Monday, May 08, 2006

Interview with Meredith Efken

Introducing the wonderful, the fabulous, the nutty and sometimes outrageous Meredith Efken. A SAHM herself, Meredith writes witty novels on subjects close to home, like homeschooling, adoption and her faith. She went from her first story at age seven to being a private school teacher, then returned to her passion of writing. And on top of all that she’s a student of the Vineyard Leadership Institute, a two-year course that combines seminary classes with real-life experience in serving a church. (She also likes dead bodies like us suspense writers but don’t tell anyone.)

DM: Meredith, I’m so tickled to have you here. Tell us a little bit about how you returned to writing and made it one of your careers.

ME: Thanks, Dineen! It’s fun to be here, despite the vicious dead-body rumors you are starting! ☺ I must say, I think I’ll have you write my bios from now on—much better job than I do.

Okay, my return to writing…gee, sounds like some sappy movie of the week. “Against all odds, a young teacher struggles to regain her dream of becoming an author.” Gag.

Anyway, I taught middle school English and History for one year at a Christian school. I loved the kids, but their parents were utter nightmares! (Well, a majority were, anyway.) And I made the oh-so-smart decision to get married over Christmas break of that year. So between dealing with school parents from you-know-where and the fact that teaching at a Christian school is basically a 24/7 job (don’t let that summer “break” fool you), I realized that if I stayed, I’d end up damaging my new marriage and totally burning out. So I resigned at the end of the year. I expected to get another teaching job, but God had other plans for me (like an adoption from China).

After we adopted our oldest daughter, I was able to stay home, and that’s when I decided it was really time to pursue a writing career. I never seriously considered writing as a career because I thought you had to be one of those really lucky, famous type of people in order to get published. It was so exciting to discover the truth—that writing is like any other business. You have a reasonable chance for success if you learn the business and work hard at it. The hardest part for me was creating that network in the publishing world. That happened through attending conferences and joining American Christian Fiction Writers. Those two steps really jumpstarted my career.

DM: You have a lot of hats to wear. How do you juggle them all and keep a balance?

ME: BALANCED? Boy do I have you fooled! But you’re right—it’s a lot of hats. Too many, honestly. I spend a lot of effort trying to remove as many hats as possible, but some of them have to just stay put on my head for the time being. I manage by being very, very particular about what new commitments I accept. I have had to scrutinize every single thing I’m involved in. I weigh the reasons and benefits for being involved in my activities against whether or not those activities are helping me achieve my goals in a way that is worth the time involved. There’s some really worthwhile, good things I’ve had to walk away from.

The other thing I’ve had to work hard at is time management. I really, really hate calendars and To-Do lists. I’ve avoided them for years. But this year, I finally had to face reality—I can’t keep track of everything in my head. Maybe my brain is just too small. Or maybe that’s the price of being the ripe old age of 31. But I’ve had to surrender and admit defeat…and learn how to use MS Outlook!

Confession: getting to buy a really cool handheld computer/PDA went a LONG way in sweetening my defeat. ☺

DM: As a writer, what do you find to be most challenging?

ME: LOL! See above! Really, that balancing act has been one of the biggest growth areas for me lately. The other is learning to write well under pressure and with the knowledge that now I have editors, an agent, and fans who have certain expectations of me. That’s been a real struggle this past year, and one I’m not sure I’ve completely overcome yet. It makes you really have to face your own insecurities and learn to deal with them instead of hide them in some musty corner of your soul. It’s not easy, but I’m not giving in…I’m that stubborn!

DM: What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?

ME: Favorite part? Coming up with a great zinger that is sure to make my husband laugh. Getting terrific reviews and enthusiastic fan mail. Being known as “that author.” Oops…that was more than one thing. Sorry…sorta. Least favorite? Being so blocked creatively that I realize I have nothing worthwhile to say. Wanting with all my heart to write better than I can. Admitting to envy when other authors (my FRIENDS, mind you) have better sales numbers, get more publicity, are on bestseller lists, etc. Those darker parts of my soul are the least favorite aspects of the writing process. Before I became a writer, I could keep those things hidden, even from myself. But I’m too passionate about my art to delude myself into thinking that those parts of me don’t exist.

DM: I LOVED your book SAHM I Am. I loved the characters, the humor, the storyline. How did you come to pick an “e-mail format” for the story?

ME: Basically, it boils down to my own insecurities. (Sheesh, you all are going to think I need professional therapy by the time I’m done with this interview!) I had never written humor before and wasn’t convinced I could. But as I thought about the different things I’d written, I realized that the ones that made people laugh the most were my emails. Not always, but every so often, I’d be writing an email and this delicious wit would show up. So I thought “Gee, maybe if I write the whole book in emails, then I can FOOL my brain into being witty!” Now you know—the emails are nothing more than my equivalent to Dumbo the Elephant’s “magic” flying feather. ☺

DM: LOL! Good analogy. I think what impressed me the most was the character development. The proverbs lady was my favorite. You could see her legalistic tendencies as well as her internal struggles for acceptance from her family so clearly. Very cleverly done. Tell us how you created such an interesting cast of women.

ME: Thanks! Well, Rosalyn (the proverbs lady) was a personification of that voice in my head that says “You’ll never be a good enough mom. You should do things this way. If you were really a good mom, you would NEVER do that!” Blah, blah, blah. (See, maybe I really do need therapy!) I just grabbed that voice by its disgustingly scrawny little neck and shoved it into the character of Rosalyn. It was VERY therapeutic!

The other characters started out as “types.” I won’t say stereotypes, because they didn’t stay there. But I knew my main character needed to be the most accessible, empathetic one—loveable, but a bit out of control. Then I wanted a soccer mom, an artsy woman, a tougher, more brittle gal, and an academic character. Those became Dulcie (the main character), Jocelyn, Zelia, Brenna, and Phyllis. To make them real people, I gave each of them a distinct voice, character arc, and personality. Because you don’t often discuss physical appearance in emails, I had to rely strongly on voice to shape the characters. This was a great exercise for me, as it forced me to really think about how each woman would sound. I even did my self-editing on the manuscript by reading through all the emails for each character separately and checking to make sure the voice was consistent all the way through the book. That really helped, and it’s something I plan to do on future work, even if it’s not an email format.

DM: You touch on the subject of adoption in the book, and I know this is a subject near and dear to your heart. Would you share a little about how adoption has affected your life?

ME: We adopted our oldest daughter from Kunming, China in 1999. It was one of the most amazing journeys of my life. I am so blessed that God put it in our hearts to adopt, and God-willing, we’ll get to go back to China for another adoption at some point. In the meantime, I have both my little girls (the second one is “home grown”) to love on. Adoption has always been significant in my life. My parents adopted three special needs children, and it taught me a lot about unconditional love and what truly comprises a family.

DM: Will there be a sequel to SAHM I Am? Can you give us a sneak peak?

ME: Yes, there’s a sequel! @Home For The Holidays will be out in November 2006, just in time for, well…the holidays. ☺ This story will continue all the storylines started in SAHM I Am, plus I had a lot of fun turning Rosalyn’s life upside-down and inside-out. There’s even a holiday riddle woven through the story, thanks to Jocelyn’s need to needle Rosalyn on her campaign to boycott local retailers for failing to wish customers “Merry Christmas” the year before. Lots of fun! Don’t be expecting any schmaltzy, warm-fuzzy “most wonderful time of the year” nonsense. The tagline for @Home For The Holidays is “It’s beginning to look a lot like chaos…”

DM: Love that line! Meredith, thank you so much for sharing with us. It’s been wonderful having you here.

ME: Thanks! As a live, warm body, I consider it a real honor to be interviewed by a suspense writer. I know you find corpses so much more interesting. But rest assured, when I die, you are welcome to do a follow-up interview, if you like. ☺

DM: ROTFL!!!! Won't that be memorable... ;-)

Meredith’s website is packed with great stuff. Be sure to check it out!

8 comments:

Jennifer Tiszai said...

You guys are too funny! LOVED the interview!

I really like the serial story Meredith did on eHarlequin using the same characters. What a great way to introduce people to your story.

The other thing that I think really rings true about Meredith's story is that we can all identify (either in ourselves or in people we know) with those women in her book.

And, c'mon, can't you have a dead body in your next book? It could be a new genre: mom-lit suspense.

:-)Ronie said...

FABULOUS interview, y'all!! Thanks, Dineen, for taking the time to draft this up and get it out to us.

Meredith--What a blessing you are! Thanks for sharing so openly.

Mirtika said...

Dineen, thanks for the interview. Meredith comes across just so real and likable. I enjoyed it a lot.

Mir

Paula said...

Great interview!! I loved the book and it was fun hearing more about Meredith. I interviewed her on my blog, too, but I have to admit that your interview is more fun!

Dineen--don't know if I've told you lately, but your sweet comments on my blog are such an encouragement!

Ane Mulligan said...

Wonderful interview! I love Meredith's humor. Thanks for sharing a laugh on a windy day.

Meredith Efken said...

Thanks, everyone! Jennifer, the sequel has no dead bodies...but there IS a private investigator! :) Paula, if this interview came off as a bit more fun, it's because I'm still learning how to do these things. Interview me after the sequel comes out, and we'll rock the house, okay? :)Again, thanks you, all--you're a blessing to me, too.

Heather Diane Tipton said...

Great interview Neenie!

Mary Connealy said...

great interview. Im a big SAHM I Am fan and cant' wait for Meredith's next book. I hated leaving all those characters behind at the end of the book.