Thanks to everyone we met from Write! Toronto. We had a blast, and we hope you learned a few things about freelancing for a faith-based market.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Mags Storey about her debut novel. We chatted for over an hour while she made pb&j sandwiches for her kids, and I wondered… was that really an earthquake (yes, I was doing an interview during Ontario’s ‘was that an earthquake?’ tremor). If Only You Knew won 3 awards at the 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Awards.
LW: When did know that you wanted to be a writer?
MS: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s always been my main goal and my main dream. It’s a stressful goal and dream to have because it’s a hard industry to break into. I felt very foolish and silly for a very long time. I didn’t tell a lot of people I was writing, it was a secret.
LW: Which life experiences and people from your past did you draw on to write If Only You Knew?
MS: Each of the characters is based on four or five people including myself. Lots of bits from ex-boyfriends were woven in, hopefully in well disguised ways. The great thing about writing is you can take all your failures and all your mistakes and all of the things you did wrong; you get to take these moments and recreate them and turn them into art—into something wonderful and something funny and creative, and it touches people’s lives.
LW: Why a Christian YA novel?
MS: You write what you know, and you write what springs out of who you are. I started writing this book when I was in my early 20’s. This was the most natural extension of who I was as a person. I decided to keep the characters at the ages they are because that’s the stage of life where you really get freedom to find out who you are, what you believe, what you want to believe, where you fit, who you want to be in your life. So the characters are at this cusp of just beginning to get freedom. They’re trying to decide who they want to be, and that’s a really exciting stage of life to write about.
The book raises a lot of questions because of what the characters are going through, and the book gives you some answers, but not all the answers. At least the characters don’t find all the answers. If they did, it wouldn’t be real life.
LW: Tell me about your characters.
MS: I like these characters, they are real people. Jo and Sam are the kind of people who often don’t feel like they get a fair shake in our churches. Lisa is the kind of person who feels like in order to fit in she has to put on a mask and play a role. Nate is the kind of person who is struggling with a real and genuine faith, but is finding that very difficult to walk through and live, and to be.
LW: Who is your book written for?
MS: My book is for the girl who gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror and thinks:
- I’m ugly
- The guy I think is best in the entire world doesn’t want me
- The girl who I thought was my friend has now turned out to be a gossiping witch behind my back
- And I’m supposed to now believe God loves me?
- And because God loves me that is supposed to make everything better?
We don’t have a lot of books for people who look at themselves in the mirror and don’t like themselves. We don’t have books with heroines who find themselves unattractive. We don’t have romance novels about people who fall madly in love with someone who doesn’t like you back. This book is for people where that’s their reality.
LW: You break a few conventions that are fairly standard to Christian fiction and romance novels.
MS: I thought I had written the unpublishable novel. I never thought I would win any awards. In the past year, there have been book stores who wouldn’t let me have book signings. I remember when I was trying to get this book out, one church leader who I really respect said only silly people read books like that? Why would you write a book for silly people? I said then who is going to write good books for the silly people?
LW: What does winning the inaugural Grace Irwin award mean to you?
MS: It validates what I’m trying to do. It’s not just exciting for me—see that’s what I like. It’s exciting for people who like books like mine, and people who are going to be touched through books like mine.
It matters to me that I won this award because of the kind of book this is, because of what this book says, and what this book did. It matters so much to me.
The entries are open for the 2011 Canadian Christian Writing Awards. For more information, check out the awards sponsors: The Word Guild.