I got to know Rebecca Talley when I served under her on the board on LDStorymakers, a guild for LDS published authors that puts on a terrific writer’s conference every spring. She’s published several other books since then and I thought it was about time I interviewed her here.
ME: Your childhood in Santa Barbara, California near the beach sounds idyllic, but how is it you and your sister came to be raised by your maternal grandparents? And has any of that background worked its way into your fiction writing? (I’d love a picture of you at the beach.)
REBECCA: Our parents died when my sister and I were quite young. Our maternal grandparents, in their sixties, took on the responsibility of raising a second family. Thankfully, they were willing to raise us so we didn’t have to be separated or sent to foster homes. (What a blessing! Grandparents are so important.)
(Another great picture of her with her father)
(And here’s one of her and her sister on the beach)
My first novel, “Heaven Scent,” was inspired by my mother, who wore a very specific perfume. During particularly difficult times in my life, I have been able to smell her perfume and feel her so close to me I could almost reach out and touch her. I included this in “Heaven Scent,” as the main character loses her mother and searches for understanding about life after death.
REBECCA: Santa Barbara has a very strong Spanish influence in both its architecture and its history. Every year in August, SB celebrates Old Spanish Days or “Fiesta” as the locals call it, which is a huge celebration that includes horse events, flamenco dancing and traditional mariachi bands at the Court House and the Old Mission, parades, parties, and outdoor markets.
As a kid, I took ballet and tap then moved on to flamenco. I loved to dance and play my castanets. I once danced for five miles along the parade route and ended up with lots of blisters. I also once danced for a large group and fell off the stage. That was embarrassing. (I’ll bet! :D)
ME: How did your years at BYU, and your degree in Communications, prepare you for the kind of fiction writing you do?
REBECCA: My experience at BYU was the basis for my second novel, “Altared Plans.”
I now wish I had majored in English, as I had planned when I was in high school. Communications was a good major, but I don’t think it prepared me much to be a novelist. (Hmmm…as a Communications major myself, I might argue with you on that one. It taught me to write sparely.) However, all life experiences are great fodder for writing. (I couldn’t agree more!)
ME: Okay, you’ve lived in Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado (and did I hear you’ve now moved to Texas?). What are the best and worst things about each of those places, and which has proven to be the most inspirational in terms of your writing, and why? (I’d love to post a picture of you with your family, plus a picture of you with your llama.)
REBECCA: I lived in Utah while going to school and I loved the college life in Provo. I had a blast there. I didn’t like the pollution in the winter and I wasn’t a big fan of the snow.
We lived in Provo for a few years after we got married then moved to NM for a job. I had a great experience in Farmington, NM. I loved the people and the small town feel. I had to get used to the dry desert and the lack of services and goods offered because it was such a small town, but I loved living there.
We decided to move to Colorado to purchase land and live a more rural lifestyle. I loved the peace and quiet and the beauty of living in a rural area. The mountains in Colorado are gorgeous and there’s an abundance of wildlife.
The best part was that my sister and her family (now 12 kids) lived right across the street from us. (Are you two competing for largest family or something?) We had lots and lots of great fun together. I didn’t love the very cold temperatures in the winter (in January it hovered at zero degrees) and I didn’t love when the snow made it impossible to get out of my driveway. It was also hard living on a well with so many kids, especially in the dry years. Most years in August we had to start choosing between doing dishes, taking showers, or doing laundry. But I loved the wide open spaces and having horses, cows, dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, sheep, and pigs. Actually, I didn’t love having pigs. (How come you didn’t mention the llama?)
(Rebecca’s large gorgeous family)
We now live in a suburb of Houston, Texas and love it. There are some wonderful people here and we love where we live. We are so close to everything and the kids especially love having a pool. For me, each place has been its own inspiration and has been a great place for me at that time of my life. I think you can find inspiration anywhere. I just love to be with my family, so wherever they are, I am happy and can find inspiration.
(The author with her daughters and daughter-in-law in front of the courthouse in Santa Barbara where she used to perform)
ME: What are some of the common themes in all of your fiction, or are no two books alike? Why or why not?
REBECCA: I think some of the common themes are that you can’t plan everything. You have to let go and trust God that things will work out. I am such a control freak and I’ve had to realize that I can’t control everything—well, actually, I really can’t control anything, except how I react to what happens. I make my characters struggle with hard questions, some of which have no real answers.
(That makes for good fiction.)
ME: How would you define LDS fiction as opposed to fiction written by LDS authors, or is there a difference?
REBECCA: I think LDS fiction deals directly with LDS themes, while fiction written by LDS authors deal with more general themes. LDS fiction generally has LDS subjects and characters within the story and doesn’t include profanity, sex scenes, or explicit violence. Fiction written by LDS authors for a general audience may have sex scenes, violence, profanity, and very mature themes.
There is currently a group of LDS authors who are writing for a general audience but with LDS standards—clean fiction, if you will. These books can range from light romance to fantasy to serious drama, but don’t include much profanity, if any, no sex scenes and no graphic violence. (I’m glad you mentioned that.)
I think there are three categories for readers: if they want to read a story with LDS characters dealing with LDS subjects, or if they want to read general stories that have LDS standards but not LDS characters or themes, or if they are simply looking for a story without LDS characters, themes, or standards.
(Rebecca and a few of her author friends displaying some of her books)
ME: Tell us about the first novel you ever wrote and compare it with your latest, IMPERFECT LOVE. What have you noticed in terms of your progression as a writer?
REBECCA: My first novel was pretty rough. I didn’t understand the evolution of a story, or the structure, as well as I (hopefully) do now. I just had a story I wanted to tell and that was it. Now, I understand that there are certain elements of story that must be present and a framework underneath the prose. I think I understand the mechanics better and, hopefully, my language use is better. (I’m sure it is. Practice can’t help but make you better.)
ME: What was the most difficult novel you ever wrote, and why? And which was the most personal?
REBECCA: My YA paranormal, AURA, was the most difficult for me to write because it’s an urban fantasy with some magic in it. I’m not much into fantasy, so it was difficult for me to get this one right. I learned after writing that book that I’m much more comfortable writing realistic fiction.
My first three books all had personal ties. HEAVEN SCENT was inspired by my mom and losing her. ALTARED PLANS was inspired by my courtship with my husband and has some true experiences in it. THE UPSIDE OF DOWN was probably the most personal because it delved into a woman learning she has a child with Down syndrome, and I wrote it while my own feelings about having a child with Down syndrome were still very raw. I felt like part of my soul was on those pages.
ME: What are you working on now and how would you describe your writing process?
REBECCA: I am currently in the brainstorming phase for several novel ideas. I’m going to see which one grabs me the most and work on that next.
I generally do some pre-writing, like outlining some scenes, writing character sketches, finding photos of my characters, freewriting. After I feel like I know enough, I write a rough draft in a month or so. After I let it sit, I go back and rewrite and work on it for a few months then turn it over to my critique partners to shred it. After I rewrite it with their suggestions, I let other readers go through it. I have hired professional editors to also go through my books.
(Never a bad choice.)
ME: Finally, with such a large household, where do you retreat to write? If you have a favorite writing space, please detail five things about it that makes it different from every other author’s writing space. (And I must have a picture.)
REBECCA: My writing place isn’t anything special. It’s a big recliner in the corner of my bedroom. It is my own space, and my kids know not to get into my “writing stuff.” I’d love to say I have a large walnut desk overlooking the ocean, but I don’t. My bedroom window does look out to the pool, if that counts.
(Hey, pools always count in my book…literally, if you’ve read A Night on Moon Hill. :D)
I’ll be talking with romance author Susan Aylworth next week, so be sure to check back!
Originally posted 2014-03-19 06:00:53.