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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Author Interview ~ Marlo Schalesky

Marlo Schalesky is the award winning author of five books, including her latest novel VEIL OF FIRE, which explores the great Minnesota firestorm of 1894 and the mysterious figure who appeared in the hills afterward. She has also had over 500 articles published in various magazines, had her work included in compilations such as Dr. Dobson’s Night Light Devotional for Couples, and is a regular columnist for Power for Living. Marlo recently earned her Masters degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently working on three contemporary novels for Multnomah-Waterbrook Publishers, a division of Random House. She lives in Salinas, California with her husband and four daughters.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

On May 1st, my newest historical fiction was released. It’s called VEIL OF FIRE, and it’s got a bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and whole lot of fire. Here’s a little about it:

A Raging Firestorm . . .
A Light in the Hills . . .
And a Mystery Rises from the Ash.

In 1894, the worst firestorm in Minnesota history descends on the town of Hinckley. Heat, flame, and darkness sweep through the town, devouring lives, destroying hope. In the aftermath, the town rises from the ashes, its people determined to rebuild their lives.

But in the shadows, someone is watching. Someone is waiting. Someone who knows the secrets that can free them all. A rumor begins of a hermit in the hills - a person severely burned, disfigured beyond recognition. Doubts rise. Fear whispers. Is the hermit a monster or a memory? An enemy or a love once-lost?

Based on historical events, Veil of Fire beckons to a time when hope rose from the smoke of sacrifice, when trust hid behind a veil of fear, when dreams were robed in a mantle of fire . . .

I love this book because we all go through firestorms in life. And this story takes a look at the doubts and the pain, and even the hope, that can arise in those fires. And besides, it’s fun to try to guess who the mystery hermit is. So far, no one’s guessed until they read it at the very end.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.

Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”

Someday finally came. I started writing articles for various magazines and putting out proposals for book projects. I thought it would be easy to get my first book published, but alas, it took years of writing and honing my craft (6 years, in fact). And more than that, it took giving up my dream entirely. For me, I had to come to a place in my heart where I didn’t have to write to be content. I had to let go of that strong desire born at thirteen years old and embrace God’s will for me whether that will included writing or not. Only then, only when my dream had given way to God’s, was I offered a contract by Crossway Books for my first published book in 1999.

When I was offered the contract, I didn’t get a call. I just got a letter in the mail – first asking for the full manuscript, and then awhile later, a contract arrived. I remember thinking how odd it was. I’d been trying so hard to get a contract, meeting with editors, going to conferences, hoping, praying, feeling desperate, until God broke me of all that. I only sent a proposal to Crossway because an editor from another house suggested I try them. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. And then, the contract came. It made me laugh. Just like God to make me give up completely before he opened that door.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Absolutely! Every time I start a new book, I find myself muttering “What was I thinking?!!? I can’t write this book! Why did I ever think I could do this?” By the end, though, I see God working and how he’s been faithful in the writing of the story he’s given me to write. So, right now I’m at the beginning of a new book, and of course all those doubts are raging. But this time I’m reminding myself that this always happens. I just need to push through, do my best, and the story will come.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Wanting it too badly. Our culture tells us to pursue our dreams, reach for the sky, dream big, nothing’s impossible if only you try hard enough. Sounds good. But for me, that philosophy was deadly. I needed to completely surrender my dreams in order to live God’s. It was like ripping out part of my soul. But it was worth it. Now, when I write, it can be an act of worship and obedience, instead of something that’s all about me and my dreams.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Don’t write a story just to be a writer. Find the right story that resonates with what God’s doing in you. Write what moves you and comes out of your seeking of God and his hand on your life. Then, write the story God gives you. Surrender. Follow God. Seek Him. And if He’s called you to this writing thing, then write the best that you can. Study the craft. Hone your work. Remember that it’s an offering to Him, so do your best. Find the story that’s not only your passion, but His. And then, be faithful. Go to writers’ conferences, listen to advice, be humble. Write. And make friends who will be there for you in the ups and downs of the business.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

You have to be someone famous before you can get a contract. Or, at least you have to have a platform. Of course those things help, but it puts unneeded pressure on a writer and interferes with the idea of just following what God wants that writer to do.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Take the time to get the right people around you. Find the right agent who believes in your work (and when you get published, the right publicist as well). You need the right team who can both encourage you and challenge you to stretch.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

My first book, Cry Freedom, was first contracted by Tyndale. I finished the book under contract, sent it in, and it was read and found acceptable. Then Tyndale went through an editor change. The new editor hated the book. He didn’t have a single positive thing to say about it. I made revisions, but he didn’t read the revised manuscript. Instead, after a long and painful process, the book was canceled. That hurt! Two years later, that was the book that Crossway contracted, published, and raved about the writing. But those two years were so hard, especially after coming after a number of other years of trying to get a contract. I see now what God was doing in my life and heart, but that didn’t make the setback any easier at the time.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I love to read. Some of my favorites are C.S. Lewis’ Narnian Chronicles, Lord of the Rings (I was a Lord of the Rings fan even before it became popular), Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series, and Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I love Veil of Fire. I think it’s my best writing so far, but more than that, I love it because it tackles the hard questions of life, the very doubts and struggles that I’ve wrestled with so much in my own life.

Once, when I was a child, I believed in miracles. The impossible was only a prayer away. Fairy tales were real, and dreams were free. But somewhere, in the journey, I lost the ability to trust. I stopped daring to believe. And I wondered what happened to me.

Life happened. Failure, discouragement, pain, loss. Somewhere, somehow, life burns us all. And we realize that this life we live is not the one we once dreamed. The realities of life scar us. Doubts rise. Fear whispers that hope is gone. And what was once a simple faith can fail in the face of that fear.

In the midst of life’s disillusionment, choices appear. Do we retreat? Hide our hurts far from probing eyes? Do we embrace bitterness and cynicism? Do we use deceit to try to obtain our goals? Do we give up, give in, forget that we ever dared to dream? Or is it possible to reach the high places of faith in the low valleys of life’s reality? Can we still live a life of bold faith, of fierce hope, when fairy tales don’t come true? How do we live this life that God has given us when it’s not the life we dreamed?
These are the questions I wanted to explore in Veil of Fire. These are the questions which underlie each character’s journey in the aftermath of the great fire of 1894. They’re the questions that have shaped my life through my own journey through infertility, miscarriage, failure, and loss.

So, for those burned by life, for those who carry scars that cannot be seen, for those who have retreated for fear of more pain, this story is for them, this journey from the hidden places of pain to a new hope in the unhidden truth of Christ’s love.

And I hope, I pray, that God will use Veil of Fire to not only give people a great read, but to also heal hearts and make some lives better in the living of them.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Yeah, I hate how new writers are pressured to make a platform, get endorsements for their writing before they even have a contract, and to work to make themselves seem “bigger” than they are or exaggerate their resume. Rather, I’d like to see writers encouraged to hone their craft, write a beautiful book, and do everything they can to be faithful in their writing. Good books that capture the reader, are well-written, that tell a powerful story in a redeeming way, ought to be published and promoted no matter who the author is. Most of our publishers know and do this, but sometimes writers are given the idea that it’s who they are and who they know that matters, rather than how and what they write.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

Usually, I start with one basic idea. For Veil of Fire, it was the great firestorm of 1894 and the mysterious figure who appeared in the hills afterward. After that I start in with writing chapter one. I am a “headlights” writer, which means I can see the chapter I’m writing and a few chapters ahead. I may also glimpse a few “signposts” in the distance. The funny thing about Veil of Fire is that I wrote three quarters of the book thinking the hermit in the hills was one character only to find out as I neared the end that I was wrong! And the impact of that discovery was both a shock and a delight. Suddenly, I understood what God was getting at through the theme and nuances of character in the book.

And truly, while I may complain that it would be easier to write a book if it were all mapped out (it certainly would be quicker!), this sense of surprise and delight is one of things that I love about the writing process. I love when the story and characters take on a life of their own. I love to discover what God has been planning for a story all along. And I love to be surprised by a sudden turn of events. And I know if I’m surprised and delighted, my readers will be too.

So, as it turns out, I write as I go, and revise as I discover more about the characters and plot. By the time I reach the end, there’s typically only minor revisions to make, a couple more scenes I want to add, and a big once-over polish. Then, I send it off to my editor and hold my breath! (I’m in the holding-breath stage now for Beyond the Night, a novel that will come out next May, and the beginning of whole new type of book for me.)

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

One dream is to receive a letter from a reader saying that they chose to completely give or surrender their life to Jesus after reading one of my books.

Another is to just write great books with God’s grace, that sell well enough so that I don’t have to be concerned with the numbers. My dream is to get into a rhythm of writing and publishing the books that God places on my heart, that matter in the Kingdom of God and that I can see are making a difference in real people’s lives.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Oh, ugh, yes. Lots of times before I was published. Sometimes, the doubt and discouragement just got to be overwhelming. But in those times, there was always just that little something that kept me going. And then, after God broke me of my need to be published, and I started being published, my fourth book sold poorly. Again, I faced awful doubt and discouragement. I’d been faithful, written the book God wanted me to write, done my best to do it well, and while the reviews were great, the sales weren’t.

It was then that I had to come to grips again with the idea that my job is just to be faithful. That’s it. Success isn’t getting contracts, or good sales numbers, or anything else. I just need to do what God asks. Write the stories he gives me to write. It took three years for him to give me another story. That story was Veil of Fire (published by Cook). And now, I have three more novels coming out in 2008 and 2009 with Waterbrook-Multnomah -- three more stories that God pressed on me so strongly that I couldn’t ignore them. So, I’m glad I didn’t quit!

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I love the last revision of a book. It’s there that I see what God has been doing and shaping throughout the whole process of writing. I love to see how it all has come together to become more than I’d planned.

My least favorite part is writing the first few chapters, when all the doubts are raging and I’m not sure everything will come together, and I’m feeling just sure it won’t.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I do as much as I can. I prefer interviews (like this one! J) and giving talks. I don’t prefer booksignings and author appearances. I also like to give away books to charitable causes. My best advice is to hire an independent PR person if your publisher isn’t planning on doing much. For Veil of Fire, I got Kathy from Glass Road PR on my team. It’s been great to work with someone to get the word out for Veil of Fire. And I so appreciate there being someone else to “toot my horn” instead of me having to do it myself.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Perhaps my favorite encounter with a reader came via email. A woman wrote to me who had grown up in a Christian home, going to church. Over the years, she had drifted away from her faith. She had come to think of Jesus as “old news,” stuff that she’d heard a hundred times before. But someone had given her one of my books. And after reading it, she found herself considering Jesus in a new way. He was no longer “old news” but “good news.” For her, a story of God’s grace in Jesus reminded her of the faith that was missing in her life and encouraged her to start getting back in touch with what she had left behind. (And by the way, this was for Only the Wind Remembers, the book that didn’t sell very well!)

Parting words?

I hope readers will visit my website at and pick up a copy of Veil of Fire.

And, for all writers, I hope you’ll remember that God has given you a unique voice and gift. Use it for the His glory and in obedience to him, in whatever way he wants for you. Love him first. Follow him first. And be the person he wants you to be. His grace is sufficient. His love unimaginable. His vision for you beyond your own.


  1. Wonderful, wonderful advice. Thank you for the interview. I loved Veil of Fire.

  2. Marlo and Gina, thanks for the interview. That was very encouraging.

    I've got Veil of Fire in my TBR pile. I'm looking forward to starting it.

  3. Hey Marlo! Good stuff, lady. Nice seeing your smiling mug this morning. : )

  4. Marlo,

    What a great interview! It touched me where I was at. Thanks so much for sharing and sharing so honestly.


  5. Thanks, all, for the comments. So glad the interview was useful!! I hope you'll pick up a copy of Veil of Fire (if you haven't already), read it, and let me know what you think (email me through my website). And many blessings to you!
    --Marlo Schalesky

  6. Really a nice interview. Thanks GIna and Marlo!

  7. Terrific interview, ladies. Thanks for sharing, Marlo!

  8. Thanks for all your timely words of wisdom. Your interview was very encouraging.


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