Alison Strobel writes novels that explore life, love and faith. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two daughters.
Favorite Verse: Psalm 16:5-6: Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup, you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Our Interview with Alison Strobel
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm married to Daniel, my 100th match from eHarmony.com, with whom I have two daughters (Abigail and Penelope Jane) and two children's books (That's Where God Is, and That's When I Talk to God, releasing Spring 2011). I'm a Midwestern girl at heart, and am very happy to be living in Colorado after a nearly 10 year stint in the alternate reality of Southern California. We homeschool, so on top of writing I'm also a teacher (though the load is light when your kids are only 4 and 2!), and my new favorite hobby is crochet. My mother-in-law got me started on it before we moved, and I'm just a few days away from completing my first serious project--a Christmas dress for Abby (or PJ, depending on which one of them it fits in December!).
What is your favorite Bible verse?
"Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup, you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." (Ps. 16:5-6) I'm incredibly blessed, and this verse reflects my gratefulness. The first phrase about the Lord assigning my portion and cup is also significant in that it reminds me that *everything* we receive, the good and the bad, comes from the Lord. He has a reason for it all.
How did you get started writing Christian fiction?
I've been writing since I knew how to make sentences. But writing Christian fiction just sort of happened without me having any particular plan to do so. Shortly after moving to California, I was driving through Hollywood for the first time and had a brief and uncharacteristic moment of star-struck-ness when I realized that there might be actual movie stars on the freeway with me. I started looking around to see if I could spot any, and then realized with horror that I was driving like a maniac and might have gotten in an accident.
That's when the light bulb went off. What if little old school teacher me got into a car accident with a mega movie star? I went home and, for the first time in my life, outlined a story. (Until then I'd been a seat-of-the-pants writer--but, also until then, I'd never completed a manuscript. Actually, I'd never gotten beyond chapter 1!) I started writing, just for kicks, and 18 months later I finished my first book, Worlds Collide. I printed it out, 3-hole punched it, stuck it in a binder and pretty much forgot about it.
Well, it just so happened that my father was going to dinner with an editor from Waterbrook a few weeks later. He mentioned that I'd finished a book, and the editor asked if I'd be willing to let him see it. A few months later I was offered a 2-book contract.
Until then I'd only read a handful of Christian fiction. And I didn't think what I was writing was Christian fiction--the books I'd read up until then were very fluffy. I called them bon-bon books--you could devour them quickly because there wasn't a lot to them, but too many of them gave you a sweetness overload. I didn't know there was any Christian fiction that included the kinds of things my book did. (Which is also why I never thought to pursue publication myself--I thought Worlds Collide was too secular for the Christian world, and too evangelical--there are two detailed conversion stories--for the secular world.)
How did you come up with the concept for Reinventing Rachel?
One of my best friends, whom I met when I was 5, is agnostic and has pretty much lived her life by her own terms. If it weren't for the fact that I'm a Christian, I think I would have made a lot of the same destructive life-choices she's made. I started reflecting on that one day--on how the decision to follow or not follow Christ has such enormous repercussions--and I got the idea of two friends, just like my friend and I, whose lives are radically different because of their beliefs, and what it would be like if the Christian decided for some reason to start living like her agnostic friend.
Is any part of Reinventing Rachel factual?
Rachel is, personality-wise, very much me. And Daphne, Rachel's hedonistic friend, is patterned after my friend, although none of the choices Daphne makes in the book are taken from my friend's life. I mostly used my friend as a template for Daphne's personality, appearance, etc. (Though it's also true that we grew up across the street from each other--though in the northwest Chicago suburbs and not in California.) The main components of the story, though, were all from my own head.
How closely is Reinventing Rachel based on your life experiences?
On my life experiences--hardly at all. I lived in Illinois (though not in Chicago) and I lived in California, and I've visited Las Vegas many times because my husband's brother lives there with his family. But that's about where the similarities end--thank goodness, since there's very little that happens in the book that I would want to actually live through!
How long did Reinventing Rachel take you to complete?
This project was by far the most challenging book I've worked on so far. I started it back in 2005 and I think it ended up going through three or four distinct versions before becoming what it is now. I was trying too hard in the beginning, instead of letting God and the story guide where things should go. My amazing editor, Nicci Hubert, really challenged me and pushed me to look at the story in ways I hadn't before, and in the end I rewrote nearly the entire thing from the ground up after going over what I thought was my final draft.
Do you have a favorite character in Reinventing Rachel? Why?
Leah is my favorite, for sure. I wanted her to really surprise Rachel with her authenticity, to be the opposite of everything Rachel was expecting, and she definitely became that. I also wanted her to be the kind of Christian that I think we all wish all Christians were--genuine, kind, compassionate, unashamed. She was a fun character to write.
How much research did Reinventing Rachel take?
The alcohol addiction took the most research. I had a lot of misconceptions about how alcoholics acted, how they got hooked, how their thinking changed, etc. Over the course of writing the book, a good friend of mine admitted to having been an alcoholic since college. I was stunned. And it showed me how well people can hide it. She was very willing to answer my questions and really set me straight on a lot of things.
What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Reinventing Rachel?
The insights into alcoholism were interesting because, as I said before, it turned out I held a lot of misconceptions about alcoholics.
For example, I learned that, for some people, their addiction is "turned on" almost like a light switch with their first alcoholic drink. I took that tack with Rachel, even though it's not the most common way an addict gets hooked, because I thought it was such a fascinating phenomenon.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Right now it's juggling motherhood and writing. My girls are little--4 and 2--and we're really blessed because my husband works from home as well and is able to watch the girls in the afternoon so I can write. But there are times when Daddy just won't do, it's Mommy or a meltdown. Sometimes I only end up with three hours to work, and if *all* I had to do was write, that wouldn't be too bad, but there are always other administrative things that need doing as well, and I'm not great at keeping track of them all. More than once my Facebook status has been, "I need an intern!"
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Writing! I really do love writing. Yes, I get stuck sometimes and really struggle to get a scene written--but even the struggle doesn't diminish my love of it.
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write
“by-the-seat-of-your-pants"? Or somewhere in-between?)
I am an outliner in the extreme. I use Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, and I spend about 4-6 weeks completing it. By the end of that process, I know every character inside and out, I know every scene in the book, and I know a good 50-75% of the details of every one of those scenes. It's part of what makes writing so fun for me. So many of the details and decisions have been made that, by the time I start writing the scene, all I really have to do is focus on the craft.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
Absolutely. Despite all the outlining, there is still room for surprises, and there always end up being places where I realize the character just isn't going to act the way I expected her to. It's funny--I read a quote once from Madeline L'Engle about characters doing and saying things she hadn't expected, and when I read it (back when I was working on my first book) I thought, "That sounds a little weird to me. They're *her* characters! How can she not know what they're doing to say and do?!" But then when I was deep in the throes of writing "Worlds Collide" that very thing happened and I realized, "Oh, *this* is what she was talking about!" They really do seem to develop their own will.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
"Memory of the Heart" comes out in April of 2011 with Zondervan--it's about a high-profile Christian author and speaker for women who becomes an atheist against her will.
Then, that September, I have another book releasing with David C. Cook. My working title is "Trouble Child" but who knows what it will be called when it hits the shelves! It's about the havoc that is wreaked on a young pastor's wife's life when she develops bipolar disorder. I'm about 10 scenes from the end right now, and I've got high hopes for it. It's a story I've been thinking about for a long time. Talk about a subject that doesn't show up often in Christian fiction! My best friend all through college (and for many years after) developed bipolar disorder our junior year--the year after she became a Christian. The treatment she received at the hands of Christians--pastors, even--was so discouraging and downright infuriating that I knew someday I'd tackle the subject in a book.
What message would you like your readers to take from Reinventing Rachel?
That experience does not equal truth. I get really concerned when I hear how much stock Christians put in personal experience as a way of "proving" their faith or the validity or truth of Christianity. When our experience doesn't line up with with what we think the Bible tells us is true, then what? Which leads me to another thing that I hope readers will take away, and that's the fact we need to really examine our personal theology in the light of Scripture and see how it measures up. This book is 'targeted' to 18-25 year old readers, who are typically going through a period of reevaluating the beliefs they've grown up with as they move into adulthood. The recent trend has been for them to embrace a very emotion- and experience-based approach to faith, but often it's light on Scriptural truth. I hope that this book will encourage them to dig deeper into the Word and do some serious study of theology and doctrine as they try to figure out what they really believe.
What is your greatest achievement?
Oh goodness...I don't think I'm old enough to talk about my 'greatest' achievement yet. :) I'd like to be able to someday say that it was raising two God-fearing, Bible-believing women who love the Lord. That's certainly what we're trying to do; I pray we're successful. So far I'd say getting published has been a big achievement, of which I'm pretty proud and for which I'm extremely grateful.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
To write stories that make people think and that stay with them long after the last page is turned. To turn people's eyes to God. To challenge how Christians think about life issues, and how non-Christians think about how Christians handle life issues. And, of course, I pray that people are brought to faith through my stories.
What do you do to get away from it all?
Physically "getting away" is next to impossible because of the ages and needs of our children, but I relax by reading and crocheting. One of my favorite things to do is to take my girls to the McDonald's with the huge play area, grab a drink, and crochet while they run themselves ragged.