Linda Leigh Hargrove File:
by C.J. Darlington
Linda Leigh Hargrove Interview
third grade I had spent so much time in the school library, I was suggesting
improvements on the Dewey Decimal system."
--Linda Leigh Hargrove
Linda Leigh Hargrove blends suspense, humor, and faith into compelling stories about race and class in America. Her writings include two novels: The Making of Isaac Hunt (June 2007) and Loving Cee Cee Johnson (September 2008). The former environmental engineer currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and three sons where she designs Web sites when she's not writing. She blogs at 17seeds.com.
C.J.: I hear you read constantly as a child. What were some of your favorite books and how have they impacted your writing as an adult?
Linda: I was a bookish kid. The bookworm’s bookworm. By third grade I had spent so much time in the school library, I was suggesting improvements on the Dewey Decimal system. Boy, did I have some wild tastes in reading material. I read everything. Books on turbines and engines, Beverly Cleary, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, E. B. White, George Orwell. E. E. Cummings.
Some of my favorite books are Harry the Dirty Dog, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Dame Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn Mysteries. I just loved words. I couldn’t wait for spelling bees at school and seeing the new Reader’s Digest (with a new vocabulary word list) made my day. Like I said, the bookworm’s bookworm.
There were only three
channels on TV so you either read or you went crazy. The wider I read,
I tried to go with writing. I used to write
poetry (but don’t tell anybody) and short stories, trying to copy
the Masters, then I’d hide it under my mattress. My stuff was awful
but it didn’t stop me from trying.
Another favorite pastime of yours was to explore the backwoods of your childhood home in Creswell, North Carolina. We’d love to hear some of your favorite moments during that time and how they helped mold you into the person you are today.
I’m surprised I’m still alive, to be honest. We spent so much time outdoors it was a shame. Like I said, we only had three TV channels, so my two older sisters and I (and sometimes a cousin or two) would head off into the woods when we got bored, which was often.
Now, I grew up in a swampy part of northeastern North Carolina in a small town named Creswell. So going ‘into the woods’ was not a leisurely stroll along some wide leaf-littered path dappled with sunlight. No way. In the summer, the ground was spongy and there were copperheads and cottonmouths at every turn. Every now and then, as we picked our way through the thick brush typical of the Lower Dismal Swamp, you’d see a deer or black bear in the woods with you.
I’m not sure what we were looking for on our treks. I was the littlest one, most of the time so I just followed. We’d swing on vines, yelling like Tarzan. We’d steal people’s pears from their orchards. Catch minnows and fireflies.
I learned to shoot an air rifle early. We girls would kill snakes or rats that got too close to the house. Sometimes when you couldn’t find the air rifle, you’d be forced to kill the snake with a hoe. That was fun.
On one particular day I was watering my dad’s hunting dogs. It was a lazy hot summer day and I was carrying a five gallon bucket of water to the dog coup a hundred yards or more away from the house. That’s when I saw it—a long shiny black thing stretched out on the ground twenty or thirty feet in the grassy lane ahead of me.
I knew what it was before it rose up and darted toward me. I dropped the bucket and took off running back toward the house, yelling for my mama the entire way. That was the day I got the name Speedy. I was normally pretty fast on my feet but that afternoon I broke the sound barrier, running from a black snake.
I’m not real sure how growing up ‘country’ molded me into the person I am today. I’m the only one in my entire family (and it’s a BIG family) to have an advanced degree in anything. Not sure why I like mysteries from the UK, National Public Radio, Harry the Dirty Dog (which still makes me laugh out loud), and anything with gears.
You have a Masters in Agricultural Engineering and pursued that career over writing for many years. How did you know God was telling you to set aside engineering for writing?
I love engineering. I worked as an environmental engineer for almost five years. Not sure if I set engineering aside to write, necessarily. To tell the truth, I’m still trying to figure out if God is telling me to set it aside. After ten years training to be an engineer, it’s hard to turn it off. Thanks to my dad, the tinkering tendencies will always be with me.
My writing took front and center when I became a work at homer. I wanted to be a ‘full-time’ mom to my little boy—our first son. We had adopted him at three days old and all I wanted at that time was to be a mom, not a working mom. So I came home and I did Web sites for people and I wrote a little. Then I read some fiction by a Canadian author named Sigmund Brouwer and I thought this can’t be Christian fiction. My enthusiasm for Christian fiction picked up and the rest is history.
Your first novel, The Making of Isaac Hunt took you ten years to write. Could you share with us the journey from concept to publication for this book?
I started writing on Isaac Hunt’s story back in 1996. It had a different title and storyline back then, but it was Isaac’s story and it had racial tension. My original intent for Isaac’s story was that it would be used as a tool to help Christians explore racial issues through the eyes of a ‘real’ person.
So for the better part of a month in 1996 I wrote Isaac’s story. My husband and I were in the midst of co-leading racial reconciliation discussion groups. I was doing some speaking in churches. People seemed eager for answers. I was driven to finish Isaac’s story. So I wrote and wrote. Then I found out (through a very nice woman) that I couldn’t write that well. I got mad. Took me more than a year to calm down and pick up my pen again.
I came to my senses and started taking writing classes, attending seminars on fiction and nonfiction writing, and reading books on writing. In 2005 I found my second agent (the first one was a dud) through the Christian Market Writer’s Guide and less than one year later we sold the book to Moody Publishers/Lift Every Voice.
Recently you’ve been quoted as saying an objective for your writing is “… for Christians to see examples of how to respond to prejudice and racism in a more biblical and concerted fashion …” Did you first set out to write a novel with this in mind, or did that goal come about as Isaac’s character and his resulting story took root in your head?
I set out to write a book that would help Christians talk about race. In my mind, I envisioned small Bible study groups or book discussion groups using it to guide them through how to address prejudice and racism in and around them.
During those years that I learned to write I went through some tough times. My own struggles with infertility. Deaths and serious illness in my family. So I think my writing reflected that. The racial healing piece was still there but there was also a thread that helped me find peace and healing in other areas of my life. In a sense, Isaac helped me find a crucial piece of Linda.
What was the hardest part about writing The Making of Isaac Hunt?
The hardest part about writing Isaac’s story is selling Isaac’s story. I’m an engineer. I don’t do people very well. I’m the quintessential social klutz when it comes to identifying the target audience and striking while the iron is hot. So marketing a book is hard for me. I’m getting better at it but it’s slow going. I should have started my publicity and marketing ‘education’ back in 1996, then started writing a decade later. I’d be better off.
As someone who’s co-led racial reconciliation discussion groups, what would you say is the number one misconception first of all that white people have about African-Americans, but then also what is the number one misconception African-Americans have about white folks?
Okay, first off, let me tell you. I have this pet peeve. I don’t like generalizations and broad sweeping statement. Hate them like Brussel sprouts. So I’m not claiming to know the number one misconception, by any stretch. But there’s one that surely ranks high on my list.
From my white family, the line of thought goes a little like this: Black folks are too emotional. When they get loud, they’re getting angry or irrational or both. When they get excited (speaking in tongues and ‘shouting’ in church) they show a shallow relationship and understanding of God.
From my black family, this is what I see and hear: White folks aren’t very passionate about God. If they were, they would show some signs. More emotion in worship service. Some excitement when the talk about God. They just don’t seem to know God very deeply. Not as deeply as I do, anyway.
What is the best way people from both sides can overcome these prejudices in a Biblical manner?
Pray. Then fast. Then pray and fast.
And it wouldn’t hurt to read some books by learned Christian men and women on race in America. Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice do a very good job in More Than Equals, a “textbook” for our discussion group for many years.
It’s exciting to hear you’ve just released a sequel to The Making of Isaac Hunt called Loving Cee Cee Johnson. We’d love to hear more about this book! Please share. :)
I’m happy to be presenting Cee Cee’s story as well. Cee Cee’s a much-celebrated and level-headed TV reporter with a secret. She’s been covering up her broken past. A dreaded assignment takes her to the small hometown she’s been running from (and lying about) for almost twenty years. In the end she has to face her lies and open her heart the truth about the father that, in her mind, pushed her to a life of deception.
Isaac’s in this story too. He, and a few others from The Making of Isaac Hunt, help Cee Cee open up to change. One new character, a white playwright named John Carter Manning, is Cee Cee’s love interest.
Even though there’s plenty of romance in the story, I’m not calling it a love story. Loving Cee Cee Johnson is primarily about love relationships—horizontal and vertical—and the importance of forgiving past wrongs.
You currently have a Web site design business on top of your writing and family duties. How do you find balance in your life to maintain these three separate parts of yourself?
Balanced? Am I supposed to be keeping something balanced here? Seriously, I do try to find a balance. Unfortunately that’s not always reasonable with three boys and a hard-working husband. I don’t get much sleep. I don’t watch TV. I don’t sit around unless the keyboard or mouse is under my fingertips.
Who are some of your favorite authors, and why do you enjoy them?
Dame Ngaio Marsh: Can’t get enough of her cut and dried style. Her Inspector Roderick Alleyn is still way super cool (thirty years after I discovered him).
Sigmund Brouwer: At his best, he’s got a way of telling by foretelling that catches my attention every time. His male characters are extremely enviable.
DeeAnne Gist: Love the way she pushes the envelope with her intellectual female characters.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
Being a Web designer/writer, my challenge is staying away from the keyboard. I don’t like writing stories longhand so when something literary hits me, I’m thrilled to take a break from design and click out some story ideas. It’s a refreshing break.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
How to write a marketing plan. My goodness, that part is nerve-wracking.
Still trying to figure that thing out.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I haven’t had chocolate or caffeine in more than twenty years. I’m a country girl that doesn’t know how to drive a tractor, milk a cow, or chew tobacco.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Cream of wheat, half a pastry, scrambled cheese eggs, and soy milk.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Ketchup, soy sauce, and mustard.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A ginger ale.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Learning to play the guitar better, doing some sort of ministry (local or abroad) with my family, and learning to drive a big rig.
When was the last time you cried?
Three words that best describe you:
Creative. Determined. Analytical.
What’s currently in your CD player?
DC Talk and Veggie Rocks.
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.