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Interview with Valerie Comer

Valerie Comer loves faith and food, and they both come out in her fiction! Author of half a dozen books, Valerie is a fun and interesting person to talk to. Her farm knowledge and experience, and love of all things good make her an inspiration to readers around the globe.

Your new release, Snowflake Tiara, is a 2-in1 Christmas Collection. What was it like to collaborate with Angela on this project?
As with any collaboration, there were awesome adventures and some more mundane! I loved the brainstorming and having someone else just as invested in the project as I was. We spent many hours on Skype and in Google hangouts ricocheting ideas back and forth. We also had a wonderful visit together to our setting of Helena, Montana, in the fall of 2013, as well as several other in-person sessions.

Our working styles are different. I'm a work-way-ahead kind of writer. Looming deadlines make me freeze, while Angie gets more energized. So this was somewhat challenging for both of us. Still, the two stories came together very sweetly — and on time — and I'm thrilled with them both. Best of all, we're still close friends!

Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
Wow, this is hard. I loved both Marisa and Jase, but my favorite character might be Marisa's best friend Bren. Bren is a struggling single mom who just needs a little helping hand to grab hold of a better life for her kids. I loved delivering a secondary happy ending for this wonderful gal and her adorable offspring.

Which was the hardest character to write? Why?
Hardest character. I think that would have to be Marisa, the heroine. She's a former model, a young woman who is beautiful, poised, and passionate about making her community a better place.

My upbringing was very different from Marisa's. I grew up in a traditional Mennonite household, where beauty was neither encouraged nor celebrated. I pull bits from myself for every character I write, but Marisa was extra challenging with so many dissimilarities. I gave her my passion for local, seasonal food, but how she arrived there and what she did with it are quite different from my path.

God teaches me through every story He gives me to write. My lessons during the writing of More Than a Tiara had to do with self-worth and how much He cherishes me, joyfully celebrates over me, and sings exuberant songs of love about me. (Zephaniah 3:17, The Voice)

What helps you the most when you're developing your characters?
I'm about half pantser and half plotter, and it's taken me a few years to figure out what I need to know in advance, and what I have to trust myself (and God!) to deliver as I need it. My best tool is GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict). When I have the internal and external GMCs of the hero and heroine plus a solid feel for the setting, I have enough to get rolling with the story.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My first half dozen manuscripts were fantasy and science fiction. I decided to switch to contemporary romance about five years ago, hoping that would open the door to selling a novel. That didn't happen until I found my sweet spot combining romance with farm life and my passion for gardening and local food.

They say to write what you know. I have to say it is working for me! Other than the whole beauty pageant thing, of course. I relied heavily on Angela's experience as Mrs. Montana International 2009, as well as her pageantry coaching skills, to keep my story on the right path. Thankfully, I was able to infuse the story with my foodie passion.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
This is a hard question. There have been so many stepping stones and without any one of them, I wouldn't be where I am now. A significant early milestone was finaling in Genesis three times, all in speculative fiction. Selling a novella to Barbour got me an agent and the confidence that I did have ability… but needed to find my niche. Contracting the Farm Fresh Romance series to Choose Now Publishing in 2013 was thrilling.

I regained rights to my novels when they closed the fiction side, and I chose to publish those books and others independently. That's had its ups and downs for sure, but I truly feel like I'm where God wants me, and I'm trusting Him to keep finding the readers who would be blessed by the stories He's given me.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Self-discipline! Being an indie author-publisher means I cannot blame anyone else for my schedule and deadlines. I've prayerfully examined the various projects I've worked on in the past to see which mesh best with my current brand (where food meets faith and fiction). Remember that whole working-way-ahead thing? I've set a release schedule for the next eighteen months and am implementing it.

I released Majai's Fury, a two-time Genesis finalist, in July as an experiment. Hot on its heels came the re-release of Raspberries and Vinegar and Wild Mint Tea, the first two books in my Farm Fresh Romance series. Snowflake Tiara came a few weeks after that. During those months I was writing and editing the third Farm Fresh Romance, Sweetened with Honey, which had also been contracted to CNP but returned to me. It released in November, and I'm now working on Dandelions for Dinner, the fourth book, which I plan to release in March.

Meanwhile I've been able to contract the audio versions of the first three books. Raspberries and Vinegar just released in audio! And I've been blessed to have that title in a box set, Love Brings Us Home, with six other books by friends who also write Christian contemporary romance.

There are so many opportunities as an indie that the biggest challenge is staying focused and not running in twenty directions. I'm overwhelmed with gratefulness for the path God has chosen for me.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
My faith is a foundational and integral part of my life. I don't know how to tell a story that doesn't spring from that part of me. My characters grapple with real-life problems, either ones I've faced myself or seen in others. And some are extrapolations from my imagination, of course. No one person can experience everything.

Who/What spurs you to write?
I was slow getting into the writing game, though I'd talked about writing novels for years. I didn't know how to start and, while my kids were growing up, I didn't have the passion to learn. That changed in 2001 when I acquired a job with many empty hours. I wrote my first nine or ten manuscripts when I worked there, learning much about the process of writing and editing.

My desire to leave a legacy for my three young granddaughters definitely pushes me. I want them to value creativity, to believe in themselves, and to look around to see what they can do to make the world a better place.

Where do your story and character ideas come from?
LOL. I think they come out of thin air, frankly. I have so many ideas that I'd have to write six books a year for the next decade to get through them all — and hope no new ones arrived.

As I searched for my niche in the contemporary romance genre, my son and daughter-in-law were in university and planning to return to the farm after graduation. They told my husband and me how jealous their friends were that they had a farm to move to where they could get their hands dirty and grow food.

I began to contemplate what it would be like if several young city women, passionate about food and sustainability, bought a farm together. What kinds of experiences and challenges might they have? And the entire Farm Fresh Romance series, projected to be six books long, was born.

Our son and daughter-in-law bought a mobile home and now live on our farm with their two-year-old daughter. My extroverted daughter-in-law is the manager of our local farmers' market and is actively involved in many community-visioning projects. I get plenty of ideas from her stories, as well!

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I tackle issues very few Christian authors are touching: environmental issues, sustainability, and food security. These don't tend to be concerns in most of our churches. But they are growing concerns in the world at large and ones I, personally, believe Christians should be aware of.

We have an opportunity to show appreciation for the amazing Earth God created for us. We have an opportunity to support those who grow our food, some of whom are practically slaves… or really are (google cocoa + Ivory Coast + children). We have an opportunity to make healthful decisions for our families' mealtimes.

All those passions are embedded in my stories and could make them both preachy and depressing. Being aware of that, I tend to use a lot of humor in my stories and pit characters on either side of the issues so they can duke it out. That way I don't have to tell the reader what *I* think she should think. (Note: not all thoughts expressed by a character are projections of the author's beliefs!)

Though I have to admit, I can't find any characters willing to advocate for the continuation of the horrors involved in cocoa production.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Because I write about the life I know, you'll find me in the vegetable garden from spring to fall, growing food for my family. You'll find me in the kitchen cooking and baking from scratch, canning tomatoes, and figuring out what to do with the abundance of squash in a variety I don't remember choosing.

You'll also find me jumping on the trampoline with my granddaughters, reading to them, and tickling the stuffing out of them, or sitting beside a mountain stream reading while my husband casts his fishing line.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Because of poor eyesight, my Kindle is often the only thing on my nightstand, so your question is "loaded!" Right now I'm reading through the books that accompany mine in the Love Brings Us Home box set. I'd read about half of them before, and am thoroughly enjoying the others! I'm thrilled to be included in such august company.

Finish this statement: My favorite thing about Christmas is...
Family. We all strive to keep the commercialism at bay. We live in a tiny house, as do our daughter's family and our son's family. No one needs more junk. Even (especially?) the little girls have way more clothes, toys, and yes, even books, than anyone could possibly need.

Keeping the birth of Jesus as our central thought isn't easy in the world's current environment, but it's vital if we wish to keep our balance when so many pressures try to wash away our foundation.

Any parting words?
The Cathedral of St. Helena is a majestic building built in the early 1900s. My husband and I stood inside it last year with my co-author Angela. We were all overwhelmed by the incredible stained glass windows, arches overlaid with gold, the magnificent pipe organ — the entire awe-inspiring experience.

One of the scenes in my novella in Snowflake Tiara has Marisa and Jase attending Christmas at the Cathedral in Helena, an event I'd love to attend in person. After the closing notes, they linger just a little as others slip out:

“God among us,” Marisa said quietly. “It’s beyond comprehension.”
“He loved us that much. Calls us to Him.”
She turned to him. “It’s crazy. We’re not worth it.”
“We are to Him.”
“People say I’m beautiful.” She put a finger to his lips to stop the words she had to know he wanted to say. “But God doesn’t see me that way. When He looks at me, He doesn’t see me. He sees Jesus.”
He’s missing a great view.
Oh, Jase knew it wasn’t true. God knew exactly what He’d created in Marisa.

Thanks for sharing with us, Valerie!
It's been a delight! Snowflake Tiara is best read with a mug of hot chocolate smothered in marshmallows, with a few Christmas cookies to nibble on. A blessed Christmas to you as you celebrate God among us.

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