Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by as depicted in her first highly-acclaimed novel, Chasing Lilacs, which was a 2011 Finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and the trophy winner of the 2011 Best Fiction Book for the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. (OWFI). Chasing Lilacs received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and favorable reviews in Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, Book Page, and Christian Retailing magazine.
Carla launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, Saddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.
An Oklahoma native and graduate of OU, Carla has lived in Tulsa since 2003. In her life before writing, Carla enjoyed a career in nursing and raising her family. Now that their four sons are married and they’ve become empty-nesters, she and her husband relish the occasional weekend getaway and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren. For more info, visit Carla here.
Let the conversation begin!
Was it easier to write before or after you were published?
Definitely before! Then, I had the leisure of writing or not, and I wrote with abandon not worrying what my crit partners might say or whether my publisher would ask for my advance back. I experimented in different genres and worked hard on the craft. Then it was all about the writing.
What I didn’t factor in was how much time would be gobbled up with marketing and promotion once I had a contract AND deadlines. You didn’t ask which I preferred, but definitely being published. There is nothing so sweet as getting a letter from a reader telling me how much my words meant or that I must’ve been the fly on the wall in her home. Nothing prepared me for this thrill. I LOVE my readers! And that makes me want to write better each time I carve a few hours for my WIP (work-in-progress).
Are your characters completely fictional?
Yes, my characters are completely fictional, but I have voices in my head of people I’ve known. Their accents or actual words somehow end up being spoken by my characters. And sometimes I will notice an unusual characteristic of a person in real life—like the shape of a person’s eyebrows or some quirk—yes, I give that characteristic to a character! In the end, though, I don’t think that anyone would read my books and say, “I know this person.”
Where do you get your ideas?
Newspapers. The news. Questions from my sometimes overactive imagination. Music inspires me as do photographs. Since I love nostalgia, those sepia toned photographs make my heart beat faster and before I know it, I’m making up a scenario in my head. When it comes time to write a new novel, I draw on these fragments to craft a concept and characters for a new novel.
What advice would you give young writers?
Read widely, both in your genre and in others. Listen to the cadence of the words you read. Study how your favorite authors write—both in what they say and what they don’t. How do they pace their stories? How do they foreshadow or condense dialogue into the essence? Don’t try to write “just like” another author, but let your own unique voice and story shine on the pages. Editors want something new, but they also want well-crafted stories. Learn the craft, then write the stories of your heart.
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
This question makes me smile. Since I didn’t start seriously writing with an eye toward publication until I was fifty and had my first novel published when I was sixty, I’m going to be retirement age in ten years. Will I still be writing? Will I close my laptop and skip off to a retirement village in the land of sunshine? I honestly don’t know. As long as the Lord bestows favor on me, I’ll probably continue writing, but I also want to enjoy time with my husband and enjoy the fruits of his many long years of work. Hopefully, I will have time (and an audience) for both.
When are you the most productive?
Afternoon. Two to six p.m. is the sweet spot for creative writing.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
Travel—England, Italy, the Holy Land. I was just talking about this today with my son who’s been around the world 1 ¾ times. He says Italy is grand!
Also, I told my husband that I want to celebrate my 65th birthday with a hot air balloon ride. I’m deathly afraid of heights, so this shocked the socks off of him!
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?
No secrets here. I have to let my agent read the synopsis and early chapters so she can send proposals. And my crit partners see all my dumb ideas and mistakes.
Do you begin with character or plot?
I nearly always begin with a character who’s in a particular situation and setting as if the two are co-dependent. I usually can’t imagine a character being anywhere but exactly in the place where they come to me. The plot and what came before and after this initial visualization are the parts I have to brainstorm and work out. The secondary characters come during the plotting phase as well.
Yay! An easy question. My dream is to spend three months in an English cottage with a postage stamp garden and cobblestone streets. My husband and I will take walks with our little dog and visit the green grocer to pick out what we’re having for dinner. Every couple of weeks or so, we’ll pop over to London to catch a play or a show. We might visit Ireland while we’re there or amble through a cathedral or two. The only difficulty is that we would probably not want to come home when our time was up!