Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Guest Interview: Cindy Sproles

This Fall I had a chance to glance at the upcoming titles as part of an article I wrote for Library Journal. When I read about Cindy Sprole's upcoming release, Mercy's Rain I was intrigued by its summary. I love women's fiction that dares to handle contemporary issues all while maintaining a faith perspective. Misconduct in the pastorate and spousal abuse are hot buttons that the church must address and I have not seen them tackled often in Christian fiction. As a yankee turned belle, I also love reading Southern fiction of any type and Cindy's Appalachian setting is one of my favorites (especially since we are blessed with another mountain-based writer here, Pepper). I'm thrilled to share her answers to questions on writing and publication. She has some great insights to share!

1) Where were you when you received the "call" from an editor for the first time?

I was sitting at my desk editing devotions. As the executive Editor and cofounder of ChristianDevotions.us (Christian Devotions Ministries), I spend a lot of time editing submissions. I think my eyes were rossed when my agent contacted me with news from that first editor. I did that “palm-to-the forehead” smack. My agent had shopped this novel for well over a year and a half, and when we got that first nibble, my response was, “Finally!”  It’s always a thrill, whether it’s your first note of from an editor or your hundredth, to get that nod of approval.

2) What was your journey to publication like?

Pretty text book. I’ve been told over and over, the average author is six to ten years in training before they land a solid contract with a large house. I’ve never been a quitter, so rejections were something I rarely took to heart. Well, let me qualify that statement. I took the suggestions to heart but the rejections themselves, not so much. I understood publication was tough and you’d have “pay your dues.” Occasionally, I’d have a pity party – you know, the old “It’s never gonna happen” thing. But giving up was never an option for me.

I learned at my very first writer’s conference, that if I wanted to write for God my words may
never end up in a book on the shelves of a bookstore. Rather, they may be meant only for the
person sitting next to me. That was something I wrote down and still have hanging on my
computer. I’m grateful every day for those words from author, Alton Ganksy. They have, over
the years, kept my writing attitude in check.

I will say one other thing. The day, I stopped “looking” for acceptances and simply moved on to
the next project, was the day I stepped out of the way and stopped trying to do God’s job for
Him. Once I relinquished my work back to Him, great things began to happen. 

3) Do you have any writing rituals?

Give me a big glass of iced tea and a portable heater at my cold feet, and I’m good to go. I listen to mountain music (i.e dulcimer and autoharp), not for inspiration, but because I love the relaxation it brings me. Oh, and I talk out loud as I write.

Since my voice rings in the mountain dialect of the Appalachians, I frequently say phrases aloud
to be sure I hear how they sound before I write them.

4) The setting of Appalachia plays a prominent place in your novel. How can we as writers root
our stories in a sense of place?

I think your sense of place, or voice, is what is dear to you. For me, it’s the mountains where I was raised. It’s memories of cutting and hanging tobacco, stirring apples over a fire until my arms ached, and listening to the twang of a banjo being played on the front porch. It’s a rich and unique culture, that honestly, has changed little since the early 1800’s. 

It goes back to writing what you know.

If you’re a lover of the ocean and sailing, then your sense of place will ring truest when you
write about the foamy wash that hangs on your toes as the tide slips back into the ocean. Think
about Nicholas Sparks. Ninety percent of his stories take us to the Outer Banks of North
Carolina – a place that is dear to him, and a place he draws us in from the first line of every
book. We can smell the ocean air, feel the wind whip at our hair. It’s what Sparks “knows,” and
what he can best share with his readers.

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, folks are warm and friendly. Many have the heart of a
servant because this is how we’re raised. You help your neighbor and they’ll return the favor
when you’re in need. When I put my readers knee deep in the genuine culture of the
Appalachians, then they can smell the crisp scent on the breeze. They’re transported smack dab
into what I know best – the very heart of who I am, and who the people are that I love so much.
Readers will see and feel the angst and the loyalty of mountain people. If I’m lucky, they’ll fall
in love with this culture as well.

5) How did you decide to tackle the challenging subjects of abuse and misconduct in the clergy?

Who better to misbehave and get away with it, than a man of God? Folks tend to put ministers on
a pedestal refusing to believe they could fall into sin themselves. Setting this type of abuse into a
historical timeframe with an unexpected antagonist allowed me to hit the reader hard. I could
drive in the knife, let the reader feel the pain, and then just when they think it’s over – twist the
knife deeper.

My intention wasn’t to pick on preachers, but this seemed to be an ideal way to address a serious
problem from a unique angle. There is misconduct in every profession. The ministry is no
exception. However, it’s the one profession held in a high esteem . . . even by unbelievers. It’s
because of the calling, the trust, and confidentiality behind the profession.

I wanted this book to cross the line from the Christian market into the secular market with a
subject that not only needed addressing, but addressed in a way the non-Christian would relate. If
I could paint a horrible situation that allowed readers to feel the pain of the abused and the
aftermath, then just maybe, they would be so moved that the only alternative is to help these
women and children who suffer such horrible crimes. Maybe as they discover ways to help heal,
they might just find the power of forgiveness through Christ in their own lives.

6) What is your #1 tip for writers?

Have an attitude of gratitude – Writing is not an entitlement.

It’s a gift from God. It’s an opportunity to allow Him to speak through us. By keeping a grateful
attitude, I am reminded daily, it’s not about me. It’s all about Christ and through Him nothing is
impossible. When I keep my attitude in check, then God can work through me. Together, we
make a great team.

7)   What do you wish you'd realized sooner in your writing journey?

I wish I’d have learned the craft in the right order. By that, I mean when you attend that first, second, or even third writers conference, take classes and workshops that meet you at your current level of writing. Learn from the bottom up. I didn’t know that and I chose classes that were too advanced for my writing level. I learned, but I learned things backward and it made the path a little harder. When you attend a conference, stick to your level of writing. Buy the CDs or the MP3s of the conference.
They do that for a reason. You’ll learn at the right pace, in the right order, and your craft will
improve. Better to move ahead step-by-step as opposed to one step ahead and two back.

7) Would you include a favorite scene in your novel to whet our appetites?

I’ll do better than that. How about the first three chapters? http://cindysproles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MercysRainExcerpt.pdf


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Julia, thanks for introducing me to Cindy Sproles. I always love reading posts from an author I haven't
"met" yet.

Cindy, thanks for sharing a bit about yourself, your process and your wisdom. I'm finding I like stories set in Appalachia. :) It was nice getting to know you a little bit.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I really enjoy the setting of Appalachia, too, especially since its not far from me. Doesn't Cindy have great advice for writers?

Pepper said...

Love some good Appalachian storytelling. Thanks for being with us, Cindy. From what part of Appalachia do you come?

Cindy Sproles said...

I'm from East Tennessee - 80 miles from the Smokey Mts, 30 miles from the Blue Ridge Mts. All part of the Appalachian Mtns.