by C.J. Darlington
Deborah Raney Interview
have a dream of taking off to Europe with my husband, settling down
in a little village somewhere to live for six months to a year while
I write a story set in that village."
-- Deborah Raney
From the moment Deborah Raney opened the cover of "Tip and Mitten" in first grade, she has loved to read. Growing up on a farm in Kansas, she was inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s "Little House on the Prairie" series, and first tried her hand at novel writing at the age of twelve. But after accidentally putting airplanes in a story set in the 1700s, she tore up her manuscript in frustration and vowed never to write historical fiction again. More than a quarter of a century passed before she dared to attempt another book.
Deborah is currently at work on her fourteenth novel. She is a contributor to The Charis Connection and with her eldest daughter, Tobi Layton, writes a monthly column for crosswalk.com on the topic of marriage. Deborah has also written essays and articles for such publications as Christian Parenting Today, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion, Writer's Digest's Writing Success, Welcome Home, and Mom-To-Mom.
Deborah writes from her home in a small Kansas town, where her husband works as an artist and advertising manager. The Raneys have a teenager at home, three grown children and a new grandbaby.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
DEBORAH: From the summer I was 11 or 12 and read all the Little House on the Prairie books (late at night with a flashlight under the covers), I held onto a dream of someday writing a book. For the next 20 years, every time I read an especially satisfying novel, I’d think, “Oh, how I’d LOVE to write something that wonderful someday and give someone else the same pleasure that author gave me!”
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
I had asthma as a child, so while my brother and sisters were outside playing on the farm where I grew up, I was in the house trying to breathe. My mom made that time special for me by introducing me to the wonderful world of libraries and books. I read everything I could get my hands on—all the Nancy Drew mysteries, and the Little House books. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was reading adult novels. I especially loved Catherine Marshall and Eugenia Price’s novels as a pre-teen.
Your novel A Vow To Cherish was made into a movie a few years ago by World Wide Pictures. How did that come about?
So many early readers of my first manuscript mentioned that they could see the story playing like a movie, that I started trying to market it for film even before I had a publisher. At one point Hallmark Hall of Fame was considering it, but they ultimately sent a very nice rejection, as did World Wide Pictures. But a year later, WWP set out to make a film with the theme of commitment in marriage. Barry Werner’s assistant remembered when my book had come across her desk and suggested they add it to the list of screenplays and novels they were considering. My editor called one day to say they’d narrowed it down to six or seven and I was still in the running. The next day I got the news that A Vow to Cherish had been selected. Just a few weeks later, it went into production. Today, it plays on cable TV, and is available on video and on DVD in 7 languages.
Did you have much say in the screenplay?
None at all. I did get to read an early script, but by the time my husband and I attended the movie premiere in Hollywood, the script had changed considerably. While WWP changed my story considerably, I was very happy with the direction it took.
Steeple Hill recently re-released A Vow To Cherish, right? How much did you revise the story before its re-release?
My original intention was simply to update the medical information, since so much has changed in the ways Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed and treated in the ten years since I first wrote the book. But when I got into the edit, I realized there was much more work to be done, starting with giving my characters cell phones and computers! It was also wonderful to have a chance to fix many new writer mistakes. I ended up adding about 7,000 words to the original manuscript. The storyline remains virtually unchanged, but there were extensive changes to other elements of the book.
Tell us about your latest novel Remember to Forget.
It’s the first in a series of three Clayburn Novels and is an allegory of new life in Christ. Here’s a blurb: Stranded a hundred miles away from her abusive New York City boyfriend after a terrifying car-jacking, graphic designer Maggie Anderson impulsively heads west. Stumbling upon tiny Clayburn, Kansas, she arrives without cash or a past---or so she thinks. As she begins a new relationship with Trevor Ashlock, will she be able to tell him the truth---before it tells on her?
What was the hardest part about writing the story?
I always think the research is the toughest part of any book. I much prefer playing with words, but research is a necessity of the process. Since most of the book is set in my native Kansas, that kept it to a minimum, but a good portion is set in New York and New Jersey. I lived in New York early in our marriage, but it’s been years since we’ve been back and so much has changed in the world of technology that I had a lot of research to do.
What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
Because Remember to Forget is an allegory, I hope readers will come away with the subtle message that we are all offered a second chance at life when we place our trust in Christ. But most of all, I always hope readers come away from my books feeling that they were entertained and uplifted and that they saw just a glimpse of God in my story.
If you could say one thing to someone trying to escape an abusive relationship like Maggie, what would you say?
I would say that God is waiting to lead you and guide you into a new life, better than anything you can imagine. Trust Him and let Him show you the first step to take.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I have a dream of taking off to Europe with my husband, settling down in a little village somewhere to live for six months to a year while I write a story set in that village. The more I hear about my friends traveling to Scotland, Hawaii, and Paris for “research,” the more I think I’m a fool to set my books in Kansas. And yet, to many, my beloved Kansas is actually a rather exotic setting. :)
You’re at the checkout counter in Barnes & Noble and are purchasing something from the book, music & movie sections. What are you buying?
My favorite thing to read is novels, but since I receive so many free ones from publishers and author friends, I’m probably buying a new book on the craft of writing. In the music section, I’m definitely buying a movie soundtrack—perfect music to write by—probably, Dario Marianelli’s Pride & Prejudice soundtrack. In movies, I’d be looking for a slightly cleaned up version of The Holiday with Jude Law and Kate Winslet.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?
Ah, that’s easy. I wake up almost every morning with the “next” scene for whatever book I’m working on, floating through my dreams. If I don’t get up and get it on paper, it’s lost forever. I often get up before five a.m. to write.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
I wish I’d known what a wealth of help there was for new writers—conferences, writers organizations, mentors, books on the craft of writing, critique partners. Back then, I had no idea! I truly thought either you were born with the gift or you weren’t.
What does the process of writing look like for you? Are you a heavy outliner or do you come up with the story as you go?
Definitely seat-of-the-pants. It ruins it for me if I know too much in advance. I write the way most people dream, scene by scene. And my favorite part is midway through the book when I finally begin to feel I know my characters, and then I can go back and layer in character traits and quirks I hadn’t known in the beginning.
Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?
Angela Hunt always lives up to her slogan: Expect the unexpected. I like some of the many genres she writes better than others, but her writing is consistently excellent. Robert Elmer is another inspiration. He writes with such a wide range of emotions—it’s not unusual to move from laughter to tears and back to laughter again within a few pages. And my critique partner, Tamera Alexander’s writing is always inspiring.
What most inspires your imagination?
Music is a big inspiration for me. I love discovering a movie soundtrack for a film I haven’t yet seen on the sale rack. Then I’m free to make up my own story to go with the score.
What’s next for you?
There are two more books in the Clayburn Novels series (one I’m finishing up now) and then I’m writing a short novella set during the post Vietnam years. After that I have a challenging women’s fiction topic I want to tackle, tentatively titled Above All Things.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
My very first contract offer came the day after I witnessed a murder in our local grocery store. (A young man followed his adoptive father into the store, accusing him of abuse. In front of many witnesses, he shot him with a sawed-off shotgun. He walked away from the store, but turned himself in to authorities the next morning. It was a terrifying experience, and certainly not the prelude to getting “the call” that I’d imagined.)
I’ve given birth to children in three decades—one in the 70s, two in the 80s and one in the 90s. Our four kids are now 30, 26, 24 and 16—and the joy of my life!
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy working in the yard with my husband and tending a collection of houseplants. I love shopping in antique stores and flea markets, and decorating our home (unless it involves hanging wallpaper or painting—someone else can have that job! But I do like refinishing furniture.) And I’m always reading a great book or two!
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
A big bowl of Blueberry Morning cereal and Gevalia’s Mocha Java coffee. But a blueberry or whole wheat bagel with real butter is a more usual choice for breakfast.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Yogurt, real butter, and some form of chocolate hidden in the veggie drawer where no one else in the family would ever venture. :)
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I think I’ve only ever ordered one thing at Starbucks: it’s always, always a venti white chocolate mocha, extra hot.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
I want to become fluent in a second language…probably French, only because I have a tiny head start with it after three years of French in high school.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
An old favorite, Christofori’s Dream by David Lanz.
When was the last time you cried?
Oh dear…I cry often. Probably the other night when the Hallmark commercials came on during the Hallmark Hall of Fame special.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I’ve been writing for 13 years now and while this career—especially the marketing and publicity part—sometimes feels like work, I still can’t think of even one other occupation I’d choose instead. I absolutely love what I do and still pinch myself that God has allowed me to continue to do this.
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.