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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spotlight on Staci Stallings

This week, I have the distinct pleasure of shining the spotlight on a dear friend whose marketing prowess and web site promotional skills have helped more people than I can count. Her selfless assistance for others puts her at the top of the list, and we've even talked about working together to make anyone into a top-notch web guru of marketing and design. :) We'll see if it ever develops.

For now, it's her turn in the spotlight, and I hope you enjoy learning more about her. Don't forget to comment on this post or her personal one below this for a chance at an autographed copy of your choice of her 2 books being featured.

If you'd like to read the first 3 chapters of both books, you can do that here. I'll be sharing a brief review either later tonight or tomorrow.



You have 2 recent novels available. Cowboy and Lucky.

Cowboy veers from the formulaic presentation of a typical romance story. How did you decide to write so much of your story using phone conversations as opposed to in-person interactions?

To be really honest, I don't decide very much about my stories at all. I pretty much have an idea (often coming in dreams as both "Cowboy" and "Lucky" did), and I go where the story leads me. The phone conversation thing happened naturally because with Ashton being the country superstar he is, he is of course on the road doing shows. That, to me, was one of the message hooks of this story. We all have this idealized vision of what the life of a rich, famous singer would be like; however, even with crowds of adoring fans around, if you're life is a mess, you're not happy. Further complicating the story is that Beth is such a homebody. She is not the kind who would just pick up to follow him everywhere (even if she knew the details of his real life, which she doesn't).

She wants to help. He needs help. And the only way they can connect is over the phone lines. I think a lot of this aspect of the story can be traced to my dating relationship with my (now) husband. We spent the eight years we went together living at minimum 60 miles apart, so we got very good at the phone thing.

Lucky starts off with a wedding and the presentation that the heroine will travel a certain path. However, by the end, that path is drastically changed. What was your most difficult part to write? Your favorite?

Wow. Actually, there wasn't much about "Lucky" that was hard to write. That story was like a bolt of lightning. I had the dream about "Lucky" on November 23. At the time I was writing something else (what else is new?), and I was determined to keep writing the other one. However, the storyline and characters of "Lucky" wouldn't let me be. I did a little fleshing out of the story by November 26, and by November 28 "Lucky" was the story I was working on. At the time I had a 1-½ year old son, Christmas, two older kids having their Christmas parties and getting out of school. They were out over break. We had the normal round of family parties, church, and then New Year's. Then back to school.

I have no idea where I found time to write, but I finished "Lucky" on January 20. It really feel like it wrote itself. In fact, I learned a great deal from that book about listening to your heart and the path God has given you rather than trying to be what the world says you have to be.

The most difficult part about writing "Lucky" would have to be the emails. During the first of the book, Kalin and Danae communicate almost exclusively through emails. That was difficult to write because rather than writing the email when the character wrote it, I chose to compose the email when the receiving character read it. Often that was "days" or even "months" after the sending character wrote it. So that had me going back to figure out where they were when they wrote it so I could figure out what it might say. That was a challenge.

The easiest part to write was the part when Kalin and Danae first connect emotionally and spiritually by the car tire. They both had such an emotional connection to what was going on, and it was cool finding out some of each of their backstories. Plus, I got to find out who they were on a deeper level than I knew prior to writing that part. That and the "list" Kalin makes Danae tell him were my two favorite parts.

What themes exist in Cowboy and Lucky that you hope the reader sees?

In "Cowboy" the theme I hope the reader sees is that too often we assume others are having this wonderful life, and we overlook how much pain they are really in. I thought it was awesome how Beth’s simple act of kindness toward Timothy in the beginning changed her whole life. Too often we are so caught up in our own worlds that we fail to take the opportunity just to be kind to one another. Those missed opportunities represent who we are and thus the doors to our true paths are never opened because we don’t have time, or we don’t want to be bothered by someone else’s problems.

In "Lucky" the theme I hope the reader catches is do not let the world determine what is right for you. God knows the blueprint of how He designed your life, but instead of listening to His callings and guidance in our lives, we listen to the world. "Lucky" so showed me how we twist ourselves into someone we don't even recognize in order to be accepted (or at least not rejected) by the world. How tragic that we are living according to what the world says will work and totally ignoring what God says will work for us.

Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the stories progressed?

One of the hardest things about writing (at least the way I do it) is to get your characters to be honest with you. Kalin in "Lucky" was what I call very closed. I understood where he was at any given moment, but he wouldn't tell me how he got there. Finally at almost the very end, I said, "Okay, Kalin, you've hinted at this the whole time. You now have to trust me enough to tell me everything." That's when he finally opened up. However, one thread that runs through this particular strand of the entire tapestry is Kalin's willingness to trust even when he doesn't fully understand where this step will lead.

Unlike how most of us live, he didn't look down the road and say, "That's where I want to be, and here's how I'm going to get there." Instead, he lived "That's where I want to be, and I trust that God gave me that desire and if I just take each step He asks me to take, He will lead me to the desires of my heart." It was totally awesome how each step led him to the desires of his heart although no one of those steps looked particularly brilliant or logical. That was so inspirational to me because for many years I was the "set the goal and figure out how to get there" kind. Through my writing I have learned to let that go and begin trusting that since God gave me this gift of writing, He has a plan for it, all I have to do is take the step He puts in front of me today. He will take care of where that ends up taking me.

Do you have any connection to the music industry in Nashville which influenced your stories?

I grew up listening to country music. Alabama and Steve Wariner, Garth and George. I began taking guitar lessons when I was 11 and writing songs when I was about 13. Music has always been one of the loves of my life, and country music had a special place there. In the last few years I have had the chance to watch many interviews with country stars via the Internet and satellite TV.

This has given me is a chance to watch the stars closely—their stage performances, their interview demeanor, reading their words, listening to the songs they write, reading their words in print. All of those go into understanding a character on a deeper level. So it is not that I have a worldly connection to Nashville. It is more that I have a spiritual connection to the love of music and the desire to use the gifts God gave me that mirrors that of the country music stars.

I think that gives the stories spiritual authenticity that comes through as an actual worldly connection.

How much of your own experiences influenced the characters of Beth and Danae?

With Beth, I think my desire to help those who are hurting comes through. In the past four years (since writing "Cowboy") I have become even more willing to put myself out there to help. I think that recognizing in Beth how a simple kindness extended can change another's life for the better has helped me to put aside my fear and offer to help more.

As for Danae, I have seen how in the past I have gone for what the world told me would bring me a sense of peace and happiness, of being "right with myself." Like Kalin and Danae, I listened to what the world said I needed to do in order to have that. And like Kalin and Danae, I met up with a lot of misery because of it. Danae taught me that God gave me my gifts and my desires for a reason and that the world will always try to talk me out of those by sounding very logical about why they won’t work. I am learning to listen to what God says whether the world thinks that will work or not.

What aspects of Beth and Danae became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?

The loneliness Beth felt because of her circumstances is hers. She is a single mom because of the death of her husband. That is not an experience I've ever been through, and so that was hers alone. The working all hours and the stress of having to do it all yourself were also her rather than me. I think the complete responsibility she felt for everything in her life and her daughter's life was a part of her that I don't have to cope with in my life.

With Danae it would have to be her love of medicine. Blood totally freaks me out. Further, I cannot imagine studying the stuff Danae does. Just understanding it enough to include it in the story was a challenge for me. So that part is definitely Danae’s and not mine.

Describe your writing space and schedule.

Oh, boy. If you are looking for the textbook way to write, this is NOT it. My writing space is completely chaotic. My desk is stacked with papers, CDs, notebooks, books, bills, and an assortment of other things. My office itself is stacked with stuff I'm supposed to get to at some point. However, my mind has a way of blocking this chaos out and focusing on the writing. I, personally, don't mind the mess so long as it doesn't avalanche on me (which it has been known to in the past). However, it does annoy everyone else. No one can believe I can get anything meaningful done in here. But for me, reading and writing are far more important than cleaning ever will be. If I have time to be in my office, you can bet I'll be writing and not cleaning.

My schedule is just as chaotic although that's not really my fault. With two children in school and one at home, a husband who owns his own business (for which I keep the books), my own website and newsletter, marketing, publishing, writing, as well as trying to keep up with my house, my church, and my family and friends—scheduling anything is impossible. I used to fight it, trying to schedule my way to freedom. Now I give myself permission to have the freedom of doing whatever God puts in front of me to do at this moment. I've come to the understanding that He'll take care of everything else.

How many words per day do you write? Do you have a minimum goal you hope to reach before you push away your keyboard?

To those of you who have been taught to set goals and strive to meet them, this is going to sound sacrilegious, but I do not set any goals for myself or my writing. I used to. I was the queen of goal setting. Lesson by lesson, however, God has shown me that MY trying to do it on my timeframe, with my resources, and my ability is a one-way ticket to heartache and feeling like an utter failure. So, now I don't have goals. I write what He gives me to write when He gives it to me to write.

For example, right now I have six books "open" to write. They all have at least a few pages written but none are yet finished. Some are stand-alone or first books, some are the books in a trilogy. I am also reading at least four different books that I haven't yet finished. I don't worry about that much (if at all) anymore. I just know that's how I operate the best.

I have 18 books finished at the present time (19 if you count my non-fiction book). Each one has a different story as to how it was written and why. Take the last 3 for example. "Lucky" was #16. It was written in 2 months, stroke of lightning style. Then I finished #17 which I had literally been working on for over 5 years. God finally dropped the last pieces I needed into place, and it came together. Then I started on its sequel. However, in the middle of writing that one (when I was on about page 250), I had a dream for another book. That one was written in a month and became #18. I'm now back to writing the sequel to #17, which I think at this point will be #19, but that's only if I don’t have a dream book between now and then that takes off like wildfire.

What I have learned through all of this is to let go of trying to do it myself, and to let God do it through me—whether the method makes any sense to anyone else or not.

Further, through the publishing world, I have learned to be true to who I am and the stories God gave me. My first published book is a great, awesome story, but the editor edited the life right out of it so that it doesn't even sound or feel like my writing. It is, as you so aptly called it in question #1, formulaic. It took a lot of lessons and a lot of praying for me to let go of listening to how the world says you have to do it to be a successful author. I have ended up taking some very unconventional routes—publishing cyberserials through my site and going the non-traditional in publishing. However, although looked down upon by the world, I know this is right where God would have me be, and therefore, I'm at peace no matter what it looks like to the outside world.

When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

The next book is called "Dreams by Starlight." It is one that I ran as a cyberserial on my site. I've had several requests that it be put out in print, and so it will be out in May '07.

Dreams by Starlight (coming May '07) by Staci Stallings

If the world is a stage and each of us plays a part, then Camille Wright is the high school wallflower that nobody remembers and only the bullies ever knew was there. However, her headlong dash to Princeton’s Aerospace Engineering program comes to a crashing halt when in order to "round out all those math classes," she is unwillingly signed up for drama class. Awkward, shy, and quiet, Camille struggles to stay part of the wall even under the glaringly bright lights. But sometimes where you want to be isn't where you were destined to be at all...

Jaylon Patrick Quinn has been the star so long, not even he remembers when he wasn't. Confident to the point of obnoxious, smooth to the point of disgusting, Jaylon has his high school peers enthralled. However, the fool's gold of stardom and the glare of being one-half of the school's star couple have made Jaylon begin to question if this is really how life is best lived. Now he must decide which direction his future is headed and more importantly, if he really wants to go there at all.



And that's all, folks. Hope you enjoyed this interview. Staci, thank you for being in the spotlight.

10 comments:

Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks for a great interview, Staci and Tiff. I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Wow! These two books sound fabulous. What unique storylines and characters. "Cowboy" really struck a chord as I too, am very into music. I've found myself watching the interviews of famous singer/songwriter's and wondering if their lives are really all that wonderful.

Thanks for a great interview! I'm looking forward to reading these books!

Blessings,
Shauna

Michelle said...

Cowboy is one fantastic story!!! I loved it!

Staci Stallings said...

Actually, these two books are called "The Harmony Series" because they both deal with country musicians. One has it made, top of his game (Cowboy); one is struggling to make the dream come true (Lucky). Both incorporate my love of music with my love of storytelling.

Staci

Cherie Japp said...

Great interview! Both books sound so great!

Jennifer Y. said...

Great interview!

Sally Bradley said...

Michelle's review of Cowboy sounded great. I'd love to win a copy. sbradley {at} iwon.com

Melissa said...

These 2 new books sound great, please enter me into the contest. sweetgagirl87@aim.com

Patricia W. said...

Thanks for highlighting Staci. I've been on her newsletter list for the past couple of years. Both books look tremendous!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 'kudos' to Stacey. Her writing is an inspiration. I read both books and they were wonderful.