Marcia Gruver went to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in 2007 never expecting to leave with her first contract, but that’s just what she did. At the awards ceremony, Barbour editor Rebecca Germany shocked Marcia by announcing to the assembly that Barbour was awarding her a three-book contract. The first of those books, Diamond Duo, was released last month, launching Marcia’s career as a published writer.
Marcia’s deep south-central roots lend a Southern-comfortable style and touch of humor to her writing. She tends to weigh in on eternally significant issues, and her true passion is Christian fiction.
Marcia uses writing to share her faith in Jesus Christ. She says: “Writing is a blessed vocation, even without the unction to write for God. When you experience the sensation of the Holy Spirit guiding the pen, it becomes a high calling. Writing is this introvert’s God-given way to share the Good News.”
•Marcia, your debut novel is on the shelves of the brick and mortar booksellers as well as those in Cyberspace, and you’ve just completed your first blog tour. That has to be very exciting. What I want to do, though, since my blog focuses on Romance Writers on the Journey, is to go back in time. Long before you landed that first contract, you’d published various articles, poems and devotionals? How long have you been writing? What early experiences stand out and why? And what training did you have before you starting selling your first pieces?
In early 2000, I taught the three- to five-year-olds at my church. Unhappy with our curriculum, I began playing around with writing my own, complete with elaborate props including a whale the children could crawl inside, puppet skits for a monkey named Anna Banana, and memorable object lessons like the one entitled Stinky Cheese. Sadly, it was memorable because it involved a tub of limburger.
This exercise in creative writing turned out to be a fantastic proving ground for an author. Some of my first published articles, appearing in Children’s Ministry Magazine, sprang from my experiences as a children’s church leader. In 2002, I attended Marlene Bagnull’s Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. I consider this conference a springboard to everything that’s happened since.
• As a writer, I noticed immediately that you have a great handle on craft. But even more impressive is the way you turn a phrase. You come up with one clever metaphor, simile or description after another. No clichés for you. Sometimes when I read a story, I feel like I’m enjoying a glass of milk. Your story is more like a cup of hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles—rich, sweet and satisfying. When did you discover your voice? Or were you one of those gifted people who sat down to write and produced amazing work from the get go?
Wow! Thank you, Keli. You wrote an awesome description there. I might borrow it.
Seriously, I don’t know about amazing work, but I’m very aware that God gave me the ability to hear the music in prose. It’s a wearisome gift at times, because whether in a manuscript or an email, (or an interview) I’ll tweak a sentence to death until I can hear the song. I just can’t help myself.
•When did you begin to write with a goal of publishing a romance novel in mind? How many manuscripts did you complete before you sold?
With Diamond Duo, I didn’t sit down to write a romance. As the story evolved in my head, I realized the relationship between Bertha Maye Biddie and Thaddeus Bloom was integral to the story.
I tinkered with a contemporary for a while in the beginning—the beginning being sometime in 2002, I think. The book is finished, but still very rough. I have two other semi-complete novels, a contemporary love story and an adventure. For now, I think my voice is much more suited to a historical setting.
•You started writing novel-length manuscripts and experienced some success, placing in contests, including third in the 2007 ACFW Genesis. What part did entering contests play in your journey to publication? Would you encourage others to enter contests? What do you see as the rewards and drawbacks of doing so?
The first advice I give when asked by a budding author is to enter contests and to find a good critique group. The feedback from both of these sources can be invaluable in tweaking your manuscript, or in some cases, helping you develop the rhino hide you’ll need to handle criticisms and rejections—or as we call them in my group, redirections.
•I had the privilege of reading Diamond Duo as an influencer. Not only was the writing great, but your story is also gripping and your characters delightful. I’m impressed with how you took a real event and wove it into a gripping tale. As an “author of factual fiction,” how do you go about conducting the research for your stories? How much time do you invest to insure that you get your facts nailed the way you do?
My husband’s job requires a great deal of travel, mostly to small, out-of-the-way towns. In every place we visit, there’s a local legend or some scandalous tale—perfect material around which to weave a fictional story.
Since I began writing historical novels, I’ve developed a great appreciation for works of fiction filled with intricate descriptions of another era. I can’t imagine tackling a job that size. I’ve spent days rooting out one obscure fact or verifying the authenticity of a single detail. I’ve actually rewritten whole passages to avoid the mention of an element I couldn’t confirm.
Writing and researching historicals is a lot of work. Don’t let anyone tell you different. As I’ve said in other interviews, I doubt you ever get it completely right, and there’s always someone waiting out there to call you on your mistakes.
•You did a wonderful job of incorporating a faith element into the story. How do your beliefs influence the way you write? In what ways have you seen the Lord working in your writing life? Who would you say God has provided as your source(s) of encouragement on your path to publication?
Devotion to my Savior is the reason I started to write. I wanted to leave a legacy of faith for my children and grandchildren. I wanted my testimony to survive me, to continue carrying God’s message of hope long after I’m gone. Any success I achieve in writing will be because God is honoring this heartfelt desire.
The encouragers He has sent me along the way are my fellow writers who love books and authors, and who delight in the success of others. People just like you, Keli.
•What do you find to be the most challenging aspect(s) of writing. The most rewarding? What advice would you give to those of us dreaming of landing our first contracts?
Who knew the most challenging aspect of writing would be fulfilling the first contract? Previously I’d written just for me—when I felt like it. Suddenly I had a commitment to write for someone else. With no prior practice at calculating minimum daily word counts or required number of pages per day, it can be daunting at first. The most rewarding? What else? Holding that first book in your hot little hands. Good reviews are nice, too. Hey, I’m honest.
Advice? I’d say never give up. Truthfully, if you’re able to give up then it wasn’t your passion to begin with, right?
Okay, something more tangible? Attend every conference you can afford, join every online group you have time for, enter contests, get in a critique group where you’re the worst writer in the bunch (they’ll pull you up to their level), hang out with published authors (they really will rub off on you), and simply write, write, then write some more.
•And now a question just for fun. Barbour’s announcement in front of hundreds of writers and publishing professionals was an amazing experience—and a dream come true. If a generous benefactor with unlimited funds asked you to find one person you know and plan to make his or her dream come true, who would that be and what surprise would you arrange for him or her?
What a great question! This one’s easy.
I watched my single-parent daughter carry the weight of the world on her shoulders while trying to raise my grandsons all alone. They’re grown now, and I can’t give her back those years, but I’d use the money to lift any financial burden she still carries and allow her the luxury to decide for herself what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
•In closing, do you have any final thoughts or perhaps a question you’d like to ask your visitors?
I’ll have to throw out the same question asked of me. I told you mine, now tell me yours. Whose dreams would you love to see come true?
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All those who leave a comment for Marcia have a chance to win an autographed copy of Diamond Duo that she’s donated. I’ll hold the drawing the evening of November 25.
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Congrats to Tammy Doherty, winner of the drawing!
Learn More About Marcia
Visit her Web site: www.marciagruver.com
Read her blog: The Yielded Quill