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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Author Interview: Staci Stallings

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Staci Stallings. Staci is a stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids, and, as she puts it, “a writing addiction.” She has five inspirational romance novels in print and has also been a featured writer in Chicken Soup for the Body and Soul, Soul Matters, and several other inspirational, spiritual, and family-oriented ezines across the Internet. Her faith, as you might guess, plays a very important part in her writing career.  

As a matter of fact, she told me that her best writing comes when she allows herself to be “Holy Spirit led.” “About four years ago,” she said, “the Holy Spirit really stepped into my life and showed me that He was the One guiding it all. Up to that moment, I just thought I was crazy. Over and over when I have taken a breath and gotten out of His way, He has shown me His way surpasses mine by miles!” 

It’s a good thing she has the Holy Spirit to guide her in her writing, because her work schedule is, in her words, chaotic. “I don’t recommend writing the way I do it, but I don’t really have much of a choice,” she told me. “It’s who I am and how my situation has coalesced around me. I have three young children, a husband who owns his own company, and very little help (except for the Holy Spirit of course!). In the course of a month, I do the cleaning of the house, the laundry, the cooking, running kids everywhere, the family finances, the company bookkeeping, pay all bills, do the retirement accounts, payroll, help with homework and projects, help friends with their writing, market my books, my website, my blog (which because of the schedule has fallen by the wayside for now), keep up with extended family obligations, teaching Sunday school, church obligations, and miscellaneous issues like doctor visits etc. that crop up on a fairly regular basis. Around all of this, I write.” 

How on earth can she find the time to write, I wondered. “I don’t really know,” she said. “A few minutes in the morning while my kids are getting ready for school. Some in the afternoon if nobody calls and the opportunity presents itself. Writing is how I stay sane, so I try to do it as much as possible, but it’s never as much as I’d like. However, family is my number one priority, so the writing has to be fit in where it works.” 

All you have to do is talk to her to know how important family is to her. I asked her what event in her life she would change and she shared this heart-rending, yet inspiring, story. 

My brother’s death in March ’07. My brother was always a happy, positive, wonderful guy. In 2005, that started to change, and none of us could figure out why. He went from being able to handle everything to lying in bed all day with no confidence that he could do anything right. Over the course of a year and a half, we all spent hours on the phone with him, trying to get him to latch on to God (Whom he believed in), life which suddenly seemed out of his reach, and any type of will to live he could find. In late 2006, he took a dramatic upward swing, and we all thought we’d found a miracle. 

But the miracle was short-lived. In January the downward spiral started again. By February he was once again in the depths of a depression he couldn’t shake. In mid-March he was diagnosed with bipolar disease. On March 30, 2007, he committed suicide. To tell you the truth, there are moments I still can’t believe it. Just the other day I was like, “That’s it. I’m calling him. I know this has all been some crazy nightmare that isn’t real.”  

I do have to say though that my family is still standing because of our full faith in God’s mercy and goodness. Do I know why this happened? No. What I do know is that the love we have given to others all our lives has come back to us many fold through this tragedy. I also know this isn’t the end. … I will see my brother again. In fact, he may well introduce me to my Savior or at least meet me at the Pearly Gates. When you’re assured of God’s love, horrible may show up for a moment, but it doesn’t have the power to have the final say. For that, I’m eternally grateful. 

It isn’t unusual for Staci to have as many as six books going at any one time. She told me, “At first I took the advice of everyone on the planet—plan, plot, develop the characters, know where it’s going, schedule… It just didn’t work for me. I started one book, and in the middle of it, another idea came to me. I loved the second idea. Of course, you’re only supposed to work on one at a time, so I fought the second, telling it to wait. It didn’t wait. I couldn’t. So I started that one. I finished that one. Then I finished six more before I finished the first one I started. And many of them are like this. I’ll get going on one, and another pops up out of nowhere.”  

You might think working on more than one book at a time would be confusing. “I liken being able to write so many books at the same time to turning on the TV at 7 on Thursday,” she explained. “If you love a certain show on Thursday at 7, you turn on the TV, and you know the characters, the basic storyline, and the various conflicts. They don’t have to go back to the beginning each week and show you what’s already happened. You’ve been watching, so you know. Then on Monday night, you turn on a different program, and you’re not confused because you watched something else on Thursday. That’s the way the books are with me. I know the characters, the basic conflict, etc. I just have to figure out where I left them, and here we go.” 

It works for her. She’s finished twenty-two books… twenty fiction and two shorter non-fiction books. “Many of my most memorable stories have started as dreams,” she told me. “In the dream I am given a snippet of what happens, who the characters are, what they are facing. Sometimes this is mere seconds, sometimes whole scenes or plotlines. From there, I ask questions. ‘Well, why was she in the hotel room? Why was she alone? Why was her leg hurt? Who was he? How could she know him yet not really know him? Why was she so surprised he was still alive? What caused her to think he wasn’t?’ As I let go and let the answers come to me, the story begins to form around the moment of insight I’ve had. 

“Other times characters who’ve been in a previous book stand out, and I begin to see their stories as well. Those stories are harder to write because I really get inspired by the flash of understanding dreams. However, those stories that came from prior stories have often taught me as much as the originals—or more.” 

I asked her if she had a favorite book. “They are each special for different reasons,” she told me. “Living life through each character’s eyes has taught me something I wouldn’t have known about life any other way. I have gotten to be in the depths of poverty and on the hilltop reserved for the rich, a wife grieving a husband who’s been killed and a husband trying to find life again after losing the wife he so dearly loved. I’ve gotten to be world-famous and trying everything so no one would notice me. What I’ve learned is that everyone has problems and struggles and heartaches. Everyone has wishes that haven’t been fulfilled and moments of such incredible joy they find it hard to put into words.” 

Her latest book to be published is Dreams by Starlight. “I love this book!” she said. “Maybe I’m biased, but others have said it should be required reading in schools and by anyone who has a dream. So maybe I love it for a reason. Dreams is about Camille Wright, a high school senior, who is the quintessential nerd. Camille loves math—Calculus, Physics, Chemistry. If it will explode your brain, she’s in. However, she’s had so many classroom classes that her counselor thinks she needs a class that will expand her horizons. The choice comes down to drama and debate, and Camille reluctantly chooses drama. 

“Her plan is to put in a semester, standing in the shadows, get it on her transcript and transfer into a ‘real class.’ But life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will—even when you have a definite plan in place. Camille’s horizons are expanded way beyond what she ever thought possible. 

If you want to read the first three chapters for free, you can here

Staci’s philosophy on writing can be summed up in these words: 

If I’m never a big, successful author or if there never comes a day when everybody knows my name, that’s okay. Learning how to trust the Holy Spirit and that He is faithful in any and all circumstances has been more than worth every step it’s taken to get here. The cool thing is, it works in life as well as it works in writing.
 
Be sure and visit Staci at her website. “You’ll feel better for the experience!”

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