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Interview with Pam Hillman

Writing on a tractor? CBA best-selling author Pam Hillman has penned dozens of novels and novellas, immersing readers in times long past, and credits some great brainstorming moments with riding a tractor on her family’s farm.

Pam, when did you first become interested in writing and how? And what was the inspiration for your foray into Christian fiction?

I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was 8 or 9 years old. There was a small public library where we checked out books once a week on the way home from school. My brother and my cousins were okay with stopping by the library on the way home from school, but it was the highlight of my week! I checked out the maximum allowed (I think it was three) and my cousin, Joy, checked out three more that I wanted to read in her name. I’m sure I even twisted her little brother’s arm and made him check out books I picked out.

What do you hope your readers take away from your novels? An escape, lesson learned, a good laugh, etc.?
I write to entertain my readers, but there are nuggets of truth and encouragement and life lessons in my stories, so if those lessons speak to them, then that’s wonderful. But if they’re just looking for a good, clean story and find it in what I write, then I’ve done my job.

How did the idea for Stealing Jake develop? Did it stem from a location perhaps or a certain book idea that simply expanded?
Tyndale House Publishers used to publish two Heartquest anthologies a year. Tyndale has been my dream publisher from the beginning, and I submitted novella proposals several times trying to break in. Stealing Jake (then Stealing Jake’s Heart) was one of those submissions.

Tyndale put out guidelines for a cowboy Christmas anthology, so the story had to involve Christmas and have a historical setting. Stealing Jake didn’t make the cut for the anthology, but I loved the idea so much that I went back to it later and turned it into a full-length novel.

I honestly can’t remember how I came up with the exact idea for the pickpocket theme, but it was the old adage of opposites attract. If she’s a thief, he’s a lawman. Okay, she’s a reformed thief…or is she?

If you could go back before publication, what advice would you give yourself? With this advice, what part of your journey do you think would have been easier?
I’m not sure if anything I could have done would have made this journey easier. Advice? Let’s see. I think if I could have been more confident and not let setbacks paralyze me and cause me to second-guess my writing. One tangible thing would be to learn to power through the story, get it down on paper no matter what.

Pam, you currently serve as the ACFW’s Financial Officer/Assistant Director and Conference Treasure. How long have you been involved with ACFW? And how has your involvement in the organization most benefited your writing career, publishing pursuit, spiritual journey, etc.?
I’ve been a member of ACFW since 2000. ACFW offers a wealth of information about the Christian fiction market, from who’s acquiring what to which agents are looking to add clients to their stable of authors, to contests for unpublished and published authors, to the annual conference. Without ACFW, I wouldn’t have connected with my agent, my editors, my friends who know all about this crazy business of writing.

As a writer of novels as well as novellas, what advice would you offer to a novelist who is interested in writing a novella and vice versa?
For novellas, it’s generally best to keep the timeline short and the secondary characters and plots to a minimum. If the plot points grow too unwieldy, it will be hard to tie everything up nicely in a novella. The main characters’ goals, motivations and conflict are usually fairly transparent early on in a novella. The stakes might be high, but the obstacles might not be quite as daunting or as numerous as in a novella. I also limit novellas to no more than two POVs: the hero and the heroine. The reverse works for novels.

So, Pam, you are Mississippi-born and raised and still live there today with your husband. How has the state and its surrounding areas influenced the settings of your novels?
I’ve written books set in Wyoming, Illinois, the Caribbean, Oregon, Nebraska, and Mississippi. I’m currently working on a novella set during the California Gold Rush. My next book-length series is set in 1790s Natchez (MS) Territory. So, Mississippi and this area hasn’t influenced all my settings, but I am excited to be able to write about an area I’m very familiar with.

I think country life, being raised on a farm, working with cows, cowboys, farmers and ranchers (male and female), has influenced my writing more than the geographical location itself.

Which authors have inspired you the most on your journey? Do they write about the Old West or the Gilded Age too?
I have several wonderful friends in the industry: The Seekers. Robin Caroll. Beth White. Others. I could go on and on. As I’ve watched these authors, I’m more inspired by their work ethic than necessarily the genre or time period they write in. Some write in multiple genres, or at least spread their “wings” over a number of decades. I draw inspiration from these authors who show up day after day and continue to hone their craft. That inspires me.

Since several of your novels are set in the Old West, where would you envision yourself if you lived back in that time? Who would you most like to be? Schoolmarm? Town’s first female deputy? Store owner? A farmer’s wife living miles out from town?
What a fun question! Well, since I’m a farmer’s wife living miles from town now, that’s probably what I would have been way back then. But that’s the beauty of being a writer. I can be the female deputy, the store owner, the mule skinner, the farmer’s wife, or the schoolmarm through my characters. I have the best of both worlds.

Any parting words?
I’m so thankful to be doing what I love. And I appreciate my friends, family, editors, my agent, and my readers for coming alongside me on this journey. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

Thanks for sharing with us, Pam!

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