PM: Thank you so much for joining me a second time here on the blog, Valerie, and allowing me to ‘pick your brain’ for another Coffee with Paula chat! You are without a doubt one of my most favorite authors – and a dear friend now as well!
VC: I’m delighted to be back! And now that we have met in real life, we really are friends. Although online friends are real friends, too, of course. It’s just different. Never mind. I think I might be talking myself into a corner here…
PM: I completely understand, i felt close to you even before we met in person – that was a blessing and a bonus, and I treasure it!
I just adore reading your books, I fell in love with my very first one – Raspberries and Vinegar – and just knew when I came to the end of Jo and Zach’s story that I had to find more books by you! I have read everything you have written and feel as if I came to know you through your writing. Do you feel as if you “leave” a part of yourself in every novel?
VC; I’m sure that’s true to a certain degree. Even the characters that are as different from me as possible still have something that I can identify with. It might be a hobby, maybe, or a relative like one of mine! Either way, I know my (strange) sense of humor and my worldview shine through regardless.
PM: I believe we have become friends over the years of knowing each other, and you continually surprise me in every book you write. You have told me that you your writing style is giving it over to God and letting him lead you, which is one more thing I love about you! I know you have told me that the characters have actually surprised you with their stories, can you elaborate on that a little so your readers can better comprehend?
VC: Writers tend to classify themselves as either plotters or pantsers. Plotters think through a story and have a good understanding of the high and low points of the story before writing it. Pantsers don’t. We write “by the seat of our pants,” which is just as messy as it sounds!
I do quite a lot of setting and character work before starting a story and have a general idea of the themes, since these often come from the title. But the details of the plot come to me as I write, and I’m very aware of the lack of road signs ahead. It’s vital I remember God knows the story, knows what the readers will need, etc, and I just need to be faithful to show up and put my hands on the keyboard.
This means I don’t always know what makes my characters tick. What childhood trauma may come back to haunt them, or that sort of thing. I usually don’t know what the black moment will be about until I get close to writing it. (The black moment is that part of the story toward the end when everything seems lost.)
I hate to give specific examples because they contain spoilers, but I’ll say I had one character who owned a health food store. Through the course of the story, amid the black moment with the heroine, he decided to sell the business. At first, I thought he would only think about it but something would come up to deter him.
When I realized the sale would, in fact, go through, I spent a couple of hours pacing my office railing at him. While it seemed inevitable and necessary, it surprised me, and I didn’t know where the story went from there! Since then, I’ve come to realize that if I don’t see it coming, probably the reader doesn’t, either. So maybe it’s a good thing.
PM: Your many novels have a running theme of locally sourced food…the “farm to table” movement, if you will. Can you tell us how you have become so passionate about this and why?
VC: A little family history. Both my husband’s parents and mine were self-sufficient farmers. Both of us were raised with gardens and home-canned fruit and meals from scratch and bread fresh from the oven. Our parents didn’t have money for eating out or fancy ingredients. We didn’t, either, as newlyweds or young parents. In fact, cash wedding gifts bought us our first deep freezer! We grew a garden from the very first summer – I think we have missed twice in 40 years. So, at first, our lifestyle was a combination of necessity and what we knew.
But as time went on, we began to realize we ate much better than many folks who had a bigger budget. It became a bit of a crusade to source the freshest ingredients! In the early 2000s, we became involved in a local food coalition, and I sat on the board for two years. Around that time, our son and his wife graduated from university, and our daughter-in-law was hired as the manager of our local farmers market. I was astonished to discover that their friends were jealous they were moving out of the city to live on a farm and grow their own food!
That’s about when I began writing. They say to write what you know, and with my newfound knowledge that urban twenty-somethings were eager to connect with their food sourcing, the Farm Fresh Romance series was born.
PM: In a lot of your stories the characters have a close relationship with Jesus, sometimes they have veered off the path a bit, but they always come back around. How hard is it for you to write a character that has not had any sort of Christian background? Do you struggle with the character’s journey just as they do?
VC: Since I can’t control the story’s plot… sigh… I do my best to make sure the characters are unique so that each story will have an arc I haven’t written before. So I really try to mix up their backgrounds and their faith experience. I just think it is more realistic to have characters who struggle with faith or, in some cases, haven’t been exposed to it much before, rather than write only believers.
Is it hard to write? I do my best to get inside my characters’ heads. Their education, their family, their personality, their belief system, everything. So I wouldn’t say the faith journey is harder to write, specifically.
And yet, the outcome of that journey is a deal-breaker in Christian fiction. I can’t, in good conscience, write a cheerful happily-ever-after without the couple both confessing their faith and desiring to follow God’s will. So that additional story arc needs to come to an unforced conclusion before the final chapter or two.
PM: The ever powerful community in your books is another running theme – something I truly wish I had in real life – is this something you have in your everyday life, or do you write it from a position of longing for that type of environment?
VC: You’re going to hate me. It is not something I have in my daily life, and it’s not something I would enjoy. I’m an introvert through and through, and having so many people in my business would drive me crazy!
I can see the appeal of living in community. I can see why my readers are drawn to it. Sometimes I think it would be cool, and then I remember who I am and that I need far more solitude than that.
PM: Hahaha – I could never ‘hate’ you! Most everyone knows about your health scare in 2017, I am pleased you are recovering so well, can you tell our readers what changes you have been through since then?
VC: Sure. For those who don’t know, I had a near-fatal heart attack in October, 2017. I’d been having undiagnosed health issues for two and a half years at that point, and my energy levels were way down. I was writing (that doesn’t take too much physical stamina!) but I’d drawn a lot into myself just to survive.
After the heart attack, it took a few months to begin feeling like a normal human being again. By then, I’d been out of the loop for nearly three years, and it was hard to relearn how to market books with all the changes on Amazon and other retailers.
But I’ve also really worked hard on work-life balance. I tend to be a workaholic, which isn’t healthy. But more importantly, my family and my church need my full attention at times, too. I can’t run on business fumes alone.
PM: Your family is so important to you, and I love the closeness you have with your children and grandchildren. Working with your son and daughter-in-law daily on the farm must be challenging, just as working long distance with your daughter, who happens to be your cover artist. How are you able to balance the working relationship and the personal parent / child dynamics without issues?
VC: Yes, our son and his wife have lived on our forty-acre farm for the past eight years. It has been far more of a delight than a challenge to have them next door and to see our seven-year-old granddaughter nearly every day. They have gone through phases of raising pigs and chickens – we just let them have at it when they want to!
Due to a variety of circumstances, our farmland is leased out to a neighbor at the moment, so there are few conflicts. Everyone has day jobs off the farm except me – my day job is at home! Of course, right now with the pandemic, things have changed in our family dynamics, and I’m thankful my DIL offered to be my personal shopper. A couple of weeks ago I taught her how to make sourdough bread via Facetime. We have a good relationship.
Right now it seems forever since I’ve seen our daughter’s family, but in reality it was early March. They live a couple of hours away, so it’s not unusual to go a few weeks. I definitely miss grandgirl hugs! But they will happen again.
My daughter has done all my covers except the cowboy series. We have a good relationship, too. I enjoy having unique covers with her illustrations, and it’s impossible to know whether (ultimately) they’ve helped or hindered sales. Some readers comment they love them, while others say they look like kids’ books. We talk shop about sales and conversions and trends, and I know my daughter wants my books to sell well whether she has a hand in them or not. I think it works out.
PM: What would be the one (main) thing you would like for your readers to take away after reading one of your novels?
VC: The main thing? I hope and pray each reader finds something that speaks to her deep in her heart, whether it’s a major revelation or a little nugget that resonates.
PM: I always find something in your stories, and they stay with me forever! Here’s a tough one – if you weren’t a writer, what would you see yourself doing day in and day out?
VC: If I could talk to Past Valerie, the high school graduate, I’d encourage her to become an architect specializing in alternative construction like straw-bale houses. But, you know, I met my husband in high school and we married three years later. Then we lived in a small town, far from a university, so higher education didn’t happen. I can’t bring myself to be too sad about that. I like my life.
So… I don’t have an answer!
PM: I adore the unusual homes you create in story land, especially in the Farm Fresh Romance series! I have so enjoyed getting recipes and food tips in your novels – to this day I drink my Sunday coffee with honey and mocha, mmm, yes! I also know you have some amazing recipes on your website – have you ever entertained the thought of writing a cookbook? I’d be your first buyer, just so you know, lol!
VC: I’ve thought of writing a cookbook. I’ve also thought of half a dozen other ideas for related nonfiction. But then, every time I finish writing a novel, I start writing the next one, so I’ve come to accept that I’m a novelist. Maybe someday a nonfiction project will demand to be the next thing on my list, but so far, they’ve been easy to brush aside.
PM: I love how you have different series in your writing – but what some people may not realize is your characters will pop up in other series, cross-over style, if that sounds right. I, for one, get so tickled when I come across them – it’s like finding a hidden treasure! What I am curious about is how in the world you keep them all straight?
VC: I only hope I actually do keep them straight! But the real answer is, I have one spreadsheet to rule them all. I have a timeline that is color-coded by series with the major events marked on them, both the months that each story covers, but also all relevant births, marriages, and deaths, as well as other major events that might be significant to other books or other series.
That’s the ‘when.’ The ‘where’ and ‘who’ I just keep in my head. It’s a strange place in there. So far it’s worked out. 😀
PM: I work with spreadsheets daily, i can only imagine what your’s must look like, lol! Thanks again for joining me today, Valerie, it means a lot to me! How can readers keep up with you and your new releases?
VC: Thank YOU! The best place is my newsletter, which generally releases twice a month. The next best place is Inspy Romance, where I blog monthly. The third best place is at my own website, which is actually the best place for finding all my books, all my series, all my links.
I am terrible at social media. I was better at it before the heart attack, but I’ve never quite gotten as involved as I was before. I don’t know why.
PM: Finally, coffee or tea? Cream, sugar?
VC: Coffee with cream and a non-glycemic sweetener! I’ve been completely off sugar since not long after the heart attack. My current favorite sweetener is a monkfruit-erythritol blend such as the one made by Lakanto. Try it! Tastes like sugar with none of the harmful, addictive stuff.
Erm. You didn’t invite me here to proselytize my sugar-free life!
PM: I love how you share your sugar free life, and maybe it will help others as well, thank you!