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Interview with Cynthia Ruchti

As of 2015, Cynthia Ruchti will have fifteen books on the shelves! She writes stories hemmed in hope. This multi-talented lady stays super-busy, spending her days diving into words, worship, and wonder.

Cynthia, in your latest book, As Waters Gone By, you’ve given your female main character an interesting and unusual situation to deal with. Can you tell our readers a little about the story and what you drew upon to write Emmalyn’s story?
Emmalyn believes she’s lost everything—her husband, home, career, and her heart’s desire to be a mother. And she has good reason to blame her husband’s incarceration for all those losses. He’ll be released in a few months. She’s less ready now for what that might mean than she was five years ago when he went to prison for a reason she still doesn’t understand.

As she makes a home out of the crumbling cottage, covering what she can and replacing what she has to, she watches the building come to life again. And with it, hope.

The inspiration for the story came from several sources close to my heart. The Madeline Island area holds many sweet memories of past getaways. I feel as if I almost tripped over the Scripture that is linked to the story—“The day will come when your troubles will appear as waters gone by,” Job 11:16. I thought about the power of waves to wash away even heavy objects, to turn stone into sand, to carry debris far out to sea. That seemed the strong connecting point for a story about someone whose marriage is all-debris, as is the case with many who have an incarcerated spouse. The prison system still makes it too easy to assume divorce, dissolution of the marriage when the cell doors close.

I drew inspiration from watching my sister and brother-in-law finding ways to make their marriage stronger despite his incarceration. They’re growing, healing, inspiring other couples, and having a discernable impact on families watching them find hope in spite of the distance.

Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book(s)?
Those who love an emotionally gripping read make up part of the audience. Readers who appreciate deeply drawn characters were in my mind while I wrote. But I also wrote with a heart for those who can relate all too well to the story—not just spouses or family members of the incarcerated, but those who are trying to make marriage work with only one partner at home. Spouses of the deployed. Those who travel frequently for work or are separated by time, distance, or emotional distance.

Did you learn anything new or interesting from writing this book and what was it?
I always love discovering something new as I write—whether that’s a tidbit of research information (like how inexpensive it is in some states for a prisoner to get a divorce, whether the spouse agrees or not), or information about the area that forms the setting (like where Madeline Island got its name and why it was changed from its original name—fascinating story), or what I learn about myself. Hidden assumptions rise to the surface as the story unfolds. Challenges for my own character development. Faith-building moments as I watch the story’s characters find their faith footing.

One of the research bits that actually changed the story was discovering that the ferry to Madeline Island doesn’t offer a major discount for island residents. They pay the same price tourists do, which would make daily trips to and from the mainland an expensive proposition. It helped the storyline, making Emmalyn feel even more isolated than she would have been if access to the mainland weren’t out of reach in more ways than one.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing As Waters Gone By to life?
As with most of the books I write, it’s challenging to balance telling enough without revealing too much. I love the fact that the story is a four-way conversation. The words. My heart behind the words. The reader. The reader’s heart and imagination that she/he brings to the table. And a fifth element for some is what God whispers between the lines.

I visited Madeline Island again while writing the book, but it was a drizzly, cold day. So I have a trip planned to get back there and take more pictures. An independent bookstore in Bayfield, on the mainland, tempted me with more than enough books that helped fill in gaps for me.

Psychologically, I needed to honor the distinct challenges of the families of the incarcerated but show clearly that the book wasn’t solely for them. I pray readers will find the story successfully does that, that they’ll place themselves on the pages in the midst of the dilemmas, even if their life details are far different. And it is always a challenge to make a troubled character lovable enough for the reader to want to cheer her on in her quest, despite her bad choices or angst.

Max’s silence provided a complication that took some finagling to work around, and still leaves something for the reader’s imagination to supply.

You’ve described your husband as your “plot-tweaking husband.” Can you share with readers how this name came about?
My debut novel—They Almost Always Come Home, which recently re-released with a gorgeous new cover from Abingdon Press—was loosely based on my husband’s many canoe trips to the Quetico Wilderness in Canada. I was stuck, stuck, stuck on a reason why a main character would not be able to signal for help or make his way out of the wilderness. My husband came up with what I think is a brilliant solution. Ever since, I’ve called him my plot-tweaking husband.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
It will come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of ACFW. I’ve been part of ACFW since 2002 and attribute much of what I’ve learned, much of the encouragement I’ve received, and many of the contacts I’ve gained to membership in ACFW. One of the most significant lessons learned was that waiting with grace and excellence was as important as writing with grace and excellence. I met my agent through ACFW and sat across the table at an ACFW conference from the woman who would become my first editor.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
New or new-to-me? I think the field of Christian fiction is especially rich with rising stars right now, thanks in part to the training they’re receiving through ACFW. I could name more than a dozen, but I’ll mention having appreciated Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time and the way that story was told. I read fewer historicals than contemporaries, but found myself eager to get back to this book at the end of the day.

What one bit of advice can you give to writers who are having difficulty finishing a novel?
Finishing a novel is such an important victory. It shows editors and agents you can do it. Maybe more importantly, it shows the writer, “I can do it!” Finishing often requires a hunker-down-let’s-get-this-done kind of courage and tenacity. The determination it takes to finish a novel will be called upon many times in the life of a novelist. It will seldom be a cake-walk. It will most often call the author to metaphorically lay his or her life down for the sake of the story. When a new writer reaches the goal of finishing a novel, then the great cloud of witnesses (veteran authors) cheer wildly!

Years ago, I was coached through difficult hurdles like that with this simple message that seemed to come from the heart of God: If you will press through, I will bless you.

It still encourages me today. May it encourage those who are struggling to finish their first novel.

If it’s a matter of being stuck on a plot point, I’d suggest giving my husband a call. But apparently his skill set in that regard is strongest with stories about the Canadian wilderness. :-)

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Greatest moment? Signing with my agent and the contract for my debut novel almost simultaneously stands out among many memorable moments. I choose to believe the “greatest” moment is yet to come!

Plotter, Pantser, or Planser?
Is there a fourth option? Planser-Lite? I often start with a bare thread of a thought. Sometimes one word, one scene, one sentence. But soon after starting to flesh out the story, I stop and create a bare minimum outline in order to make sure I stay on track with the pacing of the story and that the concept is large enough to fill a novel. I mark things like “Big event here” and “It all falls apart here” on that outline. Other times, I know those big events and crisis moments and plug them in so I know I can’t spend ten chapters after the resolution explaining how the denouement changed things for the characters.

I write from a sketchy thought and delight in the process of discovering what the story and who the characters are.

Finish this statement: The greatest part about being a writer is…
Loving even the hardest things I have to do. Wait. I change my mind. The greatest part is hearing from readers that a story or a single line resonated with their soul.

eReader or Paper Book? Still a fan of the visceral experience of reading a paper book.
Latte or Cappuccino? Cappuccino and I’m not sure why.
Laptop or Desktop? Laptop. The mobility is key for my writing style.
While writing: Music or Silence? Silence. I can edit to music, but have to have silence for the creative part.
Oxford comma or no comma? Oxford because it eliminates the potential for confusion. Why would anyone want to spare a comma at the price of confusion? Is it obvious I feel strongly on the subject?

Any parting words?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this story and writing in general. I’m deeply embroiled in editing a novel that releases in 2016 right now, so it’s been a joy to revisit why As Waters Gone By is a story and characters who hold a permanent place in my heart!

Thanks for sharing with us, Cynthia!

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