Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Deb Raney ~ Leaving November

Deb, you are one of the best women's fiction authors in the CBA (and my personal favorite). You're now on your 17th or 18th novel. Women's fiction by definition is women's issues or issues of the heart. There are just so many of those issues. Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere I turn! Ideas are literally everywhere! But it took me 38 years to come up with an idea for my first novel and one of my biggest fears while I was writing it was that I’d never come up with an idea for a second one (and I desperately needed to, since my first contract was for two books!) But somewhere in the middle of the rewrite on my first novel, the idea was suddenly there—inspired by a brief conversation I’d had with my father-in-law twenty years earlier!

Now that I understand how a tiny seed of an idea can germinate into a full-blown novel, I keep my eyes and ears open. Because I write contemporary stories, the morning newspaper, magazines, talk shows and real life (I’m a talented eavesdropper!) are great sources for stories. Of course I never use a real life story in its entirety. But after I’ve changed all the details “to protect the innocent,” real stories make great backstory for my characters, or great jumping-off points for my plot.

In the Clayburn series, and specifically Leaving November, what issue sparked the story?

In Leaving November, Jackson Linder, the alcoholic gallery owner from Remember to Forget (the first of the Clayburn novels series) is the hero. Jack is fresh out of rehab and trying to stay sober and make up for the disappointment and damage his addictions have caused.

I explored a different kind of disappointment in my heroine, Vienne Kenney, who has just failed the bar for the second time and been forced to move back to Clayburn even though it’s the last place on earth she wants to be.

The issues Jack and Vienne deal with are more similar than they first realize and of course the issues that first divide them, ultimately bring them together.

How do you find a fresh approach to the issue for Leaving November?

I think one of the elements that provides a fresh look at this issue involves the type of counseling Jack came out of. In researching this story, I discovered there are two basic lines of thought in treating alcoholism, and they are often at odds with each other. In a nutshell, one view looks at alcoholism as a disease, the other looks at it as sin and choice. I explored the latter view, while concluding, personally, that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It was a little risky writing Jack’s story the way I did, and I’m prepared to get letters from counselors who disagree with my conclusions. But I talked to enough real people who have survived the battleground of addictions—not only with alcohol, but with drugs, pornography, overeating, financial issues—and shared Jack’s experience, that I feel very confident in handling this topic the way I did.

WF usually has an element of romance. How do you keep your story within the WF genre and still develop the romance fully?

Quite honestly, when I’m writing, I don’t give that balance much thought. I simply let the story unfold and make sure my characters interact with all the people in their lives. Making certain they are true to themselves (which, I guess does take some forethought on my part) seems to result in a story that satisfies both women’s fiction and romance fans.

Oddly enough, several of my best-received stories—A Vow to Cherish, A Nest of Sparrows, Over the Waters—are written primarily from a male point of view. And yet I think they certainly fit well within the framework of Women’s Fiction/Romance.

How would you describe the difference between plot driven and character-driven?

Interesting you should ask this, since I just returned from Mount Hermon (a fabulous Christian writers conference in California) where James Scott Bell and editor Nick Harrison had a fascinating debate on this very topic. They both argued their cases brilliantly.

My take is this: in a nutshell, a plot-driven novel keeps you turning pages faster and slows down for a peek at the characters’ thoughts far less frequently than a character-driven novel. So-called character-driven novels must have a plot, of course—the more complex the better—but some readers are more content with a novel that’s taken up with the characters’ inner lives as much or more than the external conflicts with which they struggle.

As Nick Harrison argued in the “great debate,” a plot isn’t of much interest to the reader if we don’t first care deeply about the characters. That said, plot does allow a showcase for a character’s traits, so the best novel has a perfect balance of plot and characterization.

WF is normally character driven. In Leaving November, how did you weave the plot and keep it character-driven?

Well, since I pretty much stink at plotting, writing character-driven stories comes pretty naturally and easily. I think your choice of the word “weave” is perfect, because that’s how I write. I spin the story chronologically, but most of the important work comes in the rewrite when I go back and weave in character traits that reflect and reveal who I’ve discovered each characters to be by the end of my first draft.

With a few exceptions like A Nest of Sparrows and Beneath a Southern Sky, my novels’ plots aren’t terribly complicated. I’m more concerned that the inner lives of my characters be complex—and I think that’s the secret to a character-driven novel. Again, the best novel has a nice mixture of complexity in both plot and characterization.

When you read, do you stay pretty much within your own genre? Why or why not?

I started writing women’s fiction because that’s what I loved to read, but I was growing frustrated by the progressively worse morality (or lack of it, I should say) portrayed in secular women’s fiction. Since that was almost 15 years ago, before there was such a wealth of wholesome Christian women’s fiction, I decided to write my own. Now there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the great stuff that’s being written from a Christian worldview.

But I’m trying to branch out and read some different things. I love James Scott Bell’s legal thrillers, along with John Grisham and Robert Ludlam. I’ve even given two of Brandilyn Collins’ scary suspense novels a try (and I did enjoy them once I was done and realized I survived! I far prefer her wonderful women’s fiction.) As Tamera Alexander’s critique partner, I read historical fiction and truly enjoy it.

I also find biographies fascinating, and I read a lot of non-fiction for research, of course, but yes, when it comes to fiction, my first choice is always contemporary women’s fiction, whether secular or CBA. I mostly read books that I put down and

say “Ah…I wish I’d written that!”

Leaving November
by Deborah Raney

There's one thing she has vowed never to abide in a man. Could the horrible rumors be true? Is her life repeating itself?

Eight years ago, Vienne Kenny moved away from Clayburn and all its gossip to pursue a law degree in California. But now she has failed the bar exam again, Is she destined to be stuck forever, a failure—just like her father—in this two-horse Kansas town?

Nine months ago, Jackson Linder left Clayburn with no explanation to anybody. Now he, too, is back. He isn't sure he's ready to face the rumors and well-meaning questions of the town's busybodies. Yet he's determined, once more, to make his art gallery a success—in spite of the secret that haunts him every day....


  1. I love Deb's heart to reach out to other novelists, and her genuinely sweet demeanor. She's an author I want to be like when (if!) I grow up.

  2. Me, too, Mary! Deb has had a huge impact on my writing, teaching me so much. She taught the continuing class as my very first conference. I got one of her books and she quickly became my favorite author. :D

  3. Deb doesn't realize it, but she is my "mentor"!! And although I've never met her in person, I can tell she's a sweetheart (LOVE her books, too!).
    Patti Moore


Don't be shy. Share what's on your mind.