DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched Deb’s writing career. Twenty years, thirty books, and numerous awards later, she's still creating stories that touch hearts and lives. She and husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas for life in the city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four grown children and seven grandchildren who all live much too far away.
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Get to know Deborah...
You and Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself and writing...
If not for the severe bronchial pneumonia and asthma I suffered from age six, I seriously doubt I’d be a writer today. That’s how God takes lemons and turns them into lemonade. I grew up on a farm, and it was not fun being told I had to stay inside while my younger brother and sisters were out riding the tractor with my dad, searching for the new batch of kittens in the barn, and exploring the countryside. But bless my sweet mom, she turned that time into a magic all its own when she introduced me to books!
The summer I turned 11, and read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books is the first time I’d put two and two together and realized books had authors, and being an author was a real job! From that moment, I knew I wanted to write a book someday. But after a false start at age 12 (when I wrote airplanes into a novel set in the 1700s before the Wright brothers had been born, let alone gone to Kitty Hawk!) real life took over and it wasn’t until I was 38, and the mom of four that I started writing for real!
The Lord blessed us with an “oops” baby when our older kids were 14, 10, and 8. I desperately wanted to stay home with her, as I had with the older three, but I also desperately needed to make money to help our oldest through college. God tapped me on the shoulder in December of 1993, and on New Years Day, I sat down and started writing. I wrote seven days a week, until May of that year, when I finally wrote “the end.”
Seventeen rejections later, I ended up with three publishers vying for my manuscript. Bethany House is who I chose, and the two-book contract I signed with them was to-the-penny the amount we’d just been told four years of college—room, board, and tuition—would cost for our son. Talk about an answer to prayer!
I guess the rest is history! I’ve been writing pretty much full-time since then, and recently turned in my thirtieth novel, the final book in the Chicory Inn Novels series from Abingdon Press. I have another three-book series in negotiations, and I’m delighted to be living the life I dreamed of that long-ago summer.
Emilie here: Wow, what an encouraging story! It's always such a blessing when we can look back and see how the Lord has directed us - sometimes it takes longer than we'd like, but His plan is always best!
Tell us a little bit about your book...
What was a challenge you faced while writing Close to Home?
One of the biggest (yet happiest) challenges I faced while writing this book was the births of two new grandbabies! One in Seattle, and one in Missouri. Of course, this “Mimi” had to go visit both of those babies! There were tons of other things vying for my attention during this time. But then, that’s just real life. And certainly the norm in the life of a writer—or anyone else! You deal with it, and do the best you can.
We're your characters easy to pin down or did you discover them along the way as you wrote the book? Like my heroine in Close to Home, I fell in love with both of the men in her life! And while I’d always known which one she’d end up with, my heart broke for the other guy!
What made you choose the setting for the book?
I set the entire series of novels in the fictional town of Langhorne (as in Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the real name of Missouri author Mark Twain), Missouri, near Cape Girardeau. It was a natural choice, given that both our daughters and four of our grandkids live near there. It meant I’d have plenty of excuses to visit my family in Missouri! Besides that, Southeast Missouri is such a beautiful and unique part of the country—very different from Kansas where I’ve lived most of my life, and where many of my previous novels were set.
What’s your favorite snack while writing?
Let’s talk about your writing life...
How long did you write before you got published?
I almost hate to answer this question because my story is not typical. I finished the first draft of my first novel in five months, and five months after that, I had three offers for my book. Not typical, but I was blessed to find a publisher who saw potential in my writing, and an editor who was willing to teach me all the things I didn’t know about writing well (and there were many!) I learned so much about the craft of writing while editing that first book (and learned most of all, how much I had to learn!)
The thing is, although I did my learning on the other side of a contract, I still had to learn how to write right! And hopefully I’ll never stop learning! I am always in the midst of reading a book on the craft of writing. (Currently it’s Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon.)
What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”?
I think the thing that made the biggest difference for me was community! Early on, I got involved with several different communities of writers. We shared joys and trials, we taught each other about the publishing industry and the craft of writing, we got together in person to brainstorm, to trade stories, and to pray for one another as writers and as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was—and remains—invaluable to have a virtual water cooler where we can process this crazy industry and the ups and downs of a writing career. Especially as an extreme extrovert, this has been so important to me. Twenty-plus years later, those same writers groups are a most important part of my life as a writer. I can’t recommend organizations like ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) enough! And attending writers conferences, where you’ll meet like-minded people, along with editors, agents, publishers, potential critique partners and brainstorming friends, who can help your career along.
Emilie here: I agree! Doing the writing life alone is not advisable in my book! I don't know what I'd do with out my close friends who talk me off the ledge of "trashing" my book occasionally!
What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process?
I am a bit of a strange duck in that I really despise first-drafting, and I absolutely adore rewrite and editing! To me, when a book becomes great is in the second and fifth and twentieth draft! I love layering in all the things that make a book so much richer and deeper—not just the themes and analogies and message, but also the smells and sounds and tastes, even the music—the metaphorical soundtrack—of a novel, that bring the story to life.
How do you balance your writing life with “real” life? Any tips or tricks to share?
A few quick tips:
- Keep the Sabbath. Not only does God “recommend” it, but medical science tells us it’s good to take a day off. We’re more productive and creative when we let ourselves rest one day a week.
- Train your family and friends to treat your writing career as they would if you had a job outside the home. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you are available for phone calls, errands, etc. on someone else’s whim. Let your phone take messages during working hours and set aside specific times each week to run errands and do other tasks that interrupt your writing time.
- Learn to distinguish between ordinary interruptions (it’s okay to “just say no”) and divine interruptions (don’t miss a blessing or a God-given opportunity).
What is one thing you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing?
My husband and I have become avid gardeners—flowers, not vegetables, although I did grow my first tomato plant last summer, and was rewarded with dozens and dozens of wonderful tomatoes! We also have an apple tree that provides several pies and crisps worth of fruit each year. Ken and I love spending time outdoors, and it’s been so rewarding to create a beautiful oasis in our backyard. I spend as many days a year as Kansas weather allows working on the deck out back where our house overlooks a beautiful little park, and where our birdfeeders attract the usual feathered suspects, along with Canada geese, Mallard ducks, egrets, red squirrels, rabbits, and even the occasional deer and coywolf!
What are you currently reading?
I’m loving Courtney Walsh’s Change of Heart, although it’s been an exercise in frustration, because I’ve been on deadline with two different projects and all I want to do is sit and read this great book!
Emilie here: I think I "officially" met Deb at last year's ACFW conference (though I know I'd seen her before). I immediately felt like I'd known her forever. She treated me like a long lost friend and I felt so welcomed. So excited to feature her here on Thinking Thoughts!
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