Sandra Hutchison interviews the debut author of the indie-published TERRIFYING FREEDOM, a novel about a woman whose past as a nun is holding her back from new possibilities in her life. It’s a rewarding read for anyone fascinated by the anguish that can result when sincere faith collides with the inevitable human frailties of religious organizations.
A quick note — next month’s post will catch you up on my writing, rather than offering yet another author interview, much as I enjoy them. (Just in case you’re getting impatient!)
Linda, your author bio suggests that there are a fair number of commonalities between you and your heroine. Am I right about that, and if so, can you explain your decision to fictionalize this story rather than, say, write a memoir?
Yes, I do have extensive experience in religious life—30 years, in fact.
TERRIFYING FREEDOM, while drawing from this experience, is not autobiographical. However, the context of the story is based on fact, so the central part of the novel could be considered historical fiction.
So why not write a memoir? And pass up on the opportunity to spin a tale? From the start I wanted to write fiction. I felt impelled to give life to Rebecca, who, when the beliefs on which she founded her life begin to crumble, must navigate through the murky, rough waters of uncertainty.
I believe fiction gives me a broader range to explore and expand the characters and the reality in which they live. I am able to draw not only from my own experience but from what I’ve learned from others. For example, the central part of the novel is situated in Appalachia. Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to Appalachia: its people, its history and its beauty. The research I did for the novel deepened my own understanding of the Appalachian people. Initially Appalachia was a location for the story, but as the novel evolved it became a character. Fiction can open horizons. I love it.
The novel interested me with its serious attitude towards economic justice and education. The heroine clearly takes teaching very seriously, and the quietly rebellious sisters do good work in Appalachia despite serious institutional barriers. Did you experience a similar path?
I work with at-risk and special needs children. Over the years I have seen how essential it is to provide early intervention for these children and their families. As a society we need to bolster our educational programs with lower class sizes and teacher aides; we need to provide vibrant and relevant after-school and preschool programs as well as outreach to parents. When we as a society demonize addiction, poverty, etc., rather than examine the roots and provide adequate support, we limit many people from living out their potential as persons and from engaging in an empathetic and productive manner in society.
While the purpose of TERRIFYING FREEDOM is to tell the story of Rebecca, I am thrilled when readers are made more aware of the issues that Rebecca and her community grapple with. I love reading novels where my perception of reality is challenged and I set off researching for more information and a deeper sensitivity of the issue or event discussed. Through his novels, Charles Dickens revealed the underbelly of English society that shocked and evoked change. I believe stories can be powerful conveyors of insight and empathy.
Your novel also features a slow-building romance with a sympathetic human resources manager. This is not one of your typical romantic hero’s jobs! What inspired that?
As the song goes, “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around!” I can also say that throughout my life I’ve been blessed by relationships that began as chance encounters: our lives just intersected at the right time and place. These persons believed in me and because of their honesty and compassion my life took turns that may not have happened otherwise. I’ll always be grateful to them.
Tell us how you came to write and publish TERRIFYING FREEDOM. Did anything about it surprise you? Do you have any advice for others?
As mentioned above, I felt a burning drive to write this story. Having said this, not everything was clear from the beginning and I had many moments of self-doubt. As I approached the end of Part One, I considered wrapping the novel up quickly. But after consideration, I decided to plunge into Part Two and am glad I did. In all, it took six years to write.
When it was completed, I embarked on the route of traditional publishing. But the more I trekked down this path, the more my eyes were opened. Several conglomerates control most of the publishing in the US and Canada. To get even the slightest consideration (not to mention an offer), one must first have an agent. So I hunted and send out queries to many agents who I thought might be interested in my genre. If an agent expressed interest, then I had to give a few months for that agent to read the manuscript and decide whether to take on the book or not. This process takes months and the manuscript hasn’t even begun to be seen by a publisher.
So while pursuing the traditional route, I began to research self-publishing through Ingram Spark and Createspace. I discovered that while I would have to put out for the editing, interior design and cover, I also would also have more control over the final product. And from what I’d read, even if a person is traditionally published, the author remains the primary marketer of their book (unless they are a celebrity).
At one point, a smaller publishing house expressed interest in TERRIFYING FREEDOM and I sent off my manuscript to its reviewer. When I did not hear back after a number of months, I decided to self-publish with both Ingram Spark and Createspace. I was well into to this process when I heard that the reviewer had been quite ill and had since recovered. She liked the novel and gave me some great editing tips. By then, however, I decided to continue with self-publishing rather than wait any longer.
To authors-in-the-making, I would say concentrate above all on writing and completing your book. Be ready to edit, then edit, and edit some more. The best book I read on writing was ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, by Stephen King. This book transcends genres as King offers examples from a wide range of authors. He is honest, practical and encouraging. I recommend this book to anyone who asks me about being an author.
I would happily second that recommendation!
Also, if you decide to self-publish, I would suggest investing in a professional editor and cover designer. Read current blogs on the self-publishing (this industry is constantly evolving) and move forward step by step. I would have been overwhelmed if I focused on the entire process. Lastly, be willing to promote your book. If someone expresses interest via social media, keep in touch with the person. I met you, Sandra, through a comment you made on a blog. Through our communication, you gave me a marketing tip and have now given me this wonderful opportunity to promote Terrifying Freedom.
My first novel, which features an errant priest and explores different approaches to faith, was at least partly inspired by thoughtful novels with religious themes by Tim Farrington, Gail Godwin, Anne Tyler, and John Irving, among others. Were you inspired to write yours by any particular works, fiction or nonfiction?
I love reading, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m sure that various authors have influenced my writing without me being aware of it. I love Jane Austen for her insights into the society of her time and her keen perception of others. She has written enduring novels with the stuff of day-to-day living.
Books have opened me to worlds and experiences I had no idea existed. The books I love give me at least one character I deeply care about, increase my awareness of a particular a reality, give me another angle to view history, and/or break through stereotypes.
What’s next for you as an author?
I am currently writing a sequel that tells Andrew’s story (that sympathetic human resource manager!).
Linda Anne Smith lives near Calgary, Alberta, enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. For 30 years, she was a member of a community of religious sisters. She currently volunteers in an organization that is dedicated to assisting and advocating for traumatized and neglected children and their families and works in a school assisting children with special needs. Learn more about her and her work at terrifyingfreedom.com, or follow Linda on social media at Facebook or Twitter.
About TERRIFYING FREEDOM
In the Midwestern offices of Secure Star Insurance, Rebecca, efficient and distant, seeks only to survive another day. Sally, earnest and devout, views the workplace as a fertile mission field. Into the agency comes a new employee, Gladys, gregarious, unorthodox and twice divorced. When an intuitive HR manager arrives, veneers begin to crack.
Back track four years. Rebecca’s mysterious past is explored in a convent replete with younger members and garnering the support of an increasing number of bishops and conservative Catholics. When an older nun has a heart attack, Rebecca is abruptly sent to a backwater mission in Appalachia. Distanced from the enclave of the mother house and embedded in social realities of the missionary outpost, Rebecca is thrust into uncharted waters.
You can purchase TERRIFYING FREEDOM at…