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Interview with Christa Allan

The Edge of Grace is your second novel with Abingdon Press and the second one to deal with social issues. What genre are your books listed under?
The Edge of Grace is listed under Contemporary Fiction with Romantic Elements and Women’s Fiction. Walking on Broken Glass : Women’s Fiction

Were these novels a hard sell?
Both Rachelle Gardner, the agent for these two novels, and Barbara Scott, the editor at Abingdon Press acquiring them, championed these works. I truly see God’s hand in bringing us together. Eight or nine publishing houses turned down Walking on Broken Glass and, on the heels of that, Abingdon Press started their fiction line and sought new voices. And-no kidding-just as Rachelle and I were having a phone conversation about the direction of the still unplaced The Edge of Grace, we both received an email from Barbara that it was on its way to committee, and she felt strongly it would pass. I could not be more proud of Abingdon for having the courage and faith to publish both of these novels.

Was The Edge of Grace hard to write because of personal experience and your emotional ties to your brother?
Quite the opposite. My brother and his partner both enthusiastically supported my novel.

Twenty years ago ago, my brother-my only sibling-told me he was gay. The news fractured our relationship, but the truth of it is I was the one with the hammer. It took years, too many years, for me to realize that placing the word “gay” in front of the word “brother” did not change the substance of the person I’d known and loved all my life. He is my brother, and I don’t define him by his sexual orientation. In fact, he doesn’t define me by mine either! When my brother’s partner of eighteen years was attacked in the French Quarter, that was my motivation for getting serious about the novel. The Edge of Grace grew out of those experiences. I wanted other families to realize that they weren’t alone, and that what God wants most, from all of us, is to love.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I’d only call myself a writer for the past six years or so, but I’ve been teaching high school English for over twenty-three years. I suppose if I didn’t feel compelled to “reinvent the wheel” every school year,” I might have more emotional energy to devote to writing. I’m constantly searching for more effective ways to engage my students, and it’s time intensive, especially when I’m already drowning in a sea of papers. Adding writing to that is like, in the words of my grandmother, “trying to squeeze California into Rhode Island.”

I know many writers advocate daily or weekly word or page goals. That doesn’t work for me. I don’t have the emotional capacity to handle it all during a school week. So, I focus on taking advantage of my summers, holidays, and weekends for writing. And, like that seesaw, sometimes, I’m down when I should be up. But I know that I can push myself where I need to be.

Sometimes our families require more of our attention, so we yank ourselves out of the orbit of work or school or whatever, to devote time to them. Other days, it might be work. I remind myself that asking God for direction here should come first.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
When I first discovered Christian fiction, I wanted, needed, characters with whom I could identify. Sure, I found some novels with characters that were alcoholics, or gay, or parents of special-needs children. But, generally, they weren’t the protagonists or their situations didn’t mirror life as I saw it.

As someone who came to Jesus in my late 30s, I wondered if I was an anomaly or if the people in the pews around me had equally messy lives. I surely wasn’t going to start blabbering about my poster-family for dysfunctionality in Sunday School classes.

When I started writing for publication, my first idea was a romance novel. Girl meets boy, they hate each other, then they like each other. Five pages in, and I was done. My husband suggested I write a mystery. I couldn’t even figure out who the killer was, so surely that wasn’t going to work either. The notion to write about a woman alcoholic emerged after sharing with a co-worker that I’ve been a recovering alcoholic for over twenty years. Her surprise that an average teacher-mommy-wife who led an otherwise average life was ever an alcoholic was my epiphany.

We never know just by looking at people what’s going on in their lives. So many people look so bright-faced happy and pretty on the outside that we’re duped into believing they lead charmed lives. All those “pretty people” might just be waiting for someone to take them out of their frames.

Too many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist because they’re stepping on our toes and squeezing the life out of many of us.

And that’s my passion for writing, to expose the elephants. My goal is not for my novels to be labeled as “edgy”; I don’t write for the purpose of sensationalizing. I want to comfort people facing issues in their lives, to let them know that being a Christian doesn’t mean immunity from the world’s problems. But if my words can pierce the façade, then people can see God on the other side.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That it happened during a time when my children and husband could celebrate it with me.

Finish this sentence... If I had the money to start a non-profit foundation... it would serve the purpose of helping teens have a safe place to hang out after school and during summers.

Any parting words?
Thanks for featuring me and my novels. My next one will be out in February of 2012. It’s an historical romance (New Orleans, 1840s) with Summerside Press: Love Finds You in New Orleans. I’ll also be publishing one of Abingdon’s quilt series novels followed by a three-book series that I’m truly excited about.

Thanks for sharing with us, Christa!

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