Mary DeMuth's four-class track, Inside Out Fiction: How Cultivating an Inner Life with Jesus Deepens our Stories was my own emphasis at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas this month.
Mary, many excellent classes are offered on the craft of writing, but this is the first track I can recall with the emphasis on the influence of our writing life and Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our Faith (whose own work has been a best-seller for centuries, as we know.) It was wonderful.
Thanks for coming by to tell us about the sequel to Watching the Tree Limbs, your latest novel, Wishing on Dandelions.
This book deals with difficult subject matter: childhood sexual abuse and its residual affects. How did this book emerge?
My passion is to write about redemption through the avenue of story. I started the first book, Watching the Tree Limbs, in a flurry. In my mind I saw the streets of Burl and a girl who didn’t know where she came from. Because my personal story involves different instances of sexual abuse, I wanted to write a story that showed the reader how God could intersect an abuse-victim’s life and make a difference.
So, are you Maranatha?
In some ways yes, some no. Like Maranatha, I felt like God had transformed my life in such a radical way (like her name change from Mara—bitter—to Maranatha). Like Maranatha, I endured sexual abuse, but I was much younger when it happened. Like Maranatha, I wondered if I had been marked, that every sexual predator could “tell” I was a ready victim. I wrestled through relationships in my teens with Maranatha’s twin feelings of revulsion and attraction. But, she is not me in many other ways. She is more independent. She has no parents. She lives in an entirely different culture. She is less ambitious. She has the privilege of many wiser people to mentor her through life.
What made you decide to write a love story?
The book didn’t start out in my mind as a love story, but it evolved into it as I continued writing. Characters have that uncanny way of taking your prose and running in all sorts of directions with it. Charlie just kept being faithful. In a sense, I fell in love with him!
What made you choose East Texas as the setting for both novels?
The South fascinates me. I grew up in the Northwest. When my last child was born, my husband was transferred to East Texas to start a department in a hospital. Because I was a stay-at-home mom and home schooling, I didn’t have much else to do there except to observe small town southern culture. Because I didn’t grow up in that culture, my senses were heightened and I eventually began to really appreciate the differences.
Childhood sexual abuse is not talked about very often, and seldom covered in novels. What made you decide to write about it?
For that very reason. The more victims are quiet, the less healing they will receive. The more we talk about it, bringing heinous acts to the light, the better able we are to know we are not alone. I wrote this book so other abuse victims would feel validated and heard. And to offer hope.
Why do you end your books with hope?
Because hope is essential to Jesus’ Gospel. Even when things are bleak, there is always hope—if not in this life, then in the next. I’m not interested, however, in presenting hope in a superfluous way. I don’t want to tie up every story thread neatly. The truth is, life is tragic and difficult and bewildering, but God intersects that life and brings hope.
Have you always wanted to write?
Yes. Since my second grade teacher told my mother that she thought I was a creative writer, I’ve wanted to write. I kept a diary since the sixth grade. Though I was an English major, I didn’t start writing seriously until my first daughter was born. I wrote for ten years in obscurity before my writing career took a turn for the better.
Who are your literary heroes?
I love Harper Lee. I only wish she’d written more. Leif Enger, who wrote Peace Like a River, greatly inspired me to write visually and artistically. I love Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees, how you could almost taste her characters. I’m fascinated and intimidated by J.R.R. Tolkein—how he managed to create an entire world with several languages is way beyond my literary prowess.
What do you want your reader to take away from Wishing on Dandelions?
That redemption of a broken life takes time. We’re all on a journey of healing. Sometimes it’s slow going, but if we can endure through the dark times, God will bring us to new places of growth. I want the images and characters to stay with a reader for a long time.
And I'm sure they will. They're well-drawn and have depth--or shallowness, as the case may be, LOL. I've just seen your wedding with a rather trying bride. She is so well-drawn. loved the first book and am halfway into the second. I love the characters, mood, the strong sense of place, and being in that young girl's head with her young thoughts, her pain and her undaunted optimism. The stories are charming and deal with important themes.
Now, recently, you told me you saw differences between the Northwest and Texas. That you found the people in the NW more likely to invite you to their homes, and in Texas, you saw people more open with their Christianity, or words to that effect. I love how you describe one of your Southern characters, who shall remain unnamed, after he or she dies as now jitterbugging with Jesus. (I enjoy a lively church, too. :) Did you base Maranatha's wonderful church friends on real people in Texas?
Actually, those friends existed in my head, although I’m sure that they’re all a composite of folks I’ve met along the road of faith.
How would you sum up the point of your class, Inside Out Fiction?
What’s inside us is what spills out on the page. How can we write about turnarounds or redemption if we haven’t dared embraced either? How can we pen words about healing if we’re unwilling to go there ourselves? Our words flow from our hearts. To deepen our words, we must ask God to continually change our hearts.
I surely do. Merci beaucoup for the visit, Mary. Au revoir, come back soon. We'll miss you beaucoup.
All, leave a comment to be eligible to have your name drawn to win a free copy of Wishing on Dandelions. I'll announce the winner on Saturday, October 7th.