Thursday, June 15, 2006

Interview with Shelley Bates

Captain’s Log, Stardate 06.15.2006

RITA-winner Shelley Bates joins me today in the midst of her crazy preparations for her book tour!

Shelley’s latest women's fiction novel is A SOUNDING BRASS.

Award-winning author Shelley Bates pens the story of a sheltered young woman torn between a magnetic leader and the man out to discredit him.

Claire Montoya is drawn to handsome Luke Fisher, radio evangelist, and goes to work as his bookkeeper. Although she initially enjoys taking part in Luke's vision for the community, she begins to realize that certain things about this powerful personality don't add up. Complicating matters, investigator Ray Harper is hanging around the studio, asking disturbing questions--and making an impression of his own on young Claire. Who is right: the nationally known evangelist or the suspicious cop? And more important, to whom can Claire trust her heart?

And now, here’s Shelley!
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How did you come up with the story idea for A Sounding Brass?

I was browsing in the international newspapers section of Borders one day, because I’m Canadian and they stock the Vancouver Sun, and there was a huge picture on the front page with the headline, “Con Man For Christ.”

Okay, so you don’t just walk away from something like that, because believe me, you just can’t make this stuff up. This man, a radio evangelist, had come to the town my cousins live in, and during the course of his “ministry,” managed to defraud the entire town to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The pricking of my thumbs told me this would make a great basis for a story. I needed a way to bring the Elect, my fictional toxic church, to the realization that their tendency to glorify their leadership just couldn’t work anymore, and a charming, eloquent evangelist like this seemed the perfect vehicle for it.

I knew right away what the title was going to be, from the verse in I Cor. 13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

A Sounding Brass seems more mystery/romantic suspense. Is it similar to Grounds To Believe (which I LOVED, btw)?

Thanks, Camy :) Grounds To Believe was the book of my heart, and every time someone says nice things about my baby, it just delights me. Yes, ASB is very similar in tone to GTB. George Lucas once said that the middle act of any play is always the darkest, so Pocketful Of Pearls, the second book in the trilogy, fits that description. It’s more of a psychological read with a mystery embedded in it, whereas ASB is a straight-ahead mystery and romance. Publishers Weekly called it an “inspirational chick-lit mystery.” It isn’t chick lit, but two out of three ain’t bad. The reviewer also said the book contained “spiritual insights coming from unexpected places,” which I was very happy about.

I know how much you love chickens—how many do you have now? How did you first get into them?

I have eight at the moment, including two 3-month-old peeps whose little voices are changing. They sound like adolescent boys—squawking and squeaking . I got into chickens one day about six years ago, when this little red hen walked into our yard and told us she was staying. Since chickens are flock creatures, I went to the animal shelter and got her a companion, and then people heard I had chickens, so a hen showed up on my doorstep in a box, someone else moved away and left me their birds, and so on. If you open yourself to chickens, they will come :)

I’ve been a bird person since I was little, so this seems to be a natural thing for me. These chickens are good companions, affectionate, smart, and just plain good to be around. I write from about 11 to 3, so during that time I let everyone out of the pen, and then I sit on a stump or a chair or a pile of lumber with my AlphaSmart and work while the birds debug the yard. The neighbors have gotten used to it :)

Finish this sentence: Writing a novel is …

like chipping words out of granite … stepping through a portal into another world … the thing I was meant to do.

Do you have a scripture verse for your writing?

Not for writing, particularly, but my favorite verse is Psalm 139:9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” I travel a lot, so that verse is very comforting. And there’s a really wonderful promise in the poetry.

If you were a dessert, what would you be and why?

Oh man, you couldn’t just ask “Where do you get your ideas?” like other people, could you? Let me think. I would be a crème brulée, not just because it’s my favorite dessert in the world, but because I come off as a bit reserved, but once you get past the glazed crust, you find I’m a softie underneath :)

If the heroes in your books were models for a calendar, what would the theme be? (And yes, you can include Johnny Depp as Mr. December or something like that).

Okay, this is my calendar, so we are doing The Year of Johnny. Johnny as J.M. Barrie for January. Johnny as darling Gilbert for February. Johnny as Captain Jack for March. Johnny as … oh wait, you were talking about my books, weren’t you?

I like writing cops and academics. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like a man who pits his intelligence against forces working against him and wins. My heroes are not all strictly alpha males; as an example, Matthew Nicholas in Pocketful of Pearls is a very gentle man, but he goes to war with his intellect and his heart for the sake of the heroine. So the theme for my calendar would be from Psalm 84:5: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee.”

Now, about Captain Jack …

Who have been the authors/what have been the books that influenced you the most as a writer?

My biggest fear is of so admiring someone’s work that her style or word choices seep into my own books and I wind up being derivative. ::shudder:: That said, probably the biggest influences were Jane Austen, Elizabeth Goudge, Rosamund Pilcher, Jenny Crusie, and Kristin Hannah. They’re my writing heroes.

What’s coming out next for you?

After A Sounding Brass, my next release is a standalone called Over Her Head, which I’m finishing up now. This is also based on reality, an event that happened a few years ago in my hometown. A gang of girls swarmed a teenager who wanted to join their clique, and drowned her under a bridge. When I read the article I was so horrified and affected by it that I knew someday my emotions would come out of me in a book. My protagonist is the mother who finds out her daughter was involved in a similar circumstance, and doubt and mistrust begin to affect her relationship with her child, with her family, her church, and eventually the whole town. It’ll be released by Warner Faith in the early summer of 2007.

You’re off the hot seat! Any parting words?

The most important thing I’d want any writer to remember is: Believe in yourself and your work. Don’t let the rejections get you down, because you’re the only one who can write your particular story from your particular point of view. You’re the one with the passion, so let it show on the page.

And now it’s midmorning, so if you’ll excuse me, the chickens and I have to go to work!

Camy here: Thanks so much Shelley! I’m praying your book tour next week will be a blast!