My Guest Author interview today will be with…
I met AnnaLee when she was featured on another author friend’s blog http://elainestock.blogspot.com/2015/01/annalee-conti-secret-of-managing-life.html at the beginning of this year. Please join me in welcoming her to my website and Facebook Group Forum, Writers and Authors
When did you know you wanted to become an author, and why?
I come from a family of readers and writers.
My grandparents, Charles & Florence Personeus, traveled across the continent to Alaska in 1917 to serve as pioneer missionaries. As newlyweds, they left Bible school in Rochester, New York, not knowing even how much it would cost to get to their field of ministry. They went by faith and lived by faith in Alaska for 65 years. My parents, Bob & AnnaMae Cousart, also lived by faith as missionaries in Alaska, where I grew up during the fifties and sixties.
My missionary family members were readers and writers. Grandma Personeus was a storyteller and kept everyone entranced with her accounts of their early days in Alaska. She also read books aloud to us when we grandchildren visited each summer during our childhood. She’d read to us as we did the dishes and in her spare time—books she’d enjoyed as a child. She was also a prolific poet and wrote curriculum for Sunday school quarterlies and articles for church magazines. My mother also wrote continued stories and composed songs for us, for her Sunday school class, and eventually for publication.
My great-grandfather, George Newton LeFevre, wrote and published his own newspaper, The Christian Home, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. It was instrumental in getting the Prohibition Amendment passed. He also wrote a genealogy of The Pennsylvania LeFevres. For many years, my great aunt was editor of The Sunday School Times, a magazine published in Philadelphia. She also wrote nine Christian fiction books under the pen name of Zenobia Bird published by Revell. Recently, I discovered that Beverly Lewis and I share the same LeFevre ancestry.
As a young teenager, I discovered Christian fiction and read all of my aunt’s books. My father subscribed to a Christian book club to provide us with good reading material for cold, dark winter nights. We could hardly wait for the two selections that arrived each month. Those pages influenced my world view and my attitudes about life and love. And my dream to write Christian novels was born.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
About 3 years of actual work, although I jotted notes for it for years before I actually started writing it. In the early seventies, we were stationed in Rhode Island in the Army. We discovered Beavertail Lighthouse in Narraganset Bay. That has become our favorite one-day get-away ever since. We love to sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash in from the Atlantic Ocean on three sides of that rocky point. As I sat there, I’d imagine scenes I’d like to write and jot down notes, descriptions, characters, etc. These became the opening scenes for Evie’s story in Till the Storm Passes By.
What was your biggest problem in writing your first novel?
Writing the middle. That is my struggle now on my third novel too.
How long did it take you to publish your first book?
I loved writing in school and took one writing course in college. After six years as an Army officer, including a tour in Vietnam, my husband felt called into the gospel ministry. While he was in seminary, I worked in editorial at Gospel Publishing House. The editors I worked with encouraged me to write and submit short stories and articles for publication. Soon, I was also writing Sunday school, children’s church, and VBS curriculum on assignment. When we began pastoring, I continued to write curriculum on assignment as well as freelance articles and short stories for more than 25 years.
While I was working at Gospel Publishing House, my grandparents visited us. The year was 1973. Grandma handed me a packet and said, “Many people have asked me to write our story, but I’m too old to see it through by myself, so I’m placing all my written accounts in your hands to do with as you think best.” In 1982, I holed up for a week and wrote the rough draft of Frontiers of Faith. Before Grandma died in 1985, I was able to read it to her and Grandpa. It wasn’t until 2002 that I was able to get it published by 1st Books, now called AuthorHouse.
But I still wanted to write Christian novels. As I was researching the book about my grandparents, I came across several fragments of stories that triggered my imagination, and the idea for my Alaskan Waters series was conceived. At the time, I was teaching fulltime and writing a daily devotional for the website of a Christian radio network. When I was forced to retire from teaching due to an injury, I joined a writing critique group at a local library, and began writing my first novel. Till the Storm Passes By, the first title in my Alaskan Waters series, was published by Ambassador International (Emerald House) in 2013.
Are you published through the traditional method, or are you an Indie author?
Ambassador International is a shared venture that features aspects of both traditional publishing and the Indie route. We share the cost of editing and publishing the book; they assist me in marketing it and pay me royalties.
What is the biggest thing you have learned in the process of becoming an author?
Writing a book is a lonely, difficult job that requires a lot of self-discipline. I write because I have stories of faith to tell—stories that are carriers of truth about God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. I am called by God to write. I write because I can’t not write.
What would you most like to see changed about your own writing, if anything?
I am happy with the three books I’ve published so far. I want to continue to grow in my ability to write stories that touch the hearts of my readers. Over the years I’ve observed that unless the emotions are touched, people don’t change. And my goal in writing is for people to see Jesus in my writing and for their lives to be “conformed to His image.”
What is your genre? Do you think you may write in another at some point?
At this point, my genre is historical fiction. I learned a lot of history from reading that genre as a teenager. After I would read a book, I’d check out the encyclopedia (and the Bible, if it was biblical fiction) to try to discover what was fact and what was fiction. I still enjoy doing that.
How much time do you spend writing each day?
Ideally, at least four hours. In reality, some days I don’t even sit down at my computer. Other days, I write all day. I’d like to become more disciplined about this, but life interferes. This year, my husband had open heart surgery, and I had several procedures on my back. That slowed me down on my writing.
Where do you like to write?
I have an office in our spare bedroom lined with bookcases (full to overflowing), file cabinets, and my desktop computer. When I started out writing, I wrote longhand in a living room chair and typed it on an electric typewriter. Curriculum had to be typed to an exact stroke and line count. That required retyping over and over until I got it right. Now, I love writing on the computer. I can edit without having to retype the whole thing.
If you could go anywhere, where would you most like to go to write?
I’d like to visit Strasbourg, France. My ancestors were French Huguenots who escaped martyrdom at the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in the mid-to-late 1600s. When my husband was stationed in Germany in 1968 in the Army, we drove along the Rhine River and looked across at Strasbourg, but we couldn’t cross into France since he didn’t have an international driving license. I’d like to write a historical novel about my LeFevre ancestors. Visiting Strasbourg would help me place it in its setting.
My ideal writing place would be a house on Douglas Island overlooking Gastineau Channel and Juneau, Alaska, or overlooking Lizianski Inlet in Pelican, Alaska, where I could derive inspiration from the scenes as I write my Alaskan Waters series and my blog’s faith stories about growing up in a missionary family in Alaska.
What experiences in life have contributed to your writing?
I believe all of my experiences contribute to my writing. Extensive travel has certainly helped me write accurately about the settings of my stories. During the fifties and sixties, my family and I traveled by large and small prop airplanes, ferries and boats, trains and subways, and cars all over Alaska and coast to coast across the United States. So far, I have lived in or visited 46 of the 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii, taken an educational bus tour across Canada as a teenager, spent a year in Germany in 1968, visited Belgium and Austria, touched down in Ireland and England, and toured with a group of pastors for a week in Israel in 1986. For the past eight summers, my husband and I have driven cross country from New York to the West Coast and back to visit family and friends.
How have the experiences in your life contributed to your writing?
I say with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:3,4, “Blessed be … the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Having gone through earthquakes and floods in Alaska, separations during the Vietnam War, experiencing the many trials and tribulations as well as the many joys in pastoring, surviving three major car accidents, living by faith and seeing God supply our needs, etc., I am able to forge characters who also find God’s comfort in tribulations. As a writer, I have more to say and I think my characterization is more true to life having personally gone through those hard experiences of life and I share those stories in my blog, “Nuggets of Faith.”
How many books and poems have your written?
I’ve written and published three books so far and am working on my fourth. I have also written several poems—usually only when I have a strong sense of inspiration. A few are on my website:www.AnnaLeeConti.com.
Have you written anything else?
I’ve already mentioned the curriculum, short stories, and articles I’ve written. I also like to write devotionals and paraphrases of familiar Bible passages, such as 1 Corinthians 13. One, entitled “Essays and Empty Sets,” was published in a couple of youth magazines in the seventies.
Do you have a biggest fan?
My mother was my biggest fan. She would tell everybody about my books. She was bolder than I am. She probably sold more of my first book than I did! She went home to be with the Lord in 2012. My 93-year-old dad continues as a big fan and encourager. I know he prays for me every day.
Are you an avid reader yourself?
Yes, I love to read, especially Christian fiction. I can get so engrossed in a book that I don’t write, so I work to balance reading with writing.
Who is your favorite author (aside from yourself, of course)?
I have so many favorite authors (Tracie Peterson, Colleen Coble, Candace Calvert, Beverly Lewis, Miralee Ferrell, Linda Nichols, to name a few), but if I can name only one favorite, I’d have to say Karen Kingsbury. Her stories touch my emotions very deeply. Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series is one of the best Biblical fiction series I’ve read. On the lighter side, I also enjoy Julie Klasson’s books. They remind me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a favorite classic.
Do you have a favorite character in any novel, including your own, and why do you call this character your favorite?
Here again, I have so many favorite characters it is hard to name just one. Evie, in my book, Till the Storm Passes By, is perhaps my favorite so far. She had to overcome so many hurts, tragedies, and personal losses that made forgiving a challenge for her. I see a lot of me in her temperament.
Do you have aspirations of your work becoming a movie?
Several in my writing group have said that Frontiers of Faith would make a good movie. I even started writing a screen play based on it, but it requires extensive reorganization.
Whom would you like to play the leads?
I’ve always thought that Meryl Streep looks a lot like my grandmother, who is the main character in the part of the book I’d use for a screen play. Harrison Ford looks a little like my grandfather.
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and did this have any bearing on how or about what you write?
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the end of World War II. When I was 2 years old, my parents returned to Alaska as missionaries, where we lived by faith. I lived in Juneau until I was 12, then Pelican for 2 years. Pelican had no high school, so my parents moved us to a pastorate in Seward, Alaska, where I went to high school. I met my husband at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where I earned my B.A. in music and elementary education. I love Alaska and miss it terribly. Writing about it is the next best thing to living there.
I lived in Alaska from 1948 to 1970. As a writer friend put it, people who never leave a place grow with the changes and don’t notice them because they happen so gradually. For those who move away and return many years later, the way we left it is indelibly imbedded in our memory. While I have visited Alaska a number of times since I left, the memory of Alaska as I knew it is still fresh in my mind. While exploring themes such as God’s love and human love, forgiveness and reconciliation, rebellion and redemption, fear and faith, death and sorrow, I showcase the majestic beauty and fascinating history of the Alaska I remember.
Note from interviewer: AnnaLee did not mention her second book in the Alaska Water series. Here is a picture of the cover.
Where did you spend most of your life?
I grew up in Alaska, but I have spent most of my adult life in New York State, where my husband and I came in 1977 to pioneer a new church planting in Gloversville (40 miles northwest of Albany). We have pastored three churches and are now retired from pastoring.
Tell us a little more about yourself personally; family, friends, pets, hobbies, etc.
My husband and I are both ordained ministers. (I am the fifth generation ordained minister in my grandfather’s line.) I have taken an active part in all of our pastorates, serving as minister of music, Christian education, and women’s ministries, and on our New York State denominational C. E. and women’s ministries committees. We both sing solos as well as together and in choirs, and I have directed choirs and musicals and played the piano for services. Serving as the bookkeeper in all the churches we pastored provided an enjoyable break from all the demands on my creativity.
We have one son, whom God gave us in answer to prayer. (That story is on my blog.) He is an elementary school teacher in Newburgh (just across the Hudson River from where we live in Beacon). He has given us five grandchildren: a girl and four boys ages 22 to 13. It is our joy to see them grow up in the ways of the Lord. The family lives in a house built by my husband’s grandfather in 1938.
In addition to reading, I enjoy watching Hallmark movies with happy endings, scrapbooking, and other arts and crafts. I have taught tole painting and have also filled my house with decorative plaster craft lamps and bookends I have painted. I’ve also given many to family members as gifts. I used to sew my own clothes (until it became cheaper to buy readymade and alter them to fit). I also crochet, embroider, and do counted cross stitch and crewel work.
In fifth grade I decided I wanted to be an elementary teacher, so I earned a teaching certificate in college. I actually only taught in schools for four years. I found my niche in adult education, teaching GED classes for eight years. But God never wastes our experiences. My degree in education equipped me for my work in Christian education and writing church school curriculum. For a number of years I have taught Bible and ministry preparation classes to prepare people for pastoring and other church leadership. I view my writing as an extension of my ministry gift of teaching.
Do you have any words of wisdom for future authors?
Raymond Obstfeld said, “The main difference between successful writers and wannabe writers is not talent—it’s perseverance.” I taped that quote to my computer.
To that I would add, read, read, and read good literature. Write, write, and write!
Study the craft of writing:
· The mechanics: good vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
· The techniques of plot, characterization, structure, emotions, themes, dialogue, etc.
· Resources: local libraries, magazines on writing (The Writer, Writer’s Digest), websites for writers and of writers, local writing groups, and writing courses in college or online.
· Develop a platform on social media, develop a website, and start writing a blog.
When do you think your next book will come out?
I’m hoping to finish the third book in the Alaska Waters series, Beside Still Waters, and have it published by the spring of 2016.
Where can your readers and future readers contact you?
Blog “Nuggets of Faith”: http://AnnaLeeConti.blogspot.com/
Thank you, AnnaLee Conti for your time and the opportunity to present you, the author, and your work.