Author Talk: August 2014
Sarah Loudin Thomas's debut novel, MIRACLE IN A DRY SEASON, tells the story of Perla Long, who moves to Wise, West Virginia, a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But when drought comes to Wise, Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle. In this interview, Sarah talks about her family legacy of colorful storytelling, what she does when she’s not writing, and the daily miracles that are too often taken for granted.
Question: Why did you decide to set your books in Appalachia?
Sarah Loudin Thomas: One of the most common pieces of advice writers hear is write what you know. That turned out to work great for me. I grew up in a family of storytellers --- the seventh generation to live on our farm in West Virginia. Dinnertime was filled with tales of our days, sometimes with a little embroidery thrown in, and if we ran out we could always ask Dad to retell one of our favorites. It’s those stories of his growing up that are almost mythical to me. So many of the characters --- my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, great-grandmother, Dad’s childhood acquaintances --- were gone by the time I took an interest. Even so, they live on through his stories. Now I have a chance to go back to that “simpler” time when life was pretty well confined to a small community of people who supported one another. My stories are a love letter to Appalachia and my heritage.
Q: What made you decide to incorporate magical realism and miracles?
SLT: The concept came to me because I nearly drowned when I was four. The memory of being under the water --- seeing leaves and silt swirl as sunlight streamed down --- is incredibly vivid. And oddly enough, it’s a pleasant memory. So not only did I survive a near drowning, I have a good memory of the experience. That’s a miracle on several levels and started me thinking about how miracles are around us all the time, but we tend to take them for granted. So I thought I’d create characters for whom the miraculous is a little more obvious.
Q: What do you like to read?
SLT: I try to have at least one fiction and one nonfiction book going at any given time, along with daily Scripture reading. I really enjoy historical romance with an occasional contemporary romance or women’s fiction story thrown in. And while I read plenty of Christian fiction, I also try to keep up with what’s hot in the general market. I think reading is the most important thing any writer can do besides writing.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
SLT: I work at a Christian children’s ministry, where I oversee finance and fundraising. It’s an incredibly rewarding job. There are few things better than giving an abused, abandoned or neglected child hope. I’m also very involved in my church. I lead a Sunday school class and a ladies’ Bible study. For fun, I like to cook, go on dates with my husband, hike with my dog and redecorate --- although hubby keeps that one in check.
Q: What advice would you give to new writers?
SLT: If you want to be a writer, write. Applying the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair and putting words down is the main thing. If you aren’t willing to do that, nothing else will help. Beyond writing, I suggest getting feedback. It can be hard to let others see those words you’re not sure of, but that’s the point of being a writer: getting other people to read what you’ve written. You can get great feedback through writing groups, conferences and contests. Go to a conference and sign up for a critique. Enter ACFW’s First Impressions Contest. And remember --- your mother and your best friend are probably biased!