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.

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.

It’s Okay to DNF a Book

Part of Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA mindset that I wrote about here is to read with purpose. Because you are taking your education into your own hands, you must pick which books to read. Reading is so important to writing. Through reading you can discover what works and doesn’t work in stories, you can pick up tips from both old and new writers, and you can see what’s current in your genre. And while reading is important, your time as a writer is limited (you know, with writing books of your own on top of life) and you must learn that it’s okay to DNF a book.

DNF stands for “did not finish,” meaning you give up on reading a book. There are only so many hours in a day, and you should be using those hours to your benefit. Most writers start out as bookworms, and they feel obligated to finish each book they start out of respect for books themselves. But some books just aren’t going to resonate with you and you shouldn’t force yourself to read them.

In fact, doing so may be harmful. For me, reading books I didn’t resonate with ruined reading for me for many years. Growing up you couldn’t find me without a book in my hands, and I’d read a book a day if I could. But I just don’t like most books that are considered “classics,” i.e., the books you read in school. I had so much trouble relating to those stories that they made me hate reading for a long time. But after I graduated from college and had time to actually pick what I wanted to read again—everything YA—I fell back in love with reading. And I think that’s why the DIY MFA mindset works for me.

I usually only read the first chapter of books before deciding if I’m going to continue with reading it. I value my time and choose only to read books that will benefit me or entertain me. As Pereria states in DIY MFA, “Choosing to go the way of DNF is not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you are not smart enough to understand great literature. When you DNF a book, you are showing respect for your time and efforts. Life is short. Read with purpose” (177-78).

Pereria DNF

You don’t have to feel obligated to read everything you start. You don’t have to keep reading books that don’t resonate with you. It’s perfectly okay to stop reading a book and pick up something else that will be of a greater benefit to you.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

Being a writer is a lifelong career. I’ve loved books my whole life, and I started considering writing back in the fourth grade when my teacher noticed my interest in stories and started giving me extra prompts to work on. Almost ten years after that I changed my college major to creative writing. I had been planning on becoming a high school math teacher, but I realized I needed to follow my dream.

Even though I have a degree in creative writing and have been trying to write pretty much my whole life, it has been a very long learning process and I am still continuing to learn to write every single day. Here are five things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known when I started writing:

1. It’s Okay to Not Write Every Day
The most common piece of writing advice I see—and one I disagree with—is that you should write every day. I don’t. And I think it’s perfectly okay. Personally, I get burnt out if I write something every day. And I’m not the kind of person who can just force the words to come.

It was a hard lesson to learn that it’s okay not to write every day. I think the better way to think about it is to stick to whatever schedule you’ve made for yourself. I’ve made myself a goal sheet with how many hours I want to work each week, and I check them off as I complete them.

It’s also important to recognize that a lot goes into writing other than the actual typing of words in a draft. There’s brainstorming, editing, marketing, learning craft, and, of course, lots and lots of reading. Writing doesn’t always look like writing, but all of those things together add up to this job of being a writer.

2. No One Cares if You Write
This one came from my favorite college professor. It sounds harsh, but what it means is that no one’s going to pat you on the back if you get your work done or shake their fist at you if you don’t. Writers are on their own for the most part. And if you don’t have a burning desire to write—if you don’t have to do it—then you’re most likely not going to do it.

3. Social Media Doesn’t Have to be Scary
I don’t like the Internet. I’ve had to learn how to be online in order to connect with my readers. And what I wish I had known before I started was that it’s not as scary as it seems. I had to learn to take things slowly, learning one network at a time and then taking my time with creating my website. And it was way less scary and overwhelming this way.

4. It’s Okay to Invest in Yourself
This was probably the hardest lesson for me, because I don’t like to spend money. I feel really guilty if I buy anything for myself. I’m a frugal person and am always on the hunt for sales. The last thing I’d want is to spend money for a job in which I haven’t made any money (yet). But I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to invest in myself. It’s okay to take an online marketing class. It’s okay to buy those books on craft. It’s okay to pay for a web domain and a photo editing service. I’ve had to learn that I need to treat my writing like an actual business, and that I need to set myself up for future success by getting the right tools.

5. It’s Going to Take a Long Time
Being a writer is a lifelong career. We live in a culture where we feel like we have to have everything right now. But writing is a slow process. It takes time to learn how to write. It takes time to actually write a book. It takes time to publish a book. I’ve had to learn to take things slowly and realize that I’m in this for the long haul. So I’m going to keep learning and I’m going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep trying to get published through a traditional publisher. And it’s okay if it takes a long time.

Hemingway quote

While I wish I had known all of this back when I started writing, the most important thing I did know was that I had something to say. Everyone has something to say, some unique perspective that they can offer to the world. And I knew from the beginning that I had a lot to say and that I could say it all through writing. I don’t think I would have made it this far if I hadn’t known that.

Inspiration from My Favorite Movies

Writers can find inspiration from anything: books, nature, the people around you. Anything and everything that catches your eye can become a story. One of my favorite sources of inspiration is of course movies. I have trouble sitting down long enough to watch a whole movie and usually spread it out over a couple of days, but I still love the amazing stories that only movies can convey. These are some of my favorite movies and how they inspire my writing:

The Harry Potter Series
I’ll be honest—I’ve only read the books once over many years. Like I have trouble sitting down for a movie I also have trouble reading books longer than 300 pages. But I love how these movies bring this incredible world to life. The Harry Potter series inspires me with its expansive and complex world. Though I don’t plan on writing any fantasy, I love the world building aspects of these movies.

The Chronicles of Narnia
This is another fantasy series that inspires me with its world building, but I’m more inspired with the spiritual references. The symbolism and connection to Christianity that infuses this story makes me want to do the same in my own writing.

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games series is an action-packed dystopia, full of rebellion and satire on reality television, and it has had a huge influence on my writing. While I’ve been a fan of these movies since they came out (and even dragged a friend to see the midnight release of the first one), I did not like the books when I first read them. My book club in high school read the first novel and I didn’t like it very much, and then gave up on the others. I didn’t actually read the whole series until this summer, and am reading Mockingjay right now. I just feel like this series and the essence of the story is so much better conveyed on screen than on the page.

Moana
Disney’s most recent princess (daughter of the village chief) inspires me with how strong she is. One of my main goals with my writing is to create strong female characters that girls can look up to, and Moana does just that. Plus the story is so fun and this movie has some of Disney’s best music.

Inside Out
Inside Out is by far my favorite Pixar movie. Not only is it a great story about emotions and memories, it takes you inside the mind of the main character and personifies the emotions that are hard to talk about in concrete ways. As a writer I found this movie so interesting with this look into someone’s mind.

Ever After
I love this film’s take on the story of Cinderella. Changing up fairy tales is something I enjoy doing, and I have always been inspired by fairy tales. I love how this movie makes Cinderella independent and strong.

Les Misérables
I’ve talked multiple times about how amazing this story is, so I won’t go on again. Check out these links if you want to know more: Getting Re-inspired by Les Misérables and Favorite Book Feature: A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher.

The Truman Show
This is definitely one of my favorite movies. I love how this film looks at reality television, perceptions of reality, and questions of identity. Jim Carrey does an amazing job portraying Truman’s story. This movie inspired one of the very first stories I created, and it continues to have an influence on my work.

Movie Souvenirs
Some books about and souvenirs from some of my favorite movies.

As Cheryl St.John says in her book Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict, watching a movie counts as work as long as you’re taking notes. Movies can have a huge impact on your writing, so try watching all kinds of films to find inspiration. I also love finding inspiration from television shows, with some of my favorites being Once Upon a Time, Jericho, Dollhouse, Firefly, Pushing Daisies, and Battlestar Galactica.

Iterating the Writing Process

I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s wonderful book DIY MFA in which she outlines a do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA program. I’ve chosen not to continue with my education with an MFA program. One reason is because of the cost, but I’ve greatly enjoyed pursuing continued education on my own through reading lots of books and would rather not go through the rigidity of another university program. DIY MFA has been a great alternative with being just a $20 book (which I got half off).

What I love most about this book is that Pereira approaches the DIY MFA like it is a startup business. She uses many terms and concepts throughout the book that relate to a startup business, and focuses on iteration. Iteration, in relation to writing, is when you take your process and test and improve it over time in order to become a more productive and better writer. The key is to take a step back and look at how your process works, and then make small adjustments accordingly.

A while back I wrote about how I had been struggling to stay motivated and had come up with a sticker reward system that was working well. And it did work well for a while, but then it stopped working for me.

Then, when I started reading DIY MFA and learned about iteration, I realized how I needed to step back and look at my writing process and make small changes to figure out what would work for me. I’ve since gone through three other versions of my sticker system, each of them being a different way for me to lay out my work week. I’ve used iteration to find the right total number of work hours and the right balance of writing and marketing and craft and reading hours, and I think I’ve finally landed on a system that works for me. And if I find that it’s still not working, I’ll use the process Pereira outlines in order to keep honing in on the best method for me.

I love the DIY MFA mindset because it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual. I highly recommend this book to every writer. It is full of advice on everything from writing with focus to reading with purpose to building a community, which are the main principles of an actual MFA. This book has been a great alternative to going back to school for me, and I can’t wait to finish reading it.

DIY MFA my copy