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Interview with Roxanne Rustand

Roxanne Rustand is no stranger to writing success. With multiple books and awards to her name, it’s no wonder she received a nomination for the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in 2005.

Roxanne, thank you for spending a little time with us today. It’s wonderful to meet you! From reading your website, I learned you haven’t always written inspirational fiction. When did this transition take place, and what led you to make the switch?

What a good question! I wrote fifteen books for Harlequin SuperRomance, back when they were 85,000 words—and mine were usually much longer. I loved the multiple subplots, the variety of viewpoints, and the complexity that were possible within that word count, as well as the latitude allowed by the line. All along, my dear friend Lyn Cote kept encouraging me to move into Christian fiction, because she thought it would be a better fit for my voice. I just couldn't see it, back then. But when I eventually hit a wall and found myself struggling to write a new proposal, thinking I just couldn't do it, Lyn gently and patiently helped me through that frustrating time. At that point, I was ready for a change, and she helped me immeasurably. I owe her so much! Once I did start writing inspirational fiction, I discovered she'd been right all along. I felt as if I'd "come home" to a genre that fit who I am.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
The most significant impact on my journey to publication was—and continues to be—my friends. I'd never read romance until my friend Judy chuckled at my lofty attitude, handed me one of Judith McNaught's early historicals, and dared me to put it down. I did-—when I reached The End at four in the morning—and then I just wanted to start reading it again from page one. After college I'd only read nonfiction, but this step into the world of rich, emotional fiction written for and by women took hold of my heart. When I started writing, I did so because I'd fallen in love with romance and wondered if I could try to create some of that magic on my own. I never, ever expected I could be published. But as my dreams grew, I met many more wonderful people who were writers, too. Their friendship, support, advice and encouragement have meant the world to me!

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Up until this spring, it was always a challenge balancing family life, my career as a dietitian and my writing. My biggest challenge of all came during the past twelve months, because I had a tight deadline schedule and also my mom's health began to fail, so I spent a great deal of time out of state with her. My editors were such a blessing, when I needed a little more time on some of those deadlines. But my story isn’t unique—everyone who writes knows that all of the other facets of life continue, no matter what sort of deadlines one has, and it can be hard to juggle everything successfully!

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
A writer's beliefs and the experiences they've had in life are all a part of their writing voice, and people have told me that some of my later SuperRomance novels held inspirational elements, even though it hadn't been intentional at the time. It just happened, I guess, because of my own faith.

Moving into inspirational fiction has been a wonderful experience, because I feel like I've finally landed where I really want to be. I can still write about conflicts and the growth of romantic and platonic relationships, but building a romantic arc that ends before intimacy is a welcome challenge, and the opportunity to address faith issues in my characters can add greater dimension.

Though I'm now writing about characters who are on a faith journey themselves, being an inspirational writer has deepened my own faith. I'm more conscious of it now, and feel an even stronger connection. Being a part of the ACFW community online and attending the annual conference, where so many writers of faith come together, has been a wonderfully uplifting experience. The joyous feeling of being at the conference stays with me all year and I'm already counting the weeks until St. Louis! If you haven't attended one of these conferences, I just have to say that I can't recommend them highly enough.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
My first thought was winning a RWA Golden Heart, but when I thought on it longer, I realized it was something far more important than sales or an award. My greatest moment was one evening when my husband and I were talking about the impact my writing had on our children as they were growing up.

They've had a chance to see someone pursue a dream and hang on to it for years until it came true. They've seen the hard, hard work; all of the self-education, the motivation and sacrifice it takes to succeed. Our daughter (who wants to be a writer!) has just finished her bachelor's and is starting on her master's degree in the fall. One son is midway through an MBA, and the oldest, who is an engineer, has just completed another degree in management. I'd like to think that my writing career taught them the value of hard work and the value of pursuing dreams, no matter what.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
A contract definitely spurs me into long days at the computer. ☺ I am so impressed with the aspiring authors who complete full manuscripts, because it takes tremendous determination to finish such a huge project without a deadline. I dawdled over my first manuscript for two years!

Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I often start with a setting I'd like to write about, then start to look for characters who could have a strong external conflict related to the setting and each other. Many of my books have been set in small towns, on ranches, or in tourist areas, in states like Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas, and they often involve ranchers, cowboys, vets, medical personnel, or various people living in scenic areas. I love setting books in Wisconsin and Minnesota, too.

I've had a menagerie of pets all my life, as well as horses since I was six years old, so I love to incorporate whimsical or unusual animals in some of my books. My very first book started with the line, "If she'd known about the snake, Claire never would have left New York."

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
That's probably something a reviewer would need to say! I try to write warm, emotional books with a touch of humor, and love to incorporate intergenerational relationships when they can work in a particular story.

Tell us one interesting thing about yourself that we probably don’t know.
Hmmm...while in graduate school, one of my nutrition research classes involved depriving rats of various amino acids and studying the effect on weight and overall health status. That meant pulling the rats from cages and weighing them, which was no easy task. The bigger they got, the meaner they got, and the more scared everyone was of their subjects. I ended up being the "rat wrangler" for all of my friends. ☺

Also, I worked as a graduate assistant in a university lab where the professor used chickens to study the effect of certain medication on circulation by injecting radioactive dye. The radioactive chickens didn't glow, but looking back at the very poor protection for lowly helpers like me, it's a wonder that I didn't!

Any parting words?
To everyone who is longing for a first sale, I want to encourage you to have an open heart and mind when you receive critiques and contest results. None of us were born published, but setting aside your pride, accepting criticism and working really hard to grow as a writer will help you reach your goals. In my opinion, this business isn't nearly as much about any sort of raw talent as it is about work ethic, willingness to learn, and determination.

And finally, there's going to be plenty of discouragement along the way, both before and after the first sale, but don't give up. If you do, you'll never know if your big chance might have been just around the corner. Many of the most successful authors have faced years of rejections before finding success. The point is to keep trying and to keep working at your craft.

Thanks for sharing with us, Roxanne!

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