Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest author Terri Blackstock who has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of If I Run, Intervention, Vicious Cycle, and Downfall, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.
Norm: Good day Terri and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background and how you got started in writing? As a follow up, what keeps you going and why did you chose to become a Christian Fiction writer?
Terri: I've written
Christian suspense novels for the last twenty years, but before that,
I spent thirteen years writing romance novels for publishers like
Harlequin and Silhouette, and women's fiction for HarperCollins. Then
I had what I call a spiritual awakening, and I wanted to write things
that I felt had more of an impact than just entertainment.
I still want to entertain, but I always hope that my readers will be challenged or drawn closer to God because of my stories. Jesus taught in parables, because he understood how powerful story was. When readers get into the heads and emotions of a character, they kind of grow with that character and learn the lessons that she/he learns.
The truth is that every novelist out there has some kind of worldview, and it always works its way into their books whether they mean for it to or not. Mine is a Christian worldview, so it's natural that my work would have a Christian slant. But that doesn't mean that all my characters are Christian. Often, they're not. In my latest book, If I Run, the lead character is not a believer. But some of the other characters are, and Casey is open to the idea of God. She just hasn't yet been convinced that he exists.
Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing and how has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Terri: I write a lot about characters who are suffering for one reason or another, and they have a growth arc that changes them through that suffering. Later, they can look back and see that the crisis became a blessing. I think part of the reason I seem to use that theme a lot is that I haven't had a carefree adult life. It's been peppered with crises, and I'm hardly ever sailing through life when I'm writing. I'm usually dealing with something difficult and trying to learn from it. It helps me when I find purpose in my trials, and often that purpose is to pass whatever I'm learning about that pain onto my readers.
As for my upbringing, I was raised in the Air Force, so we moved often and I attended something like nine schools. Because I was the perpetual new kid until I was in my teens, I spent a lot of time reading and developing my imagination. If I'd had any other kind of childhood, I may not have become a novelist. I think it served me perfectly for this career.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Terri: When I was starting
out, I kept writing three chapters over and over until I would lose
interest in that idea, and then I'd start something else. I never
could finish. Finally, someone told me, "Don't get it right, get
That clicked for me, so I tried writing a first draft all the way through without judgment, just getting the story down on paper once. Then I could go back and rewrite many more drafts until I was happy with it. Just getting through that first draft without going back to fix things was a breakthrough for me. Momentum is everything when writing a first draft, so I try not to let anything interrupt that momentum.
I think the most destructive thing for a writer is to write to trends or to an editor's taste. If you're not writing from passion, and if it's not organic with you, and if it's not what you like to read, then it's not going to be your best work. It can't be.
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process. As a follow up, are you a plot or character writer and what helps you focus when you write?
Terri: I use a combination of logic and intuition when I'm plotting my books. I usually start with the idea. My idea for If I Run was that this was about a young female fugitive. That's really all I had. Then I visualized her in my mind, what she's like, that she's winsome and outgoing, but she has to leave everyone she knows and start over with a new identity, making new friends, hiding for her life, knowing that the authorities are getting closer to finding her.
After I had a handle on that, I employed my usual storyboarding method to outline the book. I usually do a loose outline of the whole story, using the bulletin board with index cards on Scrivener (I used to use actual index cards and sometimes still do), then I fill in more and more scenes until I have the first hundred pages pretty well plotted out. Then I'll write that, plot out the next hundred pages, and go on like that.
Focus is always a challenge, especially during the first draft. I kind of have to play tricks on myself to move forward. I might dictate a few scenes, or I'll change my location. Sometimes I write in my car in my driveway, just because it's quiet and I can focus there. Once I get past the first draft, I begin to enjoy the process and I stop having to force myself to write. That's when I become the most creative.
Norm: Did you write the stories to express something you believe or is it just for entertainment?
Terri: It's both. If it doesn't entertain, then what good is it to say anything meaningful? It has to be a page-turner. If it has a spiritual message, it has to grow organically from the plot. It's not something that's plugged in or could be easily taken out. Both things are intertwined.
Norm: How much of your books are realistic?
Terri: I hope everything in them is realistic. If it's not, readers will roll their eyes and close the book. Everything that happens in my books has to be feasible, and I do a lot of research to make sure that I'm getting it right. The stories are made up, but the situations have to be within the realm of possibility, and if it's done well, it can be a great platform for truth.
Norm: What has been the best part about being published and selling over seven million books?
Terri: I've been amazingly privileged to make a living doing something I love. I think the best part is when I get feedback from readers, and they tell me that my book impacted them in some way that I never would have expected. It's incredibly moving to know that people are actually reading my books and taking something away from them that helps them. And it's even more moving to know that God sometimes works in their lives through whatever I've written. Readers will sometimes quote something I put in the book and tell me it was life-changing for them, and I won't even remember putting it in there. Those are times when I realize that God is in control, and he can use anything to reach someone.
Norm: What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Terri: I think people will increasingly read things digitally. Also, writers are going to be self-publishing more and more. I'm still publishing with a traditional publisher because I believe they can do more for me than I can do for myself, but I do imagine a time when that paradigm could shift. Publishers are already in the process of making radical changes in how they do business, so the publishing world could look completely different in the next five years.
Norm: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Terri: I have a group of writers I email back and forth with almost every day, and I would say we all mentor each other. I couldn't narrow that down to one person. They've all inspired and encouraged me in different ways.
Norm: Can you share a little of your current work, If I Run with us?
Terri: When Casey Cox is accused of committing a heinous murder and knows her DNA is all over the crime scene, she decides to run. She leaves everyone she loves behind, because she's convinced that if she's caught, she won't just go to prison. She'll be murdered as well.
The private investigator contracted to find her and bring her back is Dylan Roberts, a war veteran with PTSD. Due to his condition, he's been discharged from the Criminal Investigations Division of the Army, and he's had trouble getting another job. The family of the murder victim hires him to find Casey, the fugitive they think killed their son.
As experienced as he is at solving crimes, his personal problems sometimes get in the way. He reacts intensely to loud noises that flash him back to the IED explosions that killed his buddies, he has nightmares and insomnia, is depressed, has survivor's guilt, and finds life extremely challenging.
As Dylan learns more about Casey, he realizes they have that in common -- they probably both have PTSD. Casey doesn't really fit the profile of a killer. The woman who occupies most of his thoughts is either a psychopathic killer or a selfless hero. Her life depends on his figuring out which one.
Norm: How did you go about creating Casey Cox in the novel?
Terri: I pictured her as a people-loving girl, one of those friends everyone wants to have around. But when she finds her best friend dead and she knows she's been set up as the killer, she cuts ties with everyone she loves and runs. I wanted that dichotomy between her needing people and gravitating to community, but still having to keep her true identity secret so she can stay hidden. Then I wanted her to be put in another situation that requires her to be a hero to help someone else, and that causes her to risk exposure. I loved the idea of all those complexities at play in one character.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Norm: What do your plans for future projects include?
Terri: I plan to do two more books to follow If I Run. I'm going to take Casey through more adventures and ramp up the danger she's in before her situation comes to an end. Each book will resolve the plot in that book, but the chase for Casey will continue through all three books. You'll have to keep reading to find out if Casey is going to survive the hunt, go to prison, or be vindicated. And remember, I like to be unpredictable.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Terri: I wish that someone like Bradley Cooper would ask me if he could adapt this book into a movie and star in it. I'm sitting by the phone, Bradley. Call me!
© 2016 Terri Blackstock, author of If I Run