Marlo Schalesky File:
by C.J. Darlington
Marlo Schalesky Interview
"For me, writing is about seeking God, being faithful to the stories He gives me, focusing on seeing Him more clearly and being awed by His wonder. It’s not about fulfilling my dreams, hopes, or goals." -- Marlo Schalesky
Marlo Schalesky is the award-winning author of eight books, including her latest novel Shades of Morning, which combines a love story with a surprise ending twist. She has also had nearly 700 articles published in various magazines, had her work included in compilations such as Dr. Dobson’s Night Light Devotional for Couples, and is a regular columnist for Power for Living.
Marlo hold a Masters degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary (yes, she reads the New Testament in Greek!) and recently completed her third book in her “Love Stories with a Twist!” for Waterbrook-Multnomah Publishers, a division of Random House. She lives in Salinas, California with her husband, son, and four young daughters.
It’s inspiring that you knew you wanted to be a writer as a teenager. But I’ve heard you say you had to come to a place where you didn’t have to write to be content. Could you share with us what that moment of surrender was like for you? How did God move in your life after you surrendered your writing fully to Him?
Oh, I wish I could say it was a beautiful moment when I laid my dreams on the altar and walked away free. But honestly, I was pathetic. I couldn’t do it. Best I could do was bring my tight-fisted, white-knuckled hands to God and say, “Well, here ya go. This is all I can do. I don’t know how to let go of my dream of writing, born at age 13. I don’t know how to surrender. I can’t do this. Hellllllp!”
God helped one spring night while I sat in the back of the auditorium at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference after the main evening session. Almost everyone was gone, tears were running down my face (a very rare thing for me), while God gently but firmly wrenched open my fingers and allowed me to let go of the dream. I don’t know how He did it, but He freed me. I walked out of there done with striving, done with needing, done with “I-have-to-be-published, I-have-to-be-a-writer.” I saw Steve Laube, who was at Bethany House at the time (he’s now my fantastic agent), and told him, “I’m done. I’ve finally let go of this thing.” I had no idea what God would do then, if I’d ever write another word (professionally, of course), or if I was walking away from writing completely. And the best thing was, I didn’t care. Whatever God did next, I was okay with it.
And of course, God did the unexpected. Within a couple months, Crossway Books offered me a contract on my first novel, Cry Freedom. Shortly after that, Bethany House offered me a contract on my only nonfiction book, Empty Womb, Aching Heart, Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility.
Since then, my writing life hasn’t been all peaches-n-cream. I’ve had to deal with poor sales, publishers who decided they were done with fiction right before my book came out, publishers who laid off nearly all of their marketing department right when my novel was released, and other not-so-great things like that. And God’s had to remind me (very strongly at times!), that I cannot, must not, start grasping again. I can’t make this about what I want and how I think things ought to happen. I have to be very careful, because I’m no good at surrender. I have to make very, very sure that I stay loose-fingered and don’t start tightening my grip.
I’m amazed you’ve had 700 articles published besides your
novels. What has writing short nonfiction pieces taught you about writing
that you’ve applied to your fiction?
Thanks! I do continue to write articles, especially around the themes in my novels (that’s been fun). And of course, in my nonfiction articles, I also tell stories (oh, I love a moving story!), so I’ve learned to get to the point … and to have a point. The shorter articles are great for reminding me to get rid of any extraneous material that doesn’t serve to further the story and the purpose of the story. They teach me that everything has to be meaningful and interesting or else it should be cut, cut, cut.
Your latest novel Shades
of Morning was written mostly in a Starbucks!
Have you experienced any funny moments while writing in coffee shops? Or
perhaps overheard some unusual conversations that have made it into your
The Starbucks where I like to write is in the shape of a half circle, and if you sit back in the corner, at the very end of the half circle, the acoustics are such that you can hear every single word everyone says in the whole place, especially those people sitting on the far side of the store. Usually, I hear the normal stuff – job interviews, people trying to convince other people to join them in some network marketing scheme, women gossiping. But once a group of cops came in and talked about their cases. Well, mostly one guy talked and about every third word was a cuss word. It was amazing. But no worries! None of that made it into any of my books. Whew!
And I hear
you love a good donut… what’s
your favorite treat while you tap at the keyboard?
At Starbucks I order a decaf venti white mocha, nonfat milk, no whip. Then, on a good day, I get an apple fritter, heated, on a plate with a fork (otherwise it gets all stuck inside the bag). So, talk about a sugar high! Ack!
ideas from all over the place. Could you share with us a little bit
of the genesis
of Morning? How did you decide “this
is the story I have to write next”?
This story was a gift from Andy on one ordinary Sunday morning at church. I went not expecting to see anything different, or special, or extraordinary. But God had other plans. And so did Andy. In the middle of the third song, a noise came from the far side of the church. A loud noise. Strange, awkward, and off-key. Then, it grew louder. I furrowed my brow. Was that someone singing . . . badly?
I stood on tiptoes and peeked toward the sound. And there was Andy. His arms were raised, his eyes closed. And he was singing to his God for all he was worth. Andy, in his middle teens, with blond hair, thick glasses, and small ears. Andy, with Down syndrome and a grin on his face big enough for the angels to see. Andy, shout-singing with all his might through that radiant smile.
That moment changed me. It showed me that beauty is found in unexpected places, and that God’s gifts in our lives are often wrapped in awkward, off-key packages. I witnessed something beautiful, something wondrous that day, and it made me see that so often the hard things in life, the things we want to hide away, to forget, to cover up, can be transformed into things of beauty in the hands of God.
I went home later that day and wrote out the plot outline to Shades of Morning and sent it to my publisher the next day. And that’s how the story was born – in those moments while Andy worshipped and I was left breathless by the wonder of it.
love to hear more about your horse Jewel (any chance you named her
and your gymkhana experiences with her!
How did she enter your life, and are your times with her how you relax
Jewel is a fantastic horse. She’s half Arabian and half fox-trotter, and loves to run. She’s also a very sensible mare who likes to make sure everyone in the barn is getting along with each other. She originally came out of the Stanford riding program (which was a fun bonus for this Stanford grad!) through a friend of mine who renamed her Jewel, because she was such a jewel of a horse. Her registered name is Fire Mountain Foxy. I loved the name Jewel because I just adore the Narnian Chronicles and especially The Last Battle where we see Jewel, the unicorn.
I rode horses as a kid, so always wanted to have horses again as an adult. In 2007, my oldest daughters (then ages 7 and 4) started to ride, so we began looking for a horse or two to buy. Jewel was the first horse we found, and she was perfect for me and safe for the girls. Just over a year ago, we starting running gymkhana. Jewel had never done it, and I hadn’t tried since I was a kid, but she took to it and we’ve both really enjoyed going faster and faster for each show. We still aren’t in the division with the super fast girls, but we have A LOT of fun! There’s nothing I like better than saddling up with my Aussie saddle, jumping on Jewel, and going for a ride!
taught you many things about life, too, some of which made it into Shades
Care to share?
Jewel taught me that God calls us to repent, not to regret. When you’re riding, you have to look forward, in the direction you want to go, or else the horse gets confused, wavers, and stalls. This is especially important when you’re running barrels or poles. If you knock over a barrel or hit a pole, you can’t look back! You have to keep looking forward and finish the race. Later, you may analyze what you may have done wrong and improve for next time, but you never look back and bemoan the fallen barrel/pole.
The same is true in life. If you make a mistake, choose poorly, miss an opportunity, or something goes wrong, you can’t sit there stuck in the past, stuck in regret. If you do, you’ll stall, get confused, and have difficulty finishing the race. In Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV) Paul tells us, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
So instead of dwelling in regret, we simply confess, repent. Move on. Just like riding a horse, we have to keep our eyes on where we want to go. Repentance keeps you looking forward. Regret causes you to keep looking back. God is calling us forward, calling us heavenward. And that is a major theme in Shades of Morning.
With a degree in Theology under your belt, do you find yourself applying
aspects of what you learned obtaining this degree more than you thought
you would? Care to give an example?
All the time, in my personal life, and in my writing! One fun little example comes from learning New Testament Greek (yes, I’m strange – I absolutely love to read the New Testament in Greek). One of my favorite insights is from Philippians 4:13, a sometimes familiar passage which usually reads, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” But in the Greek, the word for “strengthen” is actually the preposition “in” connected to the word for “power” (dunamis, where we get our word “dynamite”). That little insight has been so encouraging to me because it says that God doesn’t just take what I already have and give it a boost (which is how I’d been reading “strengthen”), but he puts his own power (his own dynamite!) in me. And that’s why I can do all things – because I am in-powered, not just strengthened. I love that, especially now when I’m pregnant, exhausted, and wondering how in the world I’m going to do the things I’m supposed to do! (And there’s a little mention of this word in Beyond the Night too, my first Love-Story-With-a-Twist.)
impressed that back in the day you were a chemist at IBM! Did you feel
that your job there satisfied your creativity?
What sort of research projects did you work on?
I loved working on new projects and developing new chemical compounds, but working alone in the lab all day wasn’t very satisfying. I ended up longing for something more significant, something that would touch people’s lives in ways that mattered. But while I was working at IBM, I was researching chemical compounds that might be used to develop read-write disk technology (of course, this was before we had read-write disks). I would develop different compounds, and my partner would shoot them with the laser to see if they had possibilities for developing the read-write technology that everyone at the time was racing to try to figure out. I don’t think our research ever turned into the “big break” but it was a lot of fun to plan and figure and try out different things.
amazing you’ve accomplished so much with your writing
and are a mommy to five kids! What’s the number one way
you manage to juggle all your responsibilities without burning out?
Starbucks decaf venti white mocha! Really though, if I can just get away for a couple hours a couple times a week, I am a new woman. Occasionally, my wonderful husband will take the crew to the mall or something for a few hours (bless him!) and give me a chance to write in silence (I love silence … I miss silence …). And sometimes I get away to Starbucks, or get a moment of quiet in my “quiet room” (a tiny little loft area above my bedroom) in the evenings (though now my “quiet room” has about three inches of dust because I haven’t been up there in months and months).
In general, though, I don’t have it all figured out, I’m constantly readjusting, and most days are an exercise in chaos mixed with a dash of insanity. For example, yesterday I told my girls, “Today is ‘let’s think of ways to make Mommy’s life easier’ day, because I think it will be better for you to try to revive this worn-out Mommy instead of trying to find yourselves a brand new one.” (Yes, I was kidding … mostly. ;-))
As an identical
twin myself, it’s cool to hear your own set of twins!
Are they identical?
No, they’re opposites! One’s blonde, the other’s brunette. One’s sunny and happy, the other, uh, not so much. One is into everything (the happy one), the other not at all. One loves writing on the walls (so pleased to do the naughty thing), the other is very careful not to (and is quite grumpy with the first when she does wrong). One cries silently, the other is the loudest yeller you have ever heard. Sometimes I think they do the opposite thing on purpose so that I don’t get a moment’s peace. ;-)
Marlo, you’ve said before that writing is an act of worship for
you. I’d love to hear more on this. Why do you say this? How does
For me, writing is about seeking God, being faithful to the stories He gives me, focusing on seeing Him more clearly and being awed by His wonder. It’s not about fulfilling my dreams, hopes, or goals. It’s not about me being a writer at all (I had to learn that the hard way!). So, these days, before I can really write what He has for me to write, I first have to be captured by some quality of God that takes my breath away. I have to be struck by something that makes me say “wow.” In other words, I have to be moved into worship.
After that, the story becomes a partnership with God – me seeking to see the story He has for me, Him giving me tidbits of insight along the way (you can probably tell that I don’t have the whole story figured out before I start!). And that’s the thing I love most about writing – those glimpses of God and what He’s intending for the story, the surprises He reveals along the way (so watch for the surprise twist at the end of Shades of Morning!)
Most writers perform a lot of research before ever writing their novels.
Is that true for you?
I do enough to get started, then I continue to research throughout the writing. I find if I do too much up front I never start writing, but keeping up the research as I write provides new inspiration and sometimes new directions to take the story.
you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I have this beautiful, heart-wrenching horse story in my head, told from the first person perspective of a 9-year-old girl. It’s risky because it’s not meant to be a kids’ story (no more than To Kill a Mockingbird), so I don’t know when I’ll get to write it. Someday maybe. But when I do, I hope it will break the reader’s heart, only to heal it … and show the wonder of God’s love in deep and moving way. We’ll see!
What do you
know now that you wish you’d known when you first started
I wish I could go back and tell myself, “This is not about you and your dream. Give up your dream. This is about following God, honoring Him, and becoming the woman He wants you to be. Don’t worry about being a ‘writer.’ Don’t worry about publication or sales, or anything else that’s out of your hands anyway. Do your best to be faithful. Walk with Him and share what you learn, what you see, and what takes your breath away. Know why you do what you do, and do it well.”
Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer
who happens to be a Christian? Why?
I’d call myself a Christian fiction writer because in my work there are always deep themes of faith that come out of my own walk with God. I can’t seem to help it – the things that God is teaching and showing me just flow out into the stories I write and form the thematic heart and soul of the story. That’s what makes the stories fun for me to write, because they come out my own crazy, unpredictable, surprise-around-every-turn walk with God.
like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I hope readers will visit my website at www.marloschalesky.com (or www.VividGod.com) and check out the excerpt for Shades of Morning, various audio and TV interviews, resources, and other helpful information (and sign-up for my e-newsletter!). And, if you’re on Facebook, you simply MUST come over and join my reader page (www.facebook.com/MarloSchalesky) where we focus on deeper living for everyday people. It has been so fun to grow deeper with readers and experience God in our lives together. I’m loving that! And of course, there’s my blog at
www.marloschalesky.blogspot.com where I post hopefully helpful info on rekindling the wonder in our walks with God. I love to keep in contact with readers so we can encourage one another and grow in God together!
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
First, after 20 years of infertility, God has apparently decided to heal me after I turned 40. I’m now nearly 5 months into my second huge-surprise pregnancy of my 40’s. Crazy! This after allllll those years of never ever being able to have a baby before without intense medical intervention. God is getting such a kick out of this. Me, I’m just waiting for the morning sickness to end. Second, uhhh, wasn’t that first one surprise enough? It was for me! ;-)
not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Riding horses! Yay!
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Chips and cheese queso. BIG mistake. I should have stuck with regular ol’ cereal. What was I thinking?? (Sometimes pregnancy makes me dumb, I guess.)
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Milk (for the kids), sparkling water (for me), ketchup (for Jayna – that kid just loves ketchup)
next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Decaf venti white mocha, nonfat milk, no whip. Iced on a hot day.
What’s left unchecked
in your “goals for life” list?
Bwaaahhaaaahaaahaaa! Oh wait, that wasn’t meant to be a joke. ;-) But honestly, I had to give up that list a long time ago. It’s a running joke in my household that my plans exist solely for God’s amusement … so He’ll have something to chuckle about as He leads my life in ways I never dreamed. I gave my life to Christ when I was in college, and apparently He thought I really meant it, because as it turned out, that was the end of me making life goals and having them work out like I wanted. But the one thing I’ve learned from it all is to wait and to watch, because I’ve learned that when life doesn’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time for me), that’s when God is doing His thing.
When was the last time you cried?
I’m not much of a crier (good thing too, because it kinda freaks out my engineer, I-love-Spock husband). But I did cry pretty hard when our little horse, Oreo, died from cancer a few months back. God met us in such amazing ways during that time. It was heart-breaking (especiallyfor my 6-year-old and 9-year-old girls), but in some ways beautiful too. We saw God through our tears!
Three words that best describe you:
Pregnant. Tired. And did I mention tired? :)
currently in your CD player/iPod?
The Hidden Face of God by Michael Card – love it! (I’m a huge Michael Card fan anyway – there’s always a Michael Card CD in the player.)
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.