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Monday, December 18, 2006

Spotlight on ... Meredith Efken - @ Home for the Holidays

All right, we're back in business again with the spotlight authors. Since we missed last week, I'm not only doubling up...I'm tripling up with three--that's right---THREE spotlight guests this week. That's three times the chances to win a FREE autographed book. Won't make it in time for Christmas, but you'll have one for the new year.

Just post a comment on an interview to be entered for a chance to win.

Now, it's my pleasure and honor to introduce a great friend of mine. One of the first writers I met after joining ACFW, Meredith and I quickly found a lot common laughter ground to keep our spirits light. She's managed to help me keep things in perspective on many occasions and offered sound advice when my life seemed out of control. And when you read her books...you'll see the evidence of this.

MEREDITH EFKEN has experienced much of what she describes in her new book, @ Home For The Holidays, sequel to her debut novel, SAHM I Am. From surviving temper tantrums to being covered in slobbery toddler kisses, Meredith enjoys the life of a stay-at-home mom – despite the challenges. In addition to writing, freelance editing, and home schooling, Meredith is a graduate of the Vineyard Leadership Institute as well as a member of her church worship team at the Omaha Vineyard. She also co-founded a local writers group, WordSowers, and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

She's been declared by fellow author Randy Ingermanson to be "funnier than Erma Bombeck" which she often questions, but hey, it's a great quote. You can decide for yourselves if it's true. Check out her website at www.meredithefken.com for fun extras about her books and to participate on her interactive blog, Violet Voices.

1. Meredith, you speak to thousands of women everywhere, SAHM's or not, with your issue of balancing the hectic pace of the holidays and real life. As a SAHM yourself, you bring a lot of personal background to your books, but where did you get the inspiration behind this particular story?

Well, the main Christmas story line has to do with a group of women that have decided to boycott Christmas, in order to punish their local retailers for not saying "Merry Christmas" the year before. It's satire on the whole "war on Christmas" flap that we seem to get caught up in every year. The inspiration for it came from a forwarded email I got from a certain religious organization last year, suggesting a similar boycott. When Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and reconciliation, and when there are so many people who will face serious difficulties during the holiday season, worrying about what greeting retailers use seems to be a waste of energy and resources. I wanted to show the absurdity in a way that would make people laugh--even if it's at ourselves.

2. How much of your own experiences influenced the characters of Rosalyn and the other SAHM loop ladies? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?

Rosalyn, the antagonist of the story, was created largely from my own sense of inferiority and guilt about not being a good enough mom. I took all those things I kept telling myself I "should be" and made them into an actual person. And she irritated me so much by her own perfection that I just HAD to take her down a few pegs. It was really therapeutic, and it helped me be a little less hard on myself.

The other moms all have bits and pieces of me--Dulcie's general personality is probably closest to my own. But they really did take on their own character traits, and I can't say any of them are supposed to be "me." I stick in little things that have happened to me or other people I know, though. There's a part of @Home in which one of the moms gets chewed out by a guy in the grocery store for not keeping her toddler away from the sliding automatic doors. She has a baby and an armful of groceries, and instead of help, she gets a lecture about how irresponsible she is. That actually happened to me! At Wild Oats. So I dubbed him the "Wild Oats Guy" and determined that he would be immortalized in my next book. So I include as many real-life experiences as I can, but I usually end up adjusting them somewhat to fit the shape and flow of the story. Rarely are all the details exactly as it really happened.

3. What themes exist in @ Home for the Holidays that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

One theme that was important to me is the idea that a mom does NOT have to stay at home in order to be a good mom. Dulcie and Tom end up in a role reversal in this book, where she has to go back to work and he ends up staying home. I didn't go as deep with that storyline as I could have or would have liked to, because of needing to give time to other aspects of the story. But sometimes our Christian community, in an effort to affirm and encourage moms who are staying at home, ends up making moms who work outside the home feel as if they've made a wrong choice or are second-best moms. And we tend not to know what to do with the dads who end up at home! I hope that @Home challenges that idea. We need to support ALL moms and dads, whether they stay home or go off to work. Parenting is a tough job, and when we pressure families to do things one certain way, we make that tough job just that much harder.

4. What was your most difficult part to write? Your favorite?

Ironically, the hardest part of this story also became one of my favorite aspects--the holiday storyline. At first, when my editor suggested that I write a Christmas book, I was a bit reluctant because I'm not the type of person who enjoys a sentimental, warm-fuzzy holiday story. I've never read a Christmas story that wasn't nostalgic and feel-good. My editor assured me that they wanted something different from me--a sequel that would match the tone of my first book, SAHM I Am. So I decided to give it a try. Coming up with a Christmas story line that would be in the tone of my first book was really hard. But the "boycott Christmas" idea ended up fitting perfectly, and it strengthened Rosalyn's storyline and gave me a chance to really explore her character some more. Considering that she seems to be people's favorite character (the one they love to hate), I was really pleased by how it turned out. I think readers will have a lot of fun with her shenanigans.

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

Um, I wish I could say that it's some big secret--like the seventh Harry Potter book! But the truth is, I'm working on a new story utilizing our family's experience of adopting from China. But it's not under contract yet, so I can't really say much more. I'm really excited about it, though, as this is a story I've wanted to write for several years. So as soon as that moves forward, I'll be letting everyone know. Check my blog and website.

* * Thanks, Meredith, for stopping by. Hope y'all enjoyed the interview.

5 comments:

Cherie said...

Being a stay at home mom myself I can relate to Meredith's writings. Thanks for a great interview. I love learning about new authors.

Cherie Japp

Jennifer Y. said...

This book sounds great! I have SAHM I Am (the first one) waiting to be read!

Anonymous said...

Amber, thanks for another great interview. I've seen these books around but haven't had the enjoyment of reading one yet. I love anything funny so I'll have to put these on my TBR list.

Merry Christmas everyone,
Shauna

Teresa said...

The new book sounds like a good read. Have a great holiday!

Tiff/Amber Miller said...

Ok, Shauna, the book's yours! Thanks, everyone for commenting and for your continued support.

Shauna, send me your info. so I can have Meredith send out your book.