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Interview with Jennifer AlLee

Jennifer seemed destined for the entertainment industry from birth—literally. In the hospital nursery in Hollywood, her bassinet stood beside that of Michael Landon, Jr! Her writing highlights serious concerns, presented in a voice that is both sensitive and humorous. Her many fans look forward to her April release from Abingdon, The Mother Road.

Jennifer, despite your often-humorous tone, The Mother Road deals with some of the most painful situations in women’s lives—infertility, aging parents, unwanted divorce, and unplanned pregnancy. What made you decide to tackle such a range of difficult topics in this novel?

Great question, Mary! You know, I didn’t set out to tackle any issues, I just wanted to write an engaging, entertaining story. The main inspiration for this book came from a question: What would a marriage expert do if her own husband wanted a divorce? From there, I had to look at what had caused problems in their marriage in the first place, and what other problems poor Natalie would encounter on her personal journey. The story grew organically from there.

There’s quite a subculture in both this country and around the world involving Route 66, America’s “mother road.” How did you happen to develop an interest in this iconic American highway? Have you ever made the trip along Route 66 yourself?
I was born in Southern California and for many years I lived in Duarte right on Route 66. The road and its history are fascinating, and like lots of other people, my interest was fed by the wonderful Pixar movie Cars. While I was writing the novel, I truly wanted to travel the entire road, but my life didn’t cooperate. It was very important to me, though, to accurately describe the sisters’ trip down the Mother Road, so I researched like crazy. I bought books and DVDs and scoured the Internet. With the exception of Beaumont, Illinois (where Natalie’s parents live) every location in the book is as real-to-life as I could make it.

Your website indicates that you offer an editing service. How did you begin that type of work? What are some of the common writing issues you see in your editing?
I worked as a church secretary for years so I ran into lots of pastors who needed help editing their work. From there, I moved into doing it professionally. Most of what I edit is non-fiction, and most is still for pastors. What I’ve noticed with them is that they tend to write the same way they speak. In other words, they go off on tangents and I have to pull them back to the topic at hand. Still, it’s a lot of fun working with them.

How do you balance your own writing, the demands of a normal family life, and the editing you do for other writers?
My family is very understanding! I’m fortunate to be able to concentrate on writing full time, thanks to my hard-working husband. Our son lives at home while attending college, but he’s pretty self-sufficient. Overall, I have enough flexibility and freedom to arrange my schedule in a way that works best for all of us.

You have written considerable devotional material for Concordia Publishing House along with your novels, published through Abingdon. What have you learned by writing this type of material? Do you advise other aspiring novelists to develop writing interests beyond their books?
I love writing devotions. The way I see it, I’ll never be a missionary to a foreign land, so the devotions are my way of fulfilling the Great Commission. Writing them helped me learn how to brainstorm ideas, follow guidelines, and edit mercilessly. I’d definitely advise fiction writers to spread their wings and write in the non-fiction arena. It exercises different creative muscles, which is always a good thing.

Do you mind me asking what the most difficult part of the writing life is for you as a multi-published and successful author?
For me, the most difficult part is waiting for what comes next: waiting for a response on a proposal; waiting for edits on a completed manuscript; waiting for reader feedback on a new novel. In case you haven’t picked it up by now, I tend to be pretty impatient! Also, I love to keep busy. I don’t do well when I’m between projects.

How does your own faith influence your fiction? Why do you choose to write Christian fiction?
My faith is a natural extension of who I am. When I started writing, I wasn’t trying to specifically write Christian fiction. It just came out that way. Now, I can’t imagine writing anything else. That’s not to say I don’t read mainstream fiction. I absolutely do. But I believe that God’s plunked me down into the Christian fiction community, and I’m quite at home there.

Many people who read this interview are struggling to achieve publication or even just to finish the books they are writing. What advice or suggestions would you give writers in their situations?
If you’re struggling to complete a manuscript, there’s only one thing to do. This has been said before, but it’s really the best advice out there: you have to sit down and finish the book. Write the entire thing from beginning to end. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be complete. Why? For one thing, completing an entire novel gives your spirit a boost. To see that you really can accomplish this gargantuan task… it’s amazing. Once you’ve got that first draft done, you can move on to step two, which is editing. That’s when you apply all the information you’ve gathered from craft books, conferences, and critique partners.

As for achieving publication, well, that’s a bit harder. You must have a wonderful book, yes. But so much of it is also wrapped up in being at the right place at the right time. For example, my first book for Abingdon came about because I read Camy Tang’s blog. Her blog led me to Brandilyn Collins’ blog, which hosted a post from Barbara Scott about Abingdon’s new fiction line and invited Brandilyn’s readers to send unagented submissions. That was my open door. I truly believe that God has a plan for each one of us. Some writers get multi-book contracts right out of the gate. Others write for years and years without a nibble. But if we trust that God has a time and place for everything, then the contracts will come when they’re supposed to. This is something I need to remind myself of constantly!

What can we look forward to from Jennifer AlLee in the future? Do you have other writing projects that you are working on, now that you’ve finished The Mother Road?
I’m so excited to be part of Abingdon’s new Quilts of Love line. My book, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, releases November 2012. Izzy Fontaine is a former ballet dancer whose grandmother has just died and left her an heirloom quilt. Things get complicated when museum director Max Logan claims that Gran promised him the quilt. And when Izzy's mother and brother catch wind that the quilt may hold the key to a great treasure, they want a piece of it, too. Things get a little crazy as Izzy tries to keep the peace, deal with the charismatic Max, and figure out what Gran was trying to tell her.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Jennifer! We’re looking forward to The Mother Road.

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