|A Bigger Life: Eden Plain Series #1|
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When a careless choice shatters Joel Carpenter's marriage, he struggles to rebuild his life---and his relationship with his young son. Living in a small Texas town seven years later, he finally believes he's turned a corner. But suddenly his estranged ex-wife, Kari, receives tragic news. Can they overcome their resentment and forgive one another? 336 pages, softcover from NavPress.
Our Interview with Annette Smith
How did you come up with the concept for A Bigger Life?
Almost two years ago, at my daughter’s insistence that I do something about my hair, I visited a new salon. It was there I met the young, straight, male hairstylist who would give new life to my middle-aged hair. However, a great hairstyle was not the only blessing I received that day. Paul C. was the single father of a three-year-old son whose mother had died only weeks before. While he combed and snipped, he shared bits and pieces of his poignant, touching life’s story. Never had I met anyone so broken and yet so open to love. I found Paul’s story to be poignant and intriguing, his voice to be rich and true. I could not wait to get him on paper. It was that chance meeting in the salon that day that prompted me to write A Bigger Life, a story about an unchurched, single dad.
Since that first meeting, Paul and I have become friends. He’s given me great insights into the life of a single father. I’ve also learned how people minimally familiar with Christianity see the mainstream church and how they view believer’s efforts to reach out to them.
Is any part of A Bigger Life factual?
Since it was inspired by my stylist, much of the voice and tone is his. The main character, Joel Carpenter, is a straight, male hairstylist who lives in Texas and works in a salon. Like Paul, Joel is a single dad. However, A Bigger Life’s plot is completely different from my friend’s journey. It is most definitely a work of fiction.
How closely is this A Bigger Life based on your life?
One of Joel’s salon customers is Alice, a middle-aged woman who shows interest in him and who showers him with God’s unconditional love. The relationship that develops between the two of them has some similarities to the one Paul and I share. Like Amy, one of the characters in the book, I am a hospice nurse. I have walked in her shoes. I have seen what she sees. I drew from my experiences as a nurse to create her character.
How long did A Bigger Life take you to complete?
Actual writing time was about seven months. But nearly two years passed between the time I first dreamed the concept of the book and the time of its release.
Do you have a favorite character? Why?
I love Joel, the main character. He is flawed and unsure and brutally honest about the terrible mistakes he’s made. He’s not sure how to go about it, but he wants to do better. A passionate love for his son drives Joel’s life. His efforts to be a good dad, some of them touching, some of them hilariously awkward, make him completely endearing.
How much research did A Bigger Life take?
Very little, unless you count two to three hours in the salon chair every six weeks. While Paul trimmed my ends and touched up my roots, I peppered him with questions. He was my single dad expert and the person who taught me that those we meet are rarely what they appear to be. No part of his life was off limits. We talked about love and loss, sin and forgiveness, the Bible, faith, doubt, and how much longer his three-year-old was going to keep having potty accidents.
Is this going to be a series?
In a very loose sense. It is the first of the Eden Plain novels, Eden Plain being the town where the novels are set. The next book in the series takes place in the same town, but is about a completely different group of characters.
Do you prefer to write contemporary fiction?
Contemporary fiction is what I love to read. It is the only fiction I’ve written. Other than listening to real people tell me their stories, I don’t enjoy research, so my preference for contemporary settings is a good thing.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Writing is excruciatingly difficult for me. I thank God every day for my abilities and for the opportunities He’s given me but the truth is I don’t enjoy the process as much as it seems other writers do. Many days making my projected word count feels like trying to suck cold molasses through a coffee straw. I struggle with insecurities. I’m never as good a writer as I would like to be. After twelve books, I still live in fear that people with discover that I don’t write right.
Are there any other new projects on the horizon?
I’m currently working on edits for the second Eden Plain novel. Like A Bigger Life, this one is told in the first person male voice, that of a young Mexican man who has a father-shaped hole in his heart. We’ve not yet picked a title, but this book should release this fall.
What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
Learn to listen. Be in the moment. Cultivate an open, loving, and accepting attitude. Amazing people with unimaginable stories are out there. Most of them are eager to share their tales with anyone truly safe and interested. Be that person. I hear the most incredible stories in the most unexpected of circumstances. I glean story ideas from the woman who checks me out at Wal-Mart, the twenty-something college student I work with, from my husband’s best friend. Real life is incredibly rich and quirky. Because I’d rather listen than talk, when I sit down to write, I have a well of memorable voices to draw from.
What message would you like your readers to take away from A Bigger Life?
Everyone suffers. Everyone is in need of God’s unconditional love and mercy. We, His children are called upon to see with His eyes, to love as He loved, to serve as He served.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
When readers purchases novels, I believe it is because they seek entertainment. In my writing, my desire is to give readers engaging, emotional experiences. I am not a pastor. I personally do not set out to deliver a specific message or to lead readers to a certain conclusion. Rather, I seek to tell stories that mean something to me with as much honesty and truth as I can deliver.