Monday, May 12, 2008

On Tour with Virginia Smith and "Sincerely, Mayla"!!


I fell in love with quirky Mayla Strong in her debut, "Just As I Am" by Virginia Smith. So I was thrilled to see another Mayla story in the newest release, "Sincerely, Mayla"!

I'm equally thrilled to share with you my exclusive interview with Mayla's creator and my dear friend, Virginia Smith, author of MANY excellent novels, such as "Stuck In The Middle" and "Murder By Mushroom", just to name a few!

Here's Virginia, and Mayla!!

1) First and foremost, have we heard the last from Mayla with this book (please say no!)?

I don’t have a third Mayla book contracted, but I can tell you that I always planned to write three. If I were to write a third book, I already know what happens. There’s a wedding. No, it’s not Aunt Louise’s. And no, it’s not Mayla’s either. It’s someone you—and Mayla—wouldn’t expect. How’s that for suspense?

2) Mayla is still pretty new in her faith in this book, and yet it seems God kind of throws her into the deep end really fast. Why do you think that is?

That’s a really good observation, Deena. I think the Lord teaches us AND uses us wherever we are in life. New Christians who are surrounded by hurting people don’t get a ‘pass’ because they’re new. We’re still called to be salt and light in the world. The best thing we can do is realize that it isn’t our job to solve everyone’s problems – that’s God’s job, and one He wants to do. All we need to do is listen to Him and be obedient. That’s what Mayla learns.

3) I've noticed that Mayla is also an independent thinker, learning how to lean on God. With her independent streak, how much of the story did she guide you to write about her?

Okay, you’ll probably think I’m two cookies short of a baker’s dozen when I say this, but Mayla really does practically dictate her stories to me. I mean, when I first set out to write a Mayla story, I have certain objectives. I throw her into hot contemporary topics on purpose. I don’t do this to make a point, or to teach a lesson, or even to relay a message. I do it because there are many people like Mayla living in our world today, and I want to portray their lives realistically. I know my opinions on those hot issues before I start writing, but many times I get a fresh perspective as I walk through the story with Mayla. Her unique personality takes over and reacts to the fictitious situations I place her in. I firmly believe that is the Lord’s guidance. To me, writing is an act of constant fellowship and conversation with God. So many times as I write I will reach a point where I take my hands off the keyboard, sit back in my seat, and say, “Lord, I have NO IDEA how Mayla is going to convince a teenager not to have an abortion. I need help!” And He always answers that request. When I place my fingers on the keys again, the story flows. Sometimes I’m surprised, sometimes not.

4) You handled the "issue" of homosexuality in the previous book ("Just As I Am"), and then went even deeper in this book. How hard was it for you to write about the topic, and how much of Mayla's response is yours (did her response change yours)?

Do you really think I handled the issue in Just As I Am? I didn’t think I did. The theme of that book was God’s love for every one of us, no matter where we are in life. It’s true I included homosexual characters in the story, but that’s because I wanted the story to be real. Show me a 22-yr-old who is living in today’s society who doesn’t know at least one gay person. Mayla’s friends were realistic, because that’s what I see in the world of people that age – the age of my children, in fact.

How hard was this topic for me? Oh, you can’t even imagine! I have many friends and loved ones who are living a homosexual lifestyle, and with every word I wrote I was aware that some of them would pick up this book and read it. I deeply and devoutly believe that God loves each of us no matter what. His love is immense and without boundaries because of who He is, not because of who we are. The Bible tells us that nobody is perfect, and every life ever lived (except Jesus) affirms it. He wants to change us, all of us, so that we gradually become more like His Son. But how will people learn that if they think He hates them because their lifestyle isn’t perfect? Mayla’s response to her friend is what I believe.

5) What one thing would you want the church to learn from Mayla?

I’d love for people to gain an awareness of how much damage we can do by being judgmental. People seem to think some sins are worse than others, but I don’t believe the Bible supports that belief. If we could only act with love toward those who really need to see Jesus’ love, especially to the ones who don’t think they deserve it. I wish all of us could see Jesus stooping down to write in the dust, then looking up at us and saying, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

6) Do you have any other projects you'd like to share with my readers?

I recently launched a new series called the Sister-to-Sister Series. Book one, Stuck in the Middle, came out in February, and there will be three books. (Maybe more!) The idea for this series came straight from my own life – my relationship with my sisters. They are amazing women, fun and energetic and creative and lively. I wanted to write a story that relays the depth of our feelings for each other, and that lets readers get a peek of just how much fun we have together. Stuck in the Middle is, obviously, the story of the middle sister. Each of the three will have her own starring role in a book.

And in the meantime, I’m working on a 3-book mystery/suspense series. Book one, A Taste of Murder, comes out in October, and will be followed by the other two in April and June of next year. So as you can see, I’m staying busy!

7) Any reading material on your bedside table these days, and if so, what are the titles holding your attention?

I just finished judging a bunch of contest entries (twenty!) and I was privileged to get some fantastic stories. My stack of ‘to be read’ books grew while I was focused on those. I’ve got a couple of Lisa Samson books waiting to be read, and Delia Latham’s book Goldeneyes. I also have Julie Lessman’s A Passion Most Pure, and a couple of mysteries by Tamar Myers.

8) What inspires you when you write? What's that one burning thing you want to share with your readers as you craft your stories?

That’s such a hard question. I write because I can’t not write. And I write fiction because I love fiction, not because I have a burning passion to relay a particular message. In fact, I never – never – set out to write a story with a message. Even my Mayla books, which tend to have some pretty strong messages, aren’t written in order to convince anyone of my opinion or teach anybody anything. As I write, I fall in love with the story and with the characters. I want to share that love with readers. So primarily I just want to entertain people. If they happen to have their horizons broadened a little in the process, well, great!

I think this was one of my favorite interviews. Virginia is so honest and such a wonderful woman of God, don't you think? She writes with heart and passion and humor; she's one of my "must read" authors! Pick up a copy of "Sincerely, Mayla" and don't forget the first novel, "Just As I Am".!

Happy Reading!



Amy said...

Great interview Deena!
I just read Just As I Am this weekend and am reading Sincerely Mayla at the moment and I love these books! :)

I have a few others by her in my TBR that I can't wait to get to!

Anonymous said...

I loved Just As I Am and I encourage you to read it!
I'm looking forward to reading more about Mayla :)

Virginia Smith said...

Thanks for participating in the blog tour for SINCERELY, MAYLA, Deena! I appreciate it.