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Sibella Giorello Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I prefer for those [spiritual] themes to come organically. Otherwise it's a sermon. I love sermons, just not in novels." -- Sibella Giorello


Sibella Giorello was a features reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for ten years. Her work has been awarded for excellence repeatedly and she's been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. Giorello received her degree in geology from Mount Holyoke College. Her first novel, The Stones Cry Out, won the Christy Award for best First Novel. Her second novel, The Rivers Run Dry, has recently released to critical acclaim. Read our review of the novel here.


C.J.: Where did the idea for The Rivers Run Dry come from?

Sibella: At the end of the last book, "The Stones Cry Out," Raleigh Harmon was in trouble with her boss at the FBI. But I didn't know what the boss would do to punish her. Then one day I saw a hideous purple car -- it was trying to be blue -- and that was the first nudge. The subsequent nudges came while hiking around the mountains in Western Washington.

Has it been at all challenging to write a series character? How do you keep Raleigh Harmon fresh from book to book?

It's challenging and it's fun. I'm a huge fan of series characters, from Travis McGee in the old John D. MacDonald mysteries, to Jim Rockford on television. It seems that the protagonists who stay fresh begin with some depth, rather than just being a smart-aleck full of attitude. Raleigh Harmon's a Christian, but she's honest about her struggle to stay on the path. And she's self-aware enough to see her subtle sins, knowing they're just as dangerous as the big monster sins of the Ten Commandments.

How was the process of writing The Rivers Run Dry different from writing your first novel The Stones Cry Out?

Picture a Volvo station wagon. Now picture a Maseratti.
The first book, like many first novels, was written in safe secrecy. Very few people knew I was writing a novel, and those that did would still love me if I quit. To keep the car analogy going, whenever I felt like a nap, I'd just pull that Volvo over to the side of the road and close my eyes. It was a luxury of time and it made the journey longer, but it felt safe.
The second book was like somebody tossed me the keys to a Maseratti, then said I was competing in a road race, beginning right now. Although I was thrilled to get a contract with Thomas Nelson, I was terrified when they said, "And we'd like four books in four years." Pedal to metal, people! I wrote "Rivers" so quickly that when I sat down to work on the second draft of the manuscript, I didn't remember writing some of the scenes. No joke -- it was a literal blur.
But now that I've crossed the finish line twice (the third book in the series is finished), I can say that it's possible to write novels fast. Even more importantly, it's possible to write something enjoyable.

This novel is full of so many wonderful (and colorful!) supporting characters. Do you have a favorite?

I really got a kick out of Felicia. She was so messed up and so honest about her predicaments. She made me laugh, and cry. We've probably all met people like Felicia and they're a predicament of the spirit, don't you think? They're not happy about what they are, but they can't seem to get it together. They're truly the lost, and they provoke some of my most tender feelings.

The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella GiorelloHow much of Raleigh’s character is based on you? :)

In most ways, Raleigh and I are very different. I'm married to an Italian from New York City, we homeschool our two sons. I grew up in Alaska, not the South, and my family was quirky but not Old Money. Raleigh and I do share some likes and dislikes, but I consider her a friend more than a doppelganger.

Most of all, Raleigh's based on several female FBI agents, particularly one in the Richmond field office. This gal weighs all of 100 pounds dripping wet but she's somebody the SWAT guys want covering their back. She's no token female. On Mother's Day she gets calls from inmates -- the guys she threw in jail. She never coddles, never pities. She's straight up and very, very real. And the guys she sent to jail tell her, "If I'd had you as my mother I wouldn't be here." Amazing woman.

What was your favorite scene to write in The Rivers Run Dry?


It's difficult for me to pull out scenes. It feels like I'm tugging on a thread and the whole sweater might unravel. But I did enjoy writing about the undercover poker game. It was challenging on several levels.

You’ve worked on a farm, been a ski instructor, driven a motorcycle across the country . . . why writing?

Well, I did all those things with a notebook in my back pocket. I never considered myself a writer -- I skipped all English classes in high school and college. I just took notes because I felt compelled to write down what the snow looked like, or how the flowers smelled in the greenhouse. I've since learned this is how writers cope with life -- they write. If I could carry a tune in anything other than a tin bucket, I'd probably sing. Sibella Giorello

Do you set out writing your novels with a particular theme or spiritual takeaway in mind, or does that come about organically for you?

I prefer for those themes to come organically. Otherwise it's a sermon. I love sermons, just not in novels.

Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?

Probably, but I'm too oblivious to realize it.

Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?

Oh, this is absolutely the toughest part for me. I'm extremely active and hate sitting still. My husband has said that my form of cruel and unusual torture is sitting in a chair for an hour. And, of course, that's exactly what writing requires: You sit in a chair for a long, long, long time. The next day, you do the same. And the next, and next, etc. I'm not a masochist but some days I wonder.

So when I'm not writing I'm on the move. People are always saying to me, "Have a seat." I just tell them flat-out, "If you don't mind, I'd rather stand." Most people are gracious and understand. Those that don't, I'm glad I don't have to sit with them anymore.

The Stones Cry Out by Sibella GiorelloWhat motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?

It goes back to that need to write stuff down. Unless I write, my days are foggy and unfocused. My husband and kids need me to pay attention, so out of consideration for them, I do what I gotta do first.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

How many things can I name? I'd love to be a carpenter. I'd like to work on a farm again. Run a restaurant. Teach college seminars on great books, particularly the Bible. Design houses.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

That your first draft will stink like five-day fish. It's not a possibility, it's a definite occurrence. At the same time, the bad first draft means almost nothing. Writing is about re-writing. Nobody gets it right the first time.

We’d love a sneak peek into the next Raleigh novel, The Clouds Roll Away! What can we expect? :)

I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say Raleigh finally deals with her heart's desires.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?


Enjoying a glass of good red wine and listening to my husband make his case that I should sit still long enough to watch an old film on Turner Classics.

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

At this point, it's all about our sons. That they have a relationship with Jesus, are happily married with kids of their own.

Three words that best describe you:

Believer. Active. Active.

What was your first job:

Babysitting two little kids whose mother turned out to be a stripper. Yeah, I made A LOT of money.

Favorite food of all time:

Cheeseburger.

Your most memorable vacation was:

When I was 16, I spent a month in Idaho with my dad hiking the Sawtooth Range. Just the two of us. Those days and those conversations will be with me forever.

Favorite Twilight Zone episode:

This would mean sitting in a chair, so my favorite episode is the one I don't have to watch!

Your favorite movie of all time and why:

Oh, boy, this is tough. I don't see many movies so when I catch a good one, I feel passionately about it. Can I list several? "It's a Wonderful Life," "Tender Mercies" "Braveheart," "Terms of Endearment," "The Outlaw Josie Wales" "Rumble Fish."


Parting words?

My wish for everyone is that they discover what God has called them to do. Forget whether it looks right, what other people think. If you're going to worry about appearances, worry about what Jesus thinks. And when you decide to write, write. Don't talk about it, don't write about wanting to write. Just write. And give yourself plenty of time to learn and enjoy the process. In the beginning of the journey, that Volvo is a great way to travel.

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.