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Interview with Robin Patchen

Robin says about herself: “I am a Christian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, writer, and editor.”
What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
A Mountain Too Steep begins with a woman whose son and nephew are in a wreck in the Utah desert. Though most of the events of the story are fabricated, the accident was real. At the beginning of the story, Camilla gets the call from her sister, who says, “The boys have been in a terrible accident. They’re being life-flighted to Salt Lake City. They’re both alive. That’s all I know.”

Those were the words my sister said to me that night back in 2018. We were in Oklahoma City, so we spent the next ten hours getting a flight, trying to pack, trying to rest, but mostly praying. And asking others to pray.
When I tell people the story, I often hear remarks like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or “I hate that your family had to go through that.” Those are kind thoughts, but to be honest, I’m not sorry.

Having come through that terrifying time (and knowing it has a happy ending!), our whole family learned that God is who He says He is. He is faithful. He is with us in difficult times. He is comforter and healer. He is peace. We also learned that the prayers of a whole bunch of righteous family, friends, and Facebook connections avail much. I remain convinced that the boys both survived and recovered because so many people were praying for them.
(Of course, not everybody gets the result of the prayers that they’re hoping for. Many people prayed for my brother to be healed of his liver disease, and he was—through death. God doesn’t always give us the answer we want, but He always answers, and He’s always good.)

In A Mountain Too Steep, the heroine has already been through great difficulty. Her husband was murdered after testifying against a gang member, and she had to relocate her family and start over with almost nothing. She couldn’t have done any of it without God. She learned during those years to lean into her faith. When she gets the call about the accident, her first instinct is to pray and ask friends to pray. She leans into God, and He equips her to do what she could never do on her own.

I want readers to witness the power of Camilla’s praying instinct. We don’t have to rail at God or get angry or lose faith when life is hard. We can be faithful servants in every situation. He loves our faith.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Community. I would have given up writing years ago if not for my local ACFW community of writers. I attended monthly meetings, then went to a national conference and met more writers. I joined a Scribes group and met more writers. Some of them taught me various skills, others pointed me toward resources, but most were just friends on the same journey. We worked together, laughed together, learned together, and commiserated together. I cannot imagine trying to do this alone.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
When I started writing, I was home schooling three kids. I remember thinking how much easier life would be if they were in school. And then they were, and I started taking on editing clients. I filled my schedule even more. Now, my kids are all grown, but I find myself as busy as I ever was. I think my biggest challenge is overscheduling myself and not giving myself grace if I don’t meet all my own expectations. It’s something God and I are working on.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Years ago, somebody asked me why I write Christian fiction instead of general market fiction. The fact is, I don’t know how to write great stories without bringing God into it. How do people who don’t know Him go through trials? General market fiction writers often show protagonists who dig deep into their own hearts and find stores of courage and strength they never knew they had.

I haven’t had that experience. When I dig deep into my own heart, I find that Jeremiah was right: My heart isn’t the prettiest place in the world. So I dig deep into my Savior, and He gives me what I need. I can’t imagine trying to write a story without a spiritual element when it’s such a huge part of my life.

I’m still learning to rely on God for everything, a process that’ll take my whole life. He is the Creator, and when I need to create anything—from a plot to a character to a marketing plan—I try to seek Him first. Do I always? Probably not. But just like my novels, I’m a work in progress.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I think this answer would change depending on the season, but right now, I’d say it’s publishing A Mountain Too Steep. Not because it’s a great book (though I hope it is!) but because it tells a true story wrapped in fiction, and the true story is amazing. It was a challenge to write, but based on the responses I’ve gotten, it’s already having an impact.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I’m spurred to write the same way a bus driver is spurred to drive or a doctor is spurred to see patients. Writing is my fulltime job, so when it’s time to write, I write—even when it’s hard.

I never know where a story is going to come from. I’ve met some authors who have more ideas than they’ll ever be able to write in one lifetime. I usually have one at a time. I’ll be halfway through one story before I have any inkling what the next one will be about. That used to scare me. I worried maybe there would be no more ideas. Now I trust that God will lead me when the time is right. And I have fabulous brainstorming friends who help me come up with great ideas.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
I get to my desk before eight o’clock on weekday mornings—and often on Saturdays as well. I check my emails, which I probably shouldn't, and then I write. I don’t have any snacks I have to have, though coffee feels necessary. I generally set hours-per-week goals, usually aiming for twenty. I’ll plan to write for four hours every day, and if I fall short, then I make up the remainder on Saturday. Sometimes, twenty is hard. Sometimes, the words flow, and I find I’ve written far more than that.

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?
C.S. Lewis. I have no idea what I’d ask him. I’d just love to chat with him and hear what he had to say. Also, I’d like to visit Oxford, so that would be a nice benefit. Maybe I’d meet Tolkien while I was there!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
I needed to know what it felt like to be trapped in the trunk of a car, so I cajoled my husband to help me find out. I climbed in the trunk of his Camry. He slammed the lid and then drove around the neighborhood. The being in the trunk part wasn’t funny, though it wasn’t that bad. (It probably helps that I’m only 5’2”.) But my husband’s reluctance to do it—and the fact that he wouldn't go over about twenty miles an hour—was amusing. He was afraid to hurt me. Also, he was afraid he’d get pulled over, and I’d start yelling for help because I thought it would be funny. He knows me so well. Alas, we got back to the house without anybody getting arrested.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
This is a hard question. I’m not sure this is different from other people’s stories, but I try very hard to dig into the characters’ head and hearts as I write. I believe the emotional and spiritual journey are as important—maybe more important—than the plot, so I spend a lot of time, both in preparation and in the novel itself, building the inner arc. If I don’t cry at least once when I’m rereading, I feel like I’ve blown it. I think that’s pretty common for a women’s fiction author, but I write romantic suspense, so maybe that’s unusual.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love to travel. Any excuse to go anywhere in the world, and I’m there. I love to hike, though I don’t do it very often. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles. And of course I love to read.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Two Jenny Colgan paperbacks and one Lacy Williams paperback, all of which I want to read but haven’t because I prefer ebooks. I leave them there to remind me to buy the ebooks when I have time to read them. There are also three journals, one full that I need to put away, one empty that I haven’t decided what to do with yet, and one I use for writing random story ideas in the middle of the night.

Finish this statement: If I were not an author, I would be ____________.
Unhappy. For work? I have no idea. I’d probably be a Lyft driver, dreaming of writing stories.
Kathy McKinsey lives in Lakewood, Ohio, with her husband Murray and the oldest of their five children. Besides writing, she enjoys activities with her church, editing for other writers, braille drawing, crocheting, knitting, and playing with their rambunctious cat.

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