Friday, November 14, 2008

For Your Christmas Wish List

A guitar came between us when I first connected face-to-face with Christy Barritt. We'd communicated about an article of mine that appeared on her award-winning website, But our face-to-face came when we both served in the worship band for the American Christian Fiction Writers' annual conference in Dallas in 2006 (was it 2005 or 2006?). The guitar? I admired it. She played it. Beautifully. With a warm and genuine heart of worship.

Observing her talent and her heart, I presumed I might like what she wrote. I do! Christy skillfully blends tangled mysteries, tangled faith, heavy subjects, and lighthearted humor in a way few can pull off.

Christy Barritt is the author of the Squeaky Clean Mystery Series (Kregel Publishers), which includes Hazardous Duty and Suspicious Minds. The series follows the life of Gabby St. Claire, a crime-scene cleaner who likes to stick her nose into police business. She says that if books that "are a cross between CSI and Monk/Psych interest you, you'll want to check out the Squeaky Clean Series."

She's agreed to answer a few questions that crossed my mind. My hope is that getting to know her better will send you to your bookstore or favorite online shop to order her books. Great items to include on your Christmas wish list!

Christy, from your website, I know that you majored in communications and psychology in college and that you worked at a Christian publishing house for two and a half years after college. You also enjoyed a short jaunt in the independent Christian music field. How did those varied experiences specifically prepare you to be a novelist? Yes, grammar and spelling, insights, a knowledge of the industry. Can you think of two or three specific lessons that equipped you well for what you do now?

It really helped me to be on the other side of the editor’s desk. When I worked at the Christian publishing house, it was my job to do the initial reject of manuscripts, so I know all about that—from both sides now! Something else that equipped me was that when I used to travel with my band, we often stayed with people from whatever venue we were playing at. I really loved that—seeing how other people live, what life is like in their town, what the dynamics of their church is. I know those experiences have helped me today because I had the opportunity to be a true student of people. Also, I’ve always hung out with all kinds of people, which I think helps to vary my experiences.

Was making the choice to write an easy one for you? Or did you wrestle with concerns about family income, time constraints, success and failure? If so, how did the Lord nurse you through those concerns?

My father became ill while I was working at the Christian publishing house and I had an importance choice to make. I ended up moving back home so I could be near him. The decision wasn’t easy but it propelled me to start writing again. I’d put my own desire to write on the back burner for quite a while. Writing helped me to get through the difficult time of watching my father decline and decline until finally he went to Heaven and met Jesus. When I felt the call in my life to write, I knew I didn’t have any choice but to do so. There have definitely been moments of difficulty, moments where I wanted to give up, where I wondered if I was talented enough to do this job. I still have those moments, to be honest! But time and time again, God whispers for me to trust him. I had to get to the point in my life where I was willing to trust him, even if it meant giving up writing. When I could truly say that, then my focus became much clearer.

Many new writers are surprised to learn how long is the process from the seed of a novel idea until it reaches the bookstore shelves. What was your experience?

With Hazardous Duty, the original idea came to me after I read that there were people who actually cleaned crime scenes as a career. I had no idea! I immediately realized that that career would be excellent for a protagonist in a mystery novel. I wrote the book, submitted it and had several requests for some revisions and then to resubmit. Finally, Kregel offered me a contract. That was right before the ACFW conference in 2005. I started writing the book in 2004. The book released November 2006. That’s actually kind of quick turn around time for some publishing houses!

How did your writing life change when your son, Eli, was born...beyond the obvious schedule challenges?

To say my schedule changed a lot would be an understatement. LOL. My schedule changed and it continues to change at each new phase. My son is at this phase where he doesn’t want to take naps now, so I’m facing a new challenge… When Eli, who’s now two, was born, I went from writing full-time (not for a full-time pay, mind you) to writing two days a week. Now those two days include my work for the newspaper and the articles I still freelance for a couple of publications. I *used* to write while he took naps, but now the little guy is being stubborn and wanting to be with mommy *all* the time. Which is sweet. A little draining, but sweet. I try and wake up early to write. What’s really worked for me is this: when I know someone is going out of town, I ask if I can housesit for them for the weekend. Then, with my husband’s blessing, of course, I pack up and “move out of the house” for a couple of days. I dedicate that time to write furiously—no TV or email or anything else. This has really worked for me—and it’s free!

Your giftedness for the genre you're now writing is clear. Do you have other types of books you'd like to tackle in the future? Something radically different from romantic comedic mysteries?
I actually never planned to write romantic comedic mysteries, believe it or not! I just started writing Gabby’s story and that’s what the book turned into! I really do love suspense—the edge of your seat stuff. I also have a CIA series that I wrote several years back that’s kind of adventurous and fun. We’ll see!

What creature comforts do you draw around you when you write?
Coca-cola and chips. And I wonder why my hips are getting bigger.
What part does worship play in your writing preparation?
I’m also a part-time worship leader at my church. I gave this up for awhile after Eli was born but now I’m doing it again. I really missed it when I quit because music and worship is such a huge part of my life. Worship helps put things in perspective for me. It calms me and gets my focus on the Creator of all good things. I’m constantly talking to God through worship.
What comes first for you--the plot idea, the characters, a stirring scene, a title, an opening line...?
It would depend on the book, to be honest. Each one has varied. For Hazardous Duty, the idea to use a crime-scene cleaner as a protagonist was the initial spark. The idea for another book, The Good Girl (unpubbed), was sparked when I was house-sitting for my brother in Minnesota. The house was old and kind of creepy. I kept hearing these weird noises, like someone opening the backyard gate in the middle of the night. The next morning, the gate really was open! I had this character that had been floating around in my mind for awhile and suddenly I realized she was meant to be house-sitting in a creepy old house where weird things like gates opening in the middle of the night happened! That’s what sparked that book.
As a young mom, you've no doubt discovered tips and tricks for managing a home, a young child, a meaningful marriage, service to your church, and your personal life as well as your writing career. Right? In what areas do you feel you've latched onto a good system? What helpful hints do you have to offer other writers?
I always tell people who make excuses about not having time to write that if I can do it, they can do it. Seriously. I lead worship at church, write for the newspaper, write for other publications, write my books, market my books and, most importantly, I’m the mother of a two-year-old and wife of Scott. The only way I can honestly say I get that all done is by God’s grace, that I’m right where he wants me to be and he gives me the strength and “multiplies my hours.” I try to have a low maintenance lifestyle, and that helps. I don’t worry about my house looking picture perfect—though I do like for it to be clean. I always make sure I clean when my son is with me and can help. I’m not a member of a lot of clubs or extracurricular activities. I don’t fuss over getting my nails done. My hair is no longer highlighted so I don’t have to worry about getting my roots touched up. I never buy clothes I have to iron. I also plan out each week pretty meticulously. I write down everything that needs to get done and then schedule a time for it. Communication with your spouse helps also. If he and I aren’t in sync, then everything is out of sync.

We haven't talked yet about your latest book in the series--Suspicious Minds. Great cover. Great story. A large cast of lovable, interesting characters. Describe for us how you keep the "funny" in their mystery-solving antics?
The “funny” just grew naturally out of the characters. They’re so just so real to me that I can hear their constant dialogue in my head. I’d be sitting somewhere, doing something else, when suddenly they’d start talking to me and I’d crack up. Which other people thought was weird, of course. I think the “funny” in the Squeaky Clean series comes entirely from the characters. If I’d picked a different character to be my crime scene cleaner, the story could have been much darker, sadder, gorier.

Any editor would applaud your ability to weave faith issues organically in your stories. Does that flow naturally as you write or do you work at making it appear seamless?
I’m glad you used the word “organic” because I use that a lot to describe my writing. I try to make issues grow naturally out of the characters. I don’t want to write a “sermon in disguise.” Every faith issue is there because that’s what the characters demanded, not because I choose to put it there.
My opinion is that your books are a perfect choice for people who want an entertaining break from the stresses of life but who don't have time for fluff. That may sound contradictory, but I'm impressed that your books give the illusion of pure fun while presenting meaningful faith and relationship a luscious dessert that you find out later is full of nutrients. Who are you hoping will read "Suspicious Minds"?
One thing I’ve loved hearing from my readers is that my books are ones they can share with their friends who don’t know Christ. That’s totally where my heart is! I believe in being in a light in the darkness… but a lot of times, as Christians, we tend to try and be lights in an already lit room. I want Christians to read and enjoy my books, but I also have a heart for reaching those who need hope.

Do you have any closing thoughts for readers and writers? Is there one thing you've always wished an interviewer would ask you?
Thank you so much, Cynthia, for taking the time to do this interview. Great questions! Is there one thing I’ve always wished an interviewer would ask me? Hm…. You know? I can’t think of anything! Thanks again!