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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Author Interview ~ Ann Tatlock

Ann Tatlock is a novelist whose books have received numerous awards, including the Christy Award, the Silver Angel Award from Excellence in Media, and the Midwest Book Award for General Fiction. She has a master’s degree in communications from Wheaton College and spent five years as an editor with Decision magazine (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) before leaving to pursue fiction writing full-time.

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

Things We Once Held Dear, my fifth book with Bethany House, just came out in January 2006. It’s contemporary fiction dealing with family relationships, though it includes a touch of romance, a taste of the real-life history of a small Ohio town, and a subplot of murder and mystery. I wrote the story in part to examine the nature of truth: that truth is revealed rather than fabricated in the human mind.

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.

I wrote fiction for 11 years before I knew my first contract was on the way (and two more years would pass before the book was actually published). When I first felt called to writing, I pictured myself as a journalist. My master’s degree is in print journalism from Wheaton College. I never dreamed of writing fiction. But when, in my mid-20s, I went through a time of loss, I realized I needed a new way to express my grief. So I started writing stories.

It wasn’t long before I knew that fiction writing would be more than just a form of self-therapy for me. I started writing with my sights set on publishing. I’d write every evening after work (I was an editor for Decision magazine) and on weekends. But it took me a long time to get up the nerve to approach a publisher.

I’d finish a novel, tell myself it wasn’t good enough, put it aside and start another one. I did try sending one to a publisher once (it ended up forgotten on a shelf--see question below about my worst mistake) and was eventually rejected. Finally, after writing some seven novels, I met my future husband, who stepped in and found me an agent who, within about six months, found a publisher who liked my work. I suppose I’d still be writing novels only to put them aside if it weren’t for Bob and the agent. (It helps to have someone around who believes in you.)

I learned my first novel was accepted when Carol Johnson, VP Editorial/Fiction at Bethany House, called to ask me a question while she was working on the contract. I asked--rather timidly, I suppose--“Does this mean you’re going to publish the novel?” She assured me that that was the plan. I believe I called my dad as soon as we hung up. Then I put on my coat--it was a cold April day in Minnesota--and went out to walk by the lake and thank my Heavenly Father. I’ll never forget standing there looking out over the water; I felt as though my life and my calling had finally met.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes. I always will. Self-doubt is simply an occupational hazard for most writers.

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made while seeking publication?

Being too afraid to call a publishing house to find out why they hadn’t responded to my manuscript. Finally, some nine months later, I learned it had been sitting on a shelf, forgotten.

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

Very often the strongest careers grow slowly. Some people’s careers are like shooting stars: they burst onto the scene quickly, but they also die out quickly. Be content to take your time.

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

“Write quickly, pouring out all your ideas on the page as fast as you can. Then go back and rewrite later.” Doesn’t work for me. I write very slowly, with long thought-filled pauses between sentences. I don’t necessarily recommend my method for other writers--it just seems to be the way my brain functions.

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

As long as it took me to get published, I believe now that everything happened at the right time and in the right way, according to God’s plan. On a personal level, before I was published, I wish I’d spent less time wondering whether my desire was simply a pipe dream and more time trusting God to bring about what he had put in my heart to do. I persevered over the years, but too often with the sense of “you might as well just give up; you’ll never be a published author….”

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

Yes, John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.’” We live in an age of relativism. Our culture tells us that whatever we want the truth to be, that’s what it is. Well, guess what? That simply isn’t true. Some truths are relative, but the truth that leads to salvation is an absolute. Truth is a Person. We can’t decide what we want truth to be, because Jesus told us what Truth is.

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

Anything written by Frederick Buechner. He’s a writer of rare sensitivity and genius. My favorites are “The Sacred Journey” and “A Longing for Home.” Also, the published diaries and letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She was a natural wordsmith, with an amazingly keen eye for detail. She was a person aware of every moment of life while she lived it.

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

I guess I feel good about “All the Way Home.” Somebody must have liked it because it won a 2003 Christy Award and the 2002 Midwest Book Award for fiction. More than that, it was a world I loved stepping into for a time. Researching (reading real stories about real people) and writing that novel gave me a greater appreciation for the human spirit and the strength that comes from faith in God.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

A window into my life would offer the view of a person sitting at a computer. Not very exciting. But my life is so full I wouldn’t trade it for anything. With most writers, it’s the inner life that’s rich and satisfying rather than the outer life. Some writers are also adventurers, but someone like me--well, the day starts at 5:15 with some time of Bible reading and prayer. Then, after my daughter goes off to school for the day, I revel in the quiet and solitude and give the imagination free reign. It’s so much fun!

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I have to go back to Frederick Buechner and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I strive for the freshness of description that seemed to come naturally to them.

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

I sometimes joke that I would like to be successful, but not until after I’m dead. Kind of like Emily Dickinson, who published only seven poems--and those anonymously--in her lifetime. I’m very much a behind-the-scenes person and am content to live a quiet life. So my plan for myself is just to go on writing and living a quiet life, exactly as I’m doing now, unless the Lord lets me know there’s something else He wants me to do.

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

Quite honestly, yes. I still sometimes think I should stop writing and get a job with a regular paycheck. But the thing is, if I quit writing, I might as well quit breathing.

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

I love everything about writing--doing the research, listening to my characters as they tell me who they are, facing the challenge of getting the words down on paper. I love the whole process of being creative. My least favorite part is wrestling with the uncertainties, the doubts and the fears that are an on-going part of this journey. Once I’ve finished creating, is anyone else going to like what I’ve done?

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

My general strategy is to finish a book, throw it out there, then sit back and see what happens. (I think someone needs to give me some advice. Marketing isn’t my strong suit.)

Parting words?

Sometimes people wonder about the use of reading fiction. Is it worthwhile to read a story that isn’t even true, that someone simply made up? Well, Jesus was Himself a fiction writer. He often used parables to teach his followers about God and the Kingdom of Heaven. For instance, He could have simply told us that God loves us and left it at that, but He made it more real by telling us that God is the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep and rejoices over the sheep once it’s found. That gives us a concrete image to hold on to. Literary images help us to see in our minds what we can’t yet see with our eyes.


  1. "Once I've finished creating, is anyone going to like what I've done."

    Hah. Good to know even Christy winners go through that. One minute I think my ms is fantastic and the second it goes out I think the people reading it are going to pee themselves laughing at me.

    Thanks for the interview and for being so gracious when I met you at last years Blue Ridge Mtn Writer's Conference.

  2. I love your thoughts on Jesus and fiction. That really helps me. Sometimes those niggling thoughts of doubt creep in (just why should I spend so much time on something that isn't real?). But then I realize what you said, and it's encouraging.

  3. Thanks for the take-aways.
    Stronger careers take time and Truth is a Person. Love that.


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