by C.J. Darlington
Rene Gutteridge Interview
have perfectionist tendencies and am my own worst critic. I've learned
that even when it's not perfect, it's still purposeful."
-- Rene Gutteridge
Rene Gutteridge is the author of several novels, including Ghost Writer (Bethany House Publishers) The Boo Series (WaterBrook Press) and the Storm Series, (Tyndale House Publishers).
She has also been published over thirty times as a playwright, best known for her Christian comedy sketches. She studied screenwriting under a Mass Communications degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Oklahoma City University, and earned the "Excellence in Mass Communication" award. She served as the full-time Director of Drama for First United Methodist Church for five years before leaving to stay home and write. She enjoys instructing at writer's conferences and in college classrooms. She lives with her husband, Sean, a musician, and their children in Oklahoma City.
C.J.: Tell us about your journey to publication. How were you discovered?
Rene: I was on a writers conference cruise. An editor there named Steve Laube looked at my work. He liked my writing, but wasn’t really excited about any my ideas. After going through everything that I’d written proposals for I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea about an editor who receives an anonymous manuscript about the secrets of his life, which then predicts his doom.” He said, “That’s the one I want to see more of.” That became Ghost Writer, my first book. So I always tell aspiring writers, come to conferences with a lot of ideas.
Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. And I didn’t start out with the short stories. For some reason, I just dove right in and started with the novel. When I was a teenager, I got interested in screenwriting and studied it on my own before I went to college.
Let’s talk about your work on the novelization of The Ultimate Gift screenplay. How did that come about?
The publishers (who published My Life as a Doormat) knew I had a background in screenwriting, so they thought it would be a great match to bring in a novelist who also knew how to write screenplays. It did come in very handy because I was able to adapt it into novel form without losing what makes a great movie, such as visuals and dialogue. I kind of just had instincts about how to make something once visual then work on the written page. I never thought I’d be using my screenwriting skills in that way, but it was so much fun!
What does the process of turning a screenplay into a novel look like?
First, you have to understand that they are very different. You can’t just take the script and write it down on paper as a scene for a book. You have point of view in novels, so I had to pick whose head I wanted to be in for various scenes, yet in the movie, the POV changes several times in one scene. I had to cut smaller scenes. Sometimes in movies, there are scenes that are two or three seconds long, but they’re important for the story line. So I had to figure out how to work the information into the story in different ways. The producers wanted me to stick very closely to the script, so the novelization really reflects that. There are scenes that are in the book that aren’t in the movie, but they’re intentional and needed to make it read like a novel, not like a screenplay. It was really fun to get inside the characters’ heads and hear what they were thinking, since we only get to hear what they say in the movie.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, could you give us a nutshell summary?
It’s about a wealthy grandfather whose money has destroyed his relationships with his children and caused them to be greedy and despicable. He decides one grandson is worth trying to save, so after he dies, he leaves him an inheritance, but he must receive a series of “gifts.” The “gifts” turn out to be things like learning to solve problems, finding a true friend, suffering for others. It completely transforms the “trust-fund baby.” And a grandfather, from his grave, teaches his grandson the most important lesson of his life.
You’re also a well-published playwright. What have you learned as a playwright that you’ve been able to use the most in your novel writing?
Probably the most valuable thing I came away with from writing plays is that I got to see what worked with comedy timing. I would write these comedy sketches and get to see how the audience reacted. If they were rolling with laughter, I was able to dissect the script and see why. If all the jokes fell flat, I also learned why. I think that’s why now I’m able to put comedy into novels, since I studied it for so long with a life audience.
Tell us about your time as Director of Drama at your church.
It was a really fun time. I had a group of comedy actors that were really dedicated and talented. We made a terrific team. They “got” my sense of humor and then added their part and it was just magical to watch. But it was also a hard schedule to keep. We did two different sketches a week, one for a singles outreach service we did on Friday nights, and then a different one on Sunday mornings. Everybody was working really hard, learning lines, rehearsing, etc. At one time, I had twenty-five actors on the team, and we were also traveling some and doing shows. I’m now a mom, so I could never do that. But it was really wonderful while it lasted. There was nothing more satisfying than watching what I wrote come to life on stage and for the audience to laugh and get the message. I got instant feedback, and that was priceless!
Many of your novels could be considered comedies. Do you set out to write a humorous story, or does that just come about organically as the plot develops?
Both. The Boo Series and The Occupational Hazards Series were both developed as comedies, but in my Storm Series, the humor does come about organically. I like to say I put humor in my suspense and suspense in my humor. Humor comes naturally for me and I like adding it to my novels because I feel like it makes them well-rounded and creates likable, believable characters. A lot of my humor goes toward creating less-than-perfect heroes. But I do like to add a lot of fun to the plotline too.
What inspired you to write the Hazards series?
I found, as I got older, how interested I was becoming in what other people do for a living. I always found myself asking them lots of questions about what their lives were like. I merged that idea with these characters of the Hazard clan, who live out their faith in ways that seem inconceivable to the normal, everyday Christian (like me). I liked how bold they were in their faith, and through love, impacted the people around them.
No doubt the series has required a lot of research. Are you the type of author who loves or hates research? Why?
I don’t really enjoy research, but this series has been pretty fun. The key has been to narrow down what to use and what to throw out. That’s been the really hard part because everything I learn is so interesting! I normally research as I go, so this is the first time I’ve researched before even starting the book.
Ever had any unsusual or embarrasing moments while conducting research?
Uh…yes. I actually BROKE the 767 flight simulator at Delta headquarters in Atlanta. They were very gracious about it (while giving me quite a hard time, too!). Apparently, when you “crash” in the simulator, it can break it! I heard this thing crash to the floor and I’m thinking, “Man, they even have the sound effects realistic!” But it was a part actually falling off the simulator and hitting the floor. Luckily, they have people there all the time just to fix the simulator. I have to say, two hours in that thing was so AWESOME! I loved every moment of it. I really felt like I was flying a 767. I have pictures that I’ll post in the next newsletter.
Also, while I was in Las Vegas researching Snitch, we were headed out to a “bad” part of Las Vegas, so I could see where I would be setting my story, and my tech advisor said, as we were getting into his truck, “Hold on. I better go get my gun.” And he did.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
Definitely an original screenplay that makes it to the big screen.
As a wife, mother, and writer, are there any specific things you do to help yourself juggle all your responsibilities?
It’s really difficult to juggle. I try to keep it all in perspective and all my priorities right, but they can slip out of order if I’m not careful. However, it is easy to see it when it happens. For me, I have to really stay in the Word and keep my eyes on God.
What authors or books have had the most influence on you as a writer?
You know, I have really enjoyed and been captivated by all sorts of books, from Beverly Cleary to C.S. Lewis. I’m often influenced by my fellow novelists. I love reading their work and being inspired.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?
Not much. I love being there. I have to get myself motivated to get away from it.
Of all your books, which was the hardest to write and why?
My Life as a Doormat was my first attempt at 1st person. I’m glad I did it that way, but it was really hard getting used to writing in one person’s head for the whole book.
You’re at the checkout counter in Barnes & Noble and are purchasing something from the book, music & movie sections. What are you buying?
Book: Probably a new
Joel Rosenberg book. I’m loving his books right
Music: A movie soundtrack for sure.
Movie: One Night With the King
What’s next for you?
Just about to start Skid, the third Occupational Hazards book, about transatlantic pilots and crew.
Who is Rene Gutteridge?
If you read my name backwards, you’ll discover my true identity.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I played girls basketball when it was still six-on-six. I was on the same gymnastics team as Shannon Miller when we were kids.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love watching television and movies. I’m also a magazine addict.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Kashi Heart Healthy Cereal
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Bolthouse Farms Blue Goodness
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Non-fat, de-caf, upside down caramel machiato, every time.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Definitely movie writing. And I continue to want to grow closer to God, to stop fighting to have it my way and just let go of it all.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Nickelback, Creed, my husband’s music, Seal
When was the last time you cried?
I’m crying right now. I get weepy in interviews.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
That I wasn’t going to always nail it, and that’s okay. I have perfectionist tendencies and am my own worst critic. I’ve learned that even when it’s not perfect, it’s still purposeful.
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.