A Nest of SparrowsA Nest of Sparrows
Deborah Raney
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Starr was the only woman Wade Sullivan ever loved. Now his fiancee's three children are all he has left. But when Starr's abusive ex-husband arrives claiming custody---and Wade's grieving heart is stirred by a compassionate social worker---he must learn when to fight, when to let go, and when to simply wait. 320 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.

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 Interview: Deb Raney

How did you get started as a writer?

When I was eleven or twelve, I spent the summer reading the Little House on the Prairie books. I turned to the back of one of the books and saw that Laura Ingalls Wilder was a little Kansas farm girl who grew up to write the stories of her life. It was like a light bulb went on in my brain and I thought, ďHey, Iím a little Kansas farm girl! Maybe I can write a book someday, too.Ē I think that is when the dream was born. Thatís when I knew-I just knew- I wanted to write a book. I took a lot of creative-writing classes in high-school and college and got so much encouragement from my teachers. My mom was very encouraging to me also. She read to me from the time I was a baby, so I guess thatís where it really started. What are some of the challenges you face being an author? Probably the biggest challenge is writing from my home. Itís like I donít really have a job. Itís very hard for me to schedule my time and say no to things that come up. If I had an office where I punched a clock it would be much easier. We writers need glue to keep our seats in our chair.


My husband Ken and I will celebrate our 3oth anniversary in August. We have four children. Three are grown and living away from home, in three different states: our oldest son in Washington, oldest daughter in Missouri with her husband, youngest son in Iowa in college, and youngest daughter, still at home.

Is A Nest of Sparrows going to be a series?

At this point it is a stand-alone book, but one never knows. I didnít really plan the sequel for Beneath a Southern Sky either, but as I was finishing the novel, there the idea was, just waiting to be written. It became After the Rain. Although I donít have a contract, I get reader mail almost every week asking for a third book in that series, and I would love to write about the Camfield and Hunter families again. And I would definitely enjoy writing a sequel with the characters from A Nest of Sparrows.

Are there any new projects on the horizon?

Iím working on a book right now for Steeple Hillís new womenís fiction line. This book is set alternately in Chicago and in Haiti, West Indies. Itís tentatively titled Over the Waters. I have an August 1st deadline that Iím a little worried about making, but Iíve never been late with a book yet, so Iím sure it will all come together.

Haiti is an interesting topic!

Things have changed so fast in Haiti that itís hard to write a contemporary novel set there, because news is made and history changes almost every hour there!

Did you go there to research the novel?

My husband and daughter and I had tickets to fly there three years ago, and just before we were to leave, there was an attempted a coup on the presidential palace so our trip got cancelled.
Then, my 13-year-old daughter and I had tickets to go there this past January, and things turned violent with student demonstrations and protests against the government. In about a six-week period, several dozen people were killed in the violence, so the American embassy was warning Americans to get out.
Fortunately, I have several people with experience and inside knowledge of Haiti who have offered to help me with the research for this book, since it doesnít appear that Iím going to be able to make a trip there before the manuscript is due. Iím extremely grateful for those the Lord has put in my path to help with the Creole, culture and other details that are difficult to research without visiting there. My parents have spent over 20 winters working with the Love of Jesus Childrenís Home, an orphanage near Port au Prince. Theyíve spent those winters working in Merritt Island, Florida as volunteers with Teen Missions International, which sends out teams of short-term teen missionaries. Itís like a training ground for future missionaries. Mother and Daddy have really enjoyed their years there. Then each year they travel to Haiti for one or two weeks of the winter to work with the orphanage. Thereís a doctor and several other team members who go and spend a couple of weeks building or painting, or helping out wherever theyíre needed.
I was raised in very mission oriented church. I remember going several times as a child to a mission our former pastor had established in a poorer part of Arkansas. We would set a kind of store for people to come and get clothing for their children. We were raised with a mission mindset.

Are there any other projects in the works?

The 2004 Christy award nominees were just announced and Playing by Heart was nominated! Iím talking to my publisher about the possibility of a sequel to that book. It just seems ripe for a sequel. I also have the opportunity to rewrite my first novel A Vow to Cherish, for Steeple Hillís new womenís fiction line. Iím excited about that, since Iíve learned so much about writing since that very first book came out.

How much research did A Nest of Sparrows take?

It was the hardest book Iíve ever researched. Not so much because it was hard to find people to give me information; I found lots of people, doctors, lawyers, guardians ad litem for SRS, judges, social workers but it seemed like everyone told me something different. I could not get my sources to agree on the information they gave me. Part of the reason was that I was talking to professionals from three different Kansas counties and several states. Also, one of the judges was retired and laws and policy change quickly within Social and Rehabilitation Services. Finally I found a social worker who has been working for SRS the last few years, but is still fresh enough out of college to be knowledgeable about the latest policies. She helped make sure things were accurate and details were right. The situation in this book was a fairly unique. The big thing that played into the story line was the Family Preservation Movement, which has become a big philosophical part of SRSóand with which I agree where the goal is to get a child back into his family of origin. But sometimes that just isnít the best thing for anyone.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

Thereís a song by Garth Brooks called ďThicker than Blood.Ē It plays off the adage that blood is thicker than water, and goes on to say ďbut love is thicker than blood.Ē That was one of the things that inspired me because it captured the whole idea that sometimes relationships that are not blood tiesóthe ones God arranges are the ones that mean the most. I wanted to write about that idea.

How do you think up your characters?

I usually have a plot before I have my characters, and I then ďcreateĒ my characters to fit my plot. I often start out with a real life story--maybe something I hear on the news or read in the paper. Then Iíll read something else, like a magazine article that brings it to further light. I was cleaning out my files after A Scarlet Cord, was published an Ann Landers column, an article from Good Housekeeping Magazine, and one from Readerís Digest. They all meshed together to form the skeleton of my story. Thatís how this one worked too. Iím starting to realize that I can get seeds of stories from so many different sources. If I do start with something that is a true-life story I change every detail I possibly can so Iím not actually taking someone elseís story.

Do you have a favorite character in this book? Why?

Dee Thackery. I can usually put myself in each characterís place as Iím writing their scenes. But usually I get into the womanís point of view easier than the manís for obvious reasons. I think Dee is the one I most identify with because of the challenges she faced. This love relationship was forbidden to her because of her job. She couldnít keep the job she felt called to, and have a relationship with the man sheíd grown to love. She had to choose, and it was a tough decision.

Is that part of SRS? Is that a real law?

Yes. I discovered that this was a very real part of SRS policy and law. It actually ended up giving the story a lot of conflict, and molded the story into what it finally became. I couldnít have asked for a better plot twist. Real life often changes the direction of a story. It forces me to write a better story because I have to follow the rules of real life, which can create whole new dilemmas for my characters. I didnít make up any rules or laws for the sake of my story, but tried to go by the rules that are already in place. But, as I said in the bookís acknowledgements, policies and laws differ from county to county and state to state. Fortunately I was dealing with a fiction county so I could use the rules for one or the other county and still be realistic. I try very hard to make everything realistic.

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

I would have to say itís my mom. When I was a little girl I suffered with asthma and wasnít able to play outside with my brother and sisters. She helped me fill that time by reading to me. Plus she set the example as I saw how much she enjoyed reading. Even now we share books. She was certainly the greatest inspiration to me. I also had several teachers who encouraged me in my desire to write.

What were your favorite books as a child?

When I was twelve years old I read Christy by Catherine Marshall and loved it. I probably read it three times after that. I also remember my mother reading Heidi to me, and then I read that to my kids. Iíve probably read every Nancy Drew book that was ever written and all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. When I was younger I loved mysteries from various authors.

What message would you like your readers to take away from this book?

Itís the same message that I hope the readers take away from all of my books, based on Romans 8:28. All things work together for good to those who love God. I feel like the basic theme of all my books is that God is a redeemer. He can take the worst situation and turn it into something good. We donít always see what that good is on this side of Heaven. But we can trust that he will somehow take even the really rotten things in our lives and bring some good from them. No matter how hard I try to write a book with a different message than that, it always seems to come back around to that. I may start with forgiveness or brokenness, but eventually it comes back around to that same theme of redemption.

What is your Favorite verse from the Bible?

Romans 8:28- And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.

What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?

I want to provide wholesome entertainment for Christians. After I outgrew Nancy Drew and started reading adult books. Iíd get three chapters into a book and realize that I didnít want to read any further because they werenít wholesome books. At first I thought of writing for the secular market, but then I realized I wouldnít be allowed to use the name of Jesus. But without Jesus, what hope would there be for people? Thatís when I decided I wanted to write for the Christian market instead of the ABA. There seems to be more of a crossover market, now, which is very encouraging.

What is your upbringing and education?

I met my husband, Ken, right after high school and went to one year of college before we got married. Then I went through one more semester of college, majoring in English and Literature. After that, we moved to New York because my husband was looking for work in the publishing industry. We lived in Monsey for about a year, then moved farther upstate to Fort Montgomery near West Point We currently live near Wichita, Kansas.
Ken works as an advertising manager but continues to create art every spare moment. He wrote and illustrated a couple of childrenís books a few years ago, but his primary interest is art. He has started doing digital art in the past year and is creating some really beautiful work.
Actually, he and I wrote a trilogy together for 8- 14. Itís a fantasy/allegory on the order of The Chronicles of Narnia. We had a blast writing it, and Ken did dozens of illustrations for it. Weíre still in search of a publisher.

For more books and information about Deborah Raney.

Deborah Raneyís Website is: www.deborahraney.com