The Way of WomenThe Way of Women
Lauraine Snelling
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Amid the smoke and lava of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, three women face unthinkable tragedy. Children's author Katherine searches for her depressed husband and their son. Mellie seeks Daniel, who's taken a logging job to pay for their daughter's chemotherapy. And fashion photographer Jen joins Sheriff McKenzie in an evacuation expedition. Who will survive? 384 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.

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Lauraine Snelling

Favorite Bible Verse: 1st Corinthians 13; not the verse the entire chapter.

Our Interview with Lauraine Snelling

How did choose the setting?

The story started with me back in 1983. It kind of walked on stage. They do that with me sometimes. Iíve been living with those people for a long time in my head. They just became.

What inspired you to write the book about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the repercussions from it?

My first story about the eruption was a childrenís book called ďTragedy on the Toutle.Ē My dream was to write stories for kids. Mary Stewart wrote something that said she always did two types of books from her research. So I thought, now that Iím done with the childrenís book, itís time to write the adult one. At that time, nobody was interested in buying it. It was too close to the time of the tragedy. Mt. St. Helensí eruption was too fresh in everybodyís mind.

I only wrote the first third of it. And that changed a great deal. I sent it out a couple of times in the intervening years, but there wasnít a market for it at that time. I believe that the story had to wait until I could write it well enough. Every book you hopefully write better than the one before. Itís a case of the writer being ready and the market being ready. God knew when it was the perfect time to write.

Where do you live in California?

We live in Tehachapi up in the mountains north of Los Angeles.

How did you get started as a writer?

I always dreamed of being a writer from the time I was in high school. Everybody raved about my stories. I thought someday Iíd like to do that. Then life got in the way. I was an education major in college, and then got married before I finished and had children. I always knew some day I was going to be a writer. As I look back, I wrote a lot in those years but didnít consider it writing. My dream was to write horse stories for kids.

My kids were teenagers and my mother heard about a conference. She got a mailing that Iíd never heard about. It was a God thing. I wasnít going to go, but finally went to the conference and was totally blown away. I had no idea all the different kinds of things there were to write.

One of the best things about the conference was that three of us formed a writing critique group, Pat Rushford, Ruby MacDonald and I. We met at the conference, and then we met once a week for the next five years before I moved away. I lay everything to the fact that I had to write something every week. I had that deadline. I tried everything. I wrote for a newspaper for awhile. I wanted to make money. This was my job I was a stay-at-home mom and looking at kids going to college soon. It was a business from the beginning and also a lifetime dream. That was in 1980.

Then the mountain erupted. Immediately, I saw a story for kids in that. We had a horse named Cimarron who lived in our backyard. He became the secondary character in ďTragedy on the Toutle.Ē I wrote that one and just loved it and knew immediately that I wanted to write something for adults on the mountain, too. But it was too close. So I didnít do it right away.

I started the story in 1983 but it was still too close. I gathered every bit of research I could find, and this friend of mine, Linda Wallmyer, who went to the historical society and everywhere. She made sure I had all the copies of all the newspapers, every article, every book every video etc. that came out about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

We took our kids hiking and camping up on Spirit Lake, on Mt. St. Helens. We loved it. To see that desecrated like that, we couldnít bear it. We went up once, right to Toutle River to see what things were like and saw the blue bug, the beetle, the VW sitting up in the tree.

Oh, that was true?!

Oh yes, almost everything thatís in The Way of Women, other than the stories of the women themselves, actually happened. It was a huge Alder tree with mud up to the beetle. When the flood went, it just parked this car right up in the top of the tree! Itís amazing that the tree stood.

Did you go up in the helicopter?

No. I never have. We watched the videos over and over. I also have a pretty active imagination but we had tons of pictures to look in to that crater and weíve been back there since and looked into it. It was such a part of us; of everything we watched on television, we were right there.

Did you live in Oregon at the time?

No we lived in Vancouver, Washington. We watched it all go on. When it happened, we were up in Bremerton, Washington, for a baptism. When we got home, we were one of the last cars that got past Toutle. They were closing the road right behind us. We got ďashedĒ on, too. We knew most of Mt. St. Helenís story first-hand.

What are some of the challenges you face being an author?

One of my biggest challenges is to keep my seat in the chair long enough to get the writing done. There are so many things I like to do, and have to do.

Do you have another business?

I have writing conferences and workshops that I do, too.

Do you prefer writing historical or contemporary fiction?

Yes. Theyíre so different. People tell me that once theyíve read a few of my books. That they can always recognize my writing no matter what I was writing. I get to write totally different stories with different styles, with the two genres. So I love to do both. This is where my problem comes in, I probably end up contracting. more than Iím comfortable with. But I have so many stories to tell.

Who was it that said they didnít want to die with a song still in them? I donít want to die with a story still in me, either. I have a lot to tell and new ones keep coming.

How long did The Way of Women take you to complete?

2o years. Probably 4-5 months. I do three books per year.

How did you choose Mt. St. Helens as the setting for your book?

Because Mt. St. Helens was such a wonderful part of my life. To see her go through the agony of all of that was really heartbreaking. That setting was just so real to me and itís like writing a book during the war. Thereís a lot of conflict going on you donít have to dig it up. The mountain was just so special to us to see her go through all that. Thatís why I did the really unusual thing and put the mountain as a character.

She took on a life of her own.

Thatís the way people look at Mt. St. Helens. They look at her as a she. Interesting that Mt. Rainer is a he. Mt. Baker and Mt. Hood are he. Mt. St Helens has always been a she. I think it may be because she was named with a feminine name but she has always had a feminine beauty about her too.

Do you have a favorite character? Why?

When I first wrote it, Frank was going to be my favorite character. I think Kathryn started out being my favorite character. I guess not. There wasnít anyone I enjoyed writing about more than the others. Each woman was so different that I had to put myself in a different frame of mind for each one of them.

How personal are your novels?

Jack London said it very well. He said that Ēevery writer is part of every character.Ē For him at the end of every book heíd finish the book read it, look back and figure out what character heíd been that time. Everything you are as a human being becomes part of who you are as a writer because you have to draw on every emotion; everything in order to create those characters. A person with very little life experience doesnít have the wealth of information to draw on. I have 62 years of wealth to draw on and Iím using it.

Are there any new projects on the horizon?

Opal is the third book in the Dakotah Treasures series. Have you read Ruby? This series came about because I had a friend that said Iíll bet I have a story you canít write about. Iíll bet you canít write about prostitutes. Iím still enough of a kid I guess that I have to take dares. We laughed and talked about it. The basis for Ruby Ruby is that sheĎs a governess for a family. She receives a letter from her long lost father that she hasnít seen in five years. He says you have to come west for your inheritance. She and Opal get on the train and head west. Come to find out, their inheritance is a saloon with three prostitutes. Itís very much a redemption story. Itís the first story that I actually set out to write comedy. Thereís always comedy in my books because thatís part of who I am and my life and I love to make people laugh, but this was the first time I set out to write a funny book. There are certain parts that are hysterical. Pearl is the schoolteacher that comes to that town and Opal is the younger sister. Thatís who Iím writing about now. This is the time set in the Bad Lands. I love the Bad Lands, so Iíll be doing another contemporary book set in that same area.

What is the name of it?

Right now weíre calling it ďSacred Scribbles.Ē

The next one is a contemporary set in San Francisco. The working title for that one is called "Saturday MorningĒ, which I think is a perfect title for it. Thatís another ensemble story. I love writing about what women do for each other when they get together. When women get together and work on a project, they donít just work on a project. When men get together they do the project, talk about baseball scores, whatever, Women get together and work on getting what needs to be done, but we also fix each other. Iíve had so many women write and say they wish they could belong to a group of women like I write about in my stories, theyíve written that about the ďRed River Series,Ē and especially about ďHealing Quilt.Ē Those women had something special and they want that.

I thinks itsí sad that women are trying to have it all, (which I totally agree with,) but we just have to space it out in our lives more than men do, in order to make it happen. Women need to have time and make time to keep other relationships with women going. I think itís so critical that we have special gifts to give each other that youíre not going to get any other way. Pick up the pieces and go on when itís tragedy, and rejoice and have a wonderful time when itís good stuff.

Another fun project coming up is a novella for Harlequin where a couple meet with their bassets and the bassets bring them together.

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

After I started writing?

Two mentors that I had in the very beginning made such a huge impact on my life. Colleen Reece. She was teaching at Warner Pacific and has become a life long friend. Lee Roddy stood behind me in the lunch line and asked, ďWhat is it you want to write?Ē I answered that it looks like I have to write articles and devotions in order to learn to write. He said, ďthatís not what I asked. I said, ďWhat do you want to write?ĒĒ I want to write horse books for kids.Ē

He said, "Whatís stopping you?Ē

I kind of looked at him and stuttered. The best way to learn to write is to write. Shortly after that, Mt. St. Helens blew and I immediately saw a horse book set in that valley. I started writing about that and I learned about marketing. I learned from the very beginning that you have to market, which is why Iíve got as many books done.

What were your favorite books as a child?

I loved Little Women. I read all of Louisa May Alcottís books. I also read all kinds of horse and dog books. I was an animal lover all my life so thatís what I read. The Black Stallion books were great. I loved them too, and ďThe Ponies of Chincoteague.Ē

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

How women take care of each other, because thatís what I saw those three women doing.

The other thing is that in all my books thereís always a message of forgiveness and the need for forgiveness. In my mind, one of the hardest things in life is that people donít forgive each other. If we donít forgive each other, we miss out on too much of life, we get sick and do all kinds of things. Thatís what God says and thatís whatís true. The message is not only forgiving others but forgiving yourself.

What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?

My first mission as a writer is to entertain. I want people to read my books and to laugh and cry and be sad when the book is done. Too many writers think they have to have a message and then they write to the message instead of writing to the characters and the entertainment.

However, the next stage, as Christian writers, we have the incredible gift that the Holy Spirit will take what we write and will use our words and our characters in ways far beyond what we know or understand. I have people write to me and say this is what I got out of your book. I read the letter and say to myself,Ē thatís not what I wrote in the book.Ē Thereís no page where youíre going to find what Iím talking about. But, because they can relate to my characters and whatís going on, lives get changed, but itís not my problem. I hear people say, ďI want to change lives with my books.Ē If I have that as my goal, then I will focus on that rather than tell the story and have my characters live out what Iíd like people to see.

What is your favorite verse from the Bible?

Yes! I think I use Romans 8:28 a lot but that isnít my favorite.

I know what would be my favorite of all is 1st Corinthians 13. Not the verse the entire chapter. I love that. It depends on where you are and what day with your life.

Jim Watkins always signs all his things, ďMay you prosper as your soul prospers.Ē Thatís a wonderful verse, so some days itís that one and other days itís ďKeep your mouth shut and let the Holy Spirit talk.Ē Itís not written specifically like that, but itís in there!

Another favorite because it was given to me at a time when I was in such desperate need, itís from Psalms 56:8-9 God loves you so much heíll put all your tears in a bottle. We need to be reminded sometimes how much God loves us, heights, depth, breadth, all of it.

I use Isaiah 40.

I use that one in the second kidís series that I wrote. Triciaís father was dieing of cancer he wrote verses to her on 3x 5 cards which she put up on her wall and on her desk, around her dresser. When died she took them all down and threw them away. And her mother pulled them out of the trash and put them in his journal. When Trish was finally ready to read the journal the cards were in it for her and it was just like her father speaking to her all over again.

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