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Interview with Norma Gail

A self-admitted "incurable bookworm" who has unloaded the dishwasher with a book in one hand, Norma Gail's dreams of writing stayed alive while she pursued a career in nursing, homeschooled her son, and filled the role of an avid soccer mom through her daughter’s college career. Land of My Dreams, her debut contemporary Christian romance, is set in Scotland and New Mexico. It tells the story of an American college professor and a Scottish sheep farmer who must learn to leave loss and doubt behind in order to find lasting love and renewed faith in God.

Where did you come up with the idea of a Scottish sheep farmer and an American college professor for your novel Land of My Dreams?
Scotland has intrigued me since I found an old family tree when I was a child and discovered that one of my great grandmothers was supposedly from Scotland. My husband and I spent two weeks in Scotland for our 30th anniversary and I felt as if I had come home from the moment our plane landed in Edinburgh.

One afternoon we met a woman from Phoenix who had met and married a Scot while in the Peace Corps. She had lived in Scotland for many years, and it made me start thinking about what it might be like to transplant your life to another country as an adult. My husband’s family immigrated to the US from The Netherlands when he was nine years old, so I knew a little about how it changes everything.t

I loved the green fields dotted with white sheep, so pastoral and peaceful-looking, and one night I dreamed I lived on a sheep farm. I thought it could make an interesting book, and when a broken foot put me in a wheelchair a couple of years later, boredom caused me to begin writing. The sheep farmer idea originated with my dream. Then I tried to think of a job that might make such a move possible—thus a college professor.

What was one challenge you faced while writing Land of My Dreams?
The biggest challenge was writing about a country I had only visited for two weeks and couldn’t go back to for more research. It didn’t matter so much in the beginning when I was just making up a story, but when I became serious; I realized that I needed to be accurate. I spent hours researching on the Internet, read everything I could find, watched movies, and made myself a screen-saver with over 400 photos, both from our trip and the Internet, so that I could get a feel for how to describe things and how it made me feel. In the end, I found a wonderful woman who is also an aspiring novelist, through the ACFW romance loop. Amy Drown had lived in Scotland and was willing to read it for accuracy. She more than earned the Amazon card I promised in payment.

Often we desire to teach a lesson in and through our writing, but we as writers also learn something. What was one thing you learned while writing Land of My Dreams?
I wouldn’t say I learned the lesson so much as had it reinforced. As a Bible study leader of 18 years, I see a lot of people struggle with staying close to the Lord and trusting Him through the hard times. The difficulties of life can bring out the doubts, and it takes real discipline and lots of encouragement to remain faithful.

I did not start out to make the lesson that it is necessary to walk close to the Lord through painful situations, but it became more obvious, as I revised and edited, that the Lord was leading me in that direction. As Kieran, the hero in Land of My Dreams says, “Safety can be found nowhere else. We’re always in danger of going over the edge unless we stay at the center of God’s will.”

You’ve written devotionals and poetry for a long time. Was the addition of full-length fiction difficult to adjust to?
It is certainly very different. I found it refreshing to let my imagination run wild and create something all my own. I spend so much time studying, and have for so many years, that I felt deliciously free and uninhibited. What was surprising was how the characters began to take on lives of their own and go in directions I didn’t intend them to take. I find it challenging and fun.

Has writing devotionals changed your approach to incorporating your faith into your fiction writing?
Writing devotionals certainly hones your faith. You are always looking for a way to leave a picture in the reader’s minds, something they can identify with. After leading Bible studies and writing devotionals for so many years, it was impossible to write fiction without including my faith. I had to think back over the years to times I had struggled, and also to people I know who have struggled—how it felt at the time. I think it has taught me how to illustrate faith according to situations people can identify with.

What is one of your favorite Biblical passages (or books) to study through?
Job is, without a doubt, my favorite character in the Bible. He had so much loss and hurt. He questioned God and had friends who didn’t always give the best advice, but he also never completely turned his back on God. He still trusted, like in Job 13:15 when he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” And in the end, he was better off than he was before. God repaid him abundantly for his faith in the midst of suffering.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I will be the first to admit that I don’t do that very well. My kids are grown and out of the house. My husband is the most patient man in the world, and I have a housekeeper because of some back problems. We live in the mountains with peace, quiet, and no one to interrupt me. Bible study and family matters are all I have to worry about. I am not very disciplined with my writing. I get my Bible study done, and then I write. There have been times when my poor husband came home to a dark house and leftovers. It is something I really have to work on.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I have always had a vivid imagination. I made up elaborate pretend games when my sisters and I were kids. (They would tell you I forced them into it.) I wanted to be like Jo in Little Women. I wrote lots of stories and poems. Then I married, and a job and children kept me from having much time to write. My husband didn’t care for the unrhymed verse I had written in the 70’s, and I just stopped. After my dad died in 1995, I wrote the first poem I had written in over 20 years. God gave it to me on a very busy day. Lines kept running through my head, compelling me to write them down, even with the entire neighborhood playing baseball in our backyard. At the end of the day, I had a poem that rhymed, and said all the things I had been unable to say about the most incredible man I have ever known. Then I wrote a biography, as all the grandchildren were so young and I wanted them to know their grandfather. After that, the devotionals began as openings for the Bible study at church, and it just kept growing. I write because I am compelled.

I don’t know where the characters come from really. One was based on a woman I saw in the grocery store in the small rural town near our home. The character traits are often like people I know. The character’s appearances are sometimes actors from favorite shows. Their behavior is their own.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I think all writers put some of themselves into their writing. Most of the situations in my writing are things that I or someone close to me experienced. I am a very serious person, so I have to work to lighten things up. In a class at church, I was voted the one most likely to have Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance on my nightstand. I’m very introspective, and I love words. I love to describe and make the reader feel the setting—to feel the rain on their face. I want my readers to be better people and better Christians because they read my book. I write characters I love, and they become my friends. My poor husband listens to me talk about them as if they were the next door neighbors.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I’m pretty boring, actually. I read a lot. I lead two Bible studies a year, and used to lead three. I love living in the mountains, going to my mom’s cabin, and vacationing in the mountains. I enjoy taking my Jeep on 4x4 trails in Colorado. I study, write, and enjoy making my home beautiful and welcoming. I do quite a bit of family history research, which I hope will eventually lead to a book or two. I collect old family photos and love fixing them up in Photoshop. I make my own greeting cards, and enjoy making stationery and cards for gifts.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading The Book Thief; it’s one of the best to come out in years. I’m reading Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow, for Bible study. I read Scottish Life magazine, The Highlander magazine, and Family Tree Magazine.

Do you have an “all-time” favorite book you can share with us? Why is it your favorite?
It would be a toss-up between Dickens’ Great Expectations and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I love the classics—the stuff most people hated in school. The descriptions were vivid, the language beautiful, and the characters so timeless. I wore out a paperback copy of Jane Eyre. If you’re familiar with them, you might see shades of both in Land of My Dreams.

Any parting words?
Some people undervalue Christian fiction as a genre, especially romance. I believe good fiction makes the mind work to picture the story world. It sparks the imagination. I have seen it teach valuable spiritual lessons and think it is a terrific tool for discipling Christians. I have seen it teach people who would never attend a Bible study how to live a Christian life and what Christian relationships should be like.

I heard that the average American household only has 3 books. I want people to recognize the value of the written word and of imagination. People need to turn off the TV and read because they are so intrigued with a book that they can’t put it down.

Thanks for sharing with us, Norma!

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