A two-time ACFW Genesis winner, Carla Stewart is a Guideposts Writers Workshop alumna and has been published in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, and several regional magazines and anthologies. Her debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, releases in June 2010 with FaithWords. Carla enjoys a good cup of coffee, weekend getaways with her husband, and the antics of their six grandchildren.
My name is Carla Stewart. Thanks for allowing me to share a little about my writing journey and to introduce you to my first book, Chasing Lilacs.
The idea for Chasing Lilacs sprang from childhood curiosity—the occasional whisper of someone who’d had a nervous breakdown or shock treatments. Not only were these taboo topics for conversation in the 1950s, I later learned that the ailments themselves were often misunderstood and not always treated properly. As a writer, I wanted to explore what it might have been like for an adolescent girl from that era to have a mother with these problems.
The setting is similar to the one where I grew up in the Texas Panhandle: a close knit petroleum camp where neighbors helped one another and kept an eye on everyone’s kids. It was a more carefree time, almost magical, and I hope I’ve portrayed some of that feeling—Elvis on the radio, poodle hair cuts, endless hot summers, Grapette in a bottle.
I began the story in 2004 and had only written a few chapters when I joined a critique group. They loved the story and helped me with so many things—writing craft, finding the heart of the story. Once I had a solid start, I entered two regional contests and received second place awards in both of them. At this point, the novel wasn’t finished, but over a long summer, I did get it completed and began querying agents as this was the route I felt God was telling me to take. Six months later I had more than forty rejections and wondered if I would ever be published.
About that time I heard about ACFW and joined my local group. I decided I would give my story one more try by having a paid critique at the 2006 conference. This was a turning point, but I still had much work to do. An agent from that conference requested a proposal and told me I wasn’t ready for prime time, but that my writing held promise. He advised me to hire a free-lance editor to read my complete manuscript. I asked for a completely honest, brutal edit. By now, I knew if I was ever going to make it, I had to know the truth about my writing and my story. Boy did she deliver!
It took about three months to rewrite the story, which I entered in the Genesis contest in 2007 and was shocked when I won the Historical Fiction category. I resubmitted to the agent—Chip MacGregor—who passed it on to his new agent at MacGregor Literary—Sandra Bishop. I became one of her first clients, and after helping me polish the proposal, she sold the manuscript to FaithWords seven months later.
Now SIX years after I began writing Chasing Lilacs, I’m holding my debut book in my hands. Looking back, I see that timing was everything. My writing needed improvement. I didn’t have a platform, a website, or networking skills. I heard things like “Stories with a child narrator are a hard sell”, “We are only looking at contemporary manuscripts”, etc. We all know that the market shifts. Now historical fiction is all the rage and many books today feature teen protagonists. And hopefully, I’ve matured as a writer.
Timing, perseverance, heeding the advice of professionals, and prayer have all played a part in my publishing journey, and it’s such a thrill . . . and a privilege to be a writer.
Thank you so much, Lynnette for having me here. I’m always excited when I can connect with other book lovers.
You can find me here:
Website (http://www.carlastewat.com/ )
Blog: Carla’s Writing Café (http://www.carlastewart.blogspot.com/ )
Chasing Lilacs is available online and wherever books are sold.
CHASING LILACS (FaithWords, June, 2010)
It’s the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.
As her life careens out of control, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious boy from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there’s the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.
“A remarkable debut novel. Carla Stewart cleverly captures the stark simplicity of a young girl’s voice with all the masterful qualities of powerful prose. Unforgettable.”
—Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy
“CHASING LILACS is the kind of coming of age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising plot twists, and a setting so southern you’ll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!”
—Mary E. DeMuth, author of Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn