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Deborah Raney

The Advocate

Deborah Raney Interview

by C.J. Darlington

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"...my plots in all three Hanover Falls books took totally unexpected turns and the surprise ending was a surprise even to me."
-- Deborah Raney

DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have since won the RITA Award, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. After All, the newest book in her Hanover Falls Novels series releases in May from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. They have four children and four grandchildren, all of whom live much too far away.

Deb, what about growing up on a farm has impacted your writing the most?

Probably the fact that we lived eight miles from town and I had lots of time to spend making up stories and drawing cool maps to illustrate them. There's also something visceral about living on a farm––being so close to birth and death and to the earth. I'm definitely a different person for having grown up on a farm.

You read a ton of great literature as a child thanks to your Mom’s encouragement. I know you loved Catherine Marshall especially. Which of her books did you enjoy the most and why?

I read a lot of Ms. Marshall's non-fiction, and her biography of her husband, Peter Marshall, but I read her first novel, Christy, when I was in fifth grade, and it haunted and inspired me.

I’d imagine releasing the final book in a series like you have with After All is exciting yet bittersweet too as you’ve spent so much time with the characters! Could you share with us where you got the idea for the Hanover Falls series?

You're right––writing "the end" on a final book in a series is a little like moving away from a beloved community. I already miss my characters and interacting with them each day. And yet, there's always the excitement of getting to know new characters and a new setting, as I am with The Face of the Earth, which will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

The idea for the Hanover Falls Novels came when my husband placed a newspaper clipping at my place at the breakfast table one morning. It was the tragic story of nine heroic South Carolina firefighters who were killed battling a fire. Knowing several firefighter families, I began to explore how the survivors of such a tragedy would cope and go on with life.

Hanover Falls

Did you know ahead of time which character each book would follow and what turns the plots would take?

I'm what author Alton Gansky calls an intuitive writer. I don't plot ahead much, but I did have my characters for all three books in mind, and had a rough idea of the theme of their stories when I proposed it to my publisher. That said, like always, my plots in all three books took totally unexpected turns and the surprise ending was a surprise even to me. ;)

After All deals with some tough subjects, including infidelity. How did you approach tackling the subject in a Christ honoring way that also shared life realistically?

Life is messy. It just is. And to write it any other way would not be realistic. (Not that there's not a place for lighthearted, happy-ending stories. There is!) I've had a very happy life with very little heartache or struggle, but even so, life has taught me that God's Word is true when it says in John 16:33, "in this world you will have trouble." I write to illustrate the second part of that verse, "But take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world."

What do you hope readers come away with after reading the story?

Forgiveness is a gift, not only to the forgiven, but to the forgiver.

Who is your favorite character in the series and why?

I think I love and identify with Bryn from Almost Forever the most.

Firefighters and firefighting are at the center of these books. What sort of research did you have to conduct to write about these characters, and what surprised you most in what you discovered on the subject?

I talked to many volunteer and career firefighters in researching the story. My nephew-in-law (and his father) are career firefighters and he was such a great resource, loaning me all his training manuals for the entire three-year period I was researching and writing the series, and answering questions in detail at the drop of a hat. So often, the extra information he included in his replies gave me new ideas for plot points and dialogue. I couldn't have written the books without him!

As for what surprised me: I was shocked how many firefighters wives I talked to weren't really all that safety conscious! LOL!

Now that you’ve written over twenty books, do you approach writing any differently than you did when you first started? How?

I think I'm more self-confident about my abilities, and I know I don't panic so much about whether there's enough material for a full-length story. I've learned that the story will tell itself if I let it, and I always end up with far more ideas than pages.

I hear music is a huge inspiration to you. Do you listen to music while you write? If you do, who are some of your favorites?

I love choosing music to fit the scene I'll be writing or researching. I can't write to anything with lyrics or I end up typing lyrics! For me, the best music to write by is movie soundtracks, because they were written to accompany story, therefore, they stay in the background, unobtrusive. Some of my favorite film score composers are John Williams, Dave Grusin, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Michael Kamen, Danny Elfman…I could go on and on!

Deborah RaneyAfter a long day writing, how do you de-stress and relax?

Flipping through decorating books and rearranging furniture. I love decorating our modest home with simple changes and with antiques and flea market finds. I enjoy weeding and watering our gardens (until it gets so hot in Kansas). And while I have to be in the mood, I really enjoy cooking and especially baking.

On a slightly unrelated topic, I was surprised to read in another interview you did that you almost drowned as a teenager. The writer in me would love to hear that story. I’m so glad you were okay!

My girlfriends and I had gone to the lake for the day, but in the afternoon, a storm rolled in. We were just wading and dog paddling, yakking like girls do, when suddenly we realized that the wind had carried us far from shore and we could not touch bottom. I was not a good swimmer and was close to panic as the wind continued to carry us away from shore, pushing water into my face with every breath I tried to take. My friend Nancy calmed me and we flipped over on our backs and she held my hand as we each did a one-handed backstroke all the way to shore. My life truly flashed in front of me in those long minutes before we could touch bottom again. If not for my friend, I'm not sure I would have made it. It was a life-defining moment and I'll never forget Nancy's selflessness in sticking with me and helping me back to shore.

Could you give us a sneak peek into your next novel The Face of the Earth? Face of the Earth

When Mitch Brannon's beloved wife kisses him goodbye one autumn morning, he has little idea that his life is about to change forever. Jill doesn't return from her conference and when she's still missing three days later, Mitch enlists the help of Jill's best friend, their next-door neighbor Shelley, in the search of his life. Weeks, and then months go by, with no inkling of what happened to Jill. Slowly, Mitch and Shelley's friendship begins to turn into something more, and Mitch must decide what it means to vow for better or for worse, forsaking all others.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?

Oh, we're so boring. If Ken and I are not traveling to a conference or to visit our kids (who all live hours away) we're probably working in the the yard (http://kansasprairiegarden.blogspot.com) or curled up on the couch watching a movie. We do have a group of five couples we get together with for dinner one Friday a month, so we're not total social hermits. ;)

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

That's an easy one: traveling outside the U.S.––England, Italy, Ireland, Germany are at the top of my list. I would also love to become fluent at a second language, probably French, since I have a little jump on that, having studied it for three years in high school.

What was your first job? I de-tassled corn my sophomore year of high school. It was a hot, miserable, buggy, wormy, prickly task, but that check for $100 at the end of the job was worth it!

Favorite food of all time: It's a toss-up between guacamole and tiramisu.

Favorite Twilight Zone episode: LOL! Fun question. The only episode I remember was one where a camera takes photos five minutes into the future. They take it to the race tracks, and I don't remember much else, except that there was no happily ever after! Everybody dies in the end.

Your favorite movie of all time and why:

It's so hard to choose just one, but one I really love and would watch again and again is Miss Potter with Renée Zellweger as Beatrix Potter. Charming movie, mesmerizing score, and lush scenery of Scotland and England's Lake District.

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.