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Interview with Michelle Shocklee

Author Michelle Shocklee is a self-proclaimed history nerd who writes historical fiction. Her work has been featured in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. She and her husband are Estate Caretakers in Tennessee.
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What do you remember about the sale of your first book? Did you face any challenges or setbacks?
I had been writing for over 15 years before I sold my first book. So for me, the challenges and setbacks came during those years of waiting. I happily cheered fellow authors as they received publishing contracts, but I admit to feeling a little left out. What I learned, however, was that God has a plan and a timetable that we can’t see or know. We just have to trust him.

I sold my first book in 2017. It was exciting and scary all at the same time, because the story is set on a Texas cotton plantation and deals with slavery. In fact, my first three novels deal with the issue of slavery. Under the Tulip Tree, especially, goes deep into the issue because Frankie, the main character, is a slave in Nashville during the Civil War. While the books have been well received, there are, of course, those who don’t believe I should write about slavery. I respect their opinion, but I have no regrets about writing the books God puts on my heart.

Did you have a mentor or were you given some advice that still resonates with you today?
Many moons ago, I attended the Florida Christian Writers’ conference. Francine Rivers was the Fiction Track instructor. I was unpublished and as green as green can be when it comes to Christian publishing. I’ll never forget this little tidbit Francine shared with us: “Writing and publishing books is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Too many times I’d tried to rush ahead of God and his plan, not wanting to wait and learn and wait some more. Thankfully, he is a very patient Father. I now rest in the peace of knowing I don’t need to “sprint” ahead of him.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
As a beginning writer, the desire to sign that first book contract spurred me on year after year. What I learned in the waiting, however, was that becoming a published author was not the real goal. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God prepared work for us to do “in advance” of us even being born. That work is the ultimate goal, whether it is writing or serving or whatever God asks of us.

Story ideas usually come from something I’ve read or a place I’ve visited. Case in point: the idea for Appalachian Song began when my husband and I spent time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hiked to what is known as the Walker Sisters cabin. The cabin was built in the 1870s by John Walker, and five of his daughters lived in it all their lives. When I saw the cabin and read the history about it, I knew I would write a book set there someday.

Since you love history, do you have a favorite time period or setting?
While I don’t have a favorite time period, I probably know more about the 1800s than any other time period. But lately I’ve been digging into our family’s genealogy, and I’ve become fascinated with the lives of my ancestors who lived in the 1600s and 1700s. I would love to write a split-time novel that takes place during that time period.

The same is true about settings. I don’t have a favorite, but I know more about American history than any other location. However, because many of my ancestors came from Europe—Spain, England, Scotland—it would be fun to research one of those settings and place some characters there.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I used to be a pantster. I often declared that if I tried to plot out the book, I would have no interest in writing it, because I knew how it ended. That all changed when I became a contracted author and had to submit a synopsis to my publisher. Now I very much appreciate having a “road map” of sorts to guide me as I write my books. Yes, I know the ending, but I don’t know every detail that takes place between Chapter One and The End. There are still many, many surprises along the way. The synopsis helps me stay on track and not waste valuable time on rabbit trails and detours that I will most likely need to delete during the editing phase.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
The theme in Appalachian Song is “I choose you,” with adoption at the heart of the story. The lives of Songbird, Bertie, Walker, and Reese are all impacted by adoption—the good, the bad, and the painful—and what it means to be family. The underlying message throughout the story, however, is that when we accept Jesus Christ as LORD, we become the adopted children of God. We become part of His forever family. My hope is this truth will resonate with every reader, whether they are a Christian or not.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home. Our little Nazarene church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was like a second home to me. But it wasn’t until I became a mother at the age of 27 that I began to fully understand God’s love for us, his children. His Word became like breath to me—I needed it in a way I hadn’t recognized before. Now, as I write novels for him, I want my characters to experience that awakening. There isn’t always going to be a conversion scene or preaching in my books, but each character is on a spiritual journey in some way.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
Under the Tulip Tree was my first split-time, first-person novel, set in two historical time periods. While it was challenging to write, I realized that I’d found my “wheelhouse” as they say. A lot of split-time books feature a historical setting and a contemporary setting, but because of my love for history, my books use two historical settings.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I work full-time with my husband as Estate Caretakers. We live and work on a large property outside of Nashville and take care of everything—and I mean everything! People, vehicles, equipment, animals, land. You name it, we do it. So finding time to write in the midst of all that isn’t easy. But I don’t have children at home anymore, and my husband is 100% understanding when I spend time at my computer. Most of my writing happens on the weekend or evenings, which is why I am a one-book-a-year author. There isn’t any way I could get two or more books written in one year.

What is your writing routine?
I don’t really have a routine. On writing days, I settle in my office at my desk. I’ll have my synopsis and research books handy for quick reference. I enjoy scents while I’m writing, so I might light a candle or some incense. I used to play soft instrumental music, but I find it too distracting now. I work best in complete silence. I like to turn on my lighted globe, too, because it reminds me of Jesus’s words to “go and tell.”

I never set a daily word count goal. I may write 2,000 words one day, and only 300 the next. Although I try to get the bulk of my research done prior to starting the book, I’m constantly researching throughout the writing process, which can slow me down sometimes.

When I come to the end of a chapter, I stop for the day. The next day, I’ll read through what I wrote, do a little editing, then get started on new material.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
I’d like to chat with Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I read that book for the first time when I was in my 40s, and it had a profound impact on me. I’d ask her how she found the courage to write about slavery during such a turbulent time in history, and what it was like when Abraham Lincoln commended her work.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
My husband and I enjoy visiting historical sites, going to the mountains, going to the beach, taking long walks, riding bikes, playing disc golf, and eating hamburgers every Friday night for the past 12 years. I also like to dabble with watercolors and acrylics, although I’m not very good. But spending time with my grown kids is the thing I love most!

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m currently working on a new novel, so my pleasure reading is actually research for it: Middle Tennessee Horse Breeding and Voices of Camp Forrest in World War II. But I recently finished reading Hope Beyond the Waves, an excellent novel by ACFW’s Heidi Chiavaroli.

Finish this statement: If I’d known then (at the beginning of your writing journey), what I know now, I would have trusted God’s plan and timing more. That would have saved me a lot of worry, doubt, and disappointment as I waited for him to open doors only he can open.
Besides writing inspirational romantic suspense, Elaine Clampitt enjoys meeting with other writers to support and encourage one another. She loves to travel with her husband, watch ice hockey, play games with friends, family get togethers, and spending time with her sweet granddaughter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and the “Yorkie girls” – PJ and Gracie.

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