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Interview with Deborah Maxey

Author Deborah Maxey's debut novel about a Native American woman named Emerson who is the last member of her tribe—"an endling"—was published this May. Deborah, who is past retirement age, has wanted to write this book since she was in the third grade.

It was in elementary school that Deborah first read My Side of the Mountain, a novel about a boy living alone in a hollow tree in the mountains.

"I promised myself that one day I would write about a girl (woman) doing the same as the boy," Deborah says. "This story has been alive in me all these years. I've done research for it my whole life."

Part of that research involved having lived the last 50 years in Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is the location of the book's setting.

"In The Endling, I've been told that my description of the mountains is another whole character in the book and it's like being there. That is because my husband and I have always been hikers and campers. We hike on trails five miles away, almost daily. I have taken many survival courses on how to survive in the woods and accumulated a lifetime of knowledge about the mountains around us. So that shows up in The Endling."

A great deal of this knowledge gained also came through the route of Deborah's grandfather. Although Deborah doesn't know the exact percentage of Native American blood that runs through her family members' veins, her grandfather carried on many of the "old ways" he was taught, which is what Deborah did with the grandfather character in her novel.

"My grandfather often led by example. When we reached land that would be plowed, he went out in the middle of the field, looked up, thanked God, and sprinkled tobacco, promising the first fruits would be tithed and he would share anything else someone might need."

Just like the grandfather character in The Endling trains his granddaughter Emerson to survive by seeking God's guidance in nature, Deborah's grandfather taught her about God sending nature to guide us.

"For instance, once as we sat under a tree eating lunch, he pointed to a deer standing on the edge of the field watching us, and said, 'That is God's way of telling us to observe quietly.' I was probably a chatter box! But he taught me the meaning of what God was saying through many things, always letting me know that God speaks to us individually. There is no formula. We learn to listen within our own hearts."

There were several times when it appeared God was speaking to Deborah individually about this book. One of those times was in 2015, when Deborah attended her first writers' conference, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

"I entered what would be the first draft of The Endling. I won third place, and it changed my life. Writing novels felt real to me then. I believed God was giving me the nod."

She then successfully met with nine publishers and managing editors who wanted the book. Eva Marie Everson stopped Deborah the next day and gave her voluntary edits of the first chapter. She encouraged Deborah not to send the manuscript in until she had edited it and to consider a writing coach for the process. So that's what Deborah did, working with Jessica Everson, and when it came time to sell the novel, Deborah says that Eva Marie at Firefly Southern Fiction was her first choice. She did not use an agent at that point.

An agent came into play at one of the other times God seemed to be speaking directly to Deborah.

"This is going to sound so crazy, but the first time I saw Cynthia Ruchti (of Books & Such Literary Management) at a writer's conference, I heard within my heart that I would connect with her, but I knew the time wasn't right. A couple of years later I got to pray with her at AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), and I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me that we would connect. So, when the time came, I reached out through Facebook and told her I had prayed with her a year or so ago. She remembered me and asked me to send a proposal. I did. I am so very grateful to God that we connected."

A third time in which Deborah was sure God was speaking to her individually was when Deborah was looking for a publicist. Deborah received the same name, Jeanne Wynn, from several of her colleagues. So, Deborah contacted Jeanne and "intuitively sent a PDF of the book" to save time, since Deborah was told Jeanne was hard to get. A week later Jeanne called Deborah, asking what all Deborah knew about Jeanne, and Deborah told her not much other than three people said Jeanne was hard to get and the best.

"Jeanne then said, 'Deborah, I'm 100% Native American and I have waited all my life for a Native American heroine like Emerson. I would be honored.' I consider this just one of the many miracles that has happened in writing and publishing The Endling. The impetus to send that PDF was pure God."

It seems truly, though, that God has been speaking directly to Deborah for quite some time, perhaps all on the path leading up to the publication of writing The Endling. It's always said to trust God's timing, and perhaps 60 or more years was just in the perfect time for Him. Maybe that's why God led Deborah to begin with one career as a Christian counselor who also was an expert witness in the courts for abused and neglected children, and then start with a second career writing fiction.

"I believe from the get go that God planted a strong desire in me to counsel, write, sing, and paint. I never worried overly much about how to put my talents to use in what order. I saw how He worked that out."

Deborah put herself through school painting portraits (oil on canvas) and has one-woman art shows. She has an art studio separate from her house and she still paints. She received a PhD in counseling and became an adjunct professor in the counseling field while she also got licensed and certified in many areas. Her area of specialty was trauma, attachment, and bonding.

"I used fiction as a way to compartmentalize the horror stories I dealt with daily and the strains of running a counseling center. Fiction was MY escape."

She has never "not written." Deborah won contests in school; she used her writing skills for victim impact statements. Before she wrote The Endling, she wrote many short stories to flesh out the characters in the book.

"God called me to work with 'real' stories full-time first, though. Real hurt, real pain, real trauma. While I took a few creative writing classes 'just for me' along the way, I felt compelled by the hurting people who needed me. They came first. When I felt God's leading for me to close my practice, I did not think of it as retiring, but as repurposing, to write for Him."

She chose to write for God by writing Christian / Inspirational books in the Southern fiction genre. Why in that way?

"My first and foremost goal in life is to point others toward Christ. So Christian fiction is a given. Southern fiction, because I'm a proud Appalachian American with grandparents that had deep Appalachian roots."

The Endling is contemporary fiction, and so are its sequels. Deborah has finished the first sequel, and her current WIP is outlining the next sequel. She has also already written another book that her agent is currently "shopping around," which is historical fiction set in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1940s.

Not only as a particular takeaway from her debut novel, but an overarching goal in all her books will be: God will reach out to us through anything; we have but to listen.

This idea can be seen via the name of her website: Awake, Aware, Responding. Deborah does a monthly blog on personal miracles because she's been aware of them since she was small.

"If we stay awake, we see that He reaches out to us through everything. We limit Him. But He is limitless."
Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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