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Interview with Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers - The Writing Sisters

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family. Their father wrote engineering textbooks and magazine articles; their mother, Betsy Byars, was a distinguished children’s author and the winner of numerous book awards, including a National Book Award, a Newbery, an Edgar and many others.For over twenty years they published more than thirty-five children’s novels with a variety of companies, both individually and together. Their first collaborative efforts were with their mother. When their mother retired, Laurie and Betsy formed The Writing Sisters to express their faith in their writing and more directly use their talents for the glory of God. Their desire is for their fiction to show the power of God working in the world through Scripture.

Betsy and Laurie, I am pleased to have not one interviewee but two this week. It’s double the fun! The Writing Sisters have recently released your debut novel, The Shepherd’s Song, which I believe is your first venture into adult fiction, correct?
That’s right, after writing children’s books for years, we changed genres - children to adult, AND markets - general to Christian.

After penning over thirty children’s books, how did this transition take place? Was it a long time coming or did the opportunity/inspiration pop up out of the blue?
We both were feeling that God was calling us to something new, but we weren’t sure what. We had done a few collaborative books with our mother; then, in 2010, she decided to retire from writing. We decided to continue together but to write books displaying God’s power, in particular the power of His Word to change lives.

How did the idea for your debut develop? Did it stem from another book idea, a life event, or a trip, perhaps?
At first we began writing children’s books using scripture, thinking that was our calling. We had years of experience writing for children and assumed that God would use that experience for Him. As we were exploring ideas for a new children’s book, the idea for The Shepherd’s Song came. We knew it was not for children, so we were surprised and even intimidated by the idea of tackling a book for adults. Initially the idea was just the Psalm traveling around - we didn’t know how or why, but all that evolved as the book progressed.

With essentially twelve different storylines interwoven together, how did you keep organized and on track with this novel? And even further, how did you two keep it all straight with each other? Did you have a special system in place?
It was a complicated book to write with the Psalm traveling from person to person. We had a timeline that we followed to keep the dates and timing accurate and kept a list of the different settings and modes of passing the Psalm.

For the manuscript itself, we used a shared document online that we both had access to 24 hours. It was both fun and a challenge - it required trust to allow each other full access to edit each other’s work, but it was great fun to see what new and creative elements the other had added to the story. Each chapter had an individual document. We met every Thursday face to face half way between our homes in a quaint town with a lovely coffee shop.

Do you plan to write future novels in a similar style of multi-storylines? Or do you think this may be a one-time kind of book for you?
The multi-storyline plot works well for us and for the vision we have for our work. We see this as a trilogy: Book I, The Shepherd’s Song, featuring Jesus as our shepherd; Book II, The Father’s Prayer, which we are working on now, featuring the Lord’s Prayer and God the Father; and Book III, featuring the Holy Spirit.

Co-writing seems to provide its own challenges in general, but writing with a sibling has to have its own pros and cons. How have you managed your professional and personal relationship over the years?
Because we both view the work as God’s, there is less of a territorial feel to the writing and we both understand that God is going to use BOTH of us in the process to contribute significant pieces that are needed to complete the work. Prayer is a powerful help.

Beginning with prayer gets our work sessions off to the right start. As we submit our work to Him we release it, and we have experienced not only the preservation of our relationship but closeness and depth as well.

Growing up immersed in your award-winning authoress-mother’s world of children’s literature must have been quite unique – and I’d think an ideal environment to mold young writer’s minds. As authors today, what advice has your mother given you in regard to writing that has had the greatest impact on you?
Our mother would always tell us, “Nothing is ever wasted.” Everything we write is important, even if it ends up in the trash can. Every experience good or bad is important in our lives, too. Here’s the way she put it, “I wonder what people who don’t write do with all their good stuff.”

In regard to careers, Betsy and Laurie, you both have held jobs within the medical field. Did you write any during this time? Was there a certain point when both of you were drawn to write? Is it something you had put off for a while?
We didn’t write any fiction during that time. After our medical careers, we both stayed home with children for several years and then began to write when our children were in elementary school. We had time to write while they were in school. We didn’t collaborate back then. We wrote individually and published with different publishers.

Besides your mother’s influence, which authors have inspired you the most on your writing journey?
We both love so many authors! The books that our mother read to us as children had the greatest impact on us as writers. Uncle Wiggily taught us humor; Millions of Cats, the power of repeated words. The Little Engine That Could taught us the power of words to motivate others. There are too many to name.

Without giving spoilers, which of the twelve characters in the novel do you most identify with and why?
That’s hard because we created each character, so each is in some way related to us. One of the most fun chapters to write was Rolland’s, because we both love Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving food. That chapter reflects lots of our family foods and memories.

We both relate to Kate who reaches a point in her life where she looks for meaning and significance. The last story of the book is about a woman who writes children’s books. Sounds familiar?

Any parting words?
Thank you so much for having us and allowing us to share about The Shepherd’s Song. ACFW has been an important part of our journey and we are grateful!

Thank you so much, Betsy and Laurie!




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