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Interview with Kelly Irvin

If you love Amish romance, you’ll want to check out Kelly Irvin’s Bliss Creek Amish series. Kelly also writes romantic suspense. In addition to being a novelist, she’s an award winning journalist, works for the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, proofreads trial transcripts for court reporters, writes short stories and poetry, and still finds time to read her favorite novels. Can you imagine? A Heart Made New, her second book in the Bliss Creek Amish series, will be available October 1. So grab some tissues, curl up in a chair, and prepare for a great read. You won’t want to miss this one.

It’s a pleasure to have you with us today, Kelly. I have to say, your resume is quite impressive. You’ve been writing nonfiction professionally for thirty years, not to mention the other jobs you maintain, so what made you decide to venture into fiction?

I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was a child. I wrote poems, short stories, and plays throughout my school career. However, I grew up in a working class family with a keen sense of reality. I wanted to be able to support myself so I chose journalism, thinking I had a better chance of making a living that way. Getting to write everyday was a wonderful experience, but it really left me with little time or energy to pursue my real dream of writing fiction. Then marriage and children came along and the dream seemed to be getting farther away. Several years ago I turned forty-five and the realization hit me: it’s now or never. It took seven years to publish my first novel, but it was worth every minute of the struggle.

What an amazing story, to see how God gave you the desires of your heart and some of it came into play while you worked six years in the border towns of Laredo and El Paso. You were exposed to a culture and language that serves as fodder for your fiction writing. But who/what spurs you to write?
It’s a combination of things. I can’t not write. It’s like breathing. I also believe writing is my spiritual gift and I’m called to use that gift in the service of the Lord. Otherwise, I’m squandering it. And I enjoy it immensely. Writing gives me such pleasure, I can’t imagine my life without it.

I hear you there, and one of the qualities I admire about you is your ability to write/publish in multiple genres. Did anyone ever attempt to restrain you from doing so? You know, tell you that you should pick one genre and stick with it?
I have heard that it’s a big no-no in building a career because it makes it difficult to establish a readership base. However, I recently attended a workshop given by Steven James, who has written successfully in more than one genre, and his advice was to ignore the naysayers and write the stories you want to write. I started out writing romantic suspense because that’s what I like to read. My suspense novels are fairly gritty and I had trouble getting them published in the CBA market. A mainstream publisher bought them despite (or maybe because of?) their strong Christian themes. My agent, Mary Sue Seymour, knew how important it was to me to publish in the CBA and she challenged me to step outside my comfort zone and try an Amish romance. Not being able to resist a writing challenge, I wrote 50 pages and a proposal. She shopped it around and before I could finish To Love and to Cherish, Harvest House bought it. For me, it’s about telling a good story, regardless of genre. In the end, I think the best advice is to write the stories on our hearts. Whether this zigzag in genres helps or hurts my career in the long run, certainly remains to be seen.

That’s great advice. What you’ve said will help numerous writers. You’ve also said that “Life throws us curve balls, things get tough, but true faith allows us to stand together and overcome those challenges. And it makes for engaging fiction.” Care to elaborate on how this viewpoint came into the picture and affects your storytelling?
We’re all the sum total of the experiences we’ve had in our lives. As writers, we use those experiences to enrich our stories. I had some family challenges as a child, but I’ve come to terms with them and I recognize that they helped mold me into who I am today. Writing Amish fiction has given me a new appreciation of the art of forgiveness, which I try to apply to my own life. The tough challenges continued into adulthood. My husband and I lost our first child in a miscarriage. I lost a brother in a boating accident when I was eight months pregnant with my son. When you’re going through these agonizing events, you can’t imagine how you’ll ever live through them, let alone come to appreciate the virtues they teach you or use them to give depth and meaning to your writing. I’ve written the scenes where a mother grieves the loss of a child and a wife, the loss of a husband. Drawing on my personal experiences can be excruciating, but also cathartic. I take comfort in one of my favorite scriptures: James 1:2-5. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

There’s always something to take away from our trials, isn’t there? And speaking of perseverance, many writers struggle with this when it comes to their writing and they have far less on their plates than you do. Aside from your work, you have a husband, two young adult children, three cats, and a tank full of ornery fish. How do you manage to juggle all of your responsibilities?
Being a former newspaper reporter helps. I don’t have time to wait for the muse to strike or get in the mood. I write early in the morning before I start my day job at seven-forty-five. I take my lunch and eat at my desk so I can use the rest of that hour for writing. If I have thirty minutes in the evening, I take it. It also helps that I have an incredibly supportive husband. Tim does most of the cooking around our house (and he’s a fabulous cook!) and he maintains my web site, designs my business cards, and takes care of a multitude of tasks that gives me more time to write. My kids are adults now, but when I first started writing, they were at that tender middle school age. They learned to yell “Kelly” when they couldn’t get my attention with “Mom.” I’ve sacrificed a lot of social life (which I don’t miss at all) and reading for pleasure (which I miss very much).

At least you’re providing this pleasure for others. I hear that you recently signed with Harvest House Publishing for a three-book spin-off series entitled the New Hope Amish. Can you give us a sneak preview?
I love talking about this series. Some of the Bliss Creek families decide to start a new district in Missouri after they discover oil on one of their farms in Kansas. The first book, which I just finished writing, is about the challenges of new beginnings. These families have a few surprises in store for them when they arrive in New Hope. It’s fun to do a spin-off because you still get to visit with folks from the first series and see how they’re doing while injecting a whole new cast of characters and a fresh setting into the picture. I’m having a great time with it. I hope readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Sounds like you have more great things coming down the pike. Throughout all of your accomplishments, what do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I’ve been so blessed it’s hard to pick one moment, but seeing my first book in the public library here in San Antonio rates very highly. As a child I couldn’t afford to buy books and I practically lived at the public library. I read dozens of books a week in the summer time, went to story hour, and worked as volunteer in the library. Libraries are the great equalizers. Anyone can walk through the door, pick up a book, and start reading, regardless of their economic circumstances. They have access to the entire world through library books. It gives me tremendous pleasure to know my books are being checked out over and over again by people who might need to read the message of hope and God’s love. They might not even know they need to read it, but there’s a chance they’ll be changed by it. That is a great moment.

Well, I can honestly tell you, your words have changed me. Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
God puts people in our path to help us along in our journey and sometimes they don’t even know what an impact they’ve had. After I finished my first manuscript, I had no idea what to do with it. There was a small two-day workshop being offered here in San Antonio so I went. DiAnn Mills did a boot camp for beginning writers. Stuffing my nerves in my purse, I signed up for a 15-minute appointment with her. I told her an editor for a big CBA publishing house had read my manuscript after seeing my proposal posted on Writers Edge and he sent me a note saying my work showed promise. DiAnn said she knew the editor and he wouldn’t say that if he didn’t mean it. She gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I repeat it often to aspiring pre-published writers: Join ACFW. Get into a critique group. Go to workshops so you can hone your craft. Then go to conferences so you can get your work in front of editors and agents. This advice coupled with her encouraging words gave me the courage to keep trying. I followed her advice and here I am. I’m sure DiAnn has absolutely no recollection of that day, but I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for being so kind to a novice. I’m hoping to work up the nerve one of these days to say something to her about it.

Who knows? She might be reading this right now. Are there any parting words you’d like to leave our viewers?
I’ve come to view being published as the icing on the cake. The journey has been a blessing. I’ve met so many great people along the way, made good friends, learned so much, and experienced so much joy. I wish the same for each aspiring writer out there. Don’t give up and don’t give in!

Thanks for sharing with us, Kelly! You’ve truly been a blessing.

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