Interview with Rebecca Fellrath, Author of A Lily at Dawn

This week I’d like to introduce an independent author—Rebecca Fellrath. Rebecca is actually a friend of mine from middle school. We were in an indoor drumline together, but then lost touch when she went back to being home-schooled and my family eventually moved away. Twelve years later, we both ended up in the Dayton area with published novels. Rebecca and I recently reconnected and I got to read her debut novel, a Christian romance called A Lily at Dawn. I asked Rebecca to do an interview so she could share about her book and publication process.

Rebecca's Book cover

Could you tell us what A Lily at Dawn is about?

The story follows a young woman who finds herself, God, and romance in the midst of unimaginable tragedy. As she walks through her healing process and interacts with other hurting people, she experiences how God weaves stories together and works all things out for good.

I don’t usually like to write in or mark up my books, but I just had to highlight a line from early on in your novel: “‘I know it hurts, son, but you have to let go of your need to see Matt saved and start letting Jesus save you instead.’” Could you talk more about this theme of letting go of past hurts and focusing on Jesus?

When Jesus taught us to pray, he said, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The act of receiving God’s grace and forgiveness is almost always coupled with forgiving others and extending grace outwardly. I think this is a crucial story to tell because our ability to forgive and heal always starts with what Jesus did for us. How can we forgive others if we have not fully accepted Jesus’ forgiveness? And, likewise, how can we accept Jesus’ forgiveness if we are refusing to forgive others?

We forget that we are just as broken and needy as those who have hurt us. I’m not saying that we don’t need to establish good boundaries, or that we shouldn’t protect ourselves from other people’s abusive behaviors, but that we need to see forgiveness as an act of grace.

Without this act of grace, past hurts can become a miniature god that we worship in our hearts. Just like some of the characters in A Lily at Dawn, we can even allow those hurts to dictate our careers, love life, and view of God. The situation becomes even more complicated when those hurts come from people professing to know Christ. Regardless of the who, when, and how these hurts enter our lives, the answer will always be found in Jesus’ forgiveness and the way it moves us to forgive.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea for the book came when I was twelve years old. Believe it or not, I still played pretend and even used Barbies. My Barbies didn’t go shopping though, they were getting into car accidents and questioning God’s existence. After playing through the story with my Barbies, I thought it would make a good book. Most of my early writing and short stories started by playing pretend and testing ideas out on dolls. I ended up typing the whole first draft of A Lily at Dawn when I was twelve, but then I accidentally deleted the whole thing!

Years later, I was involved in a serious car accident. It reminded me of the story I had written long ago, and it gave me a new perspective on how God uses tragedy to tell His love stories. The extended recovery process provided me with enough time to write the story again.

You deal with some pretty heavy topics in A Lily at Dawn, from the death of a loved one and theft to abortion and drug use. Why do you think it’s important to write about such difficult topics?

I think it’s easy to look at difficult situations and pretend that they are rare and unfamiliar. The reality is that evil isn’t only on episodes of C.S.I. The damage caused by abuse, theft, drug use, abortion and deception are all around us, even within the walls of church. No one will get the help they need as long as we are silent about sin. As a writer, I feel compelled and privileged to write the truth. I want to open up honest conversations about who we are and be vulnerable about the brokenness that humanity shares.

Rebecca's Pull Quote

What was your writing process like?

I’m a natural extrovert, so my process usually begins by talking about my ideas. I suppose it’s the adult version of “playing the story out” with dolls. I like to brainstorm out loud and bounce ideas around. I really enjoy coming up with story ideas and beginning the writing process. Finishing what I started, however, is the challenge. The ideas are easy, but disciplining myself to do the work is tough. That being the case, I wrote an outline for the entire book and broke it up into chapters. Each day I would take the next step in the outline and write out what I planned for that chapter. Sometimes I would even tell myself, “Just glue your butt to the chair and get it done!”

How did you go about publishing this book?

When I recognized how difficult it would be to get published by a traditional publisher, I pursued getting self-published. I didn’t have much knowledge or experience with the process, so I self-published through Westbow Press. As a mom, I knew I wasn’t going to have much time to market the book, so it seemed like the best option at the time. In hindsight I wish I would have done a little more research and examined more options. I am thankful, though, that Westbow Press did provide the help I needed to “get my book out there.”

Do you have any writing advice you’d like to pass on?

Write for you. It sounds cliché, but it’s been the most helpful advice for me. It’s easy to be distracted by working to get published or by trying to craft something that will be meaningful to your readers. If you write what is meaningful for you, the authenticity will speak for itself. You will enjoy the process and actually reach the readers that need your story most.

And here’s a passage from A Lily at Dawn:

Zuriel was nervous. Her own heart was realizing that she may have spent her life believing the wrong things and living for the wrong reasons. She didn’t understand God, she didn’t even like all the things she had heard about him, but she just knew she needed him. Zuriel felt angry with herself as she sat there, staring out the large living room window. God was bad, wasn’t he? Hadn’t he made her childhood difficult and allowed her mother to leave her as a baby? Hadn’t he made high school a living hell? Hadn’t he left her alone when Suzy went crazy with her drugs? Yet despite all these things, Zuriel couldn’t escape the feeling that God was more than that. She couldn’t ignore her desire to be loved in the way that Suzy had described God’s love to her. She wondered if it was actually God who had made her life miserable after all. Was it God, or was it a mixture of her own mistakes and the mistakes of others? She wasn’t sure, but she almost didn’t care.

Rebecca's Author photo
Author Rebecca Fellrath

You can find A Lily at Dawn here and find Rebecca at her website here.

When I’m Not Writing: Watching Musicals

In addition to making jewelry and coloring, one of my favorite things to do when I’m not writing is watch musicals. One of my first memories is when my mom took me to see my very first musical—a community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Seeing this show when I was little launched a lifetime love of musicals.

I love musicals because I love music, and getting to see stories presented in other formats has always been fascinating to me as a book lover/writer. Using music is such an interesting way to tell a story. Plus it makes the stories easier to remember because songs are pretty easy to commit to memory. I can (badly) sing almost the entirety of Joseph and Les Misérables.

I also think that watching musicals can be helpful to writers. Along with watching movies and television, reading comics and poetry, and even acting, seeing stories presented in different formats than fiction writing can be beneficial.

Other forms of stories can infuse your fiction writing and make it richer. For example, I, like many teenagers, couldn’t understand a word Shakespeare wrote until I was cast in a high school play that modernized scenes from various Shakespeare plays. Getting the chance to act out what I was reading allowed me to truly understand it. I can still remember some of my lines from that play, and now I can read Shakespeare with ease. I love his poetry and some of his themes have an influence on my work.

My favorite musicals are Les Mis, Joseph, Cinderella, Shrek, and Phantom of the Opera. My new obsessions are Wicked and Newsies, which I’ve both recently seen for the first time. I’ve gotten to see all of these live except for Shrek and Newsies, but I hope to see them someday. There is nothing quite as powerful as seeing these amazing stories acted out live.

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My Playbills from the professional shows I’ve seen, including Les Mis and Cinderella on Broadway.

Favorite Book Feature: The Reader by Traci Chee

Sometimes I read a book for the first time and it instantly makes its way to my favorites shelf. That happened this month with The Reader by Traci Chee. I usually don’t read fantasy, but I picked up this book because I had read that it was about a world without a written language, so I thought it would help inspire me with my WIP. I came into this book expecting to get a few new ideas on how a world would function without a written language, but I was instantly blown away by this amazing, thrilling, and diverse story about magic, pirates, and a book that contains everything that’s happened and everything that will be.

Sefia has been on the run every since her father was brutally murdered. She survived in the wild with her aunt Nin, but after Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is on her own with the mysterious object her parents had her protect: a book. Sefia teaches herself to read and sets out to rescue her aunt, and along the way she befriends a mute boy, is helped by pirates, and discovers a magic she didn’t know existed.

This book instantly became one of my favorites for several reasons. First of all, I love how diverse The Reader is. The story is populated by people of every age and color, and men and women are complete equals in the fantasy world of Kelanna. I like that Chee doesn’t draw much attention to it—that’s just the way things are in Kelanna. It’s refreshing to read a story in which this is the norm.

I also love this book because of one of its main themes, which is how stories give life meaning. Several of the characters struggle with the idea of not being remembered. Captain Reed in particular worries that his life won’t mean anything if people don’t remember the stories of all the adventures he’s been on. He even tattoos his body with images of everything he’s done. By addressing this theme, Chee highlights just how important stories are.

But the main reason I love this book is because it’s clear that the author loves words. Her love and respect of language infuses every word of The Reader. Chee writes with such authority, and had me laughing, crying, and devouring the pages. Words have magic in the story, and I love this analogy. Stories are powerful, and it is fascinating to see how that works out in a fantasy setting.

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Happy Birthday, Somewhere Only We Know!

Tomorrow is Somewhere Only We Know’s first birthday!

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I can’t believe that my book has already been out in the world for a whole year. I’m so proud of my debut novel and I love how it turned out. My family and friends helped me celebrate my book’s birthday last November with an incredible launch party. I’ll never forget how amazing that cake was with an edible image of my cover.

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This has been a really fun year being a published author. I love talking about my book and sharing its story of hope. I hope that the books I write going forward continue to inspire people as much as Somewhere Only We Know has.

Thank you all for sharing my publication journey with me. This is just the first of many years to come of being a published author, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

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Lastly, I am so excited to announce a little project I’ve been working on for fans of Somewhere Only We Know. Want to know what happens to Frankie, Susan, Lindsey, and Miranda after the book ends? Early 2018 be looking out for an epilogue, told from the perspective of the clearing in the forest where the girls meet.

Happy birthday, Somewhere Only We Know!

SOWK Bday

My WIP Comp Titles

I apologize for not telling you guys very much about my work in progress (WIP). I’ve kept this story idea under wraps because it’s taking me forever to outline. About a year ago I wrote the first ten thousand words of this story, but, after a medical issue prevented me from reading a writing for several months, I realized the story didn’t work for a lot of reasons.

Part of it was that the story was so much bigger than I initially thought it was going to be, and part of it was because it was a dystopian and I hadn’t thought out all of the necessary details yet. I also just wasn’t ready to start writing the story yet. After I finished Somewhere Only We Know I had felt like I had to jump into something new, but that left me with a half-thought out story.

So now I’ve been taking my time with this idea, outlining it in detail and doing lots of research. Part of that research has been to read and watch all of the comp titles. A comp title is a relatively recent comparable book or movie, something similar to your story that you can use as a starting point to pitch your book and help put it into context for agents, publishers, and readers. So I thought I’d give you guys a taste of my WIP by telling you about all of the comp titles I researched for this project:

  • The Hunger Games Books and Movies
    I chose to watch the Hunger Games movies again because one of my protagonists reminds me of Katniss. Plus I realized my book was also going to be trilogy, so I wanted to watch how the Hunger Games story played out over three books. I had only ever read the first book in the series before, so I loved getting the chance to finally read the whole series.
  • Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
    I chose to read this book because one of her main characters, Lena, reminds me of my other protagonist. Also, this story was inspired by Les Mis, which influences pretty much everything I write.
  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
    The Selection Series are some of my favorite books, and I wanted to read them again to help me understand trilogy structure. It was helpful to study a story that I already knew well.
  • Legend by Marie Lu
    Another story inspired by Les Mis, Legend was a helpful and inspiring reread. My second protagonist is very perceptive, like June in Legend. And Lu also has two protagonists, so it was helpful to read this and see how she used both of them.
  • The Reader by Traci Chee
    This one is a fantasy, not a dystopian like the rest of the stories on this list, but it is about a world without a written language, a concept which will play into my WIP.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    This book is a classic, not really a comp title, but the concept of censorship will also play into my WIP.
  • City of Ember
    I haven’t actually read the book City of Ember, but I have always loved this movie for some reason. You’ll see messengers like Lina pop up in my WIP. But the main reason I wanted to watch this movie again was because of that small moment when Lina is coloring a picture of a row of houses. She looks up from the drawing and out the window at the dark alley in her underground city, and then she picks up a blue crayon and colors the sky blue even though she’s never seen the actual sky and doesn’t know what color it really is. This moment has stuck with me ever since I first saw this movie nine years ago, and it was the initial inspiration for my first protagonist.

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I hope that gives you an idea of what kind of story I’ve been working on. I’ll let you know more soon!

Favorite Book Feature: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

There’s only a few months and a few Favorite Book Features left for the year. October’s featured book is one that was a great source of inspiration for my novel Somewhere Only We Know: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Although most book lovers find it impossible to choose just one favorite book, if I had to, Speak would probably be the one.

Speak cover

 

Fourteen year old Melinda Sordino called the cops at the end-of-summer party, and as she starts her freshman year of high school no one will talk to her. Her old friends ignore her, and no one else comes near her except a self-centered new girl. But Melinda can’t get herself to talk about what happened the night of the party anyway. She tries so hard to forget it, even though it’s destroying her. Melinda spends the school year trying to draw trees for art class and make it through school without speaking. Because if she speaks, then she’ll have to speak the truth.

Speak is one of those books that stays with you for life. I wish I had heard of this amazing novel sooner, because Anderson is now one of my favorite authors. The best part of Speak is the book’s voice. It’s hard to define voice. Voice is the style something is written in, and when it is good it becomes a work of art. It’s something you know when you see it, and Speak has one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read. I think I like this book so much because I want to write like this. I want to create characters like Melinda who completely draw readers in to their stories. Melinda doesn’t speak much out loud, but in her head she is observant and witty. She has a story to tell, and readers get to hear it even if the people around her don’t.

I also love this book because of its connection to art. Melinda finds that she is able to use art to be able to express herself, even when she can’t find the words. I tried to do something like this in Somewhere Only We Know, but with writing. I love being creative and I make a lot of crafts, but I can’t draw. If I could I’m sure I would turn to art more, but instead I turn to words. And so the girls in my book turned to the written word to figure out other possibilities for their lives. In Speak, it is incredible to watch as Melinda attempts to draw trees and her teacher encourages her to dig deeper. I used a quote about this as the epigraph to my novel:

Speak Epigraph

I have a great respect for Anderson because she chose to write about such difficult topics like rape and depression. Most people don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge that they happen, and people like to censor books about those topics in order to “protect” children from them. In “A Comment About Censorship” which appears at the end of my copy of Speak, Anderson writes, “Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the dark and makes them vulnerable… Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” A writer friend of mine put it another way when she said we shouldn’t shelter our kids but insulate them.

Teens need books like Speak and Somewhere Only We Know because real teens are experiencing these issues. And I’m going to continue reading and writing books like these.

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5 Writing Lessons from Wicked

For my birthday this year, I got to see the musical Wicked for the very first time. I’ve been a musical fan my entire life, and I can’t believe I never got to see this show until now. Honestly I was a little disappointed, but I think that’s just because my friends hyped it up too much. Or maybe because I’ve seen Idina Menzel in concert and you can’t beat the original Elphaba. However, while I was watching the musical I realized that you can learn a lot about writing from the show. Here are five writing lessons from Wicked:

1. “Once you’re with the wizard, no one thinks you’re strange.”

Most people think writers are weird. At least that was my experience growing up. I was the super shy girl who read and wrote in notebooks all the time. And then once I got serious about writing and changed my college major to creative writing, nearly everyone asked me But what are you going to do for a living?

The sad truth is that no one is going to take you seriously until you publish something. Being a creative writer is like being an artist, and it’s a tough business to get into. But, like Elphaba, you have to realize that your talent is incredibly important. You will make a difference in this world if you don’t give up.

2. “I’m defying gravity, and you won’t bring me down.”

There will be lots of people who tell you you’re not going to make it as a writer. They will say you’re not good enough or that it’s too hard, that getting published is impossible.

Don’t listen to them.

You can do this. Put in the work. Don’t give up. And defy gravity.

3. “Maybe I’m brainless. Maybe I’m wise. But you’ve got me seeing through different eyes.”

One of my favorite parts in Wicked is when Elphaba says she wishes she could be beautiful for Fiyero, and that he shouldn’t lie and say that she is. But he says he’s just looking at things differently. I think this concept of looking at things from another perspective is so important to writers. That’s our job—to look at topics from different angles and tell a story. And that’s what the musical Wicked does—present another perspective on the story you already know to show you that the villain might not actually be the villain.

Wicked Stage

These last two come from the structure of the story rather than the story itself.

4. Villain Story Arcs

Prequels and retellings seem to be pretty popular these days. Wicked is an awesome example of retelling a familiar story from another viewpoint. The show gives you the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, and then runs parallel to the story we know of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz to tell the audience what really happened when a tornado brought Dorothy from Kansas.

If you’re like me and love making fairy tales your own, try taking a familiar story and looking at the story behind it. This is what Gregory Maguire did when he wrote Wicked the novel. You never know what you might uncover.

5. The Importance of Backstory

Not only is Wicked interesting in the way it gives you the backstory of a character you already know, the musical shows just how important backstory is in general. Backstory is whatever happened to your character before the story opens. For Wicked, the entire first act is the backstory to The Wizard of Oz, and the second act runs parallel to the familiar story. The backstory sets up the story better and gives you greater insight into who the character is.

However, that doesn’t mean that readers want to actually see the backstory. The point of Wicked is to show the backstory, but in regular books the backstory should be hovering underneath the surface of the story. You as the author should know a lot more about the story than what goes into the book. You should know your characters’ history and why they act the way they do. And this knowledge should infuse every word you write about those characters. As Wicked shows, knowing a character’s past can change the whole story.