We’ve declared 2013 Carpe Annum—Seize the Year! It’s our way of encouraging you as an artist/writer to find your own path, listen to your inner iconoclast, and to be set free to explore your true writer/reader/human self.
We’ve asked a few authors to share their Carpe Annum journey and we’re pleased that our first guest is Chris Fabry.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning writer who has written more than 70 books for children and adults. His first novel for adults, Dogwood, won a Christy award. The third book in the Dogwood trilogy, Almost Heaven, won the ECPA Book of the Year for Fiction and the Christy Award. His latest is Borders of the Heart.
Chris is heard daily on the radio programs Chris Fabry Live! and Love Worth Finding. He and his wife, Andrea, co-host the national broadcast Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, featuring the New York Times Best-selling author of The Five Love Languages.
Fabry’s other books include the NY Times bestseller, Coming Back Stronger, written with quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees, and Left Behind: The Kids, co-written with Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye.
Chris is a graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and Moody Bible Institute. He has been married to his wife, Andrea, since 1982. They are the parents of nine children and live near Tucson.
Novel Matters: Welcome, Chris. The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum—Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey as a writer when you took hold of your career. What did that look like? How did that moment change you as a writer?
Chris Fabry: In 2008, our family vacated our dream house in Colorado because of toxic mold. We had nine children. All of the children were ill, my wife and I were sick, too. We had to put our two dogs down and basically leave everything in the house: treasured books, electronics, toys, clothes, photo albums, everything. (Thankfully we did salvage a few heirlooms later.)
I was in the middle of writing the book June Bug. Our health struggle became a financial struggle and then a legal struggle. It affected everything. I wanted to give up. I wanted to walk away from the writing, from the pain, from all the questions about our lives and the future. But something inside said that writing was the path to freedom. If I could write through this devastation, if I could allow the pain I was going through to inform the story, my readers would connect with the character on an even deeper level. And I would find a measure of solace in the process.
NM: How did you funnel your immediate experience into June Bug’s story?
CF: In the story, June Bug lives in a small RV. Everything she has in the world is in that RV. We vacated the house and I was forced to work out of a neighbor’s little pull-along trailer. This was in January in Colorado. I could see my breath as I edited. Those days were some of my most productive writing days ever. And June Bug, to date, has been the novel I get the most response about. It has sold the most. I don’t think that’s by accident.
An event like that reframes your life. It shows how committed you are to telling stories and believing they’re going to have an impact on those who read them. And they have an impact on the writer as well. I no longer see my stories as for some mass audience out there. Each story is for an individual reader. And each story is for me.
NM: Which is amazing advice for all writers—get to a place where you’re able to see each story as personal, touching a single life to the core rather than a story that will ripple the surface of a large body of water. That takes time and effort but it’s worth it. Speaking of advice, Chris, if tomorrow were the first day of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
CF: Go deeper. Don't settle for what's on the surface. Use what you're personally going through, the pain and struggle, to propel you. For me, a deep relationship with God is important, it informs everything I write. So I would say, “Lean into that and your characters and stories will have depth.
NM: “Lean into that.” Good words for writers in this rollercoaster industry. We need something solid to lean on and, as it turns out, we need to be the ones who provide that stability for ourselves. Writing careers ebb and flow—one day you’re an Amazon 5-star, the next you’re on your way to the bargain table. How do you—do you?—separate yourself from critical opinions to give your creative self for another day of writing?
CF: Before I ever wrote a word for publication I struggled with the question, "What makes you so special?" What makes me think I can write something better than author X who has done it longer, studied more, paid more dues, etc. And I had to come to the place where I asked if I really believed God had given me a desire to write and a message.
MN: So, you found the answer of what makes you unique in yourself, not ‘out there’ in public opinion?
CF: When I compare, I always lose because I'm either better or worse than others. But when I focus on what God has called me to do, whether I write or dig a ditch, it doesn't matter, I'm just going to do it in his strength and wisdom and let him do what he wants with it. I actually get a kick out of people leaving negative reviews. It keeps me humble and lets me know more people than my mother are reading the books.
NM: You’ve authored many books. In the beginning, did you consciously choose one of these paths over the other, and are you happy with that choice today?
CF: I set out to write To Kill A Mockingbird and only have one book to my name, but I've written more than 70 now, in different genres, so I'm not Harper Lee. My main goal is to write stories that will touch readers deeply, as other writers have touched me
NM: Touching readers is the goal of every writer. There are many, many ways to do that through theme and content. You’re books run the gamut of theme, character, even genre. Are there any taboos you've respected in the past that you'd consider breaking now, after years of experience as a writer? If so, which ones, and why? Which would you never break?
CF: I don't use profanity and graphic sexuality. However, both are implied in my books because real life has both. I have an idea for a book where the main character is about as far from God as you can imagine, and that may be difficult for some of my readers to encounter, as it was with Truman Wiley in Not In The Heart. But it's not how good or bad a character is that makes them compelling, it's how real they feel and whether or not you care about them.
NM: The use of profanity and graphic sexuality is an issue for writers who contribute to CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). But there is a bigger debate out there between writers: outline vs. no outline, just go with the gut. Which do you prefer? What role does epiphany play while planning or writing?
CF: I've never written a novel where I knew exactly what was going to come each day of writing. I know where I'm starting, I know the ending, and I know the conflict in between, but I'm always surprised by what I encounter along the way and the conscious and subconscious work together in my fictive dream.
NM: So, a bit of both. You start with a road map, but often find yourself 4x4ing through the brush. This has to be helpful as a writer who is faced dialing with a changing publishing industry. What once seemed like a narrow river feels more like a vast sea of choice for writers. How are you navigating through the waters these days?
CF: This hearkens to the question above--I'm not as concerned with industry changes and all the choices out there because my main concern is my art, the story. I can have a great publishing plan, a brand people recognize, and all the “right” industry choices made, but if I don’t have a good story, I don’t have anything.
NM: What about in this era of writers needing to market their own books?
CF: Marketing can sell an author once. It won't bring the reader back. So I concern myself with that. And I try to surround myself with people who have done this longer than I have, writers, agents, editors, who can advise well.
NM: Who do you turn to for advice when things are rocky on your writing journey?
CF: My editor at the publisher. You'd think you wouldn't want to say anything negative, but my editor is my friend/my book's best friend. I also email a close writing friend and say, "Help!" once or twice every book.
NM: It’s true, writing, in the end, isn’t the solitary pursuit it seems. Every writer needs a team they can count on. Speaking of things you count on, what's the one thing (be it a technology, a notebook, a wristwatch, or pen) that you can't be without as a writer?
CF: Time. Time is my biggest friend or foe as a writer. That's too nebulous, though. I'd say it's my chair. We relocated to AZ a few years ago and the house we moved into had a swivel chair, kind of a Lazy Boy thing, and it was all I had. I held the keyboard in my lap and sat back from the screen and I couldn't believe how much more productive and relaxed I felt than sitting straight and having the ergonomic this and that. I'm not suggesting this for everyone, but I've never had trouble with wrist pain, etc. And I do spend a lot of time in this thing.
NM: Awesome. I’m going to try writing from my reclining chair. If I get nothing written, maybe I’ll have inspiring dreams instead. We’re glad you were able to hang out with us today, Chris. One last question: What advice do you give to writers who are looking to seize the year and take control of their writing career?
CF: Don't seize a week or a month or a year. (Though I like Carpe Annum.) Commit to today. How much time can you spend working on your idea today? If you have a full-time job and can only spend 15 minutes, do it. If you do that, the Annum will take care of itself.
Thank you, Chris Fabry for joining us on the blog today and inspiring us to dig deep into our experience to bring fullness and empathy to the story. We appreciate your time and insight!
As always, we value our reader's ideas, questions, and input. Please share!