Chattin’ it up with Meg

Today my guest is fellow WaterBrook author Meg Moseley, whose novel When Sparrows Fall debuted this week. It’s been a good week for us WaterBrookians. Also in the news today, The Christy Awards 2011 nominations were announced. I am happy to say Lady in Waiting is on the short list for contemporary standalone. Pretty cool. I share this joy with many fabulous authors, including WaterBrook colleagues Kirstin Heitzmann, David Gregory, and Jonathan Rogers.

Meg grew up in California, loves vintage bungalows, twisted oaks on rolling hills, and the rocky beaches of the Central Coast.  As a young adult, she worked at a variety of jobs, from candle-maker in a tourist town to administrative assistant at a Christian college. She married a Michigan man and lived north of Detroit for seventeen years. That’s where she started homeschooling her three children, a journey that she finished in Georgia when her youngest graduated from high school in 2009. She and her husband live near Atlanta, close to the foothills of the Southern Appalachians.

Susan: When Sparrows Fall is your debut novel, but you’ve been writing for awhile, right?
Meg: When I was six or so, I sometimes played in the office of my father’s menswear store while he worked. He often gave me blank sheets of paper to staple into miniature books. The empty pages begged to be filled, but it was an exercise in futility because I couldn’t spell many words. Sometimes I banged away at his late mother’s old typewriter instead. That was frustrating too, but it made me feel connected to “Gran.”

I never knew Gran, but even as a child I knew I wanted to be like her. She was a writer whose magazine articles, poetry, and children’s stories helped keep food on her table during the Great Depression. My dad was the keeper of Gran’s unpublished family stories, in which she made her ancestors live again as pioneers, circuit riders, and gold miners. She made me feel the sway of her grandfather’s Conestoga wagon, see gold flakes glimmering in the pan, and taste the juicy peaches her father raised near Los Angeles before it became a metropolis.  

But as a young adult I fell prey to the warped belief that if a novel wasn’t overtly Christian, it had no redeeming qualities. For years, I avoided general market fiction. It wasn’t until I was homeschooling my children that I knew I was starving for good stories. Classic children’s books wooed me back into reading a broad range of novels for adults.
Susan: You were in your forties when you wrote your first book – so was I! What has the process been like?
Meg: I didn’t know the first thing about the process. Happily deluded at first, I thought my first novel was pretty good. Nobody agreed with me, but I kept writing. One of my best learning experiences was my stint as a “community columnist” for a suburban section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I received the promised pay of “all the newsprint you can eat” plus an occasional dinner with the other columnists. The experience gave me confidence, if nothing else. I kept writing fiction too, but with growing frustration. Like my six-year-old self, I knew what I longed to do but I didn’t know how to do it.

That began to change when I discovered writers’ groups and critique partners who helped me learn the craft. I wrote six novels before I produced one worthy of publication, but the ones that didn’t sell weren’t a waste of time. Each one brought me closer to knowing what I wanted to write. Not just boy-meets-girl stories, although they’re fun, but woman-meets-patriarchy stories, or man-meets-racism stories. Now, instead of filling homemade books with first-grade words, I fill a blank computer screen with words that I pray will matter. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. 
Susan: So tell us where your main character, Miranda, emerged from:
Meg: Although I didn’t name Miranda after the heroine of Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, I soon saw the parallels. Shakespeare’s Miranda lives on an isolated island where she’s controlled by a manipulator, much like my Miranda lives in isolation under the thumb of a conniving clergyman. I scoured The Tempest for appropriate lines for Jack to quote to Miranda, but none of them worked so I scrapped that idea. Jack does quote a variety of playwrights, poets, and songwriters, though. If you pay attention, you’ll find tidbits from Robert Burns, Stephen Sondheim, and many more. I had a lot of fun with that, and—dare I say it?—I think Jack enjoyed it as much as I did.
I liked Jack right away, but I didn’t like Miranda in the early drafts of the story. Because her marriage had made her not just submissive but subservient, she had all the backbone of a wet dishrag. As I revised the story, though, she turned into a fighter with opinions and nerve and a sense of humor, which she needed for her dealings with the sometimes difficult Jack.

Susan:  I’ve long been in awe of friends who’ve homeschooled their children into amazingly smart and socially-adjusted adults, but in When Sparrows Fall, you paint a picture of a church/homeschool subculture that perhaps many people aren’t aware of. Does your plot stem from personal experience?
Meg: Anyone who reads When Sparrows Fall might wonder if the story is drawn from my own experiences. Am I like Miranda, a homeschooling mother whose six children have never heard of the Beatles or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Am I like Miranda, whose husband taught her that fiction is frivolous, if not downright wicked?
Well, no. Although my husband and I homeschooled our three children, we backed away from extremist views before we got in over our heads.

Most of our homeschooling experiences were positive, and we treasure the friendships we made during those years. I loved homeschooling. I’ll always be a defender of the many positive aspects of the movement, but I also want to point out the negative extremes. I’m using a specific, fictional situation to make people think about the real-life teachings and practices that bring harm to lovely, sincere Christian homeschoolers. Most homeschoolers are beautifully normal and admirably stubborn non-conformists who think for themselves, but I worry about the ones who’ve been sucked into fear-driven legalism.

Unlike Miranda, though, I don’t see the government as my adversary, I’ve never been married to an abusive man, and I certainly don’t have Miranda’s qualms about enjoying fiction. Like her, though, and like parents everywhere, I want my children to be safe and happy, no matter how old they are.

My fictional characters are my children too, in a sense, birthed in my imagination. I daydreamed Miranda into existence by asking myself, “What if?”
What if a homeschool mom is a single parent, raising a large family on her own? What if she has a secret that someone uses against her? What if she encounters spiritual abuse in her church but isn’t free to leave?

Yes, I’m like Miranda in some ways. From the day I started playing with her story until the day I typed “The End,” I learned lessons with Jack and Miranda. One of them is that it’s all right to admit that you don’t have all the answers and you never will.
Susan: I learn from my characters all the time! So, what’s next on the horizon for you?
Meg: I’m working on a novel about a young woman who lost her father to a deep mountain lake when she was a teenager. His body was never recovered. Now it seems he might have faked his drowning and fled to the wilderness. As she and her longtime friends search for answers, they uncover memories of a mysterious event in their childhood that might explain everything but might break all their hearts.

Glad to have had Meg here on Edgewise. Hope you all have a lovely weekend, and if there is someone here on the planet who mothered you, tell that person how much they mean to you. . . 

Author: Susan

This post has 3 Comments

  1. Missy Tippens on May 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Congratulations on the Christy nomination, Susan!!

    And Meg, I'm loving your book! Hated to put it down last night. 🙂

  2. Susan Meissner on May 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks, Missy!

  3. lisamckaywriting on May 7, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Congratulations Susan!! And thanks for posting the interview.

Leave a Comment