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Interview with Deborah Raney

Award-winning contemporary author Deborah Raney may have not begun her writing career until she’d spent twenty years as a stay-at-home Mom, but she has swiftly built momentum with the publishing of over 20 novels, the release of a motion picture inspired by her debut novel, and traveling cross country to teach at dozens of writer’s conferences.

In a bit of twist, Deborah, you’re a country-turned-city gal now. How do you think your new surroundings will influence your future novels (if at all)?
I fully expect my new city life to color the way I write in the future. Especially since Ken and I have been so surprised how much we love living in the city. Our neighborhood feels very small-townish and we've moved closer to family, plus all our friends visit Wichita often, so we haven't had the adjustment of losing friends. But since I'm such a write-what-you-know author, I have no doubt this move will have an impact on my writing.

After publishing over twenty novels, what is your method of developing new book ideas? Also what inspired you to write Silver Bells?
I discovered long ago that book ideas are everywhere! It's not at all unusual for my husband to clip out a story from the newspaper, or e-mail me a link to an article or website with a notation that reads: "This sounds like a Deborah Raney novel!" He's my favorite brainstormer and idea man. But it does become a challenge, after writing more than two dozen books, to come up with something fresh and new.

Silver Bells was inspired by my own young adult years. Leaving the farm I grew up on, learning to follow God's call on my life, finding true love. Though the '70s get a bad rap, for a farmer's daughter in the Midwest, life was really quite lovely back then, and I wanted to capture that, while still having the realism of an unpopular war as a backdrop.

Deborah, I’d just like to congratulate you on all the awards you’ve received for your novels. It’s quite impressive. What has been your most memorable award moment?
Thank you! Awards have been a huge encouragement to me over the years––especially when an ugly review tended to bring me low and make me want to give up. I think one of my favorite awards memories is finding myself at a table at the Christy Awards (when my novella Playing by Heart was a finalist) sitting beside Liz Curtis Higgs, the most wonderful encourager I know.

I didn't win that year, but I've always viewed an award final as as-good-as a win, plus the writer who did win the category that year was a dear friend, Cheryl Hodde (writing with husband Mel as Hannah Alexander). But to me, the prize was getting to sit by Lizzie and have that warm hug she offered when the winners were announced.

Besides all the writing accolades, you have also had your first novel inspire a movie. How have you processed it all? And what was your Hollywood movie premiere experience like?
Getting to go to my movie premiere in Hollywood was pretty heady stuff to this little Kansas farm girl! It was a memory of a lifetime, and truly launched my career in a grand way.

But honestly, my family––husband, kids, and extended family––have always helped me keep my feet on the ground and reminded me in a gentle, lovely way that my first and most cherished calling is wife, mom, Mimi, daughter, sister, aunt, friend. Those relationships are the treasures I hold dearest, and the only ones I can take to heaven with me.

What has surprised you the most about the writer’s journey—publication, representation, platform building, the writing itself? How have you adapted or coped with it?
I think the most surprising thing has been how much of a writers time is spent NOT writing! Social media, publicity, appearances, research trips, working with the cover designer, etc.––those parts of writing take as much, if not more time than writing and editing the book!

Fortunately, I'm a true extrovert, and those parts of my writing career are some of the most fun. Frankly, if my only job was to sit in my office and write stories, I'd probably be looking for a new career!

If you could rewind time to when you began your pursuit of publication, what would you tell yourself?
I'd say, "There will be ups and downs. It won't all be a bed of roses. But stick with it and learn from the hard parts, because next to being "Mommy" to your kids and wife to Ken, this is the most wonderful career you could have imagined, and it is a gift from God!"

I was so thrilled to hear about your world map. I have one in my office as well. Regarding novel settings, how has travel been involved with your research? Did you travel anywhere in particular to research “Silver Bells”? If not, what has been your most unique research trip?
I've always subscribed to write-what-you-know and set my stories in Kansas or Missouri (where we visit often because our daughters and grandsons live there!) But I distinctly remember the year I looked at my friends who were setting their books in Paris and England and Hawaii––and traveling there for research!––and thought, "Deb, you dummy! What are you thinking?"

I have written two novels with missionary themes, set in Colombia, South America, and Haiti, but I've never traveled to those locales. I tried––twice my husband and I had flights scheduled to Haiti to research my novel, but both times our flights were cancelled because of unrest in the country. God provided me with people who had traveled or lived there, spoke Creole, could answer my questions and provide me with all the details I needed to make my novel realistic and credible.

But for whatever reason, it never worked out for me to go. Traveling in Europe––especially England and Germany where my ancestors came from (and our oldest son lives in Berlin)––is a dream of mine, one I'm hoping I can fulfill now that all our kids are through college. (Youngest daughter is doing her student teaching now and graduates in December!)

With writing, do you have any special routines you follow? Or do you have special ways you celebrate writing milestones?
Though I do find it very inspiring to write in different locations––various rooms of our house, out on the deck in our back yard, at a quaint coffee shop, etc.––I'm very much a creature of habit when it comes to the rituals surrounding a writing day. I like to light candles, choose background music on that fits the mood of the scene I'm writing, brew a steaming cup of coffee in the Keurig coffeemaker in my office, and scroll through photos of my setting and characters that I have set up as desktop wallpaper. Those are all things that help me get in a writing frame of mind, and immerse myself in the world my characters are living in.

As for celebrating writing milestones, we nearly always celebrate a royalty check by ordering pizza or going out to eat. For especially big milestones, like signing a new series contract, I might buy a piece of furniture or an antique to decorate my office. But for so many years, every penny I made went to some college. (I started writing to help put our kids through college, and except for a brief four-year period when we got a reprieve, we've had one and sometimes two kids in college since 1995!) As of December all our kids will have their degrees and my writing income will be my own... Oh wait. I suppose it's time to get serious about that retirement fund, huh? ;)

If you could choose a coffee flavor to fit your writing style, which would it be? And why? (Ex: pumpkin spice, salted caramel, etc.)
I guess I'm just a plain vanilla kind of gal. I do love to try different flavors of coffee, but I almost always come back to my favorite Very Vanilla Latte or White Chocolate Mocha. (And at home, I drink my coffee black, no sugar, no cream, and save the calories for special occasions. Do you know a Venti White Chocolate Mocha with Whip has 580 calories?!?)

Any parting words?
I just want to say what a blessing ACFW has been in my life! I became a member way back when it was ACRW and we had about thirty members. But oh, how I've loved the sweet friendships, the iron-sharpening-iron moments, and the blessings of having colleagues who share my faith, want my best, and stand hand-in-hand with me all the way.

Thanks for sharing with us, Deborah!

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