (She refused to be tagged with a comparison to anyone else!)
Your books thus far have really focused on families and relationships.
Why is that? Will your next book also follow this line?
Yes, I feel strongly that people and relationships trump everything. A family is a small cosmos where the actions of one member will impact the others in many ways, and it’s not often apparent until the stories – or lives – play out.
How much did you draw from your own life to write Raising Rain?
My son is in the Marine Reserves, so the part where Bebe’s son goes to bootcamp was taken from experience, and he was a handy source for details. Also, the fertility issues hit close to home because we had three miscarriages and were not able to have children for ten years. I had breast cancer, so a bit of my treatment experience went into Jude’s illness. Although I went to college in the mid-seventies, it was a Christian school so the only real challenge was centered around the changing role of women in the church and not questions of sexual freedom or abortion rights.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A Christy Award acceptance speech. :D
Your day job of managing children’s programs for your community sounds quite demanding, and yet I’m sure it’s rewarding too. What is your favorite part about your day job and are there any ways it helps you with your writing?
I love writing curriculum for our day camp themes, and the times I actually get to spend with the children. My job is to manage the budget, deal with staffing and licensing issues and keeping the board members happy, but occasionally I get to be on-site. My job was more helpful when I was writing about Andie, Winnie and Deja in Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon, because I could listen to the conversations of the children first-hand.
I must admit I am a tad envious when I hear you live in Northern California, and near Grass Valley/Nevada City no less! Beautiful country. Where is your favorite place to write?
We’ve been here for twelve years and I love it! The John Travolta movie ‘Phenomenon’ was filmed in our little town. There is a convent/retreat center where I sometimes stay several days to get a jump-start on a rough draft. It’s in a beautiful woodland setting without internet, phones or television. If I have an afternoon available to journal, I usually end up in the American River Canyon where people still pan for gold. Sometimes on my lunch hour I will take my lunch to the cemetery that overlooks the Sacramento valley and do some work.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
I wish I had truly understood that God had his timing and not gotten so disappointed when things appeared to be falling into place – and didn’t. If those ‘perfect’ opportunities had materialized, I would now be writing in the wrong genre and possibly working with the wrong agent for me.
What surprised you most in the writing and/or researching of Raising Rain?
I was surprised by the emotions and memories brought up by listening to the music of the 60’s and 70’s. When I wrote that a song can take you ‘to a place you don’t want to be,’ I was thinking about high school. Of course, Bebe’s experiences were much more traumatic than mine. I was also surprised at how much you don’t understand the times in which you’re living. Reading about the history of the era explained a lot.
I hear you’re
a fan of sci fi and fantasy novels. What are some of your favorites in
and Christian markets? Ever thought about
trying your hand at one of them? :)
I am a Ray Bradbury fan. I was hooked by the The Martian Chronicles in high school and I’ve read all his novels. I met him at a reading and book signing once, and he was a genuinely nice person. I read the Narnia series to my children when they were young, and reread The Lord of the Rings many times. I even plowed my way through The Silmarillion.’ My kids roll their eyes at me when I remind them on September 22nd that it’s Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday. I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy many years ago. The closest I ever came to writing fantasy was way before ‘fan fiction’ when I wrote alternate endings or wrote myself into the story somehow. I don’t have a lot of time to read now, so I tend to read the same kinds of books that I write.
next for you on the book front?
I’m working on a story that came as the result of a dream I had one morning. Luckily, I had my trusty ‘Nite Note’ from Restoration Hardware on my nightstand and I wrote the idea down before it could evaporate. I don’t even have a working title yet!
Who is Debbie Fuller Thomas?
I’m an East Coast transplant who writes contemporary fiction in a Gold Rush town in Northern California. I’ve been married to the same fun guy for 33 years, with 30 of them spent as a pastor’s wife. When I’m not writing, I’m managing after school programs and day camps for our local Parks and Recreation. We have two adult children, and our nest would be empty except for a neurotic Rottweiler and two cats, whom he both loves and fears.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
My husband and I sing with a chamber choir – Colla Voce of the Sierra. We perform challenging music and just produced a Christmas CD. Most of the members have sung professionally, so I’m not sure how I got in!
I’m a total geek about collecting Disney trading pins (to the embarrassment of my kids).
not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to cook comfort food like chicken pot pies, homemade applebutter and blackberry cobblers. I only have time to cook like that on weekends, which is probably a good thing considering that ‘fattening’ in the defining feature of comfort food.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
The Tuscan Scramble at Katrina’s Café: scrambled eggs topped with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil on a slice of rosemary bread spread with goat cheese. It’s like a morning margherita pizza.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Organic eggs, plain yogurt and lemon curd.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Depends on the season. In the fall/winter it’s a grande coffee (except at Christmas when it’s a pumpkin spice latte), and in the summer it’s a venti black tea lemonade.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
I want to travel the world and stay overnight in a castle.
When was the last time you cried?
When my son left for bootcamp.
Three words that best describe you:
Practical, introvert, mom
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
The Eagles, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, Out of Africa, Eric Clapton, Harry Connick, Jr., classical and lots of Christmas music.
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.