Christa Allan is a true southern gem whose essays have been published in two Chicken Soup anthologies, Cup of Comfort, and The Ultimate Teacher, as well as her wonderful contributions to Exemplify and Afictionado, the e-zine of American Christian Fiction Writers. Though writing is nothing new for Ms. Allan, she has just released her debut novel Walking on Broken Glass, an inspirational, uplifting and enduring novel sure to touch hearts everywhere from every realm.
Ms. Allan is the mother of five grown children, a grandma to three treasures and a high school English teacher. She resides in Abita Springs, Louisiana with her husband, Ken and their three furry cat kids.
I am thrilled to share the following interview with readers between myself and Christa Allan. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Once you have finished reading it, I truly hope that you take the time to check out Walking on Broken Glass.
First of all, could you tell us a bit about Walking on Broken Glass? What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.
My debut novel tells the story of Leah Thornton, a woman whose life looks pretty from the outside; she seems to “have it all.” But appearances can be deceiving because she’s a mess. She drinks to numb her pain, and, until her friend confronts her with the truth, she thinks no one else has noticed. Leah admits herself to rehab, and the novel — told from Leah’s point of view — follows her through her recovery as she attempts to discover who she really is and what she’s willing to sacrifice to find out.
Do you have a favorite excerpt from Walking on Broken Glass? Could you share that with us, please?
This is the Prologue:
If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my words.
If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with my words.
If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched or unseemly, can not be returned for replacement, I would have been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.
If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the moment out of time- if I had known, if I had known- I would have been more careful with my life.
What do you want readers to take away from reading Walking on Broken Glass?
So many events, even people, including ourselves don’t follow the “script” we’d written. Often when that happens, we feel as if God’s abandoned us. Sometimes God won’t follow the script we’ve written for Him! Instead of disappointment, despair or defeat, I hope readers come away with the hope that God’s grace can find us wherever we are. And sometimes we’re following exactly the script God had for us all along. My prayer is that readers find the courage to confront addiction-either in themselves or someone else — and feel reassured that they’re not alone. We may never know to whose prayers our lives are the answer.
What was the most fun about writing Walking on Broken Glass?
Creating secondary characters who were foils to Leah was both refreshing and a catharsis. So much of the story is weighted by Leah, so these characters — especially her roommate — allowed me the freedom to write humorously.
What was the hardest part about writing Walking on Broken Glass?
I joke that the most challenging part of exercising is putting my shoes on. It’s the act that signals the commitment. Writing is often like that, except that instead of shoes it’s placing my fanny in the chair. And then keeping it there! In the beginning of a book or even a proposal, my little ADD-self is all over the place making plot pretzels because I’ve not yet focused. But what I’m learning is that might be just how I have to enter the process.
It’s also difficult to subject characters to pain. The journals in the novel were originally written in third person, which I thought demonstrated Leah’s separation from herself. My editor suggested changing them to first person. I hedged, but pushed myself through. It hurt me for Leah to have to truly feel those events, but I know the novel is much stronger for it.
What kind of research did you do for Walking on Broken Glass?
I relied heavily on one of my daughters who had to teach me the difference between Mark Twain and Marc Jacobs because I am so fashion-challenged. Most of the research was primarily fact checking; for example, statistics about SIDS.
Could you please tell us about your writing process?
Is making order out of chaos a choice? I’m a plotter-wannabe. I’m totally seduced by the idea of it, but totally terrible at it. I have an idea of where the story is going, and I just go with it until I have absolute brain rot. Then, after I’ve consumed pounds of chocolate and a dozen Coke Zeros, I call on my writer friends whose opinions I value [hint], and whine for help. Usually this happens about five chapters in, then I rewind, pay attention to my synopsis, and forge ahead. Some times I’m surprised. For instance, a character showed up in the novel totally unexpected; I still have no idea where he came from. I do, though, closer to the end, start sketching out chapters to make sure I’ve not dropped a thread somewhere.
Do you ever put yourself within your characters?
Since developing characters is so exhausting, I’m thinking I must be investing all of myself into them! Now, if we’re talking autobiographical, well, if I disclose that, there’d be no surprises in my novels, right? My characters, honestly, are much more interesting than I am.
Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.
What I have within reach as I write:
1. a can of coke Zero and, depending on my level of frustration or anxiety, chocolate, popcorn, and/or animal crackers;
2. my Bible;
3. Rodale’s Synonym Finder;
4. a collection of catalogs/magazines to use as resources for descriptions: Williams-Sonoma, Southern Living, Pottery Barn, J.Jill, and others depending on characters and setting;
5. Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure;
6. sometimes a cat on my lap.
I usually write at the kitchen table or in a high back chair in the family room. All this stuff is spread around me, so it makes for quite the mess. My husband, though, is learning to step around it if it’s scattered on the floor or to eat at the island in the kitchen if I’m all over the table.
How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do — craft stories of my own for others to read"?
In high school I realized that I couldn’t sing, dance, paint, play sports, play an instrument…but I could write. Sometimes we tend to take our gifts for granted thinking that if it’s something we’re good at, then it can’t possibly be “worth” anything. So, in that sense, I believe that I — like many authors — have a certain innate propensity. It’s the gift that God gave me, and it’s my choice as to how I will develop and use it.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I truly believe my writing benefited, and still does, from reading. In fact, as a high school teacher, I’ve noticed that reciprocal connection more than even. My strongest writers are my most enthusiastic readers. That being said, I think it’s crucial that we expose ourselves in reading to authors whose work we admire and aspire to. I’m not sure there’s enough space to talk about writers who have influenced me.
What make you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.
Long ago and far away, I wrote human interest columns for a newspaper. The Texas Press Association gave me an award for a column I wrote about my oldest starting kindergarten. It was enough affirmation to plant a seed that maybe, just maybe, I really could write. Over the next few years, God surrounded me with people who encouraged and supported me when I hesitantly typed paragraphs that turned into pages. In the meantime, my husband surprised me with a laptop and said, “No excuses. Go for it.” Then someone else came along and said it was time for me to start entering contests, so I did. None of the feedback suggested I toss my laptop, so I kept going. Halfway through my book, another friend threw down the gauntlet and told me if I was serious about writing, I needed to attend a conference. So I did. Through what could only be God-incidences, I signed with an agent a few months later.
How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!
All those people who tortured me in life have rabid animals named after them. I use baby name books, phone books, the Social Security register of popular names…steal names from friends and family. I copy names from the newspaper society pages and, as much as hate to admit it, from the obit pages.
Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?
Absolutely. My parents both worked, so my brother and I were always home with our grandmother. She didn’t drive, so my source of escaping was checking out books from the bookmobile that would come to the neighborhood every other week. I read Little Women, I’m certain, at least seven times. I used to read Nancy Drew mysteries and, for some reason, read Uncle Tom’s Cabin one summer before high school. And, naturally, Gone with the Wind.
If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?
Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life (It’s actually a real title, but it’s my life!)
What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?
Rachelle Gardner, my agent, is shopping proposals. At this point, I can say that it’s going to be one of those “issue-driven” novels.
What are you reading right now?
Student papers that have been languishing ungraded, Primal by Mark Batterson, Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin, Thin Places by Mary DeMuth.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Fiction from Lisa Samson, Kristen Billerbeck, Charles Martin, Joyce Magnin. Jenny B. Jones’ young adult novels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, Philippia Gregory’s historicals, nonfiction from Anne Lamott and Bill Bryson. I recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and look forward to more from her. Oh, and William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Barbara Kingsolver.
If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I want to meet James Joyce so I can wop him on the head with a copy of Ulysses, which I had to read in college, and ask him if he’s ever read his own book. Over 400 pages of stream-of-consciousness. Seriously?
What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?
Retirement! As much as I love teaching and the energy of high schoolers, I find it increasingly difficult to channel my creative self into both teaching and writing. I’ve devoted over twenty years of my life to the classroom, so I would welcome time to concentrate on my writing. My goal is to publish two novels a year, and I would like to also develop a speaking/workshop platform.
Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?
I’m living proof that dreams can come true. Don’t give up on yours or let anyone steal them.
Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?