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Interview part 1 and excerpt - Just As I Am by Ginny Smith

Captain's Log, Stardate 03.27.2006

I’ve gotten to know Virginia (Ginny) Smith through the Genesis contest, and she is one remarkable writer. Those of you who entered—you should pray you got her as your judge. She totally rocks!

I’m really lucky because she agreed to do a two-day interview with me, despite the rumors about my sanity.

Then I read her book JUST AS I AM and I was absolutely blown away. Her character Mayla is so real and yet wonderfully sympathetic and vividly drawn. I wanted to take her home with me! And even though this loud Asian chick has never been to the South, I got such a great flavor of the culture through her book, like Kentucky folk just drew me in and wrapped arms around me and included me in the story.

When purple-haired Mayla Strong struts down the center aisle of Salliesburg Independent Christian Church, the bug-eyed congregation strains to get a peek at her pierced nose and lip. Determined to make her heavenly Father proud, Mayla's sincere and often hilarious attempts to let Him change her from the inside out take her into some difficult places, all the while growing in faith and wisdom.

Excerpt of chapter one is here (.pdf file).

Interview with Ginny Smith:
Who you primarily write for? What do you want to say to your demographic readership?

My heroines are typically female in their early-to-mid twenties, which means my ‘target audience’ is women in their late teens to mid-thirties. But I’m in my mid-forties, and I love contemporary humorous stories, so I think my ‘demographic readership’ defies the age barrier. And in the case of Just As I Am, it seems to have defied the gender barrier, too. I’ve recently received the most enthusiastic responses from men who’ve picked up Just As I Am and loved it.
As for what I want to say to my readers – well, I want them to sit back, put their feet up, and enjoy my book!

What was the funnest part of writing JUST AS I AM?

When I wrote that book, the story flowed almost faster than I could type. I had experienced the mystique of writing before, when the characters take over and insert plot twists I didn’t anticipate by doing things I didn’t plan. But there were several places in Just As I Am where I knew the Author was not me. At one point I sat back from my computer and said to the Lord, “Gosh, I don’t know what to say to a man who’s dying of AIDS to convince him that he needs You.” And I swear the Lord responded, “I do.” THAT was the coolest thing of all – I felt like I wasn’t doing this myself. I felt like it was a project God had chosen me to do, and He was going to give me the grace to do it right.

What's your favorite scene from JUST AS I AM?

I think my favorite scene is the opening. Mayla Strong’s personality comes alive in that baptism scene – her sincerity, her naiveté about all things churchy, her relationship with her mama and the Lord, her postmodern friends and attitudes.

How did you come up with this story idea?

I’ve always been a science fiction/fantasy nut, and for years I tried (unsuccessfully) to write in that genre for the secular market. After lots of failure and rejection, I felt the Lord urging me to try something completely different. Well, a contemporary setting was about as different as I could imagine, though I thought I would start out with women’s fiction. Within a few days of that decision, my church hosted a visiting singer. I was shocked to see the stage lights glinting off a labret stud – a tiny diamond mid-way between her lower lip and her chin. I had never seen facial jewelry in church before (yes, it was a pretty traditional church!) and I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Did she get the piercing before or after she became a Christian? What did her family and her home church think? So I modeled Mayla after her, and as I started writing the opening scene, it came out funny. I had never heard the term ‘chick lit,’ but the humor grew organically from the setting – a purple-haired girl with multiple facial piercings in a traditional little country church presents some potentially hilarious interactions.

Are there any symbols or themes in JUST AS I AM that you want to point out, elaborate on?

You know, I approach the topic of themes with a little bit of hesitation. I didn’t set out to write a book with a theme. But when I finished and re-read the story, I was amazed to find that a theme had developed. And that theme was this: God loves each and every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, no matter where we are, no matter how ugly or horrible or despicable our actions. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us, so He could spend eternity with us by his side.

What's your next novel to be released?

Actually, I’ve just signed a contract with Steeple Hill for a cozy mystery called Murder by Mushroom. (Woo hoo!) Though it’s a cozy, the main character is a quirky young woman in her early twenties who does some pretty wacky stuff, so the story has a real chick lit feel. I think readers who like Just As I Am will like this one, too. Here’s my pitch: “A kitchen klutz decides to take something to the church potluck besides potato chips. She knows she’s not a great cook, but no one’s ever died – until now.”

That sounds hilarious! Especially because you know (or maybe you don't know) how much I LOVE FOOD. One of my favorite foods is English High Tea or Afternoon Tea with all the trimmings--yum! What's your favorite ethnic food to eat and why?

Ethnic, huh? Does chicken and dumplings count? Yes, I’m going to say it does, because it’s a traditional southern food, and to the rest of the world, the south is a culture all its own. I love it because my mom only made dumplings on special occasions when I was growing up, so I associate them with holidays and big family gatherings. BTW, I love English High Tea, too. Have you ever been to Harrod’s in London and had their High Tea? Yummy!

Mmmm...I haven't yet, but I'd like to someday! And I'd love to try your mom's dumplings, too!
If you could have written any book in the world, which one would it be? (Camy would have loved to have written PERSUASION, although then she’d have had to live under the strictures of English society—yuck!)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. What a fantastic sci-fi story. I was invited to speak to an English class in a high school a few months ago, and when I walked into the classroom, they all had a copy of Ender’s Game on their desks. I spent a good chunk of my time talking about how much I love that book.

What ministry do you do at your church or in your community? Why do you like doing it?

I’m a singer. Not a great singer, but an ok singer. The Lord has created opportunities to sing and to lead worship, and I love being able to usher worshipers into the throne room of God on the wings of a song. And that’s how I look at it, too. My voice doesn’t matter at all, it’s an instrument to turn people’s hearts and minds to the Lord. What an incredible honor to be used in that way.

I love singing, too! Maybe we can get a jam session at the ACFW conference this year. We won't break too many windows. :)
What would you be doing if you had unlimited talent in some other area instead of writing?

Unlimited talent, huh? I think I’d be an evangelist like Billy Graham. His talent of public speaking, which is a gift from God and infused with His Spirit, has drawn millions to the Lord. I love public speaking, and in the past few years have started receiving invitations to speak at retreats and churches. The most awesome speaking experience I’ve had was standing in front of a room full of women inmates in a state prison, talking about how God has made a difference in my life and wants to make a difference in theirs. I could actually feel God’s love and compassion for those women, and His great desire to heal their hurts. Wow. I can’t imagine how awesome it would be to have a powerful evangelistic ministry.

Wow, that's so cool!
Camy was positively obsessive about her stuffed animal collection up until she graduated high school (sad, but true). What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?

When I was a very little girl, I had a doll named Peekabells. It was a Sister Belle doll (and anyone who knows what I mean is showing their age!), with a red, stuffed body and molded, hard plastic head. I adored her, but somewhere along the years she got lost. One of the neatest birthday presents I ever got was when my mom found a Sister Belle doll on eBay a few years ago. I think it was my 40th birthday. I opened the box, and my breath literally caught in my throat as I gazed at that doll. I stammered, “It’s Peek… Peek… Peekabells!”

That's so cute! Unfortunately, I had too many stuffed animals to have such great sentimental value on just one.
You know Camy is strange and rather off the wall. If you and Camy co-wrote a book, what would it be like? And what kind of fortune would God or a publishing house have to pay you to do it?

Ah, but that’s what makes Camy so charming! Gosh, let’s see. It would have to be something strange and magical and unique. How about “Chicks in Wonderland”? The two main characters, awesome chicks very much like ourselves, travel to a magical land where anything can happen – and anything does. Gosh, that sounds like so much fun I’d almost do it for free!

Sh...don't say that, you'll get us both in trouble! ;)
If your personality were a drink (alcoholic or non), what would it be and why?

Ok, so this question proves the fact that Camy is “rather off the wall” as she claims! I guess I’d be a tall glass of lemonade. Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s tart, but it can always be counted on to quench your thirst.

Part two of the interview is tomorrow!

Bible in 90 Days: Day 70. I’ve been really bad about posting my progress and keeping accountable. I need to do better. I was especially struck by something my youth pastor said on Saturday night at youth group—if I truly believe this is the living, breathing Word of God, I should be more passionate about reading and studying it, putting it before all else (including e-mails and writing).

I’m in John right now. Somehow the New Living Translation is easier to read John. When I read it in the NIV, it took a while for me to wrap my head around the sentences, for some reason. The part about needing to eat Jesus’ flesh was kind of icky, but I also got a clear picture of the Last Supper as I read this passage.

Writing: Doing some judging, but I’m also going to try to get my scene index done this week.

Diet: I lost a pound! Which astounded me because I’ve been bad about exercise the past few days, and eating around 1700-1900 calories a day. I’ve realized that I really do need to work harder to get my calorie count down to 1200-1400. My metabolism isn’t as fast as it used to be—it has decreased dramatically from what it was before I first tore my ACL—and I need to change my eating habits accordingly. It’s just that 1400 calories seems like so little!

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