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Interview with Sandra Orchard

Sandra Orchard won the Daphne DuMaurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense for unpublished writers in 2009. The following year she received news of her first contract on her youngest child's first day of college, and her new career was launched.

Sandra, you write inspirational romantic suspense novels about undercover police officers--how do you deal with the ethical dilemma of their faith and the duplicity in the lives you write about?

The desire to explore how officers reconcile the two is exactly what prompted me to write the series Undercover Cops: Fighting for justice puts their lives—and hearts—on the line. In each novel, the hero wrestles with the ethical dilemma in some form, and his views evolve or change depending on the situation. For example, in Deep Cover, at one point the hero says, “I’ve never questioned what we have to do to bring down a criminal. I mean, I know God hates lying, but we’re serving a greater purpose here, right?”

His mentor responds, “That’s between you and God.”

This spurs some thoughts on the hero’s part, and a more pointed rebuff from his friend. It’s a topic they return to in the final chapter, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

Where do your story and character ideas come from?
From everywhere and anywhere. I always carry a notebook, because any observation, from the turn of a phrase to an interesting habit to a telling body movement, might make it into one of my novels. The idea for my Undercover Cops series came after reading a newspaper article about an RCMP undercover investigation that made me wonder how a believer could reconcile his faith with some of the things those men had to do. Some time later, when I was revising Deep Cover, a young woman from our church shared her experiences working at a Christian youth detention center. Enthralled by her passion for the youth, and her revelation that she learned far more from them than the other way around, I gave my heroine’s sidekick the same occupation. She then became the heroine of my current release Shades of Truth.

How do you go about brainstorming the twists and turns in your books?
For Shades of Truth, I shared my story concept and characters with my local writing group. Then we brainstormed plot points, character arcs, and the romantic conflict. We shout out ideas, playing off what others say while I jot notes as fast as I can. I then went home and sifted through my notes to zero in on what the main story question would be, as well as, settle on the main characters’ fears and flaws and goals, the romantic conflict, and the major turning points. Throughout the days (and nights!) afterward more ideas come to me and I’ll jot them down to add to my list of potential plot points. I’m always asking myself what’s the worst thing that could happen to this character right now? If I feel like something’s not working, I’ll shoot an email off to one of my critique partners and we’ll brainstorm back and forth via email or phone or Skype. On good days, we figure out a solution.

What’s your favorite part of being a published?
Hearing from readers. My dream has always been to touch readers’ hearts through my stories with the message of God’s love for them. I love to hear how readers have related to the story.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Blowing a disk in my back. It slowed me down enormously. I am highly task-oriented. In addition to homeschooling my kids, I’d been doing major construction projects around the house, as well as, a wide variety of hobbies. Once my back went I couldn’t do a lot of what I’d been doing, and my energy levels plummeted due to the pain. Thankfully, sitting wasn’t too uncomfortable. I’d always dreamed of writing, had even taken a correspondence course after my first child was born. My new physical limitations gave me “permission” let those other projects go and immerse myself in writing. It really was a blessing in disguise.

Who is your writing support system?
Over the years, the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful array of mentors and critique partners who taught and encouraged me, and online loops that answer my questions and prayed me through some difficult times this past year. My family is also very supportive. My eldest daughter designed my website and accompanied me to my first writers’ conference so I wouldn’t have to go alone. My son joined me for my second conference. Ironically, my youngest daughter, who at nineteen already has many nationally published articles and awards to her credit, has yet to accompany me! But she understands me, and we’ll often lament our frustrations or celebrate our victories together. I’ve also been blessed with a wonderful accountability partner, Patti Jo Moore, who is super-encouraging and upholds me in prayer. One of my dearest critique partners, Kate Weichelt, passed away last fall and I miss her terribly. Shades of Truth is dedicated to her memory.

What do you do when you're not writing?
Well, there’s always those never-ending household chores. But for fun I enjoy hanging out with my family, especially my new grandbaby, reading, and spending time in God’s beautiful creation with my far-too-energetic husky.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
One that became dear to me while writing Shades of Truth, in which the hero can’t forgive himself for a past action, is 2 Corinthians 5:18-19a “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

What trivia about yourself would few people know?
Hmm, few would know that I competed in orienteering events as a teen, including the Ontario Summer Games, as well as the provincial, national, and North American championships, winning several silver and gold medals. Orienteering is a combination of cross-country running and using a map and compass to locate controls in the woods.

Any parting words?
Thank you for having me as your guest today. For my fellow sojourners on this crazy writing journey, remember what Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." And enjoy the journey!

Thanks for sharing with us, Sandra!

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