Interview with Stephanie Churchill

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes! I must have been about 6 or 7 years old, and we were given a school assignment to write a short story. My story involved a child (me) who slept nervously in a dark bedroom, keeping all arms and legs fully encased in tightly drawn covers. The door cracked open, light spilled into the room, and a MONSTER appeared! Turns out it was only my dad. It was that story which started my writing career. At least in the opinion of my earliest fan... my mother.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I was actually writing a different book, had just finished the rough draft of it. The story was wonderful, the plot very intricate, but something wasn't right. I didn't love the voice or tone of the book. It was then that I decided it might be fun to try my hand at a first-person approach. I had a vision of a girl dodging a city guard who had caught her stealing an apple. The girl was a sharp wit and had an attitude that was a little edgy. Once I got going, I fell in love and had to find out what happened next. Eventually her story emerged, growing ever-more complicated as time went on.
What is your writing process?
Most plots have begun with a seed idea. From there I have to write an outline, but I consider the outline to be a "pencil draft", something organic, living, breathing, changeable. I have several notebooks for things such as idea collection, character profile creation, themes, quotes I find; I draw out timelines, character mood and development, etc. Then I sit down and start writing. The first draft is another "pencil sketch", it sets the actions, the ideas of conversation, the movement of the story, etc. Subsequent drafts begin to define, add color, add details, flesh out characters, subtleties. Finally I proofread like a maniac! I have no set hours, snatching time to write when I can (mostly on days my kids are at school or off playing with friends). I am not a night-owl, so I need broad daylight to feel productive.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen Lawhead was the first "big" book I remember reading, and it sucked me right in, changing my appetite for books thereafter. Gone were the short chapter books of my youth, and I began to crave deeper substance. A few more years passed and I discovered literature - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. That tale of love, tragedy and self-sacrifice helped me realize that books could pierce your heart and leave you breathless. More years passed and I discovered Tolkien, realizing that well-written words and deeply devised stories were sustenance. Perhaps the most life-changing book of all was When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Her books stirred a hunger for historical fiction, and eventually Ms. Penman would go on to become the instigator of my writing career, my mentor, and dearest friend.
When did you first start writing?
I didn't start writing seriously until about four years ago. Before that I was an incurable daydreamer and a constant reader. My sister (who always wanted to write) and I used to write stories together, dreaming big dreams of becoming authors. I never really took it seriously or believed that I could or would become an author. It was something she and I just did for fun. I guess I thought it was normal! Life got busy, and I moved on from that hobby. It was only when my literary-equivalent of a rock star, Sharon Kay Penman, asked me if I'd ever considered writing that I stood up and took notice that maybe I had a talent I wasn't taking seriously. We started up a friendship fueled by her encouragement that I start to write, and we've become good friends as a result. Her mentorship and encouragement has meant the world to me.
What do you read for pleasure?
There aren't many genres I don't read. I'm a sucker for mysteries, historical fiction, cloak & dagger political thrillers, classical literature, Indiana Jones' action/adventure stories. But I admit to turning my nose up at romance novels.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Only five? That's just cruel.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (yes, that's cheating since those are multiples), Jane Austen...

I give up. This would have been easier if you had asked about my favorite authors....
Describe your desk
Ha! Right now my desk is a folding table stuck in the corner of the guest room in the basement of my house. It holds my laptop, a plastic cup full of pens, a pile of notebooks related to many books in various states of progression, my water bottle, over which hangs a full-spectrum lamp to help me forget that I don't live in a friendly climate. (I live in Minnesota.)
What motivated you to become an indie author?
It's a little selfish, actually. I've courted agents and had some success with attracting interest, but to be honest, the world of publishing scares me. I think it scares a lot of people. Things are in so much flux right now and no one really knows what will happen next. The entire industry is changing, and agents and publishers have a very hard job because of it. But when I said my reasons were selfish, it's mostly because I want to be in control of my own future. The first piece of writing advice I ever received was to write for me, not for the market, not for a publisher, not for fans. Write a book I'd want to read. It's really hard to do that when agents and publishers only want to take on projects they are convinced they can sell... almost guaranteeing copy-cat books and very narrowly defined search criteria. Going independent seemed like the best option for me.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love people, love to explore what makes them tick, what motivates and inspires, what shapes and influences them. I love history as it connects with the lives of real people. So when I write, I love to get inside the heads of my characters and paint with words, to feel the story onto the page and make the pages come alive. Painters paint with colors. I like to think I paint with words.
What are you working on next?
I am in the midst of writing the next book in this series (though calling it a series might be a stretch since it's only two books). I also have a very grandiose plan for a fantasy that involves dragons. But I'm not prepared to say much about that book just yet.
Published 2015-07-29.
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