Today on Jilligan’s Island, we (that’s the royal “we”) are interviewing author Kristen Stieffel. We’re talking writing and books, but most specifically her novel, Alara’s Call which releases this Tuesday (the 19th). It’s a fantastic read.
JI: Welcome, Kristen! I really enjoyed Alara’s Call. Where did you get the idea for it?
KS: Years ago—longer than I care to admit—I had a sort of vision of soldiers and flags, and I started writing to figure out why they were there and what they were doing. The soldiers and flags are still in the story, but no longer in the same scene.
JI: What’s the theme of this story? Why did you choose it?
KS: The theme of this book is from 1 Peter 4:10—“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV). That plays out in multiple ways, but primarily in Alara receiving the gift of prophecy and pursuing it despite opposition.
JI: I loved reading about Alara’s struggle as she learns to use her gift. What did you edit out of this book?
KS: A looooong interlude in the first third of the book that I convinced myself was necessary to the character development and to establish the romantic subplot. Jeff Gerke was my book doctor, and he was brutally honest about how much it slowed the story down and told me to take it out. So I did. But … bwa ha ha … I have plans to repurpose it. So we’ll see how that goes.
JI: Good for you for saving that scene! So, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while writing this story?
KS: That the heroine’s fatal flaws—pride and performance anxiety—are my own. Who knew?
JI: It’s amazing how those issues show up in our writing. What was the hardest scene to write?
KS: The fight scene in which those soldiers capture Alara. Sorry, that’s kind of a spoiler, but it’s early in the book, so maybe not too much of one? In the version of the book Jeff read, this scene was like half a page. I skimmed over it. He said “that’s not acceptable” and told me to rewrite it, blow by blow. I did. It took a whole day and several pots of tea, but I did it.
JI: That scene was intense! Speaking of the fight scene, how did you get in touch with your “inner villain” to write the antagonist ?
KS: I’m a firm believer that the best villains think they’re the good guys. Given the culture I’d created for the villains, I put myself in the place of the lead villain and tried to make him a “good soldier,” at least as his culture would define those terms.
JI: You did a great job with the villain — I hated him! Have you always liked to write? When did you start writing?
KS: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My mother tells me my cousin and I used to make up stories together when we were 3-4 years old.
JI: Aw, that’s cute. 🙂 What are you reading now?
KS: Oh, man. I don’t want to name names. But I picked up a historical romance because it was on a Kindle promo and I tell you—the characters are charming, but the book is so loaded with typos it’s hard to read. It pains me, because there’s nothing wrong with this book that a copyeditor couldn’t fix. But the author clearly didn’t take the time and expense to hire one, at least not one who knew what she was doing. So this lovely story is marred by all these easily fixable mistakes. It’s a shame.
JI: I bet your inner editor was going nuts! Aside from “keep writing,” what’s your best advice for aspiring writers?
KS: Focus on the big-picture things first. Character. Plot. Structure. If you write a great story with engaging characters, a copyeditor can fix your grammar. But if the story’s lacking, it won’t matter how elegant your sentences are. Needless to say, I learned this lesson the hard way.
JI: You did a great job with the characters in Alara’s Call — they pulled me right in. What does your writing space look like?
KS: Here’s a picture, since you caught me before I dismantled the computer to put it away for Hurricane Irma.
JI: Much neater than my writing area! Do you do any other creative activities other than writing?
KS: I’m a knitter. My ex used to give me grief about this because we live in Florida, but seriously, most of our sweaters are worn indoors because the air conditioning is so cold!
JI: Too funny! Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
KS: It energizes me! Once I get going, I can go—and have gone—all night long. My counselor recently gave me “permission” to work until three in the morning if that’s when I’m at my best. So I often do!
JI: Wow — I’m usually asleep after midnight. So, what’s your favorite part of writing?
KS: Reading something I forgot I wrote and saying “That’s really good!”
JI: Lol –that’s always a nice surprise when that happens. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
KS: Focus on the big-picture things first. Character. Plot. Structure.
JI: Thanks so much for stopping by Jilligan’s Island, Kristen!
Want more information on Alara’s Call: The Prophet’s Chronicle, One?
Tales are often told of heroes who fulfill ancient prophecies. Alara’s Call is the tale of a woman who gives new ones.