THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020
THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020
This month I’m delighted to welcome debut author, Lori Altebaumer, whose novel, A Firm Place to Stand, is the story of one young woman’s journey through difficult circumstances to a place of forgiveness.
I had the great pleasure of being one of the beta readers for Lori’s book, and I highly recommend it.
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Lori Altebaumer and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her to the Craft of Writing blog.
A life-long Texan, Lori lives in a small rural community not far from the rugged West Texas landscape she loves to write about. The mother of now grown twins, she has learned the secret to survival is a well-developed sense of humor. After years spent working in the insurance business, Lori now uses her time to educate, inspire, encourage, and entertain through the written word.
A Firm Place to Stand is her first novel.
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Welcome, Lori, and thank you for joining us!
First, give us a short synopsis of your book.
A Firm Place to Stand is a book about finding forgiveness in a world where things aren’t always black and white. A long list of poor choices has driven Maribel Montgomery to the rustic (and fictional) Texas town of Turnaround. Blaming herself for the death of a teenager, she wants nothing to do with other people and the responsibility of caring for them. Unfortunately, a young girl who is lonely and scared and an elderly woman dying of cancer take up residence in her heart. When Maribel finds the dead body of someone connected to both of them, she’ll have to risk trusting herself again in order to protect them. But can she trust herself with good-looking born-again believer, Conner Pierce? He wants to help and may be the only source of help she can find, if only she didn’t think he was stalking her.
What made you decide to write A Firm Place to Stand?
I always dreamed of writing a book. I have also always believed that was all it was or could be—a dream. But as I neared my fiftieth birthday, I found myself at a turning point. I had worked in my husband’s business for years, but when we decided to sell so he could pursue another opportunity I found myself needing to decide what I wanted to do with my time as well. My children were teenagers about to go away to college and I was about to have a lot of time. I needed to figure out how it was meant to be used. My dear husband told me that after all these years of working for him, he wanted me to do what really made me happy. He encouraged me not to just find a job, but to take a leap of faith and write (did I mention he is my #1 fan?). And I knew he was right. If I really believed God had given me a desire and passion to write, then now was the time to take it seriously.
As for the story itself, the original idea that started me on Maribel’s journey came about in a dream. After writing and rewriting, fine tuning the plot, and exploring the characters, the final story bears little resemblance to the dream that started it all. But the dream was the match that lit the tinder. The breath of God just blew the fire it started in a different direction than I expected. The end result was a journey and message of forgiveness that was as much for me as for my readers. God is so good like that.
How did you get interested in writing?
I have apparently loved stories for even longer than I can remember. My mother tells me that when I was a child, my great grandmother kept a stack of children’s books beside her rocking chair and in the evening she would set in that rocking chair next to the wood burning stove in her kitchen, and with me in her lap, read to me. That kitchen was one of my happy places growing up.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I became interested in actually writing, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t formulating some sort of story in my head. Probably from the moment I learned to turn letters into words and words into sentences, I have loved expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing. The love of story is wired into my DNA. I see story in everything around me—old houses, tall trees, park benches, city sidewalks, and gravel roads. Perhaps that is what it means to understand that we, too, are a part of the greatest story ever told—God’s story.
What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
You say that as if there is might be only one! For me there were a thousand things, and on any given day it could be a different one. Of course, just the commitment and perseverance to finish is a challenge. It takes a long time and often feels like you are trying to walk through wet cement–you don’t see very much forward progress but you sure are making a mess.
For me though, I’ll say the overall most difficult thing was to be fearless. To write thoughts that were raw and real, and then to let others into that private place in my head. It felt very vulnerable and I don’t think many of us really like feeling vulnerable.
Describe your path to publication.
My path to publication looked a lot like the crazy wandering path you see in the Family Circus cartoons. There are so many options for authors these days and finding the best one for you can involve some trial and error, especially as you are just getting started.
I set out with the intention of finding an agent and going the traditional route. I won a few contests and got some really good feedback from agents on my work. But I soon learned what the word “platform” means and the effect it can have on which path you take. Marketing is something that an author will have to do whichever publishing route they choose, but learning the ropes of marketing and platform made me slow down and really consider my purpose in writing. What were my goals? My strengths and weaknesses? Why did I even want to write in the first place. Once I understood who I was as a writer, I made the decision to indie publish my first novel and my first book of devotions. There are still many options and choices to make in how and where to indie publish. It is an ever-evolving process for me in which my absolute goal is to do a bit better every time.
What lessons learned can you share with our readers?
While writing this book, I really had to think about and consider how the consequences of the things we do don’t always match the intent of our actions. Often those consequences bring pain not just to us but to others we never intended to hurt. Working through this forced me to think about people I had trouble forgiving. I had to look beyond their action and the result, to see why they might have done what they did. What I learned is that I can trace the root cause all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me now that I understand this, to hold onto a grudge for something that was set in motion so very long ago. It has changed my perspective on how I view others and what I allow myself to believe about their actions towards me.
What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?
The power to change your life, and indeed the world, lies in forgiveness, not bitterness, shame, or regret.
What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?
If you believe you are called to write a book, then write the book. Don’t wait until you feel you know enough about writing a book to write a book. So much of the craft of writing must be learned by writing. For years before I started writing, I read books about writing. But sitting down and actually working through the mechanics of completing a novel taught me more than all the books I’d read combined. Studying the craft is important, but applying it to your own active process of constructing a novel is crucial to mastering those teachings. Going through the process gave me understanding of what the books were teaching. Don’t worry if your first attempt looks like a big nasty mess. If you’ll stick with it until the end, you’ll be surprised at how much more clarity you have when you start the next one.
A bonus piece of advice (since the question asked for just one) … I received this gem of wisdom from a publishing industry veteran and author. He told me to always be mindful of where I am seeking validation. Am I looking for validation from being published by a traditional publishing house, winning awards, achieving a sales rank, etc…? I try to ask myself that question every time I’m faced with a decision concerning my writing.
What are some of your favorite works of fiction?
Ughh… one of the hardest questions I’m ever asked to answer. We live in an amazing time due to the richness and availability of reading material now. Invariably, I’ll remember others I wish I had mentioned. Reading is a major love of mine, so the list is quite long. However, I think A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers always ranks well toward the top. The entire series is great, but that first book pulled me deeper into my relationship with God than just about any other novel I’ve read. The Mitford Series by Jan Karon holds a special place in my heart. Recently I fell in love with A Vast and Gracious Tide by Lisa Carter and The Love Letter by Rachel Hauk. A Love Restored by Kelly Goshorn was a surprise debut novel that I’ll never forget. And The Jealous Son by Michele Chynoweth made me a fan of her work as well. Okay, should I stop now…?
What do you do when you want to get away from work?
I don’t view writing as work, and since I write full time, I don’t know that I ever truly want to get away from work. Let’s be honest, as a writer I am constantly harvesting material from the world around me and concocting scenarios in my head (which is admittedly where most of them need to stay). I haven’t figured out a way to turn that off. Also, for me writing is a time of exploration and creation in the presence of and with God. I’m constantly asking things like: Okay God, what would you like me to say about this? How should I express this thought or feeling? What is true about my characters, their world, their faith, and how they see each of those things? What are you revealing to me in this?
Therefore, it’s not something I necessarily want to get away from, but sometimes I do need to take a break so I can let God speak to me. I can get so caught up in the story it becomes a distraction to what He is trying to say.
Sometimes my characters can drain me emotionally, especially when writing a serious scene and going through the emotions with them. That usually does require some downtime afterwards.
When that happens, the best thing for me is to go for a walk. I enjoy being outside and watching the seasons come and go. Sometimes reading a good book helps me recharge. And of course, sometimes a good old-fashioned nap is just what I need to get things going again.
And when I really want to recharge and refresh, I go to the mountains.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on the second book set in Turnaround, TX. In it my protagonist is learning that keeping secrets can be as damaging as telling the truth. She’s built a new life based on holding it all in, but she’ll find it just might be worth letting go of the secrets she keeps in order to have the life she really wants.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can visit my website, www.lorialtebaumer.com to find out more and sign up for my newsletter. You can also follow my Facebook page Lori Altebaumer Writes. I enjoy hearing from others so feel free to reach out and just say howdy.
Thank you, Lori, for sharing your expertise with us!