Cynthia served as president of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) for the 2009- 2010 term, and now serves as their Professional Relations Liaison.
Novel Matters: Tell us about your professional writing affiliations and how they have helped your writing career.
Cynthia Ruchti: I've been a member of ACFW since 2002, and credit it with much of what moved me from aspiring author to multi-published author. I could paste words together to form a sentence before joining. ACFW helped me learn to carve them into a story. Then it taught me how to polish the story so it caught the light ... and the Light.
I'd been writing professionally -- radio scripts, magazine articles, newspaper columns, anthologies -- for 20 years before attempting full-length fiction. The radio broadcasts were fiction exercises -- eight- or nine-minute scenes of dialogue with a musical interlude and devotion-style teaching. So I'd had practice storytelling. But there's so much more to becoming a novelist than knowing how to tell a story. ACFW offered me the "so much more." After volunteering as the Topic of the Week coordinator for several years, I made the anything-but-natural leap to president of ACFW for a two-year term. Since then, I've served as ACFW's professional relations liaison, helping strengthen connections between authors and retailers, libraries, book clubs, and readers.
Writing conferences large and small have impacted my writing. Here a little. There a little. Here a lot. There a lot more.
I'm a member of The Writers' View and consider the wisdom shared on that loop part of my continuing education. As a member of AWSA, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, I gain another level of education, one that connects my writing and speaking. I recently joined CAN, Christian Authors' Network, and look forward to growing in that affiliation.
Novel Matters is one of the writing-related blogs I try not to miss. It feeds my writer-soul as well as my writer-mind.
NM: We're happy to hear that. Which novels have informed you as a writer over the years? In what ways have they influenced you?
CR: Every novel I've ever read has informed me, influenced me. Some have taught me what not to do or challenged me to write in a more compelling way. Some have edged me forward in my understanding of the human spirit and what it's capable of enduring, or strengthened my grasp of concepts like hope and grace. Some novels left me longing to have been given that story to write. Some left me speechless, wordless, longing to have been given that gift for storytelling. I appreciate a wide variety of novel styles. But I only remember the ones that moved me.
NM: If you could sit down with any writer in history or living today, who would it be and why?
CR: David, the psalmist -- the writer/worshiper/warrior -- would make a fascinating dinner guest. I'd listen first, then share my theories about how all of us are called to balance the writer, the worshiper, and the warrior in us. Then I'd listen some more, likely embarrassed that it took me so long to discover what his words and his life have been speaking for millenia.
NM: As we shift gears just a bit toward your writing, do you outline your novels before you write, or are you a feel-your-way-through writer?
CR: Somewhere in my brain is an outliner. She lives in a tiny little corner of my mental attic. The rest of the house is given over to the intuitive writer who -- to puree a metaphor, which is significantly more aggressive than mixing one -- likes to push off from shore with a paddle, a canoe, and no map. I have a general idea where I am as I write, but I thrive on the discovery of uncharted territory. I don't outline until I'm well into the process.
NM: Which comes first for you: plot, characters, theme or something else?
CR: Where does a novel start for me? With an intriguing word, a title that promises a whole book behind it, a scene visualized then threaded with what came before and what comes after, a concept that makes me wonder, a character in my life who begs to become a character in a book ...
So far the novels I've published, those soon to be released, those contracted, and those still in embryo stage have each had their unique genesis. Does that make me bizarre or buffet-like?
NM: Since the six of us would give a similar answer, we say that makes you buffet-like. Definitely not bizarre. What is the one non-writing thing you do that helps you be a better writer?
CR: No matter how pressing the deadlines, my husband and I try not to miss our weekly small-group Bible study, a true community of people walking out their faith and not afraid to show their blisters. Last week, one of the members said, "You should write a book about us." I told him, "I already did."
NM: How are you navigating the changing tides of publishing?
CR: Veewy caewfuwwy. As soon as we think we've memorized the "pink sky at night, sailors take flight; pink sky in morning, sailors take warning" publishing weather signs, the sky turns chartreuse! But when have things been predictable? Personally, I'm working hard to stay abreast of the changes, but also working hard to stay tethered to my anchor, to the Lord who called me to this undulating process with its adventures and obstacle courses.
NM: What keeps you writing despite setbacks?
CR: The joy of story keeps me writing. I want to see how life turns out -- for my characters, for the situations they find themselves in, for me the writer. I keep writing because writing is how I grow. It's what keeps me alert, observant, empathetic, and expressive. I don't like me as well when I'm not writing because I have to think and feel in order to write well.
NM: What is the worst piece of writing advice ever offered to you, and why?
CR: Not advice, per se, but years ago I heard people question why I wasn't published yet. They thought I could write. Grateful for their encouragement, I'm also grateful it didn't happen because they wished it so. It happened because God orchestrated it, so He could take credit. I forced open a rosebud once to see what would happen. It wilted in my hands. I don't want that to happen to my writing.
NM: What is the best piece of writing advice you have to offer aspiring authors?
CR: Write as hard as you can. Learn as hard as you can. Wait as hard as you can.
Aspiring authors don't mind investing time in writing. And learning's not so bad. Waiting? Do I have to?
Before, during, and after writing the novel.
NM: Your novel, They Almost Always Come Home, is set in the Canadian wilderness. Tell about your choice for that setting.
CR: The Quetico Provincial Park was a natural choice for this story. It's a favorite spot for my husband's getaways -- canoeing, backpacking, fishing, swatting mosquitoes in the remote wilderness. After annual and sometimes twice-annual trips to the wilderness, he coaxed me into accompanying him. It was snowing when we slipped our canoe into the water, and that gives a clue how much I didn't enjoy what he so treasured.
NM: What was the seed of your story idea for this novel?
CR: In 1999, my husband almost didn't come home from one of his trips to the Canadian wilderness. His story sparked the idea for what eventually led to They Almost Always Come Home. If the setting and the emotions seem real, it's because I've seen that water, felt the weight of a pack on my back, crossed the grueling portages, slept on tree roots and huddled as close as I could get to the campfire without setting fire to my hiking boots.
The remoteness and beauty of the wilderness mimicked the utter loneliness and yet the beauty of discovery for the main character, Libby, as she searched the wilderness to find out what happened to her husband, to their marriage, and to her faith. Although Libby's story is not mine, it was all too easy to imagine how she might have felt and the internal battles she fought. As I began to develop the story, new layers unfolded, layers that surprised even me.
NM: What did you gain from writing They Almost Always Come Home?
CR: How much time do we have? I needed to dig deep, then deeper still, in order to write Libby authentically. She, an imaginary character, taught me things about myself, about my approach to my husband, about who he was at his core, about how easily a family can be destroyed if they stop talking about what really matters. I gained great empathy, too, for those who feel abandoned by God, or who think they deserve to be abandoned by God. I'm continually uncovering more that I needed to learn as I interact with readers and hear their coments about how the story moved them.
NM: What do you want your readers to carry away from reading your novel?
CR: I tell stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark. Hope often shows up best against a dark backdrop. So I pray that as readers get to the end of any novel I write, they'll see hope glowing in the dark of the characters' story and their own.
NM: Why does the novel matter to Cynthia Ruchti?
CR: "Come, let us reason together," God said in His Word. I picture that He's really saying, "Come sit here by me. You tell me your stories and I'll tell you Mine. And we'll think about them. We'll talk about them. You'll walk away different. I promise."
I see that same scene happening every time a reader opens a novel of any significance. We don't walk away the same. We're enlightened, encouraged, challenged, delighted, saddened, moved, impressed, baffled, buffaloed, blessed, or refreshed ... but rarely the same.
When I read a novel, I climb inside the pages and live the story with the characters, which expands the breadth and depth of my understanding. Novels written by the Novel Matters authors did that for me. Considering the number and variety of novels on the bookshelves in almost every room of my house, including the bathrooms, I've been through a lot!
Thank you for letting me visit with your blog readers. I appreciate the insights offered on Novel Matters. It's a must-read for me.
And we appreciate Cynthia taking time to share her writer's heart with us. They Almost Always Come Home and Cedar Creek Seasons are available wherever books or ebooks are sold. A Door Country Christmas novella collection is sold out but available in digital format. Readers can watch for another full-length novel from Cynthia in April: When the Morning Glory Blooms, by Abingdon Press.
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Praise for Novel Matters Authors
Lying on Sunday: "Sharon has created a character so vivid and real you'll feel as though you've stepped into Abbie Torrington's life. You don't want to miss this beautiful story of healing and grace" Virginia Smith, author of Age Before Beauty.
The Feast of Saint Bertie: "A story-feast from the get-go! The Feast of Saint Bertie is a surprising, engaging, unique story that will challenge readers to rethink what it means to be a Christ-follower in today's crazy, materialistic culture. With vivid characters, unconventional settings, and a beautifully unfolding plot, this book is the kind that will stay with you, like the fond memory of a great meal."~Mary E. DeMuth, author of Watching the Tree Limbs and Wishing on Dandelions.
Talking to the Dead: “It isn’t often that I get so hooked on the characters and story that I forget time and purpose. Talking to the Dead caught hold of my heart from page one. It takes a gifted and intuitive writer like Bonnie to bring humor into the middle of such a serious story. Call her the Jodi Piccoult of Christian fiction! Beautifully done! I can’t wait to read the next story she writes.” ~Francine Rivers, bestselling author of Redeeming Love
Latter Day Cipher: "Latter-Day Cipher involves the reader not only in a page-turning murder mystery, but also in the struggles of those who must face their own shaken beliefs. A former faithful Mormon, author Scott is sympathetic to those struggles, and attempts to look compassionately at the process of making the hard decision to change."—Sandra Furlong Christian Retailing (Latter Day Cipher is a "top pick" March 2009)
Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon: "An unusual plotline and top-notch prose mark this talented novelist’s debut...competent dialogue, touches of humor, and sparkling character dynamics make this a welcome addition to the faith fiction fold." --Publishers Weekly
The Queen of Sleepy Eye: “Few stories are able to portray both the crushing cost of sin and the transforming power of grace. The Queen of Sleepy Eye succeeds brilliantly. Patti Hill crafts each word with beauty and artistry.” Sharon Hinck, author of Stepping into Sunlight