Thursday, June 09, 2011

Author Interview: Lisa Velthouse

Today I get to bring you a first-time treat: an author interview! Lisa Velthouse, whose lovely memoir I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, agreed to answer some questions for me and my readers. I loved reading through these behind-the-scenes thoughts that provide a complement to Lisa's book Craving Grace. (And if you're visiting from Lisa's blog: Welcome! I hope you'll poke around a bit and maybe even come back :)

Because I gave her a lot of questions and because she answered thoroughly and thoughtfully, I think there's too much material for one blog post--so I'll post the first half today and part 2 tomorrow.

AK: On page 97 you speak of your book going in a different direction than you anticipated: “The irony is not lost on me, not one bit, that while writing a book about God's grace I will every day be trying to cope with a houseful of generosities I don't deserve. ...So it will have to be both past and present, Grace and grace. It will have to be terrible and captivating like it was the first time.” (I love that last line!) How is this book different from the book you initially proposed to your publisher? (What did you originally think Craving Grace was going to be?)

LV: My earliest and midway-through drafts focused entirely on my discovery of grace (or, probably better, its discovery of me): that grace, not works, is the only catalyst for a life of faith. In those drafts and outlines, grace was the big prize at the end of the last chapter, a payoff to thorough readers. But it didn’t work. The story was stale somehow, incomplete. I was writing three years after those first grace experiences, and I knew from life that grace is more than just the spark that starts me off toward faith; after the spark, it becomes the fuel that keeps faith burning.

So I ended up weaving two timelines together. The first timeline is past tense: looking back on my fast from sweets, during which I first learned to accept grace. The second is present tense, writing the book and living in community and still craving grace. My hope is that it gives a more full picture of how grace both starts and keeps working in a person’s faith.

AK: It seems unusual to write so consciously about the process of writing—in what ways did that make the writing uniquely challenging? How did you discover more of God's sweetness through the process of writing a book about it?

LV: Oh man. Great question. It’s funny, because when I think of it, I think of it as writing not about writing but about writer’s block. :) From start to finish, I struggled to complete this manuscript. As a person who tends to find value in her accomplishments, that struggle isn’t the sort of thing I prefer for people to see. So those parts of the story are one more example of God whittling away at my pride and my knee-jerk mentality, which is, “I can manage all this perfectly, thank you.”

Everyday failure is a tangible reminder of my need for God’s grace: here’s yet another instance where I on my own am not enough to get by. For me, those failures—writing is just one; Craving Grace tells of many more—have become a consistent reminder of what is true about me. On the whole, my life is sinful and broken and apart from God. But in Christ, I can have righteousness and restoration and unity with God. That comes only through grace, which is free to me and of total cost to Him. It’s powerfully sweet in every instance. That goes for the macro, which is my need for ultimate redemption, and the micro, which sometimes is just sitting at a computer needing to finish this sentence.

AK: Tell us more about Cora. I would expect you to change some characters' identifying details—but I was intrigued (and confused) right from the “Author's Note” page about the creation of a composite character. Was this because your conversations and experiences with Cora were actually experiences with several different mentor-like women in your life? Is creating a character like this a common practice in memoir writing?

Composite characters are common and accepted in memoir writing. I’ve been privileged to have many strong mentors in my life; Craving Grace tells of one, Cora, who is in real life actually two. I made Cora a composite because of technical and relational reasons: there are only so many characters that one book can handle (far fewer than I had suspected), and both the true Coras are so humble that neither would be comfortable carrying the weight of the whole character. (Though either on her own could have.)

The true Coras also happen to be demographically different, so I picked a few demographic details from each and then meshed them together. This accomplished two important goals: it simplified the story, allowing that readers wouldn’t have to keep track of two mentors, and it provided the real Coras with the privacy I knew they would appreciate. Now only I and they know which stories belong to each of them. Still, I assure you that Cora is even more incredible as two real-life people than she is as the book’s one.

AK: Over the last several years you've had quite a platform for speaking to young girls, in large part related to your first book, Saving My First Kiss. How has your message changed since experiencing the events of Craving Grace and then having the book published?

LV: That has been an interesting progression for me. I’ve been speaking to young girls about sexual purity since I was 18. In those speaking opportunities, I was always careful to emphasize grace—became I knew God forgives—and I always shared about my personal vow, which was to save my first kiss until I was engaged. In terms of sexual purity, for a long time that was the only personal story I could share—as Craving Grace tells, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I got asked out on my first date. Well. Also as Craving Grace tells, I wasn’t so successful at keeping my one big vow. And I’m older, so I can better understand that complicated things are complicated.

Anyway. The issue of purity isn’t so simple to me as it was before. I can relate more to the struggle, because I’ve been through it more now and because now the issue of grace is no longer separate from the issue of my vows. I know now that vows should be made to God because of his grace, out of gratitude for what he has done. And I understand now that every human vow of obedience is in one sense flawed, because it’s human. I kissed a guy I wasn’t engaged to. Kissed him twice! That was a huge failure for me, because it was breaking my vow to God. It hints my propensity to disobey, my pleasure in disobedience. But in Christ it is possible to obey God. A few years after those first kisses—here’s something you won’t find in Craving Grace—my husband and I were both virgins when we married, and that has been great for our marriage and our faith probably in more ways than we realize. In terms of speaking about sexual purity, I still value the same principles I valued before, and it’s still the same message, but far more faceted now.

[Come back tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Lisa!]

No comments: