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Interview with Debra Clopton

Debra, congratulations on being a finalist in the 2012 Gayle Wilson Award for Excellence for Her Rodeo Cowboy book one of her Mule Hollow Homecoming trilogy. What prompted the setting of the Mule Hollow Homecoming series?
Thank you so much, I’m always happy to get a nod from contest judges. The level of skill and storytelling in this industry is incredible so I’m always honored to get a nomination of any kind.

As for the setting of the Mule Hollow Homecoming trilogy, I already had my ongoing Mule Hollow series set up with 16 books. We’d flashed the previous trilogy as The Men of Mule Hollow to set it aside as a family trilogy about the Turner men and it did so well, and had such fantastic covers featuring the cowboy close-ups (Her Rodeo Cowboy also won the 2012 Judge a Book by Its Cover contest in Inspirational category) that we decided to continue the trend with The Mule Hollow Homecoming books about the Holden Brothers. My readers still get to visit old friends in Mule Hollow but these three books revolve around the Holden’s. The brothers are a product of a drunken dad and a mother who abandoned them. The older brother, Luke from book 1 basically became the caregiver of his dad and his two younger brothers. The books have a history set in alcoholism, (something I know very much about because I have a younger sister with the disease and how this affects family) But, the books are heartwarming, fun, full of hope and I like to think have depth in dealing with these issues. I chose to make the boys distinctly different in age so that I could explore how their childhood affects them as adults in totally different ways. This desire prompted the setting of the series and the subject of what families endure in this kind of journey.

I’ve always heard “write what you know,” you are incorporating family issues with a tight-knit family, perfect! Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
This is so easy to pinpoint! God’s timing is the most significant happening on my journey to publication. I wrote for 13 years, developing my storytelling craft. I was so close to selling for half of that time and reworking books with three different editors for six years. But it just wasn’t God’s timing and He kept closing the door. After my dear husband died suddenly in 2003 I needed a reason to smile in my grief and felt God’s nudge during church to go home and rework one of my rejected stories. I began working on The Trouble with Lacy Brown, plugging into it a new Christian theme and tweaking up the laughter a few notches. That book helped me smile when I couldn’t on my own. It was a Golden Heart finalist and sold to Love Inspired the first week of editor reads. Just seven months after my husband’s death God had given me a new path in the midst of my pain.

God has been beside me all the way on this incredible journey. Through my darkest hours God did incredible things for me to help me know that He was beside me. I tell my story to ladies groups and writing groups and always tell people to not despair. That sometimes, in any journey, you may feel lost or forgotten in the fog but to hold tight to God because He is on the other side of that fog guiding you toward Him. He can see what you can’t. So persevere and hold out for His timing, it’s always perfect. Sometimes his saying no is actually a gift that you may not understand until later when it is revealed to you. That is how it was for me.

Thank you for sharing. What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Balancing my writing with other responsibilities can get crazy if I’m not careful. And it is definitely a challenge! However, before getting published I owned a busy hair salon for 25 years and I showed up for work rain, snow, or ice. I looked at my salon and working with my wonderful clients as my job and my ministry…that is how I look at my writing. It is my job and my ministry—and I love it! So, I show up most every morning or at least at some point most every day. I love the flexibility that my career allows me. And if there is something special that is coming up I can work harder, longer, later hours and then feel free to take time off if needed (say to go see my granddaughter). I write in the car when I’m traveling with my husband. I write in the car and check email or facebook when we are going the fifteen-minute drive into town—Chuck’s driving. I write only on a laptop and it goes everywhere with me…okay, that doesn’t sound too balanced but it works for me. I’m sometimes balancing different stages of three to four books at the same time and trying to hang with the family too so I just do what I have to do…and, like I said, it can get crazy. But I love it and thrive of being busy!

Goodness, I’m exhausted just hearing about your crazy life ~ am glad it works so well for you! Could you share how you plot and what your daily writing goals are?
I am a pantser—or organic writer. I get the idea for a story or a character that excites me. I have so many stories in my head and not enough time to tell them! But once I find the one that I think works for the story at hand then I daydream and pretend I’m watching a movie that interests me as I toss thoughts around in my head on scenarios. In all of this I’m looking for what would keep the tension highest between the characters. I love snappy dialogue and am known for a lot of push and pull between my hero and heroine. My favorite thing is figuring out how to get my hero and heroine to drive each other a little crazy!

My writing goal is 2000 words a day, this seems to be the magic number. Sometimes I do 5000 a day if on deadline and wish I could do that every day, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Ah, conflict, yes that’s the key. Debra, your readers have described your books as refreshingly funny, a breath of fresh air, reflective, entertaining, exciting, and the list goes on. How do you keep your novels fresh after publishing 23 novels?
I work really hard to keep them fresh and up to reader expectation. I am always looking for funny things in life that can add twists to the plots or to a character. That’s what we writers do, isn’t it. Honestly, 23 books in the same series, with so many built in restrictions, like matchmaking, and all the characters that I have to let come on stage and say hi to my readers (there are 7 characters in my Mule Hollow books who have to make an appearance, plus my hero and heroine! And then there are a host of characters from past books who take turns showing up, including Samantha, my matchmaking donkey and reader favorite.) I believe the challenge of keeping these stories different within the series parameters has pushed me to be more creative. Of course I leave that to the readers to let me know, and amazingly Mule Hollow is still going strong, holding high readership interest instead of declining, which you expect of a series after about three to five books. This is amazing to me and I am so grateful to my readers and love them dearly! I think of them constantly as I create the books because I don’t want to disappoint them.

I’m not surprised the readership interest hasn’t declined, the readers love the storytelling and the family atmosphere of these novels. Each novel is unique in its own way! Please tell us how your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
My faith and spiritual life affect my storytelling very strongly. Three months after my beloved husband, Wayne, died I went to the 2nd annual ACFW conference held in Houston. I was deeply grieving and just needed to get away—kind of disappear in a way among a crowd who didn’t know what I’d just been through or what I’d lost. But God didn’t just let me disappear…ever faithful He met me at that conference and showed me how much He cared for me. He put so many people in my path that had absolutely no idea the way they were touching my broken heart. Beauty from ashes was the ongoing phrase that kept coming to me. On the second morning Deb Rainey spoke and at the end of her beautiful touching talk about the loss of her sister (which was so very similar the sudden loss of my 47 year old husband) she asked us to come forward if we wanted to dedicate our work to the Lord. Immediately I stepped out and Deb (who didn’t know me at the time) came off the platform and in the sea of women going up to meet with the ladies waiting to pray with them, Deb came straight to me. She had no idea then how God used her to touch me. (She does now) On that morning I told God that I would use everything in my life to give Him glory in my books. And I do.

God often leads me through rough waters during a book so that I will have an emotional connection to the story and the words that I write. I am a newlywed of almost two years now and I warned Chuck not long after we started dating that he would have to be prepared for this if he hung around (me smiling here). Chuck said he was prepared and has learned to hang on tight as he has witnessed some of the things God leads me through during the creating of a book. He, like my first husband Wayne was, is my greatest supporter. God blessed me with two men in my life who are everything a hero should be.

God is beautiful, faithful and true in all that He does for us. I strive to show that in my work and always, always leave readers with a smile in their hearts and hopefully a desire to know God better.

That you for sharing that moving story. I can tell you have strong support at home. Onto your current novel, Her Homecoming Cowboy, which released this month is the 3rd and final book of the Mule Hollow Homecoming Trilogy, what’s next for you?
The trilogy is over but the Mule Hollow series is not. There will be more books to come set in Mule Hollow, but—I am so pleased to say—I am working on a new series for Love Inspired and also a 1800’s mail order bride novella for Thomas Nelson Publishing.

The new Love Inspired series will be called the Sunrise Ranch series, set on a 10,000 acre working cattle ranch that is also a foster home for 16 abandoned boys. There are lots of cowboys, and a wonderful cast of new characters for my readers to enjoy. The first book Her Unforgettable Cowboy releases in March of 2013.

The anthology collection, which I am also thrilled about, A Bride for All Seasons, will be in a collection with an awesome group of ladies, Mary Connealy, Margaret Brownley and Robin Lee Hatcher! Thomas Nelson is releasing it in the summer of 2013…stay tuned for more details!

Exciting news about your upcoming novel and anthology collection! You can find Debra on Facebook:
And she blogs here:
Thanks for sharing with us, Debra!

I want to thank you for the interview. I love ACFW and it was a pleasure to be here. God bless you all, and as I always end: until next time…live, laugh and seek God with all of your hearts!

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