Find a Christian store

Interview with LeighAnne Clifton

LeighAnne started her adult life with a degree in chemical engineering, but spent most of her professional life in environmental compliance. She has always been a creative soul and got the bug for writing in 2017 when she fulfilled a long-time dream of self-publishing a children’s book called The Little Vessel. She has since gone on to write inspirational fiction novels, and after much writing, querying, rejection, and doubt, she signed a contract with PenIt! Publications for her first novel, All Your Heart, (March 2021). Today we have the joy of speaking with her about the sequel to this novel, Ready to Forgive.

Welcome to Fiction Finder, LeighAnne!

* * * * *

After choosing a career in science, I am so curious about how your creative passions for painting and upcycling got channeled into writing.
Since I was really young, I’ve loved the process of creating stuff. I’ve also been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Those two aspects of me have never changed (no matter how hard I try to pass up a yard sale or NOT paint a piece of furniture!).

My job in the environmental engineering field was comprised of a whole lot of technical writing and editing. It seemed like just part of the job, but looking back I now believe it was God preparing me for what He had for me to do later. Kind of like on-the-job training.

I still paint and repurpose things as a creative outlet, but now God has provided another way to create something lasting and, hopefully, pleasing to Him.

What made you decide to transition from writing children’s books to contemporary romance?
The idea for The Little Vessel simmered in my heart for over a decade while I raised my kids. Finally, when they were both off to college and I had time to concentrate on something besides them, I brushed off the idea and pursued it seriously. As every author out there knows, that first published book is a learning opportunity, a labor of love, and a dream come true.

All my life, I read many different genres (contemporary, Regency, Western, cozy mysteries). I always believed that The Little Vessel would be a one-time, fulfill-a-dream kind of project. But, after it was published, I began to believe that the idea for a book series that had been floating around in my head for years might actually be achievable.

So, I went for it! All Your Heart in its original form looked absolutely nothing like the published version. I quickly learned how different writing a novel and writing a children’s book are. Both are very challenging, but each pursuit presents different challenges. I read so much about the craft, the industry, publishers, rejection, persistence. And through all the edits, re-writes, and rejections of that first novel, I continued to believe God wanted the story to be told.

Where did the ideas for All Your Heart and Ready to Forgive come from?
The series is set in a small Southern town called Burton, a setting I know and understand. Burton is a conglomeration of the places I’ve lived and visited. The pregnancy care home in the series is called Together for Good, from Romans 8:28. I decided to also make this the name of the series, because it so clearly conveys God’s sovereignty, perfection and complete control over our circumstances, even when they’re difficult. The town I live in has a Christian-based pregnancy care center, and it was a huge inspiration for the Together for Good home.

Some of my material comes from personal experience. Some comes from the things I’ve watched close friends walk through. I prayed for a very long time whether to even write this series because of the difficult topics. What I know for a fact, though, is that Christians are absolutely not immune to “hard stuff.” Quite the opposite. Jesus promised we’d have trouble. The difference lies in how Christians respond. Where they put their hope and trust. How they love others through the difficulty. That was the message I wanted this series to share – with believers and non-believers alike.

I think authors will understand when I say that the characters live in my head, going about their day as I go about mine. It sounds weird to “normal” people, but I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to jot down the scenes that continue to unfold in my brain. Sounds easy… unless I’m driving, taking a shower, at church, etc.

What message do you hope readers take away from this story?
I seek to highlight a different aspect of Christian life in each book, based on a key Scripture verse. All Your Heart was based on Proverbs 3:5 and dealt with trust. Ready to Forgive is all about forgiveness, both receiving it and offering it, and is based on Nehemiah 9:17.

I hope that readers can identify with the hardships and triumphs of the characters. We all need a reminder that sometimes God walks us through difficult seasons, but we’re never alone. The people of Burton experience life-altering, faith-challenging situations, but they always help one another get through them. In that respect, I hope readers can see the thread of love woven throughout the books.

Will there be a continuation of this series and the lives of Alex and Chad?
Yes! I recently finished the third book in the series entitled What We Don’t See. The key verses are Hebrews 11:1 and Romans 8:25. This book explores the depth of the characters’ faith; however, there’s also a more sinister “unseen” topic that lurks in the background throughout the book.

What authors have inspired your own journey and how?
I loved the Mitford series by Jan Karon and the Left Behind series by Jenkins and LaHaye. I also love all of the Janette Oke series about the settlers in the West.

These authors inspired me by showing me that an author can write good, engaging books and tell of God’s love and plan of redemption. Every book in my series features at least one person coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus. In that respect, I see my writing as my mission field. I don’t know that I would have been able to grasp that possibility without those exceptional authors I mentioned.

You mention in your own story to publication that you went through countless query letters and rejections. What did you learn from this journey that has made you a stronger writer today?

I learned so much! First, organization is key. As an engineer, I create a spreadsheet for almost everything. My writing is no different. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of my queries, log in my rejections, and take notes about each person I queried. I also keep track of scenes, character descriptions, and many other aspects of the books with the help of Excel.

Because I was from a completely different background, I took the opportunity during the querying process to educate myself about the publishing industry. I joined Facebook groups, took online seminars, read countless articles, and polished my query materials. Since I went through all of this at the height of the pandemic, I was able to remain hyper-focused on the whole process of putting my debut novel in front of professionals – a process that was at the same time terrifying and liberating. But mostly terrifying.

I also learned that a rejection isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I’d gotten so many rejections that when my publisher sent me the email accepting my book, I doubted whether it was real. How’s that for a debut author writing a book about trust? God knew His plans. He guided me in the direction He wanted me to go. I got to that point… and then I doubted His provision. Chalk another one up to a major learning opportunity, courtesy of the Lord!

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
I think the most significant aspect is that it IS a journey, not a destination. My dream used to be to publish a book. After I did that with The Little Vessel, a desire was born within me to tell a story. They’re not the same thing! God continues to lead me on this storytelling journey, providing me with life experiences, study topics, and ideas to apply to my writing.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I was the wretch who was saved by amazing grace. I don’t know how I could ever tell a story without it reflecting the incredible love of God, Who gave all just to have a relationship with sinners. The whole concept is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. I hope that, through my writing, a seed is planted that encourages someone to seek Him and know Him.

We hear all the time about issuing a call to action in our efforts to reach readers through emails, social media, etc. As Christian authors, what an incredible opportunity we have through our work to issue the most important call to action: turn to Him.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers who are just starting out on their own publishing journey?
Read! Read books by other authors in your genre. Read articles on writing. Read about book marketing. And while you’re reading, take notes. Notice what grabs your attention. What would you do differently in a particular book? What imagery speaks to your senses?

Also, network. I’ve been able to learn so much so quickly by networking (virtually, mostly) with other authors, both newbies like me and seasoned veterans. I’ve been so surprised at what a tight-knit community writers have.

Finally, step out. Be willing to put your best work out there for other authors to read and critique. Offer to do the same for them. Start a blog. Build a website. Do things that would have scared you a year ago! Or a week ago!

I’m 57 years old and didn’t even begin my writing journey until a few years ago. Age has nothing to do with where God wants us to be. When I’m tempted to say that I’m too old to learn all this new stuff, I go back to Biblical examples of how God used folks well into their second half of life: Abraham, Moses, John, and so many more. Until I make it to my true home, God has a purpose for me here.

As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.
Her debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo-worthy quotes, and updates on her publishing journey.

For more great interviews, visit our Author Interview Archives.

ACFW Members, click here to apply for an author interview!

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.