Interview with Maria Keffler

Published 2014-06-26.
Describe your desk
I am a 1950's housewife. My desk is a little nook in my kitchen, where my laptop sits on a miniature shelf above the lunch boxes and a stack of folders for the PTO, the Girl Scouts and the bills/receipts file. I think I intended to be a feminist when I grew up. My husband irons his own shirts, though. Does that count for anything?

If I think I'm going to get some good, solid, uninterrupted time to write (i.e., the rest of the family units are either out of the house or buckled into their straightjackets and muzzles), I take the laptop to my rocking chair in the corner of the living room, next to which I keep my Bible, journal, a couple of craft books, and a stack of my husband's typo'd business cards. Every time he reorders, the company prints them wrong at least once, and I get a handy box of linen-feel, card-stock scrap paper. (Does anyone's name actually have the same letter three times in a row?)

Though I am the poster child for introversion, one of my favorite writing desks is a table at a coffee shop. It makes me feel French, and cosmopolitan, and caffeinated. Somehow I write better that way. Or maybe I just think I do.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on a small farm in rural Indiana. It was a great place to be a kid, but a little lonely since I had very few friends within easy travel distance. My mom said I got along with animals better than I did people, to which I replied, "Moo," and flicked my tail at her.

I've loved writing ever since I first got a pencil gripped the right way in my hand, and without siblings or neighbor kids with whom to enjoy Monopoly or dodge ball or cow-tipping, I had lots of time to put long, hackneyed stories onto reams of looseleaf paper. I still have some of them. When I fear that my writing has not improved since childhood, I peruse them, reassured that at least the heroes in my present stories aren't galloping in to save the day on silver unicorns. ('Cause everyone knows unicorns only come in white and pink.)
When did you first start writing?
One of my first stories, written around second grade, was about a princess who ran away from her castle because her parents were mean. My mother came to sit on my bed the night that manuscript came home from school, to talk about the underlying angst that prompted me to write such things. "Do your dad and I make you feel sad?" she asked.

I wasn't savvy enough at the time to capitalize on her potential fear/guilt, and I reassured her that I was a very happy and well-adjusted child, and the story was fiction. Fiction, Mother.

When I gave her my latest manuscript to read, I impressed upon her several times that the parents in the story are not her and Dad. The sex talk the father gives the thirteen-year-old main character, however, is pretty verbatim to one my father once gave me. (La la la la la, fingers-in-my-ears, please make it STOP!) Then I told Mom once more, "The parents in the book are not you guys." To which she replied, with narrowed eyes, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
What's the story behind your latest book?
"Drawn" started with a question. I wondered how a healthy, right relationship might progress between two people who had no romantic baggage behind them. I don't know many people who don't have scars from early experiences with the opposite sex, and I wanted to explore how it might be possible to navigate that first boy-meets-girl labyrinth in a way that was safe and good, and actually lovely. Still, though, we live in a world that is, in many ways, neither safe nor lovely, and we do suffer the consequences of our choices and of the things others do to us.

A second theme I wanted to explore in "Drawn" is the existence of spiritual gifts. There's a glut of supernatural and paranormal literature on the market, but most of it that I've seen has little or no reference to or interest in where such powers come from. They're just there, and isn't that cool? No, not really. There's an underlying truth behind everything we experience in life, and I think there's much more connection available to God and his vast wisdom and power than most of us ever realize or access.
What is your writing process?
I'm still defining and refining my "process".

I once took a seminar with Alton Gansky, and he said he never outlines or plans, but just starts writing and lets the book take him where it will. I tried that once, and ended up with a half-finished novel that resembled a cross between a mutilated zombie and a mutated, Chernobyl-dwelling octopus. It kind of lurched around in haphazard circles, occasionally screaming gibberish at the top of its gills.

After I find a question I want to work on, I start thinking about a main character who could investigate that question. I open up a new document, and at the same time open up a notebook (both in Word), where I create tabs for the general story, the specific outline, characters, a calendar, and important data I need to keep track of. I may only have ten or fifteen scenes planned in the outline when I start, but as I write, and more and more plot lines emerge, I jot down new scene ideas, dialogue, themes and symbols.

I've been trying to produce 1000 words five times a week. That's a lofty goal, and I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it up. (So far I've done it for one day! Pat me on the back!) My first novel took twelve years to finish. The next one took two. I'm hoping to speed things up, now that my kids are in school, and get the next one done closer to a year, including edits.

And sometimes, when I'm feeling low and sad and untalented, I channel Stuart Smalley: "Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it! People like me!"
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Impatience. And frustration with the traditional publishing monolith. After my first book, "The God of Mists and Shrouds", came tantalizingly close to publication three different times, through three different avenues (agent, editor, publisher), yet never found its way into print, I felt like throwing in the towel, as well as the baby, the bathwater and the freakin' bathtub. Enough people had read the manuscript, and said they enjoyed it, that I just wanted it out there, accessible to more people than I could print off hard copies for. (Yes, I ended that last sentence with a preposition. It's not something I'm bothered by.) Then a couple of years ago my husband saw an article in the Washington Post about the developing field of e-publishing, and said, "I think this might be for you."

I'm sure I'm not the only indie who dreams about the day that my books go viral, and all those print publishers who didn't return my calls start ringing my phone off the hook and offering contracts, to which I can then reply, "Thank you for your interest, but this isn't really what I'm looking for right now."

Why, no, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The alarm, and the fact that once it obliterates the morning silence I have exactly forty minutes to get three children up, dressed, fed and onto the school bus. And I want them on that school bus. Yes, I do.

Once the silence has been reestablished, I want to sit and write. This is what I love, and one way I hope to contribute something of value into the world. "So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?" (Ecc. 3:22)

I get out of bed hoping that my life will be of value to others; that everything I do and say and write and think will be bound by the integrity of a clear conscience and by the wisdom that comes out of the deep truths of God; and that I would never fail to do the next thing that God puts in front of me.

And I'd kind of like to learn to play the violin. But since I'm doing nothing productive toward that end (such as getting myself a violin) I fear that's probably a doomed goal. I can, however, play twelve chords on the guitar, and I totally rock the kazoo.
Who are your favorite authors?
I just finished reading "Admission", by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Her writing is elegant and meaty. The setting-- New England and the Ivy League schools-- could be off-putting to a Midwestern, state-school educated farm girl, but she drew me in on the first page with the main character's own niggling sense of perhaps not belonging there, not being part of "that" group of people. I think she hit on a fear that is probably common to most of us: that we are actually impostors at heart.

I was once a devotee of Francine Rivers (aren't all Christian women of a certain age?), which prompted my first novel, a biblical fiction saga set in ancient Babylon. I still love her stuff, but I have a greater appreciation now for her more modern period works like "The Last Sin-Eater" and "And the Shofar Blew". She gives such life to her characters.

Stephen King is an amazing storyteller. Though his work can be fairly macabre and nightmare-inducing, the psychological depths he plumbs keep you thinking about his stories for years. I can still remember certain scenes and lines from "Pet Sematary", "Gerald's Game", and "The Green Mile".
What, if anything, does the literary world need?
Wow. What a great question. (Okay. I wrote in that question. Integrity, honesty, and all that, you know.)

When I read secular fiction, I am consistently dissatisfied with where characters end up. Happy endings, sad endings, oblique endings-- on the last page I always find myself crying, "You need Jesus! You need truth! You're still a hot mess!" I certainly can't claim to have all the answers to all the theological, practical, psychological, political, (insert your favorite -ical here) questions of the universe, but what passes for growth and improvement in many secular novels is nothing deeper than a change of clothes or shift of perspective. Has he really gotten closer to truth? Will she really make better choices from now on? Has their relationship come up a level, out of self-centeredness and personal interest?

On the other hand, when I read Christian fiction I'm often disappointed by how sanitary, safe and sweet it is. That's not the world I live in. My existence is peopled with the selfish and the greedy, liars and predators, dysfunctional individuals and families. (Hmm. Maybe I need to surround myself with a better class of people.) I want to see God interact with people where they are, in all the ugliness and glaring sin. And let's be honest. Most people will not make an Olympic-style long jump from the depths of depravity to the immediate, glorious embrace of Christ as Savior. A lot of real-world questions and fears get completely glossed over in the world of Christian publishing, out of the commendable (but perhaps misplaced) determination to get a four-step plan of salvation into every book.

I really don't think I'm qualified to address this near-void in the field of literature, but I will keep trying. I want to see more books with grit and teeth and truth written in there with all the love and peace and joy that should be the hallmark of true faith.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
My littlest one just started kindergarten, so I'm just now rediscovering free time. It's GREAT. The first day all of them went to school all day, I sat there in the living room, just looking around the house for seven and a half hours. I alternated between weeping and hysterical giggling.

I spend as little time as possible on the necessaries: laundry (thank you, God, for automatic washers, and a drier that has a two-hour wrinkle guard setting), grocery shopping (yay, Trader Joe's!), and housecleaning (my children all know how to scrub toilets, even the five-year-old), so I can do the stuff I enjoy: knitting (I recently began to design my own sweaters -- why yes, one of my arms IS five inches longer than the other), card-making and origami (if you want to see me drool, send me sheets of pretty paper), and baking.

To be honest, I don't intrinsically enjoy baking. But I enjoy eating baked stuff. Flourless chocolate cake, apple dumplings, panna cotta. Meals are just the opening acts for dessert, in my opinion.

Oh yeah, and I have to squeeze in exercise, or I can't squeeze into my clothes. I've been praying about why this is, and I believe God is pointing to some sort of connection between this problem and the stuff in the previous paragraph. Still exploring that. Hoping I'm wrong. Because I hate exercising. I'd so much rather be writing. Seriously. In my version of a perfect world, typing would give you lithe glutes and rock-hard abs.

I'm going to pray about that.
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Books by This Author

The Drawn Series Boxed Set
Price: $12.59 USD. Words: 454,740. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2019. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama, Fiction » Women's fiction » General
What if you could make things happen just by drawing them? Juliet Brynn can. From the trauma of losing at thirteen the only life she ever knew, to a choice she must make at seventeen that will thrust her through one door while locking every other, one unrelenting gift haunts Juliet: her ability to sketch the future into being.
40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 20,790. Language: English. Published: February 1, 2019. Categories: Nonfiction » Religion & Spirituality » Biblical Meditations / General, Nonfiction » Religion & Spirituality » Devotional
'40 Graces for Forgiveness: A Healing Journey' chronicles a 40-day meditation on forgiveness as it relates to the character of Christ.
Double-Edged Wedding
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 17,230. Language: English. Published: April 18, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama, Fiction » Women's fiction » General
(5.00 from 1 review)
After waiting this long to marry him, Julie Brynn knows exactly what kind of wedding she wants. But as the date approaches and Julie’s mother turns into The Crazy-Maker, Julie and her groom make plans to elope. But will their choice be the final nail in the coffin of Julie’s relationship with her mother?
Series: DRAWN, Book 3. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 162,510. Language: English. Published: December 7, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama, Fiction » Coming of age
(5.00 from 1 review)
Juliet hasn’t seen Damon in nearly three years, or heard from him after the devastating letter his new 'soul mate' sent her. When the chance of a new life in Chicago appears, free of her shattered family and haunting memories, Juliet resolves to let nothing get in her way. But whispers of love resurface and she must choose between her heart and a destiny that something doesn’t want her to find.
Deo Volente
Series: DRAWN, Book 2. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 144,280. Language: English. Published: September 11, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Religion
(5.00 from 5 reviews)
Juliet Brynn’s life looks nothing like it did. Her parents divorced and split up the family. Poor, alone, and shattered by others' choices, Juliet has only Damon to bridge the two halves of her life. But when her one refuge is ripped away, she must confront the power that grants her The Gift of Artistic Prophecy, and which demands her loyalty even as it seems determined to destroy her future.
Series: DRAWN, Book 1. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 141,970. Language: English. Published: October 30, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama
(4.94 from 16 reviews)
Artistic prodigy Juliet Brynn wants to survive the year with as little social torture as possible. But her sketches start to come true and Damon Sheppard, a boy with a troubled past, shows her worlds she never knew existed. When unthinkable trauma strikes, will Damon and her prophetic gift prove as catastrophic as some predict, or can they impart Juliet the power to make everything right again?
Year-In-Review: The Entirely True Histories of a Perfectly Wretched Family
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 26,430. Language: English. Published: April 10, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Humor & satire, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Humor & satire
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Concussive diaper explosions and aircraft lavatories. (The Mile-High Club just isn’t the same thing after kids.) Death, destruction and debt. (How can a child be born $1800 in the hole?) Sibling rivalries of biblical proportions. (“I’m telling God!” “Oh yeah? I’m telling Mom!”) Sometimes the experience of training up kids seems more akin to experiencing a train wreck.
The God of Mists and Shrouds
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 82,750. Language: English. Published: January 21, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Christian » Historical
(4.60 from 5 reviews)
An orphaned Hebrew princess disguises herself as an exiled peasant. A Babylonian slave chooses between the courage that could save her and despair over the love she has lost. A sorceress discovers the truth behind the origins of her dark power. The consequences of the masters they choose will reverberate through generations.