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Interview with Pam Hillman

Pam Hillman is a Southern woman who grew up riding a tractor and raking hay as well as sporting an affinity to Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, and books on the Westward Expansion including tales of cowboys and Indians. She writes historical fiction. Her first book was called Stealing Jake. Her newest release is entitled Claiming Mariah.

Claiming Mariah’s setting is on a farm. Are there definite similarities between this setting and your real-life setting? Explain.
I grew up on a dairy farm, and my parents also owned a herd of beef cattle. Dairy cows are meek and mild and will just walk into the barn to be milked twice a day. Generally, beef cattle aren’t accustomed to such close proximity with creatures of the two-legged variety, so they tend to shy away from people. Corralling beef cattle can be a challenge! I married a cowboy, and all these years later, I’m still in the beef business, but thankfully, not the dairy business, which is a 24/7 job.

Where did the idea for this book originate?
Several years ago, I read a novel where a bank robber tosses a sack of stolen money in the backseat of a hand-to-mouth college student’s car. She kept the money and eventually started a very successful business. She justified her actions because she anonymously created a charity to help destitute young women get back on their feet. But, as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right, and that wasn’t quite right from a Christian’s perspective, was it? I based Claiming Mariah on the following question: “What would a Christian do if they found out their whole livelihood had been based on a lie?” Mariah does the right thing by writing to Slade’s father asking for forgiveness, but the consequences of her actions end up being way more than she bargained for.

Comparing yourself with your heroine in Claiming Mariah, how are you alike and different?
I’ve never faced losing my home and my livelihood, but I’ve struggled with financial difficulties a few times, and I can understand how desperate Mariah is to provide for her family. And even when I started plotting the story, I intentionally set it in a time and place where Mariah wouldn’t have many options if she lost the ranch. Like Mariah, I’d like to think that in the worse of times, I would hold on to my integrity and do the honorable thing no matter what.

How did you start writing historical fiction and why do you write it?
From an early age I loved horses and all things western. I was a bit of a tomboy and cut my teeth on Louis L’Amour westerns and John Wayne movies. Our neighbor’s husband worked in the oil fields of Alaska and was gone for long stretches at a time. When a western was playing on Friday nights, Karen would invite my brother and me over for movie night. We’d have popcorn and coke (yeah, down here in the South, soda is simply coke), and Karen would usually bake a Betty Crocker butter cake, and then she’d serve it with Ford’s vanilla ice cream made just down the road from where we live. The smell of hot butter cake fresh from the oven still makes my mouth water!

Some people are born to paint, some to sing, some to build, some to nurture, and others are born to write. I don’t know how or why God gifts each of us with certain talents, but my desire and my talent is to write. So I do.

Have you had to do much research for your books? What kind (travel, books, newspapers)?
I haven’t had the chance to do much travel for research over the years due to a heavy work schedule, but now that I work full-time from home, I’m hoping that changes. My mother and I took a research trip down the Natchez Trace a few years ago. We spent 3 days on the Trace and in Natchez.

As my storylines develop, I have to check facts. I might have to check to see if there a snow storm during December of 1879 in Chicago, or double-check to see if the railroad went through a certain area, or when a particular gun was invented so that I don’t have my hero whipping out a Colt 45 in 1835. I own several history books, and have a spreadsheet listing hundreds of historical research sites by category.

I also belong to several historical writers’ groups who are amazing resources. If I ask a question, someone is bound to have the answer, or can point me in the right direction.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As a Christian, I write from a Christian worldview. That’s who I am. Just like writing westerns, writing from a Christian worldview comes naturally. It would never occur to me not to have my Christian characters pray if they’re in danger, or ask for God’s guidance in a tough situation.

On the other hand, I have to be true to my characters and where they are in their Christian walk. Are they struggling with their faith? Are they mad at God and don’t want to have anything to do with Him, as Slade is in Claiming Mariah? Are they completely clueless about what it means to be a Christian? I might have characters who run the gamut of mature Christian to non-Christian, so I do have to think about that when I’m writing. I can’t really have the villain praying unless he’s on the way to a changed heart and life, now can I?

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Several years ago, I had some success in the historical categories of writing contests. This was mainly due to the fact that contests offered very few inspirational categories, and I wanted feedback on my historical romances written from a Christian worldview.

I remember one instance where I prepared two entries for a contest only to discover at the last minute that I could only enter one in any given category. Since the entry was printed (this was before digital entries) and ready to go, I entered it into the historical category and won. That same year when the inspirational category of RWA’s Golden Heart failed due to lack of entries, I chose the Short Historical category as my alternate category, and again, my manuscript finalled. Due to these contest finals, I was getting requests for fulls from editors at ABA houses.

I had a decision to make. Start courting ABA houses or CBA houses.

ACFW was a very young organization at that time, and it was much harder to find and communicate with existing CBA publishers than it is now. But even though ABA editors were seeing my work in the contests, my heart was set on writing historical Christian fiction.

It was at the 2001 RWA convention in New Orleans that I pulled Robin Lee Hatcher to the side and told her my dilemma. My heart was torn, and I cried as I sat there and in that instant made my decision. I would pursue my passion, that of writing Christian fiction.

I’ve never regretted that decision.

What kind of writing schedule do you keep? Are there other responsibilities that hinder you?

I’m the financial planner for my Cowboy’s ranching operation as well as the treasurer for ACFW, so I do have a few other responsibilities. My writing schedule isn’t as hard and fast as I’d like, but I’m working on devoting mornings solely to writing while my brain is fresh and there are fewer distractions.

You write for a couple of blogs. Please share about them and their importance to you as a writer.
The Seekers are thirteen published Christian writers. We are all contest winners and finalists who collided on the road toward publication. When we met in August of 2005, NONE of us were published. In six short years the Lord brought all our God given dreams to pass. The Seekerville group blog offers what we offer each other—support, encouragement, and information for the writing journey. While geared mostly toward writers, readers will enjoy meeting and connecting with some of their favorite Christian fiction authors.

Christian Fiction Historical Society consists of 31 historical Christian fiction authors who blog daily about fascinating historical people, places, and things. You’ll find me in CFHS on the 16th of every month. #CFHS31

What advice do you have for aspiring fiction writers?
Believe in yourself. I tamped down the dream until I was almost thirty years old because the author bios and the glamour shots on the back of the books in the bookstore looked so intimidating. Who was I to think I could compete with such poise, sophistication, education, and composure? But sometimes that glamour shot might be an illusion, the bio polished a little too brilliantly. You, dear writer friend, are just as worthy as the next person to put your dreams on paper.

What other parting words do you have to share?
If you’re writing Christian fiction, join ACFW. Develop friendships with other writers, not just connections, but true-blue, ask-me-anything, I’ve-got-your-back friends. It took me years to find those friends because I’m a fairly private person. I don’t open up to others very well, but those friends are the very reason I can be this candid with you today. Find them. Embrace them. And then don’t let them go.

Thanks for sharing with us, Pam Hillman!

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