Monday, September 24, 2012

Why the Novel Matters: An Interview with Cynthia Ruchti

 Our guest author today is Cynthia Ruchti, author of  They Almost Always Come Home , a 2011 ACFW Carol Award finalist, as well as her latest release, Maybe Us, a novella in the Cedar Creek Seasons 4-in-1 collection.

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.


Nicole said...

If you haven't read They Almost Always Come Home, you should. Great voice. Meaningful, layered story. This lady can indeed write stories.

Sharon K. Souza said...

I so agree. It's a fabulous novel. I've read it three times.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Nicole, everything you said warmed my heart...and reminded me I have a new story perking in my computer. It's been neglected during this past week's ACFW conference, but I'm eager to get back to it. All the more so because of readers like you!

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Sharon, three times???? My husband read it twice. The second time through he said, "Hey! That's me in there, isn't it!" I just smiled and kept writing.

Unknown said...

This was such a great interview! I sooo enjoyed getting the chance to meet you at ACFW, Cynthia!

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Melissa, YOU were the delight. Always good to connect with other novelists. But it's especially good to connect with the kind of passionate, devoted, intriguing characters who hang out here. :)

Anonymous said...

Cynthia, I love the heart you put into your novels. We can feel the ache of the characters and their triumph. Amazing writing! Fun to catch up with you at ACFW.

Jan Cline said...

It's so true about the waiting part. I find that as life throws curves I have to even wait for time to write. Great insight on many issues here. Thanks so much.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

The "ache" of my characters. Thank you for that huge compliment. I'll chew on that for a while. I think you just made me a better writer!

Tessa Afshar said...

Cynthia, what an inspiring interview. I especially loved the rosebud analogy. I might have to go and buy a rosebud and take a picture of what happens when you force it.

I also agree that the novels that moved me are the ones I remember. I don't remember the ones that were technically brilliant, but left my heart untouched. A good book is one that makes me think and feel at a deeper level.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Blessings as you write,


Cynthia Ruchti said...

Thanks, Jan. Sometimes I have to wait for time to write. Sometimes I have to wrench it out of Distraction's hands. Sometimes I have to awake to the fact that time wasn't missing. I was sitting on it.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Tessa, this means a great deal to me. You have such a beautiful heart.

Megan Sayer said...

Cynthia that rosebun analogy moved me, too. I'll have to remember that, thank you so much for sharing your journey.
I've always wondered about joining professional writer's groups like ACFW, especially reading publishing blogs that recommend putting membership listings in your author bio...seemed to me not that relevant. So it's GREAT to hear what a difference it's made for you. I'll have to look into it more closely. Thank you!

Patti Hill said...

All that heart you read in Cynthia's work, even in her interviews, is genuine. I hope you all get a chance to sit next to Cynthia sometime, somewhere. She knows how to love. Thanks for coming to Novel Matters today, Miss Cynthia and sharing yourself with us. Mwah!

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Mmm-Mmm-Mmm, Miss Patti! Percolating with joy over here in the russets and ambers of a Wisconsin autumn. And missing you.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Megan, every author settles into what's right for them. Many writers have found ACFW educational, encouraging, and inspiring in their journeys. They tap into the archived online courses or develop critique partners or use the genre loops to interact with those who write in similar genres. It's worth two investments--time to look over the website, time to pray about a year's membership as an experiment to see if the NovelTrack Writing, Editing, and Polishing programs work for you, or if another of the member benefits meets your needs.

Samantha Bennett said...

Lovely interview and a lovely book that I so enjoyed. Just recently became intentional about encouraging my own husband and his outdoor dreams. This book was very much a part of my journey. :)

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Oh, Samantha! Do you realize what you just did to this writer's heart? Sweet as honey on a warm slice of bread! Thank you!

V. Gingerich said...

Cynthia, I'm coming back here a month late to tell you how much I liked your book. I loved Libby's voice, though I didn't always love Libby or at least wasn't always on her side. I felt you'd walked every step of those trails and lived every minute of that marriage. You are a clever writer and I'll be watching for your next novel.

Novel Matters, thanks for this post. I had this ebook on my kindle but what made me bump it up my to-read list was this interview.