This month our selection is Composing
Amelia, a novel by Alison Strobel. Please join us at
www.shereads.org to participate in
our discussion via our blog or
online forum—a great alternative for those who would like to be in a
book club but don’t have access to one.
Composing Amelia is
not your first novel. Can you tell us about your journey in fiction?
I’ve been writing since I was a
child. I wrote my first novel in junior high! But I was too dubious of
my abilities to ever consider pursuing it professionally and too
entrenched in responsible firstborn thinking, so I went into education
instead and viewed my writing as nothing more than a hobby.
Then I moved to California, and
God gave me an idea for a story as I was driving through Hollywood for
the first time. I finished it eighteen months later, put it in a
binder, stuck it in my closet, and figured that was the end of that. I
didn’t think there was any point in even trying to get it published
because I knew from watching my dad how hard it was to break into
publishing, and I didn’t think I had the talent to write anything
anyone other than my mother would want to read. Now, looking back, I
picture God rolling His eyes and saying, “Sheesh, this one really is
going to need a giant neon sign!” And that’s pretty much what He gave
me: an editor contacted me through my dad, asking to see the story, and
a few months later I had a two-book contract.
I didn’t have two books, though,
just the one. I figured God got me that contract, so He must have
another idea waiting for me. For book #2, God dropped the idea into my
lap, and that’s pretty much how it keeps working out. I finish a book,
think, “I wonder if I’ll ever get to write another one?” and then a
song or a situation will plant the seed for yet another story, and off
you to write this novel?
My best friend/roommate in
college developed bipolar disorder our junior year. It was a scary time
for both of us—she had no idea what was wrong with her, her family
didn’t believe her when she said something was wrong, and I watched my
best friend plummet into depression so deep that I had to take her to
the ER to stop her from killing herself. We couldn’t find any resources
that approached mental illness from a Christian perspective, and people
kept saying stupid things to her like, “You’re not praying hard enough
for healing,” or “If you were closer to God this wouldn’t be
happening.” She was a new Christian, too, which made it even worse, and
made me even more angry! Writing professionally wasn’t even a blip on
my radar at the time, but I remember thinking, “Someday I’m going to
write a book about Christians and mental illness.” I was thinking of a
nonfiction book that helped sufferers and their support people
understand what was happening, what their treatment options were, how
mental illness was not the result of being lousy Christians. But God
had other plans, and instead I wrote Composing Amelia.
What do you
want readers to take away from your books?
First and foremost, I hope
readers enjoy reading my books. Some of my novels are pretty heavy, but
I try to balance them so readers won’t leave with a massive weight on
their shoulders. But I’d also be thrilled to hear that my books made a
difference in readers’ spiritual lives, or even their lives in general.
Powerful themes of grace, redemption, and forgiveness figure big into
my novels, mostly by God’s design. I pray that by seeing these concepts
in action, readers will be touched by them as well.
one piece of advice do you offer new fiction writers?
Keep studying the craft. You may
think you’ve learned it all, but you haven’t. Keep studying. When I got
that first contract, I thought it meant I had arrived, that I must know
what I was doing. I’d taken only one creative writing class and had
a writer’s conference or read a book on writing. Nearly
everything I knew about writing I picked up just from reading, which
I’d done voraciously since I was about eight. But then I discovered
ACFW, and I ordered their conference MP3s out of curiosity,
and when I started listening to them I was like Dorothy stepping out of
the house into Technicolor Oz. I couldn’t believe that, for example,
there were actual plot structures to follow! That’s when I realized I
really had no idea what I was doing as a writer. I’d lucked out with Worlds
Collide. Studying the craft became one of my favorite things
to do. And it still is. Even after six books, I still have so much to
What do you
most like to read?
Something that is
going to challenge me and make me think; something that is going to
suck me in. I don’t like fluff stories. I tend to gravitate toward
contemporary and women’s fiction—Lisa Samson, Jodi Picoult, and Douglas
Coupland are some favorites, but I also have a soft spot for cyberpunk
and Terry Pratchett, whose books I can’t pigeonhole into a genre.
What’s up next
I wish I knew! Life right now is
a giant question mark. I have four women’s fiction proposals submitted,
as well as four proposals for children’s books, which I write as Ali
Morrow with my husband, Dan. I lost my “day job” in July, so I’m
working on getting my teaching credential here in Colorado, looking for
freelance writing and editing jobs, and also searching for speaking
gigs. The last month and a half have been amazing in how they’ve
deepened my faith. God’s got something lined up, and when I’m ready for
it, He’ll hand it down. Until then I’m just plugging away at the job
search and working here and there on one of the books I proposed. Even
in the midst of all that’s going on, I can’t stop working on books. I
love it too much!
About Composing Amelia:
Can a brand-new marriage withstand the weight of generations-old
Newlyweds Amelia and Marcus
Sheffield are recent college grads, trying to stay afloat in LA while
searching for their dream jobs. Marcus hopes to become a mega-church
pastor. Amelia has an esteemed music degree, and longs to play piano
professionally. The Sheffields are clearly city people.
But when a small town church
offers Marcus a job, the couple’s dedication to their dreams and each
other is tested. After a risky compromise is made, Amelia falls into a
dark emotional place, where she finds skeletons she’d fought hard to
deny. In desperation, she calls out to God. But why can’t she find Him?
While Amelia struggles, Marcus learns news that nearly crushes him. He
must lean on his faith to withstand the pressure … or risk losing his
Alison Strobel, whose father,
award-winning author Lee Strobel, instilled her with a love of stories
at a young age, has written four novels, including Reinventing
Rachel. She has also written the children’s books That’s
Where God Is and That’s When I Talk to God
with her husband, Dan Morrow. She lives in Colorado with her husband
and two daughters.