Christine Schaub is the author of Finding Anna, the story behind the classic and beloved hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Her latest release is: The Longing Season–the story behind John Newton and “Amazing Grace.” Learn more about Christine at: www.christineschaub.com
Q: Christine, you seem like such a Renaissance woman. You’re a classical pianist, a three-time novelist, you have a background in corporate America, and you worked with at-risk youth! I even have a hunch that you can fix a flat tire. Is there anything you can’t do? Or are you the kind of person who loves to try new things and seek new challenges?
A: I’m definitely a try-new-things type of person. Growing up with boys and snowmobiles and motorcycles and tractors on a farm honed the daring part of my personality and convinced me there was nothing I couldn’t at least try to do. As a bonus, my parents were understanding—even encouraging—of these daring, creative adventures, often responding, “Well, if it doesn’t work out, you can always come home.” Can I change a flat tire? Yes—but I won’t as long as road service is a phone call away!
Q: I know you’ve shared this story in other interviews, but I hope you’ll describe how you were inspired with the topic of your first novel, Finding Anna.
A: Finding Anna is the novel-length story behind the beloved hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” In 1994, I was writing and performing original dramas for a local church when the music minister asked me if I could work up something on the hymn’s tragic origins. With a pianist playing the “movie soundtrack” behind me, I told “the rest of the story” to 1200 congregants and a whole series of hymnstories-as-dramas was born.
Flash forward eight years to Starbucks, cinnamon chai, and a conversation with a film agent about turning these stories into teleplays—screenplays for TV movies. He loved the idea, and we began shopping a quartet of hymnstories to various industries, including publishers. Bethany House Publishers was very interested in the idea, but wanted me to develop the stories into novels first. So I did, and the MUSIC OF THE HEART series launched in October 2005 with Finding Anna—a greatly expanded version of the first hymnstory I ever told.
Q: What have you most enjoyed about being an author?
A: Certainly, there is tremendous freedom in being one’s own boss. Many days, I work in my pajamas until two or three o’clock, when I’m forced to join the public to teach piano or run errands or take a meeting. My time is truly my own to twitter away or work diligently…and my boss rarely yells at me.
Q: Do you find writing easy or not? What’s the easiest part for you? What’s the hardest?
A: Writing has always been easy for me. Even in the corporate world, I found it amazing that someone would actually pay me to rearrange words! The easiest part of novel writing is identifying the plot’s turning points and developing the characters; the challenge is working in the massive research without appearing to work too hard at it.
Q: Are you still teaching piano? How does writing fit into a typical day?
A: I tell people I teach piano to support my fiction habit. Christian fiction makes writers very little money—a little-discussed reality. So I teach piano to 18 students three days a week to pay my bills. On those three days, I devote the mornings and early afternoons to marketing, publicity, correspondence—all necessary parts of publishing. The other four days I research, write, plot…but I write only when the muse shows up. I do not subscribe to the notion that writers should just write randomly, then toss it out and start over. That’s a very poor use of my time and creativity.
Q: What’s your motto?
A: I have two mottos in life that came from my childhood: (1) It’s no ‘til you ask. (2) Whatever happens, it’ll be a great story later.
Q: What would your “I’d rather be…” bumper sticker say?
A: “I’d rather be eating crêpes in Paris.”
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: I’m afraid I’m an inappropriate laugher—I snicker when people trip, when puppies run into walls, when old ladies’ wigs go askew. Isn’t that terrible? But I also appreciate fine, intelligent wit…the kind that makes me think for a moment, then erupt into laughter.
Q: Which writers have influenced you?
A: For plotting and page-turnability, it’s hard to top John Grisham and David Baldacci’s early stuff. For dialogue, few are better than Helen Fielding and Janet Evanovich. But for deep, emotional, gut-wrenching prose, I vote for Francine Rivers.
Q: Let’s say you were down in the Serengeti on a safari, and had the great misfortune of being chased up a tree by a very hungry but very patient lion, which two books would help you pass the time until help arrived? (A Bible was already tucked between two branches, previously left by a thoughtful individual who had a similar encounter with your lion.)
A: I’d hope to have handy A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and Time And Again by Jack Finney. I suppose it’s too much to hope that a newly published Lion Whisperer would be available…?
Q: Writers are faced with so much to do from a publicity standpoint. What promotional technique has been most effective for you? Least effective?
A: I tend to sell out when I’m a speaker and my product is available right after the talk. I suppose attendees feel like they’ve spent some quality time with me and know me, so the read will be that much more intense. Probably the least effective are poorly advertised/promoted book-signing events where I’m sitting in a corner of the store—no performance/reading, no Q&A…just me trying to lure unsuspecting readers to the table.
Q: Do you participate in writers’ conferences? Have they been beneficial to you? If so, what advice (or words of caution) would you give a first time attendee?
A: I’ve participated in screenwriters’ conferences in New York and Los Angeles. In fact, I won a competition in L.A. that was judged by (actress) Jacqueline Bisset as best overall Oscar Wilde-type comedy short. That win, alone, gave me credibility in the screenwriting industry.
I’d advise first-time attendees to race to any lectures specific to their genre (historical, sci-fi, action/adventure, romance) and problem areas in their writing (openings, endings, plotting, dialogue, settings, description), and walk out of any seminar that belittles or discourages writers. (You wouldn’t believe how many lecturers get a kick out of standing at a podium and demeaning their competition.)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have two projects in the works: (1) the third book in the MUSIC OF THE HEART series—the story behind George Matheson’s Scottish hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” and (2) a new action/adventure/comedy series that should have a publisher by Spring.
Q: Any advice to first-time writers on getting published?
A: Publishing is a business first and art form second. So spend as much time crafting your proposal as you spend crafting your sample chapters, i.e., if your genre is humor and your style is witty, your proposal had better be both; if your genre is mystery, your proposal should pose questions that beg the editor to find your answers.
Q: What about advice for the hot-off-the-press-ink-still-wet first-time author?
A: No one is going to care as much about your book as you do—not the publisher, not your agent, not your mother. So you have to get out there and promote, promote, promote. Promote fearlessly and thoroughly, and others will jump onboard your success train.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Editors are working for you—really. They’re usually very good at their jobs and want to present the best book to your readers. You can certainly fight for a few elements with justifiable facts and examples, but the majority of their comments will be spot-on. So if they ask you to cut an entire chapter—as my editor did with Finding Anna because it derailed the main plot—consider that they’re probably right. But if they ask you to eliminate a trademark aspect of your writing style—as my editor did with The Longing Season’s foreign dialects—make a strong and non-emotional argument for keeping it. The give-and-take can actually be quite fun and invigorating.